Children of Fortunenby Paul T. HornaknEach social class has its own pathology.nOld Money: The Mythology ofnAmerica’s Upper Class by NelsonnW. Aldrich Jr., New York: AlfrednA. Knopf.nGoing by the tide and subtitle alone, itnwould appear that this is either a booknabout the lies rich people tell eachnother, or a book transforming the jinglenof coins into the crash of magical cymbals.nHaving read it through, I amnhappy to report that the latter is thencase. Aldrich has, to use the late JosephnCampbell’s definition of myth, given usna poetic reading of the mystery of lifenfrom a certain interested point of view.nHis particular imponderable is inheritednwealth, in which he is “interested”nbecause he is himself “old money,” andnproud of it. Surprise of surprises. Innthese days when Stanford declares itnelitist to teach Plato, a proud rich man isnrare indeed. And he is rare not just innhis pride but in his capacity for wonder.nFor Aldrich, inherited wealth confersnmore than economic power. It involvesnits recipients in metaphysical drama.nThis last claim is not as outlandish asnit seems. Consider Aldrich on SenatornAldrich (1841-1915), his greatgrandfather,nonetime wholesale grocernbecome landed gentleman:nThere was more to mynforebear’s “innate class sense”nthan an appreciation of thenimperative congruity of statusnand estate, the spatialndimension, so to speak, of one’snsocial standing. He had annequally fine appreciation of thenimperative of a standing inntime. … He was not annaristocrat, except perhaps in then”natural” sense. He was anpatrician. . . .nWho else could have written with suchnconfidence about the hidden workingsnPaul T. Hornak has written for Oasisnmagazine. The New York Times,nand Reason.n• Proustnof fortune than a child of fortune, an”privileged creature . . . attentive, indeednmorbidly so, to the resonance” ofnhis conduct? Aldrich is very nearly anpoet of the American upper classes.nBetween generally-known historical detailnand his own special knowledge henestablishes ties that, for any other writer,nwould be all stitches and seams. Henastutely records the unique mentality ofnthe moneyed. There is the sectionnwhose chief joy is urinating in ladies’nreticules. There is Tommy Hitchcock,npolo champion with a self-sacrificialnlonging—he died testing (unnecessarily)nan early version of a World War IIncombat plane. And then there isnAldrich’s own class-driven psychology,nthat of the rich boy who taught Englishnto elementary kids in Harlem, who seesna link between the independence of thenwealthy and Huck Finn’s escape downnthe Mississippi. His is a unique vision ofnunique visions.nYet Old Money is not simply a booknon the psychology of inherited wealth.nIt proposes, first, to justify “old money”nas a social force, and second, tonevaluate its performance so far. Tonthese tasks the charming poet is, regrettably,nunequal.nHis difficulty with the first task arisesnbecause his commendable desire tongive inherited wealth a foundationnother than fiscal finds support only inneconomic evidence. Thus, even as henclaims that the rich do things for Americanthat no other class can, he says theyndo it primarily because of their banknbalances. Kennedy served with disinterestednpanache — because wealthnmellowed his attitude toward life, allowingnhim, among other things, anjocular self-confidence. “Laughter isnwhat the White House servants missednafter the Theodore Roosevelts movednout, and laughter is what they said theynwelcomed when the FranklinnRoosevelts moved back in.” The BostonnSymphony lends gravitas to thennational life — though without theirncash, its wealthy benefactors would justnnnas soon patronize Michael Jackson.nInsofar as American society possessesnstability at all, the rich provide it,ndistinguishing the top from the bottom,nsetting standards of right andnwrong, of taste, of honor — yet nonideas or beliefs motivate the rich in thisnunceasing and thankless enterprise.nAccording to Aldrich, they do it becausen”old money,” both here and innEurope, always has. The child ofnwealth nurtured by extended familiesnon extensive estates, educated at severenboarding schools, socialized in exclusivenclubs and at the summer placesnaround Penobscot Bay, simply grows,nlike a plant, into his role as a preservernof culture, promoter of civilization,ndispenser of gifts. In other words, thenrather unenlightening message is thatnwealth, fed by wealth and watered withnDECEMBER 1988129n