My Princeton mentor, longtime leading historian Robert Roswell Palmer, once defined the French bourgeoisie before 1789, or at any time, in this way: The bourgeois always has something in reserve. This is actually the best definition of the upper middle class; it avoids cultural claims and sticks to the fact that most people, below the bourgeoisie, have very few resources for a rainy day. That is what many observers say today about Americans at large: a disaster, medical or financial or occupational, will find them with little more than a few hundred dollars to ride out the storm.

You see, history can teach you something. The French bourgeoisie had more in reserve than the French nobility, and that helps explain why they were victorious in the French Revolution. Granted, "victorious" may be interpreted in more than one way.

Franklin Roosevelt, perhaps our best president in the last century, understood this better than anyone -- that the ordinary people needed a safety net. Now we hear that safety nets are socialistic and dangerous for freedom; but only the bourgeois who have learned nothing could say this. Why doesn't Making American Great Again include safety nets?

Norman Ravitch *62
Savannah, Ga.