The Un-P.C. Reason for Labor Day

By | 2017-09-07T09:04:09+00:00 September 3rd, 2017|
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Ah, Labor Day! For many, this national holiday is chiefly a bittersweet celebratory marker: a line in the sand (preferably at some winsome beach) between the season of recreation and the seasons of toil. Summer is packing up, autumn and winter are about to schedule their arrival.

Yet Labor Day is also something more. It is a national recognition of the value and dignity of hard work.

“Hard work”?

If the phrase has a displeasing feel in your mouth it is because it names a prime bourgeois value—one of those “Anglo-Protestant values” that Samuel Huntington extolled in his 2004 book Who Are We?

Back in 2004, Huntington was roundly criticized for advocating such retrograde ideas, even though (or maybe it was because) he pointed out, “Throughout American history people who were not white Anglo-Saxon Protestants have become Americans by adopting America’s Anglo-Protestant culture and political values. This benefitted them and the country.”

Surely, committed as we are now to the values of multicultural egalitarianism, we have progressed beyond the quaint ideas Huntington outlined?

To a large extent, the answer is “Yes.” We have, as a culture, gone beyond those ideas, though whether that distance marks “progress” or the opposite is an open question.

Or, to tell the truth, the question is not open at all. Our elite culture—the regnant culture of our universities and their emissaries in the media, the “helping professions,” and the ideological architects of corporate conformity—all reflexively reject the “Anglo-Protestant” bourgeois values that Huntington advocated. But the result has been an intellectual, moral, and social disaster.

This is something that two distinguished law professors, Amy Wax from the University of Pennsylvania and Larry Alexander from University of San Diego, argued with gimlet-eyed clarity in “Paying the price for breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture,” a much discussed op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer last month.

Wax and Alexander begin by rehearsing some of the many signposts of our current cultural decay. “Too few Americans,” they note, “are qualified for the jobs available.”

Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.

Doubtless, as Wax and Alexander acknowledge, there are many reasons for these pathologies. But a key culprit “in these and other maladies is the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.”

You know, or have at least heard about, what that “bourgeois culture” entails. Wax and Alexander provide a partial summary:

Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

All this used to be accounted common sense. But these days, common sense, especially in our elite universities, is a most uncommon commodity.

Wax and Alexander were roundly condemned by their university colleagues. Nearly half of Wax’s fellow law professors at Penn signed an “Open Letter” condemning her op-ed. “We categorically reject Wax’s claims,” they thundered. What they found especially egregious was Wax and Alexander’s observation that “All cultures are not equal” and Wax’s later statements in an interview that “Everyone wants to go to countries ruled by white Europeans” because “Anglo-Protestant cultural norms are superior.”

Heather Mac Donald provided a round-up of the (inadvertently) hilarious outrage that greeted Wax and Alexander’s op-ed and Wax’s subsequent statements. As an exhibition of moral smugness underwritten by logical incapacity, it is hard to beat. I think my favorite moment came in “An Open Letter to the University of Pennsylvania Regarding Hate Speech in Our Community” from an organization representing “marginalized” graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania. “Prior to teaching at Penn,” these poor darlings wail, “Wax was a professor at the University of Virginia Law School. On August 12th, White supremacists marched through the University of Virginia carrying torches, chanting ‘You will not replace us,’ and yelling racial and anti-semitic slurs.”

How’s that for guilt by association? Because Amy Wax used to teach at the University of Virginia, therefore she is somehow implicated in the racially fired events in Charlottesville in August. The authors of that embarrassing document really are “marginalized,” from elementary candidness, basic logical hygiene, or both.

But let’s return to Wax and Alexander’s Huntingtonian claim that Anglo-Protestant, a.k.a. “bourgeois” values are superior to the multi-culty alternatives. Do you doubt it? I don’t. As William Henry argued back in the 1990s in his undeservedly neglected book In Defense of Elitism, “the simple fact that some people are better than others—smarter, harder working, more learned, more productive, harder to replace.”

Moreover, “Some ideas are better than others, some values more enduring, some works of art more universal.” And it follows that

Some cultures, though we dare not say it, are more accomplished than others and therefore more worthy of study. Every corner of the human race may have something to contribute. That does not mean that all contributions are equal…. It is scarcely the same thing to put a man on the moon as to put a bone in your nose.

William Henry was a classical American liberal. He was a registered Democrat. He was a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union. He had collected numerous awards from black, homosexual, and religious organizations for writing about civil-rights issues. He gave money to various Left-wing causes. But he also understood that the preservation of what is valuable in liberal culture is “the willingness to assert unyieldingly that one idea, contribution or attainment is better than another.”

This is exactly what Professors Wax and Alexander argue in their disabused and forthright op-ed. The fact that they were met with hysterical calumny and abuse from their Lilliputian colleagues and the media is a testament to the accuracy of their diagnosis.

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By | 2017-09-07T09:04:09+00:00 September 3rd, 2017|

About the Author:

Roger Kimball
Roger Kimball is Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Encounter Books. Mr. Kimball lectures widely and has appeared on national radio and television programs as well as the BBC. He is represented by Writers' Representatives, who can provide details about booking him. Mr. Kimball's latest book is The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press, 2012). He is also the author of The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee). Other titles by Mr. Kimball include The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America (Encounter) and Experiments Against Reality: The Fate of Culture in the Postmodern Age (Ivan R. Dee). Mr. Kimball is also the author ofTenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (HarperCollins). A new edition of Tenured Radicals, revised and expanded, was published by Ivan R. Dee in 2008. Mr. Kimball is a frequent contributor to many publications here and in England, including The New Criterion, The Times Literary Supplement, Modern Painters, Literary Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Public Interest, Commentary, The Spectator, The New York Times Book Review, The Sunday Telegraph, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and The National Interest.


  1. Islamaphooey September 4, 2017 at 6:05 am

    And yet many people will sincerely tell you that a turd is a precious jewel. We have reached the point where reality is racist. As my wife keeps saying, “we are doomed”.

    • Zimriel September 4, 2017 at 6:30 am

      I didn’t know John Derbyshire swang that way :^)

  2. HueyLives September 4, 2017 at 6:08 am

    Missing from this assessment is the fact our judiciary is now culturally estranged from the founding fathers. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 55 were Protestant, as were 53 of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention. (This reflected the overwhelmingly Protestant character of the populace at the time.) Yet from 2010-2017, we had no Protestants on the Supreme Court — the body we charge with interpreting the intent of those founders. That may still be the case, as Neil Gorsuch was raised a Catholic, although he currently attends a Episcopalian Church.

    • Zimriel September 4, 2017 at 6:28 am

      To the extent the Episcopalians tolerate Spong, they aren’t even Christian anymore.

      Although interestingly, if Gorsuch is at least still a Deist, that would bring him back to the liberal side of the American Founders.

      • CplRock September 4, 2017 at 8:27 am

        Spong has long been dead. The Episcopal Church, at the national level, is idiotically leftist, but still Christian, and the individual congregations are very Christian and usually don’t mess with politics.

        Not to be anti-Catholic but you have to admit their current leader is a raving Socialist, and for the past decades there has been enough practice and protection of pederasty for one to reasonably assume it has tacit approval by that religious body.

        • thesheeplewillhavetheirsay September 4, 2017 at 9:20 am

          No, Episcopals worship the spirit of the age (liberalism). So that’s apostasy.

  3. J K Brown September 4, 2017 at 6:11 am

    One culture did once put a man on the moon, but not since certain changes started happening at their universities. Hmmm?

  4. Zimriel September 4, 2017 at 6:27 am

    Another classical American liberal, by this metric, might be Mark Lilla with his Kennedyesque book “The Once and Future Liberal”. Implying, again, that liberalism no longer to be had in the American Left.

  5. JJS_FLA September 4, 2017 at 6:34 am

    The ancient Romans built 80,000 km of pave road by the First Century AD.

    The Two Congos in the 21st Century have built between them a total of 4,000 km of pave road.

    Yet SJWs insist that both “cultures” are equally accomplished. “It takes a village!”

    • Cybergeezer September 4, 2017 at 7:02 am

      And the competition for the reigning village idiot is fierce!

    • Henry Miller September 4, 2017 at 10:05 am

      Le Maison Carrée vs. the mud hut?

  6. Henry Miller September 4, 2017 at 6:52 am

    I won’t go is far as to say that America is doomed, but I’m comfortable in asserting that the culture that made it what it was is on the way out. We’re rapidly losing a critical mass of that culture, which, it seems inevitable to me, will result in a decline into irrelevance. Sic transit gloria mundi–as went the Romans, so do we follow. Centuries hence, they’ll dig up our bones and write lengthy tomes detailing our slow suicide.

    • Cybergeezer September 4, 2017 at 7:01 am

      And much will be written about how it was so warmly embraced.

    • D4x September 4, 2017 at 7:14 am

      they’ll be learning more about our ‘slow suicide’ digging through our landfills: Garbage Archealogy will survive all.

      • Henry Miller September 4, 2017 at 7:33 am

        It’s always seemed to me that digging through what a society has discarded is an odd way of trying to discern the nature of what that society was. Wouldn’t it be more relevant to study what societies valued and kept?

        And, besides, I doubt there’s much to learn from a million tonnes of old tyres.

        • D4x September 4, 2017 at 8:00 am

          Old tires-to-energy is big trend; or have a very high recycle rate – 95% in EU – and those that reach landfills are shredded:

          Middens, or køkkenmødding (kitchen mound), “contain a detailed record of what food was eaten or processed and many fragments of stone tools and household goods makes them invaluable objects of archaeological study.”

          I actually believe Landfill Mining will happen as our culture declines, much as Garbage Scavenging and Waste Picking thrives today where masses of urban poor find income from trash heaps.

        • Cybergeezer September 4, 2017 at 8:46 am

          Just think of the all the possible advancements in tire technology?

      • sestamibi September 4, 2017 at 9:10 am

        Um, those are the symbols of her native South Carolina. If you ever saw a car with an SC license plate you would know that.

        • D4x September 4, 2017 at 9:52 am

          No need to condescend, had enough of that.

          It’s been 25 years since I was in SC, and only walking, Spoleto Festival, Charleston. Since then, crescents have taken on a new meaning, and I did not think ‘State Symbol’ on such a visible necklace at the UNSC today.

        • Cybergeezer September 4, 2017 at 3:01 pm

          That’s even more bizarre.
          Why wear that to the U.N.?
          Conversation piece?

    • William Fankboner September 4, 2017 at 9:34 am

      In other words, America is doomed.

    • Done With It September 4, 2017 at 11:34 am

      We’re a decade behind Europe in this regard:

      Europe is giving up, and will allow the subjugation of their culture to Islam:

      “In 2006 the Dutch Justice Minister, Piet Hein Donner…suggested in an interview that if Muslims wished to change the law of the land to Sharia by democratic means (that is when Muslims were large enough in number), then they could do so.

      In 2008, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave a lecture at the Royal Courts of Justice that addressed parallel legal jurisdiction growing inside the country. During his lecture the archbishop suggested that the adoption of elements of Sharia law in the UK ‘seems unavoidable’.”

      Islam is not compatible with western values, and as their numbers increase, so will their demands for sharia law.

      Face it now, or later…and don’t trust our “leaders” if they tell you Islam is a fine match for our way of life, or that Islam is a part of our founding. They’re re-creating history in an attempt to remove the obstacles to Islam.

      Excerpts, page 99 of “The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam” by Douglas Murray.

      • Henry Miller September 4, 2017 at 12:33 pm

        That’s one of the potentially good things about having a country full of guns, half-full of people willing to use them, and full of people who despise, in varying degrees, their “leaders.” It’s hard to lead when no one will follow.

        • Done With It September 4, 2017 at 12:48 pm

          I’ve been saying Europe was doomed for several years, but I’ll admit being shocked when I read that page Saturday.

          I had no idea that some of their leaders openly accept being subjugated by the Muslims. It seemed to be the case, but this meant it was no longer a question…and the fact they made the comments a decade ago explain the immigration calls to Muslims over recent years.

          Apparently, they believe it can’t be helped, so they’re hoping that by accepting them into their midst, the Muslims will go easy on them.

          They couldn’t be more wrong.

          • Dan Brown September 4, 2017 at 4:09 pm

            The muslims will kill them. We need to be ready when they try it here. The 21st century battle of Tours will be fought on this continent. And like then, we have to destroy the muslim barbarians.

          • D. G. September 5, 2017 at 4:02 pm

            The next big war is the Great Tribulation and will result in this wicked system and its adherents being swept away and God re-installing his rules and leadership on this Earth. This whole system is currently run by Satan.

    • Will Wilmot September 4, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      Huntington couldn’t say it, but what he meant was that America is a White Christian country and isn’t going to be American anymore once it’s no longer white.

      Just like the soviets ignored facts and science they deemed “capitalistic” (Lysenkoism), liberal apparatchiks pretend to ignore race, telling us it doesn’t exit.

      They say “race is just a social construct, only culture exists,” when the exact opposite is true: Culture is just a racial construct. Everything about culture derives from the biological group differences of the people that create it. Culture is the outward expression of the race. Of course, the reigning liberal paradigm cannot admit this self-evident truth because it destroys their entire egalitarian worldview and reveals it for what it is: the lie of equality.

      • Dan Brown September 4, 2017 at 4:05 pm

        Right… But then, libs have everything ass backwards…

      • smeyer0513 September 5, 2017 at 11:56 am

        Culture is the product of place, not race.

        We adapted to our environment creating traditions and practices that made sense in that place. As cultures migrated to new regions, they were modified based on the new environment. In the U.S., adaptation was not just to the physical environment, but also to the social, political, and economic environments. Take a look at David Hackett Fisher’s Albion Seed or a more radical study: Grady McWhiney’s Cracker Culture.

        You will see that they have nothing to do with race.

    • HHHardass September 5, 2017 at 7:22 am

      We may not have to wait centuries !

      You obviously aren’t aware the Pilgrims were an ultra liberal group of socialists who wanted a communist state.(?)
      The African slave holders sold their countrymen to aid US southerners in growing cotton.(?) (Money was irrelevant)
      “Black Lives Matter” feels that Police are being unfairly criticized.
      Free speech is a Nazi tactic..
      Etc. Etc.

      FYI–Had a recent bout with Pulmonary Edema–A weeks “vacation” in the hospital has just about taken care of it.
      Can’t keep an old fart down…;-)

      • Henry Miller September 5, 2017 at 7:54 am

        Yeah, I was beginning to wonder if you’d been abducted by aliens or something–which would likely have been less unpleasant than lungs full of guck.

        But at least the Plymouth lot caught on fairly quickly that most humans are nowhere near altruistic and/or group-oriented enough for voluntary socialism/communism to work. It’s just too bad that despite having that proven over and over again, the Leftist nuts never seem to get it–there’s not much more dystopian than a utopian society.

  7. Cybergeezer September 4, 2017 at 7:00 am

    As the most elite of the most egalitarian of governments, worldwide, have determined, through decades of introspection and serious deliberation (The United States Congress);
    Equality, diversity, and entitlements, are necessary and required to ensure that each and every American can be proud of their sacrifices, hardships, and contributions to America’s exceptionalism!

  8. Christopher September 4, 2017 at 7:15 am

    Labor Day honors the American labor movement, that is why it was created.

    • BillyOblivion September 4, 2017 at 8:38 am

      Communist f*ing holiday.

  9. CplRock September 4, 2017 at 8:20 am

    The “bone in the nose” comparison might have been a little of the edge, even in non-PC culture.

    • Cybergeezer September 4, 2017 at 8:51 am

      The only difference today is:
      A diamond stud instead.

  10. Wayne Lusvardi September 4, 2017 at 8:43 am

    Every culture has a religious explanation of why people succeed or fail. This is called a theodicy and it arises out of the need for social order and meaningfulness as well as what is just. The American Theodicy of hard work, saving, marriage, not spoiling children and demanding that others use self help rather than hand outs to better themselves has been decimated by affirmative action and a whole range of economics benefits and accompanying social status’ that comes with identity politics based on victimhood. There is an institutional basis to the erosion of the ProtestantWork Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Modernization is a social process where achievement replaces social status by ascription into one’s tribe, clan, caste or class. Demodernization is a regressive movement of going back to tribal like identities that are rewarded with government perks. So “Labor Day” doesn’t institutionalize work but unionization, affirmative action and a victim culture. Instead of tearing own statures abandon Labor Day.

    • Harry Callahan September 4, 2017 at 10:03 pm

      Respectfully, your understanding of the term “theodicy” is not correct. “Theodicy” is the term used to describe how the Faithful attempt to understand why a benevolent and loving God permits Evil to exist in the world.

      • Wayne Lusvardi September 5, 2017 at 12:22 am

        Thanks. I was using the sociological definition of theodicy (a la Max Weber and Peter Berger) not the religious definition. The relevant topic of the article was the work ethic not why God permits evil.

        • Harry Callahan September 5, 2017 at 6:38 am

          “Theo” = God

          Why would such a term be appropriated for secular sociololgy?

          • Wayne Lusvardi September 5, 2017 at 10:30 am

            It isn’t a “secular” term even in sociology because the reasons used to explain success or failure in the work world were historically explained religiously; later they were explained secularly. So sociologist Max Weber, an unreligious but not anti-religious, sociologist explained Capitalism as arising from the Protestant work ethic (hard work by the clock, saving, helping others by demanding that they too work hard and help themselves, avoiding bad habits, honesty not fraud or con games, etc). And in turn the work ethic had something to do with one’s religious “calling” in life (not to be an other worldly monk but to be an inner worldly efficient farmer, automobile manufacturer, businessman, etc).

  11. Latinreader September 4, 2017 at 9:03 am

    Right again, Roger.

  12. Harry Callahan September 4, 2017 at 10:14 am

    As an idealistic young college grad in the early 1990’s, my employer sent me from my home on the West Coast to a large midwestern city to open a sales office and small warehouse. I had many notions about how I could hire needy locals and give them their first “good job.”

    Warehouse Help Wanted ads in the major city newspaper netted a swarm of telephone calls, but very few followed up with resumes. Those who were granted interviews arrived late, if they arrived, and dressed inapprpriately. A simple 10 question pre-employment basic mathematics quiz netted Zero qualified applicants.

    I decided to alow a temp agency to supply me with some labor. One temp, a truck driver, disappeared with my company pickup gruck…which was recovered three days later–dextroyed by fire.

    • AJ Costa September 4, 2017 at 11:19 am

      Maybe your prospective employees lacked transportation or good work clothes. Maybe broken families due to economic and social stress led to them failing in poorly-funded public schools. There are dozens of factors that arise due to a lack of strong social spending, rather than people just being lazy and liberal.

      • Harry Callahan September 4, 2017 at 2:36 pm

        I would argyue that too much social spending enables the poor employability. If a person must work to eat, that person will do whatever they must to secure work.

        • Phredd September 4, 2017 at 9:34 pm

          Amen, Harry. You’ll appreciate this story. In the 1030’s, in the midst of the Great Depression, my mother’s father managed to get a job on a project known as “Mud Mountain Dam” in Washington state. He lived on site for long periods. At one point, a supervisor asked him if he could weld. The work was breaking teeth off of the earth moving equipment, and the supervisor wanted someone to weld them back on. OF COURSE, my grandfather said, “Sure I can weld!”, and of course, he knew nothing about welding, but during the Great Depression, people would do whatever was necessary to hold onto a job. So he stayed up all night practicing and taught himself. The next day, the supervisor put him on the teeth welding job, and was pleased with the results. My grandfather was then assigned permanently and exclusively to welding the teeth on the earth moving equipment. New blades for the equipment were quite expensive, so the welding job saved the company a lot of money. As a result, my grandfather was even given a raise.

          At the same time as this, his wife, my grandmother, remained at home in Tacoma. She went door-to-door, taking in laundry, wash, dry, and iron for 10 cents a load.

          They DIDN’T lose their house.

    • King_Hussein September 4, 2017 at 12:02 pm

      It’s the good minimum wage help that’s so hard to find.

  13. BozoerRebbe September 4, 2017 at 11:20 am

    Amy Wax is Jewish and she herself is an example of Jewish success in America (she must make her mom real proud, she graduated from med school before she decided on law). Even those Jews who choose to not assimilate into general American culture, like Chasidim, do pretty well here. That’s likely because traditional Jewish culture emphasizes many of the same “bourgeois” values that Wax associates with WASP culture. The same is true of other successful immigrant communities. The Indians and Chinese and west Africans and others who succeed here do so because individually or as families they have values that facilitate their success. In a world of reason and logic that fact alone should sufficiently refute the charge that Wax is racist, but the racialist essentialists of the identity politics left have somehow decided that culture is almost identical to race, so black conservatives aren’t really black and Hispanics must have bilingual education because expecting that they are smart enough to learn English is somehow racist.

  14. Sarastro92 September 4, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    Wax and Kimball should save their sermons for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve who have shoveled countless trillions into the maws of shiftless Parasites and banditos on Wall Street and major multi-national corporations. That will never happen… because these figures are well-heeled shills for the Predator Class…. wags and scolds of the former US working class…

    And likewise, as jobs , incomes and standards of living have collapsed over past decades, it’s not surprising that the US working class has come to resemble inner-city ghettos cultures and mores… which the Predator Class elites also celebrate as the new Hip-Hop High Culture.

  15. Dan Brown September 4, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    100% correct.

    All I can add is these ‘virtues” are not unique to Europe’s children. A lot of Asian cultures share them. And gee… Who is it that is excelling more than anyone in modern America? Asians…

  16. saintclarence27 September 4, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    Wow, this post is staggeringly wrong.

Comments are closed.