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February 06, 2014

Abraham Lincoln vs. Barack Obama

From Monty's great post:

People without meaningful work and copious free time don't write symphonies or create great works of art. They don't live a life of the mind. They drink too much, or get in fights, or watch a lot of internet porn, or commit crimes. They don't contribute to the economy or culture, as a rule. They just...exist. And it goes on like that, sometimes for generations.

Labor is the fate of all humankind. Always has been. We work to live. Work gives shape and meaning to our lives. It's not just the income we derive from it; it's the knowledge that we are able to function as adults in the wider world, and provide for ourselves and our families. It's feeling the satisfaction of having contributed something to the maintenance of civilization, even if it means we haul trash away or keep the grass mowed. It's all honorable work, necessary work, and not something to be ashamed of.

It's not an outrage, it's just the way things are. To try and embitter people about that, to make them feel that the natural order of things is unfair, is just to do an enormous amount of harm to the very people you're claiming to want to help.


Charles Cooke also writes on this philosophical disagreement we seem to be having with the left-- whether labor is a boon to be celebrated, or an evil to be avoided to the extent that an obese government may (temporarily) permit.

In a lovely illustration of the truism that progressives really haven’t the slightest clue what it is that conservatives believe, the Huffington Post’s Senior Congressional Reporter, Michael McAuliff, spoke for the cabal, suggesting ludicrously that,
There’s an irony in the GOP complaining that ACA lets people quit jobs. I mean, what’s wrong with freedom?

To answer a remarkably misguided rhetorical question, there is nothing at all “wrong with freedom.” As Patrick Henry rightly argued, above all other things “liberty ought to be the direct end” of government, for, after that, everything else is mere indulgence. But there is an awful lot “wrong” with using the word “freedom” where it does not apply. After all, it is one thing for a person to choose not to work and to accept the natural consequences of that decision, but quite another indeed for a person to choose not to work because others are being forced to subsidize his well-being. One can reasonably attest that redistributing wealth to underwrite preferred social outcomes is “necessary” or “virtuous” or “kind” or “practical” — or even, more cynically, that it is the inexorable end product of a democratic system in which one man can vote himself the contents of another’s wallet. But one cannot claim that it makes either man “free” — at least not without twisting the word and the concept that it represents beyond all meaningful recognition.

Does the Obama administration really plan to make the case that negative liberty is but a mirage and that, the state of nature’s “forcing” one to work being akin to actual compulsion, the state must step in everywhere to liberate the citizenry from reality’s harsh claims? One suspects not.


Abraham Lincoln spoke a lot about the virtues of labor.

The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This, say its advocates, is free labor---the just and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all---gives hope to all, and energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, "Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, Milwaukee, Wisconsin" (September 30, 1859), pp. 478-479.

...

"Labor is the true standard of value." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume IV, "Speech at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania" (February 15, 1861), p. 212.

"The world is agreed that labor is the source from which human wants are mainly supplied. There is no dispute upon this point." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, "Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, Milwaukee, Wisconsin" (September 30, 1859), p. 477.

...

"If at any time all labour should cease, and all existing provisions be equally divided among the people, at the end of a single year there could scarcely be one human being left alive---all would have perished by want of subsistence." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume I, "Fragments of a Tariff Discussion" (December 1, 1847), p. 415.

There are more quotes at that link.

Some time ago I think I wrote about Rick Santorum making the case that, in order to improve the economy and increase the productive vigor of the American people, we needed to increase the morality of the American people.

I half agreed. I do believe there is a strong relationship between the virtue of industry (as Lincoln would call it; we'd say industriousness, but that's so clumsy) and the other virtues. Virtues reinforce each other in a... virtuous cycle. I guess that's why they call it that.

But I wonder if Santorum didn't get the relationship substantially backwards -- that is to say, that it is less that personal morality promotes personal industry, but more that industry promotes other aspects of morality.

A job -- work, labor, industry -- creates a powerful moral climate for the mind. Work creates in the mind a definite and tangible relationship between action and consequence, the appreciation of which is the essential undergirding for all morality.

One's personal labors breed respect for other's personal labors. As Lincoln said, labor is the ultimate measure of value. When a man knows he has worked 30 hours to amass $600, and that the new television he wants costs $600, he understands, in a palpable way, the value of not just his productive endeavors, but those of the men and women who made the object he seeks to buy. It is this understanding that makes working men despise thieves.

When one works, one sees a bridge from the past to the future; one understands that one's labors on Monday produce a service or good deliverable the following Wednesday.

Work thus creates in the mind a fertile ground for the growth of other virtues, almost all of which rely upon the understandings which work affords -- the connection between action and consequence, the value of other people and their own strivings, the sense that progress -- betterment -- can be achieved by application of effort.

Work ultimately breeds a sense of autonomy, a sense of independence, and that which derives inevitably from those, a sense of dignity and self-respect, and self-respect in turn creates respect for others.

Conversely, idleness teaches none of these things, and indeed tends to teach the opposite. A man who receives a gift of money each month has no tangible understanding of the effort required to produce it and will thus tend to disdain the labors of others. A person who makes poor decisions but is shielded from the consequences of those by others' largesse will learn no lessons and have then no cause to seek his own betterment. And an idle person who has no sense of his own personal agency in the world -- no sense that he stands on his own feet as a free and independent actor -- will lack the feeling of dignity and self-worth.

People who are unemployed for long periods of time feel quite bad about themselves. This is both good and bad. It's bad that they have feelings of lacking worth; but the fact they feel this at all shows that they still have dignity and aspire to work.

But what of people who have either completely lost that feeling, due to being comfortably idle for very long periods of time, or who never had that feeling at all, due to growing up in an environment which did not foster a respect work?

And what happens when a government sets out affirmatively to promote idleness and, by relative comparison of cost weighted against benefit, discourage industry?

As Lincoln also said (same link as above):

"No country can sustain, in idleness, more than a small percentage of its numbers. The great majority must labor at something productive." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, "Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, Milwaukee, Wisconsin" (September 30, 1859), p. 479.

The opposite of a virtuous cycle is a vicious one.


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posted by Ace at 02:30 PM

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