I first heard the expression ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ during the 60s. At that time, I had the quaint notion that work, hard or otherwise, was the means through which most people earn a living, including me. I still believe that work has nothing to do with ethics. It has all to do with survival.
The expression came into being in 1926 along with quantum physics. That was a time when buzzwords and phrases of Kant and Hegel were in vogue among intellectual circles. It was also a time when Engels, Marx, and Lenin forged the first modern socialist state. Although the philosophic justification for socialism was partially derived from interpretations of ideologies posited by philosophers dating back to classic Greece, modern socialism found its most eloquent voice in the ideologies of Kant and Hegel. So did Nazism and Fascism. Socialism, Fascism, and Nazism draw their ideology from Kantian and Hegelian philosophy. All three share the ideal of totalitarian supremacy of the state.
As is always the case, political movements are generated and supported by the prevailing circumstances of the time. Nazism was a searing but short-lived flash in the pan of history. So was fascism. But after World War Two, socialism was invigorated by the Soviet Union. A titanic battle, the Cold War, was waged between two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States: more precisely, it was a battle between Socialism and Capitalism.
I remember the optimism I felt when the Berlin Wall came down. I was encouraged not because Russia had lost the Cold War, but because the Soviet Union had at least been symbolically contained. However, ideologies die hard. Socialists continue their quest for a socialist world. They fight for it with guns in many countries. But their most powerful weapon is words. It has always been so. It is especially so now when words on placards are seen by millions during street protests- – -words that incite class warfare, words that advocate mindless revolution, words that instill hatred for the United States.
Political commentators are baffled by the phenomenon of Socialist and Nazi individuals protesting in the same crowd. But the reason for that is simple: they both seek the political confusion that leads to a vacuum that advances their seemingly opposite ideologies. That has worked for them many times throughout history. Socialists and Nihilists are cut from the same ragged cloth. Their simplistic placards are only part of their arsenal against free societies. There are also more sophisticated expressions to help advance their cause. One of them is ‘work ethic.’
I first heard that term sometime after the 60s. I still hear it. It is virtually always used in a pejorative sense. Promoting their thinly veiled agenda, socialists denigrate ‘WASPS’ (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) for the continued practice of hard work allegedly inherited from their Puritan ancestors. But ‘WASPS’ are not the Socialists’ only target. No ethnic group is exempt from being berated by socialists for its willing ‘bondage’ to hard work for success. They even cite the labor of the biblical Joseph as the paradigm of capitalism’s inherently dehumanizing system. They advocate the notion that it is no longer necessary for people to do work they do not enjoy. But, they provide no guidance as to how to motivate people to remove garbage other than by paying them for that service. Industry and technology, they claim, has fulfilled the criteria necessary for a socialist takeover of industrialized societies. Echoes of Karl Marx reverberate on the streets of Athens and on Wall Street.
A day or so ago, I heard a Wall Street ‘occupier’ actually use the word ‘bourgeoisie’! I wanted to shout through the TV screen and tell the young man that in America we don’t use a medieval word to describe a workingman, as Marx did. We now call the ‘bourgeoisie’ the ‘middle class.’ ‘Bourgeoisie’ is straight out of Political Science 101. That kid probably has a cell phone, an iPod, and a fully functioning bathroom which (as I’m led to believe) he may not bother to use on his way to the forum. His financial problems may not be his fault, and I sympathize with him if that is the case, but he may be protesting alongside a professional bum. Judging by his dress and demeanor, however, I believe he needs wisdom more than he does a better job.
Am I taking sides in the Wall Street controversy? Well, when the protesters make up their minds as to just what it is that they want, I’ll consider whether or not I’ll side with them or not. In the meanwhile, I know that I’m strongly against the bailout of corporations. That disgraceful episode was inconceivable when corporations and I both had to adhere to our financial responsibilities. I know that as difficult as it is for me to keep up with my overpriced bills, I neither expect nor desire a bailout. I also know that ‘social justice’- – -a socialist notion- – -is patently unjust.
Although Lenin had been an aristocrat, his hatred for nobility was understandably ignited by his personal experience. (His brother was hanged as a result of a failed attempt to assassinate the Tsar, and his sister, arrested with his brother, was banished to her family estate in Kazan.) Unlike Lenin, my political views are not influenced by personal experience. I have always opposed socialism in principle.
I hope that most young people in the Occupy Wall Street crowd will someday understand that in the Soviet Union you were forced to grow potatoes even if you were born to be an artist. In contrast, the least known but best advantage of capitalism is that you have an option to step aside and be poor (at a level of your choice) if you prefer not to compete for wealth. I’ve lived under the capitalist competitive radar all my life and have enjoyed a modest but wonderful life as an artist.
Please, for your sake, if you are young, think before you leap.