Literary BMGD #12: Aristocracy

March 12, 2012 | 4 comments
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A major element of Jacob’s sermon in Jacob 2 is his condemnation of pride and those caught up in their riches. In that sermon, Jacob not only preaches against pride, but argues for equality, saying “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.”(2:17) and adding “one being is as precious in His sight as the other.” While Jacob likely lived too early in Nephite history for inherited classes to develop, still these views seem to clearly argue against classes and social hierarchy.

Of course, despite the fact that the topic of Jacob’s sermon is a common element throughout much of Christianity, the justification of pride and wealth, even by using the scriptures, is just as common. Orson F. Whitney takes on a common justification of wealth and pride in this poem, which I think fits well with Jacob’s sermon:

Aristocracy

by Orson F. Whitney

The world is his who sees its vain pretense,
And tries it with the touchstone—common sense;
And tho’, with some, ’tis Title rules the earth,
In Reason’s balance, Brains far outweigh Birth.
Avails it, then, if Gossip’s tongue beguiles
The fashion throng where wanton Folly smiles;
Or Vanity, the pampered child of Praise,
To win new lies from Flattery, essays;
While Genius, climbing to its destined place,
Encounters sneering Envy in the race
Where polish’d Dunce, with studied speech inflate,
Affects to scorn, but cannot emulate ?
The mind of sterling Merit can despise
This meretricious tinsel of disguise;
For, tho’ decrees of Caste its way retard,
A conscious virtue “is its own reward.”
What recks, if Pride on fancied honors dwell;
Or sordid Gain of Mammon’s glories tell;
Or fashion’s queen, with stolen sceptre, play
The tyrant o’er dominions of a day?
Is not a crown of Virtue dearer prize
Than Gold which teaches Merit to despise?
A station ‘mong the kings and queens of Thought
A nobler rank than is of Name begot?
He’ll find, who studies for his own behoof,
That ’tis the pillar which sustains the roof,
Whereon the fluttering ensigns, waving high,
In haughty grandeur court the distant sky.
And who would Ocean’s hoarded treasure know;
Or gather of its gems, must search below;
While further observation shows the wise
That air-distended bubbles always rise.

From The Contributor, January 1880, p. 83

While western civilization has rejected much of the inherited aristocracy that Whitney was familiar with, in its place, I think we have substituted another kind of aristocracy, one less connected to birth and more connected with the possession of wealth. Instead of titled nobility, we have those who have “earned” wealth in sports venues and in front of cameras or through stumbling onto a clever business idea. While we can’t and should not begrudge the effort they have put into obtaining wealth and creating pleasure and benefit for our society, in all these efforts there is an element of good fortune that is too often missed. And worse, there is a kind of aristocracy that too often arises from this wealth.

If we have escaped the era of titled nobility that Whitney criticizes, we must still recognize that we are in a society that worship’s mammon.

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4 Responses to Literary BMGD #12: Aristocracy

  1. Bryan in VA on March 12, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    You’ve made a statement that “an element of good fortune that is too often missed” (meaning luck?) is somewhat less than desirable. Then you say “And worse, there is a kind of aristocracy that too often arises from this wealth.”, as if they are linked and/or compound a “bad” situation, but you give no example of the connection. I personally would wish to all good fortune whether they recognize it as a haphazard event or not.

  2. Kent Larsen on March 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Sorry, Bryan, I should say something more like “an element of good fortune that is too often ignored.” By that I mean that many of those who manage to become wealthy ignore the element of good fortune or luck that led to their wealth.

    I don’t mean to link that to the second concept in the way that you suggest. Regardless of how the wealth arose, there often seems a kind of aristocracy that rises from it — essentially the pride that the Book of Mormon speaks of.

    I too wish good fortune to everyone whether they recognize it or not. But I see the attention that often comes with wealth as something that should be avoided. Yet we have an entire industry built around attention to the rich and famous, from People to Entertainment Tonight.

  3. Jack on March 14, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Not only do they ignore the role good fortune played in the accumulation of their wealth, but they ignore the role other people played. As for the aristocracy, I have sat in priesthood stupified as I have listened to bretheren I otherwise admire equate financial wealth with spiritual superiority.

  4. Kent Larsen on March 14, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Indeed, Jack. Surely this is one of those areas where political beliefs and religion sure seem like they are at odds.