Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Decline of the WASP: Leftist Peter Schrag proposes a version of Pan-Enclavism/Ethnopluralism in the 1970s

Jul 10, 2023

Peter Schrag, who is a Sacramento based journalist and Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, wrote a deeply insightful polemic, The Decline of the WASP, which critiques social trends of 1970s America, and stimulated the national debate on ethnic pride. There is an archived interview with Schrag where he talks about WASPs declining in cultural power and no long forming the institutions and calling the shots. The 70s saw the popularity of Jewish celebrities like Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman, White kids rooting for Muhamed Ali as an anti-establishment hero, and movies like Midnight Cowboy and The Graduate, depicting the decline of the WASP, or a rejection of the older WASP social order.

While very much of the left, Schrag’s The Decline of the WASP is fairly objective by today’s standards. Certainly Schrag seemed to have had mixed feelings about WASP decline from the standpoint of a non-Anglo immigrant, and parts of the book come across as a critical analysis of the WASP power structure with some degree of ethnic triumphalism. Specifically Schrag was glad that the WASP order was breaking down, because it meant that minorities were free to seek out their own ethnic traditions, and no longer expected to conform to WASP norms. However, Schrag saw the downside in the decline of admirable WASP traits that counter-balanced America’s hyper-consumerism and mercantile values. The WASP held onto their scruples and civic values, but also a quasi-aristocratic ideal that they were entitled to their position at the top, yet had a Nobles oblige sense to honor certain standards. The WASP were the New Man, who had shred their old ways while also preserving certain attributes of the past. WASPs who held onto these values were dismissed as squares by the counter-culture, and in turn, WASPs were beginning to lose confidence and question the legitimacy of their role in American society.


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