Thursday, February 10, 2005

Ex Obscurito

In the previous John Adams thread, I detected a faint clamor for increased attention to matters obscure. To accomodate such demand, I offer herewith the handsome visage of Dr. E. Digby Baltzell, the late esteemed University of Pennsylvania historian and sociologist whose monumental opus, Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia: Two Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Authority and Leadership, is an earth-shaking study, second in its sociological sweep and impact only to Famous UU Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities within the genre of dual urban comparisons. (Although, to be honest, I don't know whether the genre contains more than two published works.) Although published over two decades ago, it caused nearly-noticeable seismic ripples in the social fabric of both burgs that may yet burst into open palpability, especially if magnified by the sympathetic aftershocks of the recent Super Bowl.

Despite the vital importance of that work, at least on the northern and southern flanks of the New York exurbs, Dr. Baltzell is perhaps better known for his earlier studies, Philadelphia Gentlemen: The Making of a National Upper Class (1958), and The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Caste in America (1964), in which he coined the now-famous term "WASP". Members of the Protestant power elite of twentieth-century America, and all others who know deep down in their souls that noblesse oblige is a high duty and sacred calling rather than a contemnable weapon of power and subjugation, owe Dr. Baltzell a debt of eternal gratutude. (And isn't that a dapper bow tie?)


At February 11, 2005 at 12:42:00 PM EST, Blogger PeaceBang said...

LOVE the bow tie. And love the positive treatment of "noblesse oblige" in this era where the very concept of "nobles" is so repellent to so many. But until our nation decides to embrace radical change in economic justice, there's going to be a *way* upper class and way lower classes. We might as well keep the concept of "noblesse oblige" on the table.

At February 12, 2005 at 8:48:00 AM EST, Blogger fausto said...

Yes. It's interesting to think about how many of the 19th-century "Famous UUs", whose names we radical egalitarians of today so freely invoke, were in fact members of the patrician elite. As Baltzell observes in his book, their contributions to society were motivated by a sense of gratitude for unearned opportunity and the moral duties that attach to privilege.

As you say, the barriers of class in our society appear to be rising, not falling. We may agree that this is regrettable, but should we respond with futile resentment and bitterness, or with a renewed articulation of moral insights that are authentically our own and that proved so effective in past generations?

Me, I think "Glory" should be shown in every UU Sunday School, not (or not only) to allow 7th-grade girls to ogle Matthew Broderick, but as an authentic example of the power of Unitarian faith in action.

At February 12, 2005 at 7:30:00 PM EST, Blogger fausto said...

BTW, I'm not sure if I've got my Latin right in the title to this thread. Dictionaries give several forms of the Latin noun for "darkness" or "obscurity":


I'm familiar with Frederick Hart's central tympanum of the West Front of the Washington Cathedral, which depicts the creation of humankind in Genesis 1:27, and is entitled Ex Nihilo, or "Out of Nothing". However I'm in the dark (okay, pun intended) as to which of the various forms of obscur- is the grammatically correct one to pair with ex, so I took a shot in the dark and tried to adapt obscuritas to match the grammatical construction of the presumably correct nihilo, and came up with obscurito.

They say 'tis better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness, so I went with my best shot. In this case, I'm not sure my result is successful, though. Ex obscurito rhymes too closely with el Frito Bandito to be correct, I fear.

Can anybody out there who knows Latin shed any further lux on this?


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