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Monday, June 5, 2023

A Woke Aristocrat And The Fury Of A Patrician Grande Dame–Hell To Pay On Beacon Hill

Ardmore Glenning had been born into a privileged white family, descendants of John Davenport, Puritan, Massachusetts Bay Colony renegade, and founder of New Haven.  His sisters were all members of the DAR, having completed the paperwork to prove that they were indeed related by blood to those who had fought in the American Revolution.  He, however, had gone the girls one better, and applied to the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization whose members were not only descended from Revolutionary soldiers, but officers.  He had been accepted without hesitation, for he had in fact been solicited by the Society thanks to his impeccable pedigree. 

Isaiah Glenning had been a colonel in the Continental Army’s bloody Western battles against the Indians and a close associate of Washington in the New York and New Jersey campaigns; and his family, proud of their heritage kept his memory very much alive.  One family member from each successive generation was named curator of the Glenning Family Archive, and the records were impeccable. 

The Society of the Cincinnati

Mory Ardmore Glenning was a proud American aristocrat, although he always thought of himself as an ordinary, patriotic citizen. Birth and lineage gave him visibility but could never replace obligation, service, and duty, and he was always mindful of the respectability, moral rectitude, and high principle for which his family stood.  

There was something to good breeding, he knew.  His family not only carried on the legacy of the most heroic struggles of the nation but represented the very best character it presented to the world.  Although Thomas Jefferson, Virginia aristocrat, Southern grandee, and brilliant politician who introduced the idea of ‘the people’ and insisted on majority rule, did his best to dislodge the influence of the Old World families of inheritance, property, and intelligence, the aristocracy still remained.

Glenning, not content to rest on the laurels of his American ancestors, traced them back through English history and found that they had been princes of the courts of Henry V, trusted aides to Cromwell, officers in Henry’s armies in France, and notable advisors to Elizabeth I.  Although he demurred when asked about his storied history, he knew that his family had been responsible for building one of the world’s greatest empires, a civilizing colonial force, an innovator in jurisprudence and social justice, and a patron of the arts. 

Elizabeth I | Biography, Facts, Mother, & Death | Britannica

However such reserve and historical conservatism was not shared by everyone in the Glenning family.  His cousin, Henry Glenning, had sold his houses on Martha’s Vineyard and Beacon Hill, divested his portfolio of all now tainted investments (Support for Israel, climate change hesitancy, and LGBTQ+ reluctance) and deliberately drew down on his liquid assets to support social reform.

 “He has turned an unfortunate corner”, said Aunt Elizabeth, secretly horrified by such political ‘indecency’ and feeling only revulsive nausea when thinking of his waywardness, but publicly more recondite.  Not everyone needed to know about the family’s black sheep, and certainly not about the depths of her despair.

“Why on earth….?”, asked Aunt Elizabeth, spluttering the question to her nephew without finishing it. 

“Because it is needed”, he replied and went on to cite the centuries-long struggle of the black man, the brutality and insanity of slavery and its persistent legacy in an institutionally racist society, the virulent prejudice against gays and lesbians, the outright hatred for the transgendered other, and the ignorant, willful myopia of climate change denial.  At the heart of it all, he explained to his aunt, is capitalism, the corrosive, corrupting, destructive force of social imprisonment.

Aunt Elizabeth it was told, adjusted her brooch – an heirloom from the Duchess of Herefordshire, a relative of the Berkeley branch of the family – took a sip from her fine, bone English china teacup, frowned, and said, “Bullshit”.  Such absolute nonsense could not be treated more gently or circumspectly.  It said in a word what members of the family had thought since Henry’s conversion.

“To his credit, said Cousin Mory, “he is consistent…and comprehensive”.  He had punched every ticket to a progressive utopia that had ever been issued.  There was no progressive cause he did not espouse, no proposition no matter how farfetched or fantastical that he didn’t consider. He marched for abortion, clean air, gay rights, and Black Lives Matter, a cause he celebrated above all others.  “The black man’s native African origins are unsung”, he explained to Aunt Elizabeth, “yet he in his forest simplicity, communal life, environmental respect, earth-emerged deities, and sophisticated animism is far more evolved than the white man.  We must not only help him to achieve social parity but to raise him toe the highest echelons of world order”. 

Child And Poverty - South African Poor People, African Village HD wallpaper  | Pxfuel

“Phooey”, the old lady said, sweeping her hand across the living room to indicate the treasures of her storied family and the courts of Europe -  the plaques and honors of presidents and kings and the priceless paintings, sculptures, and designs of Europe. The salon itself was a paean to the glory of England and the aristocratic traditions of America.

Cousin Henry had too much respect for Aunt Elizabeth to tell her off, to disabuse her of her troglodytic notions of class in perpetuam, and to discredit what had become a shameful example of the worst of America; but had he tried, he would have been met with the fury of the Erinyes.  Aunt Elizabeth was no wobbly totem but a grande dame and premier thinker in her own right. She did not just sit atop a storied family, curator and guardian of its legacy, but was a ferocious critic of wooly thinking in a tract written at the height of what she called ‘The Deconstructionist Folly’.   Elizabeth was a woman who lived her ideas.  There was no disconnect between her family’s legacy and ties to the great civilizations of Europe and her intellectual premises.  She was a force to be reckoned with.

“Go away, Henry”, she said on a lovely Fall afternoon in her Nantucket home; and that was that.  Let him gurgle in some progressive drain.  The very idea of it.  An heir to the legacy of America’s premier family flapping about in the backwaters of flimsy parentage.  What was he thinking?

“He’s just a bad seed”, said Cousin Mory; but that’s exactly what Aunt Elizabeth was worried about – the dilution…the corruption…of the Glenning genes with some outsider.  Like the frizzy-haired dentist’s daughter whose father was a doughier, hairier version of Samuel Gompers, the shibboleth of Beacon Hill, the one man who ruined her great uncle’s box factory on the Mystic River forever.  The Glenning line, regardless of how many male issue Cousin Henry would have, would be finished, kaput, khatam with no ifs, ands, or buts.

The Cambridge Mass Left had a field day with the squabbles of the Glenning family – the courageous departure of one of its principals; the hysteria of the old monied bats on the Hill, and the final exposure of American WASP aristocratic wannabees for what they really were. ‘Fraudulent creeps of privilege’, one columnist wrote in The Beacon, an online dodgy site. But she didn’t budge.  Someone had to push back against the revisionism and puerile historicism of Harvard Yard; and who better to call out the creeps who were, in the name of some indecipherable totemism of ‘inclusivity’, arbiters of social justice.  Dame Elizabeth Glenning, that’s who.

It was a vitriolic scrap worthy of Letters to the Editor of the New York Review of Books – back-and-forth attacks on character and integrity – but with only one victor, Aunt Elizabeth.  There was nothing the Glenning family could lose in the exchange.  Their millions were secured in irrevocable trusts, offshore accounts, receiverships, and third-party swaps.  Their family name, so linked to the annals of American history and to the courts of European royalty, was untouchable.  So she went on the attack, no holds barred.  She took apart the ‘Black Athena’ presumption of African supremacy, cited historians and ethnographers about African complicity in the European slave trade, disparaged frantic notions of gender fungibility, and noted the hysteria of LGBTQ+ fractionalism.

Black Athena: the Afroasiatic roots of classical civilization / Martin  Bernal. Vol.1, The fabrication of Ancient Greece 1785-1985 by Bernal,  Martin: (1991) First Edition. | MW Books

The mainstream conservative media caught the scent of popular appeal and brought Aunt Elizabeth out of the shadows and gave her national currency. 

As with all things popular and American, her fame lasted for only a few Warhol minutes, but she was happy that she had gotten all off her chest.  As for Cousin Henry, he returned to the fold after a few scant ears in progressive trenches.  Aunt Elizabeth took him back, better one repentant sinner than a thousand, etc. etc., and the two of them became legends of a sort.

 “The Dog and Pony Show”, sniped liberal critics, but they had been outed.  The side show of radical political idealism had been shut down, carny barkers quieted, snake oil salesmen sent packing.  For a time at least, the Northeast returned to sanity.  White was OK, white privilege was OK, Western civilization was OK, so sayonara.

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