The Ghosts of Liberal Pieties
These last few months I've been working on the idea that there are two modern worldviews. There's the Invisible Hand worldview that things will work out because humans are social animals and must be social to achieve their selfish ends.
Then there is the Exploitation worldview that says that the only way forward is for idealistic activists to fight for the people's rights against a world of wealthy corporations and greedy bankers.
Imagine what I learned from the tour guide when I went on a cemetery walking tour recently on Queen Anne Hill in liberal Seattle.
Over here is the grave of Carlos Bulosan, the Filipino-American writer and activist who penned the "Freedom from Want" essay in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943.
But we are not really free unless we use what we produce. So long as the fruit of our labor is denied us, so long will want manifest itself in a world of slaves.
Get it? It's the Marxian theory of surplus value. Over here lies an African-American woman who organized the first African-American college sorority at Howard University. Over there is a woman who was the first teacher in Seattle (at a private school, unfortunately). In 1848 she attended the Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights.
Over here are the victims of the 1916 Everett Massacre, when IWW supporters took a boat from Seattle to hold a rally in support of striking shingle workers. On landing in Everett, they ran into a hail of fire from the sheriff and a posse of vigilantes -- just because the Wobblies wanted the bosses to share the profits. And here are graves of typographical union workers who died from tuberculosis.
Here's the grave of Seattle banker Rudolph Ankeny. In 1891 he cut down a huge cedar, used by the local tribes and revered as a "signal tree," and built a house in its place. Here's the founder of Hansen Baking Company. He started out as a cleaner in a Seattle bakery, then learned the trade, worked his way up, and bought the business. Eventually he sold out to an eastern conglomerate, and the business folded.
OK, enough of the liberal history; let's indulge in a little conservative truth-telling.
In the 1940s, when Bulosan was writing his screed, workers were enjoying the fruits of 100 years of industrialism, rising from incomes of $1-$3 per day in 1800 to about $30 per day. What an amazing achievement! The 1848 convention in Seneca Falls, New York was possible because in 1841 the railroad had reached the city. For the first time in history, well-born young women could travel to the Finger Lakes inexpensively in comfort and safety to discuss the need, in the industrial age, to change the traditions of property ownership and inheritance more appropriate for an agricultural age. How great is that? In the lumber town of Everett, Washington, 1916 was a year of serious depression -- not too much in the way of corporate profits to share with the Wobblies.
Let's finish with Rudolph Ankeny, the tree-cutting banker. He came to Seattle in 1888 to work as a bookkeeper at Puget Sound National Bank; he was promoted to teller in 1890 and assistant cashier a year later when he built his house. Not exactly the CEO of Goldman Sachs.
One of the problems of living in a closed community and holding regular religious services to celebrate the saints and martyrs in local cemeteries is that you blind yourself to glaring injustices staring you right in the face. So the Pew Research Center's Trends in American Values 1987-2012 is full of responses to questions about the social safety net and the environment. But none of those liberals thinks to ask a question on generational injustice.
Now, if I were a visitor from Mars, the first thing I would notice is that our society spends trillions of dollars on seniors like me while fobbing off young people with a lousy education that confines them in government child custodial facilities for many years, saddles them with gigantic debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, and then tosses them out into a job market with no jobs. If I were a young person today, I'd be crying out to the reverberate hills for justice.
On the Invisible Hand worldview, there is certainly recognition that the industrial economy can and does cause suffering and exploitation. But it takes the Exploitation worldview to gin up genuine injustice, Fidel. Typically, the ruling class has no idea what is wrong. It is too busy congratulating itself for its heroic fight against injustice a century ago.
That is not to say our liberal friends are evil people. It's just that when they fill up their minds with heartwarming tales from the modern Foxe's Book of Liberal Martyrs, they might be missing something.
They might be missing the determination of this "Empowered Man" answering the prayers of President James Madison by bravely holding up the U.S. Constitution and speaking truth to power in front of the White House -- to the horror of President Obama and the applause of the good guys: Presidents Lincoln, Reagan, Washington, and Coolidge.
Reproduced with permission of the artist, Jon McNaughton
Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us. At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism.