Bohemian Tangents

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Defining Liberalism

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Words have histories and often change meaning, sometimes drastically, over time. The term “liberal” would probably make a good “Exhibit A” if you wanted to make a case for words that seem to have evolved into their own antonyms (opposites) over time. I decided to explore the formal political-philosophical category of “liberalism” to shed light on “liberal” semantically. I consulted the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary’s definition of liberalism:

1) the quality or state of being liberal as: (a) lack of strictness or rigor, (b) broad-mindedness, open-mindedness; (2) a movement in modern Protestantism emphasizing intellectual liberty and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity; (3) a theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint esp. by government regulation in all economic activity and usu. based upon free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard; (4) a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of man, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for tolerance and freedom of the individual from arbitrary authority in all spheres of life esp. by the protection of political and civil liberties and for government under law with the consent of the governed; (5) an attitude or philosophy favoring individual freedom for self-development and self-expression

One way to give some kind of clarity to these many meanings is to dichotomize liberalism as follows

1) Classical liberalism: a political ideology, a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties and political freedom with representative democracy under the rule of law and emphasizes economic freedom. Classical liberalism developed in the 19th century in Europe and the United States. Although classical liberalism built on ideas that had already developed by the end of the 18th century, it advocated a specific kind of society, government and public policy as a response to the Industrial Revolution and urbanization. Notable individuals whose ideas have contributed to classical liberalism include John Locke, Jean-Baptiste Say, Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo. It drew on the economics of Adam Smith and on a belief in natural law, utilitarianism, and progress.

2) Social liberalism: a political ideology that seeks to find a balance between individual liberty and social justice like classical liberalism, social liberalism endorses a market economy and the expansion of civil and political rights and liberties, but differs in that it believes the legitimate role of the government includes addressing economic and social issues such as poverty, health care and education. Under social liberalism, the good of the community is viewed as harmonious with the freedom of the individual. Social liberal policies have been widely adopted in much of the capitalist world, particularly following World War II. Social liberal ideas and parties tend to be considered centrist or center-left. The term social liberalism is used to differentiate it from classical liberalism, which dominated political and economic thought for several centuries until social liberalism branched off from it around the Great Depression.

Actually social liberalism branched off way before the Great Depression and this branching off happened in Great Britain and was done by “new liberals” long before Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Great Depression came along. Wikipedia’s entry on social liberalism goes on to note the historical change in Great Britain:

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, a group of British thinkers, known as the New Liberals, made a case against laissez-faire classical liberalism and argued in favor of state intervention in social, economic, and cultural life. The New Liberals, which included intellectuals like T. H. Green, L. T. Hobhouse, and John A. Hobson, saw individual liberty as something achievable only under favorable social and economic circumstances. In their view, the poverty, squalor and ignorance in which many people lived made it impossible for freedom and individuality to flourish. New Liberals believed that these conditions could be ameliorated only through collective action coordinated by a strong, welfare-oriented and interventionist state.

I say history provides lessons showing us why words change meaning. The effects of the industrial revolution where workers worked in abusive horrific conditions illustrated that the “liberty” of the capitalist factory or mine owner was at the expense of the liberty of the laborers being abused. The world of industrial capitalism was vastly different from the predominantly agrarian world conceived of by classical liberals and populated by yeoman farmers, shopkeepers, artisans, and small businesses. John D. Rockefeller and his Robber Baron cohorts had new notions of “personal liberty” far beyond the ideas of classical liberals like John Locke or Thomas Jefferson.


Written by joethebohemian

May 26, 2015 at 8:44 pm

Posted in politics

Jefferson and Hamilton, Part III: The Prevalance of Partisanship, The Elusiveness of Objectivity

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Recap: The rivalry between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton was important enough to cause political parties to be formed in spite of the fact that these were considered “factions” at that time, a sign of grown men not being able to come together, govern, and get things done. The larger issue that engulfs the rivalry issue is the fact that partisan bias and historical revisionism afflict just about every biography written for either founding father. Yet another issue is how current American culture or “pop culture” views these men and how that influences a study of them and their rivalry. Any essay, article, or book on either of these American icons has to be decoded for partisan bias, historical revisionism, and pop culture clichés in the elusive search for “objective truth”.

Thomas Jefferson is the beneficiary of being the hero of American libertarians, fans of “limited government”, and this adoration augments an already much loved icon. Nevertheless, Hamilton is greatly admired by many biographers, such as Ron Chernow, and Darren Staloff. Chernow puts Hamilton on a pedestal while trashing Jefferson and his republican cohorts: “Washington’s first term was devoted largely to the economic matters in which Hamilton excelled and Woodrow Wilson justly observed  that ‘we think of Mr. Hamilton rather than of President Washington when we look back to the policy of the first administration’. Hamilton had a storehouse of information that nobody else could match. Since the ‘science’ of finance was new to America, Fisher Ames observed, ‘A gentleman may therefore propose the worst of measures with the best of intentions’. Among the well-intentioned men who were woefully backward in finance, if forward-looking in politics, were Hamilton’s three most savage critics of the 1790’s: Jefferson, Madison, and Adams. These founders adhered to a static. archaic worldview that scorned banks, credit, and stock markets. From this perspective, Hamilton was the progressive of the era, his critics the conservatives”.  Contrast this assessment with Jefferson’s affiliation with the classical liberalism of John Locke and Adam Smith and you have a founding father considered a “liberal” by some and a “conservative” by at least one author.

Partisan spin aside, the basic facts and accomplishments of Hamilton are the quintessential “rags to riches” story:

When Alexander Hamilton was 10, his father abandoned him. When he was around 12, his mother died of a fever in the bed next to his. He was adopted by a cousin, who promptly committed suicide. During those same years, his aunt, uncle and grandmother also died. A court in St. Croix seized all of his possessions, sold off his personal effects and gave the rest to his mother’s first husband. By the time he was a young teenager, he and his brother were orphaned, alone and destitute.

Within three years he was a successful businessman. Within a decade he was effectively George Washington’s chief of staff, organizing the American revolutionary army and serving bravely in combat. Within two decades he was one of New York’s most successful lawyers and had written major portions of The Federalist Papers. Within three decades he had served as Treasury secretary and forged the modern financial and economic systems that are the basis for American might today. Within five decades he was dead at the hands of Aaron Burr.


Darren Staloff, author of Hamilton, Adams, and Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding, has stellar praise for Hamilton:

“By almost any measure, Alexander Hamilton was the most important figure in the founding of the American republic. Soldier, statesman, legislator, constitutional theorist, political polemicist, and national administrator, Hamilton combined all the roles that were vital to American nation building. His vision of a strong  federal government with an independent judiciary and a vigorous executive has become second nature to most Americans. His goal of state-supported industrial and commercial development and modernization is the unstated desideratum of every successful American political movement in the last century. Indeed, in terms of political and economic practice, it is fair to say we are all Hamiltonians, whether Democrats or Republicans, progressives or conservatives, radicals or reactionaries.”

Staloff also notes that “Hamilton is perhaps the least loved founding father. No national or state holiday celebrates his life. No memorial commemorates his contributions to American life and ideals. His words are rarely quoted by politicians, and his writings are even less frequently cited by pundits. But for the ten-dollar bill, his face would be utterly unknown to the American people. Washington became the father of his nation, and Jefferson its most beloved spokesman. Hamilton has become its bastard, unrecognized and somehow illegitimate in the public mind. Various causes have been offered, such as Jefferson and his republican cohorts piling on condemnation, depicting him as an “embryo-Caesar” and a tool of the plutocratic elites. In this century, politicians of both parties—and writers sympathetic to them—have adopted Jefferson as their guiding light among among the founding generation. On both left and right, there have been few willing to defend the ambitious New Yorker. Progressive novelist John Dos Passos described him as a crypto-Napoleon who “consolidated property interests” and “inaugurated the authoritarian trend”

American libertarians, such as Thomas DiLorenzo find that Hamilton cursed the United States with an augmented federal government.

Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Arch Enemy Betrayed the American Revolution–and What It Means For Americans Today

“Jefferson’s ideas have been entirely marginalized, while those of his arch rival Hamilton now form the backbone of the American political establishment. The Revolution of 1776 was a Jeffersonian Revolution to throw off the yoke of British mercantilist imperialism and install it its place a voluntary union of free and independent states. Hamilton and his acolytes, however — no matter how bravely and earnestly they fought against the Red Coats — wanted to import British mercantilism to America with the U.S. aristocracy (Hamilton and his Federalist buddies) on the receiving end of the mercantilist spoils system.” In fact, DiLorenzo argues that the Constitution itself was a virtual coup against the free republic of the Articles of Confederation for the purpose of increasing the authority of the central government — key to Hamilton’s plans.

It is worth noting that the same Darren Staloff who says Hamilton was the most important figure in America’s founding as a republic has also painted a rosy portrait of Jefferson, who was “much more than simply a revolutionary statesman and political theorist. The American Da Vinci, he truly was the universal man idealized by the Renaissance. The breadth of his mind was stunning, his intellectual appetite canine and omnivorous. In addition to political philosophy, Jefferson read widely in metaphysics, epistemology, and moral and aesthetic philosophy. One of the few early Americans who could actually do the calculus associated with Newton’s mechanics, he was an avid student of the sciences, conversant with the most recent developments in chemistry, biology, zoology, and botany, and he had more than a passing interest in meteorology. Widely read in classical and modern history, he was equally fascinated by the emerging sciences of political economy and sociology and proved himself a fairly accomplished amateur anthropologist. A devoted philologist, Jefferson’s expertise spanned both classical and modern Romance languages, and he devoted considerable study to the languages of the Amerindians and medieval Anglo-Saxons. An accomplished draftsman and violinist, he was a devotee of the theater and opera, a knowledgeable collector of artifacts, paintings, and statuary, and the greatest architectural genius of the early republic. Quite simply, Thomas Jefferson thought about more in one week than occurs to us mere mortals in a year. He was indeed an “extraordinary collection of talents.”

Biographer Joseph J. Ellis, whose American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson won the 1997 National Book Award for Nonfiction, has a unique way of trying to twist Jefferson’s psychological abnormalities into political virtue:  “Given the political framework created by the constitutional settlement of 1788, which made the establishment of an ongoing political dialogue of some sort inevitable, and given the stigma that surrounded organized political parties, a premium was put on a distinctive form of intelligence that could adroitly navigate between the two imperatives. Crudely put, this meant creating a political party while claiming, in all sincerity, that you were doing nothing of the sort. As it turned out, this was a talent that Jefferson possessed in abundance. At certain points in the story the distinction between Jefferson’s genuine self-deception and outright duplicity is impossible to identify with any certainty. Putting the best face on his multiple misrepresentations arose it seems from the visceral urge to avoid all explicit forms of conflict. Biographer Dumas Malone found that Jefferson’s “boldness of mind was sheathed in a scabbard of politeness…. It would have been surprising if such a man did not occasionally cross the thin line between courtesy and deception”. Ellis manages to conclude that Jefferson’s mental abnormalities were also “mental agility” that enabled him to leap over the huge obstacles of the political culture of his time. Only a man with a psychological multiplicity “… who is accustomed to negotiating his many-chambered personality, playing hide-and-seek within himself, was psychologically prepared to function this modern world of party politics.”

Jon Meacham wrote his best-selling biography, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power in 2012, and advocates for Jefferson’s mixture of ideals and pragmatism without getting into American libertarian-style partisanship. Meacham attempts to mediate between partisan distortions of the great man and portray his greatness.

The historical tendency persists in encapsulating the competing traditions of the early American republic as a contest between Jefferson and Hamilton. For partisans of each man, it was then and has been ever since–convenient to caricature the other, with Hamilton as the scheming proto-Brit bent on monarchy and Jefferson as the naive proto-Frenchman intoxicated by visions of excessive democracy. Inevitably, such shorthand is incomplete. In the first hours of the decade and sporadically throughout, Jefferson sometimes found himself in agreement with Hamilton and sometimes with Washington or Adams. He was a working politician and diplomat who believed in an effective central government and was able himself to assert political power having been the governor of Virginia and experienced the years of the Articles of Confederation.

“There was, however, a foundational point on which Jefferson never compromised: a conviction that drove much of his political life from 1790 until his death. He feared monarchy or dictatorship, which is different from fearing a strong national government, though Jefferson is often thought to have believed them the same thing. One of the terms he used to describe his opponents—“Monocrats”—is telling, for the word means government by the one.”

“Jefferson fretted over the prospect of the return of a king in some form, either as an immensely powerful president unchecked by the Constitution of 1787 or in a more explicitly monarchical or dictatorial role. He did not oppose the wielding of power. He was a good-hearted, fair-minded student of how best to accumulate and use it. In romantic moments, he dreamed of a future of virtuous yeomen living in harmony. In realistic ones, he suspected the America of which he was an architect could be yet another short-lived chapter in the story of the tyranny of the few over the many. ‘We were educated in royalism: no wonder if some of us retain that idolatry still, ‘ Jefferson had once written to Madison.”

“The Jefferson of the cabinet, vice presidency, and presidency can be best understood by recalling that his passion for the people and his regard for republicanism belonged to a man who believed that there were forces afoot–forces visible and invisble, domestic and foreign–that sought to undermine the rights of man by re-establishing the role of priests, nobles, and kings. His opposition to John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, to the British and to the financial speculators, grew out of this fundamental concern.”

“Like significant politicians before and after him, Jefferson was devoted to an overarching vision, but governed according to circumstance. Committed to the broad republican creed, supported by allies in politics and in the public who believed him to be an unshakable advocate of liberty under the law, Jefferson felt himself free to maneuver in matters of detail. Where some saw hypocrisy, others saw political agility. As long as a political leader has some core strategic belief, which Jefferson did in the form of republicanism, then tactical flexibility can be a virtue. Even Alexander Hamilton recognized his commitment to the nation, no matter how deeply the two disagreed about the means: “To my mind, a true estimate of Mr J’s character warrants the expectation of a temporizing rather than a violent system”, said Hamilton in 1801. Even implacable foes such as the federalists and republicans agreed and cooperated from time to time, and who even in their hours of starkest hostility, served in the same cabinet, dined at the same tables, and moved through the same intimate American world of the late 18th century. Wars are indeed often fought between brothers. Jefferson’s decade of struggle with the Federalists shows there can can be no more brutal or bewildering battles than those that divide a family against itself.

The two factions or political parties are attached to two founding fathers who had different views as to what the United States was and how it was to be governed. Which side won? Both did. The two regions, north and south, represented respectively by Federalism and Republicanism, were enabled to function as they wished. Jefferson and Madison were both slave-owning planters representing Virginia and its mode of production, slave labor. Without saying directly they wanted to continue benefiting from slavery they railed against the money-men and stock-jobbers who wanted to impose federal tyranny over their way of life and livelihood.  Essentially, the Constitution provided for planters whose “property” of slaves each counted as 3/5 of a person. Therefore, their “property” gave them the representation in government they desired. Hamilton, the “tyrannical capitalist” was essentially setting up a mercantilist United States to promote trade and manufacturing. For him, the victory was that the United States could grow into a powerful nation as had Britain, whose model of global imperialism and mercantilism he studied. Historians focus on how Hamilton and the Federalists won in the 1790’s over Jefferson and Madison, the Republicans, and the tide turned in 1800, when Jefferson became president. Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe served 24 years as Democratic-Republicans. By 1818 the Democratic-Republicans had become the only active national party, yet its leaders incorporated major economic policies that had been favored by Federalists since the time of Alexander Hamilton. President Monroe continued the policies begun by Madison at the end of his presidency to build an American System of national economic development. These policies had three basic aspects: a national bank, protective tariffs to support American manufactures, and federally-funded internal improvements. Madison actually charted the Second Bank of the United States in 1816 and his successor, Monroe, is noted for presiding over “The Era of Good Feelings”. Essentially what happened is the one dominant party, The Democratic-Republican absorbed the Federalist party’s policies.

The Jefferson-Hamilton rivalry was based on the two different ways of life and two different economies for the north and south in the aftermath of achieving independence from Britain. In a sense, both sides won, except for the slaves of course. Both sides fought to interpret the Constitution in terms of their regional needs. The United States was and never has been a perfectly homogeneous nation.


Written by joethebohemian

May 26, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Jefferson and Hamilton, Part 2: The 2 Party System

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My sole source for this blog post is Joseph J. Ellis, a noted historian specializing in the Founding Fathers. His biography, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, won the National Book award. His book, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, won the Pulitzer Prize. I have used his book, American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic for this blog post. I particularly like Ellis’s psychological explorations into the complex men who founded this nation.

 The Federalist party was led by Alexander Hamilton and the Democratic-Republican party was led by Thomas Jefferson. Now this system did not arise because of some harmonious arrangement of the founding fathers saying these political parties should be established. In fact, the creation of a 2-party system succeeded despite entrenched resistance by virtually all the founders to its very existence. Jefferson said: “The Fathers hoped to create not a system of party government under the Constitution but rather a Constitutional government that would check and control parties.” As the man primarily responsible for creating the first organized opposition party in the United States, Jefferson condemned his very creation: “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all”.

 In a 1770 treatise Edmund Burke wrote that political parties were not only unavoidable products of representative government, but also performed valuable functions in orchestrating debate, much in the way that the adversarial system worked in legal trials. Adam Smith described the unhindered collision of selfish and ambitious interest groups as the dynamic, if dirty, secret of the capitalistic marketplace. Madison argued in Federalist 10 that the collision of poltical factions in an extended republic would produce greater stability, making size an asset rather than a liability. One could also argue that the contrived compromises reached at the Constitutional Convention, especially on the extent of executive power and the blurry line separating state and federal jurisdiction, created an inherently argumentative context that made the emergence of political parties virtually inevitable. Inevitable indeed.

Author Joseph J. Ellis noted that James Madison and Thomas Jefferson  were called respectively, “The General” and “The Generalissimo” of the emerging Republican party (Ellis does not use the term “democratic-republican” that most other historians use). Hamilton, the Federalist, serves primarily as the impetus for the party that opposed him and his party arises by reacting to his opponents. Ellis refers to Hamilton as “the fixed object against which Madison and Jefferson do their political version of isometric exercises”. Minor roles belong to Washington and Adams who did not apparently fathom the bickering of the major players and considered this bickering dissonant noise drowning out classical harmonies.

 Washington and Adams considered “parties” or “factions” as epithets conveying a disreputable commitment to a narrow and usually private agenda at he expense of the public interest. Their role model was Viscount Bolingbroke, a British opposition thinker much admired by America’s revolutionary generation for his endorsement of disinterested virtue as the hallmark of statesman ship, floating above factional squabbles and misguided popular surges, to act in the long-term interest of the nation regardless of the political cost at the moment.

This disdain for polls, popularity, and partisanship is the legacy left behind by such patriots as Washington and Adams, “the gold standard for our diluted political currency”. Washington and Adams were the last of a classical breed, and Jefferson was the first president to point the way to modernity as he avowed–though he was reluctant to admit it–leader of a political party. Ellis notes that in this historical period there was not political vocabulary to discuss political parties, just as there was only terminology about kings, courts, monarchies with which to assail those with whom one disagrees. Being regarded as a party leader in those days was a major stigma. Apparently, Jefferson possessed “a distinctive form of intelligence that could navigate between the two imperatives”, that is, expressing one’s party-affiliated ideas while disowning the fact one has instigated “factionizing”. To Jefferson Ellis attributes “a deep affinity for multiplicity” and the “possession of a many-chambered personality, playing hide-and-seek with himself” and therefore prepared psychologically to function within this “modern” world of party politics. Famed Jefferson biographer, Dumas Malone, said: “the boldness of his mind was sheathed in a scabbard of politeness… It would have been surprising if such a man did not occasionally cross the thin line between courtesy and deception”. Ellis credits Jefferson with “inventing the two-party system” which he meant he had the mental agility to leap over huge obstacles on the path of that very invention and thereby make possible “the politics of the future”

Founders like Washington and Adams did not understand different versions of truth could co-exist alongside one another and both claim, with considerable plausibility, to be true. Unlike math, politics did not encompass problem-solving by sheer logic and truth, but rather an ongoing and never-ending struggle between contested versions of the truth. The model for politics would be the Darwinian jungle rather than the Newtonian universe.

 We are already familiar with the milestone of Hamilton’s creation of the first Bank of the United States and this was among the topics of conversation for Jefferson and Madison as they cruised up the Hudson River in May 1791. These two men shared their mutual chagrin for “stock-jobbers”, “Tories”, “monocrats” who had triumphed with the passage of the bill creating the Bank of the United States. “All such despicable creatures”, observed Madison, “dabbled in federal filth”, presumably suggesting that all private investors in the bank were determined to make a private fortune at public expense. This anti-federalist tandem of Virginians held that the true impulses of the American Revolution were being highjacked by a conspiracy of northern bankers and “paper men” moving forward under the satanic leadership of Alexander Hamilton. The ultimate goal of this Federalist faction was to undermine the republican government and replace it with a monarchical state in which the presidency became a hereditary rather than elective office and “money men” became the new American aristocracy.

 To expose the “Federalist plot” Jefferson and Madison chose Philip Freneau to launch the National Gazette as the official voice of what became the Republican Party. Jefferson said Freneau’s real job would be to promote “the ancient Whig doctrine”, referring to the British Whigs opposed to the tyrannical Catholic king, James II and ultimately resulted in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the beginning of the Constitutional Monarchy officially ending absolutist monarchy in Britain. Freneau would be given exclusive access to all foreign intelligence passing through Jefferson’s office (as Secretary of State) and “the publication of all proclamations and public notices within my department”.

Ellis finds Jefferson and Madison to be sincere in their belief a Federalist plot was afoot. These anti-federalists were simply operating in the same ideological lens that hey had used when opposing King George III who had wanted to “enslave” American colonists. The villains of the Federalist plot were intimate acquaintances of Jefferson and Madison as Hamilton co-authored the Federalist papers with Madison. To Jefferson, Hamilton “was not only a monarchist, but for a monarchy bottomed on corruption” and his old friend Adams had lost the revolutionary faith and “been taken up by the monarchical federalists”. It would seem the monarchists, like the Communists of a later time, were everywhere. All the “Federalist plotters” were duly elected or appointed officials chosen by the citizenry in accord with the very Constitution Madison had done so much to shape. The actual legitimacy held by the so-called monarchists mattered little to the southern constituency of Virginians supporting Jefferson and Madison who used their regional vernacular denigrations like “stock-jobbers”, “money men”, and “monocrats” to great effect.

Madison’s turnabout was very much a symptom and consequence of the realignment of political power in Virginia after the narrow victory of the Federalists in the ratifying convention of 1788. The shift occurred in response to the debate over Hamilton’s financial plan in 1790-91, chiefly the federal assumption of state debts and the establishment of a national bank. These developments forced the planter class of Virginia to realize for the first time that their days as America’s premier political elite were numbered, soon to be replaced by the commercial and financial elite of New York and New England. Ellis notes the personal motivations behind most conspiracy theories where impersonal forces of unwelcomed change impact upon those persons ill-served by this change. British and Scottish creditors had been bleeding the Virginia planter class to death. Bankruptcy often arrived as a complete surprise on many Virginia plantations, a product of accounting legerdemain that many planters took considerable pride in not comprehending. Both Jefferson and Madison would die bankrupt. Hamilton’s financial plan for fiscal solvency galvanized all their pent-up frustrations, which were rendered even more passionate because the planters had not the dimmest understanding of what Hamilton was talking about.

The proverbial elephant in the living room could not be discussed as forbidden by the etiquette of Virginian political banter. Jefferson and Madison never mentioned slavery as a factor in their indictment of the Federalist agenda as it would have decimated their entire case. Their orchestrated silence on the slavery issue provides one of those rare occasions where the very absence of evidence is the most important piece of evidence of all. At one time, Madison had supported robust federal sovereignty as strongly as Hamilton, but he changed his mind in 1791 as did other staunch Virginia Federalists. One of the reasons for the shift floating silently above the demonized “money men” was the realization that, once the federal government assumed control over domestic policy, slavery was doomed.

In the spring of 1790, two Quaker petitions circulated, urged Congress to take up the question of the slave trade as well as the persistence of slavery itself in any self-respecting American republic. Ben Franklin signed one, making either impossible to ignore, thus producing the first open and fully recorded debate over slavery in the history of the U.S. Madison led the floor fight in the House of Representatives to black any extension of federal authority over slavery, arguing the Constitution specifically forbade any congressional limitation on the slave trade for 20 years and implicitly relegated any and all legislation regarding slavery itself to the state governments.

 In the debate over the U.S. national bank that raged throughout February 1791, the anti-federalist opponents led by Jefferson and Madison, based their opposition on its unconstitutionality, arguing that Congress possessed only enumerated powers, that the power to create a corporation (a bank) was not one of them, so the bank violated the 10th amendment, which reserved all powers to the states not specifically delegated to the federal government. But the winning argument proved to be Hamilton’s, which cited the “necessary and proper” clause of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) to sanction congressional authority as one of the implied powers of the Constitution. Hamilton quoted words from the Federalist 44: “No axiom is more established in law, or in reason, than that wherever a general power to do a thing is given, every particular power for doing it, is included. Madison was the author of Federalist 44. His earlier incarnation as an unbridled federalist was being thrown in his face.

There is a great deal more to this story and it will be continued in the next installment.

Written by joethebohemian

May 4, 2015 at 1:45 am

Posted in politics

Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry that Forged a Nation, Part I

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Thomas Jefferson is a beloved American founding father and is quoted far more often than his formidable adversary, Alexander Hamilton. But Hamilton, to some people’s delight and to others’ chagrin, was instrumental in kickstarting America’s state-based capitalism that transformed this agrarian country into a global imperialist superpower. Studying the bitter rivalry between Jefferson and Hamilton serves as a good shortcut into politics, economics, and how political parties are formed. The phrase “Rivalry that Forged a Nation” comes from John Ferling, author of Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation.

Biographer Alf J. Mapp, Jr wrote Thomas Jefferson: A Strange Case of Mistaken Identity, which provides colorful details in the lengthy chapter, Struggle of Titans:

Thomas Jefferson received a letter from George Washington in late November 1789. Before he broke the seal, Jefferson knew of course that it was a formal request that he accept the post of Secretary of State. The domestic duties of the office, he learned, would include administration of all business in that category except war and finance. He was confident in foreign policy, but he thought the domestic burden would be formidable as replied in a December 15 written reply, but he did not flatly refuse to serve: “It is not for an individual to choose his post… you are to marshal us as may be best for the public good.”

Jefferson had just returned back to Virginia and to his Monticello home, having served as Minister Plenipotentiary (Ambassador) of France for 4 years. He was contemplating retirement. James Madison visited him at Monticello soon after his friend had returned from overseas and added his persuasive voice to Washington’s urgency.Jefferson feared that his new post would involve more domestic than foreign affairs. Again, Washington wrote his chosen appointee: ” the consider the successful administration of the general government as an object of almost infinite consequence to the present and future happiness of the the United States. I consider the office of Secretary for the Department of State as very important on many accounts, and I know of no person, in my judgment, could better execute the duties of it than yourself”. From New York, Madison wrote of the “universal anxiety” with which his decision was awaited. The master of Monticello sent Washington his acceptance.

Besides Jefferson, the department heads were Henry Knox, Secretary of War; Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury; Edmund Randolph, Attorney General; and Samuel Osgood, Postmaster General. All these men were vital to the new government, but Jefferson and Hamilton were the giants alongside Washington in his new administration. Devoted to the ideal of democratic government without factionalism, Washington did not suspect that these two magnetic Secretaries would become the focuses of political polarization. Of  course, he could never foresee that popular opinion for generations would make them the simplistic symbols of opposing philosophies so that through history they would ride a seesaw of public esteem.

Jefferson found himself a worthy antagonist in Alexander Hamilton who was contemptuous of the common man, and certainly he himself was far from ordinary. Almost everything about him was, for better or worse, superior, exotic, or at least different. Of course, there were those who thought his aristocratic sympathies incongruous. John Adams once described him as the “bastard son of a Scotch peddler” in contrast to Hamilton’s self-description as the son of a West India merchant “of respectable connection in Scotland”. There was truth in both versions. His mother had been jailed for being “twice guilt, but his largey of adultery” before going to live with James Hamilton XV, whom she did not marry. James, an unsuccessful merchant who had sprung from a branch of the ducal family of Hamilton, was the grandson of Sir Robert Pollock, “created Baronet of Nova Scotia by Queen Anne in 1702”. Biographer Mapp has many more details, too many to fit into a blog post (but would help fill out future blog posts), so I rely on to succinctly answer the question: “How did the debate between Jefferson and Hamilton shape the political system of the United States?”

In George Washington’s Farewell Address (1796), he warned that the creation of political factions, “sharpened by the spirit of revenge,” would most certainly lead to “formal and permanent despotism.” Despite Washington’s cautionary words, two of his closest advisors, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, helped to form the factions that led to the dual party system under which the U.S. operates today. Other men, most notably James Madison and John Adams, also contributed to the formation of political parties, but Hamilton and Jefferson came to represent the divisions that shaped the early national political landscape.

Although both men had been active in the Revolutionary effort and in the founding of the United States, Jefferson and Hamilton did not work together until Washington appointed Jefferson the first secretary of State and Hamilton the first secretary of the Treasury. From the beginning, the two men harbored opposing visions of the nation’s path. Jefferson believed that America’s success lay in its agrarian tradition. Hamilton’s economic plan hinged on the promotion of manufactures and commerce. While Hamilton distrusted popular will and believed that the federal government should wield considerable power in order steer a successful course, Jefferson placed his trust in the people as governors. Perhaps because of their differences of opinion, Washington made these men his closest advisors. When George Washington’s administration began, the two camps that formed during the Constitutional ratification debates – those groups known as the Federalists and Anti-Federalists – had not yet solidified into parties. But, disagreements over the nation’s direction were already eroding any hope of political unity. In May of 1792, Jefferson expressed his fear to Washington about Hamilton’s policies, calling Hamilton’s allies in Congress a “corrupt squadron.” He expressed fear that Hamilton wished to move away from the Constitution’s republican structure, toward a monarchy modeled after the English constitution. That same month, Hamilton confided to a friend that “Mr. Madison cooperating with Mr. Jefferson is at the head of a faction decidedly hostile to me and my administration, and . . . dangerous to the union, peace and happiness of the Country.”

Hamilton’s economic plan for the nation included establishing a national bank like that in England to maintain public credit; consolidating the states’ debts under the federal government; and enacting protective tariffs and government subsidies to encourage American manufactures. All of these measures strengthened the federal government’s power at the expense of the states. Jefferson and his political allies opposed these reforms. Francophile Jefferson feared that the Bank of the United States represented too much English influence, and he argued that the Constitution did not give Congress the power to establish a bank. He did not believe that promoting manufactures was as important as supporting the already-established agrarian base. Jefferson deemed “those who labour in the earth” the “chosen people of God . . . whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.” He advised his countrymen to “let our work-shops remain in Europe.”

When George Washington’s administration began, the two camps that formed during the Constitutional ratification debates – those groups known as the Federalists and Anti-Federalists – had not yet solidified into parties. But, disagreements over the nation’s direction were already eroding any hope of political unity. In May of 1792, Jefferson expressed his fear to Washington about Hamilton’s policies, calling Hamilton’s allies in Congress a “corrupt squadron.” He expressed fear that Hamilton wished to move away from the Constitution’s republican structure, toward a monarchy modeled after the English constitution. That same month, Hamilton confided to a friend that “Mr. Madison cooperating with Mr. Jefferson is at the head of a faction decidedly hostile to me and my administration, and . . . dangerous to the union, peace and happiness of the Country.”

By the time Jefferson and John Adams vied for the presidency in 1796, political factions had formed under the labels “Republicans” and “Federalists.” In fact, by 1804 the advent of political parties necessitated a constitutional amendment that changed the electoral process to allow president/vice president tickets on the ballot. The Federalists dominated the national government through the end of the 18th century. Despite President Washington’s efforts at unity, political differences proved to be too deep to promote consensus. The Republican Party emerged as organized opposition to Federalist policies, and despite Jefferson’s assurances in his first inaugural address that Americans were “all republicans” and “all federalists,” faction had solidified into party.

Ron Chernow comments in his biography of Hamilton: Over the past two centuries, Hamilton’s reputation has waxed and waned as the country has glorified or debunked businessmen. Historian Gordon Wood wrote: “Although late-nineteenth-century Americans honored Hamilton as the creator of American capitalism, that honor became a liability through much of the twentieth century”. All the conflicting emotions stirred up by capitalism–its bountiful efficiency, its crass inequities–have adhered to Hamilton’s image. In a nation of self-made people, Hamilton became an emblematic figure because he believed that government ought to promote self-fulfillment, self-improvement, and self-reliance. As Treasury Secretary, he wanted to make room foe entrepreneurs, whom he regarded as the motive force of the economy. Like Franklin, he intuited America’s special genius for business: “As to whatever may depend on enterprise, we need not fear to be outdone by any people on earth. It may almost be said that enterprise is our element”. Chernow credits Hamilton with a life offering an “extraordinary object lesson in social mobility and his unstinting energy illustrated his devout belief in the salutary power of work to develop people’s minds and bodies. He adds that Hamilton did not create America’s market economy so much as foster the cultural and legal setting in which it flourished. One of his principal motives for promoting the Constitution (as he envisioned it) was to address “the abysmal failure of the Articles of Confederation”. Hamilton wrote: “It is known that the relaxed conduct of the state governments in regard to property and credit was one of the most serious diseases under which the body politic laboured prior to the adoption of our present constitution and was a material cause of that state of public opinion which led to its adoption”. He converted the new Constitution into a flexible instrument for creating the legal framework necessary for economic growth. He did this by activating three still amorphous clauses—the necessary and proper clause, the general-welfare clause, and the commerce clause—making them the basis for government activism in economics. Washington’s first term was devoted largely to the economic matters in which Hamilton excelled. Chernow, whom American libertarians might call a “statist”, goes on to malign federalist John Adams along with Jefferson and Madison as “among the well-intentioned men who were woefully backward in finance” while conceding they were “forward-looking in politics”. These three men “adhered to a static, archaic worldview that scorned banks, credit, and stock markets”. So Hamilton was the “progressive” of his era, says Chernow, and the 3 critics were the “conservatives”.

An opposing viewpoint comes from Thomas DiLorenzo, senior faculty member of the Mises Institute and adherent of the Austrian school of economics, and author of Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution. He debunks “the Hamiltonian myths perpetuated in recent admiring biographies”:Hamilton, first as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and later as the nation’s first and most influential treasury secretary, masterfully promoted an agenda of nationalist glory and interventionist economics—–core beliefs that did not die with Hamilton in his fatal duel with Aaron Burr. Carried on through his political heirs, the Hamiltonian legacy:

• Wrested control into the hands of the federal government by inventing the myth of the Constitution’s “implied powers”

• Established the imperial presidency (Hamilton himself proposed a permanent president—–in other words, a king)

• Devised a national banking system that imposes boom-and-bust cycles on the American economy

• Saddled Americans with a massive national debt and oppressive taxation

• Inflated the role of the federal courts in order to eviscerate individual liberties and state sovereignty

• Pushed economic policies that lined the pockets of the wealthy and created a government system built on graft, spoils, and patronage

• Transformed state governments from Jeffersonian bulwarks of liberty to beggars for federal crumbs

My response to the diametrically opposed views of Chernow and DiLorenzo is that I see merits to both their views. Capitalism evolved historically with state involvement in England, Holland, and Sweden. Queen Elizabeth chartered the British East India Company in 1600.  In 1602 the Dutch East India Company was born along with the world’s first stock exchange, The Amsterdam Stock Exchange. Sweden is noteworthy for creating the world’s first and oldest central bank, Sveriges Riksbank, in 1668. The Bank of England followed in 1694. Capitalism was bound up with imperialism and mercantilism and a pristine stateless form is more an object for idealization and rumination for academic economists and political theorists than a tangible functioning reality.  On the other hand, Jefferson’s pearls of wisdom against tyrannical bankers and advocacy for “limited government” certainly are appealing when we look at the bloated bureaucratic crony-capitalist plutocracy into which modern America has metastasized where consent seems restricted to huge banks and corporations. The Jefferson-Hamilton rivalry is too huge a topic for a single blog post, so I will do a follow-up to this one.

Written by joethebohemian

April 27, 2015 at 1:48 am

Posted in politics

Thomas Jefferson: Lockean, Revolutionary, American “Sphinx”

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Thomas Jefferson, American founding father and icon among American libertarians, was a radical revolutionary to some, a Lockean classical liberal to others, and a mysterious “sphinx” to biographer, Joseph Ellis. He was an enormously multi-talented man:  an architect (including Monticello), inventor, musician, prolific writer, scholarly lawyer, and observant scientist (in several fields).  He achieved the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which really matched his keen interest in natural science, and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which embodied his deep convictions about religious freedom.

Jefferson was a planter farmer, author, governor of Virginia, foreign diplomat (and celebrity abroad), secretary of state, president, co-architect of Virginia’s constitution, founder (and architect) of the University of Virginia, political philosopher, and much more. Jefferson believed in the enlightened rights of man as reflected in the Declaration of Independence, and he advocated the Bill of Rights to ensure that they were specifically expressed in the Constitution. Jefferson more than any other major leader of the Revolution believed in those lofty ideals, which were radical for the time. Jefferson was a revolutionary and a dreamer.

He also was a legal reformer, supporter of the arts, and a public education advocate – far ahead of his time. He believed in equal opportunity in the context of his time, although he could be quite arrogant towards those of lesser achievement and, like almost everyone else at that point in American history, did not yet believe that women and people of color were equal in civil matter. As president, he is rated among the best.

Thom Hartmann, a progressive liberal, outlines the virtues of Thomas Jefferson as the founding father whose vision of a free democratic America which excluded corporate monopolies and was an egalitarian utopia of free farmers and independent businessmen. He had 3 basic fears that he wanted addressed in the Constitution: tyrannical governments, organized religion, and commercial monopolies. He wanted to make sure that the wealthy ruling elites would not corrupt the fledgling democracy of the U.S. In a letter to James Madison he wrote: “I will tell you now what I don’t like. First, the omission of a Bill of Rights, providing clearly… for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction of monopolies, and the eternal and unremitting force of habeas corpus laws and trials by jury”.  The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791 but had no provision against monopolies and the standing army issue was addressed by the 2nd amendment with the “well-regulated militia”.

Biographer Richard K. Matthews, The Radical Politics of Thomas Jefferson, claims that Jefferson went farther than his fellow revolutionaries in creating a radical democratic philosophy. The Virginian was a true believer in not only a philosophy of liberty, but the best way to preserve that liberty through societal revolution, the “earth belongs to the living” concept, and his view of “ward republicanism”. He saw the American Revolution as a fulfillment not only of Locke and Algernon Sidney (English political critic of absolute monarchy) but also saw it as a new beginning for liberated man. This new begining would constantly renew the faith of the American Revolution through periodic change in laws and constitutions. Jefferson wanted to preserve liberty by extending democratic republicanism to virtually all white males through his granting of 50 acres of land to every man in Virginia in the belief that property ownership would secure the liberty fought for in the Revolution. Jefferson’s proposals to abolish primogeniture and entail are radical attepts to equalize property relations by as he put it ” to put all on an equal footing”. Next is Jefferson’s “ward republics”, which he saw as his most important. The ward would be the basic unit on democratic government which were similar to New England Townships and would allow for citizens’ direct local governance. Public schools, militia duty, opposition to tyranny from other branches of government could all be begun here. He also included the “care of the poor” and “care of the roads”.

Many American libertarians seem to claim Jefferson as their ideological forbear or hero or icon as the advocate of “limited government”, states rights, and Lockean principles of government. Van Bryant, II, debunks the notion of Jefferson as a libertarian president, noting that “a peculiar trait found among a majority of libertarians” which is “the desire to elevate Thomas Jefferson to the heroic status of intellectual forebear of their ideology.” Bryant says that “From state’s rights and secession, to individual freedoms, peace, and the role of central government, Jefferson talked the talk, but never walked the walk. Far from an ideologue or proto-libertarian (lol), Jefferson was simply a successful politician, a well-read master of rhetoric and propaganda… And a statist.”

 Bryant adds: “The Louisiana Purchase stands out as one of America’s greatest ‘internal improvement subsidies,’ with a number of foreign and domestic interests receiving their share of the wealth of the U.S. citizenry. In fact, part of the deal included the U.S. assuming $3.75 million in debt owed to private U.S. citizens by the French government. ‘Paying it to ourselves,’ indeed. As a side note: Many people are also unaware of the private banking interests in both England and the Netherlands that were involved in financing this deal. For all of his writings against the ‘monied aristocracy’ , Jefferson was more than willing to work through the wealthy bankers to achieve his goals. One must finally ask: where was Jefferson’s ‘strict Constitutionalism’ when he pushed the Louisiana Purchase Act through Congress without amendment?”

The general point I am attempting to make is that Jefferson, like any mortal imperfect human serving as president was a creature of his times, having to deal with immensely difficult and complex issues and not able to live up to anyone’s idealizations 200 years later, particularly if these idealizations are constructions of cherry-picked facts. Jefferson possessed a massive intellect and polymath education, but this gargantuan mind left behind a thicket of enigmas and contradictions as the “American sphinx” described by Joseph J. Ellis whose characterization of the American icon treads a path between vilification and hero worship in order to formulate a plausible portrait of the man who still today “hovers over the political scene like one of those dirigibles cruising above a crowded football stadium, flashing words of inspiration to both teams.” For, at the grass roots, Jefferson is no longer liberal or conservative, agrarian or industrialist, pro- or anti-slavery, privileged or populist. He is all things to all people. His own obliviousness to incompatible convictions within himself (which left him deaf to most forms of irony) has leaked out into the world at large–a world determined to idolize him despite his foibles.

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson


The fact does remain that Jefferson was the father of the anti-federalist movement that became the democratic-republican party versus the federalist party led by Alexander Hamilton. These two men both served under George Washington as secretaries of state and treasury and butted heads over what the proper role and function of the national government should be vis a vis the individual states. This particular massive topic will require its own blog post which means Alexander Hamilton will be included on an equal billing with Jefferson.

Author Elvin T Lim notes that the anti-federalists had their “first founding” under the 1781 Articles of Confederation and that the Constitution ratified in 1789 was the “second founding”.

“The United States has had not one, but two Foundings. The Constitution produced by the Second Founding came to be only after a vociferous battle between Federalists and Anti-Federalists. The Federalists favored a relatively powerful central government, while the Anti-Federalists distrusted the concentration of power in one place and advocated the preservation of sovereignty in the states as crucibles of post-revolutionary republicanism — the legacy of the First Founding. This philosophical cleavage has been at the heart of practically every major political conflict in U.S. history, and lives on today in debates between modern liberals and conservatives.”

Source: The Lovers’ Quarrel: The Two Foundings and American Political Development by Elvin T. Lim

Lim’s assessment of the quarrel between Jefferson’s anti-federalists vs Hamilton’s federalists dramatically sets the stage for part II of this blog installment.

Written by joethebohemian

April 19, 2015 at 7:04 pm

Posted in politics

The Many Faces of Libertarianism, Part VI: Benjamin Tucker

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Caveat: The various movements put under the elusive “libertarian” category differ considerably. I am not a fan of the free-market-idealizing capitalist movement headed up by Ron Paul, nor am I fan of anarcho-capitalism created as a term by Murray Rothbard, the same fellow who boasted of his movement stealing the term “libertarian” from the “enemy” he described as “left-wing anti-private property anarchists”. I state this so that my readers won’t assume I support everything I write about, but I think it’s important to study all these movements.

Benjamin Tucker is a theoretically prolific and unique contributor to a form of individualist anarchism that at times appears to be “proto-capitalist” libertarianism that may not have been recognized as such in its time, but appears as such in retrospect.

Brian Doherty, modern American capitalist libertarian author, radiates a warm glow over individualist anarchist kingpin Benjamin Tucker (1854-1939), calling him “the linchpin of the American individualist anarchist movement”, which Tucker called “unterrified Jeffersonianism”. Doherty notes (page 44, Radicals for Capitalism): “Trucker held no truck with the violence of the stereotypical bomb-throwing anarchists… Tucker was no pacifist, but he considered bomb throwing to be a less productive strategy than education”.  

He was a Bostonian from a well-to-do Unitarian family. He blended the beliefs of his various American forebears and dedicated his life to a plumb-line, no-retreat, no-sellout defense of them. Doherty connects Tucker to the modern American anarcho-capitalist, Murray Rothbard: “Tucker’s role for his intellectual movement presaged Murray Rothbard’s in his. After reading Tucker in the light of Rothbard, one seems to hear eerie echoes sounding backward in time. They shared a similar tone, a passionate belief in the moral illegitimacy the state…”

Radicals for Capitalism, A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, p. 37

This movement which Tucker presaged, anarcho-capitalism, is defined by the Mises Institute as “a libertarian and individualist political philosophy that advocates the elimination of the state in favor of individual sovereignty in a free market… In an anarcho-capitalist society, law enforcement, courts, and all other security services by voluntarily-funded competitors such as private defense agencies rather than through taxation, and money would be privately and competitively provided in an open market… Personal and economic activities would be regulated by the natural laws of the market and through private law rather than through politics.”

Benjamin Tucker made his debut in liberty-minded circles 1876, when Heywood published Tucker’s first ever English translation of  Proudhon’s classic work What is Property?. From August 1881 to April 1908, he published the periodical, Liberty, “widely considered to be the finest individualist-anarchist periodical ever issued in the English language”.

He called his own philosophy “anarchistic socialism” and explained that “the most perfect socialism is possible only on the condition of the perfect individualism”. At this time in history “socialism” was a broader term before the Marxist statism took it over. Tucker was opposed to collective ownership of the means of production as he was opposed to the state ownership thereof and of property in general. His individualist anarchism advocated distribution of property in AN UNDISTORTED NATURAL MARKET AS A MEDIATOR OF EGOISTIC IMPULSES AND A SOURCE OF SOCIAL STABILITY (emphasis is mine).

He noted “the fact that one class of men are dependent for their living upon the sale of their labour, while another class of men are relieved of the necessity of labour by being legally privileged to sell something that is not labour. . . . And to such a state of things I am as much opposed as any one. But the minute you remove privilege. . . every man will be a labourer exchanging with fellow-labourers . . . What Anarchistic-Socialism aims to abolish is usury . . . it wants to deprive capital of its reward.

He contrasted the wage-workers who depended on selling their labor against the capitalists who had the legal privilege to sell something other than labor. To Tucker, removing “capitalist privilege” will make a man a laborer exchanging with felllow laborers. He maligned anarchistic socialism for wanting to to abolish usury which is to deprive capital of its reward. He said interest was theft, rent was robbery, and profit only another name for “plunder”, YET HE UPHELD THE RIGHT OF ALL PEOPLE TO ENGAGE IN IMMORAL CONTRACTS (emphasis is mine).

His explanation was: “Liberty, therefore, must defend the right of individuals to make contracts involving usury, rum, marriage, prostitution, and many other things which are believed to be wrong in principle and opposed to human well-being. The right to do wrong involves the essence of all rights.” He asserted that anarchism is meaningless unless it includes the liberty of the individual to control his product or whatever his product has brought him through exchange in a free market – that is, private property.

Tucker argued that the poor condition of American workers resulted in 4 legal state monopolies: 1) Money and banking monopoly

He opposed state protection of the ‘banking monopoly’ – the requirement that one must obtain a charter to engage in the business of banking. He hoped to raise wages by deregulating the banking industry, reasoning that competition in banking would drive down interest rates and stimulate enterprise. Tucker believed this would decrease the proportion of individuals seeking employment, and wages would be driven up by competing employers. “Thus, the same blow that strikes interest down will send wages up.”He did not oppose individuals being employed by others, but due to his interpretation of the labor theory of value, he believed that in the present economy individuals do not receive a wage that fully compensates them for their labor. He wrote that, if the four “monopolies” were ended, it will make no difference whether men work for themselves, or are employed, or employ others. In any case they can get nothing but that wages for their labor which free competition determines.  

2) Land monopoly:

He acknowledged that “anything is a product upon which human labor has been expended,” but would not recognize full property rights to labored-upon land: It should be noted, however, that in the case of land, or of any other material the supply of which is so limited that all cannot hold it in unlimited quantities, Anarchism undertakes to protect no titles except such as are based upon actual occupancy and use. Tucker opposed granting title to land that was not in use; he argued that an individual should use land continually, in order to retain exclusive right to it. He believed that if this practice were not followed, there was a ‘land monopoly’.

3) Tariffs and (4) Patents: 

Tucker opposed protectionism, believing that tariffs caused high prices, by preventing national producers from having to compete with foreign competitors. He believed that free trade would help keep prices low and therefore would assist laborers in receiving their “natural wage”. Tucker did not believe in intellectual property rights in the form of patents, on the grounds that patents and copyrights protect something which cannot rightfully be held as property. He wrote that the basis for property is “the fact that it is impossible in the nature of things for concrete objects to be used in different places at the same time.” Property in concrete things is “socially necessary” since successful society rests on individual initiative, it is necessary to protect the individual creator in the use of his concrete creations by forbidding others to use them without his consent. Because ideas are not concrete things, they should not be held and protected as property. Ideas can be used in different places at the same time, and so their use should not be restricted by patents. This was a source of conflict with the philosophy of fellow individualist Lysander Spooner who saw ideas as the product of “intellectual labor” and therefore private property.

Doherty remarks that Tucker failed to significantly turn America in an anarchist direction which began to wear on him. His brand of individualist anarchism suffered from having no clear constituency that directly benefited from it, unlike labor agitators’ attraction to socialism or big business’s attraction to progressive centralization. (Radicals for Capitalism, p. 47)

  Tucker’s historical legacy is cemented by the modern mutualist and individualist Kevin Carson as noted in a lengthy wikipedia passage:

Kevin Carson’s critique: Tucker’s concept of the four monopolies has been discussed by Carson in his book Studies in Mutualist Political Economy. Carson incorporates the idea into his thesis that the exploitation of labor is only possible due to state intervention. However, he argues that Tucker failed to notice a fifth form of privilege: transportation subsidies. One form of contemporary government intervention that Tucker almost entirely ignored was transportation subsidies. This seems odd at first glance, since “iinternal improvements” had been a controversial issue throughout the 19th century, and were a central part of the mercantilist agenda of the Whigs and the Gilded Age GOP. Indeed, Lincoln has announced the beginning of his career with a “short but sweet” embrace of Henry Clay’s program: a national bank, a high tariff, and internal improvements. This neglect, however, was in keeping with Tucker’s inclination. He was concerned with privilege primarily as it promoted monopoly profits through unfair exchange at the individual level, and not as it affected the overall structure of production. The kind of government intervention that James O’Connor was later to write about, that promoted accumulation and concentration by directly subsidizing the operating costs of big business, largely escaped his notice. Carson believes that Tucker’s four monopolies, and transportation subsidies, created the foundation for the monopoly capitalism and military-industrial-complex of the 20th century.] Ironically, Carson has also noted that the heavy use of this new monopoly by the state may be grounds for optimism that Tucker was unaware of. As, in order to maintain the corporate system, the state has been forced to continually ratchet up the level of subsidies that it provides until it is very close to bankruptcy.

Written by joethebohemian

April 16, 2015 at 11:29 am

Posted in politics

The Many Faces of Libertarianism, Part V: Individualist Anarchists

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The individualist anarchism movement within the anarchist ideology emphasizes the individual and his/her will over external determinants such as groups, society, traditions, and ideological systems. Individualist anarchism is not a single philosophy but refers to a group of individualistic philosophies that sometimes are in conflict. Thereafter, it expanded through Europe and the United States. Benjamin Tucker (to be discussed in Part VI) a famous 19th-century individualist anarchist, held that “if the individual has the right to govern himself, all external government is tyranny”.This particular movement is a crucial ideological bridge connecting the original classical liberal ideas of John Locke and Adam Smith to those of 20th century American capitalist libertarians. The American anarchists described in Part V of my blog are especially influential: Josiah Warren and Lysander Spooner–truly rugged individualists whose lives and works highlighted the stark contrast between the creative enterprising individual and the oppressive stifling state.

 In his 2007 book: Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, self-described libertarian (in the modern American capitalist sense) author, Brian Doherty,  discusses the highly influential individualist American anarchists along with many other historical figures whom he deems important to the evolution of libertarianism leading up to America’s 20th century libertarian “radicals for capitalism”. The American individualist anarchists represented a small but ultimately important sidestream in what Doherty calls “19th century American radicalism” and they shared a passionate belief in the moral illegitimacy of the state. 

Doherty’s interview upon writing Radicals for Capitalism:

Contemporary individualist anarchist Kevin Carson characterizes American individualist anarchism saying that “Unlike the rest of the socialist movement, the individualist anarchists believed that the natural wage of labor in a free market was its product, and that economic exploitation could only take place when capitalists and landlords harnessed the power of the state in their interests. Thus, individualist anarchism was an alternative both to the increasing statism of the mainstream socialist movement, and to a classical liberal movement that was moving toward a mere apologetic for the power of big business.”

Josiah Warren (1798-1874) was the first American anarchist and author of the first anarchist periodical, The Peaceful Revolutionist. In his younger days he joined social utopianist Robert Owen’s communist colony in New Harmony, Indiana, arriving in May of 1825, but leaving after 2 years convinced that the complete individualization of interests was necessary to cooperation. He considered Owen’s experiment “communism” which he rejected in no uncertain terms, but he developed a warm and lasting respect for Robert Owen and his sons.

Like Proudhon, the first self-declared anarchist, Warren chose the path of anarchism and individualism and espoused the principle of sovereignty of the individual and is credited by Benjamin Tucker as “the first man to expound and formulate the doctrine now known as Anarchism”. John Stuart Mill said Warren’s philosophy, “though being a superficial resemblance to some of the project of the Socialists, is diametrically opposed to them in principle, since it recognizes no authority whatever in Society, over the individual, except to enforce equal freedom of development for all individuals.”

Warren’s individualistic philosophy arose out of his rejection of Owen’s communist movement from having participated in it and witnessing in person its failure. He wrote: “It seemed that the difference of opinions, tastes, and purposes increased just in proportion to the demand for conformity… It appeared that it was nature’s own inherent law of diversity that had conquered us… Our ‘united interests’ were directly at war with the individualities of persons and circumstances and the instinct of self-preservation.” He said there should be absolutely no community of property and all property should be individualized, and “those who advocated any type of communism with connected property, interests, and responsibilities were doomed to failure because of the individuality of the persons involved in such an experiment.”

Josiah Warren wrote in his manifesto: “The formation of societies or any other artificial combinations IS the first, greatest, and most fatal mistake ever commited by legislators and reformers. That all these combinations require the surrender of the natural sovereignty of the INDIVIDUAL over her or his person, time, property, and responsibilities, to the government of the combination. That this tends to prostrate the individual—To reduce him to a mere piece of a machine ; involving others in responsibility for his acts, and being involved in responsibilities for the acts and sentiments of his associates ; he lives & acts, without proper control over his own affairs, without certainty as to the results of his actions, and almost without brains that he dares to use on his own account; and consequently never realizes the great objects for which society is professedly formed.”

He believed that goods and services should trade according to how much labor was exerted to produce them and bring them to market, instead of according to how individuals believed them to be subjectively worth. Therefore, he “proposed a system to pay people with certificates indicating how many hours of work they did. They could exchange the notes at local time stores for goods that took the same amount of time to produce.” To charge more labor for something that entailed less labor was “cannibalism,” according to him. Moreover, he believed that trading according to “cost the limit of price” would promote increasing efficiency in an economy. He set up an experimental “labor for labor” store in Cincinnati where trade was facilitated by notes backed by a promise to perform labor. The store operated successfully for 3 years.

Brian Doherty views Warren’s “antistate radicalism” as arising in a different intellectual climate from that of mid-20th Century American libertarianism but finds modern libertarians would give “enthusiastic nods of assent” to his individualism. Both Warren and Proudhon saw themselves leading a worldwide socialist revolution, which is alien to the main thrust of 20th century American libertarianism. The main goal for these two individualist anarchists’ movement was to eliminate the causes of exploitation and repression that keep the laborer from what is properly his. As an anarchist contrary to statist socialists like Marx, eliminating the state was the clearest, most just path toward the goal of individual sovereignty.

The illustrious individualist anarchist, Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) is the most revered by modern libertarians, according to Doherty. Spooner became an enemy of the state early on and succeeded in repealing a state statute that prevented him from getting a law degree without attending college. Before beginning his copious writings on the criminal nature of the state, he practiced some competitive anarchism: running a private post office. Spooner’s American Letter Mail Company, launched in 1844, was cheaper and more efficient than its government competition, and was driven out of business by Congress. For those who want to explain Spooner’s relentless assaults on every ethical excuse for the government as arising from personal pique, one could look to that, and to the fact that the state of Ohio drained a river and damaged the land that Spooner owned on the shore.

Spooner attained his greatest fame as a figure in the abolitionist movement. His most famous work, a book titled The Unconstitutionality of Slavery to great acclaim by many abolutionists. From the publication of this book until 1861 Spooner actively campaigned against slavery. In the late 1850’s, copies of his book were distributed to Congress sparking some debate over their contents. Even Senator Albert Gallatin Brown of Mississippis, a slavery proponent, praised the argument’s intellectual rigor and conceded it was the most formidable challenge he had seen from the abolutionists to date. In 1858, Spooner circulated a “Plan for the Abolition of Slavery”, calling for the use of guerrilla warfare against slaveholders by black slaves and non-slaveholding free Southerners, with aid from Northern abolitionists. Spooner also conspired wih John Brown to promote a servile insurrection in the South, and participated in an aborted plot to free Brown after his capture following the failed raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). 

Although he denounced the institution of slavery, Spooner recognized the right of the Confederate States of America to secede as the manifestation of government by consent, a constitutional and legal principle fundamental to Spooner’s philosophy; the Northern states, in contrast, were trying to deny the Southerners that right through military force.  He vociferously opposed the Civil War, arguing that it violated the right of the southern states to secede from a Union that no longer represented them”. He believed they were attempting to restore the Southern states to the Union, against the wishes of Southerners. He argued that the right of the states to secede derives from the natural right of slaves to be free. This argument was unpopular in the North and in the South after the War began, as it conflicted with the official position of both governments. 

Spooner advocated for people to be self-employed so they could fully enjoy the fruits of their labor rather than share them with an employer. He was opposed to the government intervening in the free market to make it difficult for people to start their own businesses. He opposed laws against usury because those with capital needed compensation for the high risk of not being repaid. In order for the worker to obtain capital on credit, it is necessary that he be allowed to contract for such a rate of interest as will induce that man with surplus capital, to afford to make the loan, for the capitalist cannot, consistently with natural law, be compelled to loan his capital against his will. All legislative restraints upon the rate of interest, are, therefore, nothing less than arbitrary and tyrannical restraints upon a man’s natural capacity amid natural right to hire capital, upon which to bestow his labor.The effect of usury laws, then, is to give a monopoly of the right of borrowing money, to those few, who can offer the most approved security.

Part VI will delve into the important contributions of the American individualist anarchist, Benjamin Tucker, whose voluminous output merits its own blog post. 

Written by joethebohemian

April 13, 2015 at 12:37 am

Posted in politics