Posts Tagged founders

American Decline and the Virtue of Industriousness

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, Charles MurrayI have previously commented on Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, as it relates to his larger argument of our “inequality of human dignity.” This week at Values & Capitalism, I offer some additional thoughts, this time on Murray’s analysis of America’s recent decline in industriousness.

Murray sees industriousness as one of America’s “founding virtues,” the others of which include honesty, marriage and religiosity. Yet while these others are important, Murray argues that industriousness was the most defining.

The founders talked about this virtue constantly, using the eighteenth-century construction, industry. To them, industry signified a cluster of qualities that had motivated the Revolution in the first place—a desire not just to be free to speak one’s mind, to practice religion as one saw fit, and to be taxed only with representation, but the bone-deep American assumption that life is to be spent getting ahead through hard work, making a better life for oneself and one’s children…If just one American virtue may be said to be defining, industriousness is probably it.

Murray provides plenty of data to indicate a decline in this virtue, including shifting attitudes about work, rises in physical disability benefits applications, decreases in labor force participation, and decreases in hours worked per week.

My conclusion?

The data affirm what many of us already know, and what I’ve made a habit of regurgitating in this space time and time again: Americans have shifted away from an energetic, purpose-driven, higher-order pursuit of value, and are instead moving toward security, insulationism, materialism and minimum-commitment thinking. Rather than building upon our history of sacrificial innovation and difficult labor, regardless of immediate or tangible personal benefits, many Americans are seizing our economic prosperity as an opportunity to slack off and opt for personal leisure, short-sighted consumerism and near-boastful protectionism.

If Murray’s data don’t persuade you, look no further than our country’s lackadaisical response to our debt crisis and our salivating over the pandering promises of our politicians. We yearn to be shielded from competition and globalization, nitpicking over which candidate offshored how many jobs to where. We want to be promised a retirement that no longer exists, and one that will never exist without a painful departure from the status quo. We want the government to do all of our risk-taking and weighty decision-making on our behalf, whether in entrepreneurship, health care, housing or charity. We want to be told that less will be expected of us, not more.

Rather than recognizing and embracing our basic human need to experience earned success, we are becoming more focused on simply putting in our 40 and demanding the stars in return. This shift in our attitudes about work—this decline in our culture of industriousness—is only one factor in this emerging cultural divide, but its corrosive cultural effects have no discernible limitations.

We must return to that attitude that Francis Grund once described, pursuing Read the rest of this entry »

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Celebrating the Things of the Spirit: Calvin Coolidge on the Declaration of Independence

Calvin Coolidge

Independence Day is on everyone’s mind, and thus, you should make time to read President Calvin Coolidge’s speech on the Declaration of Independence.

Coolidge contemplates what led the founders to write what they did and what inclined Americans to follow their lead. He is convinced that spiritual inclinations and orientation played the most important role:

Before we can understand [the founders’] conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.

The founders’ religious leanings were certainly diverse, but as Coolidge notes, their “wide acquaintance with the Scriptures” was a primary force in the development of their political thought. It was not only by the economic wisdom of Hamilton or the intellectual prowess of Jefferson that our country became what it is today. Something deeper and more profound was going on—something spiritual.

As Coolidge concludes:

No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.

We must reframe our thinking and realign our pursuits to “the things that are holy.” It is not by our material prosperity that we have become great, but through our spiritual empowerment and obedience to a higher order. When we as individuals are made free, we have the ability to pursue our dreams and achieve greatness, but we must remember to align those dreams and achievements to the source of all things good.

Happy Fourth of July! Above all, let’s celebrate the “things of the spirit.”

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Instruments of Righteousness: Leveraging Human Nature through Capitalism

Apostle Paul, Rembrandt

The Apostle Paul recognized human depravity, but he also saw redemption.

In a recent piece at The American, Arthur Brooks and Peter Wehner write splendidly about the connection between vision and political execution. After summarizing three basic views of human nature — what Thomas Sowell would call “visions” — Brooks and Wehner dive into the issues involved in executing each vision in the political sphere.

The three primary views, as the authors see them, are as follows:

  1. Humans are flawed but perfectible (a la Jean-Jacques Rouseeau and Karl Marx).
  2. Humans are flawed and cannot change (a la Thomas Hobbes and Bernard Mandeville).
  3. Humans are flawed but “under the right circumstances, human nature can work to the advantage of the whole” (a la Adam Smith and James Madison).

Brooks and Wehner side with the last option, and after exploring the political implications supporting it, they explain its overall consistency with Biblical teaching:

This last view of human nature is consistent with and reflective of Christian teaching. The Scriptures teach that we are both made in the image of God and fallen creatures; in the words of Saint Paul, we can be “instruments of wickedness” as well as “instruments of righteousness.” All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, the Bible declares — yet it also tells us to be holy in all our conduct, to walk in His statutes, and not to grow weary in doing good. Human beings are capable of acts of squalor and acts of nobility; we can pursue vice and we can pursue virtue.

But how does this vision of human nature connect with the political realm? How do we take the Pauline view of human nature and translate it into a proper political framework?

Brooks and Wehner explain:

As for the matter of the state: Romans 13 makes clear that government is divinely sanctioned by God to preserve public order, restrain evil, and make justice possible. This, too, was a view shared by many of the founders. Government reflects human nature, they argued, “because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.”

This brings the authors to the subject of self-interest. After all, it is capitalism’s reliance on self-interest that leads its opponents to ridicule it as immoral and Read the rest of this entry »

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Jesus Paid Taxes: Mark Dever on Rendering to Caesar

Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist ChurchMark Dever recently gave a sermon at his church in Washington D.C. called “Jesus Paid Taxes,” in which he promotes what he believes to be the proper Christian approach to politics. I came across the sermon from Justin Taylor, who came across it from Collin Hansen.

Hansen provides some great notes on the sermon and even goes so far as to call it “the best sermon I know on Christianity and government.” I probably wouldn’t go that far, but it is indeed quite good. I listened to the sermon in full and found very little to disagree with.

Dever bases the discussion on Mark 12:13-17 (“Render to Caesar!”), and although his approach leaves quite a bit up to interpretation, I think his outlook would translate pretty well in application. His main points are as follows:

  1. Good Christians are good citizens (law-abiding, tax-paying, etc.)
  2. Christianity is international (spiritual ties transcend national ties)
  3. Christians are ultimately accountable to God (“Our duty to earthly authority is limited.”)

You can listen to the sermon here:

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I don’t have anything to add, but I thought I’d post some highlights for those who aren’t up for listening to the whole thing.

One of Dever’s most fundamental points has to do with authority — how it is Read the rest of this entry »

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