The real poverty behind America’s crisis
The fundamental crisis in the United States is not political or even financial, but cultural — the deterioration of a society into herds of utterly self-absorbed souls, focused entirely on getting what the commercials, pundits, and demagogues tell them they need, completely clueless about how to make good lives for themselves, much less how to create and govern a healthy society.
The moral crisis that has so absorbed conservative evangelicals for four decades — as serious as it is — is but a symptom of the underlying disease. Christians who want to see justice done for the poor and oppressed (and for the broader society as well) must attack the root cause, sharing not only a verbal witness to the abundant, eternal life Jesus offers, not only mercy ministries that help people in desperate need, but also the knowledge and habits they have used to make their own way in the world. Poverty, at its core, is a poverty of relationship with people who know how to not be poor.
Sohrab Ahmari interviews Harvard University political scientist Harvey Mansfield about the 2012 election, the real cost of entitlements, and why he sees reason for hope:
The Crisis of American Self-Government
… “The Democrats [during the recent election] said nothing about their plans for the future. All they did was attack the other side. Obama’s campaign consisted entirely of saying ‘I’m on your side’ to the American people, to those in the middle. No matter what comes next, this silence about the future is ominous.”
At one level Mr. Obama’s silence reveals the exhaustion of the progressive agenda, of which his presidency is the spiritual culmination, Mr. Mansfield says. That movement “depends on the idea that things will get better and better and progress will be made in the actualization of equality.” It is telling, then, that during the 2012 campaign progressives were “confined to defending what they’ve already achieved or making small improvements—student loans, free condoms. The Democrats are the party of free condoms. That’s typical for them.”
But Democrats’ refusal to address the future in positive terms, he adds, also reveals the party’s intent to create “an entitlement or welfare state that takes issues off the bargaining table and renders them above politics.” The end goal, Mr. Mansfield worries, is to sideline the American constitutional tradition in favor of “a practical constitution consisting of progressive measures the left has passed that cannot be revoked. And that is what would be fixed in our political system—not the Constitution.”
… “Democrats have their cultural argument, which is the attack on the rich and the uncaring,” Mr. Mansfield says. “So Republicans need their cultural arguments to oppose the Democrats’, to say that goodness or justice in our country is not merely the transfer of resources to the poor and vulnerable. We have to take measures to teach the poor and vulnerable to become a little more independent and to prize independence, and not just live for a government check. That means self-government within each self, and where are you going to get that except with morality, responsibility and religion?”
Read this important article by clicking here.
“Where are you going to get that except with morality, responsibility and religion?”
Where are they going to get that, except through transforming relationships — with God through Christ and with the people of God who can model for them the abundant life in all its dimensions.
Thank you for this helpful post. Mansfield gives us some things to think about, for sure. The way you point out the relational nature of poverty is insightful. Ultimately, the theological reality of fallen/sinful people being separated from God has tremendous implications for the social and economic issues Mansfield addresses.
The human reality, on the other hand, is that no one will choose self-government until they have been enslaved by something for several generations. Historically, the Founders wanted freedom rather than British rule, black slaves wanted freedom rather than white oppression, and young hedonists wanted sexual revolution in the 1960s rather than mid-20th century conservative moral mores. What will awaken our society from its enslavement to entitlement thinking? I’m afraid nothing other than complete economic collapse such as Greece and other European cultures.
Whereas the British, the white slave owners, and one’s elders (in the 1960s) were someone other than yourself that you could point to as the ultimate problem, our culture’s current form of slavery is enabled by our own depravity. Apart from Jesus Christ, most people are not willing to overcome this desire for free/easy hand-outs and work hard in our current society. It is too easy to receive hand-outs and too scary to go out on one’s own. It takes too much courage…something that is not a virtue in our culture for the most part.