By now everyone has met Julia, the lucky woman in the unusual Obama campaign commercial who is looked after from cradle to grave by a compassionate federal government. With the help of the government, Julia is educated, gets free health care, free birth control, and subsidized student loans. When she decides to have a child (with no significant other, of course), government is there to help with health care and school programs (but no daycare?). When Julia retires, Medicare and Social Security look after her needs. And so on.
This happy story made me wonder what the difference is between Julia and the people Alexis de Tocqueville calls "place-hunters" (see Democracy in America, Vol. II, Part 2, chapter 20). The place-hunter is someone whose ambition finds its primary outlet in seeking a government job, a type that Tocqueville fears will arise in modern democracies. True, Julia seems to be on her own when it comes to choosing a job (she's a web-designer), though she does get government subsidized small business loans and tax credits to get started. But when so many of the major problems in life are solved by government, don't you become something like a place-hunter? At the least, you rely on government almost as much as someone who does have a government job.
So what's the problem with that? Here's our French observer, writing in the 1830's, long before the full-blown welfare state had developed:
"I shall not say that this universal and immoderate desire for public offices is a great social evil; that it destroys the spirit of independence in each citizen and spreads a venal and servile humor in the whole body of the nation; that it suffocates the virile virtues; nor shall I have it observed that an industry of this kind creates only an unproductive activity and agitates the country without making it fruitful: all that is easily understood."
No, the real problem Tocqueville sees is more political. In a "people of place-hunters" (think about that awful idea!), there can never be enough government jobs to satisfy the ever growing number of people who want such a job. And this creates a permanent class of discontented people who demand change "solely out of the need to make some places vacant", or, we may add, solely to acquire more benefits. And can there ever be enough money to satisfy the ever growing demand for more government assistance? Whether out of compassion or the desire to win political support, governments try to attract partisans by giving people jobs (or healthcare, retirement and vacation benefits, etc.); but instead, Tocqueville thinks governments end up endangering themselves, as we perhaps see in places like Greece.
Tocqueville concludes that it would be "more honest and more sure" for governments to teach each citizen "the art of being self-sufficient." Wouldn't that be better than a "people of place-hunters"?
Men and Women
Defending these other Julias--and not the woman in Orwell's 1984. From Robert Herrick:
WHENAS in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.
... Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free ;
O how that glittering taketh me !
You really wanna get rough with Julia, try John Donne's "Julia," Elegy 14:
Her hands, I know not how, used more to spill
The food of others than herself to fill ;
But O ! her mind, that Orcus, which includes
Legions of mischiefs, countless multitudes
Of formless curses, projects unmade up,
Abuses yet unfashion'd, thoughts corrupt,
Misshapen cavils, palpable untroths,
Inevitable errors, self-accusing loaths.
These, like those atoms swarming in the sun,
Throng in her bosom for creation.
I blush to give her halfe her due ; yet say,
No poison's half so bad as Julia.
Finally, try Julia Shaw, who unfavorably compares Obama's Julia to Tocqueville's American woman, whose superiority was responsible for American greatness.
At the AEI annual dinner Dr. Leon Kass explains life--work, love, service, and truth. He concludes with the need for hope:
In this most fundamental sense, hope is not a hope for change, but an affirmation of permanence, of the permanent possibility of a meaningful life in a hospitable world. Hope in this sense is not only a Judeo-Christian virtue. It is not only the most essential--and abundant--American virtue. It is the condition of the possibility of all human endeavor and all human fulfillment. Yes, there is still much spiritual poverty in America. But we go forward with confidence that our spiritual hungers can yet be nurtured in this almost promised land, provided that we have the courage to insist that the well-being of the spirit is central to our notion of national success and personal flourishing. This war on poverty--on our spiritual poverty--will not add a cent to the deficit. It can enrich our lives beyond measure.
Today, poverty, like pollution, needs a deeper understanding.
NY Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin exhibits American virtues, not Chinese ones. One could conclude this from simple observation as well from this book on Chinese (PRC) professional baseketball. "Why are there no Jeremy Lins [point guards] coming out of China?" The answer lies in politics--the sports of a free society and those of a totalitarian one.
Speaking of Lincoln, note this 1860 cartoon of the presidential candidates, featuring baseball metaphors. Lincoln installed a baseball diamond on the White House grounds, as Diana Schaub relates in her classic essay on the All-American sport.
Plastic cutlery at the Ayers-Dohrns? This is a sign of cultural rot. Why is bankrupt Illinois still funding this outfit?
Or maybe plastique?
UPDATE: State Humanities Councils receive support from the NEH. The House should put the NEH Chairman before an oversight Committee.