Temperance

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Two
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

2 Peter 1:5-6


Chapter Two of On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior is a study of Temperance drawn from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Much has been written about the excesses of the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression that followed. Our current culture bears many similarities in hedonistic excess, so should we expect a similar collapse? 

As Karen wrote in Chapter Two

Gatsby’s excessive materialism reflects the culmination of American history decades in the making. Between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the century, capitalist ventures birthed a new ethos in America. This “consumer capitalism” created “a culture almost violently hostile to the past and to tradition, a future-oriented culture of desire that confused the good life with goods . . . one moving largely against the grain of earlier traditions of republicanism and Christian virtue.” This old culture, based on values rooted in tradition, community, and religion, was replaced by a new culture that promoted “acquisition and consumption as the means of achieving happiness.” A few years before the time of The Great Gatsby, the term “conspicuous consumption” originated in economic theory to describe the values of this new culture, in which those who were made wealthy through opportunities offered by the Industrial Revolution sought to acquire and flaunt material possessions as symbols of their new economic power. America became what the turn-of-the-century marketing pioneer John Wanamaker called the “land of desire.”
How does our nation’s life and culture reflect temperance or its lack?  What are the implications?

On Reading Well

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