Three Islands, Political Power, and Environmentalism

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

Mount
Desert Island, Maine, is the prototype Establishment enclave in
America. There are three of them, all islands: Mt. Desert, Jeckyl
(Georgia), and Jupiter (Florida). Mt. Desert Island is where a
major aspect of the modern environmental movement was created:
the lock-out.

In
1910, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. bought a 104-room granite mansion
there, importing tiles from the Great Wall of China. [Peter Collier
and David Horowitz, The
Rockefellers: An American Dynasty
(New York: Holt, Rinehart
and Winston, 1976), p. 97.] Rockefeller then used Mount Desert
Island as his first great experiment in permanently sequestering
property away from the free market, which has an unappreciated
tendency to develop properties aimed for sale to middle-class
buyers.

Rockefeller
and his elite neighbors — Edsel Ford was one of them —
were concerned about “overdevelopment.” [John Ensor Harr and Peter
J. Johnson, The
Rockefeller Century
(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,
1988), p. 199.] This is an elitist code word for “real estate
sales to the upper middle class.” They created an association
and donated 5,000 acres to it; then they gave it to the Federal
government. President Wilson used executive authority in 1916
to create a special monument; in 1919, Congress passed a law making
it Lafayette National Park. Junior bought more land and donated
it to the government; this is now Acadia National Park.

He
and his peers repeatedly adopted the lock-out strategy, using
tax-deductible money, to remove prime real estate from the market
in wilderness areas surrounding elite enclaves. This raises the
value of the remaining properties, and it secures an insulated
social world for them. The area around Jackson Hole, Wyoming,
is one of the prime areas where the Rockefellers own large tracts.
This area has long been the focus of a Rockefeller-inspired lock-out,
beginning in 1919. [Harr & Johnson, pp. 201-211.] Land values
there reflect this: astronomical. But the original model was Mount
Desert Island.

The
Rockefeller family biographers say of Junior’s role: "Very
shortly, he became a towering figure, the greatest ally the National
Park Service ever had." [Ibid., p. 198.] The assistance was
mutual. The National Park Service provides the authority to keep
the rest of us out of these areas on a permanent basis.

This
program to seal off prime wilderness areas from economic development
had its origins in the special role of wilderness in the coming
of age for the sons of the super-rich. It is one of the three
ordeals of youth and early manhood: the wilderness summer (wealthy
scion Teddy Roosevelt is the most famous exemplar); the academy
(Exeter, Groton, etc.), and military service in wartime (again,
Roosevelt the “Rough Rider” is most famous). [Nelson Aldrich,
Jr., Old
Money: The Mythology of Wealth in America
(New York: Knopf,
1988), ch. 5: "Three
Ordeals."] Mount Desert Island has been a big part of this.
[Ibid., pp. 164, 166.] Nelson
Aldrich, Jr., as part of the Old Money Establishment, is quite
forthright about environmentalism’s social function for the Establishment:
"The social religion of Nature, which began with rich kids
going outdoors for their health, ends in political action against
the condo developers, the shopping-mall impresarios, the army
of entrepreneurs whom Old Money (and not Old Money alone) imagines
despoiling Arcadia." [Ibid., p. 169.]

The
economics of the environmental movement points to an interest
group that is more permanent and far better organized politically
than part-time nature-lovers who backpack along the John Muir
Trail during one memorable summer vacation at age 19. Economist
Thomas Sowell, who grew up in rural North Carolina and urban Harlem
during the Great Depression and war years, has put his insightful
finger on the problem: the non-rich have too much money in the
aggregate for the minority rich to compete against successfully.
The non-rich are foreclosing on the rich because they have more
money. “There are infinitely more of them, and real estate dealers
and developers would rather get $10 million from 10,000 people
than get $1 million from one millionaire.” [Sowell, Pink
and Brown People and Other Controversial Essays
(Stanford,
California: Hoover Institution Press, 1981), p. 104.] The rich
have found a way to fight back.

In
the natural course of economic events, the non-rich would end
up taking more and more land and shore away from the rich. Spectacular
homes with spectacular views would be replaced by mundane apartment
buildings with only moderately pleasant vistas. A doctor or
movie mogul who can now walk the beach in front of his house
in splendid isolation would be replaced by whole families of
ordinary grubby mortals seeking a respite from the asphalt and
an occasional view of the sunset.

The
climax of the story is when the affluent heroes are rescued
by the government. In the old days, this used to be the cavalry,
but nowadays it is more likely to be the zoning board or the
coastal commission. They decree that the land cannot be used
in ways that would make it accessible to the many, but only
in ways accessible to the few. Legal phrasing is of course more
elaborate and indirect than this, but that is what it all boils
down to. This
is called "preserving the environment" (applause)
from those
who would "misuse" it (boos).

Where
the Elite Meet to Eat

On
Mount Desert, Bar Harbor and Seal Harbor are where the elite have
built their homes for almost a century. I love those town names
— Bar, as in barring off the masses, and Seal, as in sealing off
the masses. As William Hutchison has described it, “On Mount Desert,
year after year, Browns and Peabodys of the religious establishment
vacationed with Eliots, Rockefellers, and Peppers — that is, with
education, business, and political leadership.” [William R. Hutchison,
“Protestantism as Establishment,” in Hutchison, ed., Between
the Times: The Travail of the Protestant Establishment in America,
1900-1960
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989),
p. 10. See also Collier and Horowitz, The Rockefellers,
p. 147.]

American
church historian George Marsden hints at the island’s existence
and importance: "The major university founders, such as White
[Cornell], Gilman [California, Johns Hopkins], Angell [Michigan],
and Eliot [Harvard], kept in close touch and sometimes vacationed
in the same vicinity in Maine." [George Marsden, The
Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment
to Established Nonbelief
(New York: Oxford University
Press, 1994), p. 196.] He does not elaborate.

The
man known in the 1950’s as the Chairman of the American Establishment,
John J. McCloy, spent his middle-class youth on the island prior
to World War I, where his mother was the favored hairdresser of
wives of the elite. [Kai Bird, The
Chairman: John J. McCloy and the Making of the American Establishment

(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), pp. 30, 54-55.] From that
crucial geographical entry point, he made the personal contacts
that led to his becoming the most influential private citizen
in the United States, and presumably the world, from 1949 to at
least 1970, and possibly into the early 1980’s. [Alan Brinkley,
“Minister Without Portfolio,” Harper’s (Feb. 1983).] Geography
has consequences.

We
could use detailed studies of the well-connected residents of
the three Island enclaves of the American Establishment: prior
to World War II, Mount Desert and Jekyl (Georgia); beginning in
the early 1930’s and accelerating after 1945, Jupiter, located
in Florida’s Hobe Sound.

Jeckyl
Island, where J. P. Morgan had a home, as did William Rockefeller,
John D. Senior’s brother, was where the secret meeting — first
names only — was held in 1910 to plan the Federal Reserve System.
This important meeting is rarely mentioned in history textbooks.
See Thomas W. Lamont, Henry P. Davidson (New York: Harper
& Bros., 1933), pp. 96-101; Nathaniel Wright Stephenson, Nelson
W. Aldrich: A Leader in American Politics
(Port Washington,
New York: Kennikat, [1930] 1971), ch. 24: “Jekyl Island”; Thibaut
de Saint Phalle, The
Federal Reserve: An Intentional Mystery
(New York: Praeger,
1985), p. 49. See also the oblique reference to this conference
by one of the participants, Paul Warburg, in his authoritative
history, The
Federal Reserve System: Its Origin and Growth
, 2 vols.
(Washington, D.C.: Macmillan, 1930), II:58.

Most
historians think that a conspiracy theory of history is naive.
This is why they are generally ignorant of these three islands
and the social and economic background of their richest and longest-residing
inhabitants. The few historians who know about these enclaves
refuse to write much about this intriguing aspect of American
history: a few side remarks and hints, perhaps, but nothing detailed.
Walter Lippmann, a late-comer, bought property on Mt. Desert in
the early 1940’s. He did not write about its importance.

The
Old Boy Network is alive and well, and in the summers, they separate
themselves by water from the rest of us.

November
10, 2000

Gary North is the author of a ten-volume series, An Economic
Commentary on the Bible. The latest volume is Sacrifice and
Dominion: An Economic Commentary on Acts. The series can be downloaded
free of charge at www.freebooks.com.

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare