Since 1894 Americans have dubbed the first Monday in September as Labor Day. Dubbed, but not necessarily celebrated. For many Americans, Labor Day is merely another day of labor, but at the very least the so-called holiday is an acknowledgement and reminder of the laborers and labor that built and still sustain the greatest nation on earth. Work is what makes things – all things – work.
In many lands laborers have always been looked down on. When the 300-year reign of the Romanov family ended in Russia in 1917, 93% of the Russian people were peasants. As it turned out, the new communist Soviet system was of no help. As for China, her entire history has included the suppression of the working class.
Meaningful, joyful work is chiefly a western value. When today’s teens hear the expression, “the West,” they probably think of California or Colorado, certainly not of “western” movies. Their minds probably don’t rush initially to Greece, Rome, modern Europe and America.
But they should. The West, meaning western civilization and the locations that birthed and cradled it, isn’t just a vague historical term. It’s an idea and ideal that has been incubating and advancing for barely three centuries. That ideal has been cherished not by China, Russia, and Iran but by Western Europe and North America. It is the belief that we can govern ourselves, that political freedom releases creativity and inventiveness, that a man’s home is his castle, that his field or workshop is his domain, and that unelected monarchs, dukes, imams, (today we must add bureaucrats) are no more favored by God than the rest of us.
One of the West’s chief intellects was neither too educated nor too literary to work. Samuel Johnson, author of England’s first dictionary and a precursor of the work of Noah Webster, worked as a shoemaker, a book stitcher, and a tutor even while he was writing his famous literary works. As Mark Twain put it, “The western world’s first dictionary maker was never too cute to work.”
Two recent visits to Samuel Johnson’s beloved London confirmed two of my fears about western civilization. One is the fear that western values, including the work ethic, are imperiled by uncontrolled immigration. Not that immigrants are lazy. Most of them are probably seeking work. But according to many London locals in hotels and stores and at least two newspapers, immigration has increased crime more than it has improved the work force.
The other fear is that both America and Europe, whose roots are Judeo-Christian, are chopping off their roots. Imbedded in those vast roots is the teaching, “He that will not work shall not eat.” Corporations, especially farming companies, are neither nourishing nor promoting the work ethic when they pay immigrants almost nothing, thereby creating and sustaining an underclass.
Western values, including the work ethic, came to America by way of Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and Philadelphia, not Mecca, Tehran, Moscow, or Beijing. This assertion is no slight of the Middle East or Asian nations, but a factual observation of the path taken by such values as individual freedom, representative democracy, the elevation of women, freedom of religion, and meaningful, productive labor.
One could write volumes on the sins of the West, but no one can reasonably argue that the people of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are as free as Americans or as well-fed. As for the economic and religious root-chopping going on in Europe and America, it is being done by progressives, primarily in academia, and irony of ironies, by the corporate world. Universities continue to advance multiculturalism, denying that the culture that built them is exceptional.
Those who apologize for Western values should read more of Kipling, particularly his “Ballad of East and West.” A lover of India and his native Britain, Kipling believed as did Lincoln in “the mystic chords of memory,” that is, remembering who you are and what brought you to where you are. “Forget your folks and you forget yourself,” lanky Abe proclaimed.
When famous newspaper editor Horace Greeley editorialized, “Go west, young man, and grow up along with the country,” he was promoting territorial expansion in America’s geographical west.” God forbid that we allow America-haters, foreign or domestic, to destroy what “the West” means in its philosophical/governmental sense and what it has done for the human race.
Much labor and new thinking about governance and the value of the individual are what birthed us. The same things will keep Western civilization alive, but only if we truly cherish and defend them.