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Posts Tagged ‘self-reliance’

American Self-Creation

Abraham Lincoln cherished and annotated Mary G. Chandler’s popular 1854 book, The Elements of Character, which urged readers to take control of themselves and “build up a worthy Character.”

Self-improvement books of this sort are an American perennial. David Brooks’s The Road to Character is squarely in this tradition of willed self-creation. My commentary on Brooks’s new book appears in the latest issue of the Boston Review here. Chandler

[The column is titled, “The Problem with David Brooks.” This is the editors’ title, not mine. I think Brooks just displays what may be an American problem.]roadtocharacter-web

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Deservingness

As we approach the “Season of Giving,” when Americans are particularly inclined by the Christmas spirit – and also by the looming deadline for tax-deductible contributions – to share with the needy, we again consider the American way of helping the poor. This time last year, I noted some of the peculiarities of the American way of private charity: how arbitrary it can be, how dependent on the tastes of individual givers, how much it is a matter of noblesse oblige rather than human rights. A post a couple of years before that pointed out that government care for the unfortunate has been grudging and judgmental going back to colonial times, although it became more expansive over the generations. Here, I focus on Americans’ distinctive principle that needy recipients must be deserving of help, on our disdain for The Undeserving Poor (the title of Michael Katz’s important historical study.)

Source: AARP

Source: AARP

The impetus for this post is the dust-up, at least in the liberal blogosphere (e.g. here), around a comment by Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) on food stamps. When challenged on Facebook by a constituent to defend the Christian morality of his vote for cutting the program, Cramer’s posted reply was to cite 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Cramer also asked, “When did America become a country where working for benefits is no longer noble?” Whatever the substantive concerns around the food stamp program (e.g., here) and whatever the facts about recipients working – by far most of the able do indeed work – a question arises: Why do we care if they work?

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