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American society began to approximate Melville’s vision—a milling mob of conniving confidence men and questing consumers, rendered credulous by their dream of magical self-transformation through purchase. Money was more than merely a means of keeping people afloat,more even than the key to new realms of pleasure; it was also a mechanism for reinventing the self. It financed fresh starts, new sets of surface appearances. theology and morality merged in the Protestant ethic of disciplined achievement. The sincere self was also a hardworking self—so hardworking, in fact, that he produced his own success, his own social identity. He was, in short, a self-made man. For moralists, this paragon of autonomy provided a crucial centripetal force against the centrifugal energies of markets and monies. The ideals embodied in self-made manhood, it was hoped, would diffuse throughout society and stabilize the sorcery of the marketplace,contain its carnival spirit. Yet the sorcery kept resurfacing. After all, ascent to the lordship of capital required more than diligence—and less than sincerity.

— Shallowness of American society  

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