Saturday, July 24, 2010

God and Milk

‎"God has a sense of humor. Trust me, every day you will do something to make Him snort milk out His nose."

(Attributed to John McManny)

Friday, July 23, 2010

What, Exactly, Are Schools For in the Good Society?

I have been working on a grant proposal to create a course on "The Good Society." I want to build up from the small institutions to the large, focusing on the process of making well-ordered and virtuous lives, institutions, and societies. Yes, I know, there are many arguments to be had about what constitutes good. That is a somewhat interesting part of the making process.

My subject today, though, is the unexpected puzzle I ran in to in making up the core ladder of institutions came in the middle. At the starting point, we have families and religious institutions. At the end we have the economy and the state.

In the middle my first instinct was to put schools. This, I think, is the keystone of the arch of the liberal view of society. But I am following Tocqueville as my guide, and he would put something else at the keystone: voluntary associations. And that is what I am inclined to go with, a theoretical and empirical consideration of Tocqueville and Robert Putnam on the state of voluntary associations in civil society.

Which leaves me with a puzzle: how to think about schools? On the left, they are agents of the state or, more cynically, of the market. On the right, they are expressions of the family and the religious institution. I can't, at this moment, see what independent foundation schools rest on, what distinctive good they serve. And I say this as a teacher, married to an education reformer, with three kids in school.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Schumpeter Tweaks Intellectuals

Joseph Schumpeter keeps up a running critique of intellectuals in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. One of my favorites is this one:

Syndicalism “really appeals to the workman’s instincts – and not, like Marxism, to the intellectual’s idea of what the workman’s instincts ought to be – by promising what he can understand, viz., the conquest of the shop he works in, conquest by physical violence, ultimately by the general strike.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Schumpeter's Social Molecules are Families

Joseph Schumpeter, in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, offers a rich idea of both social mobility and the place of family lineages in social structure:

it can be shown in all cases, first, that human molecules rise and fall within the class into which they are born, in a manner which fits the hypothesis that they do so because of their relative aptitudes; and it can also be shown, second, that they rise and fall across the boundary lines of their class in the same manner. This rise and fall into higher and lower classes as a rule takes more than one generation. These molecules are therefore families rather than individuals.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Schumpeter's Profound Point: The Bourgeois Family is What Profit Was For

Joseph Schumpeter, in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, argues that capitalism is undermining the bourgeois home and the bourgeois family. Many others have argued the same.

He further notes something important that I had not noticed before: the bourgeois home and family were a mainspring of the profit motive. The capitalist worked hard for a profit. And what did he do with that profit? He used it to support his home, his family, and his posterity.

If we stop having homes and families, as many "new girl order" women and "child-man" men have done, we stop having a deep reason to save, invest, or even to pursue profit in the first place.