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Lee Harris: We Want More Middle Class Family Values

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Us Against the Gangs

by Christopher Chantrill
March 13, 2004 at 7:00 pm


THE GREAT PROBLEM of the Anglosphere is that its ideas are three hundred years old.  This means that the culture of democratic capitalism that dominates the world like a colossus is founded on ideas that groan with the load imposed upon them. 

For the young and the restless, three hundred year-old ideas aren’t good enough.  It is all very well for Russell Kirk to insist on the permanent things in The Conservative Mind, but what jewels does he offer to distract the young from the brilliant facets of Marx, Freud, and Foucault?  Nothing.

In fact, The Conservative Mind does not engage at all with the moderns.  It dismisses Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, and Freud as cranks and imposters.  And Kant doesn’t even rate a mention. 

This is madness.  Whatever their faults, the giants of the continental tradition spawned a vast intellectual tradition that nearly engulfed the Anglosphere.  It cannot be explained away or brushed off.  Where it is right, it should be improved.  Where it is wrong, it should be challenged. 

But things are changing.  After a century in which German psychology seemed to point like an arrow into the heart of middle-class culture, we now have the developmental psychology of Clare Graves and his disciples that confronts the continental psychology of Freud, Piaget, and Erikson and trumps it.  It shows that the rule-and-role culture of the middle class is not expendable or even replaceable, and that the lefty dream of creative universal community is doomed to failure unless it is founded on the middle-class virtues.

In the writings of English professor Frederick Turner we have a solution to the modernist and postmodern cultural death spiral.  His Culture of Hope and Shakespeare’s Twenty-first Century Economics inaugurate the beginnings of a new tradition that takes the culture of challenge and transcends it with a culture of exaltation.

In the writings of Ken Wilber we can see a revival of the effort—begun nearly two hundred years ago by Schopenhauer—to effect a meeting of east and west in philosophy and spiritual understanding and practice.

With Civilization and Its Enemies, Lee Harris begins another heroic effort.  He begins to take sociology back from the Marxists.  Using his knowledge of Hegel, he builds a new sociology of the west, demonstrating that its power derives from crucial developments in social organization. 

First of all he calls attention to the transformation of the teenage boys’ gang into the team.  It allowed the Greeks to scale back the power of the family and allow people to extend the bounds of trust beyond blood relationships.  The power of the team was first exhibited in the hoplite heavy infantry of the Spartans, then in the Roman concept of patria, and latterly in the invention of the nation state.  Today we see it manifest in the stunning power of modern corporations and the American army in the Middle East.

But there’s more.  Harris interprets the Protestant Reformation as the discovery of self-government by the burghers of North Germany.  The city economy demands more than grudging obedience to the law.  Its success demands self-control and the performance of promises from its merchants and artisans.  Thus was born the “respectable” businessman, modern professionalism and the Protestant conscience.  “It is an error to ask whether Protestantism caused capitalism, as Weber argued, or capitalism Protestantism, as Marx argued.”  The two go together, and reinforce each other.  And they have changed the world.

But our culture of self-government faces a problem.  What do we do about people who do not join the culture and obey the rules of the team and self-governing bourgeoisism?  What do we do, in fact, about “the eternal gang of ruthless men?”  “Someone must be prepared to fight them whenever they threaten to enter into history.”  Like Al Qaeda does right now.

The problem is, of course, to whom do we give the power to deal ruthlessly with the ruthless men?  And how do we prevent them from becoming a mirror of the gang of ruthless men we have mobilized them to defeat, new Napoleons interested only in their own glory.

The answer is, of course, Us.  The United States is uniquely qualified to gang up on the gangs because, beyond any society in the world, it has internalized the code of honor begun by the North German bourgeoisie of 1500.  It wants only to live in a world of commercial trust and reciprocity.

If only the intellectuals of America and Europe would grasp this, and stop following their bliss to “abstract utopias and fantasy ideologies and return to the real world.” 

Harris’s Civilization and Its Enemies contains three or four ideas of the first rank, and represents another building in the new city on a hill that we are building to transcend the utopian visions of the continentals.  One day this new construction will appear on the radar of the liberal intellectual establishment.  But then it will be too late.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990

Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State

Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures

German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh

Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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