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471846340_d26b71e4d3WHY A MANIFESTO?
These essays are indebted to E. Digby Baltzell (1915-1996), the University of Pennsylvania sociologist and author of The Protestant Establishment : Aristocracy and Caste in America (Random House, 1964). He is widely and correctly credited with popularizing the term “WASP” within the American lexicon, but even while most will easily ascribe to him this minimal accomplishment, few take due note of his central argument within the book itself. Baltzell posited that the American Anglo-Saxon Protestant upper class, bombarded by waves of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century and facing radical change in American society, was, by the middle 20th century, in danger of retreating into itself, of becoming a closed caste, and therefore of condemning itself to irrelevancy and eventual extinction.

He was entirely prescient.

While they have lost their iron grip on the reigns of power and authority, WASPs have not died out, although sounding their death knell remains a popular sport among observers within and without. Accordingly, there is a very real extent to which WASPs, in the popular imagination, in academic ethnography, and in the manner of their self-identification, have forgotten or neglected the full spread of WASP history and its attendant duties. Instead, they have retreated into a small conception of themselves, one based largely upon popular negative stereotypes.

These stereotypes speak for themselves: WASPs are considered to be stuffy, cold, tightfisted, impotent, and closed-minded. They are thought to be exclusionary, spoiled, out-of-touch, insular, and not infrequently alcoholic.

The fact of the matter is that WASPs have been both progressive and public-minded, especially over the last 100 years, and have been influential in business, banking, philanthropy, academia, the arts, and in public service. They have contributed in a very real way to the building of the United States, and some of our great leaders – both past and present – have been white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant.

At present, even as WASPs themselves recede from the popular memory, a great deal of attention is given to their legacies – buildings, clothing, institutions. Consider the popularity of the term “Preppy” to describe a certain style of manners, education, and dress, all of which have been dis-engaged from their foundation in WASP provenance. Indeed Ralph Lauren has made a retail empire of marketing these things as “classic American style,” which indicates the extent to which the public view WASP style as the American classic.

In the guise of “Preppy,” therefore, WASP has become a lifestyle, something that can be espoused by stocking up on the relevant merchandise, by striking a pose and espousing a certain art de vivre.

To my mind, however, this is cheap, and it is several sizes too small an evaluation of the space formerly occupied by our people.

In response to the question above – why a manifesto? – one’s answer comes from a strongly-held belief that our way of life offers more to the world than simply good clothes and good manners. Put another way: WASP-dom is not an empty shell, fading grey into memory, and our people are not lame ducks in this great American experiment. If one considers that the purpose of all of our upbringing – from the Knickerbocker Greys to Yale and Harvard – is to prepare our young men and women for the responsibilities of privilege, and that the uppermost of these attendant duties is the charge to lead, then it is imperative that our people not squander the benefits that we have been given. To do so is to neglect responsibility to the land that created us and that has put the silver spoon, so to speak, into our mouths.

It is time that our people come again to believe this of themselves.

It must be distinctly understood that these essays do not advocate a racial position. In this day, WASP ways and values can readily be adopted by members of any race or (in some instances) religion, and they certainly are. We are in a time when second-generation black Ivy League graduates are at large in American society, ascending to positions of leadership alongside their white peers. The same will be true of members of every nationality and racial background before very long indeed.

What is critical are those values of literacy, fair play, sportsmanship, moderation, and civic-mindedness that have long shaped the ways of our people. They grow from a background of independent education and a certain amount of comfort, and they are critical to balancing the radical impulses of a society, radical impulses which have grown enormously in the last 50 years and which threaten to push the United States onto a dangerous, destructive course.

All of the values listed above, and their peers, are a critical tonic to the fanaticism and individual self-centeredness that have been creeping ever more strongly into American public life. A people who do not understand the basic self-sacrifice endemic to a successful democracy, who cannot appreciate why taxes are paid and why we must all give of ourselves for the greater good, such a people utterly misunderstand the nature of our form of government. In the first instance, before it is for the people, ours is a government OF the people. Our plenty – in peace, in wealth, and in liberty – is dependent upon those things that we give of ourselves.

At our people’s best, WASPs live these values. And while we have been guilty en masse of being spoiled and inward-looking, so also are we to be credited en masse for giving of ourselves and providing leadership for the good of our towns, cities, and for these United States. It is for the promotion of this latter purpose that the WASP Manifesto is written.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. DPHF permalink
    June 8, 2010 8:04 pm

    Love your site — wish it appeared more frequently!….Too much to say, too much left unsaid…


  2. July 20, 2012 8:06 pm

    What a wonderful Intro to a wonderful site. To the author who–true to form–seems to remain anon: Thank you for this and for remaining, well, true to form.

  3. Josh Kinnard permalink
    October 28, 2012 12:12 pm

    I’m a loyal reader. Love your site. Keep up the good work. I’d like to see some more posts about Canada.

  4. November 9, 2012 10:03 pm

    Thanks for posting the DAR article and the op-ed by David Brooks. Yours is an interesting site with a message that warrants thought. I’ll return to read more.

  5. William Bell permalink
    May 29, 2013 2:22 pm

    This is a great blog, keep up the good work!

  6. July 16, 2013 5:17 am

    I look to The Wasp Manifesto often. The essays insightful and the exemplars illustrative … a tour de force … a thought provocateur.

  7. July 29, 2013 11:18 am

    Scranton died. A post holding him out as an Exemplar in order? Based upon what I have read here, seems so…

    • July 30, 2013 6:03 pm

      … as in “WASP culture” dead, Brad Cole? Never. I believe it’s actually growing now through other groups which attempt a poor facsimile!

      • July 31, 2013 2:30 pm

        AD, No, simply noted that Governor William W. Scranton died and that he was an exemplary man. Cheers, BC

  8. Ryan Ullrich permalink
    December 21, 2013 12:38 am

    This site is fantastic. I am a loyal reader and consider this blog an equivalent of The New Yorker, The New Criterion, The Economist, and Town and Country. Your lengthy articles and in-depth posts are fascinating and I agree with them all. Post more often, please!

    I wish there was a blog like this for Boston. Our Athenaeum is very similar to the Society Library, and the Somerset is just as handsome as the Knickerbocker. Yes, a Beacon Hill-Back Bay site like this would be great.

  9. April 7, 2014 6:44 pm

    An articulate and entertaining site. Thank you very much. As author of The Old Money Book and blog, I believe we have similar perspectives and common hopes for society as a whole, and the upper class in particular.

    I look forward to more posts, and I hope you’ll visit my site.

    Continued success and

    Kind regards,

  10. penelopebianchi permalink
    September 9, 2014 12:19 am

    Honestly; being a “cool” WASP from Southern California; I was sent to Massachusetts…..(Northampton; particularly);

    I almost died there…..but , however, I learned to be a “preppy”!!

    It has served me well….and I love your blog!

    I grew up in Pasadena, California…(the only place in California that “preppies lived during the first 3/4 of the 20th century; My father….Hotchkis1921!!!) He had to take the train! Then Princeton….1925!

    (establishing credentials is important. Because of Ralph Lauren…there are pseudo-preppies…..everywhere..rampant.) Oh well.

    some things are over.

    Belgian shoes are the last rampant. Truly. They are so hard to find…and so divine….and so “Preppy” in the best way.

    they are the end-all!!! (they keep 3×5 cards) of every shoe you have ever bought there!

    I hope you knew that!

    YOU are in charge of keeping “preppy” ALIVE!!!


  11. Henry Breene permalink
    November 14, 2015 1:29 pm

    I’m an Anglo-Irish Catholic and I love the WASP philosophy.


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