Very good post! I think you really touch on something in this particular paragraph. The one part I would disagree with is that during the first 2/3 of the 20th Century, civic and social clubs were widespread. Most Americans belonged to a PTA, Lions Club, Elks, or Country Club. Somewhere in the late 1960's through the early 1980's, the membership numbers started declining.
There is a book that discusses the trend called BOWLING ALONE
You are perfectly correct! It's worth considering why
civic and community groups flourished in that brief window in American history. The reasons are probably a mixed bag: some social clubs were an entree for new immigrants or success-hungry middle-class people to make contacts, perhaps even mingle with their betters, and to integrate with the broader community. In the early 20th century, the US had lots of first- and second-generation strivers who wanted to belong; we had a general need in society to get those people educated, gainfully employed, and making money. Social clubs are great at that. "You're Catholic, Methodist, Jewish? Hey, we're all Rotarians! Gimme that funny handshake and let's do some charity!"
And then we had those backwater social clubs (like the Klan, or whites-only golf clubs) dedicated to preserving a different, less motile vision of American society. They were (bluntly) created to exclude people of inferior class or race or gender. Yacht clubs have often been filed in this latter class, sometimes unfairly, sometimes with cause. There are are open-admission clubs that do community work and outreach, and there are others that shun change & cling to some nostalgic WASP vision of America that, let's face it, ain't coming back. It's gone the way of Long Island's potato farms: suburbs, televisions, and automatic garage doors.
ETA: One nice thing about sanding is it leaves 90% of your brain free to chew on other stuff. Maybe we should consider what is meant by "exclusive". How would you define it, Soundbounder? It's a word with lots of applications. Here's three definitions. Maybe y'all can come up with others:
1) Numerically exclusive.
There are limited spaces available, and demand outstrips supply. Most people could afford the dues, and there are no other tests or requirements; it's just a matter of a slot coming free. Limitations are structural. Probably involves a waiting list.
2) Financially exclusive.
Membership is too expensive for most people. The bar is kept high, and those who get in are automatically of the upper wealth percentile (or are willing to devote a large % of their income toward membership.) This is an interesting model, in that it uses exclusivity to justify price, and price to guarantee exclusivity. Level of service is very high, as are per-member operating costs. The model works unless
the club loses its 'cool' status, or unless its typical clientele drops off by even a few members -- if, for instance, Wall Street shoots itself in the head.
3) Socially exclusive.
Admission depends on who you are. Criteria may be dark, or they may be open. Legacy is a sure in, as is address (Greenwich CT? C'mon in!). Certain professions may be preferred. You might need sponsors from within the club, or you might need to submit to an application & interview process. Financial means alone do not guarantee acceptance, tho large wads of cash can somewhat stifle the 'breeding' issue, esp. if a YC is on the ropes.
Most 'exclusive' YCs probably operate on several of these levels at once. But there is a difference between a YC that is hard to get in because it's well-situated and has good docking facilities (and a waiting list) -- and one that's hard to get into because (Brahmin voice) "we have high standards for our membership."