Text and Talk With Dr Patrick
09 January 2021
“Such is of the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”
These are lines from (I think) Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings describing the condition of fallen mankind. Be it remembered that work is a curse: Because you have done this thing, “cursed is the earth in your work, with labor and toil shall you eat thereof all the days of your life” (Genesis 1:12). Throughout the ages a good deal of energy has been spent avoiding work, so that in every society there is a class of persons who are freed from the necessity of labor, these would be at present those who possess enough capital to invest, as well as members of the bureaucracy at the local or national levels, who, although they may be reassigned cannot be fired. In a broad sense members of the professions, although they may work very hard, are viewed as being freed of the necessity of laboring in order to pursue their vocation.
The small hands who move the wheels of the world are thought of as having a job, not a vocation. In the Old Testament these were the people of the land, for whose protection here were special provisions. They are always there; land owning serfs in the middle ages, cobblers and millers and carpenters who possessed a skill but no property. Those who wove the Anjou Apocalypse tapestry in the 1370s, the builders of the great cathedrals, the principal activity of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, whose names are lost.
This class of workers revolted in England in 1381; in Germany in the 1520s , where they were put down with violence. After the industrial revolution relocated labor from the land to cities, the peasants of industrial society constituted a group sufficiently large and sufficiently vocal to claim the interest of the governing class, and indeed “Labor,” after the near revolution of 1830, claimed the interest of politicians who would variously seek justice for the laboring classes, or appease them, or seduce them for the interests of the governing class.
Viewed realistically, it is the small hands who make American society habitable. This essay began with a reflection of whoever it is who paints the white lines on the roads. They must do so in the early hours of the morning, for they are seldom seen, but without those white lines it is impossible to drive after dark if you are over seventy. Then there is the cleaning lady, legal or illegal, who makes $10.50 an hour. In recent days those who work through the night to stock the shelves in grocery stores. Plumbers’ helpers, you can make your own list. This is a class of persons no longer poor. The driver of an eighteen-wheeler may earn six figures, as may the operators of the digging and concrete crushing machines. But they are still members of the class I am trying to describe. The cleaning lady and the backhoe operator are bound together by a common culture. They watch television. They do not read books. They do not know who or what Derida and Richard Rorty, subjectivism, deconstruction, or critical theory might be, and although they are perfectly capable of understanding these ideas, they do not find them interesting. They are not socialists because they have property, and yes, they are disproportionately white, although this class will include numbers of Hispanics and blacks. There are generally not socialists, although it has been pointed out that voting socialist would be in their own interest. And in an age of atheism they are disproportionately Christian. They are also disproportionately uneducated in the sense that they do not always go to college. In terms of the criteria that have been established by sociologists and politicians they are racists because they do not understand why black persons who seem to them to lead disorganized lives should be favored by the government, but those minority persons who work and who accept their vision are welcomed to the table by them. They are fiercely independent. Probably they are genetically disproportionately Scotch-Irish. They are a diminishing class, essentially doomed, because urbanism recruits them away from their often unconsciously held principles, because the drug culture ravages them, and because television , apart from Duck Dynasty, recruits their children into modernity.
While those who say that the Founders established an order that benefited themselves have a point, it was on the behalf of this group that the nation was founded. Gordon S. Wood’s study of how a monarchical, hierarchical society became equalitarian in about ten years ends by pointing out that although what Burke would have called the unbought grace of life was abrogated, the American settlement brought unimagined benefits to the class I have been describing, Jefferson’s small, independent farmers and shopkeepers. Disproportionately, they work with their hands. But these are the people who about 2010 found a voice in the Tea Party: According to political analyst Scott Rasmussen. Tea party participants “think federal spending, deficits and taxes are too high, and they think no one in Washington is listening to them, and that latter point is really, really important.” But how can the political class listen, when once one goes to Washington one is recruited into a conversation run by lobbyists, a culture whose voice is PBS, and whose most important citizens are not the folks back home but the donors that make reelection possible. Historically, resentment of the Federal government’s bailout of everybody but themselves, was, oddly, the spark that ignited a small American fire. Not well-versed in economic theory, they stubbornly refuse to believe that printing paper money to fuel an expansive state will work out well. Their work is not valued. The small hands that do the work of the world are just supposed to be there, while what is valuable is technology, medicine, lawyering, and politics. And what is profitable is trading in non-existent money.
What we have just been witnessing, over the last decade, culminating in last week, is another peasant revolt, a large group of the small hands who went to Washington convinced that the November election was rigged. Their movement has religious and economic roots. Opposition to it is fueled by hatred, or rather by something worse, by contempt. Hillary Clinton defined the peasants as deplorable. What will be remembered from last week will not be the riots but the words of the ?CNN commentator Anderson Cooper “Look at them, they’re high-fiving each other for this deplorable display of completely unpatriotic, completely against law and order, completely unconstitutional behavior, it’s stunning. And they’re going to go back to the Olive Garden and to the Holiday Inn they’re staying at, or the Garden Marriott, and they’re going to have some drinks and talk about the great day they had in Washington. They stood up for nothing other than mayhem.” What will be remembered of Cooper’s remark is the tone; these people did not stay at the Ritz-Carlton or the St. Regis; they are the common lot.
One may ask what fuels this attitude or superiority and its complement, contempt. It is the perfection of the attitude of Enlightenment philosophers, whose implicit claim was that they have seen through the dark superstitions of the past, to enter a world in which knew no bounds other than taste. Often the taste of the small hands does not measure up, and the wars of recent days can be seen as differences not over policy but over taste. The mere sight of the president throws the coastal elites into a state of inexpressible rage. He is and represents the wrong sort, so wrong that no rule of courtesy or honesty impinges upon attempts to remove and discredit him.
The other thing that will be memorable from this disastrous week is the attempt to silence any criticism of the impending glory days. The capitol riots will be used by the left, as was the Reichstag fire, to justify extreme measures. I note that it unleashed the hatred of Peggy Noonan for the president and all his works. In any event, he will go away, and the troublesome small hands will remain unrepresented.