Analysis of Apostles of Success
Apostles of the Self-Made Man: Changing Concepts of Success in America
1965 book by John G. Cawelti – University of Chicago Phoenix Press – 280 pages
This is a book about the popular culture of success in America. It discusses natural qualities of character, education, values, and needs of individuals and society. It is a decent American history of changing concepts of success; with a focus on three main sources: historic individuals, fictional figures, and manual guides. It uses literature as a source to reference social history.
In spite of their persistent devotion to the idea of success, Americans have differed greatly in the way they defined it. That is the subject of this book. – p.3
Though the self-made man wasn’t an American invention, Americans have cherished the notion of someone rising out of poverty and, through hard work and dedication, achieving at least a moderate amount of wealth and respect. Purely American icons such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson each wrote about the opportunity for anyone in a fluid American class system to grow through their own power towards a particular position in society. Yet, much like Abraham Lincoln in the tumultuous ante-bellum period and the Gilded Age’s robber barons, the self-made man appeared most notably in times of rapid change and transition . – C.1
Three Strands of American Success
Religious – Protestant Work Ethic and pious morality
Economic – wealth = success
Complex Individual and Social Ethics and Dreams, often combining the first 2 stands
American society saw three main versions of the self-made man emerge in epitomizing the ideal of success. The first focused on a Protestant notion of “piety, frugality, and diligence” in fulfilling the duties of one’s occupation. This version suggested that a static, stable social order existed in which success was the attainment of respectability in this world and led to the assurance of salvation in the world to come. As strict Protestantism gave way to other, secular notions of success, this ideal began to fade away.
The second tradition placed a premium on a more economic emphasis of success. While the first focused on religious notions of grace and propriety, the second enlisted the purely lay qualities of aggressiveness, competitiveness, and forcefulness. As industrialization swept over the United States in the Gilded Age and beyond, people prescribed to this ideal of success beyond the scope of religion. The hierarchical structure of many new corporations demanded such qualities from their employees if they hoped to “climb the ladder of success.” The third type of success, was a combination of the former two; taking ethics and humility from religious loyalty, in an existential industrial work environment.
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