Like this is original…

rev1xxI’m working on a thesis right now. It’s been percolating in my brainpan for a short while, probably prompted by the current financial crisis, and goes something like this: Libertarians, with a small or large L, in describing their philosophy, often harken back to the formative years of our country and the documents we produced – the Declaration and the Constitution. (We also produced the Articles of Confederation, we immediately had to amend the Constitution with the Bill of Rights, so let’s not get the idea that the founders of the country were blessed with supernatural gifts, the way some current politicians wish us to believe. That’s a different story, however.) And in this particular case, they’re right: we were founded on a unique and radically different philosophy of governance. Jefferson, Madison, and the others wrote into being a whole new set of ideas based on individual and collective rights, equality, a diminishing of hierarchy…a host of new concepts which had never before been tested on real people. And it worked. Yes, we’ve strayed from the concept somewhat, but throughout our history, we have always exhibited these bedrock principles in some fashion, differencing us from all other countries, even those who’ve consciously emulated us.

There is one main problem with all of that, and in particular, with applying it to today’s U.S.: the economic angle wasn’t addressed at all. At the time, there wasn’t any need…the civic institutions were paramount – the church, the guild, and the town meeting were the basis of society. Commerce was important, and corporations existed, but they were smaller and geographically limited, regulated by (in the colonists’ case) the Crown through charter. They did not have the effect on the day-to-day lives of Americans that they do today.

In fact, the whole equation became upended at the time of the Industrial Revolution, and hasn’t been back on track since. Government and civic institutions waned in influence, and corporations usurped that position. And this was a problem because of the lack of vision, planning, and regulation. The Founding Fathers saw firsthand what happened when government became imperial, justifying itself by its own right with no outside check, so they broke away and redrew the rules so that couldn’t happen again. The civic and corporate worlds were left to their own devices (though some rules were devised to insure that government didn’t mix inextricably with either one) – and corporations rapidly out-performed the civic world thanks to their economic advantage.

Today’s large corporation is, basically, King George III revisited. It exists multinationally, owing allegiance to no one save its own Board. It may levy taxes on the people in the form of charges for needed goods and services; the average person in an industrial nation needs them more than they need government. It requires no justification for its actions, and need not act in the interests of those “lesser”.

It flew under the radar of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers because its masquerades as simply a group of normal citizens, subject to the same laws as everyone else; it’s even in their name for themselves: the “private sector”. In fact, they’re about as far from private as you can get – the influence of a very few, hierarchically placed individuals ranges extremely far beyond their own concerns, as the current crisis demonstrates. They are modern Kings. And this masquerade continues because the Founders didn’t pick up on the fact that money buys rights.

At this point, you’re probably figuring this goes off in a commie direction, because Marx and Engels did get this…but their solution went off the rails fairly quickly, because corporate influence actually does bring progress (dedicated individuals can often accomplish more than an unfocused crowd), and because the money – and authority, and influence – had to go somewhere, and putting it into the hands of the State, which is essentially what happened, despite what they say, wasn’t that much better of an idea. Some much better people got it, too, such as FDR…he was able to avoid a lot of the idiocy that led to our current crash by pushing some order onto the whole system from the top down, during, not coincidentally, a crisis like the one we’re having now.

What’s needed now is something similar, but more fundamental, harkening again back to the Founders: a Declaration of Independence from Corporate America, and a Constitution to regulate the economy – a popularly constituted “Congress”, not necessarily co-extensive with the rest of government, to enforce the will of the people on corporate entities through appropriate regulation, which would necessarily mean monetarily, since that is the mechanism they use to control society.

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3 Responses

  1. You bring up some fascinating points here… Nice post. I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusion obviously, but I like the general thinking behind it.

    Which brings up a point that I’ve been wanting to advocate for a long time now. Us “radicals” (environmentalists, libertarians, socialists, etc…) have more in common than I think we’re generally willing to admit. I think that it would be a good idea to get some people together and strongly advocate for more cooperation amongst our ideological groups, with the intent of moderating the more “radical” ideals and concentrating on achieving what’s realistic among our respective core principals. Quite a few people will see that as “selling out”, but that can’t really be helped. I think that it’s getting to the point where it’s better to just get something done rather than being marginalized as “radical” groups…

  2. I think it’s way too close to communism for the average American to be comfortable with, unfortunately. Hell, it’s too communist for Canada, and we’re too socialist for America!

  3. @ohms: It’s an interesting concept, at least. I’ve spoken with a lot of folks from other “third” parties, and some resolutions have been drafted with them which stress the commonalities – and there do seem to be a lot of them. Common sense would say that they’d resemble the Republican or Democratic platforms, because they are the parties of compromise – the ones that do so in order to include supposedly all Americans in one of two broad categories. That isn’t necessarily the case.

    In practice, I don’t know if or how it would happen. What I’d like to see is a true multi-party system, one that doesn’t choke the “radical” ideas out of existence before they see the light of day.

    @David: It’s still a work in progress, and I don’t know if I’m yet wedded to the concept. I’m not a communist, nor am I really a socialist, because I see them as too absolute; the nations that have put them into practice are good examples of absolute power – totalitarianism, really.

    What I’m looking for is a balance. We’ve gotten a people’s agreement to handle the excesses of government. Our civic institutions (churches, fraternities, trade unions) are, without exception that I can think of, voluntary and not excessive in power. There has, however, been no total solution to the problem of corporate power and influence, and they threaten freedoms just as much as an imperial government or an overzealous church.

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