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Myths America Lives ByWhite Supremacy and the Stories That Give Us Meaning$
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Richard T. Hughes

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780252042065

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252042065.001.0001

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The Mythic Dimensions of American Capitalism

The Mythic Dimensions of American Capitalism

The Gilded Age

(p.165) Chapter Six The Mythic Dimensions of American Capitalism
Myths America Lives By

Richard T. Hughes

University of Illinois Press

Capitalism in the United States is unthinkable apart from the myth of White Supremacy, for capitalism was built on stolen land and stolen people. Further, white Americans imagined that capitalism was God-ordained, grounded in “Nature and Nature’s God,” and heralded a golden age of peace and prosperity for all humankind. Following the Civil War, the myth of the Chosen Nation morphed into the myth that God blessed the righteous with wealth and the wicked with poverty—the central assumption of the Gospel of Wealth. Andrew Carnegie appealed to all these myths in his 1889 essay, “Wealth,” in the North American Review. Likewise, many American industrialists invoked these myths to justify their goal: the economic conquest of the world. Government and industry, however, typically excluded blacks from this engine of economic prosperity, thereby contributing to realities already in place—systemic racism and white privilege. In the early twentieth century, laissez-faire capitalism and the myths that sustained it came under withering assault from labor, the Social Gospel movement, and black social critics like W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, and Langston Hughes, especially since the wealth of the Gilded Age contrasted with unprecedented numbers of lynchings of America’s blacks.

Keywords:   Capitalism, Andrew Carnegie, Gospel of Wealth, Social Gospel, labor movement, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Langston Hughes, Gilded Age, lynchings

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