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Andrew Burns AP Language and Composition Mr. Girard October 29, 2008 Refutation of Lapham’s “Money and Class in America” Americans’ love for money does not arise from an ethic of defunct values nor does it signify an imbalance of faith. America is a practical nation, a nation that views money as neither the radix malorum nor the radix bonorum, but as the reward that accompanies success in a pursuit, good or evil. Lapham’s observation that “money means so much to us” is absolutely correct but his characterization of Americans as greedy, incompetent, money worshippers whose life loses purpose without expensive finery and his portrayal of the rest of the world as more balanced is grossly inaccurate. There are many people in America who have money, lots of money. They drive around in fancy cars, purchase the latest designer clothing, and thrust themselves into the public sphere. According to Lapham, America must judge these people as both “good and wise,” regardless of their behavior, yet we don’t. No one is asking Shia Labouef for driving lessons or Paris Hilton for stock picks. Lapham would have you believe that Americans are so blinded by wealth that the proclamations of the rich are taken as the word of God. Such an assertion is demonstrably false, for if it were true, Congress, aka a country club for millionaires and billionaires, would not be struggling under a fourteen percent approval rating and editorial cartoonist wouldn’t dare lampoon the intellectual failings of President Bush. Outside of Lapham’s ivory tower, Americans tend to follow Martin Luther King, Jr.’s advice to judge individuals on “the content of their


Burns 2 character” not the size of their wallet or bank account. While Americans admire individuals who, through wisdom or skill, become successful, the byproduct of which is usually wealth, no amount of money will endear them to the crooked executive or the gold-digging wife. It is easy for liberal intellectuals like Mr. Lapham to depict Americans as the financial Dr. Fausts, willing to sell our souls for a pound of gold. In their minds, desiring money is tantamount to committing a crime and they routinely advocate on behalf of the lazy in opposition of those determined to make a living. Most Americans don’t worship money, and Lapham’s assertion that “the American faith in money easily surpasses the degrees achieved by other societies in other times and other places” would be laughable if it were not made by an influential literary figure. Clearly, Lapham has not read about the Spanish enslaving people for South American silver or the African tribes selling their fellow man for some Portuguese gold. The behavior of these people approaches the level of “sterile cupidity” or “insanity” that Lapham would falsely attribute to Americans. Americans enjoy money and have faith in its ability to purchase the necessities and comforts of life. The level to which we depend on money necessitates a certain level of faith, but not so much that it becomes “the currency of the soul.” While many would argue that Americans are too dependent on material goods, I would question these people as to what they would have Americans do. Take a vow of poverty and lock themselves up in a monastery? It is certainly true that Americans purchase “talismans” to extract a certain level of satisfaction, but to no greater extent than the rest of the world does the same thing and our ability to acquire more things should not serve as an indictment of our moral clarity. In Lapham’s world sadness over the loss of money is scandalous, for it only demonstrates that our “theorem of happiness” is solely based on balance sheets. His reference to a theorem of


Burns 3 happiness seems to imply that our happiness was phony to begin with and that most Americans live with some sort of artificial happiness. Money is not Americans’ sole source of happiness and the loss in financial standing does not inevitably lead to the “[loss] of all hope.” On the contrary, Americans are resilient and often find opportunities in misfortune by which to lift themselves up. Lapham’s characterization is an open attack on the American people, accusing them of focusing solely on the material and equating success with a “deluxe apartment in the sky.” Like a good ivory tower resident, Lapham concludes his piece by demonstrating the inferiority of the United States with respect to other countries and cultures. He implies that Americans faith is solely in money, and that unlike “other men in other times and places” Americans have no “countervailing faiths in family, honor, intellect and social class.” Utter rubbish. One gets the impression from reading his essay that Lapham has never been to America where some politicians run their entire campaign on “family values” while others focus on nothing but “social class” and where the media spends 12 hours of media coverage for Medal of Honor recipients while the government spends enormous sums of money on scientific research. No, in Lapham’s eyes the British, Germans, Soviets, and French all posses some quality that Americans lack, some standard that Americans fail to meet. Lapham accuses Americans of loving money and I ask – so what? In case Lapham hasn’t noticed, Americans have used their accumulated wealth to create the richest nation on earth, capable of bailing out small countries and single-handedly funding one-quarter of the United Nations. Americans have used their money to develop life-saving medicines, used their money to investigate the mysteries of the universe, used their money to fund African charities, to rebuild broken countries, to aid victims of Nature’s wrath, to investigate the mating habits of trout. Lapham’s essay makes no mention of these good purposes; for instead, he is intent on portraying


Burns 4 Americans as soulless money grubbing frauds with an intractable addiction to greed and inferior societal structure. Perhaps we should just send a letter to Mr. Lapham, addressed to “Little Ivory Tower� expressing our disapproval.


Refutation of Lapham’s “Money and Class in America”