The Corner

More Murray

I agree that Murray is wildly optimistic to assume that the elites will change their views on affirmative action because “science” enlightens them. But since we’re discussing his fabulous talk Wednesday evening, let’s draw attention to the most excellent part. He shed light on why the European model fails to satisfy the deepest strivings of the human heart and he did so in a cogent, commonsense way that was quite clarifying.

First, the problem with the European model, namely: It drains too much of the life from life. And that statement applies as much to the lives of janitors–even more to the lives of janitors–as it does to the lives of CEOs.

I start from this premise: A human life can have transcendent meaning, with transcendence defined either by one of the world’s great religions or one of the world’s great secular philosophies. If transcendence is too big a word, let me put it another way: I suspect that almost all of you agree that the phrase “a life well-lived” has meaning. That’s the phrase I’ll use from now on.

And since happiness is a word that gets thrown around too casually, the phrase I’ll use from now on is “deep satisfactions.” I’m talking about the kinds of things that we look back upon when we reach old age and let us decide that we can be proud of who we have been and what we have done. Or not.

To become a source of deep satisfaction, a human activity has to meet some stringent requirements. It has to have been important (we don’t get deep satisfaction from trivial things). You have to have put a lot of effort into it (hence the cliché “nothing worth having comes easily”). And you have to have been responsible for the consequences.

There aren’t many activities in life that can satisfy those three requirements. Having been a good parent. That qualifies. A good marriage. That qualifies. Having been a good neighbor and good friend to those whose lives intersected with yours. That qualifies. And having been really good at something–good at something that drew the most from your abilities. That qualifies. Let me put it formally: If we ask what are the institutions through which human beings achieve deep satisfactions in life, the answer is that there are just four: family, community, vocation, and faith. Two clarifications: “Community” can embrace people who are scattered geographically. “Vocation” can include avocations or causes.

. . .

It is not necessary for any individual to make use of all four institutions, nor do I array them in a hierarchy. I merely assert that these four are all there are. The stuff of life–the elemental events surrounding birth, death, raising children, fulfilling one’s personal potential, dealing with adversity, intimate relationships–coping with life as it exists around us in all its richness–occurs within those four institutions.

Seen in this light, the goal of social policy is to ensure that those institutions are robust and vital. And that’s what’s wrong with the European model. It doesn’t do that. It enfeebles every single one of them.

Murray went out of his way to acknowledge that on the surface, European countries seem to be successful. They provide a pleasant life for their people (though actually inferior to America’s but leave that aside). At the deepest level — in this is reflected in their suicidally low birthrates — they are failing. They’ve lost their elan vital. A great lecture. Read it all.


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