MONEY AND CLASS IN AMERICA: Notes and Observations On a Civil Religion by Lewis H. Lapham

MONEY AND CLASS IN AMERICA: Notes and Observations On a Civil Religion

Email this review


A keyed-up, hyperbolic denunciation of the American fascination with money, by the editor of Harper's. Lapham, whose Fortune's Child (1979) introduced a wider audience to his peculiar form of passionate invective, once again lays into modern American society with a vengeance. Claiming as authority his own membership in the ""equestrian classes,"" whose empty worship of money he Finds upsetting, he sets out to demonstrate, through a blistering array of personal anecdotes, flashy aphorisms, and outrageous facts from newspapers, the hypocritical, self-serving foolishness of what he claims to be our highest form of idolatry. The resulting ""jeremiad"" is not without its entertaining moments, as when Lapham lists the current vanities of the rich (stretch limousines equipped with hot tubs and helicopter landing pads; high-fashion evening wear for children under ten); and his capacity to lump together disparate subjects--""the plays of William Shakespeare and Sophocles, the history of the Roman Empire, the civil wars in Ireland and Lebanon""--can be startling. But his unwillingness to construct a coherent argument, his overindulgence in aphorisms (both his own and those he has culled from books of quotations), his casual attitude towards historical fact (especially when generalizing inaccurately about the Constitutional Convention of 1787), his attempt to claim money as a religion without once defining what a religion is, and his touching but naive belief that what he is saying about the rich has somehow never been said before--all detract from what could otherwise have been a powerful and serious examination of our society in the tradition of H.L. Mencken and Thorstein Veblen. Though occasionally funny and certainly prickly-provocative, this verbose and repetitive work never really gets around to convincing us of much that we didn't know before.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson