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  An American Manifesto
Saturday April 19, 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 13:
Repairing The Road

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THE FOURTH GREAT AWAKENING gave us a wakeup call.  It called Americans to witness a new generation of people struggling on the road to the middle class, worthy people acquiring for themselves through enthusiastic Protestantism, an education, and a rigid regard for rules the earnest culture of respectability that beckons like a shining city on a hill to those who struggle in the shanties and the slums of the industrial city.  The proud elitists who banished enthusiastic Christianity beyond the Pale at the beginning of the twentieth century and confidently ordered its tombstone have been humbled by humble folk.  It is not yet time to retire the road to the middle class, if indeed it will ever be so.  Instead, the proud elites better understand that ordinary folk want to keep the road to the middle class in good repair and open to all.  For when the ordinary people call for a return back to basics, they are merely calling for a return to “the three major achievements [of the western tradition]... the Greek theory of knowledge, the Hebrew doctrine of salvation, and Roman law and political theory.” (Gebser 1984, p 74)

The Spiral Dynamics perspective tells us where the elitists went wrong.  The green communitarians who dominated the politics of the United States for most of the twentieth century thought that the red proletarians could be converted into peaceable citizens of an industrial society purely through material assistance.  The nuclear family, fathers, discipline, and belief in Jesus Christ, they knew, were artifacts of a superstitious Protestant ethic that no longer applied in modern society.  Nor was the stern schoolmarm of the early public school movement relevant to modern conditions.  Children could direct their own education so long as they possessed a sufficient sense of positive self-esteem.  But many Americans felt that this was all wrong.  From the bottom, ex-rednecks like Mary Johnston organized their lives around a faith in Jesus Christ and a passion for traditional education and ex-homeboys like Jesse Lee Peterson grew from rage to responsibility, and, from the top, conservative writers and policy analysts showed why these ordinary people were right and the experts were wrong.  Even liberals like Robert William Fogel realized that something had gone wrong with the egalitarian dream. 

What these people understood was that there is no shortcut on the road to the middle class.  For the redneck from Appalachia, for the roistering Irishman, for the inner-city homeboy, the road to the middle class is the uphill road out of rage and victimhood to competence and responsibility.  It cannot be skipped over or marginalized.  It isn’t a mere cultural artifact of western hegemony.  It’s the next step beyond the culture of power and impulse, of rage and victimization. 

The idea that that religion, education, mutual aid, and the rule of law pave the road to the middle class has been made to seem old fashioned, or even reactionary.  It is not.  The idea is timeless, and as American as apple pie.  It shines through the story of every immigrant who ever went through Ellis Island, for it was the faith that sustained the huddled masses that came to America, yearning to breathe free.  It was the faith that sustained Jane Addams and Hull-House.  It informs Michael Barone’s The New Americans, an essay that showed how powerfully the American ethos works on each immigrant surge, welcoming them, yet powerfully molding and adapting them to the ways of the American family.

In the early twenty-first century, Americans are again worried about immigration.  They worry, as they did at the turn of the twentieth century, that the great tide of immigration will turn out to be a tsunami that wipes out the American Way.  Michael Barone reminds us that the immigrants that came to America around 1900 and that the better classes of the time worried about—the Jews, the Italians, and the Irish—all managed to succeed in adapting to life in the city, and all today live squarely in the mainstream of American life and culture.  What then, Barone asks, of the immigrant communities of 2000: the Asians, the Hispanics, and the blacks about whom the professional worrying classes worry today?  Will they repeat the success of their predecessors, or not? 

He compares the immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century with the immigrants struggling to make it at the turn of the twenty-first century.  He finds the Jews of 1900 similar to the Asians of 2000.  Both groups came to the United States with a well-developed tradition of education.  He finds the Italians of 1900 similar to the Hispanics of 2000.  Both groups tend to mistrust government and have developed strong family bonds to provide the social cohesion that government in their homelands had failed to provide.  Finally, he notes the similarity between the Irish and the blacks.  Both groups had suffered grievous oppression in their homelands, in rack-rented Ireland and the slaveholding South.  And both groups have faced a hard struggle to adapt to the culture of the city, casting off only with difficulty the culture of victimhood and violence and accepting the culture of education and law.

A century ago, when the Jews of Eastern Europe arrived in New York and piled into the teeming slum of the Lower East Side, they were thought to be unintelligent and inferior.  But Jews were people of the book.  They already had a high level of literacy, encouraged by a rabbinical Judaism that encouraged literacy and Torah study.  The core of rabbinical Judaism is the idea of living by the Torah (literally, the law).  Supercharged by this culture, the Jews surged within a generation into eastern colleges at such a rate that their administrations, then as now devoted to quotas, limited the number of Jews to be admitted.  In the 1990s, similar quotas were limiting the number of Asian-Americans admitted to the University of California at Berkeley.  Most Asians, like the Jews, are people of the book.  Both Jews and Asians have benefited from dense undergrowth of self-help and mutual-aid organizations, including most critically those that loan startup capital to people opening new businesses.

When the Irish began to immigrate to the United States after the disastrous potato famines of the 1840s, they were not yet people of the book; they were people of oppression.  So miserable were the Irish in the nineteenth century that some contemporary commentators reported that the rack-rented tenant farmer in Ireland was worse off than the African slave in the American South.  Nor were they people of the law.  The Irish had been pummeled by oppressive British power for centuries, and by the 1840s land ownership had been changed by wholesale confiscation several times since the punitive expedition conducted by Cromwell two hundred years before.  (Bethell 1998 p254) When they came to the United States, they knew only suffering from unfair laws.  Education, to these Catholics, was indoctrination in the oppressor’s Anglicanism.  Suffering from this dual disability, the Irish were slow to prosper in the United States, and looked to politics and ethnic solidarity to raise them up rather than law and education.

The variation between the Jewish experience and the Irish experience in America shows the grain of truth in the Marxist narrative.  Oppression does make a difference.  But light-to-moderate oppression is an obstacle, not a barrier.  Given a modicum of opportunity, every American immigrant group has worked its way to success in the great American mainstream.  Jews succeeded against the Jewish quota in the universities and against anti-Semitism in the corporate suites.  The Irish succeeded against “Irish Need Not Apply” hiring discrimination and against a public school system inaugurated, in part, to cure them of their Catholicism.  African Americans, most worthily, succeeded in building competence and respectability during a century of Jim Crow in the South and frank discrimination in the North.  All immigrant groups succeeded in working into the American mainstream, and all managed to succeed against discrimination and stereotyping.  But some immigrant groups did better than others.  Jews and Asians, the people of the book, did better than Italians and Hispanics, people of the family.  And Italians and Hispanics did better than Irish and blacks, the children of oppression, who were actively prevented by their British and Southern masters from acquiring education and the experience of living under law rather than the knout.


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Click for Chapter 14: The Problem of Power

 

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


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


Mutual Aid

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


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


Living Under Law

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


German Philosophy

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 inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Knowledge

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


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


Democratic Capitalism

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


Action

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


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


 

©2007 Christopher Chantrill