The recent flurry of discussion of the NRO screed by Kevin D. Williamson, much of which was irate response to Williamson’s dismissive statements about the White working class, points up the huge disconnect between the ”elites”, so-called, and the lower-to-middle class American, especially White Americans.
While Williamson spoke of the ‘working class’, it seems the people under discussion were really what we call the underclass: the long-term unemployed (not those unemployed by design), the dependent or dysfunctional segments of society. White people, though found amongst that class, especially in certain parts of the country, are rather underrepresented there, though Williamson singled out Whites for opprobrium.
Then again, he just represents the ‘class’ of which he is a part, a class of white-collar workers who are rather overeducated: journalists, academics, and the like. These people, whether they own up to it or not, are a self-styled elite who sit in judgment on the rest of us. They are the enlightened ones; we are ignorant, unlettered, unwashed. Of course many non-‘elite’ Americans are easily as intelligent and as educated (if that means anything) as Williamson and his like. But we don’t count.
Nonetheless, Williamson’s piece did occasion some lively discussions and responses. Reader and commenter Sheila brought this article from Free Northerner to my attention. It’s a response to Williamson. Thanks, Sheila; it’s an interesting article, with much that is thought-provoking in it. I am not sure I can adequately address it because of its complexity but I will offer some thoughts.
The Free Northerner piece asserts some points with which I differ. I agree that the view of human beings as simply economic units, completely detached from culture and from environment, is wrong and is destructive to people’s individual lives and by extension, to our society as a whole.
The left uses economic disparities as arguments for big government to intervene and enforce a sort of parody of ”economic justice.” The left thus has an incentive to preserve the disparities so they can continue to agitate for ‘social justice’, a chimera if ever there was one. The right, as the writer correctly says, is guilty of buying the liberal ‘blank slate’ theory of human nature, though in a slightly different form. The average Republican (at least those who are still relatively prosperous) buys the idea that anyone can start a business and guarantee himself and his family a good living — if he only practices ‘conservative values’ and a good work ethic. In my experience these kinds of ‘conservatives’ are callous towards those who have been displaced in today’s weak economy, insisting that anyone can prosper if he uses the formula. But how many small businesses fail? And how many people who have been unemployed for a while can get the capital needed to start up a business, much less to keep it alive until he turns a profit? And how many new small businesses can our economy support? How many people, even those with intelligence and a good work ethic, are cut out to run their own businesses? To hear the average Republican tell it, we should all be small business owners; anyone can make it with a little effort. And let the devil take the hindmost.
They refuse to admit that the rules that applied when they started their businesses back during the Reagan years no longer apply — and Reagan himself helped create this current America of mass uncontrolled immigration and outsourcing.
Neither the right nor the left care much about the ‘working class’ — or the underclass. There is a need for genuine populism. We cannot write off a whole segment of our people (and I say our people) as being irredeemable. It’s the people that make or break a place, and as of now we are throwing away many capable people, potential assets to our society, in many instances blaming them for their misfortunes.
There are those who, through character deficiencies and weaknesses (alcohol, drugs, sexual carelessness) destroy their own lives and families. We can’t excuse that because of outside factors like the economy. We aren’t doing them favors by saying that because of their ethnicity (Scots-Irish, for example, according to Free Northerner) they are not capable of conforming to basic rules of decency and self-respect. In old America, yes there were casualties of this sort; the underclass we have always with us, though they were less numerous and were often pariahs. Now we no longer stigmatize them to the same degree, and this, in the name of non-judgmentalism and ‘compassion’ but in effect our tolerance has increased the prevalence of such behaviors.
What we reward, or at least what we don’t punish, we end up getting more of.
I’m puzzled by the writer’s lumping-together of peoples whose commonalities are not very evident to me: for example, he speaks of ‘WASPs and Jews‘ in tandem in several places, as if there is some common thread. Apart from having higher average IQs and a historic record of achievements in scientific fields, I don’t see much similarity. It is evident to me that there is a pervasive resentment and envy toward WASPs on the part of Jews; it seems they see WASPs or Anglo-Protestant Americans as their main rivals or competitors, and from personal experience I know that they are aggrieved because of social slights on the part of those they saw as ‘WASP elites’ for things like being excluded from Country Clubs in the Northeast. WASPs and Jews in my experience are two very different peoples. Likewise, classing blacks and Scots-Irish together is puzzling to me. I am not sure that underclass membership is that common among people of Ulster Scots or Ulster-English lineage.
The writer says that noblesse oblige requires us to care for those in the underclass. As long as this does not translate to things like the kinds of ‘social justice’ wealth transfers so dear to the left — ”from each, according to his ability” — then I agree that we cannot in good conscience turn our backs on those who are the victims of man-made policies — policies like open borders, free trade, offshoring, and the general hard-hearted policies which the right has been proud to promote. Even the left has been party to this, despite their claims to champion the ”workers.”
The businessman in this country used to have some loyalty to his customers and to his employees. The companies that worked best were those who displayed this loyalty and social responsibility. Now, the businessman is seemingly only interested in ”new markets” in China or elsewhere across the sea, or in selling to the growing Hispanic colonies in this country. Their American-born customers and employees are nothing to them, it seems, given that they now have no shame about selling inferior and shoddy products and offering poor customer service, usually provided by ill-mannered, unintelligible immigrant employees or ‘offshore’ customer service staff. Business now has no conscience, it seems — except for their phony pieties about ”diversity”.
Some small local business may be exceptions to the rule.
But the feeling of kinship and community which formed the basis for the ‘conscience’ of business in America is no longer there, for the most part. We are not detached economic units. Our towns and neighborhoods matter. Having intact local institutions and businesses is what made our country a liveable place for so long. These supports once destroyed will be very hard to bring back. And as long as the subversive and destructive forces of mass immigration and ‘diversity’ continue to make us nothing more than a collective mass of atomized individuals, bereft of roots and stability, things will only worsen.
And if our supposed ‘betters’ continue to see us as nothing more than economic ciphers, units of consumption and production, or as obstacles to be replaced by new ‘consumers and producers’, our society will be an anomie-ridden wasteland.