What was the Gospel of Wealth, and what effect did it have on the United States? Andrew Carnegie’s 1889 essay, “Wealth,” argued for fellow industrialists’ broad social and cultural role. It later became famous under the name “The Gospel of Wealth.” The Gospel of Wealth, or sometimes the Gospel of Success, was the term for a notion promoted by many successful businessmen that their massive wealth was a social benefit for all. The Gospel of Wealth was a softer and more palatable version of Social Darwinism. The advocates linked wealth with responsibility, arguing that those with great material possessions had equally great obligations to society.
Andrew Carnegie wrote his essay, the Gospel of Wealth, in obvious support of the ideologies expressed by Herbert Spencer, the English social philosopher. The writing was in direct correlation with the social Darwinism movement (Nash 610; 4). Carnegie developed this mindset despite his impoverished upbringing, and his father was heavily involved with unions and workers’ rights. Spencer adapted Charles Darwin’s notion of natural selection and applied the theory to human society in a philosophy known as “Social Darwinism.” Spencer coined the term “survival of the fittest,” using it to apply to the fate of rich and poor in a laissez-faire capitalist society. Spencer argued that there was nothing unnatural or wrong with competing and then rising to the top in a cut-throat capitalist world (Nash 611; 2).
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This philosophy, Social Darwinism, did more harm than good for America. It rationalised the elitist environment that would lead to gross monopolies across many of Americas’ core industries. Civil rights and fundamental worker rights and opportunities were supplanted in the name of this perverse philosophy. To resolve what might seem to be contradictions between the creation of wealth, which Carnegie saw as proceeding from immutable social laws, and social provision, he came up with the notion of the “gospel of wealth”. True to his word, he gave away his fortune to socially beneficial projects, most famously by funding libraries. However, this ideology did not reach the working poor who, through their backbreaking labor, had made him very wealthy. He, in fact, broke unions at his plants and, unlike Samuel Jones, did tiny to assist the working poor.
This essay was written at a time when the masses were at the beginning of an uprise. The poor were very dissatisfied with their substandard existence and the lack of opportunities to rise out of their conditions. While the essay has some noble ideas regarding the betterment of society, its fundamental ethic still seems to attempt to substantiate the caste system of society that was prevalent during the 1800s. In other words, the premise is that this system of competition that enables a select few to achieve great wealth was simply the result of natural progression. Here lies the fundamental flaw in this ideology and, as such, served to cause more damage than good. After all, what good comes of donating millions of dollars to build libraries when the majority of the masses are too busy etching out a meagre existence by working for slave wages and having to work extraordinarily long hours.
These people, for the most part, could not even read. Carnegie saw himself as a hero of working people, yet he crushed their unions. The richest man in the world, he railed against privilege. A generous philanthropist, he slashed the wages of the workers who made him rich. By this time, Carnegie was an established, successful millionaire. He was a great philanthropist, donating over 350 million dollars to public causes, opening libraries, money for teachers, and funds to support peace. In the end, he gave away about 90% of his own money to various causes. He also preached to others to do the same as in giving money for education and sciences. The problem, however, was that there was such a contrast between the rich and the poor.
By this, he was referring to the inequalities in rights, hereditary powers, and such things. He also felt we should have a continuum of forwarding progress, i.e. civilizing, industrializing. During this era, there was a movement to drift back into a time when there was little advancement in modernizing and technologically advancing, when “neither master nor servant was as well situated.” This proves that the U.S.’s direction until now was, in fact, the right path since the goal was already in progress. He has to argue and prove that through forwarding motion all of these social difference problems, the poor would also advance with the times, thus diminishing the difference slowly but surely. As the rich get richer, they bring up the standard and, in effect, the poor with them as the economy grows.
The government comes up with a way to run money suited to be in the best interest of the possible people. In the end, however, the majority of the wealth made in this new system is going only to a few people. Since the wealth inevitably goes to a concentrated amount of people in the best possible set of circumstances, the question is what to do with the money to serve the general public best. So what can a man do with the excess wealth he has amassed? His money is not just for “competence,” but rather surplus money. There are three solutions that Carnegie gives for this. The first includes leaving one’s money to his family or his oldest son, a common practice in Western Europe. According to Carnegie, this is a bad idea because one cannot duplicate the styles and strategies of another no matter how hard he tries.
A son can make mistakes and lose his fortune, or he can lose it “from the fall in the value of the land.” It has also been proven that it is not good for the state for a son to take his father’s place as a leader. He could mean that the son has been given all these treasures from birth and does not appreciate what he is getting. He also may not be sensitive to all that is necessary for the processes of development. Another way one could dispose of surplus wealth is to have all the money earned to be spent by the one who earns it. But spending frivolously just because one can isn’t exactly the best trait; one should live in modesty. One other way Carnegie suggests the money could be distributed would be to donate it to public services. He personally preferred this because it serves the most good to the most amount of people possible.
Therefore, it is not detrimental to the value of money to others and is enjoyed by he who earned it – a very fair way of disposal. The objective, however, he wished to achieve may not be achieved after he’s gone because he can’t oversee the operation of the distribution, and there’s nothing he could do about it then. Taxing the hoards of wealth obtained by a recently deceased man is a great way of giving back to the community what was taken over the years. It also condemns the lifestyle of the “selfish millionaire’s unworthy life.” (Nash 610 : 3) This helps make men deal with the distribution of their money while they’re still alive, with the intent that the best possible solution would be achieved and finding the way that would be “most fruitful for the people.”
There is only one solution that pleases both rich and poor and works out best for everyone. This idea differs from communistic ideals of spreading wealth evenly throughout, at all times, and doesn’t require an overthrow of the government, rather an “evolution of existing conditions.” The idea is that each work for himself in attaining wealth, each man fighting for his place, creating competition. In the end, there will still be a concentration of wealth in a few. Still, they will spread their wealth to the masses through public services, thus benefiting all, instead of the money coming to all people in small increments as suggested by communistic ideas. This appealed to the people, especially in the concept of anti-communism sprinkled in Carnegie’s document.
This also gives concrete evidence proving U.S. superiority in understanding their nation’s needs. Finally, there are specific duties the rich must do to maintain the balance. The wealthy must be modest in their ways. They must provide modestly for those dependent on them and should think and administer their money in the best possible manner to benefit the possible people. We trust in this wealthy man because he obviously became wealthy through superior wisdom. However, in the end, this caste system does little to advance the overall welfare of the people. Social Darwinism is a faulty premise and therefore does little to benefit humanity.