Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Question of Honor

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Question of Honor

Article excerpt

In a track meet, we do not expect the victor in a 50-yard dash to go back to the person who came in last and strike him, berate him and invite the crowd to denounce him for his failure. However, that is what the economic "winners" in our society do every day.

A conservative broadcaster publicly states that "90 percent of the homeless are human refuse." A powerful politician presents the laziness of the poor as an indisputable fact. Another leading conservative depicts the poor as promiscuous, irresponsible and dishonest.

More and more, opposition to welfare, or the desire to greatly curtail it, has become a litmus test of conservative earnestness and patriotism.

A conservative a few years ago might have been defined as one who believed in preserving traditional Western ideals or as a person skeptical of modern, materialistic social panaceas.

A desire to affirm the beliefs of the past is consistent with conservatism, to the extent that these beliefs fall under the general heading of honor associated with previous ages. For example, 19th-century gentlemen, like conservatives today, might well have upheld the ideals of courtesy, loyalty toward families, self-control and a sense of obligation to society and to God.

To define conservatism strictly as an assumption that government ought to be reduced to bare bones, that taxes ought to be set at recklessly low levels - or that welfare recipients are people to be blamed and punished - is to debase the broader meaning of conservativism and to rob the philosophy of moral credibility.

In America, we do not have a hereditary nobility like that of old Europe, in which not only wealth and privilege but complicated rules of conduct were handed down from one generation to the next. In the European aristocracy, there was potential for oppression and injustice, but also sacrifice and philanthropy.

In the American class system, membership in the upper class is based only on economic achievement. Though this stratification seems to have a rough democracy, it has its shortcomings. When people feel too strongly that their attainments are exclusively a result of their efforts, they are less likely to sympathize with those less fortunate.

Many of the social protections we have today, such as retirement pensions and labor laws, were started in 19th-century Europe by members of the upper class. Some reforms may have been intended to blunt a perceived threat from socialist movements. But in England, the conscience of aristocrats often contributed to humane legislation that prohibited the slave trade, expanded voting rights, put a stop to certain hazards in mines and factories, shortened working hours and gave relief to the unemployed. …

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