Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Progressive Roots and Silent Tigers

When I was little I would sometimes ask my Grandma to tell me a story about "the olden days". She was born in 1892 and she was a Grandma straight out of central casting; short, plump, with wavy gray hair and enough wrinkles to make a prune jealous. She would always start with "Things were very different when I was a little girl". She'd then go on to tell me about Christmas Day supper - no presents, block ice delivered by horse drawn wagons, and all the things one could buy with 2 cents. She had seen many wondrous inventions like airplanes, washing machines and deodorant for men, but she never said a word about politics. That, apparently, was Grandpa's realm.

He had grown up in the mines, and was a solid pro-union Democrat all his life. I learned later, much later, that he had also been a bit of a drinker and a "brawler" before Grandma made a church-goin' family man out of him. That would explain why Grandpa didn't like to tell stories to little boys about "the olden days". Too bad. I'm sure he must have had some classics.

So now I'm reading Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism as part of the Voxiversity group. For the record, I went 9-1 on the first quiz. Vox seems to be taking his time with this one, so I've been able to read ahead. The first 3 chapters cover the early years of Mussolini and Hitler, and a thumbnail sketch of the life and times of Woodrow Wilson. What is most striking about this time in our history is the popularity of fascist/socialist ideals.

Democratic Capitalism was seen as having run its course. It was too messy, too chaotic, with too much wealth and power concentrated in too few hands. Liberty and individualism would need to be replaced. It would be easy to demonize the early fascists/socialists, call them misguided, put them in a nice, neat little box and label them as damaged goods. Easy, except for the fact that they had no foreknowledge of what would transpire in the coming decades, and for me personally, the case of Grandpa's tigers.

In my mother's house are two pictures of tigers. They are finely woven with silk thread in the oriental style. Grandpa received them as a gift from a group of Japanese miners for his efforts in improving their working conditions. The exact details of what he did are unknown. Did he risk his next promotion? Did he risk his job; his life? Did he get what he wanted, or settle for what he could get? Nobody knows. Grandma did most of the talking. We only know that he helped them somehow, and they were grateful. Which brings us back to the importance of individual liberty.

No matter the system, it is the individual that senses injustice, judges right from wrong, decides on action or non-action, and ultimately learns to live with his own conscience. When the meetings are over, the arguments made, the deals cut, the doors close and we have only ourselves to combat. Collectivism can do none of these things without appealing to and convincing the individual. The lone conscience, searching itself, will always have the final word.

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