The Implosion of the WASPs–Er, White Protestants…

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I lately wrote a piece in which I extolled the late E. Digby Baltzell, and credited him with inventing the word WASP. Baltzell, a WASP himself, wished to hasten the day when the WASP caste no longer ruled society. He said it was a "caste" because it was based on birth and had lost its focus, it did not reflect the real talents and energies of the society, in 1964. Those talents and energies were more broadly distributed, Baltzell said: including among Jews, whom he specifically welcomed into the Establishment.

A scholarly reader named Paul Westman (who was raised Protestant) has told me I am wrong, that "WASP" was invented by the sociologist Andrew Hacker. I relay his comments below.

I take a couple points from Westman. First, he agrees with me that one of my great themes here, the rise of Jews into the Establishment and the loosening of the WASP grip on same, is largely unreported. He thinks this self-divestment of power is unprecedented; and he seems to lament it. Myself I celebrate it, though I think the new elite needs to be interrogated in the same way that Baltzell interrogated the last one. Also, Westman dislikes the term WASP. He says it is the same as "kike" or "nigger," a slur. I just don’t know. A lot of WASPs don’t seem to mind the term, like my wife. Though it’s true that one prized virtue of the group is not showing their feelings… Once when I used the word WASP in an article for Spy Magazine, my editor, a white Protestant, took it out as offensive… What do you readers think?

On a personal note, I’d add that when I was at Harvard in the ’70s, I was fixated on WASPs because I thought they had all the power. That changed before my eyes. I remember a sociological Jewish friend saying, 10 years on, that the WASPs were all working in land trusts or in dad’s law firm, they had lost the drive and gumption that had made them topdogs. When I met my wife, a WASP, she said that in the ’70s it felt awful to be a WASP, to be the ruling class. I remembered a party I went to in Harvard Yard, where a guy wore a paper pinned to the back of his jacket, "I’m a Preppie; Hate Me". Poor WASPs. As for my group, the Jews, one big theme of my blog is most of us don’t want to accept our power in American society. We insist that we’re outsiders (a vanity; we’re not), or we self-segregate; we can’t deal with the religious/historical consequences of being members of the ruling class. A real crisis of identity. Get over it!

Anyway, here’s Paul Westman (who has given me permission to use his writing this once):

"WASP" is a racial epithet not unlike "nigger" or
"kike." And the Establishment did widely publicize and popularize the
term after Baltzell picked it up and utilized it to attack his own
people. The reputation of an otherwise obscure and insignificant, but
ambitious, academic was made.

Baltzell published The Protestant Establishment
in 1964. However, the first known appearance of the slur in
print occurs in an article by a Jew, Andrew Hacker, "Liberal Democracy
and Social Control," American Political Science Review 51 (1957): 1009-26 at 1010-1011.
"These ‘old’ Americans possess, for the most part,
some common characteristics. First of all, they are ‘WASPs’–in the
cocktail party jargon of the sociologists. [Hacker provides no citation
for this statement. -PW] That is, they are white, they are Anglo-Saxon
in origin, and they are Protestant (and disproportionately
Episcopalian). To their Waspishness should be added the tendency to be
located on the Eastern seaboard or around San Francisco, to be prep school and Ivy League educated, and to be possessed of inherited wealth."
Again, this is the first known appearance of the slur in print.

I asked Westman to elaborate. He did so in another email:

In Crashing the Gates: The De-WASPing of America’s Power Elite (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989), former Newsweek and Time
writer and editor Robert C. Christopher (b. 1924; since deceased, I
believe) wrote at the beginning of Chapter Two, "The Myth of the WASP":
"Though it was certainly in conversational use well before then, the
acronym ‘WASP’ had never appeared in print so far as I can discover
before 1962. I can still recall, in fact, how puzzled one of my
mother’s Yankee aunts was when sometime in the late 1950s I applied the
term to her." (p. 23)

In a footnote at the bottom of the page Christopher adds: "Credit
for coining the term ‘WASP’ is given to E. Digby Baltzell of the University of Pennsylvania, and it was indeed Baltzell’s use of the acronym in his 1964 book The Protestant Establishment
that did most to launch it on the road to general acceptance. The first
use of the term in print, however, actually appears to have been in an
article that E. B. Palmore published  in The American Journal of Sociology
in 1962 in which he carefully explained that ‘for the sake of brevity,
we will use the nickname "WASP" for this group, from the initial
letters of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.’"

Christopher, like Baltzell, celebrated the downfall of the WASP.

I subsequently photocopied Erdman B. Palmore’s (b. 1930) three-page
Research Note (for so it was designated), "Ethnophaulisms and
Ethnocentrism," American Journal of Sociology
67 (1962): 442-45, and so can vouch for his use of the term. (In
subsequent years Palmore pontificated about "ageism," among other

"Ethnophaulism (derived from Greek roots meaning to disparage an
ethnic group)," Palmore writes in the article, is a neologism proposed
by psychologist A. A. Roback, author of A Dictionary of International Slurs
(1944), "to refer to group insults." (An enumeration elsewhere
of Professor Roback’s publications and organizational activities
indicates that he was an ethnically-conscious Jew. -PW)

Palmore’s thinly-disguised aim is Newspeak-style psychosocial
engineering: "[L]abels used in a culture influence the perception and
thinking of its members." Implicitly, Palmore suggests that selectively
eradicating the subset of ethnophaulisms (ethnic slurs) utilized by
"WASPs" against non-WASPs might lead to the diminution–indeed,
eradication–of an important prop of WASP ethnic consciousness: "We may
discover that ethnophaulisms are essential for the
existence of such forms of ethnocentrism as chauvinism, pejorative
stereotypes, scapegoats, segregation, and discrimination." (Emphasis

Palmore’s agenda, widely shared, has proven itself a smashing success in the decades since.

In a society permeated with racial hypocrisy, it is fitting that
Palmore slyly employed the term "WASP" in the very course of ostensibly
preaching against slurs. One would expect nothing less. Hacker invoked
the pejorative acronym once in his article, otherwise falling back
on the phrase "old ruling class"; Palmore employed it six times in the
span of three pages.

After I elsewhere cited Christopher as authority for the proposition
that Palmore rather than Baltzell was the first to employ the term
"WASP" in print, I received an e-mail from a reader stating that David
L. Sills and Robert K. Merton, in The Macmillan Book of Social Science Quotations
(1991), p. 84, cited the Andrew Hacker article I quoted yesterday as
the first known use of the term in print. It was that e-mail, five
years ago, which prompted me to check the article in question. (I’ve
looked at both Sills and Merton and Hacker’s American Political Science Review article; the quotation I sent you yesterday is from the article itself.)

Robert Christopher deserves credit for one thing: despite
enthusiastically cheering WASPs’ destruction, he does acknowledge that
Baltzell’s thesis was fundamentally flawed, in that WASPs did not
forcefully defend their elite status. On the contrary, they rather
quickly and proactively surrendered their advantages to Jews and
others. (Just to be clear, personally I regard this as a fact but not a
virtue.) Years later, independently of Christopher, essayist Joseph
Epstein arrived at the same conclusion. He termed the strange
phenomenon "the Wasp self-divestment of power":

"The Wasp old guard put up the white flag without a shot being
fired. Suddenly bars began to drop: in formerly restricted
neighborhoods, in previously elite country and city clubs, in once
white-shoe bank, law, and investment firms. Once-snobbish institutions
loosened up, opened up, disappeared. The closest thing to an
aristocracy that America had known was now most prominently in evidence
in the magazine ads of a small grey-haired Jewish designer named Ralph Lauren
(ne Lifschitz). Perhaps the best analogy to the Wasp self-divestment of
power is that of the British giving up their empire. Both may have felt
that the need to do so was inevitable–and quite possibly it was–but
each came away diminished, disliked, even a little despised for having
done so. To this day in America, the Wasps are the one group about which-in a politically correct atmosphere–jokes can be made with
impunity." –Joseph Epstein, "In a snob-free zone," Washington Monthly (June 2002). (adapted from his book, Snobbery: The American Version.)

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