The Me-First Era

Both the very conservative Charles Murray and the moderate conservative David Brooks agree about what Murray calls the “segregation of capitalism from virtue.” I can remember that in the 1950s Wall Streeters like Chase Manhattan Bank’s David Rockefeller and businessmen like Scott Paper’s Thomas McCabe still liked to be called responsible, meaning that they made their money with at least some regard for the morality and the effect on the rest of us of how they made it.

Murray traces this sense of responsibility to the McGuffey Readers, explaining that

the books on which generations of American children were raised have plenty of stories treating initiative, hard work and entrepreneurialism as virtues, but just as many stories praising the virtues of self-restraint, personal integrity and concern for those who depend on you. The freedom to act and a stern moral obligation to act in certain ways were seen as two sides of the same American coin. Little of that has survived.

Charles Peters

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.