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  An American Manifesto
Wednesday August 27, 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 9:
Living Under Law

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[W]e may say that the movement of the progressive societies has hitherto been a movement from Status to Contract. —Sir Henry Maine

IN THE COUNTRY, people live under power.  In the city, people live under law.  To pass from the culture of the countryside with its power holding landowners and assimilate to the city with its laws and lawyers is the greatest challenge to the pilgrim on the road to the middle class.  It means going to a lawyer, instead of going for your gun.  It means having faith in the law to smoke out the perjurer, instead of smoking her.  It means ignoring the meddler instead of beating his brains in.  The challenge is dramatized in August Wilson’s Jitney, a play about life on the cusp of the transition from the culture of power to the culture of law. 

Jitney follows five men working jitneys, illegal cabs, out of a decaying storefront in Pittsburgh’s black Hill District.  The three older men are retirees, earning extra money with their automobiles.  Then there’s the young kid trying to get out of the projects, and the drunk, a once-skilled tailor.  The jitney station is run by Jim Becker, a retired steelworker from J&L. 

It’s a simple business.  Customers call in on the pay phone and the driver who’s been waiting longest takes the call and the fare.  The drivers drive their own cars and pay Becker a monthly fee. 

Becker is the poster boy for the American Dream.  He worked hard at the mill all his life, and now owns his own home with his wife of twenty years.  He’s a deacon at his church. 

But twenty years ago his son took up with a white girl, daughter of a vice-president at J&L.  Discovered in a compromising position by her father, she accused Becker’s boy of raping her.  Becker went to get a lawyer.  Becker’s boy went to get a gun and killed her.  Her son condemned to die, Becker’s wife stopped eating, withered away, and died. 

His hopes dashed by the disgrace of his son the murderer and the death of his wife, Becker soldiers on, marrying again, buying his own modest home, and becoming deacon of his church.  When his boy returns from jail full of rage twenty years later, his death sentence commuted, his father turns him away.  He cannot open his heart to the boy who stilled his mother’s heart and maintains, with the last shreds of youthful defiance, that he killed the girl so that they would have a real crime to pin on him.  Becker’s boy wanted to be a big man, not the small man his father proved to be when, two months late with the rent, he truckled to the shouting of his landlord.  But Becker kept his faith with the city, despite everything, and when the city wants to demolish the jitney station and his livelihood to make way for urban renewal, he still goes to get a lawyer, and not to get his gun.

Why should a retired black steelworker like Jim Becker have faith in lawyers?  Why should he come to believe in the law instead of the fist?  Perhaps even more remarkable than the faith in monotheistic religion, the transition from belief in the power gods of nature to the loving God of Christianity, is the transition from the culture of power to the culture of law.  It is a miracle for a man like Jim Becker to place his faith in the law.  When the state grabbed his gifted son, branded him as a murderer, and locked him away, Becker was faced with a choice.  He could continue his faith in the law against all his instincts of family loyalty, or he could throw it all up in disappointment and regress to the despair of alcohol or oppression politics, grumbling and raging from a bar stool against The Man.  That he doesn’t lose his faith, but stumbles on with life, buying his own home and becoming a deacon in his church, makes him into a saint.  For he renounces family, the tie of clan, in favor of society, the modern abstraction invented to replace the instinctive loyalty to blood and kin.

The difference between the culture of the countryside and the culture of the city is between power and law, between a clan ordered by instinctive tradition and power and society organized in self-conscious tradition and rule.  The country is ruled by instinct and power, the city is ruled by law and by purpose.  In the face-to-face society of the village, people lived in a time before ego.  They did not conceive of themselves apart from their collective identity in a family, clan, village, or as “the people” that had lived on their land since time immemorial.  Writing in the nineteenth century Sir Henry Maine had made this clear.  Ancient society was not, as we consider it today, “a collection of individuals... [It] was a collection of families.” (Maine 1972 p74)  The concept of family was close to the modern concept of corporation, as an entity “perpetual and inextinguishable.”  And people experienced their tribe as eternal, having occupied its land from the earliest times when it was first created by the gods.  Calling themselves “the People” they lived an unreflective tradition, “the Way” that represented the accumulated tradition of their tribe.  There was no right and wrong, but deviating from “the Way” was understood as madness.  The modern idea of “change” was meaningless, for people lived to propitiate the higher powers: the village elders or the angry gods.  Punishment for violation of “the Way” in ancient society was not executed on a guilty individual, but on a whole family.  This was done not as a punishment to “send a message” to would-be malefactors, but because the tribe experienced the family as a single entity.  The family was responsible for the actions of its members, just as a modern corporation is seen as being responsible for the actions of its officers and employees.  Kinship was considered the only possible basis for society.  A woman left her parents’ family upon marriage and entered the family of her husband.  The kinship concept extended from family to clan, and from clan to tribe.  The assumption was made, although it amounted in many cases to a legal fiction, that all members of a family, or clan, or tribe were related to a single ancestor.  Consanguinity, or the fiction of consanguinity, was the basis for successful society.

As the modern (and perpetual) corporation is ruled by a Chief Executive Officer, the ancient perpetual family was ruled by a Father.  The clan of which the family was a part would have its father, and the tribe its father.  These fathers led by power, their mana, the nameless, wordless power that people can sense and instinctively defer to.  It is the power that people sense when the President of the United States walks into a room.

The most well documented ancient father accessible to modern readers is the Roman father, who enjoyed an authority over his family known as Patria Potestas, the power of the father.  At the beginning of the Roman republic, his power included the power of life and death over his children, the right of uncontrolled corporal punishment, to give a wife to a son, to divorce children from the family.  So when the city of Rome was small, it still exhibited the culture of a village, a community of families.  But by the end of the Roman Empire, these rights had collapsed.  The right to corporal punishment had become the right to bring domestic offenses to a “magistrate; the privilege of dictating marriage [had] declined into a conditional veto.” (Maine 1972 p82)  The law had grown up and was now interfering with the traditional rights of the family and its father.  The city had developed its written law and its judges, and had displaced the traditional power of the father. 


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Click for Chapter 10: Explaining the Culture War

 

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


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.


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


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


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


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


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


US Life in 1842

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


Society and State

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


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


Never Trust Experts

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”


 

©2007 Christopher Chantrill