Saturday, March 27, 2010

Red States and Blue States?

Are you on the side of "big business" or "big government"? Does wealth trickle down from the employer, who creates jobs or up from the laborer who provides the products and services?

Is the pursuit of wealth a boon or a danger to society? Is our nation better served by honest people from simple rural backgrounds or perhaps from those with a good education, for example a foundational knowledge of history, current events and the classics?

If you think these are questions that were born of the 1960s "culture wars," or trace their origin to Ronald Reagan; of if you think they are even more recent, created by Fox News or "the liberal media," think again.

I highly recommend an out of print book called The Self-Made Man in America: The Myth of Rags to Riches by University of Wisconsin historian Irvin G. Wyllie. Published in 1954, it is a well-researched (but not academic jargon filled) examination of how the ideal of the self-made man developed in the 19th century. The philosophical debates argued by thinkers in the 1840s sound very much like a clash between Rachel Maddow viewers and a tea party protest group. Consider:

Critics of business insisted that these problems (crimes and excesses of the greedy) could not be solved without the aid of regulatory legislation and the active intervention of the state in economic affairs. Defenders of business, on the other hand, clung to the idea that good intentions, good private character, and the universal laws of moral retribution provided sufficient protection. Over against good laws, they proposed good men. The crime of the success apologist was not that he disregarded the question of public welfare, but rather that he was unbelievably naive in his conviction that the educated conscience was capable of protecting the welfare of all.
Sounds like this is a debate we're probably not going to wrap up any time soon.