ROAD TO THE
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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 citys 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
[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.
[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
Civil Societya complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churchesbuilds, 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
[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
[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
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
Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008
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
No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.
Lord Salisbury, Letter to Lord Lytton