During the Christmas break, Patrick Deneen published a bill of indictment against George Bailey here at FT. The defendant stands accused of destroying Bedford Falls and its tradition-bound, permanence-seeking culture with his soulless suburbs. My brief for the defense appears over on TPD this morning. I emphasize the way entrepreneurs like George re-infuse morality into our culture by building new, morally ordered social structures after the old ones get taken over by cynics like Mr. Potter.
I emphasize especially the link between economic modernization and the family. If George’s suburbs stand for anything, they stand for the liberation of the household as a self-governing unit. I identify a number of moral principles that marriage and entrepreneurship share in common; I’m particularly proud of this passage:
Like marriage, entrepreneurship is essentially self-giving and generous. George is very much a typical entrepreneur in his desire to make the world a better place, and his disdain for people who prioritize making money. Fans of Ayn Rand will find nothing to like in George, just as they find nothing to like in most real entrepreneurs. (That’s why they need Rand’s fictional heroes as a substitute; the real entrepreneurs usually disappoint them.)
It’s telling that you could plausibly interpret Mr. Potter either as a Randian egoist or as one of the power brokers of the New Deal progressive project. Socialism and Randianism are basically the same worldview, differing only over the secondary question of the role of government. Entrepreneurship is the rejoinder to their materialism.
Also, here’s a First Thoughts exclusive – a paragraph that had to be cut from the TPD article for lack of space:
One of Deneen’s points requires a separate comment. Deneen’s fanciful suggestion that Bailey Park is built atop a graveyard presupposes a level of artistic subtlety that would be difficult to attribute even to the most avant-garde of 1940s filmmakers. Attributing such subtlety to Frank Capra—of all people!—is beyond implausible. No doubt Capra chose a graveyard for the scene where George is unable to locate Bailey Park because he wanted stress the desolation and deathlike atmosphere of the
social world without the life-giving generative power of George’s entrepreneurship. If he gave any thought to this question at all, he undoubtedly expected us to assume there was no graveyard there in the original timeline.
As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.