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  An American Manifesto
Monday July 28, 2014 
by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter

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ROAD TO THE

MIDDLE CLASS

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 5:
The Nineteenth Century From the Bottom Up

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Another important popular institution that got its start in the nineteenth century is the big city political machine, an institution that sits truculently at the intersection of feudal, democratic, and tribal politics, and no city is more notorious for its political machine than New York City.  Mid-nineteenth century New York developed a free-wheeling politics based on loyalty to charismatic leaders, the importance of “maintaining order” at political meetings, and controlling the spigot of patronage that flowed out from city coffers to the street.  In the rougher neighborhoods in the 1830s this politics began with ambitious young men rising through volunteer fire companies or the police department to minor elected offices like street inspector or assistant alderman.  Charismatic foremen of fire companies had an advantage in politics because their rank and file could be turned into political enforcers at primary election meetings and on Election Day.  “Boss” William M. Tweed began his political career as a fire company foreman.  Liquor dealers and grocers were also influential citizens whose immigrant customers trusted their political knowledge and advice.  By the end of the Civil War, New York politics had been organized into a well-defined hierarchy controlled by Tammany Hall.  The Democratic city “boss” sat at the top, his lieutenants each controlling one of the city’s state assembly districts and supervising the individual ward leaders.  The hierarchy continued down from wards to election districts to individual blocks and even buildings.  In the early days, of course, before the Civil War, factional leaders fought with their fists for control of each ward. 

Big city politicians were the first to see opportunity instead of threat in the waves of immigrants that started to break on the shore in the mid-nineteenth century.  The immigrant might not have had any skills, he might not have had any influence, he might not have had any money, but he did have a vote.  And Tammany Hall learned how to earn the vote of the immigrant and turn it into political power.  It reached out to the immigrant, attended his weddings and funerals, bailed him out of jail, and found him a job.  In return all it asked for, and it was little enough, was his vote, and from the fortunate holder of a city job appropriate gratitude in the form of a modest contribution.  The immigrant was glad enough to give.  For years the best and brightest fought against the machine and attempted in various civic “reform” movements to drive out the clan politics of the machine.  In the Progressive era, they nearly did so.  But in the 1930s, the aristocrat Franklin Roosevelt transformed the Democratic Party into a national tribute to Tammany Hall.  The Depression era leaders of the Democratic Party transformed a system of government designed for propertied, self-governing citizens into a system resonating with tribalism and patronage that served immigrant masses used to subordination to the village “big man” or the clan chieftain.

Last but not least is the criminal gang.  Lee Harris has extolled the great achievement of the west, how it transformed the extended family into the nuclear family and the teenage gang into the cooperative team. (Harris 2004) But you have to start somewhere, and every cohort of immigrants that has come to the city since the mid-nineteenth century has made its contribution to the saga of the teenage urban criminal gang.  In 1928 Herbert Asbury enumerated The Gangs of New York that had terrorized the city over the previous century.  Jews, Italians, African-Americans: their young adult males each added a chapter to the history of the urban gang on the road to middle-class respectability.  In the early twenty-first century there are reports of Hispanic gangs beginning to threaten the urban peace.

In his Race and Culture trilogy published between 1993 and 1998, Thomas Sowell surveyed the relative success achieved by different immigrant groups to the United States.  As an African-American, he was particularly interested in the groups that did not immediately fare well: the Irish, the Scots-Irish that settled the valleys of Appalachia, and the blacks.  He wanted to know why they failed to thrive.  He concluded that the speed of assimilation was closely related to the degree to which immigrants had already acculturated to law and education.  Those that came from a disordered milieu where disputes were settled by force and feud, and who lacked basic literacy, had the most trouble assimilating in the United States.

The institutions described in this chapter are spontaneous, bottom-up movements that seem designed to offer their members experience and education in law and literacy, hot-houses for acquiring the focus and discipline needed to function in the modern industrial city, with skills and with a willingness to submit to the rule of law rather than the rule of force.  As the revivalist preacher remarked, they wake people up from the sleep of ages, to the astonishing idea that they can be responsible beings, called to a life of purpose by a God that will never forsake them.  At the center of this universe of self-improvement were the enthusiastic Christian churches, the fraternal mutual-aid associations, and the school.  For those unable or unready to walk the road to the middle class, labor unions and political machines provided a means for the “rank and file” to be represented in their dealings with the world by elected or self-selected leaders In these organizations they could delay facing the challenge of self-direction and self-reliance, and continue for the time being as helpless victims in the sleep of ages. 

This ground level view of the nineteenth century contrasts strongly with the view from the top developed in the previous chapter.  There the vision embraces creativity, transcending the rules, and developing a global community free from the particularistic vices of localism and tribalism and the distrust of the “other.”  The view from below is very different, and hardly interesting to the visionaries who dreamed and planned of a world safe for creativity and freed from the yoke of superstitious religion and tribalism.

But now we must examine in more detail the four key institutions that ordinary people used to help them thrive in the city, and that developed their essential form in the nineteenth century: enthusiastic Christianity, popular education, mutual-aid, and self-government, the art of living under law.  Practical and down-to-earth, these great human institutions form the four lanes of the road to the middle class.


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Click for Chapter 6: Popular Religion in the Nineteenth Century

 

Buy the ebook: Road to the Middle Class: only $0.99.

 

Your comments are welcome. Please e-mail to Christopher Chantrill at mailto:chrischantrill@gmail.com, and take the RMC test here.

 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