As I noted last week, my review of Nicholas Eberstadt’s Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic appears in the current issue of The City, a fine publication produced by Houston Baptist University.
Eberstadt provides an important service in bringing home the fiscal realities of the spending crisis facing the American government. But Yuval Levin’s brief reply was, for me, the high point of the book, as it emphasized the indispensability of the so-called “third sector” in social analysis. Eberstadt’s case is helpful for drawing sharp lines, but it’s also worth taking a step back to appreciate the real complexity of the situation.
This is in part why I find any dichotomous breakdown of the situation, whether it pits “makers” against “takers” or the proletariat against the bourgeosie, to be insufficient.
When you have a fuller picture of society than is provided through merely political lenses, it becomes far more difficult to determine who is really a maker and who is really a taker. Or as Joseph Sunde puts it in his review,
The moment we disregard the value in varying social and institutional relationships—beginning with a holistic disregard of the distinct responsibilities of the government vs. the business vs. the school vs. the church vs. the father vs. the daughter vs. the grandmother—is the moment we should expect to see “dependency” become warped toward a one-sided “entitlement archipelago” that serves the self, and little else.
As for the complexity of modern society, Herman Bavinck describes things this way, in a manner that helpfully complicates any simple oppositional narrative:
Current society displays in every respect the greatest inequality and the richest diversity, far greater inequality and diversity than its opponents usually imagine. For they divide society actually into only two classes: the filthy rich and the dirt poor, the superpowerful and the powerless, the abusers and the abused, tyrants and slaves. But the real society, the society that lives and breathes, does not look at all like that; the diversity is far greater, so great that no one can form a complete picture of it. The filthy rich constitute a very small minority, and of these people, membership along a continuum proceeds down to the bottom not by a big leap but rather in terms of a gradual slope in various degrees and in various stages.
For more on these matters, I highlight Bavinck’s insight and the phenomenon of natural diversity, particularly in economic terms, in a recent paper, “The Moral Challenges of Economic Equality and Diversity.”