The idea was passed down even to the early citizens of the United States. At some point though, this idea got tossed aside in the 19th century in America just when the idea of the American Dream was being formed. The general idea that took noblesse oblige's place was that one was in the position of power he or she were in largely due to his or her own hard work. And since one was in the position he or she was in via his or her own hard work he or she had the right to keep whatever one earned. The idea that one owed his or her position to anyone else be they favors done one by others, or due to the diligent work done by one's workers became alien. It was somehow as if people thought folks magically got into the position of power they were without any help from anyone else. A CEO got where he or she was not because someone of a higher station saw promise in him or her when he or she first started out, or because of the diligence of the workers that served under him or her, but because of the CEO's own hard work, done with his or hers own hands. Therefore, as the CEO had done it all on his or her own, the CEO owed nothing to no one. Thus the very idea of noblesse oblige became an absurd concept. One spoken only by malcontents looking back on less civilized times. The American Dream was one got ahead by hard work, and once one had achieved his or her goals, one was under no obligation to anyone.
Now, this would not be so bad, but the idea that workers had obligations towards their employers never went away. Indeed, when one has a job he or she is supposed to be grateful as the employer is giving them a job, The employer is doing them a favor. To speak against one's employer or the wealthy in general is seen to be being ungrateful. The idea is that the worker owes his or her position to the employer, and not the other way around. Few have ever accused in the last 20 years a corporation of being ungrateful to its employees despite any form of maltreatment be it bad working conditions or low pay. To even demand fair pay or a living wage or safe working conditions is frowned upon. Somehow instead of the well to do owing those of lesser station for the position they are in, those of lesser station owe the well to do for whatever it is folks assume they do (creating jobs, boosting the economy, investing in the infrastructure). This is made even worse in the fact that with no concept of noblesse oblige, the well to do actually do very little for those that are less fortunate other than what they would be doing anyway to make more money.
It was the American Dream that killed noblesse oblige. The American Dream is based on the strong individual who needs no one else to get wherever it is he or she is going. One makes his or her own way by working hard and the only reward one is to expect is money. Money which allows one to buy a car, a house, and support a family. One makes one's own way. It does not matter what conditions one has to endure, the possible loss of health, the chance one could go hungry despite working, nothing matters as hard work will eventually reap its rewards. This idea of the self reliant individual has further killed the idea of noblesse oblige. The well to do do not owe their positions to the people of the United States of America as there is no such thing. No, our nation is a collection of individuals not expected to rely on anyone else. And with no unity, no idea of a society, there are no societal obligations of the wealthy either. There is no society for them to give back to, no society which put them in the positions they are in.
This leads us though to some facts. First, no one in a position of power got where he or she is via his or her own hard work. There had to be someone there to promote him or her up through the ranks. Once promoted, one had to have good workers to make one look good to get further promotions. If one is selling a product, one has to have people to buy one's product. Which leads us to the conclusion, the wealthy owe those who put them where they are because without the work and help of others they would not be in the position they are in. Unless one strikes gold and works the mine all by his or her lonesome, everyone in power owes that power to someone else. And that is why we need to modify the American Dream to include noblesse oblige, Everyone is obliged to someone else. We do not live in a vacuum. The sooner we admit that, the sooner America will return to its former glories.