The Last Brahmin

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In a follow up of sorts to my retrospective on E. Digby Baltzell and the Protestant Establishment, I have a review of Luke Nichter’s biography of Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., The Last Brahmin, up over at City Journal. Here is an excerpt:

Perhaps nothing better demonstrates the decline in the ethos guiding public service than the role of money, then and now. Lodge’s dedication to public service was such that he depleted his own family fortunes to fulfill it. Though he was by no means poor, by the end of his life he was selling off family artwork to stay afloat. In his book about the last generation of the WASP establishment, The Guardians, Geoffrey Kabaservice notes several other WASP elites who entered their final days financially pressed, including former Yale president Kingman Brewster Jr. Former New York mayor John Lindsay nearly went broke and had to be financially rescued by Rudy Giuliani. Very few serving at these levels today fail to acquire obscene riches after leaving public service.

The old elite was not without blemish, of course. Lodge and his fellow public servants didn’t exactly crown themselves with glory in Vietnam, even if Kennedy and Johnson share most of the blame for the follies and tragedies of that effort. Nevertheless, Nichter concludes The Last Brahmin by noting that today “people long for an era when politicians could disagree without being disagreeable.” The ethos of public service and bipartisanship embodied by figures like Lodge seems nearly extinct in America. As Nichter says, “Only now, after a sufficient passage of time since the end of the Vietnam War, can we see that the country lost more than it gained through the exit of these families from politics and public service.”

Click through to read the whole thing.