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How Government Planning Holds Back Our Greatest Potential

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How Government Planning Holds Back Our Greatest Potential

Western civilization needs a renewal that must emerge from the private spheres of life. (Photo: iStock Photos)

That is a little over 100 miles, but along the rails you will see miles and miles of dilapidation and defacement—culverts scrawled with gangland graffiti and obscenities, the undersides of bridges heaped up with garbage, old fences rotting and falling apart, abandoned mills, disused stations, remains of telephone lines—all looking like something left over after wartime, except that in our case the war has been waged culturally, the damage done to family life and to the men who in other times might have kept such places from reverting to rot and filth.

Go to a section of a Rust Belt town where elderly people live in their old homesteads.

Many of them can’t afford much, but many others do actually have the funds to pay someone for the necessary carpentry to repair and restore their homes. The problem is rather that it is nearly impossible to find someone skilled enough to do the work.

Near our house there is a handsome bridge, about 100 years old, made of wooden planks and steel posts painted green, to match the verdigris patina on the copper plaque announcing the date of its completion.

The bridge was compromised by a flood seven years ago and has been closed to traffic since. Eventually, I suppose, it will be condemned, taken down, and replaced by the usual ugly thing.

It too could probably be repaired and restored, but it is hard to find someone who would know how.

So it is in many other regards.

In the parlor of your house a handsome molding joins the wall to the ceiling. It is made not of wood but of plaster. You had some water damage last year and now that molding has crumbled in one corner.

The easy thing to do would be to yank out the whole thing and replace it with wood. The hard thing to do would be to repair the corner. You would like to repair it, but who can do that?

Even work that does not involve a special art, like a small plumbing job, is hard to get done, because you have to find a plumber with the time for it.

>>> Purchase Anthony Esolen’s book, “Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture.”

My elderly father-in-law has a leaky heart valve, which he will get replaced right away. If it had been a leaky valve behind the wall of his shower, he’d be lucky to get it fixed in the next six months.

A lesser problem would not be worth trying to call a plumber at all—so the work would remain undone.

It is simply not true that there is a fixed amount of work to be done “out there,” so that the more carpenters you have, the less each one will earn.

The availability of the carpenters encourages people to hire them for work that might be done. People who want things of beauty will pay for them, but first you have to show them that you can make things of beauty.

And of course we have to raise people who are patient enough for beauty, which can never be had fast, on the cheap.

And then there is the government.

I open an artery every year for government at all levels, most of it incompetent, destructive of ordinary social relations, tyrannical, redundant, parasitical, and perverse.

If I complain, someone more pleased with the situation (because he butters his bread by it) will say, “But without government what would become of your schools and your roads?”

As if that were an answer. The schools could all meet Mr. Wrecking Ball tomorrow, and we would be none the less literate for it. We might even be wiser, if we read good books.

Homeschoolers, who teach their children at a tiny fraction of the cost of institutional incompetence, have demonstrated that result to anyone with eyes to see. But the roads?

I know of no conservative who has a quarrel with building roads. So after the government has taken that half penny from my dollar of taxes, what on earth does it do with all the rest that is worth the cost?

But let us look at the roads anyway. I am driving down the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, and I pass below one bridge after another, fashioned in art deco style, built by men hired under the Works Progress Administration, one of President Roosevelt’s attempts to put men to work during the Great Depression.

They are beautiful bridges, and no one is exactly like another. It is a fine and human thing to behold, and many a man could say to his grandchildren, “I put this stone in place.”

I understand that many economists now say that Roosevelt’s policies actually ended up prolonging the Depression. I have no quarrel with them. But I do wish to observe an anomaly.

We spend far more money on social welfare, in real dollars and as a percentage of federal outlays, than Roosevelt did, and what do we have to show for it?

Forty percent of children born out of wedlock, whole generations of broken and never-quite-formed families, men checking out of productive work, and immense bloodsucking bureaucracies that perpetuate the pathologies they are supposed to cure.

Given that we are going to spend the money, why must we spend it so irrationally and destructively?

Instead of social workers, administrators, deans, secretaries, and other handlers of paper and answerers of telephones, why do we not have a veritable army of skilled craftsmen to make our roads, bridges, sidewalks, plazas, and public buildings beautiful?

Oh, there are not enough of them right now for the job, but again there might be, and there would be an endless supply of things to take care of.

I suspect that there are several reasons why we will not soon see in every town such public works as the Merritt Parkway boasts. None of the reasons does us credit.

One is that the training and hiring of craftsmen would shift funds away from women indoors and toward men outdoors, and that will be viewed as harming the women—even though the same men might then be able to marry and support a wife and their children.

A second reason is that the policy would tend to strengthen rather than weaken the family, and the metastate subsists upon family breakdown.

A third reason is that we would have to revisit the strange idea that every child has to be in the Great Holding Tank until age 18.

A fourth reason is that we just do not care enough for beauty to bother with it. We like to see the old works when we come upon them, but we are too impatient to make any new ones ourselves. We are prefabricated people.

Again we see that a variety of pathologies are really one and the same: the denial of the human person, male and female, made in the beginning in the image and likeness of God.

Because we are not allowed to acknowledge the differences between men and women, we cannot enact policies that will benefit each sex but in different ways; because we deny the Sabbath, we end up both idle and harried at once, doing bad work, work that is bad for us, and a lot of it; because we forget God, we forget all of the transcendentals and end up dabbling in mud; because we confuse freedom with autonomy, we end up slaves to the Great Promoter of Liberty below, that liar; because we lie, our language itself grows rotten, and we can no longer give anything its right name, nor do we even know ourselves.

This excerpt was taken from Anthony Esolen’s book, “Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture” (Regnery Publishing, 2017).

This article is republished with permission from our friends at The Daily Signal.

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