“I’ve Come Down in the World”: Downton Abbey and the Politics of Hope

Well, here we are again.


One time, when my son Christopher was a toddler, learning to walk better, he was practicing going up and down the stairs.  He was midway down the staircase when he stopped, and in a moment of panic, said, “Mommy, I don’t know if I am going up or down.”

I thought of this moment in an early scene in which Mr. Mosely, who has seen his fair share of troubles, confides to another servant that “I’ve come down in the world,” and we all know what he is talking about.

Hey, we have all been there.

This is the great theme of Downton Abbey: upward and downward mobility.  It is a tough gig, requiring a striving that may not have even been possible in previous centuries.  English culture is still stratified, but it has loosened.  But America has always been a little revolutionary:  I am teaching early American literature right now, and whenever I am watching this show, important notions ring in my ears.  I think of John Smith telling early Virginians:  Hey, if you don’t work, you don’t eat.  I think of Benjamin Franklin, in his essay addressing those who “wish to remove” to the colonies, breaking the news that your la-dee-dah title does not count for much.  Instead, he tells his readers that in the colonies, it is not so much who you are, but what you do, that really counts. Continue reading

Justice Knows No Adjective

I have few pet peeves. I’m generally an even-tempered person with great patience. I guess a few things that get on my nerves are people who talk really loud on cellphones in quite places like libraries and restaurants. Or maybe people who eat at fast food places but neglect to bus their own tables when they are finished. I really can’t think of too much else. Except one thing…adjectives prefixed to the concept of justice.

Justice, as old Socrates would let you know, either exists or it does not. There either is such a thing as Justice, or there isn’t. If there isn’t, then the world becomes one giant case study in cultural and moral relativism. Different people in different places from different times would disagree on what is wrong and what is right. But if Justice does exists, if there is such a thing as “right,” then it can’t be relative to time, place, or culture. It simply must be right.

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