Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Have America's Oligarchs Succeeded in Destroying Our Ability to Conceive of Democracy?

by Jada Thacker

Oligarchy by Dave Kinsey

Amongst all the wars and manufactured patriotism, the decades of incessant fear and profitable lies, there are signs that our democratic system has been forgotten.

Most Americans know Jack London as the author of The Call of the Wild. Few have ever read his 1908 novel, The Iron Heel, which pits what London calls “the Oligarchy” (aka The Iron Heel) against the American working class, resulting in armed revolution.

The Oligarchy, London explains, is the ruling elite whose immense concentration of capital has empowered it to transcend capitalism itself. The Iron Heel is thus an allegorical tale of a fascist state whose hydra-headed business monopolies have seized control of all facets of production, consumption and national security.

London was not the lone American revolutionary author of his generation. Looking Backwards by Edward Bellamy, Caesar’s Column by Ignatius Donnelly, and the less militant Progress and Poverty by Henry George all assumed that some version of democratic-socialist Revolution was just around the corner of history – or if not, then ought to be.

As late as the 1930s (and briefly during the anti-Vietnam War period), many Americans still thought “The Revolution” was in the offing. But those days have passed, and no one today speaks seriously of any such thing.

Why not?

The Traditional Oligarchy   
“Oligarchy” means “rule by the few.” It is an ugly word in its pronunciation as well as in its implied meaning.

Moreover, it is a tainted word because it is used often by “dangerous radicals” to describe the people they wish to see blindfolded and stood against a wall. Nonetheless, it is the proper word to describe the current practice of governance in the United States.

This, of course, is not a new development.

The origin of American civil government was not, as certain champions of philosopher John Locke’s social contract would have it, to secure to each citizen his equal share of security and liberty, but rather to secure for the oligarchs their superior position of power and wealth.

It was for precisely this reason the United States Constitution was written not by a democratically-elected body, but by an unelected handful of men who represented only the privileged class.

Accordingly, the Constitution is a document which prescribes, not proscribes, a legal framework within which the economically privileged minority makes the rules for the many.

There is nothing in the Constitution that limits the influence of wealth on government. No better example of this intentional oversight exists than the creation of the first American central bank. It is worth a digression to examine this scheme, as it was the precedent for much yet to follow. The very first Congress incorporated a constitutionally-unauthorized central banking cartel (the Bank of the U.S.) before it bothered to ratify the Bill of Rights – a sequence of events which eloquently reveals the priorities of the new government.

The bank was necessary in order to carry out a broader plan: the debts of the new nation would be paid with money loaned by the wealthy, and the people were to be taxed to pay the money back to the wealthy, with interest.

The 1791 Whiskey Tax – which penalized small-scale distillers in favor of commercial-scale distilleries – was passed to underwrite this scheme of bottom-up wealth-redistribution. When frontiersmen predictably rebelled against the tax, they were literally shackled and dragged on foot through the snowbound Allegheny Mountains to appear in show-trials at the national capital, where they were condemned to death.

Socialist bureaucrats were not the culprits here: the 16,000 armed militiamen that crushed the rebels were led in person by two principal Founding Fathers, President George Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, the author of both the central bank and the whiskey tax legislation.

(After the disproportionate tax drove small producers out of competition, Washington went into the whiskey-distilling business, becoming by the time of his death the largest whiskey-entrepreneur in Virginia, if not the nation.)

This should be a “text-book” example of how oligarchy works, but such examples are rarely admitted in textbooks. Instead, the textbooks assure us that the Founders established the nation upon the principles of “liberty and justice for all,” words that do not appear in any founding document.

Fortunately, for the sake of candor, Hamilton made his support of oligarchy quite clear at the Constitutional Convention when he said, “All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. … The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government.”

Who Were “We the People?”
Despite the “We the People” banner pasted on the Preamble, the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, does not guarantee anyone the right to vote, nor did it prevent the wealthy from making laws denying that right to “the mass of the people.”

Any belief that the Founders countenanced “democracy,” would, at a logical minimum, require that term to appear at least one time within the Constitution or any of its 27 Amendments – which it conspicuously does not.

Without some constitutional guarantee of democracy, government maintains the practice of oligarchy by default. Despite pretensions of Republicanism, even among the followers of Jefferson, the new nation was ruled by “the rich and well born” few for a generation before the specter of democracy even began to rear it head.

And so it was that the oligarchic social contract described in Rousseau’sDiscourse on Inequality remained the actual basis upon which American socioeconomic order was founded – not the Lockean version first fantasized by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence and then summarily excluded from the Constitution by the Federalists.

Since money, then as now, buys both property and power, it was only logical that democracy would make its first appearance on the 19th century American frontier, where there was very little money, but much property, to be had.

The fact that the property mostly had been stolen was beside the point: possession of it now conferred the right to vote for the first time upon a majority of people who had no money. Thus, but for a limited time only, common Americans began to feel they were in charge of their future. 

For a few short decades, America actually became what it now believes it always was: a democratic Republic, largely free from Big Business, Big Government and Big Religion.

True, the majority of the people still could not vote, slavery still existed, and American Indians were being ravaged, but things were looking up for free, white males as the frontier expanded beyond the grasp of the old-money power of the traditional Eastern oligarchy.

Until the middle of the century when the war came, that is.

Read the rest of this article @ AlterNet.org

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