his journey to the East, where he died,nhis death surrounded by mystery and ambiguity,nbut also, to his admirers, bynpeace. Thomas Merton was a humble,nloving man who was in some ways misunderstood,nand who misunderstoodnsome things himself. His bequest of misbegottenncauses has been promulgatednand mutated until it is unrecognizablenas the wistful thinking of a meditativenman in the forest. But political movementsngrow old and die. The real legacynof Thomas Merton, as Monica Furlongnsuggests, is triumphantly of the monasterynat Gethsemani where he isnburied. DnLet Us Return to First PrinciplesnJoseph Epstein: Ambition; E. P.nButton; New York.nby Paul GottfriednJoseph Epstein, editor of AmericannScholar, is a cultural critic who writesnwith flair and offers learned judgmentsnabout the state of American society.nLike the more explicitly conservativenGeorge Will, Epstein is fond of citingn18th- and 19th-century authorities onn20th-century problems. His essays, alsonlike Will’s, abound with references tonTocqueville, Emerson, Matthew Arnold,nDr. Johnson and Burke; they andnothers are cited to good effect on thendangers of cultural leveling, emotionalnexcess and educational mediocrity. Anrelentless advocate of high linguisticnand learning standards, Epstein seemsnto be, in one of his own favorite phrases,n”on the side of the angels.”nHis latest book testifies to his continuingnconcern with a changing Americanncharacter. The major theme is ambitionn—or, more accurately, the highly ambivalentnattitude that modern Americansnhave toward worldly success. Onenpart of his book consists of portraits ofnfamous Americans who amassed greatnfortunes by steadily exerting themselvesnto get ahead. Henry Ford, Samuel dunPont, Meyer Guggenheim and that selfpromotionngenius, Ben Franklin, arentreated as devotees of the traditionalnDr. Gottfried teaches history at RockfordnCollege, and he is a contributingneditor of Modern Age.nAmerican work ethic. They, like manynothers, sought unabashedly to gainnmoney and influence, convinced as theynwere that the pursuit of both was entirelynmeritorious. Epstein mentions innpassing the Weber thesis on the correlationnbetween the psychology of the capitalistnentrepreneur and Calvinist moralntheology. According to Max Weber, ancapitalist economy in either Europe ornAmerica would never have beennachieved in the absence of those moralnattitudes toward work and profit whichnCalvinist theology imparted. Calvinismntaught service to God through the pur-n”Ihi- sillicsi and iiio.’it tlanpcnms parr of 1 •[‘su’in’s liimk li^j liu’ pri-ri-nM- dial ilii’nc’omniiTciiJ foutuialinn.s of our socic;iy luii’ lurn iinikrniini’d In currents of radicalni-liif . . .”n— ‘/’Ac- Nationn”Takf a tan of Q)rn Nihict.s. h!i.-nti inio aniniLi. you’ll have ilie tiilinarv i.'(|uivali.-ni ofnsuit of one’s worldly vocation. SincenCalvinists viewed salvation as a gift conferrednindependently of human merit,nthey looked for signs of divine grace inntheir social and material relationships.nCalvin and his immediate disciples werenhighly critical of commercial dealings,nbut they helped to create an ethos ofn”worldly asceticism” that found its fullestnexpression in the incipient capitalistneconomy of the 17th and 18th centuries.nSignificantly, Weber turned to secularizednCalvinists like Benjamin Franklinnto furnish examples of a triumphantnProtestant ethic. With some justifica­nnntion, he argued that Calvinism’s moralnvalues continued to shape men’s charactersnas a social ethic even after the religiousndoctrines had lost their spell.nThrift, sobriety and the systematic pursuitnof profit, even if no longer taken asna sign of divine election, remained thenhallmarks of the early American capitalist.nAnd, as Epstein notes, they becamenuniversalized ethical imperativesnwhich German Jews and Irish Catholicsncould embrace with the same zeal asnScottish Presbyterians.nDespite the long-time identificationnof American prosperity with the prevalencenof the Protestant work ethic, mennof letters in the mid-19th century werenalready denouncing material ambitionnas a national obsession. Epstein tracesnthe genealogy of this powerful dissentnfrom Henry Adams’s intellectual elitismnand social snobbery down to thennew-left attacks on the “American system.”nTo his credit, he makes appropriatendistinctions between 19th-centuryntraditionalist critiques of the GildednAge and modern rejections of the worknethic. Although critical of his ownnpot of slij;lilly warm (ihi-iv. Whiz, andnJostpli rip.-inin’s Amii’ilinn . .n— Villtiij^i’ ‘itn’cnsociety, Henry Adams, for example,nconsidered his productive scholarly lifena failure for being devoid of his ancestor’snpolitical accomplishments. By contrast,nour contemporary attacks on ambitionncurse America’s past as well as itsnpresent. Adams criticized the work ethicnof his day for being too closely associatednwith material pleasure and ostentation,nbut, like Max Weber, he respectednthe moral restraint and ascetic valuesnof his own ancestral Protestant culture.nrJut whatever the differences betweennAdams’s and Irving Babbitt’s ap-n15nJttly/Augttst 1981n