August 8, 2006
Now that Ned Lamont has nosed out Joe Lieberman for the Democrats’ Senatorial nomination in Connecticut, a bit of musing is in order about the not-so-rare phenomenon of the socialist, or at least left-leaning, millionaire.
Although mechanical economic determinism would have the rich unanimous in favor of soaking the poor, or at most pacifying them with bread and circuses, it ain't always so. Perhaps someone will write “What’s the Matter With Exeter?” the flip side of “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” to explain Ned Lamont, a graduate of that institution like his great uncle Corliss Lamont, a “humanist” and for a time, pro-Stalinist millionaire, noted for his book collections, his involvement with the ACLU and kindred causes, and his rambling full-page ads in the New York Times of another era.
These Lamonts are not alone. Stewart Mott, whose shekels descend from GM, is a millionaire lefty, and there are many others, like the British MP Anthony Wedgwood-Benn, latterly “Tony Benn,” who renounced his peerage to fight for left Labor in the House of Commons, Bill Ayers, leader of the Weathermen and heir to a Commonwealth Edison fortune, and Abby Rockefeller, radical feminist.
It would seem that these “traitors to their class” are less often the gatherers of the family fortune than those whose must cope with inheriting it. The turn to socialism or communism replaces the turn to religious renunciation that might have been a solution in a less secular age. It embodies expiation of guilt for the frequently seamy process by which one’s parents or forbears earned their fortune, rebellion against parental expectations, and an ideology that allows one to preserve, in a new wrapping, the sense of belonging to a superior élite, whether through identification with historical inevitability or a knowing sense of what “social justice” is.
This is not to say that these folks don’t believe in their causes, or that their reasons for taking the stance they do are merely a reflection of their background and psychodynamics.
There’s a lot more to this question than I’ve time for right now. Something worth contemplating while resting on a parlor pink beanbag chair.
UPDATE: Added a clause after "although" and corrected a typo ("off" for "of"). I still need that copy editor.