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The Way Back

Restoring the Promise of America

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Publication Details

Paperback / 392 pages
ISBN: 9781594039591
AVAILABLE: 11/14/2017

The Way Back
Restoring the Promise of America

The promise of America is that, with ambition and hard work, anyone can rise to the top. But now the promise has been broken, and we’ve become an aristocracy where rich parents raise rich kids and poor parents raise poor kids.

We’ve been told that the changes are structural, that there’s nothing we can do about this. But that doesn’t explain why other First World countries are beating us hands down on the issue of mobility.

What’s different about America is our politics. An ostensibly progressive New Class of comfortably rich professionals, media leaders, and academics has shaped the contours of American politics and given us a country of fixed economic classes. It is supported by the poorest of Americans, who have little chance to rise, an alliance of both ends against the middle that recalls the Red Tories of parliamentary countries. Because they support an aristocracy, the members of the New Class are Tories, and because of their feigned concern for the poor, they are Red Tories.

The Way Back explains the revolution in American politics, where political insurgents have challenged the complacent establishment of both parties, and shows how we can restore the promise of economic mobility and equality by pursuing socialist ends through capitalist means.

About the Author

F.H. Buckley is a Foundation Professor at George Mason University’s Scalia School of Law. He is a frequent media guest and has appeared on Morning Joe, CNN, The Rush Limbaugh Show, C‑SPAN, NPR and numerous other outlets.

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In 1977 the united states launched the voyager space probe with the goal of explaining planet Earth to the residents of other galaxies. Aboard was a gold-plated phonograph record, bearing greetings from UN Secretary-General (and former Nazi officer) Kurt Waldheim, as well as a sample of our music: Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode and three pieces by Bach.

We don’t know what the space aliens might have made of this. Saturday Night Live reported that we received a message back: Send more Chuck Berry. For his part, William F. Buckley thought that three selections from Bach was rather like boasting, but if so this was remedied by Jimmy Carter’s lugubrious message: “This is a present from a small, distant world… We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.”

Notwithstanding its provenance, there wasn’t anything particularly American about what was on the record. Suppose, then, that you were charged with selecting a single text (this time on a flash drive) to explain America to Kurt Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians. Would it be the Constitution? The Declaration of Independence? The Gettysburg Address? Very reasonable suggestions, all of them, but I’d choose a much-derided children’s novel by Horatio Alger, Ragged Dick. The book is never read today, which is a shame, since it is as witty as anything by Mark Twain and Alger’s street- sharp urchin provides a fascinating look at the streets and slang of nineteenth century New York. Dick has the wiles to escape the con man’s snares, but he isn’t a thief and has a personal code of honor. He’s also ambitious and smart enough to pro t from the book’s simple messages: that all labor is respectable, that poverty is no bar to advancement, that getting ahead requires education and saving one’s money.

Those unfashionable messages, and not a lack of literary merit, explain why the book is scorned today. It celebrates, unabashedly, the traditional American virtues of open-handedness, pluck, and optimism. Mostly, it’s a book about mobility, about making it in a country that welcomed those who wished to get ahead; and that message, not the Constitution or the Declaration, is at the heart of the idea of America. A boy with Dick’s drive, intelligence and honesty would make his way where others lagged behind, for mobility wasn’t the same thing as equality of outcome.

Ragged Dick is very much an American hero. Other cultures don’t celebrate the rags-to-riches arriviste as Americans do. In France, Molière’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme mocked middle class pretentions, and Honoré de Balzac told us that great fortunes which came out of nowhere were built on crime. The English gave us “ill-bred” and “bounder,” words never heard in America. For the lowly born Pip, the dream of advancement was a cruel snare in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Not surprisingly, things were worse still in Russia, and in Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov the desire to rise bred a murderous resentment.

Even in America, twentieth century writers lost faith in economic mobility. F. Scott Fitzgerald seemed to agree with Balzac about the criminal origins of new money, since the Great Gatsby’s wealth came from illegal bootlegging. As for the promise of economic success, Arthur Miller lectured audiences on its hollowness. But America was a mobile society for most of the twentieth century, and during Horatio Alger’s time—the late nineteenth century—a good many people followed Ragged Dick’s path up the ladder. More recently, however, the ladder has been rolled up, and Alger’s America is another country. The level of income inequality today is higher than at any time in the last 90 years. There’s even less mobility in America than in most First World countries. That’s new, and it will transform American politics.

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