The Rise of Selfishness in Americanby James Lincoln ColliernNew York: Oxford University Press;n320 pp., $24.95nJames Lincoln Collier is the descendantnof well-to-do New Englanders,nmill-owners “who lived in a grandnhouse on a hill, overlooking a rownof . . . the cottages of the- workersn[they] . . . employed.” Nevertheless,nhis new book—which could as well bencalled The Rise of the Techno-IndustrialnMegastate in America — is in manynrespects a restatement, from a differentnperspective, of the case against modern,nnontraditional society made by angroup of disaffected Southern agrariansnback in 1930: a profoundly reactionarynbook with a liberal coda addednon. Its thesis is nothing less than thenbasic and complete unworkability, innhuman terms, of the mass industrialnsociety that has engorged Americansince Lee surrendered to Grant atnAppomattox.nThe Puritanism of 17th-centurynAmerica began to dissipate almost atnonce, Mr. Collier tells us, and by thenbeginning of the 18th century it wasnscarcely more than a memory. In thenEnlightenment, as in the first decadesnof the 19th century, standards of sexualnmorality were lax, extramarital and premaritalnsex having become common;ndancing and drinking were favoritenpastimes; and church attendance wasnlow. Then in the third decade of then1800’s, “Victorianism” asserted itselfnin reaction to what Collier calls then”18th-Century Debauch” by its insistencenupon the ideals of gentility andnof the family, by the temperance andnChilton Williamson, Jr. is seniorneditor for books at Chronicles.nOPINIONSnThe Way We Livenby Chilton Williamson, Jr.n”Self, self, has half filled Hell.”n— Scottish Proverbnantismoking crusade, by the attempt tonregulate sexual activity and to enforcen”morality” in’the arts, and by thenrediscovery of religious fervor. Victorianism,nwhile it became a fetish of thenrising middle class, was by no meansnrestricted to it but was adopted as wellnby “the farmers and artisans who still,nthrough most of the 19th century,nmade up the largest chunk of Americannsociety.” Victorianism, in its essence,nwas a program of self-control, ofnnnself-discipline.nMuch has been said of the Victoriansnas hypocrites who invented andnimposed a system of social moralitynthat exactly suited their interests, innparticular their material ones. Colliernallows some truth in this view, butncontends that, “however large the gapnbetween the Victorian ideal and Victoriannbehavior, these people, as ansociety, set for themselves goals ofnsocial concern, charity, self-control, andecent- regard for the welfare of others,na willingness to protect the weak. Theynmay have failed, but at least they werentrying.” The Victorian Era lasted approximatelynfrpm 1830 until 1910.nMr. Collier’s question is: “How in thencourse of about the sixty years fromn1910 to 1970 did a morality thatnseemed fixed and permanent get stoodnon its head? . . . how did the UnitednStates turn from a social code in whichnself-restraint was a cardinal virtue tonone in which self-gratification is a centralnidea, indeed ideal?” For JamesnCollier, the answers are industry, technology,nimmigration, and the “giantnindustrial cities” to which these gavenrise, turning the United States “topsyturvy”nin the process.nAround 1830, industrialization begannto divide urban Americans intontwo distinct classes, working and nonworking,nor what we today call blueandnwhite-collar. By 1850 or so, thennew middle class was perhaps 50 percentnOld Stock American and 50 percentnimmigrant. It was the workingclassnimmigrants, however, who creatednthe sea change in Americannsociety, especially those coming fromnnon-Anglo-Saxon countries after thenCivil War. Few among these huddlednmasses were sympathetic to Victorianism:n”less optimistic and more hedonistic”nthan the native Americans, theynMARCH 1992/29n