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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.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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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


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


Hugo on Genius

“Tear down theory, poetic systems... No more rules, no more models... Genius conjures up rather than learns... ” —Victor Hugo
César Graña, Bohemian versus Bourgeois


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


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


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


Postmodernism

A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ’merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy


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


China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


Religion, Property, and Family

But the only religions that have survived are those which support property and the family. Thus the outlook for communism, which is both anti-property and anti-family, (and also anti-religion), is not promising.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit


Conservatism

Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity


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


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©2015 Christopher Chantrill