When one reads 19th century British literature, one of the constant sources of tension is as to who is “a gentleman”. As used in this context, it was a term that applied not merely to manners and honor, but to economic status. A gentleman was not “in trade”. He did not have “a job”. He might own estates which he oversaw, though if he actively worked them his case became much weaker (“gentleman farmer” was more often a term of dismissal as approbation.) He might be a clergyman or a doctor (but not a surgeon — cutting flesh and sawing bone was not manual for a “gentleman.) He might be a military officer. But generally to be a “gentleman” one was expected to live off one’s investments and devote one’s time to either society or unpaid accomplishments. Many accomplishments in fields ranging from literature to philosophy to economics to science during the time period were the work of “gentlemen” who pursued these fields as “hobbies”.
I don’t think this was necessarily a good or healthy attitude towards work, but it’s interesting to me that in the modern US we have nearly diametrically opposed social/economic prejudices. The idle rich could not be more scorned, and it is the object of everyone to claim membership in the “middle class” and ideally to claim “working class roots” as well.
With each presidential debate it struck me more that both presidential candidates are wrong about taxes: wrong both in that neither man’s proposals are realistically enactable, in that they are not the correct responses to our current circumstances, and that they suggest some basic problems with their political philosophies.
McCain wants to provide a tax cut to all tax payers — though since the vast majority of real tax dollars paid by those in the top 10% of the income spectrum, the greatest savings will be experienced by “the rich”. McCain also wants to cut the corporate tax rate to bring it in line with other developed nations. And he promises to cut spending so much that he’ll nonetheless balance the budget.
I used to dream about the great things I would set up someday when I had the money. I had ambitions of expanding Casper College into Wyoming’s second university. I had aspirations of setting up a scholarship fund that would help worthy students attending college. I built businesses in my mind, crafted scenarios where, once I had the money, I could start doing things that would make a difference.
To an extent, those dreams remain, even though reality is slowly draining my hopes that I’ll ever have millions of dollars lying around to fund these projects. Still, in my spare time, I think of smaller ways to make a mark on the world. I think of soup kitchens or adopt a family or something that would help some poor family get back on their feet, or at least endure another day.
It doesn’t take a Catholic conscience to want to help those less fortunate, and it doesn’t take supernatural charity to want to give a hand up to those coming after us. That much decency, I believe, exists in most, if not all of us.