Lynn Parramore: Jamie Dimon’s Ultra-American Rise and Fall: The Great Gatsby Meets Moby Dick
Australians have an old joke about their country’s founding elements: Sure, we got the criminals, but America got the Puritans, which is much worse.
The folks who arrived on our shores from Europe four centuries ago brought with them some peculiar notions. The Puritans believed in the Calvinist “Doctrine of the Elect,” a depressing divine plan whereby God pre-selected those destined for heaven and damned everybody else to hell. You could never know who was on the A-list and who was in for a fiery eternity. At least that’s what old John Calvin had taught.
But mere mortals could never be content with so mysterious a system, so they became obsessed with finding out who was elect. Material possessions, they concluded, must be a sign. Didn’t people who worked hard and kept up their prayers often amass more stuff than others? Hard work was godly, and since it often resulted in riches, they must be godly, too. Wealthiness was next to godliness.
In an essay on The Great Gatsby, America’s great literary ode to our distinguishing love of wealth, John A. Pidgeon notes that the striving for money became a means of salvation. Take the Puritan reverence of riches, add in equal parts transcendentalism and rugged individualism, and you’ve got the American Dream in all its shining glory: If you work hard, if you believe fervently enough, you can make yourself a fortune. You, too, can join the ranks of the elect.