Au Revoir, Noblesse Oblige
Wall Street has been overrun with loutish, preening boors, heedless of civility and public order. They belong to an idle class of feckless layabouts, who indulge every passing destructive impulse, regard any serious social obligation as a personal slight and generally act as though the world owes them a living.
Also, some protesters are gathering nearby, in lower Manhattan’s Liberty Park, aka Zuccotti Park.
The public protests against the nation’s investing elite have laid bare one of the hoariest entries in our republic’s social mythology: the notion that our privileged caste bears a special sense of duty to turn their vast holdings toward the service of a greater good.
In more sentimental bygone times, this went by the name noblesse oblige-the idea that something (if not much, strictly speaking) was expected from those who benefited from existing social and economic arrangements. This myth served to make it seem as though large landholders and financial barons were doing the republic a favor by exercising what they took to be their natural prerogative as rulers. That’s why the election of a vulgar soldier such as Andrew Jackson as president came as a shock to the New England elites and Virginia squierarchy for whom affairs of state were a natural extension of their various landed and commercial monopolies. And that’s why Jackson’s overheated assaults on the early Republic’s “monster Bank” seemed so ugly. Did the new landless holders of the franchise have no gratitude, for God’s sake?