One line of commentary on my last post is deeply disconcerting. Three of our fellow bloggers on the postmodern conservative website have launched a scandalous attack on Maxwell House, mocking the American company which, until Folgers came on to the scene, was the number one producer of coffee in America. It pioneered the idea of providing a decent cup of coffee at an affordable price to every person in America, which is the democratic idea put into action. To belittle Maxwell House is to run down America.

Samuel Goldman, our nation’s most brilliant young Germanist, spoke in his reply of Heidegger and the experience of angst. He therefore knows full well of Heidegger’s attack on the great American principle of average quantity: “The primacy of sheer quantity is itself a quality, i.e., an essential characteristic, which is that of boundlessness. This is the principle we call Americanism.” It is precisely this great principle of mass distribution that pseudo-aristocrats deplore — this, along with the related economic principle of maximizing the use of resources. The latter is articulated in the great aphorism of “good to the last drop,” which stands in contrast to the pseudo-aristocratic practice of flaunting one’s concern for economic logic by leaving grounds in the cup, a notion otherwise known as Der Satz vom Grund.

Peter Lawler, the great American theorist, is no less guilty of snobbism than Goldman, only with less excuse. He has written eloquently on the limits of Darwinism and on the limits on the idea of progress, and yet here he happily joins hands with evolutionary Larry in casually dismissing Maxwell House on Darwinian grounds: “It goes without saying that the gradual disappearance of Maxwell House from our country is one undeniable sign of progress.” I do deny it, along with editor Poulos’s flippant rejoinder “Maxwell House — American to the Bitter Dregs.” The decline of Maxwell House (and the concomitant rise of Starbucks) is a clear sign of corruption. It is correlated with every matter of cultural decline, from the mounting threat of demographic extinction to the selection of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Maxwell House is an American icon, in the grand tradition of A&P and Chevrolet. Its motto good to the last drop was allegedly supplied by none other than that great American Theodore Roosevelt . Finally, to return to Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, which launched the whole conversation, I now reveal a secret that accounts for the reference to coffee at the end of my post. It has rarely been remarked that Hopper’s painting revolves around the theme of coffee and coffee drinking: there are, count them, three mugs on the counter, and they all contain coffee — no one here is drinking rosehip-raspberry herbal tea. The sugar is pure granulated white, not raw brown. The coffee, trust me, is Maxwell House. No instance in recorded history exists of anyone drinking Maxwell House with brown sugar. That’s the necessary condition. The sufficient one is that there are two huge urns of coffee behind the counter, and no one, even today, uses anything but Maxwell House to prepare coffee in this way. Finally, the color of the coffee in the glass tubes of the two urns is green, a “detail” that plays with Hopper’s use of light and color. (This critical detail is not visible in any reproduction I have looked at, though it is not only noticeable, but conspicuous, in the original.) I know from an experiment that only Maxwell House is so thin as to allow itself to refract light in this way. Maxwell House is our House of bean.

Articles by James Ceaser

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