In his beautifully written memoir, The Shepherd’s Life , James Rebanks helps those like me who know nothing about sheep to have some sense of what it means to be a shepherd.
Rebanks is well prepared to perform this task as he comes from a lineage of shepherds. Rebanks knows sheep and he helps his reader know something of what he knows.
For example, I had no idea there are so many different species of sheep. The diverse species means, moreover, that the breeding of sheep can be quite specialized. Thus there are breeds of sheep that have been and continue to be bred to negotiate different topographies.
Romantic conceptions of what it might mean to be a shepherd cannot survive Rebanks’s honest account of the brutality that is often necessary to maintain the flock. The bargaining between shepherds can be a cut throat business.
To maintain the farm, moreover, is sheer hard work and the result is often a barely sustainable living. If you are tempted to become a shepherd, you need to remember you will spend a good deal of your life looking into the mouths of sheep because it seems you can tell much about the quality of sheep by looking at their teeth.
Rebanks is a wonderful storyteller and writer. He knows how to write because, as one who hated formal schooling, he improbably ended up doing a degree at Oxford. Although he left secondary school as soon as it was permissible, he discovered he loved to read. Every night after a hard day of working on his grandfather’s and father’s farm he read. While taking a continuing education course, he was discovered and encouraged to take the tests necessary for him to go to a university. He did take the test, and the rest is history.
Having gone to Oxford he could have pursued a very different form of life other than that of being a shepherd, but he chose to return to the farm. He did so because, as he observes, he had inherited from his grandfather the classic worldview of the peasant. That worldview he identified with the presumption that he was in the line of those people who just always seem to be “there” – a people who though often battered yet endure, and through such endurance come to believe they “owned the earth.” Such people, Rebanks observes, are “built out of stories” that are embedded in the everyday necessities of life.
In the last paragraphs of The Shepherd’s Life, Rebanks, who has now been a shepherd many years, reports on a moment in his busy life. It is in the late spring and he is in the process of returning his flock to the craggy hills. These sheep had been bred to fend for themselves in a rocky terrain. He enjoys watching the sheep find their way in the rough fields because they are evidently happy to be “home.” Rebanks imitates his flock’s sense that all is as it should be by lying down in the grass to drink sweet and pure water from the nearby stream. He rolls on his back and watches the clouds racing by. His well-trained sheep dogs, Floss and Tan, who had never seen him so relaxed, come and lay next to him. He breathes in the cool mountain air; he listens to the ewes calling to the lambs to follow them through the rocky crags, and he thinks, “This is my life. I want no other.”
“This is my life. I want no other” is an extraordinary declaration that one rarely hears today. As odd as it may seem, I want to suggest that the loss of our ability to have such lives, the absence of the conditions that make such a declaration possible in contemporary life, is a clue for understanding our current cultural moment and corresponding politics. Stated differently, that many people feel they are forced to live lives they do not want or understand helps explain the phenomenon called Donald Trump. An extraordinary claim, so let me try to explain.
God knows it is hard to take Donald Trump seriously, but I think it is a mistake to ignore him or, more importantly, to ignore the people that support him. Trump has given voice to an unease that is widespread at this time in our culture. Theories about who the people are, as well as why they support Trump, abound. I suspect there is something to most of these theories.
I am sure, for example, that racism plays a role for some who support Trump. It is hard to believe we have a person running for the Presidency of the United States promising to be the “law and order President.” If you ever wanted an exemplification of the oft made observation that Americans forget their history, Trump’s claim to restore law and order ignores the racist presumption that gave birth to that phrase in the first place. I am also sure that the fear occasioned by the events of 11 September 2001 is another factor that attracts some to his pledge to “Make America great again.”
Yet the racism and fear Trump uses to give the impression that he would be a “strong leader” are, I believe, manifestations of an even deeper pathology – namely, the profound sense of unease that many Americans have about their lives. That unease often takes the form of resentment against elites, but even more troublingly, it funds the prejudice against minority groups as well as emigrants. Resentment is another word for the unease that seems to grip many good, middle class – mostly white – people. These are people who have worked hard all their lives, and yet find they are no better off than when they started. They deeply resent what they interpret as the special treatment some receive in an effort to right the wrongs of the past.
The bottom line is many Americans are angry but they are not sure on whom that anger is appropriately directed. Their anger needs direction and Trump is more than happy to tell Americans – particularly if they are white – who their enemy is as well as whom they should hate. There is a therapeutic aspect to Trump’s rhetoric because he gives people an enemy that delays any acknowledgment that those at whom they should be angry may be themselves.
All this is happening at the same time as the church – at least, the mainstream church in America – is consumed by a culture of consumption. Americans increasingly discover they have no good reason for “going to church.” The ever-decreasing number of Christians has led some church leaders to think our primary job is to find ways to increase church membership. At a time when Christians need to have confidence that we have something to say in the interest of “church growth,” what we have to say is simplistic and superficial. You do not need to come to church to be told you need to be nice to those with less.
Of course, that is not the only way the church has responded to our current political and social challenges. Drawing on the spirit of the civil rights struggle, black and white Christians have again joined with those who seem to represent the progressive forces of history to extend the equality they assume is promised by our democratic convictions. Rightly embarrassed by complicity in past injustices, Christians now try to identify with anyone or any group that claims they want to make America a more just society. Accordingly, Christians express their moral commitments by joining with those who think they are having their fundamental rights denied. This is called social ethics.
The only problem with this attempt to recover the moral authority of the church is that while it may be a very good thing for Christians to support these attempts to make our social order more just, it is not theologically clear how the pursuit of justice so understood helps us know how to live. Indeed, I worry that many people now confuse being on the right side of history with having a life worth living.
The church has simply failed to help people live in a manner such that we would want no other life than the life we have lived. Such lives may well be filled with suffering and failures, but suffering and failures are not blocks to having lived a good life.
To have lived a good life is to have lived in a manner that we hope we can be remembered by those who have found our lives crucial for making it possible for them to want no other life than the life they have been given. To be happily remembered is to have lived with a modesty that witnesses our dependence on others and makes possible the satisfaction that accompanies doing the right thing without regret or notice.
“This is my life. I want no other” is the expression of what in the past was called “a good life.” That language is still used but now it references lives that have not been unduly burdened. To have had a good life now means for many that their second marriage turned out all right, the children did not become addicts, and they had enough savings to retire. That understanding of the good life too often produces people who do not want the life they have lived. They do not want the life they have lived because it is a life without consequence. I suspect the reason so many men want mentioned in their obituary their service in the military is because they believe that service was of consequence.
If any people should know what it means to have a good life, surely Christians ought to have something to say. Yet I do not think Christians have emphasized sufficiently why we think it so important to have a life well lived and, perhaps, even more significantly, what living well looks like.
I am, of course, not suggesting that what it means to live a good life will be the same for everyone. But I do believe to have lived well makes it possible to want no other life than the life you have lived. To want no other life than the life we have lived – a life that often has moments of failures and betrayals – is made possible for Christians because our lives can be located in a determinative narrative that makes it possible for us to make sense even of those aspects of our life about which we are not sure we can or should make sense.
In his extraordinary book After Virtue , which was first published in 1981, Alasdair MacIntyre observed that the conception of a whole human life is a concept that is no longer generally available in our culture. Such a conception, MacIntyre contends, is necessary to provide the content of non-arbitrary judgments about particular actions or projects that make up out individual lives. The loss of such an understanding of our lives, MacIntyre argues, has gone unnoticed partly because it is not seen as a loss, but as a gain for human freedom. But the result is the loss of the boundaries derived from our social identity and any sense that our lives are ordered to a given end.
Why and how this has happened I want to explore by calling attention to John Milbank’s and Adrian Pabst’s account of where we are in their book, The Politics of Virtue: Post-Liberalism and the Human Future .
John Milbank has reclaimed the importance of Christian theology for helping us better understand why many no longer think Christian theology can be about truth. He has done that polemically by showing how the very disciplines we use to understand our lives in fact are legitimations that make us think that there are no alternatives to the way things are.
Accordingly, with his co-author Adrian Pabst, he argues in The Politics of Virtue that our lives are shaped by narratives that make it almost impossible to be happy with the lives we have lived. Milbank and Pabst argue that people who are citizens of advanced societies, like the United States and the UK, cannot be satisfied with our lives because we no longer have the resources to live honourable lives of virtue. As a result, we seem to be living lives that are contradictory, or, as I have already suggested above, lives we do not understand.
According to Milbank and Pabst, we no longer are able to live virtuously because our lives are determined by a hegemonic liberal story. That story comes in two basic forms. There is the liberalism of the cultural left, which is primarily understood as the attempt to free people of past forms of oppression. That liberal story is often contrasted with the political and economic liberalism of the right that is primarily focused on economic and political policy within a capitalist framework.
Milbank and Pabst argue, however, that these forms of liberalism, though they have quite different understandings of freedom, have increasingly become mutually reinforcing. The left and the right are joined by the common project of increasing personal freedoms, even if the result is the atomization of our lives which makes impossible any account of our lives as having a narrative unity. Ironically, societies committed to securing the freedom of the individual end up making that same individual subject to impersonal bureaucratic procedures.
Politically liberalism increases the concentration of power in the central state, as well as at the same time underwriting the assumption of the inevitability of a globalized market. The latter has the unfortunate effect of destroying a sense of place. In such a social order, the production of wealth increasingly is in the hands of a new, rootless oligarchy “that practices a manipulative populism while holding in contempt the genuine priorities of most people” – as good a description of Trump as one could want.
I think it will be helpful in support of Milbank’s and Pabst’s account of liberalism to call attention to Ron Beiner’s understanding of liberalism in his book, What’s the Matter with Liberalism . Beiner, perhaps even more forcefully that Milbank and Pabst, stresses that liberalism is not only a social and political alternative, but more importantly, liberalism is the recommendation of a distinctive moral way to live.
To be sure, Milbank and Pabst know that liberalism is a normative proposal for how best to live, but Beiner helps us see that even if we do not think of ourselves as liberals the liberal story determines our lives. In my language, liberalism is morally the presumption that I am to be held accountable only for what I have done when what I have done is the result of my choice and my choice alone. That is what liberals mean by freedom. As a correlate to this understanding of freedom, equality is understood as the goal of trying to secure for each individual freedom from arbitrary limits.
A liberal way of life, Milbank and Pabst argue, however, is built on contradictory and self-defeating commitments that are only viable because they have been and continue to be parasitic on the heritage inherited from the past, and in particular, the Roman and Christian traditions. For example, the Christian commitment to the uniqueness of the person conceived and realized through constitutive relations with other persons is lost in the ruthless liberal presumption that our task is to expand our individual domains limited only by contractual agreements made to insure fairness. The result is an inequity that “gives rise to endless discontents” which spill over into atavistic assertions of absolute identity of race, nation, religion, gender, sexuality, disability and so on.
According to Milbank and Pabst, the contradictory character of liberalism is but an indication that liberalism’s most profound mistakes are metaphysical. Liberalism goes against the grain of our humanity and the universe itself because it is based on the presumption that life has no telos other than the arbitrary desires we impose on the world to make us feel at home. From a liberal perspective, all life is finally materially determined whose recognition cannot help but result in a pervasive nihilism.
The resulting politics of contractual arrangements, whether it is the politics of Hobbes or Rousseau, tries to ameliorate the violence that is at the heart of attempts to sustain cooperative relations between isolated individuals. Such arrangements cannot help but fail because a genuine politics cannot be sustained without some account of the role of those who represent what it means to live well as people of virtue and honour.
I have no doubt that Milbank’s and Pabst’s understanding and criticism of liberalism will invite critical responses. Milbank and Pabst will be dismissed for having a far too strong position by liberals who in principle dismiss strong positions yet cannot recognize that they have a strong position.
The kind of position Milbank and Pabst represent stands the risk of dying the death of a thousand qualifications, which is the academic equivalent of being nibbled to death by ducks. I have no intention to be part of that flock. That may be because I am in deep sympathy with Milbank’s and Pabst’s understanding and critique of liberalism and I have sympathy with some of their proposed alternatives. By exploring my differences with their recommendations, I hope to clarify why I began with a shepherd’s story.
Milbank and Pabst call their proposed alternative post-liberalism. Post-liberalism is a blend of two older traditions:
“a combination of honourable, virtuous elites with greater popular participation: a greater sense of cultural duty and hierarchy of value and honour, alongside much more real equality and genuine freedom in economic and political realms.”
I am particularly drawn to their understanding of the ethics of virtue which they argue depends on the presumption that our lives have a purpose and meaning that is not just our arbitrary will. Lives determined by the virtues when confronted by what may be morally difficult do not ask what should be done, but rather ask:
“what I should consistently be doing at all. What sort of shape might my entire life appropriately take? What sort of character do I want to be and how should I order this desire in an acceptable way to my relationships with others?”
Such questions – and, admittedly, they observe these are not questions we ask or need to ask on a daily basis – are often asked at crucial transitional points in our lives. I suspect, for example, such a point is when the newly married ask themselves what they have done, or new parents suddenly have forced on themselves the stark reality that they have brought a new life into the world and they are not sure why.
Any answer to these questions, moreover, entails further questions about the kind of society in which we want to live. How does my life fit with the life of others with whom I must share goods, is a question that cannot be avoided if we would live lives that can be happily narrated. The good news is we cannot have an honourable life without others who also seek to live honourably.
To so live can sound quite burdensome, but Milbank and Pabst do not think that to be the case. To live virtuously does not mean that we must be constantly thinking about what we should do or not do. Rather Milbank and Pabst observe that most of what we do that is honourable is:
“an everyday matter of performing your job well, being a good lover, spouse, parent, friend, colleague and citizen, or even enjoying a game or a trip. For if goodness is given in nature and not something we contrive with difficulty from time to time, then simple gratitude is a crucial aspect of virtue.”
Milbank and Pabst, who know much of what they are recommending will be thought by some to be reactionary, do not hesitate to take positions that many will think to be outrageous. Their defence of an ethics of honour, for example, will be considered by many as an exercise in nostalgia. Yet they argue, drawing on Papal Social Encyclicals that a post-liberal ethic is about the everyday process of locating the goods we have in common. Such goods are not, as liberalism would have it, the aggregate of privately owned items, but rather goods that can be shared together such as intimacy, trust, beauty. The goods that should determine how we live are embedded in the practices of honour and reciprocity which are developed over time through the habits sustained by a tradition. The formation of such traditions depends on the existence of people of wisdom who can provide the judgments necessary for responding to new challenges while remaining faithful to the past.
The substitution of technique for wisdom is one of the main reasons that we have no place for understanding the responsibilities and status of the elderly. In wisdom cultures the elderly are expected to remember the judgments made in the past about matters that can be other. Once a social order no longer depends on memory, the old have no responsibility to younger generations. The result too often is to make growing old a dreadful development which may increasingly be understood as an illness. To grow old in societies like the United States means your primary responsibility is to get out of the way.
Milbank and Pabst argue that we need some account of civic roles in order to have a basis for discerning what resources should belong to those who have specific responsibilities. Such judgments inevitably imply the legitimate place for hierarchies and elites for initiating the young into the tradition of the virtues. They think such an ethos and politics is a realistic possibility because increasingly the working class and the middle class share a common commitment to meeting the needs of family and community. They argue that a coalition politics so conceived would be an alternative to the liberal commitment to abstract universalism and the corresponding denial of the significance of place.
In support of their views, Milbank and Pabst employ George Orwell’s socialist vision because of Orwell’s emphasis on practices of reciprocity, through gift giving and receiving, makes possible the process of mutual recognition. Orwell rightly thought most people pursue association with others because they desire that their contribution, no matter how small, to our common life be recognized. To be so acknowledged is what it means to be honoured.
People who so live do not think their first task in life is to become more wealthy or powerful as individuals. Rather wealth is best thought of as what we share in common, such as parks, or practices to which all have access, such as medicine. In other words, the post-liberal strategy is exactly the opposite of the liberal assumption that assumes that social practices of mutual assistance should be eliminated, while at the same time encouraging our desires for wealth and prestige. The liberal desire for the well-being of the individual not only ignores the goods built on gift relations, but in effect destroys the habits that make such relations possible.
To their credit, Milbank and Pabst take straight on what I take to be the most determinative objection to their understanding of post-liberalism. They confront head on the problem of luck. Luck comes in many forms and sizes, but the most fundamental manifestation of luck is the brute fact that no one choses when, where, or to whom they will be born. Yet the family into which we are born determines our future, making us subject to inequalities that are justified in the name of this or that tradition, history, or some other abstraction.
I have always thought the profound moral power of the liberal tradition is to be found in the liberal desire to defeat luck. That is particularly the case when luck may be just another name for fate. The impersonality and abstract universalism characteristic of liberal institutions are attempts to find a way not to let the accidents of birth determine a person’s life. Milbank and Pabst, however, argue that liberalism’s ambition to overcome luck results in the destruction of any sense we have a responsibility to fulfill the duties associated with the ascribed roles we inherit through birth.
The importance of luck creates the context for Milbank’s and Pabst’s defence of hierarchy and the importance of sustaining an aristocracy governed by a monarch. The defence of hierarchy, they argue, is but a correlative of the necessity that there is an established church. If the church is not established, the church threatens to become but another voluntary society rather than a political entity that is the living heart of the nation. Milbank and Pabst develop a complex theological position – complex is my way of saying I am sure I do not “get it” – to argue that the established church also requires that there be a monarch who can receive the sacraments for the whole society.
Milbank and Pabst defend this account of aristocracy by turning the tables on liberalism. They do so by arguing that the liberal respect for persons qua persons can be compatible with the exploitation of the person qua miner, qua father and so on. As a result of this false idealism personhood is divorced from vocational role.
But Milbank and Pabst argue, if Aristotle is right that the aim of politics is to produce virtuous citizens, and since people develop character through social and economic relations, then these relations cannot be attended to properly if the virtuous formation of people is not the purpose of politics. This will require that each and every person’s contribution to the common life be valued in a manner that each person can be assured that they can exercise political influence through their workplace and with those they share a common purpose.
Milbank and Pabst argue that not only is their account of aristocracy consistent with democracy, but in fact democracy is dependent on the existence of elites. Elites are not necessarily incompatible with democracy. What is incompatible with democracy is liberalism, exactly because of the liberal presumption that all forms of hierarchy are arbitrary and unjust. The liberal attempt to destroy aristocratic elites can lead to the tyranny of the majority.
Liberalism and democracy are in tension just to the extent that liberalism can result in a populism that is indifferent in matters of truth and goodness. The liberal emphasis on individual preference can result in the spread of a kind of anarchy that “exacerbates the increasing inability of the modern sovereign state to command the loyalty of its citizens.” War becomes the necessary means of securing the obedience of people who have been formed to vote their self-interests.
The high theory that John Milbank and Adrian Pabst represent may seem quite foreign to Rebanks’s depiction of the life of a shepherd. I suspect Rebanks does not need Milbank and Pabst to understand his life. Milbank and Pabst probably do need stories like the one Rebanks tells about his life. They need Rebanks because they need exemplifications of the kind of lives they intimate must exist if their position is to be persuasive.
The challenge Milbank and Pabst represent is not that lives such as Rebanks do not exist, but under the power of the liberal story people like Rebanks may lack the resources to rightly tell the story of their life. Even more troubling, people like Rebanks, and like you and me, may wrongly describe who we have been and who we are yet to be. It is a testimony to his humility and modesty that Rebanks makes neither of those mistakes.
Though I am obviously sympathetic with the general position Milbank and Pabst represent, I think there is something missing in their argument that is not without importance if we are to understand what we need to make our lives our own. What is missing in Milbank and Pabst is a person called Jesus and the people he gathers called the church. Milbank and Pabst are good Christians and there is no doubt that Christianity plays an important role in their account of an ethic of virtue and honour. But Christianity is not the church. The church is a particular people who have been gathered from the world to worship Jesus. That they do so is the necessary condition for them to have lives that glorify God without their lives being desperate attempts to secure worldly glory.
Milbank and Pabst no doubt assume that such a church exists, but that church seems subordinate to a more determinative reality called “England.” That they have England gives them the confidence that social, economic and political practices are possible at a national level to offer an alternative to liberalism. That is why they contemplate alliances between the working classes and the middle class. I have trouble keeping blue Labor and red Tories straight.
All of which means I am obviously an American. I do not have an “England” to think about or with. In truth, I am not sure if Milbank and Pabst have the England they seem to think is somehow lurking in the wings ready to be reborn. I think, moreover, this is not irrelevant for the questions about the politics in which we now seem caught.
For unless a people exist who have a narrative more determinative than the story shaped by the politics of the day, I fear we will continue to produce politicians like Donald Trump who not only seem to be dangerous but are dangerous. They are, moreover, all the more dangerous because no people seem to exist capable of telling them the truth. Of course some quite extraordinary people exist, like the poet and farmer Wendell Berry, but Wendell Berry is not a politics. At least, he is not a politics given what most Christians in America assume is “real politics” – that is, the politics of election.
(I have often compared American national elections to the Roman use of the staged battle to distract the proletariat from noticing who is ruling them. Elections become a form of entertainment that give people the mistaken idea that they are ruling themselves because they get to vote. Donald Trump seems to be a confirmation of this understanding of the electoral process. The association of democracies with elections is a profound but widely held mistake.)
To be a Christian in America is to assume that there is a form of political organization that is not only compatible with our fundamental Christian convictions but is the expression of those convictions. The name for that political reality is democracy.
The discipline I represent, Christian ethics, is a discipline built on the assumption that American democracy is the form of Christian politics. Thus Walter Rauschenbusch, the great representative of the social gospel, would claim that Jesus saved God by taking the Father by the hand and by so doing made God the Father a democratic figure. According to Rauschenbusch, Jesus came proclaiming as well as instituting the Kingdom of God to be a movement in history to democratize all our relations with one another. Rauschenbusch could even claim that politics in American had been saved because we were a democracy. The great remaining challenge Rauschenbusch maintained was to extend that political transformation to the economic realm.
Though Rauschenbusch’s naive underwriting of democracy is often criticized, his fundamental presumption that there is a necessary relation between Christianity and democracy is assumed by subsequent figures identified as theologians and ethicists. Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the sharpest critics of Rauschenbusch, developed a realist justification of democracy that I suspect continues to be assumed by many who seek to express their Christian convictions in a politically significant way. For Niebuhr democracy was not an ideal, but that is not a problem because there are no ideals. Exactly because there are no ideals is why Christians have a stake in democracy as an expression of the best one can do under the conditions of sin.
What we may now be facing is a challenge to the presumption that democracy is the expression of Christian convictions. In 1981, I wrote a chapter in A Community of Character , entitled “The Church and Liberal Democracy: The Moral Limits of a Secular Polity.” In that essay I suggested that the Christian underwriting of democracy as rule by “the people” – when the people are understood to be self-interested players in a zero-sum game of power – has resulted in the loss of voice by Christians necessary for the church to be an alternative polity. I continue to think that may be true.
The issues surrounding the relation of Christianity and democracy will not and should not go away. The Trump campaign has raised them with new urgency. In particular, Trump has alerted us again to the worry that there is finally no check on the tyranny of the majority in democracy as we know it. Tocqueville’s worry that individualism would undermine American democracy is back on the table. Tocqueville saw clearly that democratic citizens pursuing their own interest without regard for the commonwealth would result in the loss of associational forms of life on which democracy depends.
Andrew Sullivan, drawing Plato’s critique of democracy, argued in an article in the New York Magazine , that democracy depends on elites to protect democracies from “the will of the people.” Sullivan’s position has been countered by Jedediah Purdy, who argues that it is not majoritarian democracy that is the problem but the growing economic power a small group of capitalist who have the power to undermine the kind of rule Trump says he is for.
I have no intention to try to resolve these fundamental questions in democratic theory and practice. I think Milbank and Pabst are right to call attention to the incompatibility of liberalism and some forms of democracy. For example, John Bowlin’s understanding of democracy as “resistance to domination through the practices of mutual accountability” is an ideal that is well worth trying to imagine what institutional form it might take. I fear we are not even close to having such an imagination in play.
But we do have James Rebanks. For me to have begun these considerations on national and global politics by calling attention to Rebanks’s account of being a shepherd must seem quite odd. It is odd, but also hopeful. I believe as long as we can produce narratives of lives like Rebanks, we have a way out of the mess we are in.
Alasdair MacIntyre observes that most work is tedious and arduous, but nonetheless fulfilling if the work has a purpose, if it can be recognized to be our contribution for doing it and doing it well, and that we are rewarded for doing it in a way that enables the realization of goods of family and community. MacIntyre even suggests that such a conception of work is a form of prayer.
Such a view of work is why I think it crucial, no matter what you call the systems in which we now find we exist as Christians, that we discover ways to sustain the truthfulness that is constitutive of learning how to be a good judge of sheep. Such a way of life is only made possible by a people who have good work to do that can only be done if we have the skills to say what is true.
Hopefully Christians will be such a people because God in these times seems to be determined to make us a people who are leaner and meaner. Such a people might know how to tell one another the truth because we they no longer have anything to lose. A people who have nothing to lose, moreover, might discover they want no other life than the one we have been given.