Is it time for a political revolution? We have two candidates for President who are in essence calling for a political revolution. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump offer us two different choices and two different directions! We have a third choice as well. We may choose to remain pretty much as we are, and have incremental changes. Thomas Jefferson spoke of the need to have a political revolution on occasion to strengthen the Tree of Liberty.
Jefferson said the following: ”
“I do not know whether it is to yourself or Mr. Adams I am to give my thanks for the copy of the new constitution. I beg leave through you to place them where due. It will be yet three weeks before I shall receive them from America. There are very good articles in it: and very bad. I do not know which preponderate. What we have lately read in the history of Holland, in the chapter on the Stadtholder, would have sufficed to set me against a Chief magistrate eligible for a long duration, if I had ever been disposed towards one: and what we have always read of the elections of Polish kings should have forever excluded the idea of one continuable for life. Wonderful is the effect of impudent and persevering lying. The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, and what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves. Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusets? And can history produce an instance of a rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it’s motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20. years without such a rebellion. The people can not be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independant 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure. Our Convention has been too much impressed by the insurrection of Massachusets: and in the spur of the moment they are setting up a kite to keep the hen yard in order. I hope in god this article will be rectified before the new constitution is accepted.”
We currently have an angry electorate, made up of those who feel the deck is stacked against them, in that they have not seen their incomes rise since 1974. Others are angry for different reasons, life did not turn out the way they would have liked. Women are increasingly angry as circumstances find them taking care of aged parents, and they have increasingly found it more and more difficult to make ends meet. So, yes there is anger, and a general feeling that things are not as they should be. There is revolution in the air!
Before we choose let us review a little of our own history to see where we started, where we could have gone, and where we are now among the different types of government and political ideologies that exist. Are we still the Republic that Benjamin Franklin told a woman that we had as he left the Constitutional Convention?
Our founding leaders were children of the Enlightenment. Madison and Jefferson have been described as followers of the Classic Liberalism. It was a political ideology that started at the end of the 17th Century. A Classic Liberal has been defined as: a branch of liberalism that values the freedom of individuals. It advocates civil liberties and political freedom with representative democracy under the rules of law and emphasizes economic freedom. They were believers in social progress. The followers of this philosophy were believers in natural law. Adam Smith, John Locke, and Thomas Hobbes were English proponents of the ideas that our country was founded upon.
Following the reign of Elizabeth and the beginning of England’s golden era, the people witnessed the development of English Common law. As English cousins their laws had a major impact on the development of our own legal traditions. During the Age of Enlightenment, natural law was superior to religious law.
It should be remembered that our founding leaders rebelled against an elite class the English aristocracy and the rule of the Crown, especially King George III. Our checks and balances were built into the process to limit the power of government. Our founding leaders wanted to guard against the power of kings and the power of a powerful aristocracy. Ours was a revolution that initially sought to affirm our rights as Englishmen.
The founding fathers, sought a government whose responsibility was to make people happy. John Adams in his writings on inventing a Republic, said, ” the divine science of politicks is the science of social happiness.” Adams, 1776, April page 79.
Jefferson is well remembered for his inclusion of the phrase the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence.
Up until the dawning of the Industrial Revolution in America we were pretty much an agrarian society that had successfully kept any aristocracy from becoming dominant during those years. Once the Age of the Robber Barons began, a new American aristocracy grew in power and influence. During the 1920’s we witnessed the apex of their power. The Business Class became influential and powerful and income inequality grew to epic proportions. This reality was contrary to the image of what we felt about ourselves.
In around 1919 we saw the emergence of the first Red Scare. The Russian Revolution and their idea of a classless society caused fear among the business class in America and among the establishment in what they saw as a threat to our way of life. They worried about a workers revolution. Fear was promoted and used to the point that America sent troops to fight alongside the Whites versus the Reds, in the Russian Civil War.
Lenin used the ideas of Karl Marx to convince people to revolt against the Tsar in Russia as he and the ideologically pure Leon Trotsky put forward the notion of a workers rebellion. Workers unleash your chains was the slogan of the day. Communism is an extreme form of socialism. The idea that everyone is equal is a nice thought, but communism goes against human nature. We are born with inalienable rights, but we are inherently unequal as each of us has different abilities and skills. Communism does not encourage individual initiative. The Utopian vision proved short lived as Stalin betrayed the ideals of the revolution and became the tyrant of a very totalitarian state. The cult of the personality became the norm in Russian society. In point of fact, instead of a classless society, Russia wound up having a great divide between the elite and wealthy class and the rest of the population.
In America and in England in particular, many intellectuals were attracted to the Utopian notion that we could live in a classless society. The reality proved the ideal impractical and wrongheaded as the ugliness of totalitarian dictators replaced the Utopian ideal that we could live in a world without the great differences in class, between the rich and the poor. Stalin the classic dictator even went so far as to murder his rival, Trotsky, in Mexico City. Trotsky was seen as a real threat to Stalin because Trotsky actually believed in the theory of communism.
When Marx talked about workers unleashing their chains he could have been talking about what was going on in America during the height of our economic power during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Wages were strong, and the Middle Class was large and powerful. Labor Unions were strong and gave voice to the workers needs. Without the power of a union, workers are now finding out that they have no power in negotiating their own wages.
Communism never really could gain a foothold in American political life. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed in his famous book, ” Democracy in America.”, Americans aren’t interested in anything if there isn’t something in it for them. We are far too interested in material things to ever succumb to the preaching of those who would advocate a Godless society and advocate the extreme view that one could create a classless world.
The victors of World War II set in motion institutions to prevent a future world war and they set in motion a social democracy that hoped to prevent another Great Depression.
The era of the Cold War helped to engender another time of fear and insecurity. The scourge of McCarthyism was a period in our history where lives were ruined. Yes, there were traitors among us who sent secrets to the Russians but the level of fear far exceeded the reality. By 1989, the Russian empire collapsed and with it the Cold War. It is hard to find a good communist anymore. Only the totalitarian regimes of China, Cuba and North Korea survived the collapse of the Russian Empire.
Capitalism and communism in China is an interesting test, to see if the two philosophies can co-exist. In Cuba, the reign of the Castro brothers and their cult of the personality is coming to an end.
Now that the power of the Union Movement has been greatly diminished in the United States one has to go to Scandinavia to find countries with a very strong Middle Class.
In America since 1974, we have seen the stagnation of wages, and the ever rising cost of living. The people are unhappy as their wages can not keep up with expenses. The Middle Class is shrinking and shrinking and with that reality restlessness, anger and a sense of futility has gripped the nation. Our income inequality is now at the levels of the end of the decade of the 1920’s. The extreme inequality of wages between the classes has caused a situation ripe for a new revolution in our country.
It is not just that our Middle Class is in trouble, but also that we now have an aristocracy of elites ruling we the people. A plutocracy is a country or society governed by the wealthy, an elite or ruling class. What the founding fathers worried about is actually happening to the detriment of the interests of we the people. One gets the feeling that our new ruling class gives us a handout from time to time to mollify the resentment of the masses. Apathy is the friend of tyrants, and most of our fellow citizens up to this point have been too apathetic to do anything about their misery.