We’re in a panic, as a nation, that we don’t work hard enough, and blame this iniquity for our “decline.” God—the one who blesses America—is withdrawing his favor. Hence the sanctimoniousness with which the topic of work is approached. If you don’t work as hard as people think you should, you’re not just morally inferior, you’re committing a kind of spiritual treason. And if you deny the value of work as a matter of principle, you’re treated like a heretic.
That we’re dealing here with something like a national religion is proved by one of its most cherished articles of faith. If you work hard enough, the maxim goes, you can do anything. This is one of those notions that is so stupid it has to embody a deeply held belief. If you work hard enough, you can be a poet. If you work hard enough, you can play for the Knicks. If you work hard enough, you can become a brain surgeon, a model, the president. Obviously no one believes those things. That it doesn’t occur to anyone to consider them means we must be dealing with a matter of dogma.