Their "Liberty," Our "Tyranny"

In the current wave of rhetorical bumper-sticker jargon and esoteric jibber-jabber, perhaps no concept reigns supreme over the hyperbolic as much as the mythical attachment to the notions of "liberty" and "freedom" and the delusion that there is but one definition for each term.  Both ideals as employed in much contemporary usage are offered up as types of "zero-sum" propositions: where there is a "winner" there must be a corresponding "loser".  This type of proposition seems in direct contrast to the American ideals of "positive-sum" results where all or at least the vast majority find themselves in "win-win" circumstances.

This zero-sum socio-cultural-political environment is found to become more pronounced when placed within a capitalistic economic structure, one that most certainly operates in such a zero-sum construct.  Subsequently, many  have been encouraged to link "liberty" and "freedom" together as a simple socio-economic endeavor.  But is this necessary?  Is it wise?  Is it historically accurate?  Most importantly, does such a narrow and myopic linkage in definition foreclose the positive-sum results most aspire to where all or the vast majority share in benefit?  Or could it be that "impediment" is precisely what is desired?

Referring back to a previous blog, The United States of Oz, we dared to pull back the curtain and survey the aristocratic structure and underpinnings seen in the nation's founding.  We noted that the "Boston Tea Party" looked nothing as contemporary "patriots" would like to believe; as a working, lower or middle-class event whose purpose was for the betterment of the masses within that class.  Most important to note was the fact that the majority in the nation at this time were white indentured, slaves from Africa, women, and Natives, none of whom were immediately entitled to the "blessings" of liberty of freedom that would soon be codified in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.  Indeed, when we look at the major tenets of these two documents, we in fact find a study in contradiction.

Within the Declaration's preamble, we find the following:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights,  that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

 And within the preamble to the Constitution we further find:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

{emphasis and italics added by blog author}

Within the aforementioned preambles we find a laundry list of what would later be terms that act as, for lack of a better phrase,tenets of socialism -- for the un(der) educated this is not inherently the same as "Marxism".  Notions that "all" are "equal" and endowed with "rights" -- these ideals should be neither obtuse nor debatable.  Additionally, "common" and the "promotion of  general welfare" directly inform the obvious: these are "collectivist" concepts!  The contradiction mentioned previously, of course, is found in for whom these concepts were written, how applied and when expanded to cover all.

In the earlier post entitled, "Let's Drop the Pretense" . . . we noted the following facts in American history:

Fact: "Common" citizen empowerment by way of "the franchise" (the vote) was a long-lasting effort beginning in the 19th Century and continuing into the 1970's, limiting or making impossible full economic enfranchisement and obviously full expressions of citizenship!

    • Non-landed White men:  progressively from 1812 to 1860,
    • non-White men: 1870 (the 15th amendment),
    • women: 1920 (the 19th amendment),
    • Native Peoples: 1924 (de facto),
    • residents of Washington, D.C.: 1961 (for presidential elections),
    • the poor: 1964 (the elimination of poll taxes),
    • certain "minorities" in certain states: 1965 (the Voting Rights Act),
    • adults 18-21: 1971 (the 26th amendment),
    • . . . as well as a number of other small, constituent-based statues in affirmative voting legislation.

Fact: "Liberal" and "Conservative" have been amorphous titles bestowed upon changing political parties in American history!

We can see that Republican President Lincoln "freed the slaves" while it was Democratic President Johnson who "freed the vote" and subsequently universal participation in the national body politic.  The "far-left" fails to remember that the Republican Party for much of its history was actually the more progressive of the two major parties!  I will concede to my far-leftist friends that "progressivism" is indeed on a very distinct sliding scale with the Quakers (Benjamin Franklin et al.) perhaps setting the best and earliest example of what a genuine "liberal" democracy would look like in the hands of suffragettes, labor unions, civil rights, farm labor, and other similar organizations in the 20th century.  Indeed, America's greatest economic output and its creation of a virtually unknown "class" in world social structure, the middle-class, was virtually created during this 20th century period in American history!

While the colonies turned into states, the economic engine that created and expanded a nation was primarily that of White Anglo-centric capital and Black (and sometimes Native) slave labor.  Later, Chinese would be indentured to help build the railroads and by the twentieth century colonial Spaniards (Hispanics) would help to settle the agrarian West only to then move ever eastward by century’s end.  One cannot, nor should not forget the millions of European ethnics (Irish, German, Scandinavian, etc.) that too lent their labor to both the expansion of the agricultural sector as well as the development and solidification of urban life.  Herein, we find the genesis of the “liberal” America we know today.

While many European ethnics were fighting for worker dignity (banning child labor, 40 hour work weeks, overtime, unionization, etc.) others were hoping to draw on the morality of Franklin, Jay, Hamilton and the sadly small handful of “founding fathers” who dared to demand the abolition of slavery.  Other efforts can be seen in the women’s Suffragette movements, farm-worker movements among others.  These efforts would be driven through the 20th century by “liberals” and their attendant organizations that hoped to distance America from its paternal, class-based, and aristocratic founding, putting the founders’ rhetoric into actual practice.

So based on a simply survey of American history we can readily and easily see that the "contradiction" between the founders' words and American ideals and aspirations realized occurred not at the nation's founding but rather was an evolutionary process that unfolded over two centuries!  Not only was the 20th Century, the "American" century, one that saw the creation of the largest middle-class the world has ever seen, but it occurred during a period where the tax rates of the "robber barron-era" in American history expanded and greatly contributed to financing the middle-class boom!  No wonder the Romney-Ryan lower and middle-class austerity plan essentially wants to repeal the 20th Century with its unabashed, Ayn Randian love affair with with the "job creators" (ergo wealth and privilege!).

In fomenting fear and loathing within America's middle-class, America's aristocratic-class and their mouthpieces are simply utilizing an age old tactic of divide and conquer and they are currently using "liberty" and "freedom" as their words du jour.

Citizens United, ALEC, the Koch brothers, the Club for Growth, etc. are the means by which Romney-Ryan and others seek to finance 20th Century repeal.  When we in the middle-class hear "freedom" and "liberty" from these groups or politicians we should actually know it to mean their freedoms and their liberties to extract wealth, privilege, and power at our expense -- like the "good ole days" before income distribution and the middle-class explosion of the 20th Century.  By playing on the fears and promoting mythical Americana to "a certain demographic," vulnerable and anxious in a period of rapid socio-demographic change in America, these entities have found a willing group; a group not understanding the world "promised" to them and spoon-fed factors to fear and become hostile toward like identity, gender roles, race and ethnicity, even science itself.  This is the zero-sum game they are playing: for them to win someone must lose and the faction of the middle-class that feels by abandoning their "class loyalties" in apparent fealty to the elite few need to recall that throughout American history (and in recalling feudalism) this rarely works out well (interesting article from the Economist noting class dichotomy).

In employing "liberty" and "freedom," these groups and political shills are clearly not living up the the indeed quasi-socialist concepts earlier noted in this essay.  We in the middle-class need to "decouple" these terms from being divisive and rhetorical "buzzwords" meant to excite like Pavlov's dog and reclaim them in the most patriotic and American definition: they should be reclaimed for our aspirations using our definitions of liberty and freedom.

In using perhaps the most important and certainly intimate need of all and one that is required to pursue "life, liberty, and happiness" we need only look at the healthcare debacle not simply of recent history -- but history.  American history informs us that every attempt in pursuing the freedoms and liberties to secure life sustaining medical care for the lower and middle-classes has been quashed by the monied interests of the elite who saw such attempts as infringing on their freedoms and liberties to use our health as money-making ventures: again, the zero-sum game!  We can see this zero-sum strategy working against the lower and middle-classes  for profit again in the realms of education, energy policy, as well as in social policies like marriage equality and the "DREAM Act".  FREEDOM and LIBERTY in their world is ZERO-SUM!

As one who was born into the "middle-class," who is reasonably well educated, and who certainly aspires to greatness and dreams big, far be it from me to rain on anyone's parade.  I will join in voice and solidarity with millions in this country to secure the blessings of liberty -- but as it has become realized over time and not in the regressive, feudal way some romantically wish to return.  Again, a time that was none-too-pleasant for the non-elite!

Likewise, I encourage all dreamers to use their franchise and support whomever they wish.  If as a lower or middle-class citizen one believes in a Romney-style, neo-feudalistic structure of wealth accumulation and the notion that a strong aristocratic class is a good and necessary thing (remember, the opposite of feudalism is not its pseudoscientific cousin capitalism but rather the types of "socialism" dreamt of in the words of the "founders") then simply drop the, once again, rhetorical jibber-jabber and admit such to the electorate and your fellow citizen and then let "us" make the call to what "we" prefer in 2012 and in elections in years to come. It is not your country with the rest of us simply living in it!

In attempting to deny large swaths of fellow citizens their liberties and freedoms, not as the elite would like to define such terms but as such citizens might express these concepts themselves, one proves that America is indeed anything but an exceptional nation as we are then exposed as indeed very average; being led and dictated to by a small cabal of elite and their operatives as elite visions of liberty and freedom become defined as structurally exclusionary, demographically antiquated . . . flawed and branded as decidedly un-American.

America can indeed continue to move toward being "a more perfect union," exceptional if you will.  Denying and attempting to cloak the fact that there are differing and debatable definitions of "liberty" and "freedom" does not get us there, and what it does is to expose a susceptibility to be one who seeks to impose their definitions upon others, in other words . . . a tyrant.  We should all seek and encourage the most American of ideals: vigorous dialogue and debate and then encourage all citizens to become vested in their country and vote, denying none, thereby further shedding tyranny while affirming the greatness of a country that was founded for the few and one that is now seeking to be governed by and for all.

Leave a comment