home  |  book  |  blogs  |   RSS  |  contact  |
  An American Manifesto
Saturday April 19, 2014 
by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter

TOP NAV

Home

Blogs

Opeds

Articles

Bio

Contact

BOOK

Manifesto

Sample

Faith

Education

Mutual aid

Law

Books

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

| <<prev | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | (5) | 6 | next>> |print view

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.


| <<prev | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | (5) | 6 | next>> |print view

 

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


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust


Hugo on Genius

“Tear down theory, poetic systems... No more rules, no more models... Genius conjures up rather than learns... ” —Victor Hugo
César Graña, Bohemian versus Bourgeois


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Postmodernism

A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ’merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy


Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006


China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


Religion, Property, and Family

But the only religions that have survived are those which support property and the family. Thus the outlook for communism, which is both anti-property and anti-family, (and also anti-religion), is not promising.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit


 

©2007 Christopher Chantrill