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The Unraveling: The Gray Champion Meets the Country Class

May 25, 2017 0 Comments

theunraveling

In the 1830s and 1840s, the author Nathaniel Hawthorne published a series of short stories titled Twice Told Tales. One of those short stories was called The Gray Champion. I first became aware of this short story in a book titled Generations: The History of America’s Future. Published in 1991 by William Strauss and Neil Howe, they share a synopsis of the tale of The Gray Champion. The portion to which they refer on pages 80-81 of their text is shown in full from the text of the story as provided at the website http://www.ibiblio.org/eldritch/nh/gray.html:

“I have heard that, whenever the descendants of the Puritans are to show the spirit of their sires, the old man appears again. When eighty years had passed, he walked once more in King-street. Five years later, in the twilight of an April morning, he stood on the green, beside the meeting-house, at Lexington, where now the obelisk of granite, with a slab of slate inlaid, commemorates the first fallen of the Revolution. And when our fathers were toiling at the breast-work on Bunker’s Hill, all through that night, the old warrior walked his rounds. Long, long may it be, ere he comes again! His hour is one of darkness, and adversity, and peril. But should domestic tyranny oppress us, or the invader’s step pollute our soil, still may the Gray Champion come.” (emphasis added)

       Since their book has been published and expanded upon in some of their other works, most notably their 1997 book, The Fourth Turning, this concept of the Gray Champion has been exploited by some to justify identifying this or that individual as THE Gray Champion. But, to do so misses the mark of what Strauss and Howe attempted to communicate. Speaking of the American Baby Boom generation, the authors make this point:

In 2004, thirty-five years after Woodstock, Boomers will range in age from 43 to 60. Meet the old Boom, the next embodiment of Hawthorne’s “Gray Champions,” combining “the leader and the saint” to show the descendants of the Puritans “the spirit of their sires.” Boom principle – or righteous fury – will cast a long shadow over the entire twenty-first century.

         Writing in 1991, it was impossible for the authors to identify the precise issue which would confront the “Gray Champion.” However, Strauss and Howe do make the following statement:

One rather safe prediction experts often make about elderly Boomers is that they will collide with underfunded federal pension and health-care systems, starting in the mid-2010s. … Boomers will force a dramatic turn in the politics of Social Security. In the 2010s, they will lay the terms of an entirely new intergenerational “deal,” snapping the chain of ever-rising benefits that G.I.s insisted would never end. Boom leaders will thoroughly recast – and probably rename – Social Security and Medicare. … Affluent Boomers will receive little economic recompense from a lifetime of payroll taxes paid to support others. Yet in a turnabout from the G.I. entitlement ethic, Boomers will derive self-esteem from knowing they are not receiving rewards from the community.

         The Gray Champion is not one individual.  He is a generation of leaders, called from the grassroots, who stand up within their communities to draw a line in the sand  In the “Twenty Teens,” that generation of Gray Champions is the Boomer generation.  They defined the Boom generation as those born between 1943 – 1960.

I was born in 1956.  They are talking about my generation.

Clearly, Strauss and Howe were correct in identifying the fiscal “time bomb” that is about to explode around us. As a college economics instructor, the debt crisis is something that I drive home to my students.  In a perfect world, this would be the issue we were most focused on.  Sadly, as I have discussed in The Unraveling, this is not the issue that is at the heart of our discussions.

There was one other issue Strauss and Howe foresaw, but spent little time commenting on. How could they?  In the year 1991, it was virtually impossible to predict the form their fears would take.  They also predicted that the Boomers would be moralistic in attitude – and that they would experience conflict within their generation over leadership philosophy “circa 2020.” [i]

The metaphor of the Gray Champion can only carry us so far.  In the year 2010, a new metaphor emerged.  The concept of the “Country Class” vs. the “Ruling Class.”

Angelo Codevilla: The “Country Class” vs. the “Ruling Class”

Revolution           The July-August, 2010 issue of the American Spectator ran an article that caught fire among conservatives.  In this issue, there’s an article titled “America’s Ruling Class and the Perils of Revolution” by Angelo Codevilla. In his article, Codevilla talked about two groups of people. One, the “Ruling Class,” is made up of those people who have graduated from Ivy League schools, who know all the right people, who come from the right families, and hang out with all the right people. The ruling class includes both Democrats and Republicans, and they maintain their position in society not on the basis of merit, but on the basis of knowing the right people. The bailouts allowed the Ruling Class to keep its position, as those in authority told the rest of us to simply “trust the leadership of the country.”

The other group Codevilla called the “Country Class”. This group includes the poor, the middle class, and even the wealthy among us who earned what they have in life, but never went to the “right” schools or joined the “right” clubs. He argues that iHt is from the wealth of the Country Class that the Ruling Class has “shared the wealth” of the nation to give to those the ruling class deemed worthy.

Another name for the “Country Class” is the one we’ve already identified as the “Forgotten Man.”

Much of Rush Limbaugh’s July 19, 2010 program was devoted to discussing this article. Focusing on what Codevilla had to say about how the nation gets itself back on track to follow the Constitution, Limbaugh combined his own commentary with the words of Codevilla’s essay. I want to draw your attention to the discussion Limbaugh had about the actions that would need to be taken in order to accomplish this goal. Noting that the Country Class has no choice but to find a home in the Republican Party, no matter its failings, Limbaugh said (Limbaugh’s words are in black, the quotes from Codevilla are in italics:

So the intimidating tactics of disrespecting and silencing your opponents has worked, and this is what we must do, is Mr. Codevilla’s point.  

“For the country class seriously to contend for self-governance, the political party that represents it will have to discredit not just such patent frauds as ethanol mandates, the pretense that taxes can control ‘climate change,’ and the outrage of banning God from public life. More important, such a serious party would have to attack the ruling class’s fundamental claims to its superior intellect and morality in ways that dispirit the target and hearten one’s own. The Democrats having set the rules of modern politics, opponents who want electoral success are obliged to follow them.”

There is going to be an apparatus in place, thanks to these people, to use the power of government against them when we get it back. The question is will the people that represent us have the guts to do so? 

“The ruling class’s greatest difficulty — aside from being outnumbered — will be to argue, against the grain of reality, that the revolution it continues to press upon America is sustainable. For its part, the country class’s greatest difficulty will be to enable a revolution to take place without imposing it. America has been imposed on enough.”

So it must be a self-starting thing. It can’t be the result of phone calls. It can’t be the result of faxes and all this to Washington. It has to start on its own, and guess what the Tea Party is? It’s exactly that.    

Conclusion

At the moment we are facing a looming fiscal cliff, not to mention an increasingly tense international scene, America today is confused over its own soul, asking who we are as a people, and what it is we believe.  We do not trust our institutions, and therefore argue over what is or is not fake news.  Unable to wisely discern, as a united people, the course we must chart in our moment of peril, we may fail to resolve Strauss and Howe’s secular crisis of 2025.

More recently, Cordevilla has looked at the ideological divide within the Baby Boomer Generation, defining the divide between the “Country Class” and the “Ruling Class.”  Again, depending upon your point of view, one group presents “the truth” in reporting and interpreting the events of the day, while the other is the font of “fake news.”

I take the point of view that the Tea Party/Country Class/Forgotten Man metaphor for those who present the truth is the correct method of viewing the current state of affairs in America.  But I also believe that a totally grassroots, bottom up approach to solving our problems, while well intentioned, is not sufficient to solving our problems.

After nearly 15 years in academia, I am part of what I will call the “conservative intelligentsia.”   Conservative academics are inclined to observe, analyze and commentate.  Instead, like our progressive counterparts of the 1920s and 1930s, we must act.

In the twelfth and final article in my series of posts on The Unraveling, I will explore how conservative Christian policy advocates can take a page from the Progressive playbook and re-invent how we provide cultural, economic, political and social education in the meaning of The American Way of Life.  If you have a desire to review the previous posts in this series, click to read the previous posts in this series.

This series is based on an essay that I have written which you can find at www.wisejargon.com/docs/theunraveling.pdf.  In that essay I lay out my thoughts as concisely as I can, with a full series of references endnotes (27 for those with a scholarly bent).  In this series of posts, I wish to expand on the original essay, and make it easier to digest via social media.

I also wish to invite a discussion on this topic.  To do so, please see my posts at DISQUS.

It’s time that all of us work together to reverse course, and restore the American spirit of self-reliance and pride in self-accomplishment exemplified the American spirit.

[i] Strauss, William and Neil Howe(1991).  Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584-2069, p. 402.  New York, NY, Harper Perennial.

About the Author:

David Lantz is a self-published author, adjunct college professor and leadership consultant. Visit my online courses at https://generationselfemployed.zenler.com/ and like my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/wisejargon and

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