Monday, November 11, 2013

Citing Verse on The Side of Your House

The anthropological observer of Switzerland's small towns frequently notices ecclesiastical messages painted in imposing Gothic script on the sides of old-fashioned farmhouses. Why?

Importantly, scripture is never written on the stark lines of contemporary steel-and-glass numbers, nor the stucco of working-class apartment buildings: it inevitably appears on posh wooden chalets.  This is because the tidy rural farm is a perfect storm of Swissness: it is where Protestant virtue, wealth, and hard work converge.  

Buying an expensive grey car is something the wealthy Swiss does with some reluctance, but the cow-studded countryside is where he can finally be a bit showy.  The Swiss have maintained an admirable connection in the popular imagination (one which might, in some places, appear quaint) between hard work and success.  Boasting is quite un-Swiss; the writing on the wall therefore thanks God for your (obvious) success while simultaneously (and subtly, blamelessly) advertising to your neighbours that your wealth is the natural, God-given result of your hard work.

We recall that Weber's famous identification of the Protestant Work Ethic wasn't a century old before Fukuyama declared the end of history.  History has not ended in Switzerland, where hard work and virtue are the muscular, tanned arms forever dangling the organic local carrot of progress just beyond easy reach.  

If, as John Cleese once remarked, it is the goal of every Englishman to go to his grave unembarrassed, it is surely the goal of every Swiss to go to his grave a wealthy, hardworking farmer.

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