German Jews in America are referred to as having "business sagacity" and as raising large sums of money to help the poor. 12 Actually, as is becoming more and more recognized among Jews in New York, the difference between German and eastern European Jews is merely one of having arrived in this country earlier, having come with more capital, and having lived under the advantages of a more progressive country for a longer period of time.Next Page
The greatest social class difference between Jews and Italians in New York, since both start with a handicap based on prejudice, is that the former have a larger percentage of middle class family backgrounds among them, the latter a lower percentage. The percentage of Italians who arrived in America with middle class backgrounds is quite small. To get a picture of a well-balanced social class pyramid among Italians one must go to Italy or to Argentina.
Max Weber's theory of a tie-up between Protestant psychology and the development of capitalism 12 has been in large part discredited, because it has been shown that the middle classes, the townsmen and those sections of Europe which were already turning rapidly toward commerce, became Protestant. Not that the Protestants became the business classes, but that the business classes became Protestant.
So it is with many Jews. They are in business because their ancestors were, not because they are or are not descended from Jews. Jewish workers are workers largely because they have proletarian backgrounds. The same is true of other parts of the population.
Roosevelt, in reporting the failures of families on the frontier, attributes these failures to their nationality rather than to their backgrounds. In writing about early Kentucky, he states: 14
Among the foreign-born immigrants success depended in part upon race; a contemporary Kentucky observer estimated that of twelve families of each nationality, nine German, seven Scottish, and four Irish prospered, while the others failed.
But what were the social class backgrounds of the Irish and of the Germans? (The Scottish have been described above.) The failure of eight Irish families out of twelve in early Kentucky might be explained by the following facts, even though they describe a slightly later period: 15
By the 1840's, however, the vast stream of Irish immigration had got well under way. Uncouth, often half wild, and accustomed to an extremely low standard of living, these poor creatures, willing to work for a pittance . . . .
The Beards also describe the Irish in similar terms: "Literally driven from home by starvation, the peasants of Ireland swarmed to America . . . . Coming without capital, often with nothing better than rags on their backs . . . . " 16
In contrast, Wertenbaker has written the following description of the early German immigrants: 17
Not all German immigrants were peasants; many were skilled craftsmen. Of 1838 new arrivals at Philadelphia in . . . 1709, 56 were bakers, 87 masons, 124 carpenters, 68 shoemakers, 99 tailors, 29 butchers, 45 millers, 14 tanners, 7 stocking weavers, 82 coopers, 13 saddlers, 2 glass blowers, 3 hatters, 8 lime-burners, 2 engravers, 3 brick makers, 2 silversmiths, 48 blacksmiths, 3 potters, 6 turners.
But what of the habits of the German peasants themselves? The same author elsewhere states: 18
Although the German could not duplicate in his new home the system of the old, his knowledge of agriculture was of inestimable value to him. His infallible judgement in picking the most fertile soil is no doubt explained by his long acquaintance with the Rhine valley loess. It is said that he was guided by the trees, taking it for granted that where the growth was luxuriant and tall, the soil must be fertile. In clearing the land, his training in thrift and hard work made him scorn the slovenly method of girdling the trees and leaving them to die. He chopped down the trees, split the large limbs and trunks into firewood or fence rails, and grubbed up the underbrush and saplings.
Thus it is known that something deeper and more fundamental than nationality was at root of success and failure on the frontier.
Again, during the latest immigration from Europe, those fleeing from the devastation and ravages of World War II (even though many of them have lost all their capital) constitute a capable type of middle and upper class immigrants whose backgrounds are already showing themselves in the manner in which many have established themselves on a respectable footing.
The bureaucrats. There are middle class families today whose general "tone" is quite different from that of the openly competitive middle class type. Their wagon is not hitched to a star. It is jerked along life's road step by step from H to I to J to M, and there it stops. They are the bureaucrats. Seniority and selective examinations are their gods. "In such careers, Karl Mannheim has said, one receives at each step a neat package of prestige and power whose contents are known in advance. Security is at a maximum and enterprise at a minimum." 19
In corporations, schools, and governmental service this type has grown year by year. The true story of their place in history will have to be written in another century, long after their security and protection have either crystallized or have given way to a more vigorous, perhaps more ruthless, form of personal and family competition.
However, it must not be assumed that this bureaucracy, with its hierarchy of relatively secure berths, built up by a series of objective examinations, has been the open sesame of persons from the lower classes. Mosca states: 20
Though a bureaucracy may be legally open to all social classes, in fact it will always be recruited from the middle class . . . . For one thing . . . [they] find it easier to secure the education that is required of them, and in their family background they develop a practical sense of the best ways of getting started in the bureaucratic career and of advancing in it.
If there ever was a time when a large number of respectable positions were theoretically within the reach of the lower classes, that time is in America today . Literacy, army training, adult education, colleges, and an increase in the number of relatively fair and open public examinations for secure positions are offering the lower classes greater chances by far than did the lesser educational opportunities and career offerings of earlier decades. With short hours of work, all that is needed, apparently, is the willingness to persist. Instead of ambition, according to the Thompson formula, there is a spirit of defeatism among the high school graduates. On the other hand, what a bedlam there would be if the lower classes had middle class habits!
12. S. Dingel, "The Jews," in Immigrant Backgrounds, edited by Henry Pratt Fairchild (New York, 1927) p. 127.
13. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, translated by Talcott Parsons (London, 1930) p. 35.
14. Theodore Roosevelt, The Winning of the West, vol. II (New York, 1917) p. 36.
15. James Truslow Adams, et al., New England's Prospect (New York, 1933) pp. 10 - 11.
16. Charles A. and Mary R. Beard, The Rise of American Civilization, vol. I (New York, 1927) pp. 642.
17. Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker, The Founding of American Civilization, The Middle Colonies (New York, 1938) p. 281.
18. Ibid., p. 272.
19. Robert E. Park, editor, An Outline of the Principles of Sociology (New York, 1939) p. 329.
20. Mosca, op. cit., p. 408.