John Livingston

Work and Rail Splitting

Abraham Lincoln attended formal school it has been estimated, for about four months. He was a self-educated man. From the time his stepmother taught him to read when he was a young child, he read everything he could get his hands on. Plato, Aristotle, The Stoics, Shakespeare but most of all The Bible. Lincoln’s moral calculus was said to be grounded in Scripture and the classics. He prayed and read scripture every day of his life. His faith was the predicate for his moral, legal and political philosophy.

He often quoted Genesis 3:19 “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” God spoke to Adam after the fall when work became labor. Throughout the New and Old Testaments, the value of work not only as a form of labor, but as a virtue in and of itself is emphasized. God worked when he created His Universe and He expects us to work to make our world better by creating, discovering, and building. As a youth Lincoln was indentured to people in his community by his own father to pay off his father’s debts. It is said that Lincoln learned statesmanship by splitting rails as a young boy. Jon Meacham opines “he always used the thin edge of the wedge first, and the fact that he used it at all meant that if need were, he would use the thick as well as the thin.” Many of us today start out by using the “thick edge” right off the bat. Maybe splitting rails would be good for all of us to do early on in life.

Proverbs 14:23 tells us to work and not just “talk”. Earlier on in Proverbs6:6-11 is the story of the ants and is probably the bases of the fairy tale about the ant and the grasshopper—” the ant gathers its’ provisions in summer and stores them for the winter.”

And we work not just for ourselves but help to provide for those who cannot work, or the widowed or infirmed. In Leviticus 23:22 God tells the workers not to harvest everything, but to leave the edges of the fields for those less fortunate to glean to sustain themselves. Paul in Thessalonians 2:3-10 admonishes able bodied people who don’t work.

Between 1858-60 and then at the end of his presidency Lincoln opined several times about his “theory of work and economics”.

He wrote that labor is prior to capital but there is a correlation between the two that is not only economic in nature but fundamental to understanding the nature of true liberty. “The penniless young man labors for his wages and saves his surplus, until over time he can hire other laborers and invest in his and other businesses”. No man is to be trusted more than one who has worked himself up from a position of laboring for himself and his family. “It is only political power that can place a chain around the necks of capital and labor and when used incorrectly, will close the door to both”. How many of our politicians have “split rails” or even worked themselves.

When our politicians talk about forgiving student loan debt or placing a penalty on mortgages of responsible home owners with high credit scores, or when governments subsidize corporations with fungible transfer payments that are never accounted for and the CEOs of those receiving the fruits of taxpayer laborers— non-profits or charitable organizations who are making millions of dollars, or when local governments forgoes charging impact fees to developers but they ramp up property and business taxes on families and small businesses who have been in their communities for many years; I wonder how many people making those decisions in our legislature or the City Fathers in our local municipalities have ever “split any rails”.

Substituting welfare for “charity” —and I am specifically talking of Christian Charity, erodes the ideal of Christian subsidiarity through the community and a sense of reciprocal concern—Christ would call that compassion (not empathy or sympathy). Charity is connected to work and individual labor and reflects generosity and compassion. Welfare creates dependency and covetousness. Charity is an exercise of “free will” and is a virtue. Dependency and covetousness not so much.

We need more “rail splitters” in positions of responsibility in our institutions. We need these organizations—government, schools, churches, and businesses to start reteaching the Gospel of our Forefathers. Too many people in positions of responsibility who are having a significant impact on our liberties and lives have no grounding in the fundamental truths that we call Natural Law and what were the basis of our Founding and the advances we have made as a country over the past 225 years. Instead of teaching “woke and “CRT” how about The Ten Commandments and the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution.

Peggy Noonan—not always a fan I, said it best today in The Wall Street Journal when describing several people in our elite ruling class:

“You can’t have spent 30 years reading about them, listening to them, watching their interviews and not understand they’re half mad. Bill Gates, who treats his own banalities with such awe and who shares all the books he reads to help you, poor dope, understand the world—who one suspects never in his life met a normal person except by accident, and who is always discovering things because deep down he’s never known anything. Dead-eyed Mark Zuckerberg, who also buys the world with his huge and highly distinctive philanthropy so we don’t see the scheming, sweating God-replacer within. Google itself, whose founding motto was “Don’t Be Evil,” and which couldn’t meet even that modest aspiration.

The men and women of Silicon Valley (and many in our elite ruling classes) have demonstrated extreme genius like brilliance in one part of life, inventing tech. Because they are human and vain, they think it extends to all parts. It doesn’t. They aren’t especially wise; they aren’t deep and as I’ve said their consciences seem unevenly developed.

This new world cannot be left in their hands”. We need some rail splitters ASAP.

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