I have on occasion eaten lunch at the Beckman Institute cafeteria on the Campus of the University of Illinois. One day I was joined for lunch by a fan of ever expanding government power. In praising government largesse, my friend waxed eloquently upon the state’s underwriting of the Beckman Institute, which includes its cafeteria. “Just look at the size of these walnuts!!!” he rhapsodized. His enthusiastic praise reminded me of David Bamber’s portrayal of Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice (The A &E version). While rereading Pride and Prejudice last winter, I realized that the nature of class conflict in Jane Austen resembles the conflict concerning government expansion today. In Austen’s England, those on the top rung of society used class as a means to regulate the lives of everyone else, threatening the aspirations and well being of those less fortunate. Today, it is the ruling class epitomized by President Obama and government bureaucrats which threaten to gain control over a citizenry becoming ever more dependent upon government. These reflections have led me to this temporary departure from utter seriousness.
Mr. Collins never ending obsequious praise of his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is eerily similar to the praise heaped on big government by those who want government to provide for all our needs. Austen’s characterization of Mr. Collins could just as well apply to these people as well big government aficionados in the media: “he had never in his life witnessed such behavior in a person of rank (government ‘experts,’ officials who have at their disposal unlimited taxpayer funds and who know better than we do in all matters), such affability and condescension, as he had himself experienced from Lady Catherine (big government types).” Paul Ryan warned against a society run by power hungry bureaucrats where “everything is free but us!”
Mr. Collins’ willingness to allow Lady Catherine to control his choice of wife resembles those who advocate government control over our choices in life: “Twice has she condescended to give me her opinion (unasked too!) on this subject…Allow me, by the way, to observe, my fair cousin [Elizebeth Bennent] that I do not reckon the notice and kindness of Lady Catherine de Bourgh as among the least of the advantages in my power to offer. You…must be acceptable to her, especially when tempered by the silence and respect which her rank will inevitably excite.”
Lady Catherine herself serves as a model all big government advocates seek to emulate. Elizebeth Bennent observed her delivering “her opinion on every subject in so decisive a manner, as proved that she was not used to have her judgment controverted. She inquired into Charlotte’s (the woman who eventually married Mr. Collins) domestic concerns familiarly and minutely, and gave her a great deal of advice as to the management of them all; told her how everything ought to be regulated in so small a family as hers, and instructed her as to the care of her cows and her poultry. Elizebeth found that nothing was beneath this great lady’s attention, which could furnish her with an occasion of dictating to others…Elizebeth soon perceived, that though this great lady was not in the commission of the peace for the county, she was a most active magistrate in her own parish…and when any of the cottagers were disposed to be quarrelsome, discontented, or too poor, she sallied forth into the village to settle their differences, silence their complaints, and scold them into harmony and plenty.” Lady Catherine reminds me of the presumption of President Obama when he told a lady that her 100 year old mother who had a pacemaker had no right to expect medical treatment to extend her life any further. He stated that she should be given a pain pill and sent home to die. If he is reelected, his wishes will be the government’s command.
Who better in Pride and Prejudice represents the forebears of those in government and the media who disdain ordinary citizens, who doubt the capacity of individuals to govern themselves? Caroline Bingley, of course: “…how insupportable it would be to pass many evenings in this manner—in such society…I was never more annoyed! The insipity, and yet the noise—the nothingness, and yet the self-importance of all those people!” She reminds me of all those liberals who could not stomach George W. Bush as President, not just because they hated his policies, but also because he came from Texas. She is a precursor of those big government types that consider everything between Washington, D.C., New York City and California to be fly-over country. Miss Bingley’s description of an accomplished woman not only reveals her contempt for most other women, it mirrors the modern liberal bias against women who try to follow a more traditional path: “…no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”
As for those establishment Republicans who disdain the people who make up the conservative base, any one of these could lay claim to these words of Mr. Darcy, “The country…can in general supply but few subjects for…a study. In a country neighborhood you move in a very confined and unvarying society.”
Pride and Prejudice’s heroine, Elizebeth Bennent, embodies the spirit that seeks to maintain the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” When Lady Catherine de Bourgh seeks to use her position to make Elizebeth bend to her will, Elizebeth replies as any citizen who refuses to submit to an all powerful government would: “…I am only resolved to act in that manner which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.”
Lady Catherine de Bourgh/President Obama’s reply: “Obstinate, headstrong girl! I am ashamed of you! Is this your gratitude for my attentions to you…Hear me in silence…This is your final resolve! Very well. I shall know how to act…I hoped to find you reasonable; but, depend upon it, I will carry my point…I am seriously displeased.”