wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

David Potter

People of Plenty

Probably nothing has contributed more to the weakness of the conservative position in the United States than the fact that this principle, which the great conservative leaders like Edmund Burke and Benjamin Disraeli have recognized as the foundation stone of conservatism, has been so sharply rejected by American conservatives that it fell by default to the opposition. Ultimately, Franklin Roosevelt did more to give men a sense of status than all the Republican Presidents since Lincoln.

The heavy emphasis which America has placed upon mobility of course necessitated this rejection of status, for the two are basically contradictory. Whereas the principle of status affirms that a minor position may be worthy, the principle of mobility, as Americans have construed it, regards such a station both as the penalty for and the proof of personal failure. This view is often pushed to a point where even the least invidious form of subordination comes to be resented as carrying a stigma, and certain kinds of work which are socially necessary are almost never performed except grudgingly. The individual, driven by the belief that he should never rest content in his existing station and knowing that society demands advancement by him as proof of his merit, often feels stress and insecurity and is left with no sense of belonging either in the station to which he advances or in the one from which he set out.

After nearly two hundred years, these difficulties now begin to be recognized, and there is a dawning realization that both our insistence upon mobility and our denial of status have been carried to excess. The fierceness of the mobility race generates tensions too severe for some people to bear, and fear of failure in this race generates a sense of insecurity which is highly injurious. Denial of status deprives the individual of one of his deepest psychological needs. Few societies have ever attempted to dispense with it, and most of them have acted to assure the individual of a certain niche in society, even if they were not prepared to offer a minimum wage or a more abundant life. Even where status appears to have been ejected, it sometimes comes in again by the back door: for instance, Americans who repudiated status in terms of an existing social order very often embraced mobility as leading to secure and desirable status in the social order of the future. In a country which possessed so little but could legitimately anticipate so much, it became genuine realism for the pioneer to identify himself with the prosperous future community which he was building rather than the squalid temporary settlement in which he lived. The imperceptible way in which the drive of mobility merges with the anticipation of status is suggested by the appeal used by a life insurance company which sells policies to provide for the future education of children and advertises with the picture of a small boy, over the caption, 'He is going to college already.'

It follows, then, that even where status has been publicly renounced, individuals continue to manifest, in a variety of ways, a deep psychological craving for the certitudes which it offers.