Law in Contemporary Society
Reflection on T. Arnold’s Folklore of Capitalism

Note to Professor Moglen: I had originally intended to offer you three main pieces for evaluation including my first paper (reflection on pro bono work), my second paper (legal policy argument), and a rewrite of my Bartleby paper (literature analysis). However, seeing Mr. Khana’s very strong edit of my Bartleby paper, I instead offer this substitution. This paper is intended to be a reflection on T. Arnold’s The Folklore of Capitalism. While I realize the late submission of this work makes editing infeasible by June 15th, I wanted another try to analyze your material having completed the semester. I hope that this late attempt will further reveal my commitment to improvement, even if Arnold’s piece itself is still a touch beyond my intellectual capability.

The Folklore of Fraternity

Rereading T. Arnold’s The Folklore of Capitalism, I understood his central thesis as arguing that something other than rational principle holds social organizations together. I argue that this thesis successfully describes the unity apparent within my undergraduate fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha. The organization maintains solidarity between members because of a common experience (initiation), rather than a common set of principles (as expressed in the official creed). This argument will proceed by suggesting the importance of unity to the fraternity, arguing that unity of principle does not satisfy the unity requirement, and concluding by arguing that, instead, common experiences serve to unify the brothers.

Fraternities, like all social organizations, place high priority on unity. This unity serves two important functions. First, unity among brothers precludes interfraternal strife. Modern fraternities are largely extracurricular social opportunities. Universities covertly offer a degree of protection to fraternities (not enforcing underage drinking laws), and fraternities charge nonmembers for their social functions and donate profits to charity. Given the prevalence of alcohol at these events and the need to present a “clean” image to the university, the prevention of interfraternal strife is perhaps a stronger priority for fraternities than for most social organizations. Second, unity encourages funding from alumni. Fraternities fall into a group of organizations that cannot rely on active members (students) for the majority of their funding. Instead, a common sense of unity is necessary to encourage alumni brothers to contribute their money to an organization to which they no longer actively belong.

These two ideas help express why fraternities require unity. Intriguingly, as Arnold’s piece suggests it must, the fraternity relies on both ritualized practices and a common creed in an attempt to establish unity. The creed and practices, however, should not be considered the sources of unity because they, as Arnold suggests, are completely devoid of meaning. The creed of Lambda Chi reads,

“We believe in Lambda Chi Alpha, and its traditions, principles, and ideals. The crescent is our symbol — pure, high, ever growing; and the cross is our guide — denoting service, sacrifice, and even suffering and humiliation before the world, bravely endured if need be, in following that ideal. May we have faith in Lambda Chi Alpha and passion for its welfare. May we have hope for the future of Lambda Chi Alpha and strength to fight for its teachings. May we have pure hearts, that we may approach the ideal of perfect brotherly love.”

This creed, I would argue, is almost entirely devoid of substantive meaning. As Arnold suggests, this must be the case. The creed must be sufficiently expansive (vague?) to be read to support the views of thousands of young men across the country. Anecdotally, strong evidence can be levied against the claim that this creed unifies the brothers. The creed is fundamentally Christian (“the cross is our guide”), yet the majority of the members of the Vanderbilt chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha are Jewish. If the creed truly did serve as the unifying force between the members, then presumably the Jewish members would not be able to unite with the rest of the chapter. This scenario did not occur; disunity amongst members could fairly be attributed to any number of reasons, but certainly not to religious differences.

If the creed and the organization’s founding principles do not explain the unity, then something else must. A strong counterargument can be made that socioeconomic status alone explains the unity. Fraternities largely cater to white, upper-middle class young men. I argue that this fact does not fully explain the unity within fraternities themselves. Fraternities were openly hostile towards each other, in spite of the fact that they were largely composed by men of the same demographics. Instead, I would argue that the initiation experience serves the unifying function. The initiation experience contains many of the elements suggested by Arnold. It was written a long time ago by a man the fraternity describes as almost supernatural (Warren A. Cole, 1909). Furthermore, it is secret to the public and mildly traumatizing. Members connect to each other via reliving the ritual (which of course they can only discuss with each other). Furthermore, the ritual creates an “us v. them” mentality, with brothers enjoying an implicit superiority by proving that they have the mental/physical fortitude to withstand the requisite trauma.

If not for the fraternity experience, I can say definitively that many of the brothers would not have interacted with each other. Within the chapter doors, future doctors with international service experience interacted with near drop-outs with serious substance abuse and anger issues. As Arnold suggests, the unity within the organization should not be attributed to its overriding goals or creed (or to similar lifestyles). As we have seen, the creed is largely devoid of meaning. Instead, unity can likely be attributed to a common initiation experience. The creed and rituals recited by the brothers at meetings help unify not because of their substantive content, but because they are sufficiently empty to support the diversity of lifestyles pursued by its members.

-- AlexBuonocore - 31 May 2012

I really like this, Alex. I just wanted to point you toward a quote which I had read during my own fraternity experience. I think this quote touches on something I might add to your paper—that in addition to unity being created through common experiences, a fraternity’s unity can also be attributed to the group’s shared vision (or spirit). The shared vision, which is something more than mere goals, allows everyone to move forward knowing what the group is trying to accomplish, the image/brand being created, and the knowledge that there are others who believe the same and will help one another: "we want to do such and such” or “be such and such” and “we will support each other in doing so."

"The fraternity is one of the most skillfully devised institutions among men, where a boy disorganized is brought into an institution of kindred spirits who believe in him and thereby help him to find himself. The fraternity makes men."

-Norman Vincent Peale

-- MatthewVillar - 04 Jun 2012


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r3 - 22 Jan 2013 - 18:13:36 - IanSullivan
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