Maynard contemplates whether Ebenezer Scrooge got a bad rap
‘Tis the season in which all good Americans are required by custom and law to view at least one dramatic presentation of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. And I enjoy discovering new interpretations (this year I saw the 1984 version with George C. Scott). But, as time passes, I find myself becoming more and more sympathetic to the unreformed Mr. Scrooge. Consider how Scrooge exemplifies all that is good and admirable:
- Scrooge the Tolerant and Scrooge the Diverse: Scrooge faces coercive pressure to fall into line and celebrate like everyone else. Scrooge alone is tolerant of diversity. “You keep Christmas in your way. And I’ll keep it in mine.” What reasonable person could have a problem with that?
- Scrooge the Green: In the opening scenes, it is established that Scrooge insists upon minimizing his use of coal, which is a non-renewable resource and a major source of pollution and greenhouse gasses. Rather, he asks his employee to simply wear additional clothing, as he does himself. At the end, Scrooge is degraded, shoveling dirty coal into his fireplace with reckless abandon. Tsk!
- Scrooge the Thrifty: Scrooge’s lifestyle is a modest one. He does not despoil the resources of the world for his personal indulgence. Rather, he saves his money in the bank, thus allowing excess capital to be lent to others, that they may expand their productivity.
- Scrooge the Taxpayer: Scrooge is painfully aware that the taxes extracted taken from him (and he pays plenty; a lot more than the wretched Mr. Cratchit!) are used by the government to care for the needy. He knows the government does an extremely poor job of this, and he laments the misuse of funds, which would have been more productively allocated had they not been seized from men of business. But Caesar must have his tribute, so Scrooge shrugs and carries on with his life.
- Scrooge the Individualist: Scrooge is not a herd animal. He has no need to wallow in silly, time-wasting uniformity in the company of his fellows. He’s quite satisfied, and has no need to take revenge by making up another stupid holiday to impose on others (such as Festivus or Kwanzaa).
- Scrooge the Rationalist: When confronted by supernatural nonsense, Scrooge seeks physical explanations. Ghosts do not exist, but food poisoning is a real phenomenon. It’s no doubt this clear-thinking focus on hard facts that helped him get ahead in business.
- Scrooge the Straight-Talking, Hard-Working, Honest Businessman: Scrooge does not mince words, nor does he cheat anyone. He is upfront about his business affairs, and clients are free to accept or reject his proposed transactions.
In short, Scrooge was a pillar of the community, practicing every virtue that would bring prosperity to a society, and at the same time completely tolerant of the indulgences and peccadilloes of others. The Dickenses of the world may have cheered loudly at his demise, but the decline of England was an inevitable consequence of the decline of good Mr. Scrooge.
Disclaimer: I’ve seen various movies, but I haven’t read the text of “A Christmas Carol”. However, I have read “Bleak House” and “A Tale of Two Cities”. Mr. Dickens has a penchant for portraying poor people as noble and always struggling to be good and decent, whereas his bad guys are men of wealth and power. I’m not suggesting that the top tier of society is inhabited by angels. But goodness and evil are where you find them, and not limited to one environment or another. People can do great good or great harm independent of their socioeconomic status. Dickens seems to suffer from the typical Leftist obsession with economics. He was a man with selective vision, and this myopia skewed his worldview.