ROAD TO THE
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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 Wilsons 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 Pittsburghs black Hill District. The three older men are retirees, earning extra money with their automobiles. Then theres 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.
Its a simple business. Customers call in on the pay phone and the driver whos 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. Hes 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 Beckers boy of raping her. Becker went to get a lawyer. Beckers boy went to get a gun and killed her. Her son condemned to die, Beckers 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 mothers 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. Beckers 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 doesnt 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
When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of agesthey 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
In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society
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
Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures
The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since
1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and
philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West
Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its
characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then,
once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities
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.
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison
I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all.
In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness...
But to make a man act [he must have]
the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove
or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action
[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