I’ve never read one word of Jack Beatty’s book “Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900.” I’d never even heard of the book. I saw the book referenced in a footnote in a Wikipedia article about “Slaughter-House …
I’ve never read one word of Jack Beatty’s book “Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900.” I’d never even heard of the book. I saw the book referenced in a footnote in a Wikipedia article about “Slaughter-House Cases” from the 19th century. Those cases involved the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in New Orleans cases that involved the city’s butchers. Seems a thousand New Orleans butchers gutted hundreds of thousands of animals annually and the intestines, blood, urine and other animals parts — known as “offal” — got into the city’s drinking water at times and resulted in disease outbreaks including cholera.
Again, what caught my eye was the title of Beatty’s book in that footnote. It got me to thinking about what was going on in Western democracies around the time that a drink of water in New Orleans could kill you. In the 18th century, the century that saw the birth of this country, political leaders for the most part believed in the potential for a good life for citizens. That’s why we look back so wistfully at this nation’s founding documents which set forth rights and privileges of citizenship that were supposed to lead to happiness and contentment for individuals.
In time, however, there was a shift that took place in democracy. Beginning in the 19th century politics became less about creating the “good life” for individual citizens and more about getting power and holding on to it. There was a new kid in town; it was the State. The State became supreme; it was the “individual” of supreme importance. One group of men having power over and dominating another group of men became the goal of the political process. Now, in the 21st century, American democracy has pretty much given up on resolving conflict for a “king of the hill” mentality. Get to the top of the hill and use any means to stay there: That’s politics in a nutshell today.
Jack Beatty’s book which I’ve never read tells me solely from the title that a part of the political “betrayal” that occurred in the 19th century came about because money became more important than individual rights and the potential for a good life, happiness and personal contentment for every American citizen. If all you had today was a Supreme Court case entitled Bob Morgan v. Shell Oil ... or Bob Morgan v. General Electric ... or Bob Morgan v. General Motors, who would you bet on? Feel free to insert your own name into those “cases.” Based on where we started in the 18th century to where we find ourselves today in the 21st, I gotta say things look pretty offal.
Bob Morgan is a retired, award-winning journalist and an author.