The World in Time

Michael Knox Beran

Friday, October 01, 2021

Franklin D. Roosevelt reception, 1920. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, National Photo Company Collection.

“They were, by and large, descended from the well-to-do classes of colonial and early republican America, from New England merchants and divines, from Boston Brahmins and Anglo-Dutch Patroons,” Michael Knox Beran writes of the figures at the center of WASPS: The Splendors and Miseries of an American Aristocracy. “But the Civil War and its attendant changes altered their place in life, and they emerged from the crisis as something different from what their forebears had been: as both a class and a movement, self-consciously devoted to power and reform. What to call them? The term WASP—White (or Wealthy, if redundancy is to be avoided) Anglo-Saxon Protestant—fumbles their background, betraying the sociologist’s inclination to use a term like Anglo-Saxon when the plainer, more obvious English one would do. (In this case, English.) For there is nothing especially Saxon or Angle about America’s WASPs. Insofar as they embody any English strain, it would be the Norman. Like the Normans, the WASP oligarchs possessed a corrosive blood-pride, one that they could only with difficulty reconcile with their sense of themselves as suffering idealists, groping their way through dark places in the hope of glimpsing the stars.”


In this episode of The World in Time, Lewis H. Lapham and Michael Knox Beran discuss the history of the WASPs: their politics, geography, influence, and predicted obsolescence.


Lewis H. Lapham speaks with Michael Knox Beran, author of WASPS: The Splendors and Miseries of an American Aristocracy.


Thanks to our generous donors. Lead support for this podcast has been provided by Elizabeth “Lisette” Prince. Additional support was provided by James J. “Jimmy” Coleman Jr.

Discussed in this episode

Cover of WASPS by Michael Knox Beran

More Podcasts

March 24, 2023

The World in Time:

Jared Yates Sexton

Lewis H. Lapham speaks with the author of The Midnight Kingdom: A History of Power, Paranoia, and the Coming Crisis. More

The Old Couple Looking at a Portrait of Lincoln, after Harry Roseland, c. 1905.

June 19, 2020

The World in Time:

Edward Achorn

Lewis H. Lapham speaks with the author of Every Drop of Blood: The Momentous Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. More

October 26, 2018

The World in Time:

Sarah Churchwell

Lewis H. Lapham talks with Sarah Churchwell, author of Behold, America: The Entangled History of “America First” and “the American Dream”. More

May 15, 2017

The World in Time:

William Hogeland

Lewis Lapham talks with William Hogeland about the creation of the United States’ first standing army and its victory over a coalition of Indian forces that sought to halt the country’s expansion. More

The Fall of Man, by Titian, c. 1550.

September 15, 2017

The World in Time:

Stephen Greenblatt

Lewis H. Lapham talks with Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve. More

April 03, 2017

The World in Time:

Nancy Isenberg

Lewis Lapham talks with Nancy Isenberg about the language of poverty and American myths about class, work, and equality. More