Is there an American aristocracy? Who would you consider part of it?

Over here in the UK it’s pretty easy to tell who the upper class families are. They’re generally the ones that have Lord or Lady in front of their name, especially since successful business people (compared to the Rockefeller family and such) tend to acquire titles through marriage or knighthoods and such.

Then I ran across this blog post today, which pointed out that there hasn’t been a winning republican ticket without a Bush or a Nixon on it since 1928 and Herbert Hoover. Do you think that they count as aristocracy yet, political aristocracy at least?

I always thought that this as set America apart from the ‘old world’, but I’m wondering if there are any other family names which pretty much guarantee political or financial success.

I can imagine the Clinton’s as such and then there are the aforementioned Rockefellers and maybe the Carnegies?

I think this is more a matter of opinion than fact, and so perhaps better suited for IMHO than GQ (though it may end up in GD).

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Thanks, probably should have thought that through a bit more.

The Kennedys, Rockefellers,and maybe now the Bush’s are acting like they own the country. They assume high puplic office seemingly at will.

I would have said the Kennedys and Rockefellers. I hadn’t considered the Bush family, but they might fit. I would consider them lower on the totem pole than the two previous families, however.

“A” Nixon? Are there other well-known members of the Nixon family?

Well your link is a bit misleading. An aristocracy, IMHO, sort of implies a passing on of wealth or title from generation to generation. Those “Nixons” were all the same Richard M Nixon. And somehow I doubt the Bush name will carry much weight in years to come.

And as they are elected officials, there is never a guarantee. Ask Hillary Clinton.

We certainly have an upper class in the US. Really several upper classes. We tend to make distinctions between “Old Money” families like the Rockefellers, DuPonts, Hiltons (Paris not withstanding), and Kennedys from “nouveau riche” - people like Donald Trump, Bill Gates and other businessmen, entrepreneurs and entertainers who are self made. We also tend to view wealthy entertainers and athletes different from successful entrepreneurs and executives.

For example no one seems to bat an eye over Jim Carey making $25 million a movie, Oprah’s billions or Derek Jeter’s $189,000,000 contract with the Yankees. And for the most part, people seem to enjoy the outrageous antics of what are essentially attractive high school graduates with emotional issues and drug and alchohol problems after they recieve more money than they should be able to spend in a lifetime.

Wealthy businessmen and entrepreneurs, OTOH, tend to lead more low profile lifestyles, content to occassional appear in Fortune or Forbes magazine when they aren’t running their businesses or hanging out in the Hamptons. It is only when we discover some sort of fraud or other wrongdoing do regular people take interest in them.

The best answer I’ve yet seen to the OP’s question comes from The Next American Nation, by Michael Lind:

America sure has wealthy, old-money families, but not the way Europe does. In European old money families, inherited wealth transfers to one person, usually the oldest son, who has been trained from birth to maintain it. American fortunes tend to be split up evenly among all the heirs. Consequently, few American fortunes last more than three generations.

Consider the Kennedys. Joseph Kennedy was a product of the middle class. He made his stake with a combination of stock trades, real estate and allegedly rum-running (He was pretty rich before Prohibition began, but never mind). He was worth tens of millions of dollars in 1960, which in today’s money is a couple of billion; not too shabby. He also had ten children, many of whom also had 6-10 children apiece. Joseph’s children mainly leaned towards politics and philanthropy, not so much commerce; they did little to increase the family fortune and had expensive tastes. The grandchildren–a largely handsome but undistinguished bunch–diluted the coffers further. The great grandchildren will have to develop cheaper hobbies than light aircraft and the US Senate. (Remember the “Save room for coffee” gag in The Birdcage? Yeah.)

So am I a memeber of the “white overclass”?

If you are Episcopalian or Jewish, CHECK
have a graduate or professional degree from an expensive university, CHECK
work in a large downtown office building in an East or West Coast metropolis, CHECK
watch MacNeil/Lehrer on PBS, Um…NO
and are saving for a vacation in London or Paris, just came back from London, CHECK
you are a card-carrying member of the white overclass,
even if your salary is not very impressive. um…CHECK. well by the standards of what I would consider “wealthy” it isn’t

It seems to me that Lind defines this “overclass” as anyone who is white and graduated from a private university. Clearly I belong to this class by his definition, but I’m pretty sure there is at least an entire class of people above me. (Basically, whoever is buying those multi-million dollar Park Ave appartments).

Oh, never mind. Those are the institutional elite. I guess those are like the Partners in the law firms and investment banking managing directors who are the overlords of the overclass and to which we eventually aspire to.

This seems to me more of a distinction between Middle Class and Upper Middle Class.

Not any more. From roughly 1870-1960, we had a de facto hereditary aristocracy (although, as Krokodil points out, the fortunes tended to disperse a little more quickly than their European equivalents). But they’re just not quite the power players they used to be, even if some of them are still quite wealthy.

While I don’t think that Lind is describing the real upper class, I do agree that class in America is not a function of wealth or income. There is a difference between being rich and having money.

Mine is exactly the same. Maybe some of the European Dopers can help us come up with suitable titles, rights and responsibilities when it comes to those beneath us. One thing me and most Americans don’t believe is that you can be a member of the white overclass even if your income is not very impressive. That makes no sense unless you are just looking at income and not net worth. If you don’t make all that much money, you aren’t part of any overclass. It doesn’t matter who your grandfather was. However, the reverse is not true. You can have tons of money and still be white trash (Tonya Harding for example. Britney Spears is stepping right on the line).

The richest and most powerful fams in America
And the newcomers the Walton

We don’t have anything resembling an aristocracy. Any attempts to shoehorn the concept into American life is going to fail. We have plenty of rich people, we have many rich families that have maintained and grown their wealth over a series of generations. However, they aren’t generally thought to be entitled to anything. Wealth is increasingly fleeing because more and more companies are publicly held and more and more wealth is “paper wealth”. Now, that’s not to say that rich people don’t have a leg up, especially in politics where money can buy a campaign, but there are far more examples of where this failed than where it succeeded.

The Kennedys and Bushes are interesting in that wealth and politics dovetailed across a couple of generations but they aren’t long standing by any stretch. I don’t think that many people would agree with the notion that they were bequeathed their positions based on their family name though. They were popularly elected and their family names probably created just as much negative perception as positive while the campaigns went on.

Rich people get attention. Often that spans generations. But there isn’t any station or preference accorded to that attention beyond what they are able buy. Capitalism and all.