Ben Sasse and Pajama Boy would not get along.
The latter, the footie-clad, cocoa-sipping, basement-inhabiting 20-plus teen who made his debut in 2013 as the Obamacare mascot, is what Sasse believes is the end of the line of our national greatness, and what he feels called to resist. Pajama Boy is the adolescent in perpetuity, and Sasse thinks adolescence is our bane.
His book, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-Of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance, is not a war on adolescence, but an attempt to put it back in its proper place as the last stage in a long transition from infancy upward that culminates with the passing of certain critical tests of adulthood.
Sasse has lots to say, but much comes down to three or four principles that connect with each other:
- Adolescence should not mean the absence of pressures, but the preparation to meet them.
- Children should be assigned tasks early in childhood, and be trained to know and love effort.
- They should be made no strangers to disappointment and suffering, but learn to confront them.
- They should learn to see experiences and not acquisitions as the things to be valued in life.
"Bizarrely, our culture is now trying to PROTECT kids from ... hard experiences," Sasse tells us. An early toughening-up is the best way to keep children from being flattened by circumstance, and perhaps the affluence of the post World War II era has kept us from some of the trials we need.
"We seem collectively blind to the irony that the generation coming of age has begun life with far too few problems," he says, writing that a "rich and ... spoiled society" may have to create them.
This idea would probably panic Pajama Boy, as would the corrective Sasse planned for his daughter, who at age fourteen spent a month at a cattle ranch. Her exploits were tweeted by her dad: "Learned to coil barbwire...dropped two cows for slaughter," went one entry. And: "We're castrating bulls today. 50 so far."
Can a sane person have any doubts whatsoever how an impasse between Pajama Boy and Sasse fille would resolve?
The one quibble to take with this excellent treatise is the claim that love of the republic implies frugality, as the page heading "Fashion Comes to America" ignores the fact that most of the founders were not all that frugal. Several in fact were male fashionistas, who had expensive and really quite beautiful houses, lovely things in them, and elegant clothing themselves. An aesthete of sorts, Washington was not only president but his own Jackie Kennedy, a particular person about his surroundings. At one point in his life he designed his own uniform, and outfitted himself and his houses in only the best. Hamilton and several others also dressed and lived well, and Jefferson, who always spent lavishly, died deeply in debt, with Monticello falling to pieces around him.
Sasse, who closes his book with a long theoretical speech he thought might have been given by Theodore Roosevelt, doesn't mention the single thing most indicative of Roosevelt's approach to the forming of character: At Sagamore Hill, he would lead his brood of five (and sometimes niece Eleanor) on hikes through the woods, on which all, when facing an obstacle, were obliged to go above, under or through it, and never around. This is an indispensable book by an unusual thinker, who deserves a long run as a leader, whether Pajama Boy likes it or not.
Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."