"Influence of Wealth," 1904


The rise of consumerism and materialism worried many Americans. Social reformers such as Father John A. Ryan perceived in the emphasis on material acquisition a threat to people's spiritual and cultural lives. With the focus on the exterior person and acquisition for its own sake, he feared that concern to cultivate the whole person--mind, body, and soul--would fall by the wayside. Although men such as Andrew Carnegie, William Randolph Hearst, and J.P. Morgan received much criticism for their accumulation of wealth, there were those people who saw these men as contributing to and ensuring the advancement of American culture. One such argument is presented in Gunton's article. Annoyed by the "continuous wail against materialism", the author argues the importance of wealth for the cultivation and maintenance of a "higher life".

As you read this essay keep in mind Fr. Ryan's comments on the Christian life and bettering oneself.


  • Do you agree with the author that material wealth automatically leads to spiritual welfare? Why or why not?
  • Evaluate the author's argument in light of Fr. Ryan's work. Would he have accepted any of the points the author raises?
  • Do you think Fr. Ryan and the author share the same definition of "higher life"?
  • Do you think people in poverty can attain a "higher life" as defined by the author?
  • Do you think J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and others acquired their wealth by impoverishing others? OR do you think the "modern conditions of economic production" of which the author spoke prevented the development of such poverty?

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