Steven Sondheim made American Wealth Something to Sing About

Immanuel Kant imagined that even a society of devils driven by nothing but pure, rational self-interest would develop their own morality in order to keep the devils from stepping on each other’s toes.

But at the end of his essay The Impossibility of Secular Society, Remi Brague points out that far from being a harder case than humans, devils are easier.  Living forever, they have no need to put aside pure self-interest and raise children.

Writes Brague, “without new life, Kant’s [godless] peace won’t be perpetual.  And because his peace is perfect only if the players of the game see themselves and their lives in terms of their own rational self-interest, it’s not at all clear why they won’t cease to have children.  Indeed, many will say that it’s a positive duty not to reproduce.”

Eh, what need for “positive duty” not to reproduce?  While driving around Saturday morning and listening to a couple songs from West Side Story, I realized that Steven Sondheim figured it all out in America.  Given a choice between larger families or more wealth, Anita, the chorus, and the entire Western world has gone with the money.  (And these days, for all of Puerto Rico’s problems, Anita’s complaint “always the population growing”  isn’t one of them.)

But what a great song.  My heart almost bursts when Antia fans her arms and sings “Au-to-mo-bile” and “Chro-mi-um Steel.” But why? I guess it’s because growing up in the 70s and 80s I always heard this song as shouting back like nothing else at the godless, communist Soviet Union and its fellow travelers.  Sometimes I still do.  And I still love this song. But the story didn’t end there.

ROSALIA
Puerto Rico,
You lovely island . . .
Island of tropical breezes.
Always the pineapples growing,
Always the coffee blossoms blowing . . .ANITA
Puerto Rico . . .
You ugly island . . .
Island of tropic diseases.
Always the hurricanes blowing,
Always the population growing . . .
And the money owing,
And the babies crying,
And the bullets flying.
I like the island Manhattan.
Smoke on your pipe and put that in!OTHERS
I like to be in America!
O.K. by me in America!
Ev’rything free in America

ROSALIA
For a small fee in America!I like the city of San Juan.

ANITA
I know a boat you can get on.

ROSALIA
Hundreds of flowers in full bloom.

ANITA
Hundreds of people in each room!

ALL
Automobile in America,
Chromium steel in America,
Wire-spoke wheel in America,

ROSALIA
Very big deal in America!

I’ll drive a Buick through San Juan.

ANITA
If there’s a road you can drive on.

ROSALIA
I’ll give my cousins a free ride.

ANITA
How you get all of them inside?

ALL
Immigrant goes to America,
Many hellos in America;
Nobody knows in America
Puerto Rico’s in America!

ROSALIA
I’ll bring a T.V. to San Juan.

ANITA
If there a current to turn on!

ROSALIA
I’ll give them new washing machine.

ANITA
What have they got there to keep clean?

ALL
I like the shores of America!
Comfort is yours in America!
Knobs on the doors in America,
Wall-to-wall floors in America

ROSALIA
When I will go back to San Juan.

ANITA
When you will shut up and get gone?

ROSALIA
Everyone there will give big cheer!

ANITA
Everyone there will have moved here!