Wednesday, August 31, 2016
The Long Argument
Given the current tit-for-tat, conflict oriented media and politics (generally speaking), people knowing what words meant and mean now falls casualty to the sturm und drang. Also, words change their meaning in a present, as time passes.
Among the casualties the words:
Granted, these 4 words have long history of being abused in the American lexicon. But, what they mean or meant to the Founders of the country, as opposed to what they mean for most today, is relevant, I think. We struggle to operate inside the political structure/framework they laid down.
It is curious characteristic of American political and legal debate that what the “framers” of our constitution understood the various sections and amendments meant, is a major part of constitutional interpretation now. I say curious, because, as well explained in the book, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 ; the Framers would be puzzled by this view.
The vagueness of the documents reflects the varied political positions of the Framers and their respective states. They ended up towards the end of the process, writing to each other that that was a good thing, as it allowed future generation to constantly re-interpret the documents, in relation to the needs and issued of the times.
Two example of Judicial “Activism”/modern interpretation by the current Supreme Court:
Gay marriage & the “individual” right to have a gun (2nd Amendment issues).
Ok. Back to the political labels.
The United States of America is not a democracy, as Jefferson, Madison Hamilton, Washington et al would have told you. That is a question of how you structure sovereignty in a given government.
“Democracy, (from Greek: "δημοκρατία") or "rule of the commoners", was originally conceived in Classical Greece, whereby political representatives were chosen by lot (as in a jury) from amongst the male citizens.” This form /structure was rejected by the Framers of our constitution in favor of the structure called a “republic”, and created a modified Roman Republic model. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy
A republic (from Latin: res publica) is a sovereign state or country which is organized with a form of government in which power resides in elected individuals representing the citizen body and government leaders exercise power according to the rule of law.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic
“Liberal” in late 1700’s North America was used to simply refer to the belief in the principles of The Age Enlightenment. Therefore, It was the dominant ideology of the founders/Framers. For a brief review of the expression of the Enlightenment in the colonial period of the United States, the “first” revolution of the Enlightenment, and the early republic, see American Enlightenment .
Liberal is tied to the concept of liberty, both for the Founders/framers and their primary inspiration, the Roman Republic (the goddess Libertas, which is seen in the U.S. as the statue of liberty, and the paintings and statues all over of the female figure Columbia and/or liberty. )
Liberty meant, to the Founders/Framers, to be a liber homo, a “free man” means not being subject to another's arbitrary will, that is to say, dominated by another. Living in a society under the rule of non-arbitrary laws, passed by elected representatives that you can vote for.
“Liberalism” has developed distinct flavors through space and time. As did “conservative”. “Conservatism as a political and social philosophy promotes retaining traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization.”
The first use of the term “conservative” ideologically in the U.S. was in the 1820’s in the term Liberal Conservatism. That is what the opponents of Andre Jackson called themselves. “Liberal” was used in tandem with “conservative” because it meant you supported the Enlightenment and did not favor the British ( the common meaning of conservative at the time, in the U.S.). Perhaps the closest modern child of Liberal Conservatism in the U.S. is Libertarianism in some ways. But technically, “Liberal Conservatism” is extinct in the U.S. and the term is considered by those not familiar with the Enlightenment to be an oxymoron.
The negative association with the word may have contributed to the curiosity that the United States never developed a “conservative” party, properly so called, as is common in Europe and the other former British colonies, and Japan. Instead, what Americans usually call conservative is actually with in the range that is “liberalism”.
Assuming you have read through the above hyperlinks, you are aware that liberalism branched over time into distinct variants.
Iiberalism in the United States
American liberalism in all its variants, including the mis-labeled American Conservatism through Progressivism share one particular element, that being Adam Smith inspired concepts of market “capitalism”. Much of the history of post-revolutionary political debate in the country can be viewed as a changing range of argument between the political rights of the individual vs the economic rights of land owners and large owners of capital. Socialism, much less communism ever achieved a lasting purchase on the country’s political landscape. Another form that failed to stick here was Fascism. The one late 19th Century “ism” that has achieved entrée’ into the county’s political landscape as elsewhere, was and is religious fundamentalism.
The New Liberalism
What Americans tend to label “conservative” is actually properly called Neoliberalism . For the reader not familiar with this term, I recommend the book Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics
In the country, Neoliberalism has since about 1980 gained increasing mindshare. It now the core philosophy of the Republican Party, and the majority of the members of the Democratic Party. Currently in the Republican Party, neoliberalism is joined with, for many a resurgent nationalism, and to a lesser extent tinged with a tad of rascism.
Our neoliberalism may be seen as consistent with the end stage of the transition from republic to plutocracy. I think this transition is well illustrate by some national/thematic issues, involving the concept of privatization.
Education. As expressed in the series of Northwest Ordinances of 1785-1787, the young republic committed to the creation and maintenance at the state level of public education. In a republic, the main purpose of education is to create “citizens”. Now, as we have become a neoliberal plutocracy, the primary purpose of education is worker training. Also, the neoliberal view is that public education needs to be privatized, opening a very large new market.
Social Security. As American republicanism adapted to the industrial revolution one of the blooms of that process was the Social Security System. Hardcore neoliberals now talk about the problems of that system and argue a range of private sector alternatives. The rational for it is the redefined concept, in neoliberalism of individual/consumer/taxpayer choice, as opposed to the traditional republican concepts of citizen/individual, political choice.
Also, privatization would open trillions of dollars from the social security fund, to commissions for the financial sector of the economy, and all that that implies…
Citizens United/1st Amendment rights of corporations
The Framers/Founders would have flipped over that one. They, as was Adam Smith, were very leery of allowing the formation of business corporations, In 1787 (the year of Constitutional Convention) in every state you had to have a bill introduced in the state legislature to create a corporation. This was due to the understanding that the concentration of capital tied to limited liability for the shareholders created, in a republic, a dangerous concentration of influence, that could lead eventually to a broad economic disparity if unchecked. Therefore, the existence of a corporation was a public creation and a public question, limited to a public purpose (unlike business partnerships and sole proprietors which were considered private in nature).
Now in every state, you create a corporation by filling a particular document and paying a filing fee. Apparently by doing so you have can create a Super-Citizen; a creature that has first Amendment rights, is comprised of concentrated funds from owners who are not personally libel for what the creature does.
Of course, strong proponents of neoliberalism tend to also champion issues (wedge/values issues, 2nd amendment, etc) that are apparently of significant interest to Euroamericans who are not rich. This over the last 36 years gave birth to both quasi-producerism of the Tea Party and then the rise of Donald Trump. I think the neoliberals certainly benefit from those issues. If the majority of the bottom 75% economically speaking, actually examined their own lives and neoliberal ideas, those ideas would not fair well.
Posted by Jay Moynihan at 3:26:00 PM