September 28, 2012


Where is Puritan, Middle-Class America When We Need It? (Peter Lawler, 9/28/12, Liberty Law Blog)

When people relate too exclusively in terms of interests, they become, Tocqueville explains, emotionally isolated, locked up in themselves.  Tocqueville called that self-centered apathetic indifference to others INDIVIDUALISM.  Individualism not only keeps people from being the active citizens that democracy requires to resist the various forms of tyranny.  Individualism, Tocqueville observes, sometimes makes Americans much more unhappy--more sad and anxious--than they should be in the midst of their fortunate circumstances.  The excesses of sophisticated American individualism is what we see mocked, of course, on clever shows like SEINFELD--a show full of pathetic, unhappy people who'll never be relational enough to reproduce.

So Tocqueville says that, in America, the spirit of liberty depends on the spirit of religion.  He talks up not only our constitutional founding but our first Founding with the Puritans.   The Puritans were pure egalitarians who came up with many of our democratic institutions.  They were all about not only educating people for work but educating their souls.  Everyone should be able to read not only to earn a living but to read the Bible--to discover for themselves the whole truth about their origin and destiny as beings created in the image of God.  In America, we've taken pride in our public schools, but we used to know--and still do in the South--that what kids learn there needs to be completed by Sunday School.

The Puritans, by being concerned with the souls or irreducible greatness of everyone, were kind of about an aristocracy of everyone.

For the Puritan Christians, it's true, everyone had to work.  There are no aristocrats excluded from the consequences of sin.  But everyone also needs and deserves leisure.  And that's why, Tocqueville noticed, the Americans were so insistent that nobody work on Sunday.  Sunday is for reading about, hearing about (through sermons), and talking about the whole truth about who you are.  When we Americans surrendered Sunday to the busyness of commerce, we gave up, to some extent, on the deep source of civilized human enjoyment. [...]

So, from Tocqueville's view, we can thank ourselves--our love of freedom and our hard work--that we've flourished in such a magnificent way as the middle-class country.  But, thank God, we've always understood ourselves as more than middle-class beings, too.  That means that we remain about caring for one other, and we're good enough at it that we rely on government a lot less than more individualistic or indifferent people would in caring for those genuinely in need.  That category of being needy, vulnerable, and lonely includes us all to some extent or another.

And, it turns out, who you are doesn't have all that much to do with "work."
Posted by at September 28, 2012 8:30 PM

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