January 4, 2013
MORE TERRIFIED THAN PROUD:
The State of American Liberal Education These Days (Peter Augustine Lawler, 1/03/13, Imaginative Conservative)
America, Tocqueville noticed, is an overwhelmingly middle-class country. To be middle class, of course, is to be stuck in the middle--somewhere in between aristocrats and slaves. We rightly think that there's something realistic--something truthful--about seeing ourselves in the middle, in not thinking too little or too much of ourselves.The good news is that we're free like aristocrats. We can live as we please. Nobody has the right to tell free persons what to do.The bad news is that, unlike aristocrats, we have to work if we want to eat. So we're free like aristocrats to work like slaves. Well, not exactly like slaves, because we work not for others but for ourselves and our own.We're very judgmental about work--we think everyone should have to do it. Everyone has interests, everyone needs money, and so everyone should act accordingly. Unlike aristocrats, we take pride in our work, and we measure ourselves by our productivity. More than ever, we middle-class Americans are proud to live in a meritocracy defined by productivity.
The hysteria over post-Recession employment rates suggests something slightly different: while we are judgmental about jobs, we're entirely indifferent to merit, work and productivity. Indeed, while it is not appropriate to consider America solely as an (relatively capitalist) economic experiment, it is appropriate to note that the history of the experiment consists largely of increasing productivity couple with decreasing labor. The moral difficulty we face lies in accepting that societal productivity success is at best unrelated to individual work rates and at "worst" inversely related.
Posted by Orrin Judd at January 4, 2013 5:23 AM
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