The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Tuesday, July 30, 2002  

Whose Values?

To: The Rittenhouse Review

Michael Novak says the men and women who rescued the trapped coal miners were “people who understand instinctively what it is to sacrifice one’s own self-assertion to the urgent needs of the group, and to work as a high-spirited, attentive, docile, alert, and creative team.”

Fair enough. But he goes on to say this is “a remarkable display of classic conservative virtues.”

Really? This must be a definition of conservatism that I missed. It sounds a lot more like altruism.

The Rittenhouse Review notes the comic aspect of a scholar from the American Enterprise Institute waxing poetic about union coal miners. But the not-so-comic possibility is that this accident may have been the result of -- surprise! -- corporate greed, and as such reveals the philosophical barrenness of Novak’s position.

All of us were thrilled and emotional at the rescue of the miners. But only a conservative like Novak would suck on to it as if all heart-warming, down-home stories were naturally the property of the “family values” crowd.

I wonder if he noticed, as I did, the contrast between the heroic actions of the average men and women of the police and fire departments of New York City, and the managerial malfeasance, cover-ups, and buck passing that went on (and is still going on) in the executive suites of the Bush Administration, the FBI, the CIA, and the Justice Department. Sound familiar?

Conservatives love tradition; well, there’s a tradition for you: union members working to save their brothers from the actions of corporate malefactors and religious and social fundamentalists. It’s a classic virtue, all right, but not a conservative one.

Michael Barry
Boston, Mass.

[Ed.: The writer is a singer and songwriter. His web site can be found at]

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