Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Scrooge’s change of heart often overlooked in capitalism critiques
Special to the Daily
Fa La La. We all know what time it is, don’t we? Yes, indeed: two days before Christmas; time to panic.
For the past month crowds have been growing in all the usual centers of commerce. Parking spaces have been shrinking or disappearing; clerks are so overworked one can hear their hearts howling like Formula 1 engines on walking in the door; what little courtesy and customer service there ever was has long since been dragged into the street and shot. Wild-eyed patrons crash carts into other shoppers in a frantic search for the last remaining “Ariel and Eric Boat Ride with the Crab-Claw Kung-Fu Grip.” Terminal consumerism has us by the throat and is squeezing — hard.
The season of joyous togetherness has seen the customary rise in familial tension: significant other has no suggestions for a gift for Uncle Festus, but has no trouble declaring all suggestions equally silly. No, niece of mine, this establishment does not feature — or even offer — a Venti triple half-caf soy-milk gluten-free mochachino with fair-trade cocoa, sweetened with raw organic honey. Don’t ask. The server gets a bit … testy. Sorry, friend — that very last tin of hot spiced wine seasoning is mine. Mine, I tell you! And so is the parking spot. This is a spirt, of sorts. The Spirit of Christmas, I doubt. For that, one must refer to one of the best-known of seasonal icons, the redoubtable Ebenezer Scrooge.
More than most, Charles Dickens’ memorable miser reminds us all of the proper sentiment and attitude about Christmas and its messages of hope, repentance and yes, salvation. It’s a story worth studying, not least because it has been prone to misappropriation, misinterpretation and sundry abuse over the years. “Scrooge” has been shamelessly used by the Progressive left as the ultimate symbol of the abuses of capitalism, which is certainly true to the author’s “before” portrait. Problem is, they neglect the second part of the story which brings readers to the real point: the change of heart that saves the flint-hearted old drudge.
The Left highlights Scrooge’s shortcomings and hard-heartedness to argue for government interventions to part of “the poor,” or to curb the depredations of capitalists. This is exactly counter to the message of “A Christmas Carol.” An attentive reader will find no references in the text to the necessity of government assistance or regulation. The only official institutions which target the indigent are treated with disgust and odium; the real answers to the dire condition of the poor in Dickens are jobs and a more generous attitude on part of those who have the most.
Neither of these depend on government mandates, corporate tax rates or structured write-offs. Instead, Dickens makes clear that the answer depends on something far more profound: a new attitude. At the beginning of the tale, Scrooge was as dead as his former partner Jacob Marley — and as doomed. He just hadn’t realized it yet. When he does, the results are profound and far-reaching. Scrooge not only saves himself, he saves Tiny Tim, his clerk Bob Cratchit, and others, he becomes the man he was meant to be, providing an example to us all.
The timeless point of “A Christmas Carol” is that we are all, at a fundamental level, connected to and responsible for each other and that this responsibility is both direct and personal. This connectedness does not exist because the state compels it; generosity enforced by apparatchiks is not virtue since one has no choice. In fact, government-funded “welfare” programs tend to have perverse effects precisely because they are indirect and impersonal: money taken by faceless bureaucrats from unknown people is rained down on others by state agencies following an inscrutable script, for purposes tainted with the hint of political favor. In such an environment, the will to strive, to better one’s lot, to honor one’s benefactors withers away. The will to freely give also falters, lulled by the false sentiment that since one is taxed, seeing to the welfare of others is the business of the state. The personal connections so vital to maintaining a healthy, balanced society slowly die. In the end, we find ourselves exactly where Scrooge was at the beginning: resorting to institutional answers to the challenge of poverty. Good policy, if one thinks our nation should embrace Jacob Marley’s fate.
If this seems unwise, we might want to follow Ebenezer Scrooge down a different and more challenging road, demanding both of ourselves and others a more personal approach to the question of “the poor.” And in the process, bringing to our society the old messages of hope, repentance and yes, salvation — in belief that these still matter.
Merry Christmas to you, and to yours. And God bless us, every one.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News.
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