Who is against individual responsibility?

I agree with most of Matt’s recent post, but one sentence struck me as noteworthy.  Matt writes:

I suppose I agree with Will Wilkinson about the importance of “an ethos of initiative, hard work, and individual responsibility” though I have no real idea why he thinks most progressives are against such an ethos.

I could write that sentence without the “I suppose”!  The final clause of the sentence I see as showing just how broad the perceptual gulf between progressives and conservatives/libertarians can be.

I would not quite say that progressives are “against such an ethos,” but where does it stand in their pecking order?  Look at fiction, such as famous left-wing or progressive novels, or for that matter famous left-wing and progressive movies.  How many of them celebrate “an ethos of initiative, hard work, and individual responsibility”?  Is there one?  Maybe as part of a broader struggle against a corrupt system or against “The Man,” but that tripartite of values is not celebrated in its own right.  Do any of these novels and films have business heroes?  To be sure, hard work from labor is celebrated, provided the workers are tough, exploited, but nonetheless hearty and worthy of respect.

I have no problem with praising these novels and movies for their celebrations of social justice, solidarity, or for their unveiling of corruption, but still it is a stretch to those values cited above.  Wanting to blame George Bush, or try Dick Cheney for war crimes, is a kind of individual responsibility, but in a very particular political context.  How often will a progressive stress that the poor should develop greater conscientiousness rather than looking to government support?  Many progressives are genuinely unaware of how unusual a moral code they often are communicating and celebrating, if only implicitly.  Matt in fact is one of the least guilty in this regard, and you can see this when you examine his writings on the Nordic countries.


Comments for this post are closed