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Bonanza’s Adam Cartwright, a Cowboy in Black

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Adam CartwrightIn this week’s Acton Commentary, I adapt a section from my latest book focusing on an instance of “cowboy compassion” we find in an episode of Bonanza. I focus on the example of Adam Cartwright, who helps out an economically-depressed family faced with the tyranny of a greedy scrooge, Jedediah Milbank.

There are many reasons to appreciate Bonanza, even if it is a product of its times, as in the stereotypical portrayal of Hop Sing, for instance. I also mention another favorite western of mine, Have Gun–Will Travel, in which Paladin functions as a kind of one-man A-Team. But this show, too, traffics a bit in the well-worn caricature of Asians, as the only other semi-regular appearing character is a Chinese bellhop known as “Hey Boy” (as in, “Hey, boy, come over here and pick up this suitcase.”).

But we have something to learn from such shows, warts and all. In the case of Bonanza, I think we have a kind of libertarian-cowboy in black, who no doubt wore “the black for the poor and the beaten down,” a man firmly committed to wedding together liberty and love.

As I conclude, “We can get our hands dirty by grubbing for money,” or as in the case of Adam Cartwright, “we can get them dirty by helping fix a broken well.”

Read more in Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) and “The ‘Cowboy Compassion’ of the Cartwrights.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.

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