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The Plymouth 400 Symposium
How Ellis Islanders Saw Their War Against WASPs

1,770 words

E. Digby Baltzell
The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Caste in America
New York: Random House, 1964

The WASPs can never get any love. Their power once evoked equal amounts of admiration and resentment in American society. Now they’re just a relic and a punching bag for every other group’s ethnic grievances.

The term didn’t exist when WASPs were the comfortable majority of the country. White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant would’ve described the vast majority of Americans from the revolution to the early 20th century. Typically, the term doesn’t refer to all of those who are White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant — it’s only meant to refer to elites. People love to attack rural Arkansans, who would technically be WASPs, but few in their vitriol deride them as such. It’s an acronym meant to skewer privilege and power, not hillbillies.

Fittingly, the term came into popularity after World War II when the children and grandchildren of Ellis Islanders were seeking to enter the Anglo establishment. The man most responsible for the popularization of the word was a WASP himself. University of Pennsylvania sociologist E. Digby Baltzell’s famous The Protestant Establishment gave voice to those who yearned to destroy the supposed tyranny of the WASP country club. The book, published in 1964, justified Ellis Islanders becoming the new elite. Baltzell argued his own people are too bigoted to control the reins and they must accept replacement by plucky newcomers. The Protestant Establishment amounts to an argument for why Jews and other Ellis Islanders must replace Baltzell’s people.

His book outlined two different kinds of elites. The one he favored is “aristocracy.”

Baltzell defined aristocracy as:

(1) a community of upper-class families whose members are born to positions of high prestige and assured dignity because their ancestors have been leaders (elite members) for one generation or more; (2) that these families are carriers of a set of traditional values which command authority because they represent the aspirations of both the elite and the rest of the population; and (3) that this class continues to justify its authority (a) by contributing its share of contemporary leaders and (b) by continuing to assimilate, in each generation, the families of new members of the elite. As with the elite concept, I do not conceive of the aristocracy as the “best” or the “fittest” in the sense of the term “natural aristocracy” as used by Jefferson. The aristocratic process means that the upper class is open.

“Caste” is the term he uses for the bad kind of elite. Baltzell defined it as:

\When, in any society, there is an upper class which protects its privileges and prestige but does not continue (1) to contribute leadership or (2) to assimilate new elite members because of their racial or ethnic origins, I shall refer to the process of caste. If an upper class degenerates into a caste, moreover, the traditional authority of an establishment is in grave danger of disintegrating, while society becomes a field for careerists seeking success and affluence. The caste process is the very antithesis of the aristocratic process and inevitably, in the long run if not immediately, leads to the decline of authority and a crisis in leadership.

You can buy It’s Okay to Be White: The Best of Greg Johnson here.

Baltzell claimed the WASP elites of his day were too caste-minded, too jealous of their power and privileges. He warned that this mentality could lead to the ossification of the American elite. The only way to enter this caste is by blood, not merit. The Ellis Islander elite is an aristocracy, while the WASP old guard is a caste.

His fears, written in the 1960s, were ridiculous then and more hilarious in hindsight. Most of the book, which is considered a classic of American sociology, is devoted to the oppression Jewish oligarchs feel at not feeling fully accepted by WASP country clubs. According to Baltzell, the real power centers of America are these country clubs. Their exclusion of minorities, Jews in particular, presented a grave threat to our democracy. Baltzell’s obsession with anti-Semitism, complete with warnings that 1960s America could produce another Hitler, is bizarre. The WASP dissident was a philo-Semite throughout his life. His New York Times obituary included his praise of Jews as culturally superior to Anglos. ”People talk about what Episcopalians have accomplished and their power, but what Jews have done in the United States since World War II is now the great untold story,” he said in 1981.

The author conjures up an image of WASPs that would be very attractive to Right-wingers. They care deeply about their lineage, culture, and traditions. They fervently oppose immigration and integration. Baltzell quotes one WASP who says the “American people know pretty well that the enemy is Washington as well as Moscow,” indicating the WASP elite hated the liberal lurch of Cold War America. Their institutions stand for the historic American nation against the tides of change and color. The WASPs are a proud elite that want to keep America American.

Unfortunately, they were not like this in real life. The WASPs may have harbored prejudices against Jews, blacks, and others in their country clubs and summer retreats, but they didn’t act on these beliefs. While Baltzell argues the club and fraternity were the real power centers, the Ellis Islanders took over America’s culture and politics. The WASPs were powerless to resist anti-discrimination claims against their enclaves and the subversion of their culture. They were able to make a lot of money and have influence over their immediate surroundings, but they weren’t in control of the country. Moreover, many WASPs, like Baltzell, championed their own dispossession. The author was one of many fellow class traitors who had forsaken their clubbiness to stand with Ellis Islanders. The WASP elite never bothered to justify themselves to the new Americans. This ultimately led to their dispossession.

The WASPs who did engage in politics after World War II were some of the greatest traitors to this nation. Nelson Rockefeller, John Lindsay, and George Romney were all fierce advocates of the Civil Rights revolution and promoted white dispossession. There was no blue-blood reactionary in the political arena at this time. Rockefeller, Lindsay, and Romney were accurate representatives of their class.

In spite of his hysteria over WASP domination, Baltzell essentially admitted these facts. He excoriated his class for not engaging in public service and staying aloof from politics. Of course, the Penn sociologist didn’t want his class to represent Anglo-Saxon interests in politics; he simply saw it as a means to make them open up their clubs to deserving Jews.

Baltzell didn’t offer any examples of the WASP elite resisting change despite their social clubs and fraternities denying admission to minorities. His spokesmen for WASP recalcitrance were all dead by 1964, including such luminaries as Madison Grant and Henry Adams. Even though the book constantly brings up the Nazis and the danger of the WASP caste enabling an American fascism, Baltzell could only muster the example of the Republican Party as an example of Anglo reaction.

Baltzell’s discussions of contemporary party politics sound mostly like Rachel Maddow warning of Republican fascism today. His silly partisanship is exhibited in how he praises WASP class traitors for leaving the GOP in favor of the Democrats. He even includes many remarks on how the Republican Party needs to abandon Anglo-Saxons in favor of diverse America. All you need to do is exchange Anglos for whites, and you have a 2020 MSNBC segment.

Baltzell’s politics as expressed in his work are that of a typical mid-century liberal. He praised the civil rights movement, deplored bigotry, cherished the institutions, and admired JFK. He saw the ascendancy of a more diverse aristocracy in JFK’s election. He, like many liberals, was repulsed by the antics of Joe McCarthy. McCarthyism, in the author’s telling, was an ethnic revolt against the WASP elite. This is a bad ethnic revolt, however. Baltzell comes out as a mighty defender of the institutions and the deserving aristocracy against McCarthy’s ethnic resentment. He was no revolutionary and he stressed the need for aristocracy and WASP norms. He just believed the good things didn’t need the WASPs anymore. The shrill cries about McCarthy undermine the worries about WASP fascism. Apparently, the big threat was from Right-wing ethnics rather than Right-wing WASPs.

The book’s definition of aristocracy appeals to today’s elites. It discards any notions they wrongfully inherited their position and tells them they’re the best of the best. Anyone can join the aristocracy, so long as they have the right stuff. It’s tolerant, inclusive, and liberal. This is an elite that should lead and its authority must be respected. A well-entrenched elite keeps demagogues like Joe McCarthy away from power and gives us the respectable politicians we need — allegedly.

Most importantly, this aristocracy supersedes the Anglo caste and upholds the myth that America is a nation of immigrants. It’s not blood that makes these people better or gives them the right to rule. It’s simply merit.

This is a nice story for our current elite to tell themselves and justify their authority. The bad elites are gone and we now have an elite that’s more representative of the country. Trust the institutions, trust your leaders, and ignore the demagogues who attack them.

It’s unfortunate Baltzell’s work is touted by some on the Right. It is interesting as a historical relic of its time and it does shine a light on overlooked aspects of elite formation and Anglo norms. But it’s ultimately a silly book. Country clubs did not hold cultural or political power during the mid-20th century and the Ellis Islander ascendancy was well underway at that time. The book only validates the grievances and delusions of garment district social climbers. Baltzell tells the Ellis Islander elites that they are the true successors to Lincoln and Jefferson, not the Anglos.

WASPophobia lingers on well past its expiration date. Even some on the Right indulge in it thanks to works like The Protestant Establishment. It’s far easier to imagine the WASPs as the secret puppet-masters of American society than to criticize those actually in power. For all their faults, the WASPs aren’t the ones invading the world while inviting it in.

It’s the elites who succeeded them.

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  1. curri
    Posted December 9, 2020 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Strangely, Eric Kaufmann’s The Rise and fall of Anglo-America is completely unavailable:

    His latest book, Whiteshift is ranked #140 in the “immigration policy” category.

  2. Bernie
    Posted December 9, 2020 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    It’s always easy to attack those who can’t or won’t fight back. It is a great career enhancement as well. I recall seeing Baltzell’s name in National Review in the 90s but cannot recall one article he wrote. Sounds like a guy who saw his opportunity to advance and took it.

    The author is correct in that all whites now get the WASP treatment. Once in a while you will still hear a white talk about “me great grandpappy saw No Irish Need Apply signs, begorrah,” “I’m not white, I’m Italian,” or Rahm Emmanuel’s hilarious, “I tanned darkly so every summer I would be chased by racist whites in Chicago who thought I was black.”

    No black or anti-white racist has ever or will ever be fooled by these arguments.

  3. Posted December 9, 2020 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I distinctly remember in the late 1960s when “WASP” became a pejorative catchphrase to designate “the establishment.”

    Very few at the time realized—or were even permitted to realize—that the WASP-bashing was the result of a new elite taking the reins. The concept of “circulation of elites” was alien to me at the time.

    • Ray Caruso
      Posted December 9, 2020 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

      WASPs are ultimately responsible for the demise of the nation they created, which event all of us are currently witnessing. The role played by a certain band of covetous aliens has been more direct, but who decided to let said aliens into the country in the first place? Liberals have resolved to remove every honor accorded to George Washington on account of his owning black slaves, but the real reason Washington should be reconsidered as a hero is the shameful, odious, and treasonous letter he wrote to the members of Rhode Island’s Touro Synagogue, in which he assured them they were full citizens and equal in every way to Christians. It should be noted that no country in Europe save Poland, which would also pay dearly for it, gave non-Christians citizenship at the time. But America was a magical land, where the accumulated wisdom of the Old World was to be discarded for the sake of creating an egalitarian utopia. The synagogue-goers interpreted that letter as a license to plunder and exploit Americans to their heart’s content, and so did all of their later-arriving coreligionists. Washington’s letter is not the reason America is now a “diversity” zoo rather than a nation, but the attitude expressed in it—a mix of naiveté and arrogance, as if the ugly, hook-nosed bands could not possibly represent any kind of threat to the gallant Anglo-Saxons—is indeed the cause. Sadly, in ruining America for themselves, WASPs also ruined her for their European cousins. She is now no real homeland for any Whites, and that will only become more true in the future.

  4. Bernie
    Posted December 9, 2020 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Here is blurb on Baltzell from the March 1987 issue of Instauration:

    Anti-WASP WASP

    In the race-crossed eyes of the Wall Street Journal, E. Digby Baltzell is the world’s greatest authority on WASPs. Retiring from his job as a full-time professor at the University of
    Pennsylvania, Baltzell is now writing a new book that claims, correctly, that in the good old days of amateur tennis, when manners were more important than money, a brash character
    like John McEnroe would have been thrown off the courts for good the first time he opened his brassy mouth.

    In earlier books, Baltzell, not a very WASP-like name, insinuated that the WASP aristocracy practically committed suicide because it didn’t welcome Jews into its ranks fast
    enough. The fork-tongued pedagogue gave further proof of his Semitic tilt by explaining that his obsessive interest in WASPs was triggered by watching his prep school classmates “taunt” a Jewish student.

    It’s easy to see why all this subtle anti-WASPery appeals to the Wall Street Journal, whose editor and publisher are both Jewish and whose owner is Dow Jones. Warren Phillips, Dow Jones CEO, was born a Jew, though he later converted to Christianity.

    Baltzell may be a WASP, but he is playing a Jewish game, as Murray Friedman, an American Jewish Committee official, recognized when he wrote that the professor’s book, The
    Protestant Establishment was a “major weapon in the battle against prejudice and bigotry.”

  5. James O'Meara
    Posted December 9, 2020 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    This may be a bit of WASP bashing (note the name below) but there does seem to be something to Baltzell’s notion that power resides in country clubs and other clubs, rather than the latter being expressions of power. (We’ve heard the same argument to open them up to women: “this is where the real deals are made!”) WASP’s didn’t rule the country from their country clubs, BUT they thought they did.

    I happened to be reading Colin Wilson last night, where he commented, as he frequently did, that he had been born in the wrong country, as native Brits had no interest in ideas and thought those who did were “phonies”. The famous British “empiricism” and American “pragmatism” may be about ideas, but they seem to degenerate into a all around disinterest in “mere ideas” especially “ideology.” Remember the celebrations of “the end of ideology” as a good thing in the 60s, and later the eagerness to believe in “the end of history” once those ideology-crazy Russkies were done for?

    You find essentially the same thing among the HBD and IQ fetishists: only STEM matters, leave the humanities to the math-challenged, low IQ types, like… Jews?

    WASPs seemed to really believe it made no difference what went on in colleges, seminaries, etc. as long as they could be sure that only “the right sort” of people were admitted to their clubs. There was a bit of a kerfluffle about Jews teaching English lit at Columbia but other wise the grubby little immigrants with their “ideas” continued their march through the institutions.

    At some point the Right decided “we need some Jews to do some thinking for us, to counter those smart Lefties”. Thus was born neo-conservativism, which of course eventually took over there as well.

    Ironically, once the culture capitulated, there were no arguments to prevent the clubs from being opened up to Jews and later women. The STEM people are starting to get the same treatment now.

    This recalls Paul Fussell, in his book “Class: Class: A Guide Through the American Status System,” that life in the highest class is comfortable, but you have to be willing to “never hear an intelligent conversation again.” Their idea of culture is National Geographic (the old one, of course).

    Mayor Curley of Boston won election after election through his strategy of filling Boston with immigrants, yet though the Brahmins fumed, they never figured it out. “How does he do it”; like Pauline Kael’s remark about Nixon: “I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” For Curley, “The Anglo Saxons are a strange and stupid race.”

    • Ray Caruso
      Posted December 9, 2020 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

      At some point the Right decided “we need some Jews to do some thinking for us, to counter those smart Lefties”. Thus was born neo-conservativism, which of course eventually took over there as well.

      That may have given neocons the “in” they needed, but it didn’t birth so-called neoconservatism. The true origin of neocons is as Jewish Trotskyite communists. Russia was arguably the most anti-Semitic (sanest) country in Europe, since it originally didn’t allow Jews to settle on its territory. The later Romanovs, who were hardly Russian in any sense, liberalized this policy by carving out various exceptions, such as for previous military service. Then, rather suddenly, they found themselves poised to gain full control over their old enemy, which happened to be the largest country in the world. Lenin was part Jewish, while Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronshtein), who was expected to succeed Lenin, was 100 percent kosher. However, a catastrophe befell their plans, and that catastrophe was named Joseph Stalin. Outmaneuvering Trotsky, Stalin first drove him into exile and then had him murdered. In addition, Stalin had essentially all notable Jewish Bolsheviks executed during the late 1930s, definitively breaking Jewish power in the USSR. That’s when Trotskyite Jews in the United States, which is to say, Jews who wanted a communist USSR and eventually a communist world ruled by their kind, became neocons. They wanted revenge, and they were willing to submit the United States to a nuclear holocaust to get it. Although the USSR is gone, they haven’t forgiven Russia. They still hate Russia with a passion and always will, as they must punish the country for escaping their clutches.

  6. Josephus Cato
    Posted December 9, 2020 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    No doubt the “Ellis Islanders” played their part in displacing the WASP establishment. However, it seems like the WASP establishment itself played a part in its own demise as well. It begs the question, why?

  7. Autobot
    Posted December 9, 2020 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    It’s only pandering. As recognizable as it is tiresome. He would no doubt be a fervent neocon in the contemporary context.

  8. Franz
    Posted December 9, 2020 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    By the mid-70s, Baltzell’s book was sometimes paired with Novak’s “The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics” which arrived in 1972.

    This pairing led to some hilarious comments in the Reagan years, because just as the “unmeltables” were rising a bit, they completely melted. By then the “PIGS” (Poles, Italians, Greeks and Slavs) were leaving the farms, mines and mills of their Ellis Island forebears and marrying into old stock Anglo-Celt-German-Dutch Americans or even each other. Once many of them became Americans, they were indistinguishable from the best of the WASPS anyway. The big example of that era being Judge John Sirica (“Maximum John”).

    I have always been suspicious of Baltzell because there was no serious hostility for the WASP from most ethnics. If anything they admired them. It was great fun to watching Polish and Italian kids playing Pilgrim dress-up at Thanksgiving parties.

    It was not the PIGS or the WASPS, as distinct groups, who “invited the world” in any case. That seems to have been a real “caste” situation; by that I mean all sorts of people, including foreign investors, who just couldn’t see why millions of native-born Americans shouldn’t take a pay cut to make the filthy rich even richer. It’s the internationalists, now globalists, who did that and that’s its own category.

  9. Autobot
    Posted December 9, 2020 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Most white groups are so laid-back. The other day I was playing super Mario Brothers, and iconic Nintendo game, wherein obviously ethnic Italian plumbers explore pipes and fight creatures and collect coins. It’s all taken to be in good fun and is a very classic franchise. But now can you imagine if you made a video game about a Jewish banker who crawls and jumps for coins? We would never hear the end of it. Instead of iconic people be ashamed and hide it. There would be lawsuits for years.

  10. Mike Ricci
    Posted December 9, 2020 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    WASPs brought it on themselves. They were never as committed to duty and country as they’re said to have been. And their biggest mistake was always thinking that sweeping the floor was someone else’s job.

    Funny enough, Ellis Islanders haven’t really flipped the script. Maybe Whites are just lazy buck passers in general.

    • Canadianer
      Posted December 10, 2020 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

      Your comment is stupid, but is it not obvious that if a class of people are NOT the bottom of the working class it is only possible for them to be middle or upper class? Jews also don’t sweep floors and that does not prevent them from being a ruling class.

  11. Ray Caruso
    Posted December 9, 2020 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    For all their faults, the WASPs aren’t the ones invading the world while inviting it in.

    That’s not entirely true. The WASP elites, as opposed to White Anglo-Saxon Protestants of more humble background, by and large belong to the invade-the-world-invite-the-world crowd. The Bushes are the first ones who come to mind. They are both as WASP and as ITWITW as it gets. However, they are hardly the only ones. The two failed Republican nominees before Trump, John McCain and Mitt Romney, were also staunch ITWITW proponents. To be fair, it could be argued that Romney is not technically a WASP since Mormons, not being Christians, are not Protestants in the strictest sense, although they seem to share Protestant sensibilities and aesthetics. Beyond those at the very top of Republican politics, the WASPs who adhere to the ITWITW philosophy out of conviction, expediency, or simple stupidity are too numerous to list. The truth is that WASPs have never really opposed (((their))) power. At first, because they felt they didn’t need to, as (((they))) seemed nothing but a quaint relic of the Old World and later, as WASPs were already being displaced from their place at the top of the American heap, because (((they))) had become too powerful and opposing (((them))) was too dangerous.

  12. A
    Posted December 10, 2020 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    Was Nelson Rockefeller a WASP?

  13. nineofclubs
    Posted December 14, 2020 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    The term WASP didn’t catch on as much in Australia as in the US, but there are some interesting parallels nonetheless.

    White Australia was historically divided between those loyal to the British empire and those with an ‘Australia first’ concept of patriotism. This divide was especially apparent during WW1, when Australians descended from convicts and/or Irish forebears (‘Currency’) were reluctant to fight a war for the glory of English colonialism. The elites (‘Sterlings’) were entirely pro-Empire; ‘home’ for many was England, despite the majority never having been there.

    The Currency dominated the working classes and formed the basis of the original Australian Labor Party, with its policies of economic protection and immigration restriction. The ALP is now a mainstream party of liberal-globalism, an embarrassing shadow of a once great movement.

    (As a digression, the article linked below ponders the lack of socially right, economically left political parties in Europe, despite popular opinion for such positions.)

    After WW2, Australian elites shifted their allegiance from Britain to the US and bought – wholesale – into the Cold War and the fetishisation of the free market. Australia’s own neo-cons were born.

    Australia-first nationalism lives on in the popular imagination.. politically orphaned, except for the small nationalist party, Australia First.


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