dManifesto - Road to the Middle Class - by Christopher Chantrill
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The Road to the Middle Class: A Manifesto

by Christopher Chantrill
January 01, 2005 at 12:30 pm

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BACK in the nineteenth century, before we learned to love them, the poor had to struggle their way up from indigence on their own. They built a sturdy road to the middle class with enthusiastic Christianity, a dogged pursuit of education, a web of mutual-aid associations, and a respect for the law.

But the elites of the time were unimpressed, and declared that they could do better.

  • They attacked the middle class tradition of law and its celebration of property, calling it a mask for power.

  • They attacked middle class religion, calling it superstition and bigotry.

  • They ruined middle-class education, replacing a healthy and diverse system with a one-size-fits-all government monopoly that fails to educate about one third of its charges.

  • They annihilated the vibrant culture of mutual-aid, the web of benevolent and mutual fraternal associations and friendly societies that was the great pride of the lower middle class in the nineteenth century.

They called their creation the welfare state.

The welfare state was built for a great and noble purpose: to raise the industrial poor up from misery to a decent standard of living. In this strict material sense, it has been a great success. But it was not achieved without cost. As economist Robert William Fogel has written: “such problems as drug addiction, alcoholism, births to unmarried teenage girls, rape, the battery of women and children, broken families, violent teenage death, and crime are generally more severe today than they were a century ago.” Theodore Dalrymple has described in Life at the Bottom how this looks to a physician in an inner-city hospital in the British midlands.

The welfare state has certainly rained material benefits upon the poor. But it has robbed them of their birthright, the pride of independence, to be able to echo Corin in the Forest of Arden: “I earn that I eat, get that I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man’s happiness.”

In his The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism, Fogel warns his fellow liberals that the moral collapse of the poor is going to cost them. Unless they act promptly to correct the “maldistribution of spiritual resources” that afflicts the poor, others will step in and do it their way. Fogel calls for a program to provide the poor in spirit with spiritual values such as a “sense of purpose,” a “sense of benevolence,” a “capacity for self-education,” “a sense of discipline,” and to give egalitarians a future.

Do the poor need “a sense of purpose?” They could go with mega-church preacher Rick Warren’s A Purpose-Driven Life or attend one of the 3,000 Pentecostal churches in New York City ( a new one opens every three weeks). Secular elitists stigmatize enthusiastic Christians as superstitious bigots.

Do the poor need a “capacity for self-education?” They could support the home-school or the school-choice movement. Many of them already do, but elite Democrats are standing in the school-house door defending the status quo.

Do the poor need a “sense of benevolence?” Why, back in the nineteenth century, the poor joined mutual-aid associations—the Oddfellows, the Elks, and the Moose—in their millions. Then the left came along and killed the mutual-aid movement by nationalizing benevolence into the welfare state.

Do the poor need a “sense of discipline?” But the liberal Sixties generation has spent a lifetime marginalizing “discipline” and defining deviancy down. They should be in charge of helping the poor with their discipline problems?

Is the elite perhaps a little overqualified for the job of fighting a war on spiritual inequality? In the nineteenth century the poor built the road to the middle class on their own with faith, mutual aid, education, and by learning to live under law. Their program produced a balanced combination of material progress and spiritual growth, and it still does. Why mess with it?

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

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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


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


Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital


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