Why do those who control things command those who control life? Why does capital control labor, and not labor capital?
The opposite of conservatism is civic republicanism (“a republic, if you can keep it”). One of great tragedies of USA history is the displacement of civic republicanism liberalism.
Civic republicanism has always been suspicious and hostile to concentrated wealth. Machiavelli explained in Discourses on Livy how the Romans created the system of tribunes to oppose the power of the rich, who had corrupted and seized control of the Senate.
Why is civic republicanism not much discussed anymore? is it because USA has degenerated into an oligarchy, and an oligarchy cannot tolerate the precepts and principles of republicanism?
In The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, Gordon Wood wrote:
"In a republic “each individual gives up all private interest that is not consistent with the general good, the interest of the whole body.” For the republican patriots of 1776 the commonweal was all encompassing—a transcendent object with a unique moral worth that made partial considerations fade into insignificance. “Let regard be had only to the good of the whole” was the constant exhortation by publicists and clergy.... “A Citizen,” said Sam Adams, “owes everything to the Commonwealth.”[ pp. 60-61.]
Crucial the Constitutional mandate to promote the General Welfare: all economic activity is supposed to directed and regulated in the public interest. This is no longer the case--a searing indictment of our mismanagement of our government. Conservative legal scholars have long dismissed the Constitution’s Preamble as having no legal power; this argument is trotted out whenever someone argues that “to promote the General Welfare” gives sanction to a “welfare state.”
Today, the idea of progress is mostly about increasing and extending individual consumer choice. In the founding era, by contrast, the idea of progress centered on increasing the power of humanity over nature, to free humanity from hard physical labor and allow more people more time to engage in intellectual and cultural advancements. This technological progress elevated humanity from mere brutes exerting muscle power similar to horses, oxen, or mules. This strengthened and deepened the radical claim of civic republicanism that the lowest-born person, working in mud dawn to dusk, was the full equal of any nobleman, or even duke, duchess, queen or king.
While the inalienable natural rights of a human being are central to both liberalism and republicanism (with its insistence on rule by law, not just men), only republicanism counterbalances this focus on individual liberty with the right and needs of the community. [See Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113 (1876), the Supreme Court decision upholding the power of state governments to regulate private industries that affect “the common good.”
So let’s be very clear here: capitalism and the importance it places on self-interest, which not only enables but glorifies selfishness (Ayn Rand merely took things to their logical conclusion) is a fundamental rejection of republicanism).
In response to Erich Fromm’s dishearteningly accurate observation that "In the capitalistic hierarchy of values, capital stands higher than labor, amassed things higher than the manifestations of life,"
we have Abraham Lincoln’s First Annual Message, in which Lincoln deplored
"the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor.... Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."
And Lincoln was not stating anything new or novel — he was merely repeating the founding principles of republicanism, stretching back to Franklin’s Benjamin Franklin’s 1783 essay “Reflections on the Augmentation of Wages, Which Will Be Occasioned in Europe by the American Revolution.”
"…If the term wages be taken in its widest signification, it will be found that almost all the citizens of a large state receive and pay wages. I shall confine my remarks, however, to one description of wages, the only one with which government should intermeddle, or which requires its care. I mean the wages of the lowest class, those men without property, without capital, who live solely by the labor of their hands. This is always the most numerous class in a state; and consequently, that community cannot be pronounced happy, in which from the lowness and insufficiency of wages, the laboring class procure so scanty a subsistence, that, barely able to provide for their own necessities, they have not the means of marrying and rearing a family, and are reduced to beggary, whenever employment fails them, or age and sickness oblige them to give up work….
Why has this history been suppressed? Why, for example, are we taught that Adam Smith’s ideas are the foundation of the USA economy, instead of Alexander Hamilton’s? Why is Alexander Hamilton is repeatedly smeared as a mere tool of rich patriarchal elites, but we seldom hear of Hamilton’s argument that banking is largely a public utility and ought be regulated as such; or Hamilton’s scheme for corporate stock voting, in which no one would be allowed more than 30 votes, not matter if they owned thousands of even millions of shares? You want to shut down private equity’s looting of companies they take over? Simply enact Hamilton’s scheme for corporate governance.
Neuberger quotes Graeber and Wengrow, “Are humans innately good or innately evil?” Civic recognizes that humanity has a dual nature, capable of both good and evil While this nature is unchangeable, it is malleable. This is why the Constitution of the American republic is designed with checks and balances. The negative aspects of human nature can be corralled and discouraged by the institutional design of governments.
More importantly, the positive aspects of human nature can be encouraged and nurtured by governments. In an explicit repudiation of the laissez faire ideas of Adam Smith, Hamilton emphasized the importance of having active government promoting new knowledge and technology. In his December 1791 Report to Congress on the Subject of Manufactures, Hamilton wrote:
“Experience teaches, that men are often so much governed by what they are accustomed to see and practice, that the simplest and most obvious improvements, in the [most] ordinary occupations, are adopted with hesitation, reluctance and by slow gradations … To produce the desirable changes, as early as may be expedient, may therefore require the incitement and patronage of government.”
“The left” misses this crucial point about the structure of government Hamilton helped design. Hamilton’s design of the USA economy (including, crucially, the Constitutional mandate that economic activity should “promote the General Welfare” and that the national government is not limited to the powers enumerated in the Constitution, but has implied powers to undertake whatever is needed to fulfill that mandate). Rather than the Marxist model of the means of production determining the political superstructure, what actually happens under Hamilton’s system is government support for new science and technology creates new means of production, forcing and fostering technological phase shifts in the economy.
* The machine tools and machining techniques developed at the Springfield Armory after the War of 1812, became the basis for the manufacture of interchangeable parts--the foundation for industrial assembly lines and mass production.
* The Army Corps of Topographical Engineers identified and mapped the westward routes followed by the overland pioneers and the railroads.
* In 1843, Congress directly funded Samuel B. Morris’s development of the telegraph.
* In the Civil War era, it was US Navy research that applied scientific methods to steam engine design, creating the science of thermodynamics AND the profession of mechanical engineering.
* The creation of the Department of Agriculture in May 1862 formalized direct government efforts in fighting agricultural pests and animal diseases.
* The first radio transmission was under the auspices of the U.S. Weather Bureau.
* The development of early aviation in USA depended heavily on airmail contracts, breakthroughs in aerodynamics and aircraft design by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (forerunner of NASA).
* Computers were developed in government labs during World War Two to calculate ballistics, cryptography and code breaking, flight simulation, and perform the calculations for the Manhattan Project.
* All the underlying technologies of today’s cell phones and smart phones were originally developed in government research programs.
This piece on Liberalism/Conservatism is one of the best things I have read. Ever. Anywhere.
Some thoughts I've been having. One place we are stuck is using 19th-century labels that describe 19th-century solutions to 19th-century problems. We're stuck because the reaction to Marx triggered propaganda waves from both sides of that argument that force us to fight that battle perpetually. Russia's communists were the kind of unimaginative people who took a book as gospel. Marx's analysis was good but it was one guy and his predictions But why not, it kept them in power.
At the same time America's capitalists fought back with lies etc and became glued to those same lies ever since. But why not, it kept them in power.
Everyone is stuck there. So there hasn't been much of a reexamination of these economic ideas since.
Truth: I read the subhead and then hit LIKE. I'll go back and read the new post now but yeah, srsly great subhed!
This altered public perception is seemingly past the time where, unless a piece of your conscience is brushed aside, this pressing topic can no longer be ignored.
Human behavior and a functional organized society has a bleak future, if one at all, should we allow unleashed capital and parasitic profit incentives to be worshipped beyond life.