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  An American Manifesto
Friday December 19, 2014 
by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter

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Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Bibliography

Chapter 4:
The Nineteenth Century From the Top Down

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Social engineering from above in the name of those below—David Martin

THE GREAT EVENT of the second millennium was the rise of the world-historical middle class.  This rise was built upon brilliant social and technological innovations like double-entry bookkeeping and ocean navigation that unleashed remarkable productive forces upon a slumbering world.  But man does not live by bread alone, and the rise of the bourgeoisie provoked political and religious upheaval as well as economic change.  The great political events of the millennium grew out of the bourgeois struggle for a seat at the political table, and the great religious events grew out of the bourgeois need for a relationship with God that reflected their culture of rule and role, of contract and faithful performance of promises. 

But then the world changed.  Between the eighteenth century and the nineteenth century there erupted the transforming event of the French Revolution.  All of a sudden an explosion of political melodrama blasted away the patient craftsmanship of law and constitution building, the steady chipping away of the feudal order by the new bourgeois ethos.  The exclamations of Liberty! Fraternity! Equality! interrupted the slow advance from status to contract imagined by Sir Henry Maine in his Ancient Law and as actually practiced by the political actors in the constitutional compromises in England after the execution of Charles I and in Philadelphia in 1787 after the American Revolution.  The idea of discovering the rules to frame the good society was assailed by a movement that regarded rules as part of the problem.

The political earthquake was just half of the problem.  While the French Revolution was transforming the politics of Europe, the industrial revolution was transforming its commerce.  All of a sudden the modest fluctuations of established commercial trading cities and their steady, self-governing merchants were eclipsed by the explosive growth of new manufacturing enterprises run by wild-eyed entrepreneurs that suddenly flooded markets with cheap textiles.  Established merchants found themselves threatened by low-cost competitors, and established tradesmen found themselves threatened by a proletariat sucked off the land into vast new city slums.  These two revolutions created a crisis of meaning for western culture. 

The political revolution challenged the Anglospheric tradition of evolutionary change.  Whereas the bourgeois leaders of the British and American revolutions had implemented a careful adjustment to emerging power relations in the Anglo-Saxon world, the French Revolution, influenced by the thinking of continental political philosophers like Rousseau and the Encyclopedists, had grander ambitions and abandoned the step-by-step caution and the doctrine of the separation of powers that had inspired the British and the American revolutionaries.  While the Anglo-Saxons revolutionaries certainly believed that they ought to hold political power, they also recognized that any future regime needed to avoid the absolutism that then flourished in Europe, and they designed a political tradition that would limit government power, whoever wielded it.  They anticipated Burke’s reflection that liberty, when men act in bodies, is power, and that reflective people would do well to think of the effect on new power in new persons.  The French revolutionaries were seduced by the gathering force of the Cartesian revolution and Rousseau’s doctrine of the General Will. They believed in Reason as the truth to order society and that the problem of the ancien régime was merely that the wrong people had power and used it irrationally, not that power itself was the problem.  Also, as the light of Christianity guttered out in the souls of the elite, the eternal ache for salvation in the next world was transformed in them into a rage for liberation in this world. 

The industrial revolution was equally unsettling.  Successive waves of innovation, particularly in textile manufacturing and in the use of water and steam power, upset established cost structures, exposing established enterprises and their workers to unsettling competition, upsetting traditional and customary economic relations and setting up large movements of population as the new manufactories began sucking people off the land into the new, explosive cities.  In politics and in economics, it was the dawn of the creative age.

For the elite classes, those with education or with power and position, these earthquakes, one political and one economic, demanded explanation and response.  Who had done this, upending the familiar world that had nurtured and sustained them, and what should they do about it?  As the nineteenth century unrolled, the questions became sharper and more pressing.  What should be done, politically and also economically?

How should or could the masses, who had suddenly appeared on stage as a unison chorus in the French revolution and as a cacophonous offstage percussion section in the burgeoning cities and mill towns, be controlled—in their own best interest, of course?   After the political riptides of the French Revolution had subsided, how should society be anchored to preserve community?  What kind of power was legitimate, and who could legitimately wield it?  Could the poor, the lower orders, be included in the political community, or would they never rise above the level of a mob?   Should political power just be given to them, the mystic fount of the General Will, in a revolutionary spasm that would banish the evil of power and oppression forever?  

The decision was not just up to the old elites of land and property.  The new manufacturing of mass-produced textiles marginalized the old commercial merchants and the luxury trades they plied in London and the Low Countries, and created a new leisure class in the sons and daughters of successful entrepreneurs; Kierkegaard was the son of a prosperous merchant born a crude peasant.  While the leisured youth of landed property had been raised to primogeniture, advantageous marriage, the church, and the army, the sons and daughters of the newly risen bourgeoisie were not trained to the old dance of land tenure but were legatees of sudden and remarkable wealth in capital and machines.  They began to build a new elite culture in opposition to the culture of their fathers. 

Some people reacted to the new century with boundless optimism; they were ready to change the world.  Robert Owen, born in 1771 to a saddler and ironmonger, considered that he was ready to start his working life after two years of education, but, persuaded to a little prudence by his parents, delayed his business debut for two years till the age of ten when he became an assistant to a clothing retailer.  At 20 he was appointed manager of a textile mill employing 500 workers, and by the age of 26 had bought the New Lanark mills on the river Clyde at Glasgow, Scotland, that made him rich and famous.  Having impressed himself with his remarkable success in the paternal management of his workers in Scotland he started writing books and publicizing his ideas.  By 1825, disappointed that the British did not seem too enthusiastic about his plans to create “a new moral world, a world from which the bitterness of divisive sectarian religion would be banished” he moved to the United States to found the socialist community of New Harmony in Indiana.

If a half-educated practical man of business had decided to move on from religion in 1825, others must have gone before.  Indeed, the educated elite of the nineteenth century found itself attending the wake after God’s funeral.  The great Christian tradition had become, for them, “untenable and unbelievable,” and so, as “intelligent and sensitive human beings,” they rejected it. (Wilson 1999 p14)  For many, the doubt was sown by Gibbon and Hume.  Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire had revealed the early church fathers as contemptible rogues, and Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion was described as constituting a “death certificate” for religion.  For others, it was the German philologists whose scholarship discovered the hand of human authors in Holy Scriptures attributed previously to God.  What they wanted after the death of God was a world beyond the banality of God and the stupid bourgeoisie.  What they got was the existential hunger of Kierkegaard, the high-minded Unitarianism of the Boston Transcendentalists, the sentimental echoes of belief in Thomas Hardy, and the lust for creative differentiation from the herd in the übermensch of Nietzsche. 

But if God is not to be believed, what comes next, but God?  The philosophers of the eighteenth century had prophesied the death of God, and so the nineteenth century, struggling with grief, tried to resurrect him as Nature, or as the Absolute, or by excursions into South and East Asian culture, or, more ominously, in godless cults of social perfection like Owen’s socialism and Marx’s communism that came to torment the twentieth century.  In the middle of the eighteenth century Rousseau wanted to exempt himself from the general rules of bourgeois society, which seemed to him inauthentic, and follow only those rules that resonated in his own heart and that made sense for him.  It was the beginning of the modern cult of creativity, transcending the routine of rules and roles into the individual quest for authenticity and for direct experience.  In the early nineteenth century the Romantics, a generation removed from the battle of subsistence agriculture, rode forth from their bourgeois homes and found God in Nature, transcendent and wonderful.  In the mid-nineteenth century, Thoreau, son of a pencil manufacturer, wandered a mile out of the town of Concord leaving behind, so he assured his readers, the mass of men who lived lives of quiet desperation, and took up the organic life for a year.  Thoreau’s manifesto from Walden Pond was amplified by the manifesto of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, three middle-class art students attempting to purify the corrupted shadow of western art.  By the end of the century, after the Romantics, after the Boston Transcendentalists, after the Pre-Raphaelites, after Madame Blatavsky and the Theosophical Society, it was left to William James to confess to an irreducible spiritual precipitate in The Varieties of Religious Experience. 

Of course, in Germany this Anglospheric Romanticism would have been thought very small beer.  In Kant the Germans had reinvented philosophy, in Beethoven they had reinvented music, and in Goethe they had reinvented genius.  In the generation after Goethe, every young German boy quaked with the prospect of becoming a genius. But this new genius was not something revealed by a life of achievement.  It was innate; it was something felt in the bone.  Intoxicated by the cult of genius, the new generation dreamed adolescent dreams of becoming a Rousseau, a Goethe, or a Bonaparte.  The throng of young geniuses like Wagner, Marx, and Nietzsche could not tolerate the uncertainty of waiting, in an imperfect world, for their genius to be discovered.  If the world was not prepared to recognize their genius, it must be forced to do so.  Richard Wagner spent a lifetime insisting he was a genius, and fortunately, just in time, a patron emerged to fund his genius before he was forced to adopt extreme measures.  Karl Marx, that genius unappreciated in his lifetime, changed the world with a belief system and a system of government of genius, by genius, and for genius that we call socialism.  It was brilliant, and Nietzsche—and later, Heidegger and Sartre—was glad to fill in the details of a world safe for self-validating geniuses to live in.  In general, all agreed that geniuses, übermenschen, authentic creators and the like should be absolutely free to follow their bliss, but that the middle class should be rigidly controlled in thought, word, and deed.  And so it was that the sons of the bourgeoisie declared war on the middle class and the idea that society, not the genius himself, got to make the call on who was a genius and who was just an inflated ego.

What with the Death of God that troubled sensitive souls and the new cult of genius that intoxicated creative souls, educated people found themselves rebuilding the world of the mind from scratch. 

But outside the life of the mind there was a more pressing and practical issue to engage them: the sudden immigration of the lower orders into the city..  Throughout the ages the better classes had paid little attention the “lower orders” out on the land except to keep them tied to the land.  Their major concern was to hobble them with enough legal disability to keep them dispersed in the countryside and make it difficult for the disaffected to achieve a strategic concentration that might challenge the established power.  The peasants were, after all, peasants, and they needed a military elite to protect their barns from attack.  But when the peasants of England began migrating from the country to the grimy new cities of the industrial revolution and the peasants of Europe began to cross the Atlantic to migrate to the grimy cities of the United States, the better classes were shocked.  The poor were no longer an abstraction but living across town in a teeming slum in miserable squalor.  Their sudden appearance required a response.

But what response?  Should the urban poor be controlled and educated into more salutary habits?  Should the building of substandard housing be outlawed?  Should long hours of work be forbidden?  Should the poor be cured of their lust for drink and disorder?  Or should they be led to overthrow their oppressors and given the full social wage they deserved?  Were the poor a dangerous disruptive force, or were they helpless, slaves to a brutal oppressor?  Already, by mid-century, the American Whig Party had implemented in the United States a centralized, professional common school system to educate all American children (and especially, no doubt, the children of rough-hewn Jacksonian Democrats and the starving Irish) to republican virtue.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the elite had decided upon a comprehensive solution.  The poor would be organized, supervised, and enlightened under a rule of the experts that we now call the welfare state.  But for most of the century elite opinion was divided, proposing everything from controlling the poor to liberating them. 

Dangerous or helpless, the poor had emerged suddenly teeming in the slums of London, Manchester, and Birmingham, and then in New York, Boston, and Pittsburgh, and just in time to be reported in the new newspapers printed on the new steam presses.  The most wretched of the poor were the Irish, chased out of Ireland to Liverpool and to the United States by the continuing disaster of the potato blight.  In their new lives, the Irish “lived in the worst slums, amid the greatest filth, and worked in the least skilled, lowest paid, and most dangerous occupations.”(Sowell 1998 p65)  In the cities, they “kept pigs and fowl, and disposed of their garbage in the streets” and frequently were hit hard by cholera and other diseases.

It was possible to argue forever over the condition of the poor: heroic or oppressed, naturally filthy or degraded by the squalor of their surrounding.  In the old days the poor had lived on the edge of town, or were otherwise dispersed.  Yet in New York they had suddenly invaded the precincts of the better classes and hunkered down in teeming slums, for instance the Five Points area of lower Manhattan, an area which became in the 1830s a festering sink of violence, poverty, and vice.  Concerned citizens began to write letters to the editor about the slums enquiring, “when may we be declared free from pestilence?  Be the air pure from Heaven, [the] breath [of the poor] would contaminate it, and infect it with disease.” (Anbinder 2001 p23)  Something had to be done before the rampaging pestilence took out the better classes.

Despite his air of injured innocence, the writer was right to be concerned.  Cities had always suffered from disease and epidemic and needed steady immigration from the countryside to replenish their losses.  The huge cities of the nineteenth century seemed to be setting themselves up for huge epidemics.  In England, it was time to do something about it.  Concern about urban squalor led to a report in 1842 by William Chadwick on The Sanitary Conditions of the Working Poor in Great Britain.  But then our forebears discovered something that decided the matter.  They discovered how the unsanitary living conditions of the working class threatened their health.  The General Register Office, established in 1836, began to prepare abstracts for Parliament on the vital statistics of the British.  Its Controller, William Farr, began to play with the numbers, and identify variations in mortality from district to district.  He found, for instance, that the incidence of cholera in London decreased with height above the river Thames. (Burke 1985 p229)  By 1853, a doctor, John Snow, “began to suspect that cholera was transmitted on hands which had shared food after being contaminated by diarrhoea or vomit.”  Snow soon got to test his theory when water from a well in London

suddenly killed six hundred local inhabitants.  Snow found that a cesspit was overflowing into the well.  When the pit was sealed off and the water filtered, the problem disappeared. (Burke 1985 p233)

This inaugurated a third revolution, the sanitary revolution that saved the other two.  Governments began to protect water supplies and drain wastewaters into the rivers.  Parliament passed a number of reforms to empower the government to regulate sanitary conditions.  These included “the first ever rights of entry to private property without permission” by government officials investigating sanitary conditions.  These powers were justified, according to Dr John Simon in the Second Sanitary Report to the City of London, because of the “pestilential heaping of human beings” fertilizing, while middle class eyes were averted, “seeds of increase for crime, turbulence, and pauperism.” (Best 1979 p79)  Government had to do something because the poor were helpless and incompetent—and they were putting the better classes in mortal danger of death from disease.

Also, of course, unscrupulous businessmen were taking advantage of them.  Respectable Britons were shocked to learn in mid-century of “jerry-built” houses that cost as little as $300, built with thin walls and undersize lumber by “speculators and small capitalists for an instant profit.”(Best 1979 p39)  In the 1840s, British cities started developing building codes to put a stop to the construction of substandard housing.

Fifty years later, the New York journalist Jacob Riis rehearsed all of this in his celebrated 1890 expose of Manhattan squalor.  How the Other Half Lives was a tour, complete with photographs, of the tenements and dives of squalor.  Riis wanted to bring an end to the cheap tenements, windowless and airless, that had housed the poorest of the poor, and had become breeding grounds for disease and for crime.  The material living conditions of the poor made it impossible for them to thrive, he reported.

But some elitists were not content with merely controlling and accommodating the lower orders, building sanitary facilities and improving their housing; they wanted to lead them.  They did not see lower orders, but a suffering proletariat.  They did not believe merely in the removal of privilege and obstacles to talent and enterprise, but saw the very fact of inequality as de facto evidence of oppression.  For them, the history of the nineteenth century began with the Congress of Vienna restoring reaction and the ancien regime.  It was about the workers in England struggling against their oppressors at Peterloo and in the Chartist movement.  It was about the revolutions in Europe in 1830 and 1848 that failed to dislodge the old regime.  For them the new world of the nineteenth century was, in fact, nothing new.  It was a continuation of age-old oppression.  Only now the oppressors weren’t the landowning aristocracy of the sword, but the capitalist aristocracy of the factory and the mill.  When the young bourgeois radicals Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx took a break from radical journalism to describe what the new class of oppressors was up to in 1848 in The Communist Manifesto, they invented a literary genre that has brought fame and fortune to scribblers ever since.

Modern industry has established the world-market, for which the discovery of America paved the way.  This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land...

The bourgeoisie... has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations.  It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors,” and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment.” ... In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation ...

The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more productive forces than all preceding generations together.  Subjection of Natures’ forces to man, machinery, applications of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground—what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor? (Marx Engels 1992 p19-23)

These two young German sprigs, it is well to remember, were describing the world in 1848 when John D. Rockefeller was ten and the teenage Andrew Carnegie was heading from Scotland to Pittsburgh to meet his destiny as a telegraph messenger.   Gold had just been discovered in California, and the great boom of 1850-1870 had not yet begun. 

The genius of the Marxian vision was to transform the paternalism of Owen’s socialism into an ideology that appealed on the one hand to the frustration and misery of the workers, blaming the evil capitalists for their deprivation, and to play on the status anxieties of the upper classes challenged by these same nouveau riche exploiters.  They could appeal both to the suffering masses and stir them up and to the established classes who wanted the crude capitalists kept in their place.  Marx and Engels’ picture of the world-triumphant bourgeoisie conjured up an image of a new and terrifying power in world affairs that the upper classes could view with alarm as a vast and beetling threat.  For what would happen if the bourgeoisie continued creating more and more productive forces?  They would put everyone out of a job, and not just the sweating multitudes in the mines and factories, but lawyers, physicians, journalists, and small businessmen, the people who read the articles and features in the new newspapers for which Marx and Engels wrote.  The bourgeoisie would reduce everyone to the status of proletarians.  The rise of the bourgeoisie meant misery both to professional and proletarian.

It was this prophecy of immiseration that delivered the real punch in Marx’s message.  The new bourgeois world wasn’t merely unfair to the lower orders.  That was bad enough.  It also threatened to pauperize the good people, the lawyers and journalists, preachers and professors, respectable pillars of communities.  The newly jumped up factory owners, with their crude manners and their deals and haggling were threatening to put men like Marx and good family firms like Engels & Ermen out of power and influence.  Humiliation by a bunch of half-educated factory owners was not what Marx’s lawyer father had in mind when he converted his family from Judaism to Christianity when little Karl was six.  The sacrifice of assimilation had to have a better payoff than that. 

The fear of status decline animated not just the revolutionaries like Marx but upper class reformers as well.  It resonates in the writings of the Fabians in England and the Progressives in the United States.  The sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie were disturbed by the dirt and squalor of the nineteenth century.  They wanted a world of creativity and beauty, where the grubbing reality of industrial commerce could be transformed by art and by genuine community.  William Morris, son of a businessman and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in mid-century, was angered that Art was thwarted at every turn by commerce, and “its sneering question ‘Will it pay?’” (Morris Art and Socialism, p?)  He became a socialist and inspired Hubert Bland, son of a businessman, who founded the Fabian Society in 1883.  The Fabians, whose leading lights included George Bernard Shaw and Sidney and Beatrice Webb, wanted a socialist society, but they wanted it based on “rational factual socialist argument” rather than passion and street fighting.  In the United States, similarly refined natures were appearing.  The Boston Transcendentalists moved away from Puritanism towards a more ecumenical Unitarianism and differentiated themselves from the common ruck of townsmen.  “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” wrote Thoreau (Thoreau 1997 p9), but he would live something better, more creative, in the wilderness a mile out of Concord, Massachusetts, at Walden Pond.  The Fabian Essays in Socialism that the Fabian Society published in 1889 yearned for a return to permanent values and rang with phrases like “the fields still abandoned to private enterprise,” “the anarchic competition of private greed,” and “destroy the Individualist faith.”(Shaw 1889 p69)  The Fabians hated the noise and fuss of the machine age.  They wanted a nice quiet municipal socialism, where everything would be ordered with economy and decorum by the right sort of people.  In the United States, the Progressives also wanted a quiet life.  As they drove reforms in enterprise and municipal governance in the first decade of the twentieth century they were motivated “not because of economic deprivations but primarily because they were victims of the upheaval in status that took place in the United States” around the turn of the twentieth century. (Hofstadter 1955 p135) The professional classes didn’t like being outshone by men who were, after all, not really out of the top drawer.

The Fabian program of socialization and municipalization should have been opposed by the landowners.  In fact, the landed magnates were feeling the same status anxiety as the Fabians.  Soon after the end of the Napoleonic wars they began to feel competition, both political and economic, from commercial interests like the textile barons of Manchester.  Richard Cobden, a successful Manchester calico printer, became a political activist and agitated for repeal of the Corn Laws to cut tariffs on grain imports, and went on to agitate for a total embrace of Free Trade.  John Bright, son of a cotton manufacturer, entered Parliament and campaigned against the Corn Laws and also for extension of the franchise.  Their political activity was clearly aimed at reducing the power of the landed magnates.  But the landed power could fight back.  They could investigate the working conditions in the factories and pass factory legislation to reduce the economic power of the manufacturers.  Lord Ashley, son of the 6th Earl of Shaftesbury and Member of Parliament for Woodstock, a “pocket borough” in the control of the Shaftesbury family, led the campaign in the 1830s to regulate the use of child labor in the textile factories of England.

The wealthy scions of businessmen may have longed for a finer more artistic life beyond mere material things and, as they aged, a certain protection against the chill winds of competition from coarse parvenus, but the regular middle class had more practical needs.  They wanted the finer things in life, and if not finer things, then ordinary things, like houses.  In England they wanted, if possible, a fine detached villa, or failing that a semi-detached villa.  Even those condemned to terraces (or row houses) desired bay windows, balustrades, and string courses. (Best 1979 p37)  But to enjoy their Victorian comforts, the middle class needed order and respectability and looked to society to deliver it to them.  If there was pestilence, they wanted it removed.  If there was disturbance, they wanted it quelled so that they could maintain their slow ascent to competence and respectability.  When the elites offered them order and stability in return for a few trifling limitations on the rights of Englishmen, they were easily persuaded.

It was the Germans who brought all these themes—the problem of the poor, the status anxiety of the upper classes, and the practical need to bring order to the explosive growth of the cities—together into a single governing idea.  They did it for the most practical of reasons, the need to build a strong Germany that could keep the French on the west bank of the Rhine.  Of course, elite Germans had marched in the vanguard of every intellectual movement of the nineteenth century and had proudly led the development of the cult of genius.  But the humiliating defeat of Prussian arms in battle after battle in the awful nadir of 1806 and 1807 at the hands of the French had taught the Germans a bitter lesson.  They needed to become powerful and united so that France could never march its armies over Germany as Napoleon had done, and as numerous generals, mainly French, had done for the previous two hundred years.  If the French and the British had become powerful nation states, so could they.  With the help of Scharnhorst and the elder von Moltke they built the best army in Europe, a weapon that Bismarck used to spank the French and make Germany the most powerful nation in Europe, forcing the German people in a single generation through an industrial revolution that had taken a century in England.  In developing the new Germany they did not, of course, think about how the German people might best be allowed to develop.  They used the German people to further their national goals.  To create the necessary armed force, they conscripted most young men into the army and made it into the most popular institution in Germany, the symbol of Germanness.  To raise the quality of the conscripts, they implemented a mandatory state system of education.  To keep the new working classes attached to the monarchy, Bismarck co-opted the agenda of the middle-class-led Social Democrats and enacted a comprehensive set of social insurance reforms in the 1880s that nationalized social welfare and stripped the German people of their own institutions for social security and improvement.  The elite Germans had invented the modern welfare state.  It was a top-down solution for all the problems of the age.  For the Death of God, they substituted a cult of creativity and genius.  For the crisis in urban living, they built a system of social control and material provision that supervised and nourished the poor that had immigrated into the cities.  For the revolution in economic scale that had transformed the way that people worked, they provided close elite supervision and control.  It all seemed a beneficial combination of rational design and compassion that successfully faced down the looming chaos that had seemed to threaten in the middle of the century.

In retrospect it is not surprising that the elite solution to the political and industrial revolutions and the threats they posed to stability was an increase in elite power.  The threat of the poor and the threat of the capitalist had to be overcome.  The ignorance of the poor was attacked with compulsory government education.  Want and poverty were attacked with compulsory government social insurance.  The ugly capitalists were taxed and harried by an ever-shifting miasma of government administrators and enforcement officers.  And the professional classes found themselves good sinecures directing the whole operation as disinterested experts; they could be objective social scientists in the universities constructing social engineering projects; they could be impartial civil service administrators in the government offices; they could be selfless political activists.  The elites saw what they had done, and it was good.  It was not until late in the twentieth century that another generation of Germans, a sadder, wiser generation exiled from their native Germany to the United States, discovered that top-down elite command and control is neither necessary nor efficient; they developed the idea that the expert elitist governs best who governs least.

The elites got to write the histories, and they naturally wrote what they believed, that they had saved the suffering masses from a fate worse than death with their selflessness and their compassion, even as they saved themselves from obliteration at the hands of the capitalists.  But their way of helping the poor always involved big helpings for themselves: one for you and one for me.  In the United States they built public education to cure Jacksonians of their coarse manners and Catholic immigrants of their Catholicism.  They tamed the rollicking politicians of the slums and redirected tax money from corruption and patronage to experts and civil service bureaucracies.  They built sanitary systems to prevent the diseases of poverty from spreading from the poor to them.  They regulated business to help the little people maintain their political hegemony over coarse upstarts.  They conscripted armies so that they could hold up their heads in the world.  What they did not do is find out what the poor themselves really wanted.  What they did not trouble to understand was how the poor themselves built institutions to survive their first desperate years in the slums.  What they did not do is inquire what the poor wanted in the way of education.  What they did not do is find out how the poor themselves built their lives up from indigence to competence.

Perhaps it is not too late to ask that question, to get some distance from the elite narrative of “social engineering from above in the name of those below.”  What did the teeming masses want in the industrial slums?  What institutions did they build?  What helped them adjust to life in the city, and what hindered them?


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 TAGS


What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican


Racial Discrimination

[T]he way “to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,” Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District


Liberal Coercion

[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State


Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050


Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


Sacrifice

[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values


Pentecostalism

Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization


Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph


Moral Imperatives of Modern Culture

These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self


 

©2007 Christopher Chantrill