In one of my favorite movies, John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, a family of coal miners is faced with the prospect of lower wages handed out by the owners of the mine, because the closing of the ironworks in a nearby village has resulted in a crop of men willing to work for next to nothing. The grown sons want to begin a miners’ union, but the patriarch of the family doesn’t want to hear of it. When his eldest son asks him why the owners should give the same wages as before, that devout Methodist father gives an answer that is at once profoundly human and Christian. “Because they are men as we are, not savages,” he says. “A good workman will always be worth his pay.”
That does not satisfy the eldest son. “They are men,” he says, “but not as we are, for they have power, and we do not.”
The rest of the movie, like the autobiographical novel upon which it is based, goes on to chronicle the steady destruction of that green valley and the community of men and women who loved it. It is undone by greed, small-mindedness, hypocrisy, detraction, and cruelty; next to lust, the ordinary sins of mankind. The sins build up like the heaps of black coal refuse, looming higher and higher over the village.
They are men as we are, not savages. I cannot drive that sentence out of my mind. It expresses the fundamental democracy of human justice. “A man’s a man for a’ that,” said Bobby Burns, another Gael who still felt the smart of English cultural domination. His countryman Sir Walter Scott kept a warm spot in his heart for the cause of the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie, even though he knew the lad’s foray into England was but a romantic and dangerous dream. He too would have understood that verse in the great Welsh song, Men of Harlech, that revels in the defeat of “Saxon bowmen” – Welsh Saesnig, their word for the English, harking all the way back to the invasion of Celtic Christian Britain by the pagan Saxons in the fourth century.
Where, I ask, would Gwilym Morgan the coal miner be today?
I am looking for the noble head of a poor and hardworking family, with a radiant daughter and six fine sons. He carves the meat at table and passes the portions round. He gives his pay to his wife, and so do his sons. He passes out to each of them a small allowance for the alehouse. He and his sons work together at grueling and life-threatening work – in fact he will die when a portion of the mine collapses under the pressure of too much underground water. When he and the boys come home from the mine, they must be scrubbed down outdoors with hot water and good lye soap, to get the coal dust and flakes out of the pores, though some of it will remain with its telltale blue-black under the skin for the rest of their lives. He “reads a chapter,” as he and the family call it, out of the family Bible every evening. He gets staggeringly drunk after his son’s wedding. He has hundreds of songs in his heart, as do his fellow miners and ale-drinkers and his sons. He hates the idea of socialism, and would no sooner tell a lie than he would be caught doing anything base or cowardly.
Where is this Gwilym Morgan? Where is the man who can say, they are men as we are, not savages?
I do not own a coal mine. I am a professor of literature at an American college. We professors, like the mine owners, do not do hard manual labor for a living. Unlike those mine owners, if I may speak generally, we spend none of our time around such men. We do not break bread with them, we do not live near them, we do not worship at the same church, our children do not see one another on the streets. We are almost entirely insulated from the exigencies of bodily life. We do not grow our own fruit and vegetables, we do not build our own homes, we do not raise our own livestock, we do not dig our own wells, we do not repair our own vehicles, we do not clear our own fields, we do not pave our own driveways and roads, we do not lay the bricks for our own schools, we do not fight our own fights.
We professors at Providence College have for two years now been working in the midst of invisible men, men who once might have been like Gwilym Morgan, but who in these times are almost as insane and as morally blinkered as the professors they serve. The men have built a large and handsome Center for the Humanities, out of brick and stone. They have had to transform a hill and a parking lot to get the project started. They have turned an old field into a new facility for soccer, field hockey, and track, complete with bleachers and a press house, and eighty foot tall lights for events at night. They have laid hundreds of yards of concrete pathways. They have cleared out a useless hill thicketed with scrub trees and made it into a decorative border for the campus. They have built temporary parking lots and torn them out again and replaced them with sod. They have dug out stumps and planted trees. They have worked with jackhammers, drills, chisels, backhoes, saws, scaffolding, trowels, wheelbarrows, sledges, and the indispensable hands, arms, legs, shoulders, and back. They have done all this while remaining as quiet and unobtrusive as they could be.
They work hard, at work that takes its toll on their bodies, in all seasons and in all but the filthiest weather. Yet I doubt that the feminist professor – and most professors are feminist – gives them a passing thought. Without men like them, we would have nothing; nothing to eat, no metal for our cars, no bricks, no stone, no wooden planks, no houses, no roads, no public buildings, no clean running water, nothing. They do work that is more than desirable. It is absolutely necessary. I teach English poetry; that is not necessary. I will not trouble to discuss sociology, feminist or otherwise.
We might be apt to shrug and say, “What of it? They are well paid,” and some of them are. Some of them are not, but then, don’t college graduates deserve to make more money than workers on the land, of the land, and under the land? And they do have the vote, don’t they? Everyone gets one vote, and that makes everyone equal.
Well, no, it doesn’t, no more than if everyone enjoyed the privilege of spitting once into a national spittoon. We are looking for equality as men, so that we can say what Mr. Morgan said. And the common laborers enjoy no such thing. They have virtually no influence over what their children are taught in school, and how. Their sons are regularly badgered for being boys, and bullied into ingesting drugs to conform their boyish natures to the ideal of mannerly servility. They are not pillars of their communities, because there are no more communities; there are political abstractions called “towns” and “cities,” whose leaders take their cultural instructions from the media and from the national government, and who themselves are less and less likely to have grease under their fingernails or freckles of carbon in their faces. They are not the masters in their own homes; the effeminate vices peddled by their “betters” have seen to that. They are likely to have fathered children out of wedlock, or to have been divorced, sometimes with good cause, far more often without. They ingest the poisons peddled by mass entertainment. Their sons surf the internet for porn, get fat, wear their pants around their thighs so as to look like dwarfs stretched on a rack, can’t dig a post-hole or sing a hymn, and are given comic books in school instead of Moby-Dick. Our need for these fathers is total, yet their authority is minuscule even in their own localities, and their influence upon national politics is zero.
If such men ever took it into their heads to strike, not against the owner of the coal mine, but against their masters in the media, the classrooms, the board rooms, the state capitols, and Washington, who knows what might happen? We might have a republic again. But I’m not holding my breath. A John Dickinson, mild-tempered though he was, would be at a loss for words to fathom the depth of our servility, both moral and political. What, after all, were a couple of pence on a bag of tea, compared with thousands of unread pages managing every facet of medical treatment for three hundred million people? Slaves do sometimes rise up. Pampered slaves, never.
It appears, though unclearly to me, that you see lessons in this 1941 film. I remember, vaguely, seeing it when I was a child, on television. I don’t remember much. Did the sons form a union after the father died? I wonder. Where did they go after they left the valley?
Maybe to Butte, Montana?
I lived for a short time in the mining community in Butte, Montana, living with an Aunt and Uncle while earning money as a “common laborer” to pay for university back in Minnesota. I enjoyed time with both miners and academics (my Uncle was the President of the Technical University) and heard of the long fascinating history there. One where after decades of deadly mining accidents, long hours and low pay, the miners who had come from all over the world formed a union in the late 19th century, after which some of these excesses of “liberty” were made more just. The mine owners, who lived like kings (they were even called “The Copper Kings”) did everything in their power to fight the unions, including much violent “persuasion”, including one strike where 17 miners were shot in the back. In 1917, 168 men died in a horrific mine accident. Unions became stronger, wages became better, accidents fewer. The unions made the community. When I was there in the mid 70’s it was still a strong union town, so McDonalds would’t build there. A good thing for the small family owned cafes. If only the rest of the nation had followed suit.
One of the Copper Kings was William A. Clark, who bought votes to become a U.S. Senator and of whom Mark Twain wrote:
“He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed’s time.”
Clark died in 1925 but his mountain (literally) of money had mostly left the Butte community. A few years ago his youngest daughter, Huguette, died at 104 in Manhattan, after living in hospital suites for her last quarter century. Her portion of her father’s mountain was then worth $500 million, including a 42 room million apartment overlooking central park worth $100 million and a CT mansion worth $24 million, both unihabited but still staffed for those 23 years. Today, one of Butte’s main industries is environmental mitigation, the aftermath of mining. A good portion of the city is a toxic lake 900 feet deep, a huge government Superfund site. Another green valley defiled.
Now, as we live in another gilded age of vote buying (how else can one describe how most campaigns are funded?), oligarchy and plutocratic corruption, I would hope that your noble martyr Gwilym — a good man but a naive one — might realize that though we are all capable (hopefully) of being true men or women (I’m a feminist apparently), that sometimes men and women can be savages; and that if we do not allow access to health care for all our citizens it results in savagery; and that health care for all will not happen unless there is regulation of the ‘insurance kings’ by a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Or, better yet, these insurance kings would have a moral awakening and voluntarily find “necessary” work. What are the chances of that?
I wish I had not included that last sentence about health insurance, because the point of the article is that such men as Mr. Morgan are less “visible” now than they ever were before. Four of the Morgan sons in the movie emigrated; one died in the mine; the youngest survived to write about the destruction. Mr. Morgan’s own death ends the movie. The director, John Ford, was a fervent supporter of unions, and has the other hero of the movie, the pastor Mr. Griffiths, recommend a union — and that begins his undoing at the hands of the selfish men who are the elders in the church.
Here is an interesting question, to my mind: Who would now give the men who do necessary work the consideration and the authority they deserve? By the way, such men generally detest the welfare state. The man across the street from me as I write this does work that is quite crucial and dangerous. He cleans and paints bridges: the George Washington Bridge, the Verrazzano Bridge … His plan for welfare, as he once told me, is, “You get up off your [posteriors].” He works sixty hours a week, usually, suspended high in the air above the road or the sea.
I am not saying that he has the whole truth. I do wonder what our politics would be like if men like him and their families had real representation (by their own, as it were) in the state capitols and in Congress. They don’t.
Some thoughts on this provocative, powerful–but also, if you don’t mind me saying so, I think occasionally somewhat confused–essay:
They work hard, at work that takes its toll on their bodies, in all seasons and in all but the filthiest weather. Yet I doubt that the feminist professor–and most professors are feminist–gives them a passing thought.
Your phrasing here suggests that the non-feminist professor–or perhaps just the non-feminist in general–would give them a passing thought, or at least would be more likely to. Do you believe that to be the case? So, who are these non-feminists that give a passing thought to manual laborers, and perhaps contribute towards their exercising of real political economic power, and thus truly demand respect? Surely it can’t be those business interests who strongly oppose immigration reform (while I am ignorant of the make-up of construction crews in Providence, RI, I strongly suspect, based on the usual demographics, that at least a portion of them were of Hispanic descent, and thus quite possibly find their own families–perhaps even including “a radiant daughter and six fine sons”!–caught up by this country’s horrendous invasive immigration laws), increasing access to health care, or wage equality, can it?
And they do have the vote, don’t they? Everyone gets one vote, and that makes everyone equal. Well, no, it doesn’t, no more than if everyone enjoyed the privilege of spitting once into a national spittoon. We are looking for equality as men, so that we can say what Mr. Morgan said.
Rightly said, and very much as Rousseau put it: “The English people believes itself to be free; it is gravely mistaken; it is free only during election of members of parliament; as soon as the members are elected, the people is enslaved; it is nothing.” The vote is a meaningless measure of equality if it does not deliver genuine social and economic power into the hands of those citizens who take up the vote in order to govern themselves. This is one of the reasons why the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County, which gutted the long-standing enforcement mechanisms in the Voting Rights Act, is so despicable; this was one of the few effective tools in our representative system which put the power to challenge the marginalization of the invisible into the hands of citizens, and so of course was always disliked by the rule-makers who wanted everyone to play by the same rules (the ones they wrote, of course).
And the common laborers enjoy no such thing….They are likely to have fathered children out of wedlock, or to have been divorced, sometimes with good cause, far more often without.
Another harshly stated but accurate point: thanks to many changes–most particularly, the globalization of the economy and the outsourcing of labor, which has led to a collapse in effective wages and the impoverishment of localities across America–the economic and social supports (and strictures) which once allowed certain norms to flourish have fallen apart. As has been well documented by many studies, the divorce revolution, and sexual irresponsibility generally, has been in decline amongst the educated and financially successful for decades–but amongst the working and welfare-bound poor, marriage and the maintenance of intact families is becoming a genuine rarity. Perhaps if we hadn’t allowed the bankers and the anti-union and anti-tax hawks to kill off all the social protections and regulations which kept available good-paying, life-building labor for young people, thinks wouldn’t have gotten so bad for America’s “red” families.
Who would now give the men who do necessary work the consideration and the authority they deserve? By the way, such men generally detest the welfare state….I do wonder what our politics would be like if men like him and their families had real representation (by their own, as it were) in the state capitols and in Congress. They don’t.
The Populists made an attempt to put working people into positions of electoral power (and economic too–rather than a welfare state, their ideas mostly boiled down to economic democracy, with real decision-making power about prices and wages ideally being put into their hands through government regulations and agencies, rather than pushing for the creation of a redistributive economy). We need more of their spirit today.
Thank you for your perspicacious comments. If I may engage you further:
*You are quite correct; NOBODY gives those men a passing thought. Well, occasionally some populist lover of the Constitution might, but that’s all. What fascinates and appalls me at once is the stark contrast between what those men do and what the professors do, and how the latter treat the former with contempt even as they pretend to be all for the supposed “little guy.” Progressives have hated that man ever since they cast their lot with the likes of Adorno and Horkheimer rather than Christian reformers. They need not have gone in that direction, but they did.
*Nevertheless, feminism makes it quite impossible for us to think of those men, for several crucial reasons. First, to think of them is to admit that they do necessary work, without which the rest of us (some of whom do good work; some of whom are floaters and parasites) could not eat. That is, they do work that most men do not want to do, and that almost all women cannot do. Second, to think of them is to reconsider the relationship between a just wage and the quality or the necessity of the work that the worker does; and the LAST people to admit that a mason should make as much money as a sociology professor will be the sociology professors. Third, to think of them is to reconsider the labor pool, as you have done. That is, we should wish to protect and support such laboring men among us, and their families, and that would require immigration reform AND an end to publicly financed perks for double-income professional households. We should not be taking money from the housewife to pay for the working woman, which is to say, we should not be encouraging the depression of the wages of the carpenter, mason, and lumberman by flooding the labor market.
*I don’t agree with you, however, that the answer lies in some manipulation of electoral machinery. I think we have grown monstrously big, too big for any tinkering any longer to have real effect. The only way, practically, to put power into the hands of such men as I have in mind is to return authority to their households — and to place almost all decisions of real import as close as possible to those households. Their freedom depends not on how much leverage their vote exerts in Washington, but on how much they NEED not worry about from Washington or even from their state capitols. That would imply, also, the stripping of power from judges to make and unmake laws at their whim. Put simply, there is almost — almost — nothing that Washington should have to say about the ordinary lives of people in Plainville, including what goes on in their schools, their town halls, their town commons, their libraries, and so forth.
*It would also mean that we recognize reality: that there are youths who are just not meant for college (thank God!), but who deserve to be trained up in real work, good work, work that involves the brains as well as the hands and the back.
*If you want to revisit the protective tariff, you’ll get no argument from me….
As a manual laborer, albeit self-employed, who lives in an academic community I feel I can weigh in here with some authority. First, I applaud the rare concern for manual laborers and the glib view of equality that dominates the public discourse. That said, the outrage underlying this piece, although not unwarranted, appears to be too generalized to be constructive — perhaps as a consequence of an abstract, academic temperament. For one thing, the evident anger with all things “Leftist” seems to ignore that in reality there is considerable overlap between feminists and supporters of labor and that in fact there are a significant number of women in the building trades.
Finally, the concluding remark about “pampered slaves,” suggesting that what the Morgan sons sought was to force their employers to pamper them is absurd over-reach. Further, yours is hardly a response to the abused poor that Jesus would have.
The take on equality, as well as the valuing of manual work, is very Ruskinian. Do you read Ruskin? If not, I think you’d find considerable common ground with him and many of your ideals addressed — with every bit as much and probably more outrage with the state of society as well as Christian perspective but, if I may say so, greater clarity and depth of understanding.
You do seem to have provoked a constructive dialogue with Mr Krause and Mr Fox, however.
Tim: I should make myself quite clear. The Morgan sons did not want to be pampered. They wanted to be paid an honest wage for their hard and honest work. But they were solid Christian citizens, not moral slouches. Mr. Morgan, for example, would be mortified by the decadence of our mass entertainment. I’m speaking here from the classical and Christian heritage. If you are a slave to your passions, you are a slave pure and simple. People who accept the “tenets” of the sexual revolution are not fit to become pillars of any community.
As for the feminists: the only one I have ever read who expresses any concern for men who do manual labor is Camille Paglia, the renegade whom other feminists despise. Otherwise, they mainly consider people like you to be lunkheads. You may not be old enough to remember the Comparable Pay movement spearheaded by Patsy Schroeder and other feminists in the 1980’s. They were up in arms that guys like you might be making more money than a college educated (female) social worker. They wanted the government to allocate wages according to how much education it took to earn the job — to depress your wages, in effect. They have also wished to make it quite impossible for ordinary women to afford to stay home and take care of her children if they are MARRIED to a carpenter or a mason or what have you. Simone de Beauvoir wrote specifically that an enlightened culture would make it illegal for women to stay home to care for their children. The twin moves towards publicly financed daycare and total female participation in the labor force has had you in the cross-hairs.
When people on the Pelvic Left express support for “working” Americans, and for unions, they are not thinking of you, because in fact most people working in unions now are government employees at one level or another, and a majority of those are female.
There may be women in the building trades, but there sure haven’t been any on our campus. I suppose that you can tell me whether your wife could climb a 24 foot ladder while carrying a full packet of asphalt shingles on her back, or how long a small-handed slender-shouldered woman could hold a jackhammer straight, without the tool breaking the body. Anyhow, my point is that if men do not do that work, that work is not going to get done. We need you; we need to give such jobs as you do to men, who can do them best, and who need those jobs the most; we do not need, in the same way, people like me.
Yes, I have read John Ruskin and admire him a great deal. It’s no insult to me if you think that Ruskin has said something better than I have.
In the Bible, God tells of an economy where each family owns land. Therefore each family has the general ability to have basic resources. A family economy is much better than a corporate one. The economy should include all the family members. Ideally the young men and women would do much of the manual labor. As people age, they can do the work that isn’t manual. In this way, they will have the understanding and wisdom to be good leaders.
The government should not sanction corporations. Any joint ownership should come with total liability as well as total ownership. So instead of unions, its best to have mom and pop businesses.
Local churches, government and businesses.
Tammy: I am quite in favor of stringing up white collar criminals. One of the great injustices of our time, I believe, is that large corporations and the people who run them can “write off” punitive fines as part of the cost of doing business, so that their violation of the law and of human decency goes unpunished. I believe that most ordinary people would agree with me and say that, rather than have Amalgamated Swill pay five hundred million dollars in fines (most of them devoured by lawyers), we’d prefer to have the culpable officers spend time behind bars, lots of time, and NOT in club-med prisons, either. Call it retributive justice and deterrence. Unfortunately, the FBI is spending less and less of its time going after such people…. going after their own, that is. They aim to protect us against the terrorists in our midst. Now if only we had men who could protect the constitution against the FBI…
Somehow, I sense something slouching toward Bethlehem…
Prof. Esolen has written things which are seldom seen or heard among the academic tribes. He has been blunt and passionate; and I too wish he had left out the closing remarks about the Affordable Care Act.
But I am grateful for his bold and passionate statement, and for the ensuing discussion, though it has become too general and abstract.
I spent many years in graduate school, and once aspired to something like Prof Esolen’s job and craft. But I found that the best work of my mind seemed to require the co-operation of my hands and body. I could not be content or fruitful in either world exclusive of the other. I did not begin to read/study when I entered graduate school, and I have not ceased since I left it. I have been a pretty good craftsman in both worlds, but a master in neither. Still, like Tim, I have a certain perspective for having lived this amphibious life.
Here is what I would say: Some masons/craftsmen/workers make as much or more than many professors. Of these masons and of these professors, some are the heirs of a healthy culture and a disciplined and vibrant faith and some are not. Money enough to pay for your own bread and circuses, apart from culture and faith, will not maintain a human civilization. Will not produce or foster the kind of man and woman that the author of How Green Was My Valley and Prof. Esolen are talking about.
Unions, afterall, are not uniform: some are good and useful, some merely corrupt and make lazy. But “man” cannot live without the word of God, ie., the everlasting covenant, love and respect between and among God, men and women, the earth, and “every living thing that is with you.”
The best workers and craftsmen that I know, though they need the money, do not work merely for the money. They seek work which respects the maker, the thing made and the things from which the made thing is made. And they try to participate in the life and decisions of their local communities.
(There may be some professors and some politicians with a similar standard.) They are, of course, always at the mercy of the owner, the designer/architect, the government, and the unions, who often have much narrower concerns. To say nothing of the corrupting influence, on them and their children, of the merchants and the popular media.
Thank you, Prof. Esolen.
I have done construction work on several southern colleges and you are wrong about feminist professors not giving us a passing thought, they have made it very clear that we are not to make eye contact with them or any woman on the campus.
Workers have been fired just for looking at them, so apparently they think of us often, but not highly.
The son is right. The difference is power. It took unions to provide some sort of equity.
Anthony Esolen: Some of them are not, but then, don’t college graduates deserve to make more money than workers on the land, of the land, and under the land?
Turns out they make more because of market forces.
Anthony Esolen: They are not pillars of their communities, because there are no more communities;
The green valley was destroyed by unfettered capitalism.
Anthony Esolen: there are political abstractions called “towns” and “cities,” whose leaders take their cultural instructions from the media and from the national government, and who themselves are less and less likely to have grease under their fingernails or freckles of carbon in their faces.
There are still neighborhoods and families. They are what people make of them.
My husband’s father was an English professor at a small, fourth-rate college in a mining state. He (my FIL) is very pro-union (he was in a professor’s union) and super lefty, but could not bear to live among the miners. He and my husband’s mom bought a house in the mining town near the college when my husband was a kid but fled a few years later because of the disdain they felt for their neighbors. Even now, 40 years later, I can hear the condescension in his voice when he talks about that time.
So he thought about the miners – but he couldn’t stand them. Mr Tolerance.
I appreciate your piece. For my part, I come from modest origins and always was made aware of the dignity of work. My Dad drilled it into my head that one could learn something from anyone, regardless of their education. I put myself through four degrees, and did it largely with manual labor. I spent a lot of time in a carbon black plant, so know very personally what it means to perform a Dirty Job in a difficult environment. There is no substitute for people willing to do those jobs, and I think everyone should have the experience, to know how to produce food, to know the gritty details of life.
G.K. Chesterton may have offered the definitive comment on this issue: “The real argument against aristocracy is that it always means the rule of the ignorant. For the most dangerous of all forms of ignorance is ignorance of work.” – GK Chesterton
[…] Anthony Esolen, who teaches English at Providence College, is also the kind of guy who has doubtless worked with his hands, and who is therefore capable of perceiving the yawning chasm between professoriate and the proletariat, between the people in America who actually work up a sweat and the members of the community of fashion elite who call all the shots. […]
As for how skilled workers can have more representation politically and be more respected societially: Workers have had real political representation only when Unions were strong and/or when there were progressives in positions of power who were sympathetic to their lack of advocacy. Historically, conservative politicians have sided with the mine owner, not the miner. Only after long hard-nosed battles with plutocrats have collective bargaining organizations and government regulations looked out for those doing the skillful and necessary work you write of. With anti-union legislation passing in some Republican dominanted states and The SCOTUS Citizen United 5-4 decision favoring Capital, there may be other ways of organizing workers so their voices are amplified, but I don’t know what those ways would be. Any ideas?
Your statement about feminists and the Comparable Pay Movement is spurious. They were NOT saying men doing physical work should be paid less; they were saying women should be paid MORE for doing necessary work. Though male/female pay has become closer to equity in recent decades, overall, a gender bias remains.
As for those working with their hands not getting as much respect as they deserve: In an agrarian society, physical work tends to be more valued. With mechanization leading to urbanization and globalization and less being MADE in America by fewer people, there are more people tapping away in cubicles. It is not so surprising that respect for physical (yet often mindful) work has diminished; it is not surprising that those wearing business casual will be look out their window at the worker wearing their muddy Carhartt’s and think they are above such work, no matter how little the cubicle inhabitant is paid or questionable their work. Socrates (the stone mason) and Jesus (the carpenter), did not fare so well in their time — not nearly as well as the Sophists in their aristocratic robes, who had neither dust in their lungs, nor slivers (or nails) in their hands.
Thank you, Mr Esolen, for your reply to me, above; I’m glad to hear you read Ruskin. On work, religion and community, no wiser words have ever been spoken than those in Ruskin’s lecture “The Mystery of Life and Its Arts.” Why there’s never any mention, let alone discussion, of Ruskin on FPR is puzzling to me.
Dear Tim: Thank you too for your reply. I can tell you why I suspect we haven’t discussed Ruskin at FPR. My guess is that our abandonment of the wisdom of true liberals (like Ruskin) and true conservatives (like Burke) is so extensive and so profound that we can hardly get to the beginnings of recovery, let alone to the end. We should be discussing Ruskin — and Dickens, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Arnold, Kipling, Undset, Pieper, E. F. Schumaker, Guardini, Frost …
To Ed above: Salaries do not exist in a vacuum. In order to boost the salary of A, you have to suffer the depression of the value of B’s salary if that is not to rise likewise; and of course you have to be content with a massive inequality of power, giving to government officials the authority to decide who is “worth” what. My points are these. 1. Almost all of the absolutely necessary work is done by men. Absolute necessities regard the fundamental bodily needs: food, clothing, shelter, and the transportation and manufacture of such things as provide for food, clothing, and shelter. 2. Feminists have long ignored or — see comments above — detested the men who make their lives possible. 3. The best way to see to it that such men and their wives have authority is to KEEP POLITICAL AUTHORITY NEAR TO THE PLACES WHERE PEOPLE LIVE AND WORK. I do not need there to be a carpenters’ union, although I am not opposed to such a union, for CARPENTERS AND THEIR WIVES to determine almost all of what goes on in their homes, their neighborhoods, their schools, and their towns. Put it this way. I would gladly accept an indefinite moratorium on lawyers, college professors, and social workers taking any seats in any state house or in Washington. If I may phrase it this way: who in the hell are such people to say what the parents of Plainville want to see in their schools?
Ruskin would be horrified to be called a liberal, and exasperated by the tenacious hold the distinction of “liberal” vs “conservative”. Consider these words of his (from Fors Clavigera):
[W]hatever is popularly said about governments cannot but be absurd, for want of definition of terms. Consider, for instance, the ridiculousness of the division of parties into “Liberal” and “Conservative.” There is no opposition whatever between those two kinds of men. There is opposition between Liberals and Illiberals; that is to say, between people who desire liberty, and who dislike it. I am a violent Illiberal; but it does not follow that I must be a Conservative. A Conservative is a person who wishes to keep things as they are; and he is opposed to a Destructive, who wishes to destroy them, or to an Innovator, who wishes to alter them.”
Insights like this are exactly why FPR should be discussing Ruskin, as I’m glad to see you agree it should.
Wage equity is not a zero sum game. In your analysis of the economics of wages you neglect to mention the remedy of raised prices in the private sector or raised taxes in the realm of the commons. The U.S. Capitol was built with much slave labor, as was the White House. To build without slave labor costs more, but I would hope you would agree that this does not lead to the conclusion that workers must earn less when slave labor is prohibited. Just Price Theory as written by Aristotle, and after him Aquinas, looks at equity as an essential element of Ethics.
Your disdain for “Feminists” is hard for me to fathom. If women (whether they call themselves feminists or not) are offended and angered by rude comments on construction sites, I can’t blame them; I’ve heard it and they offend me as a man who loves women. It is not hypocritical for these same women to say these men should have representation in politics. Generalizing is dangerous, but in my experience men on construction sites are more vocal and straightforward in their objectification of women than men in offices, especially when a woman works in the building trades. In the office or academia, gender discrimination is usually more stealth though probably as prevalent… i.e. women being passed over for promotion, not invited to speak at conferences, not getting tenure.
Do you honestly believe “Almost all of the absolutely necessary work is done by men.”?
Clothing? Homemaking? Nursing? Food? (Globally, both growing and cooking food is often done by women) Midwives? Childbearing and rearing? In addition to the increasing expertise of women working in vocations previously the domain of men?
Ruskin, much of whose work I admire greatly, strongly warned of the dangers of profit-driven capitalism, and his ideas concerning social justice, government funded job training and a secure pension in old age were the seeds that grew to the social welfare state, and inspired Tolstoy, Gandhi and Morris. (Morris is an interesting example, given the film that began this discussion, in that his family money came from a copper and arsenic mine. By middle age Morris had divested from the mine and become the leading lecturer and publisher promoting Socialism, though a more nuanced view than the caricatures promulgated by todays critics.)
I agree political authority should be local, for local issues. But we are a great nation and our scale is not only local (with technology increasingly so, as evidenced FPR), but national and international, so I believe a broader spectrum of government is warranted and “necessary”, too. It is a good thing, I believe, that Eisenhower sent in the National guard to escort the black students into Little Rock High School. It is good, I believe, for the department of education to question the teaching of literal biblical creationism as though it was on equal footing with evolution in understanding the world. It is a very good, I believe, that millions who have not had health insurance will have it, after this difficult birthing of the ACA.
That said, I have chosen to live for many years near a community that remains interdependent and of a scale that is managable. It is a farm town, a college town, and a commuting community, for some driving into the metropolis for work. At the local cafe farmers, builders, professors, attorneys, a retired journalist, a retired university chancellor, an insurance agent, etc., meet for coffee to discuss issues local and beyond. People know and care (yes, sometimes gossip too) about each other.
In your post calling for greater respect and authority for people who make and grow things, you devalue the role of educators (rhetorically perhaps)… but I think we can agree the work of hands is better when it is informed with broad minds, and the theoretical work of the mind is relevant only when we can see what fruit it bears beyond the classroom, if any.
Does the boat float or sink? Does the building crumble or endure? Does the money trickle down or is it hoarded at the top?
Thank you for your temperate and considerate response. I’m aware that in many cultures women do the planting of food, but in none of those cultures is agriculture the basis of a civilization. Where farming is done on a large scale, with lots of land to be cleared and large draft animals to be domesticated, the work is done mostly by teams of men, and if it were not so, it would not be done at all. This is true to this day, even with diesel tractors and such. And, were things left up to women, there would be no tractors either, because they depend upon the mines. It has always been the case, and it remains the case, that heavy and dangerous work, to be feasible, must be done en masse by men.
I hold no brief for cads or wolves. But my point is that feminists do not ever consider with gratitude the things that men do, that cannot be done otherwise; and, as for the necessary work that women do — such as giving birth and raising small children — the feminists have scorned that also. That explains their constant drive to denigrate the work itself (“s–twork,” as the odious Sulamith Firestone called it), to sneer at women who stay home to care for their children (“What a waste,” sniffed a woman at Amherst when a friend of mine got on the bus with her three small children), and essentially to take money from her husband’s pocket to help finance the day-care that they themselves will take advantage of, along with the single mothers whose would-have-been husbands have been displaced by the Welfare State.
I am constitutionally suspicious of Big Everything. You can’t get me to sign on to a nationalized health insurance system; my views on the concentration of power are too deeply founded in historical examples of it. We could have come up with many ways of extending insurance to as many people as desired it, without nationalization.
I tried to make a distinction between absolutely necessary work and other work which, while good in itself, is not absolutely necessary. Then there is work that is neither necessary nor good in itself — and we might include in that category much of what passes for law, banking, and stock trading; skimming and grafting, in effect.
Humane, better and cheaper:
Esolen: “A John Dickinson, mild-tempered though he was, would be at a loss for words to fathom the depth of our servility, both moral and political.”
The system we have in this country is corrupt, from top to bottom. It’s taken years and years for it to get this bad. It cannot be redeemed or fixed or repaired. Merely voting for one of the two letters “R” or “D” on election day isn’t going to change any of it.
And it is now heading in only one direction: worse.
What can we do? Handwringing and preaching from the pulpit against the “structural evils” isn’t going to cut it. We no longer owe the system any loyalty. But, I am sorry to say, to really make any change will require something more like a full-on bloody revolution, or several states seceding from the rotten mess and trying to start over, or maybe an “Oliver Cromwell” figure riding in and arresting everyone in Congress, along with plenty of appellate judges, bankers, corporate CEOs, and lawyers.
But will any of this happen? My guess is nothing will. Instead, we are facing a future living under something similar to Panem, as described in the Hunger Games stories, where the centralized authoritarian government lords it over us plebes, and we are reduced to both slavery and penury.
In fairness to Shulamith Firestone, she departed public life shortly after composing the work which made her name famous among a certain sort. She did not wish to be a professional publicist for any cause.
I know many feminists who value greatly the physical work done by men. AIso know many feminists who value mothering. Most want choices and equal pay for equal work, that is all.
I wish health care could be provided for all without government regulation and management. Alas, it can’t. You say there can be “many ways of extending insurance to as many as desired it”. I would love to hear them. What are those ways, today, with a geographically mobile populace, expensive technology and the greed and injustice of our health care apparatus (I can’t call it a system)? Amongst developed nations, federal government involvment is what has proven to work; it provides, overall, better public health outcomes for way less money. It has been estimated that 40,000 people die here every year because of lack of access to health care. For others, it has devastated family finances, often leading to bankruptcy. It’s a travesty, a national disgrace — as an objective look at international health care statistics will make obvious. There may be times when I believe in “american exceptionalism”, but when it comes to health care, we have been exceptionally cruel and irrational.
Bill McGuire, the former CEO of United Helath Care (Medica), was making over $100,000,000 per year before he retired, and was paid over $1,000,000,000 at retirement… though that may have been diminished slightly when regulators noticed that his stock options had been back-dated for his benefit.
As I noted earlier: The Insurance Kings.
Please pardon my typos above.
There are great stories of the working man and the lives he led. Steinbeck wrote of it and the image lacks certain virtues Mr. Esolen would embrace.
I have been around working men, and am not a laborer as they are. One thing I note is the decline in stability which makes a community. Mr. Esolen has led a culture war to promote the de-stabilization of communities: for such does not exist without economic justice. We have an enormous de-stabilization of communities based on the downward drive of labor since the 1970’s. Suburban communities, once home to laborers, are now enclaves of professionals since laborers (largely seasonal constuction, landscapers-again seasonal, or janitors) cannot earn enough to enter such environs. None of these laborers-men once my Scout leaders-can find the time or the energy between their two jobs to manage to volunteer anymore.
Professor Esolen studiously avoids advocating for good pay for laborers and does the the gravest injustice. While elevating them, he dishonors their basest needs-to earn money to pay for their families. This is an old need, which goes to the heart of that encyclical once and for all ending the thought that Catholics can embrace classical liberalism: Rerum Novarum.
Romanticizing the “manliness” of these folks is now a common theme on the right (with Camille Paglia taking this up also). I would like to see these same romantics interested in demanding better, stable, decent pay for these individuals.
Stability has many ancient implications also, a very Benedictine word. Stability, justice, and an embrace of the lessons of wealth depicted in the Gospel is really the tonic that this professor needs to learn, and teach. Otherwise, I can go to Camille Paglia and find the same.
” Their sons are regularly badgered for being boys, and bullied into ingesting drugs to conform their boyish natures to the ideal of mannerly servility. ”
Is this a reference to ADHD? ADHD has nothing to do with “boys being boys” nor do the drugs for ADHD — stimulant medications, similar in effect but with less side effects than those common “manly and independent” drugs of cigarettes and coffee — turn their boyish natures into the ideal of mannerly servility. It is offensive to those with such medical conditions to imply that they should feel ashamed for being treated, and it is ignorant to imply that the treatment for the condition does something it doesn’t do. My experience has found it often to be the opposite — parents who are concerned for their children’s mental well being have to fight to get them medications and accommodations and adults with the condition are treated like drug addicts who need their drugs curtailed.
Mariana, above: You have got to be kidding.
The overmedication of psychotropic drugs to children is one of the ongoing scandals of our time. Homeschoolers can tell all kinds of stories of teachers and principals and school nurses fairly insisting upon drugging their sons, and going near to making their continued enrollment contingent upon it. Then they take their sons out of the unnatural situation, and, hey, most of the time the boys are perfectly fine. What on earth defines an attention-deficit, anyway? Is it possible that the boys are not attending to the teacher, because the teacher is not worth attending to? Is it possible that these same boys would be absolutely absorbed in something that did command their attention? Is it possible that the sick combination, in school, of regimentation AND the blaring distractions of badly designed books, posters, bells, and so forth proves insuperable by many ordinary boys who would be perfectly fine in more natural circumstances? Why in the hell were boys, within living memory, perfectly capable of working for hours on end at a single object of absorbing interest, like the motor of a car, or a set of baseball statistics?
Yes, you bet, I am a skeptic when it comes to ADHD. I’d have been diagnosed with it, because I paid almost no attention to anything my teachers were saying when I was in school, because I knew it already. I daydreamed.
Dan — Since when have I led a “culture war” against labor? Who on earth are you talking about here? I have never been an economic or social libertarian. I have for YEARS been inveighing against the elimination of vocational and technical training for boys in high schools. If you want to argue that we should revive tariffs to protect domestic industries, you will find a willing ear here. If you are suggesting, though, that the causal arrow always proceeds from the wallet to the bedroom, and not also from the bedroom to the wallet, I part company with you. If we want stable communities such as my own home town used to be, we need the virtues that make for strong families, and we need good jobs for men, to support their wives and children. We’ll never get either one of them from feminists or from culture-dissolving academics.
Mr. Esolen, I wonder if you’re familiar with the work Mike Rowe (from the Dirty Jobs show) is doing?
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