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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

The Many Faces of Libertarianism, Part IV: Anarchism and Libertarian Socialism

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Now it’s time to get back to anti-capitalist libertarianism, which can be called both anarchism and libertarian socialism. The last two installments, Parts II and III, focused on classical liberalism and the political events surrounding it, so that some form of representative government with a parliament answerable to the people replaces an absolutist monarchy where kings acted like dictators. The historical context was one where feudalism was giving way to capitalism and getting the government to serve the capitalists, the owners of property whom John Locke was addressing with his classical liberalism triad of life, liberty, and property.

Contrary to the capitalist libertarianism most of us are accustomed to in the United States, the original French version of libertarianism was “socialist” in that the means of production were to be socially owned and run, that is, by the workers cooperating with one another in contrast to the hierarchical capitalist system. Furthermore, there is anti-state socialism or anarchism versus the state socialism of Marx. So the French libertarians of the 1800’s were anti-state anti-capitalist socialists who called themselves both anarchists and libertarian socialists. The French word libertaire was used to evade the French ban on anarchist publications. In this tradition, the terms “libertarianism” and “libertarian socialism” are generally used as synonyms for anarchism, derived from the Greek ἀναρχία, i.e. (from ἄναρχος, anarchos, meaning “one without rulers”

The first modern proponent of anarchism, under the influence of the French Revolution, was Englishman William Godwin (1756-1836) whose aim was the complete overthrow of all existing political, social, and religious institutions. He said monarchy was unavoidably corrupt and he desired a government of the simplest construction, came to consider “government by its very nature counteracts the improvement of the original mind”. He argued that government is a corrupting force in society, perpetuating dependence and ignorance, but that it will be rendered increasingly unnecessary and powerless by the gradual spread of knowledge and the expansion of human understanding. He follows Tom Paine’s view in Common Sense that “society is in every state a blessing… government even in its best state is but a necessary evil” by seeing society as antecedent to government with its principles setting the bounds of its legitimacy.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) was the first person to declare himself an anarchist, founder of the mutualist philosophy, considered by many to be the “father of anarchism”. Hubert Largardelle credits Proudhon with being the first anarcho-syndicalist. The syndicalist school of anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism, states the state’s primary purpose is to protect private property and therefore economic, social, and political privilege, thereby denying most citizens  the material independence and social autonomy enjoyed by the aristocrats running the state. The workers organize and govern themselves in solidarity, through direct action and direct democracy. Anarcho-syndicalists maintain that a Marxist “worker’s state” cannot be successful in serving the workers over the ruling capitalist elites. The state will inevitably empower itself or the existing elite at the expense of the workers.

Proudhon is famous for saying “property is theft” which meant that the landowner or capitalist stole profits from the workers. He favored workers’ associations or co-operatives, as well as individual worker/peasant possession, over private ownership or nationalization of land and workplaces. He considered social revolution to be achievable in a peaceful manner.

He clarified that anarchy is order without power and that property is freedom, referring to property as the product of an individual’s labor. In fact, he regarded labor as the only legal innate source of property. What one produces is his property and anything beyond that is not, asserted Proudhon. He declared property defined as such is the only power that can act as a counterweight to the state. As an anti-capitalist or libertarian socialist he favored collective ownership of the means of production.

He was not a communist and strenuously rejected the ownership of the products of labor by society. “The right means is common; the right to product is exclusive”. He called the use-ownership “possession” and his economic system mutualism. He opposed both capitalism and state ownership of property, arguing for small-scale property ownership associated with peasants and artisans.. He believed that property should be equally distributed and limited to size to that actually used by individuals, families, and workers’ associations. In his vision, self-employed artisans, peasants, and cooperatives would trade their products on the market. For Proudhon, factories and other large workplaces would be run by “labor associations” operating on directly democratic principles. The state would be abolished; instead, society would be organized by a federation of “free communes” (a commune is a local municipality in French). In 1863 Proudhon said: “All my economic ideas as developed over twenty-five years can be summed up in the words: agricultural-industrial federation. All my political ideas boil down to a similar formula: political federation or decentralization.”

Proudhon opposed the charging of interest and rent, but did not seek to abolish them by law: “I protest that when I criticized… the complex of institutions of which property is the foundation stone, I never meant to forbid or suppress, by sovereign decree, ground rent and interest on capital. I think that all these manifestations of human activity should remain free and voluntary for all: I ask for them no modifications, restrictions or suppressions, other than those which result naturally and of necessity from the universalization of the principle of reciprocity which I propose.

Proudhon criticized the authoritarian socialists of his time period, including the state socialist Louis Blanc. He made few public criticisms of Marx who at that time was a relatively minor thinker. Proudhon’s book What is Property?influenced the young Karl Marx’s ideas on the abolition of private property.

Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy, written as a refutation of Proudhon’s The Philosophy of Poverty, was the beginning of a historic rift between libertarian and authoritarian Socialists and between anarchists and Marxists. After Proudhon’s death, the First International Working Men’s Association dissolved in the feud between Marx and Proudhon’s disciple Mikhail Bakunin. After Bakunin’s death, his libertarian socialism diverged into anarchist communism and collectivist anarchism, with notable proponents such as Peter Kropotkin and Joseph Déjacque.

Proudhon also clashed with Joseph Déjacque, the anarcho-communist noted in Part I as the first self-described libertarian. Proudhon emphasized the worker is entitled to the product of his labor whereas Déjacque said
“It is not the product of his or her labor that the worker has a right to, but to the satisfaction of his or her needs, whatever may be their nature.

There are other important anarchists we’ll see in Part V. 

Written by joethebohemian

April 8, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Posted in politics, Uncategorized

The Many Faces of Libertarianism, Part III: The Birth of the Constitutional Monarchy

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I have put forth the notion that libertarianism has many faces, ranging from anti-capitalist to pro-capitalist. The last installment, Part II, was essentially the first part of examining historical events contributing to classical liberalism which was specific to Great Britain and its political turbulence in the 1600’s. Ideologues like John Locke and Adam Smith responded to this turbulence with their ideas of government and economics. The events and the thinkers responding to the events lived where capitalism began, Great Britain. 

My generic all-purpose definition of “libertarian” is anyone wanting an alternative to absolutist despotism which in current time refers to the coalescence of a crony-capitalist cabal and the elected government officials of the United States more inclined to serve the cabal than the “99%”. The libertarian alternative to despotism is comprised of individuals who govern themselves or seek a government based on their consent. Classical liberalism which is the ideological basis of the capitalist version of libertarianism currently in vogue in the United States. This is different from the socialist or anarchist types of libertarianism that came about in the wake of the French Revolution. In order to see the common ground for all types of libertarianism I look at the absolutist monarchies of both England and France, both of which had kings who claimed the “divine right of kings” where God is claimed to have chosen someone as His representative on earth to rule a nation. France’s famous King Louis XIV (reigned from 1643 to 1715) ruled as the prototype of absolutism having said “L’état, c’est moi” meaning “I am the state”. His heirs, Louis XV and XVI carried on the absolutist tradition until Louis XVI was guillotined in 1793.

England’s King Charles I, the arrogant absolutist, was not able to get along with his parliament and even suspended it from 1629 to 1640 and was beheaded in 1649 after his side, the Royalists, lost to the Parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell and the monarchy was replaced by what was termed a “republic” or “Commonwealth” led by Cromwell and the grandees (senior members) of his New Model Army. There were various smaller versions of Parliament: Rump, Barebones, and the Protectorate. In 1653 this Rump Parliament was dissolved because Cromwell couldn’t get along with it and he became “Lord Protector” until his death in 1658 when his son, Richard, succeeded him as Lord Protector but was removed by the Grandees of his dad’s New Model Army in May 1659 and the Rump Parliament was reinstalled.  Attempts to restore the monarchy started on 4 April 1660, Scottish General George Monck sent a secret message to Charles II who then issued the Declaration of Breda, which made known the conditions of his acceptance of the crown of England. Monck organised the Convention Parliament which met for the first time on 25 April. On 8 May it proclaimed that King Charles II had been the lawful monarch since the execution of  Charles I in January 1649. Charles returned from exile on 23 May. He entered London on 29 May. To celebrate “his Majesty’s Return to his Parliament” May 29 was made a public holiday, popularly known as Oak Apple Day. He was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1661.

The tale of classical liberalism continues in Part III.  King James II (reigned 1685-1688) was England’s last Catholic king and he abused his power, alienating many of his subjects. He enlarged the standing army.  This alarmed his subjects, not only because of the trouble soldiers caused in the towns, but because it was against the English tradition to keep a professional army in peacetime. Like a dictator, James suspended Parliament in November 1685, never to meet again in his reign. The proverbial “last straw” was when his wife, Queen Mary, finally gave birth to a Roman Catholic son and heir, James Francis Edward in June of 1688. Prior to that his 2 successors were his two protestant daughters, but the birth of the son opened up the possibility of a permanent Catholic dynasty and the Anglicans were having none of this. On June 30, 1688, a group of 7 Protestant nobles invited William, Prince of Orange, Charles I’s grandson and James II’s son in law to come to England with an army.

The inability of James II to work with Parliament, combined with his reckless Catholic appointments, brought both the political and religious spheres of the monarchy under fire again. The situation reached its climax in 1688. James established an alliance with Catholic France; arrested Archbishop Sancroft and six other bishops for failing to proclaim the Catholic faith; tampered with private property and historic rights; and produced a male heir after abandoning Anglicanism for Catholicism, which destroyed Parliament’s hopes that the crown would pass to the Protestant children of James’ first marriage. Parliament appealed to William of Orange, urging him to save England from a Catholic takeover. William gathered his forces and landed in England in November of 1688. William’s professional troops and the welcome they received from the English landholders intimidated James. James was captured while fleeing from London, but William ensured him safe passage to France. James, feeling alone and realizing his lack of popular support, abdicated and accepted his exile in France. James made one attempt to regain the crown, but his French and Irish forces were soundly defeated at the Battle of Boyne and James returned to France to live the rest of his life in exile.

Parliament, although victorious in unseating James, was faced with a dilemma. They wanted the throne to be the sole possession of Mary, with William serving as Prince Consort, but Mary refused due to her self-imposed subservience to her husband. William was reluctant to accept the throne by means of conquest, preferring to be named king by Parliament through birthright. Parliament succumbed to the wishes of William and Mary, and the pair acceded as co-rulers. As the reign unfolded, however, Parliament’s original plan became the reality of the situation. William was considerably more concerned with his holdings and the Protestant-Catholic conflicts on the continent, leaving Mary behind in England to rule. William and the English populace were conspicuously indifferent to each other, but Mary loved England and the English people loved her.William was married to James’ daughter, Mary, and was the grandson of Charles I, and importantly he was a Protestant and the desired successor to James II by those parliament members opposed to him.  William landed at Torbay on 5 November 1688, in 463 ships unopposed by the Royal Navy, and with an army of 14,000 troops which gathering local support grew to over 20,000 and advanced on London in what became known as ‘The Glorious Revolution’. James fled to France, and in February 1689 William and his wife were crowned King William III and Queen Mary II. Parliament passed the Bill of Rights which prevented Catholics for succeeding to the throne ensuring that Mary’s sister Anne would become the next queen, and after the autocratic rules of Kings Charles II and his brother James II limited the powers of monarchs so that they could neither pass laws nor levy taxes with parliamentary consent.

William’s intentions to invade were public knowledge by September 168 With a Dutch army, William landed at Brixham in southwest England on 5 November 1688. He came ashore from the ship Brill, proclaiming “the liberties of England and the Protestant religion I will maintain”. William had come ashore with approximately 11,000-foot and 4,000 horse soldiers. James’s support began to dissolve almost immediately upon William’s arrival; Protestant officers defected from the English army (the most notable of whom was Lord Churchill of Evemouth, James’s most able commander), and influential noblemen across the country declared their support for the invader. James at first attempted to resist William, but saw that his efforts would prove futile. He sent representatives to negotiate with William, but secretly attempted to flee on 11 December. A group of fishermen caught him and brought him back to London. He was allowed to escape to France in a second attempt on 23 December. William permitted James to leave the country, not wanting to make him a martyr for the Roman Catholic cause.

The political reaction to a Catholic absolutist king was to give parliament much more power and the consent of the governed is through parliament’s representing the English people. The rule of law was placed above the arbitrary whims of someone acting like a dictator “on behalf of God”.

The Bill of Rights

In February 1689, Parliament, with Tories and Whigs participating created the Declaration of Rights. In December this was amended and became the Bill of Rights, a bill that embodied terms of Parliament’s offer to William and Mary to rule as joint sovereigns. It was a list of grievances against James II, laws agreed to by William and Mary. In accordance with these new laws,

  • Parliament was to meet frequently.
  • The crown retained the right to veto bills and to pardon whomever he or she chose.
  • Freedom of speech was guaranteed.
  • The crown was not allowed to interfere in the selection of members of Parliament.
  • The crown was to keep no standing army without the consent of Parliament.
  • People had the right to petition government.
  • People were to be free from cruel and unusual punishments, and they were guaranteed freedom from excessive bail.

 In the euphoria of a bloodless revolution and unity against Catholicism, Parliament also passed the Toleration Act: people were no longer to be punished if they were not members of the Church of England, and people were not to be compelled to become members of the Church of England.

To sum things up, the Glorious Revolution enabled England to move from absolutism to a Constitutional monarchy and the ideas of classical liberalism began to be translated into actual government. This happened a full 100 years before the French Revolution which inspired the socialists and anarchists to respond with their own ideas of liberty and government some of whom called themselves “libertarian”.

Written by joethebohemian

April 4, 2015 at 1:24 pm

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The Many Faces of Libertarianism, Part II: Classical Liberalism

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The term “libertarian” has changed meaning over time. Joseph Déjacque, the first self-described libertarian was an anarcho-communist. He lived in the period influenced by the French Revolution and his anarchism meant he was anti-authoritarian, anti-hierarchical, anti-private-property and anti-state. His philosophy was based on workers being able to cooperate and essentially to govern themselves in a non-hierarchical manner, free of any institutional oppression 

Today’s American capitalist libertarians cite a different historical tradition from that of Déjacque to explain their roots. If you talk to a Ron Paul supporter who’s into history you will likely hear about classical liberalism and this is not quite like the liberalism (called “social liberalism”) you’re accustomed to. Classical liberalism is the historical basis of libertarianism as fancied both by Ron Paul as well as Murray Rothbard whom I quoted in Part I who admitted he stole this word from left-wing anarchists.

Classical liberalism developed from the Whigs of Great Britain, who were essentially the first political party, originating from opposition to absolute monarchy, or particularly that of Catholic monarchy. Great Britain had a Civil War in the 1640’s due to the tyranny of King Charles I who was beheaded in 1649 and the Commonwealth headed up by Oliver Cromwell followed, but his regime turned out to be a Puritan Dictatorship of sorts and he slaughtered the Irish because they were Catholics. After 11 years of this unsatisfactory solution to absolute monarchy, many Brits were more than ready to get their “good old fashioned” monarchy back and Charles’ son, Charles II came to the throne in 1660. Problems emerged in 1670 when he entered into the Secret Treaty of Dover, an alliance with his first cousin King Louis XIV of France. Louis agreed to aid him in the Third Anglo-Dutch War and pay him a pension, and Charles secretly promised to convert to Catholicism at an unspecified future date. Charles attempted to introduce religious freedom for Catholics and Protestant dissenters with his 1672 Royal Declaration of Indulgence, but the English Parliament forced him to withdraw it. In 1679, Titus Oates’s  revelations of a supposed “Popish Plot” sparked the Exclusion Crisis when it was revealed that Charles’s brother and heir (James, Duke of York) was a Catholic. The crisis saw the birth of the pro-exclusion Whig and anti-exclusion Tory parties. Charles sided with the Tories, and, following the discovery of the Rye House Plot to murder Charles and James in 1683, some Whig leaders were executed or forced into exile. Charles dissolved the English Parliament in 1681, and ruled alone until his death on 6 February 1685.

The Whigs’ ideology emerged dominant over that of the Tories following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and was associated with the defense of Parliament, upholding the rule of law and defending landed property. The origins of rights were seen as being in an ancient constitution which had existed from time immemorial. So now the stage was set for classical liberals who were committed to individualism, liberty and equal rights. They believed these things required a free economy with minimal government interference. Central to classical liberal ideology was their interpretation of John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government  and “A Letter Concerning Toleration”, which had been written as a defense of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Although these writings were considered too radical at the time for Britain’s new rulers, they later came to be cited by Whigs, radicals and supporters of the American Revolution.

The standardbearer of American right-wing capitalist libertarianism, the Mises Institute defines “Classical liberalism” as:”the term used to designate the ideology advocating private property, an unhampered market economy, the rule of law, constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and of the press, and international peace based on free trade” The original designation of classical liberalism was simply “liberalism”. Over time “social liberalism” came into existence and was “associated with wide-ranging interferences with private property and the market on behalf of egalitarian goals”.

One key factor in this was the labor movement and workers wanting more wages and rights to be able to afford their own private property and climb the socio-economic ladder to approach the level of their capitalist “benefactors”. Classical liberalism encompassed the sociological concept of society as a complex set of social networks—that individuals were “egoistic, coldly calculating, essentially inert and atomistic” and that society was no more than the sum of its individual members. The purpose of government was to protect the citizens from each other as each citizen pursued enlightened self-interest without control or restraint by government.

Classical liberals believed that individuals should be free to obtain work from the highest-paying employers, while the profit motive would ensure that products that people desired were produced at prices they would pay. In a free market, both labor and capital would receive the greatest possible reward, while production would be organised efficiently to meet consumer demand.

Drawing on selected ideas of Adam Smith, classical liberals believed that all individuals are able to equally freely pursue their own economic self-interest, without government direction, serving the common good. They were critical of welfare as interfering in a free market. They criticized labour’s group rights being pursued at the expense of individual rights while they accepted big corporations’ rights being pursued at the expense of inequality of bargaining power noted by Adam Smith.

It was not until emergence of social liberalism that child labor was forbidden, minimum standards of worker safety were introduced, a minimum wage and old age pensions were established, and financial institutions regulations with the goal of fighting cyclic depressions, monopolies, and cartels, were introduced. They were met by classical liberalism as an unjust interference of the state. So called “slim state’ was argued for, instead, serving only the following functions:

  • protection against foreign invaders, extended to include protection of overseas markets through armed intervention,
  • protection of citizens from wrongs committed against them by other citizens, which meant protection of private property and enforcement of contracts and the suppression of trade unions and the Chartist movement,
  • building and maintaining public institutions, and
  • “public works” that included a stable currency, standard weights and measures, and support of roads, canals, harbours, railways, and postal and other communications services.]

They believed that rights are of a negative nature which require other individuals (and governments) to refrain from interfering with free market, whereas social liberalism believes labor has a right to be provided with certain benefits or services via taxes paid by corporations.

Core beliefs of classical liberals did not necessarily include democracy where law is made by majority vote by citizens, because “there is nothing in the bare idea of majority rule to show that majorities will always respect the rights of property or maintain rule of law.” For example, James Madison argued for a constitutional republic with protections for individual liberty over a pure democracy, reasoning that, in a pure democracy, a “common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole…and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party.

As this movement of classical liberalism was developing the term “libertarian” did not yet exist and, in fact, it was over 100 years after the Whigs emerged that finally a “radical Whig” William Belsham used the term “libertarian” in 1789 to indicate he believed in free will and opposed any physical determinism upon human will. Just 4 years later, the founder of “philosophical anarchism”, William Godwin argued that government is a corrupting force in society, perpetuating dependence and ignorance, but will be rendered increasingly unnecessary and powerless by the gradual spread of knowledge and the expansion of the human understanding. As the French Revolution was underway, Godwin expressed the goal of overthrowing all existing political, social, and religious institutions. Monarchy he felt was unavoidably corrupt and he desired a government of the simplest construction and came to consider that by its very nature government counteracts the improvement of original mind.

These two historical movements, originate from opposition to absolutist monarchs first in England then in France. The French Revolution is far better known than the English Civil War between the Parliamentarians and Royalists, but the Brits did behead their King Charles, a revolutionary act, and in 1688, the so-called Glorious Revolution took place and the Constitutional Monarchy was estabished as the Dutch William of Orange took the throne. These historical developments led to the classical liberalism viewed by American libertarians as their historical foundation. The anarchists, of which there were many, grew from the French Revolution and their libertarianism is called “libertarian socialism”.

Of course, there is more to the history of people wanting to get the government off their backs and our journey will continue in Part III.

Written by joethebohemian

March 30, 2015 at 9:16 am

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From Anti-Capitalist to Pro-Capitalist: The Many Faces of Libertarianism, Part I

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Ever since Ron Paul came into prominence, his version of free market capitalist libertarianism is what people equate with libertarianism. This is based on the deliberate disregard for history so that free market capitalism devotees can use a word connoting “liberty” to give a rose-colored hue to their movement and entice millions to join.

The free market adoring ideologue Murray Rothbard plainly explained in his book, Betrayal of the American Right, what his capitalist cultists in the United States had accomplished:

“One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy…’Libertarians’ had long been simply a polite word for left-wing anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over and more properly from the view of etymology; since we were the proponents of individual liberty and therefore of the individual’s right to his property”

Having opened a portal into the real history of the word he helped to steal from the “enemy”, Rothbard enables Joseph Déjacque, the first self-described libertarian, to enter an informed examination of libertarianism’s history. Déjacque (1821-1864) was a French early anarcho-communist poet and writer and the first recorded person to employ the term “libertarian” (French: libertaire) for himself in a political sense.

Unlike Pierre- Joseph Proudhon, the first self-described anarchist and founder of mutualism,  Déjacque argued that, “it is not the product of his or her labor that the worker has a right to, but to the satisfaction of his or her needs, whatever may be their nature.”In New York he serialised his book in his periodical “Le Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement social” that ran from 1858 to 1861 and was the first anarcho-communist journal published in the United States and the first anarchist journal to use the term “libertarian”.

Anarcho-communism is a theory of anarchism which advocates the abolition of the state, capitalism, wages, and private property (while retaining respect for personal property) and favors common ownership of the means of production, direct democracy, and a horizontal network of voluntary associations and workers’ councils with production and consumption based on the guiding principle: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”

Déjacque was anti-authoritarian and anti-elitist to the extreme, rejecting the division between a visionary and his inner circle and the “vulgar herd”, the people. He was equally opposed to all forms of social republicanism, to the dictatorship of one man and to the little prodigies of the proletariat, seemingly prophesying Lenin and the Bolsheviks. He wrote that: ‘a dictatorial committee composed of workers is certainly the most conceited and incompetent, and hence the most anti-revolutionary, thing that can be found…(It is better to have doubtful enemies in power than dubious friends)’. He saw ‘anarchic initiative,’ ‘reasoned will’ and ‘the autonomy of each’ as the conditions for the social revolution of the proletariat, the first expression of which had been the barricades of June 1848. In Déjacque’s view, a government resulting from an insurrection remains a reactionary fetter on the free initiative of the proletariat. Or rather, such free initiative can only arise and develop by the masses ridding themselves of the ‘authoritarian prejudices’ by means of which the state reproduces itself in its primary function of representation and delegation. Déjacque wrote that: ‘By government I understand all delegation, all power outside the people,’ for which must be substituted, in a process whereby politics is transcended, the ‘people in direct possession of their sovereignty,’ or the ‘organised commune.’ For Déjacque, the communist anarchist utopia would fulfil the function of inciting each proletarian to explore his or her own human potentialities, in addition to correcting the ignorance of the proletarians concerning ‘social science.’”

He also thought that “government, religion, property, family, all are linked, all coincide.’ The content of the social revolution was thus to be the abolition of all governments, of all religions, and of the family based on marriage, the authority of the parents and the husband, and inheritance.

Déjacque established his proposed state as follows ““the state of affairs where each would be free to produce and consume at will and according to their fantasy, without having to exercise or submit to any control whatsoever over anything whatever; where the balance between production and consumption would establish itself, no longer by preventive and arbitrary detention at the hands of some group or other, but by the free circulation of the faculties and needs of each.

The common element for all people calling themselves “libertarian” is opposition to the tyranny of the state. The manner of this opposition and the acknowledgment of other forms of tyranny done under the pretext of “liberty” is another matter. So-called “right libertarians” are concerned with “aggression” but this does not seem to apply to factory owners or capitalists aggressing upon workers with 14 hour days, locking them in fire traps, having children work in horrific conditions in mines or other adult workers often dying as a result of working conditions. One capitalist’s liberty is based on the radical infringement on many other people’s liberty.

The historical journey of libertarianism as a concept having many guises and the clashes of those economic forces and theories laying claim to that word is a long story. So this is just Part I of that story.

Written by joethebohemian

March 26, 2015 at 1:36 pm

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Lung Cancer for Profit

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A lot of people have quit smoking, but as I walk past businesses in the strip malls of my small town, I notice how many people still smoke. The majority I witness are less than average income folks. Smoking is undoubtedly a powerful addiction and somehow the pleasure from this habit compensates for knowing that it will likely shorten one’s life. 

The facts on lung cancer seem to be drowned on all the hype on progress for other cancers. Lung cancer is, for the most part, with rare exceptions, a death sentence. The 5 year survival rate is 15% after diagnosis. The 10 year survival rate is 5%.

It is hard to find current statistics for 2012 on the average cost of treating lung cancer. From what I’ve seen, it could range from $100,000 to $300,000. Lung, bronchial and tracheal cancers are the most costly, accounting for $180 billion of the world tally.

“Up to three quarters of  lung cancer cases could be avoided if people did not smoke, said the article in the journal Science Translational Medicine.”

We have a highly preventable illness whose diagnosis means an 85% chance of death within 5 years. On one side we weigh the pleasures of smoking along with the profits of treating the consequences of this smoking, which amount to $180 billion. On the other side, we weigh the pleasures of life without cigarettes and not getting lung cancer while reducing the profit-potential for the cancer industry. 

The issue of personal freedom seems to trump the issue of personal health. “Ya gotta die of something” is a typical rationalization of the smokers I have spoken to in my local area. During a lean period, when I was working as a telemarketer working to get money for homeless veterans, about 95% of my co-workers would smoke during our breaks. As a non-smoker, I felt like pariah and would socialize with some of smoker friends, position myself upwind, do strategic breathing, etc. to minimize my second-hand smoke. This experience drove home to me the social-class aspect of smoking. I don’t want to use a disparaging label about any particular class of people, but can’t help but observe the frequency of smoking within lower income people, of which I am one. The communal aspect of smoking along with the neurochemical addictive aspect seem to outweigh all other considerations, even that of the grim lung cancer reaper.

This issue is maybe to obvious and will elicit a “duh” response. But in the midst of a health care crisis, dealing with the smoking issue seems to be a no-brainer.



Written by joethebohemian

April 4, 2012 at 2:58 pm

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Health Care for Profit II: Private Insurance

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Yesterday’s post, Health Care for Profit in a Nutshell was written quickly and some of the items in it, I want to explore in greater detail later, like the few drugs discussed and the massive issue of cholesterol which I was not able to adequately explore in a short time frame.  There are many other drugs I would love to analyse and criticize and I will get to these in subsequent posts. One subject I wanted to get into, but had not the time for, was private health insurance, which I will begin discussing today.

The key fact I want to begin this essay with is that private health insurance is NOT health care, or at least it should not be, though it plays a major role in what treatments people obtain, what treatments doctors perceive to be on the menu of options for which the insurance company is willing to pay. Insurance exists to spread risk so that a group of people pool their money to pay for those adverse events that would impose financial hardship on any single person. The problem is that the combination of the indulgent instant-gratification lifestyle and post-facto disease care for profit is a capitalistic runaway train. This means that private health insurance which must earn a profit has had to ration, pick and choose what treatments it would pay for. Pre-existing conditions which can include such ridiculous things as acne amongst many others, have been devised to compensate, though in a highly dysfunctional way, for the fact that post-facto cost-exploding treatments of preventable illnesses like heart disease and cancer are too expensive for any given insurance to generate profit in a competitive market. Also there are other labyrinthine devices like deductibles which safeguard the profit-potential of an insurance company. The money spent on premiums and deductibles goes for the income of administrators who navigate through this labyrinthine system to literally put profit before the health of numerous people.

But it is impossible to separate the issue of insurance from the lifestyle/disease-care issue which creates treatments marketed to Americans for the maximization of profit. Now if a preventative-holistic system were put into place whereby lifestyle optimization received priority then the reduced costs would be much easier for the private insurance company to pay for and thus the rationing would be greatly reduced (preferably totally eliminated). So, in my opinion, insurance needs to be discussed in a context of a preventative-holistic health care system and the treatments of this system are incorporated within the new private insurance system paying for these treatments. Ultimately, I would like a single-payer system that bypasses private insurance altogether, a Medicare-for-all so to speak with greatly reduced administrative costs and the cost-reduction of the massive risk pool of all 300+ million Americans. At present we have a system with expensive insurance with low-risk pools and exorbitantly expensive high-risk pools of individuals who are unemployed or got removed with some pre-existing condition. The purpose of insurance is not to maximize profits but to pool the  money of low-risk people with high-risk people. Kicking high-risk people to the curb  defeats the essential purpose of insurance.

One thing I wanted to post here was a graph showing that by 2082 U.S. health care costs will totally engulf the U.S. economy, apparently in a cannibalistic manner since the entire economy would be nothing but astronomical health care costs. These costs are not health care of course, but the costs of indulgence, sedentary living, and the profit-maximizing pills, surgeries, and other treatments. The upward slope of this alarming graph shows what “for profit” entails. In the perspective of finding new profit avenues, the past glory days of a postwar manufacturing economy are long gone. The post-industrial economy is pretty much a succession of bubbles, as we can recall the tech bubble of the late 90’s and the real estate/subprime derivatives bubble whose recent bursting still affects us. The mega-bubble that keeps on making big bucks is the indulgence-pills-surgery bubble. “Health care” is the number one employer in many cities, like Pittsburgh, for example.

Another graph shows how the U.S. spends far more than any other nation on health care and gets poor results for all this “health care”. Yet, we have the cries of socialism responding to any mentions of this U.S. failure when we show how more civilized nations do to care for the health of their citizens as opposed to maximizing ineffective treatments with profit being put before health. As Robert Reich points out, millions of Americans don’t mind at all paying for their health care in the form of medicare as a payroll deduction. Nor do they mind paying for social security in the same way. The simple idea that apparently makes too much sense for people to accept it is that MEDICARE FOR ALL IS THE SOLUTION. It is stupid and immoral to separate low-risk from high-risk people in the current private insurance profit-proliferation scheme. There should one SINGLE PAYER that pays for everyone because everyone deserves health care in a moral society. It is time to highlight that social darwinism underlying the conservative “free market” balderdash that rationalizes the immoral dysfunctional status quo of “health care” for profit.

Robert Reich explains that Americans don’t mind “mandates” in the form of payroll tax deductions and there lies the solution via Medicare For All:

Americans don’t mind mandates in the form of payroll taxes for Social Security or Medicare. In fact, both programs are so popular that even conservative Republicans were heard to shout “Don’t take away my Medicare!” at rallies opposed to the new health care law.There’s no question payroll taxes are constitutional, because there’s no doubt that the federal government can tax people in order to finance particular public benefits. But requiring citizens to buy something from a private company is different because private companies aren’t directly accountable to the public. They’re accountable to their owners, and their purpose is to maximize profits. What if they monopolize the market and charge humongous premiums? Some already seem to be doing this.Even if they’re organized as not-for-profits, there’s still a problem of public accountability. What’s to prevent top executives from being paid small fortunes? Apparently that’s already happening.Moreover, compared to private insurance, Medicare is a great deal. Its administrative costs are only around 3 percent, while the administrative costs of private insurers eat up 30 percent to 40 percent of premiums. Medicare’s costs are even below the 5 percent to 10 percent administrative costs borne by large companies that self-insure, and under the 11 percent costs of private plans under Medicare Advantage, the current private-insurance option under Medicare.So why not Medicare for all?

Written by joethebohemian

March 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm

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