Returning to Duty: Three Recommendations for Occupy Wall Street


Where's My BailoutIn my critique of the Occupy Wall Street protests, I noted that what really needs to happen is what John Witherspoon once called a “return to duty” — an introspective moment that leads us to “hearken the rod” rather than disdain it, to return to individual moral uprightness, and to reject the seductive idol of material security.

The sentiment is pulled from a sermon Witherspoon delivered to Princeton in 1776, containing stern counsel for how to recover from cultural erosion and pull the weight that liberty demands. The solution, Witherspoon explains, requires much more of the individual than a secular, materialistic worldview can invigorate.

Granted, today’s “occupiers” are propelled by a more serious, more pampered sense of entitlement than Witherspoon could have ever imagined. Yet this simply means our task is more difficult. (e.g. “Yes, I know you have air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, expensive fair-trade groceries, and a bottomless credit card to pay for it all, but someday you’ll have to face the real world, hunker down, and…you know, actually persevere.”)

Here’s Witherspoon’s diagnosis:

Both nations in general, and private persons, are apt to grow remiss and lax in a time of prosperity and seeming security; but when their earthly comforts are endangered or withdrawn, it lays them under a kind of necessity to seek for something better in their place. Men must have comfort from one quarter or another. When earthly things are in a pleasing and promising condition, too many are apt to find their rest, and be satisfied with them as their only portion. But when the vanity and passing nature of all created comfort is discovered, they are compelled to look for something more durable as well as valuable. What therefore, can be more to the praise of God, than that when a whole people have forgotten their resting place, when they have abused their privileges, and despised their mercies, they should by distress and suffering be made to hearken to the rod, and return to their duty?

Exceptions abound, but on the whole, this seems very close to what we’re witnessing — a society that has grown “remiss and lax in a time of prosperity,” and is finally being “compelled to look for something more durable as well as valuable.”

Our workers grew up in a less globalized world, insulated from the rising competition of today’s (rapidly) developing nations. Up until recently, we were privileged with a virtual monopoly on freedom, allowing it to spoil our attitudes and outlooks toward ourselves, our neighbors, and economics in general. Our kids went to schools with inflated tuition costs, all the while thinking they were guaranteed a $50,000-per-year job in post-colonial gender studies — a myth solidly affirmed by parents, school counselors, and political leaders, themselves beneficiaries of a post-war boom made possible (in part) by an otherwise war-ravaged economic stage.

The recent expansion of freedom and prosperity has been a good thing, to be sure, but it doesn’t look so hot if you expected to glide idly by on some utopian Leave-it-to-Beaver fantasy that would have never even seemed possible without that little old thing called Great Grandpa’s Blood and Sweat.

As Mark Steyn recently wrote, this is not a fleeting housing bubble or tech bubble or credit bubble. We have built our expectations around an “American moment bubble” circa 1950 — one that is propelled by the types of protectionist fantasies that never last and never should.

So how do we get back on course to achieving true value? How do we “hearken the rod” and “return to duty,” as Witherspoon recommends?

Toward the end of his sermon, he offers three calls to action:

1. Get your heart right (i.e. pursue God) and take ownership of your moral responsibilities.

This is similar to my controversial obedience principle. Seek God first and virtue will follow.

Suffer me to recommend to you an attention to the public interest of religion, or in other words, zeal for the glory of God and the good of others. I have already endeavored to exhort sinners to repentance; what I have here in view is to point out to you the concern which every good man ought to take in the national character and manners, and the means which he ought to use for promoting public virtue, and bearing down impiety and vice. This is a matter of the utmost moment, and which ought to be well understood, both in its nature and principles. Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction.

2. Be productive (i.e. don’t sit on your rump and whine on Wall Street).

God forbid that a return to economic prosperity might involve impacting Wall Street from the ground up:

I exhort all who are not called to go into the field, to apply themselves with the utmost diligence to works of industry. It is in your power by this mean not only to supply the necessities, but to add to the strength of your country. Habits of industry prevailing in a society, not only increase its wealth, as their immediate effect, but they prevent the introduction of many vices, and are intimately connected with sobriety and good morals. Idleness is the mother or nurse of almost every vice; and want, which is its inseparable companion, urges men on to the most abandoned and destructive courses. Industry, therefore is a moral duty of the greatest moment, absolutely necessary to national prosperity, and the sure way of obtaining the blessing of God.

3. Be frugal (i.e. don’t buy things you can’t afford).

John Witherspoon

John Witherspoon

I know, I know. “Don’t judge me!”

I have a hunch that we might have kinda-sorta-maybe overspent these last few decades, and it’s time to do whatever it takes to pay our debts and get on the right course. (Note: This doesn’t mean “seek a free ride from my neighbor who has more toys than I do.” He’s probably late on his mortgage, too.)

In the last place, suffer me to recommend to you frugality in your families, and every other article of expence. This the state of things among us renders absolutely necessary, and it stands in the most immediate connexion both with virtuous industry, and active public spirit. Temperance in meals, moderation and decency in dress, furniture and equipage, have, I think, generally been characteristics of a distinguished patriot. And when the same spirit pervades a people in general, they are fit for every duty, and able to encounter the most formidable enemy.

Duty calls, folks. “Taxi!”

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  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/126357358111764480 Remnant Culture

    "When the vanity and passing nature of all created comfort is discovered, they are compelled to look for something… http://t.co/HwDRNtNV

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/126358008195321856 Remnant Culture

    How do we "return to duty" and "hearken the rod"? 3 recommendations for #OWS protesters: http://t.co/W125tiaZ

  • http://twitter.com/josephsunde/status/126361736021426176 Joseph Sunde

    Was your view of adulthood based on some utopian Leave-it-to-Beaver fantasy? Wake up, #OWS. http://t.co/Z1yZuq3V

  • http://twitter.com/crichton18/status/126387639946461185 Jeff Crichton

    RT @RemnantCulture: Returning to Duty: Three Recommendations for Occupy Wall Street http://t.co/WXYuqvYz

  • http://twitter.com/josephsunde/status/126656430697742338 Joseph Sunde

    New post: Three Recommendations for Occupy Wall Street: http://t.co/Z1yZuq3V #OWS

  • http://twitter.com/josephsunde/status/126712942816280576 Joseph Sunde

    The blog had a few issues, but is now back up thanks to @teddymedia! Check out the newest post on Occupy Wall Street: http://t.co/Z1yZuq3V

  • http://twitter.com/lovetruthstory/status/126731090185568256 Marcy Grams

    The blog had a few issues, but is now back up thanks to @teddymedia! Check out the newest post on Occupy Wall Street: http://t.co/Z1yZuq3V

  • http://twitter.com/kyleeleonetti/status/126848171853889536 Kylee Leonetti

    The blog had a few issues, but is now back up thanks to @teddymedia! Check out the newest post on Occupy Wall Street: http://t.co/Z1yZuq3V

  • http://twitter.com/josephsunde/status/127809977275523072 Joseph Sunde

    What would John Witherspoon have said about Occupy Wall Street? http://t.co/Z1yZuq3V

  • http://twitter.com/josephsunde/status/127809977275523072 Joseph Sunde

    What would John Witherspoon have said about Occupy Wall Street? http://t.co/Z1yZuq3V

  • http://twitter.com/jeffwrightjr/status/127810962467196928 Jeff Wright

    What would John Witherspoon have said about Occupy Wall Street? http://t.co/Z1yZuq3V

  • http://twitter.com/jeffwrightjr/status/127810962467196928 Jeff Wright

    What would John Witherspoon have said about Occupy Wall Street? http://t.co/Z1yZuq3V

  • http://twitter.com/josephsunde/status/131176349913198595 Joseph Sunde

    Three Recommendations for Occupy Wall Street: http://t.co/Z1yZuq3V

  • http://twitter.com/olney_fowler/status/132091087606128640 Lee Fowler

    Must-read for Occupiers: "Returning to Duty: Three Recommendations for Occupy Wall Street" http://t.co/dSTeR2Uw

  • http://twitter.com/olney_fowler/status/132091087606128640 Lee Fowler

    Must-read for Occupiers: "Returning to Duty: Three Recommendations for Occupy Wall Street" http://t.co/dSTeR2Uw

  • http://twitter.com/olney_fowler/status/132091087606128640 Lee Fowler

    Must-read for Occupiers: "Returning to Duty: Three Recommendations for Occupy Wall Street" http://t.co/dSTeR2Uw

  • http://twitter.com/olney_fowler/status/132091087606128640 Lee Fowler

    Must-read for Occupiers: "Returning to Duty: Three Recommendations for Occupy Wall Street" http://t.co/dSTeR2Uw

  • http://twitter.com/olney_fowler/status/132091087606128640 Lee Fowler

    Must-read for Occupiers: "Returning to Duty: Three Recommendations for Occupy Wall Street" http://t.co/dSTeR2Uw

  • http://twitter.com/olney_fowler/status/132091087606128640 Lee Fowler

    Must-read for Occupiers: "Returning to Duty: Three Recommendations for Occupy Wall Street" http://t.co/dSTeR2Uw

  • http://twitter.com/olney_fowler/status/132091087606128640 Lee Fowler

    Must-read for Occupiers: "Returning to Duty: Three Recommendations for Occupy Wall Street" http://t.co/dSTeR2Uw

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/136291612581040128 Remnant Culture

    "Both nations in general, and private persons, are apt to grow remiss and lax in a time of prosperity and seeming… http://t.co/U127R3yP