Earlier in this exceptionally loosely linked series, I lamented that the conditions that set up the great American resurgence of the early 1980s aren’t, largely, there in our society today.
I’ll return to the example of France. The French nation and people have a culture that goes back, in one form or another, to pre-Roman times, through Vercingetorix, Charles Martel, Joan of Arc, Napoleon, a phalanx of seminal authors and artists, and centuries of stories, mythical and historical, that helped define what “French” actually meant, to the world but especially to France.
The demographic bleeding-out of World War I caused a crisis in faith in that myth – a malaise, to borrow a term that’s come up in this series before, and most certainly will again. With nearly 10% of the population dead, wounded or missing. and much of the country’s heartland devastated, it’d be fair to say France had Les Bleus
Unlike France in 1940, America hasn’t been demoralized by a great military, demographic and spiritual catastrophe in its recent past (and remember – the end of World War 1 and the invasion of France were about as far apart as 9/11 and today). In the past 40 years, America vanquished its greatest foe to date without a (non-proxy) shot being fired, followed by the greatest expansion in wealth in history. America should be stoked.
But we’re kind of the opposite today.
Every rational, sane, intellectually honest American knows our history – like the history of every nation – is full of imperfections, things that modern mores reject. That’s true of every country ever – at least, the ones that evolve positively. And for the most part, with a few extremely notable exceptions, Western Civilization has done that for the past few hundred years. The notion of “progress” in the human condition was meaningless before Western Civilization as we know it today started evolving.
And so Western culture – especially American culture – developed its own myths and legends. It was the land of opportunity, and of equality.
No, not equal opportunity for everyone at every time – but that, too, has progressed. And generations of immigrants choosing American, and disproportionally succeeding at it, are evidence that the myths have not only some basis in truth, but are in fact not merely myths of facts of American life.
But the powers that be in our culture have been working to undercut those parts of our national mythology.
Equality? In 1987, a Gallup poll showed that about a third of black Americans thought racism was a driving force in American life. In 2015, that figure had doubled. Does anyone seriously think that America got twice as racist between 1990 and the third year of Barack Obama’s third time?
Even more toxically in the long run? The notion that we are a nation of equal opportunity is being pecked away at by a league of leftist intellectual lilliputians.
I was listening to NPR a few weeks ago (so you don’t have to), a show called Marketplace, a show that tries to talk about economics.
They were interviewing Alyssa Quart, a woman whose career seems to revolve around convincing Americans that there is no opportunity. She was flogging a book, Bootstrapped: A Self-Made Myth And The Dystopian Social Safety Net It Created.
And it’s exactly as cynical as you might think:
“Boots were really important in the 19th century,” Quart said in an interview with “Marketplace” host Reema Khrais. “If you’re wealthy, you had someone who could help you put them on. If you’re a working man, you were struggling to pull them up every day. So pulling yourself over your bootstraps became this symbol of getting ahead in this country all on your own steam.”
In her latest book, “Bootstrapped: Liberating Ourselves From the American Dream,” Quart looks at how this symbol helped create what she calls the “dystopian social safety net.”
“If we have a country where the social welfare state is much more fragile than, say, other advanced industrialized countries,” said Quart, “you have people then relying on this ragtag network of nonprofits, volunteers, crowdfunding.”
Quart’s message is being spread on fertile ground, at least among Gen-Zs, who’ve grown up with the message that “Boomers” got all the money and left them the scraps (which, by the way, I also felt as an angry and under-employed GenXer just out of college).
Thing is, Quart made a good point – unintentionally, and in a way that indicts the modern Left’s sabotage of American culture. She endlessly belabors the lack of government insitutions to “support” the poor, which is the usual leftist twaddle. Because…
…of course the idea of dragging one’s self up, completely solo, “by one’s bootstraps” is rare to unheard of. Of course America had institutions that fostered that.
Communities – and by that, we’re talking social communities, not governments.
Which are the things Big Left has been aggressively demolishing.
So yeah – coming up by one’s bootstraps is hard. Never easier than in any other culture in history…
…but Big Left is going to change that.