Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Supercommittee Fails

When Congress and its regular committee system proved unable to reach a concensus on how to reduce the growing United States debt, it appointed a 12 member super committee to make the politically unpopular decisions that Congressmen in their regular capacity does not have the courage to make.

Was it too big to fail? Apparently not.

Maybe the answer is a super subcommittee.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Is OWS Racist?

Its a dumb question.

But liberal political activists and their mainstream media enablers incessantly throw this question about conservatives in general and of the  the Tea Party Movement in particular. Although the Tea Party Movement has delivered  a consistent message about limited government and lower taxes, liberal groups such as the NAACP and many liberal opinion writers have accused the movement as racist at its core or at heavily populated by racist fringe members.

Few black Americans have participated in the OWS Movement. In fact, black Americans constitute  less than two percent of OWS protesters. Moreover, the most prominent veteran of the black civil rights struggle, John Lewis, got the brush off a couple of months back when he tried to visit a OWS rally. Maybe they did not know who he was. Maybe they thought he was simply a Congressman.

Finally,  a writer for the Washington Post finally took note of this demographic fact. Now the writer does not overtly accuse the OWS Movement of racism. The piece consists of a "black America told you so" about economic inequality and social injustice, etc. But at least the writer mustered up the courage to acknowledge the predominantly white participation in OWS.

So will the mainstream media now pick up on this and begin to ask the OWS movement if it is racism since it seem unable to reach out to black Americans who suffer disproportionately from the current financial and economic crisis.

Don't count on it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Milton Resists the Restoration

In Search of the Republic--20

After a turbulent 20 year experiment with republican government, England slowly staggered its way back to monarchy. Republican polemicist John Milton, now blind, wrote a last defense of the republic and warned against the return to monarchy. In The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (1659), he  described his vision of the ideal republic. Moreover, he introduced a model for virtue that differed from the classical aristocratic notions of virtue. This other concept of virtue gradually supplanted the older classical virtue as republics supplanted monarchies.

Milton opens by reminding his readers of the struggles of the 1640s, when the people threw off monarchy. "The Parliament of England," he writes,

"assisted by a great number of the people who appeared and stuck to them faithfullest in defence of religion and their civil liberties, judging kingship by long experience a government burdensome, expensive, useless, and  dangerous, justly and magnanimously abolished it."

After the overthrow of Charles I, the Parliament disregarded tradition and the ancient constitution. Instead, bound by "the law of nature only, which is the only law of laws truly and properly to all mankind fundamental," established the commonwealth.

He warns his readers that if England returns to monarch, they will "soon repent" of it when they gradually see "the old encroachments" on their religious consciences which "necessarily proceed from the king and bishop united inseparably in one interest."

He reminds them of the "haughty court" that will emerge with a restoration, the "vast expense and luxury" that will burden the people, and the claim of "hereditary right over them as their Lord" that will soon be asserted.

Instead of depending on a monarchy and an aristocratic court with its classical pretended virtues of leisure, wealth, and refinement, Milton asserts that his readers that they "need depend on none but God and our own counsels, our own active virtue and industry. He quotes the Biblical Solomon:

"Go to the ant, thou sluggard, saith Solomon, and consider her ways and be wise, which having no prince, ruler, or lord, provides her meat in the summer, and gathers here food in the harvest."

According to Milton, this passage uphold the ant as an example of

"frugal and self-governing democratic or commonwealth, safer and more thriving in the joint providence and counsel of may industrious equals, than under the single domination of one imperious Lord."

This important passage contrasts the virtue of equal, hardworking citizens with the classical  virtue of a  hierarchy of well-born and  leisured aristocrats who disdained work.

Milton then describes his vision for the ideal republic. He deviates from the traditional republican ideal of a mixed government in which some kind of aristocracy is represented in one lawmaking assembly and the people are represented in another. Milton argues for a single legislative body, not filled with a hereditary aristocracy, but with representatives elected by the people. Echoing James Harrington's notion of a "natural aristocracy"  of merit, Milton asserts that this body should contain the "ablest men." A natural aristocracy of merit is to be preferred to a hereditary aristocracy based upon birth. But in contrast to Harrington's position on rotation in office, Milton suggested that these legislators serve for life. Milton obviously disapproved of what he called the "successive and transitory parliaments" that plague the English commonwealth.

He judged that such a Senate of principled men would better protect the liberty of the people than an "licentious and unbridled democracy." He divided liberties into two types: civil and spiritual.

Civil liberties consists

 "in the civil rights and advancements of every person according to his merit; the enjoyment of those never more certain and the access to these never more open, than in a free Commonwealth."

Spiritual liberty consists

"in the liberty to serve God and to save his own soul, according to the best light which God hath planted in him to that purpose, by the reading of his revealed will and the guidance of his holy spirit."

Consequently, Milton supported freedom of conscience in matters of faith.

Both civil freedom and religious freedom are threatened by monarchy, a hereditary aristocracy, and a state supported episcopacy.

Milton's warning went unheeded, however, and in 1660. England restored the Stuart dynasty to the throne.

Only a free commonwealth insured a government of laws and not of men.

John Milton

Monday, November 21, 2011

Harrington Defends the Republic

In Search of the Republic--19

The most well-known and influential defender of republicanism during England's commonwealth period was James Harrington. When the commonwealth came under attack by absolutist Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan, Harrington crafted a defense he entitled The Commonwealth of Oceana.(1656) In this work, Harrington wrote a fictionalized account of England (Oceana) and theorized about the elements of an ideal republic.

The bulk of the work to too detailed in its presentation and too stilted in its prose to thoroughly analyze here. But his “preliminaries,” as he calls them, identify the main contours of his thought.

First, Harrington appeals to classical ideas about the foundation of republican government, largely derived from his reading of Niccolo Machiavelli's writings on ancient republics. He contrasts the classical view of government favorably with the modern view on the grounds of how they protect the liberty of the people:

Government (to define it de jure, or according to ancient prudence) is an art whereby a civil society of men is instituted and preserved upon the foundation of common right or interest; or, to follow Aristotle and Livy, it is the empire of laws, and not of men.”

An empire of laws, and not of men, is one in which people are not subject to the arbitrary will of rulers.

In contrast:

Government (to define it de facto, or according to modern prudence) is an art whereby some man, or some few men, subject a city or a nation, and rule it according to his or their private interest; which, because the laws in such cases are made according to the interest of a man, or of some few families, may be said to be the empire of men, and not of laws.”

Second, Harrington approves of the classical republican model of mixed government. He writes that just governments rule according to reason for the common good. All governments, however, grow corrupt because of the passions for private interest. Monarchy degenerates into tyranny, aristocracy into oligarchy, and democracy into anarchy.

To prevent this, the ancients

“invented another, consisting of a mixture of them all, which only is good. This is the doctrine of the ancients.”

So how should government be mixed? Harrington presents a model resembling that of Rome.

First, he proposes a Senate that, like the Roman Senate, does not make laws but only deliberates and makes suggestions for the people.

Wherefore the office of the senate is not to be commanders, but counsellors, of the people; and that which is proper to counsellors is first to debate, and afterward to give advice in the business whereupon they have debated, whence the decrees of the senate are never laws, nor so called; and these being maturely framed, it is their duty to propose in the case to the people.”

Harrington's Senate, however, differs in one important from the Roman and from the English House of Lords. He argues that its members should be elected. In a observation that influenced the founders of our own republic, Harrington posits the existence of a “natural aristocracy” that is “diffused throughout the whole body of mankind.” The people will recognize this "natural aristocracy" for their virtue and talents, not for their wealth or noble birth. These will make the best Senators.

Second, Harrington proposes a legislature to choose from the alternatives deliberated upon and forwarded to it from the Senate. Although the Senate is the wisdom of the commonwealth, the people's assembly is its interest in the common good.

The wisdom of the few may be the light of mankind; but the interest of the few is not the profit of mankind nor of a commonwealth. Wherefore, seeing we have granted interest to be reason, they must not choose lest it put out their light. But as the council dividing consists of the wisdom of the commonwealth, so the assembly or council choosing should consist of the interest of the commonwealth: as the wisdom of the commonwealth is in the aristocracy, so the interest of the commonwealth is in the whole body of the people.”

Finally, he proposes a magistrate to carry out the decisions of the assembly. But, in accordance to “an empire of laws and not of men,” the magistrate carry out his duties according to law and must remain accountable to the people.

Nevertheless there is one condition of it that must be the same in every one, or it dissolves the commonwealth where it is wanting. And this is no less than that, as the hand of the magistrate is the executive power of the law, so the head of the magistrate is answerable to the people, that his execution be according to the law.”

This is the basic structure of Harrington's republic.

He adds some other principles as well. He, like Aristotle, analyzes government economically. He feared that too much wealth concentrated in few hands could allow a faction of the extremely wealthy to overpower the balance in the government of a republic and overthrow it.  Consequently, he proposed agrarian laws governing the accumulation of land in order to prevent the growth of a landed aristocracy. He also urged rotation in office. This, too, helps preserve some semblance of equality to preserve a balanced government. Finally, he argued for liberty of conscience in matters of religion.

A government pretending to liberty, and yet suppressing liberty of conscience must be a contradiction.”

James Harrington

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Milton Defends the Republic

In Search of the Republic--18

England's  seventeenth-century experiment with republican government failed, but it yielded some innovative writings about the origins and nature of government. Although few, if any, of these writings had a lasting impact on English political thought, many much later influenced the founders of the United States, the greatest of the modern republics.

One of the earliest of these writings was Tenure of Kings and Magistrates by John Milton. Known mostly as a poet who composed Paradise Lost, Milton wrote many polemical and philosophical works. As a Puritan Independent, he supported the Parliament against King Charles I in the English Civil War. He had an uneasy relationship, however, with the Puritan led republic that emerged from that contest. In his Areopagitica (1644), Milton wrote against the censorship imposed by the new regime. In his Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649), he defended the overthrow and execution of the king. His manuscript was actually seized by the very republican government he supported. It was returned and Milton published it with a dedication to the chief magistrate of the republic, Oliver  Cromwell.

The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates was not only a defense of the revolution, but also an attack on the Presbyterian supporters of the revolution who began to have second thoughts. In this work, Milton introduces a novel theory of the origins of government.

In the years preceding the civil war and during the struggle itself, both the King and his supporters as well as the Parliament and its supporters based their arguments on tradition and what they called "the ancient constitution." Each party accused the others of being innovators.

Milton moved beyond these arguments. In his opening passages, he condemned those who appealed to tradition:

"If men within themselves would be govern'd by reason, and not generally give up thir understanding to a double tyrannie, of Custom from without, and blind affections within, they would discerne better, what it is to favour and uphold the Tyrant of a Nation."

He appealed to reason over custom and the passionate attachment to the existing constitution.

Instead, he based his position on the pre-political state of nature:

"No man who knows ought, can be so stupid to deny that all men naturally were borne free, being the image and resemblance of God himself, and were by privilege above all the creatures, born to command and not to obey: and that they liv'd so."

Only after the fall of man in Eden did man discover the need for organized society:

"They agreed by common league to bind each other from mutual injury, and joyntly to defend themselves against any that gave disturbance or opposition to such agreement. Hence came Citties, Townes and Common-wealths."

Because societies needed some authority to enforce order, they turned to those who possessed the qualities needed to insure justice. They gave up their natural right to private justice to magistrates:

"This autoritie and power of self-defence and preservation being originally and naturally in every one of them, and unitedly in them all, for ease, for order, and least each man should be his own partial Judge, they communicated and deriv'd either to one, whom for the eminence of his wisdom and integritie they chose above the rest, or to more then one whom they thought of equal deserving: the first was call'd a King; the other Magistrates."

Not willing to subject themselves to arbitrary rule, the people restricted the kings exercise of authority.
They desired the classical republican idea of  "rule by law, not by men."

"Then did they who now by tryal had found the danger and inconveniences of committing arbitrary power to any, invent Laws either fram'd, or consented to by all, that should confine and limit the autority of whom they chose to govern them: that so man, of whose failing they had proof, might no more rule over them, but law and reason abstracted as much as might be from personal errors and frailties"

Consequently, powers given to the King were given only in trust and remain fundamentally in the hands of the people. The attempt to attach to Kings such titles as Lord or Sovereign amounted only to arrogance and flattery:

"It being thus manifest that the power of Kings and Magistrates is nothing else, but what is only derivative, transferr'd and committed to them in trust from the People, to the Common good of them all, in whom the power yet remaines fundamentally, and cannot be tak'n from them, without a violation of thir natural birthright, and seeing that from hence Aristotle and the best of Political writers have defin'd a King, him who governs to the good and profit of his People, and not for his own ends, it follows from necessary causes, that the Titles of Sov'ran Lord, natural Lord, and the like, are either arrogancies, or flatteries."

When a king rules in the interest of himself and not the interest of the people, he is nothing less than a tyrant, unfit to serve as a ruler over free men.

Milton first appealed to the Bible to justify his argument. He qualified Paul's injunctions to obey the "powers that be." Milton argued that Paul's writing only applied to governments that fulfilled the biblical mandate to be a rewarder  of the good and a terror to evil. When a government ceased to fulfill this God ordained role and instead became a terror to the good, men have the right to overthrow it.

In addition,  Milton appealed to the classical examples of the Greeks and Romans to defend the overthrow of tyrants:

"The Greeks and Romans, as thir prime Authors witness, held it not onely lawfull, but a glorious and Heroic deed, rewarded publicly with Statues and Garlands, to kill an infamous Tyrant at any time without tryal: and but reason, that he who trod down all Law, should not be voutsaf'd the benefit of Law."

So with the examples of both Biblical and secular history, Milton defended the actions of the victors in the English Civil War.

Later, as the English deliberated about ending the republic and restoring the monarchy, the nearly blind Milton wrote another piece warning against it and advocating his ideal republic.

John Milton

Sunday, November 13, 2011

English Thoughts on Republicanism

In search of the republic--17

Before the recent tour of Occupy Wall Street, Right Detour featured  a series of posts examining the curious history of republicanism. These posts concluded with England's experiment with republican government that began with the English Civil War in 1641 and  lasted until the Restoration of 1660.

After the English Civil War and the overthrow of  King Charles I, the House of Commons declared England to be a Commonwealth, or republic.  The House of Commons abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords. In their place, it set up Oliver Cromwell as the chief magistrate with a Council of State.

 The Commonwealth era proved to be one of turmoil and disorder during which the English repeatedly modified their government in its search for order.  Presbyterian parliamentarians who maintained royalist sympathies found themselves purged from the Commons, leaving a 50 or so member Rump Parliament. Cromwell eventually dissolved the Rump and replaced them with a new one incorporating representatives from Scotland and Wales with himself as Lord Protector. This parliament, too, was abandoned. After Cromwell's death and the ascension of his son Richard as Lord Protector, the army forced a recall of the original Rump Parliament. The Rump parliament soon readmitted surviving members of the purged Presbyterians. Finally, as the Englished moved closer to abandoning their republican experiment, a Convention Parliament with a new House of Lords assembled. This Parliament effected the end of the republic and the restoration of monarchy.

Although the English Republican experiment failed, the tumultuous period generated several polemical and philosophical writings about republican government. These writings not only inspired the English in their "Glorious Revolution of 1688" against monarchical absolutism, but also influenced the thinking of British North Americans over one hundred years later, when they revolted against their mother country. These next couple of posts will look at some of those writings.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Occupy Atlanta Finds its "Hero" and Moves to the Burbs

Occupy Atlanta camped out in Woodruff Park for a month. Mayor Kasim Reed said their time was up. So he revoked an executive order that allowed them to camp out overnight in the park.

As the 11:00 PM curfew approached, police began clearing the park and blocking its entrances. Some occupiers remained in the part to face arrest while others reassemble for a march on downtown streets, blocking traffic.

That's whe Occupy Atlanta found its first hero.

A policeman on a motorcycyle tried to pass through the crowd. As he slowed to a stop, an occupier grabbed his handlebars and blocked him from going any further. That is when other occupiers "intervened," as the Atlanta-Journal Constitution put it. What that means in journalese, is that the other occupiers tried to pull the officers of his bike and push the bike over.

Here are two versions of the video.

Here is a video of Occupy Atlanta spokeman Tim Franzen lying about it.

Perhaps soon Tim and his media enablers will be comparing the Atlantan who obstructed the police motorcycle to that lone Chinese man who stopped the column of tanks in Tiananmen Square. After all, the Occupiers believe that they, too, live in a police state.

Meanwhile, Occupy Atlanta moved on to the suburbs to occupy a house in foreclosure. Somehow this will stop the bank from seizing it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Media and the Message

Occupy Wall Street is now coming up on two months old.

The mainstream media still has offered up little that I have seen about the aims of  OWS. Even Occupy Wall Street and its supporters express frustration of it.

Reporters covering the movement offer up generalizations about "corporate greed" and "corporate influence in politics,"  but offer little substantive comment or analysis of actual demands. Even when they bring in analysists, the "experts" add little to enlighten the understanding of the viewers. Analysts acknowledge the" diversity" with the OWS movement and sympathize with participants "frustration," but rarely discuss their actual demands.

It might be because such a discussion will further tarnish the movement's reputation.

 Although restricting corporate political donations and re-enacting Glass-Stegall are mainstream proposals, other suggestions like paying off all student loans, allowing Americans to print their own money, and vague allusions to "restructuring our economy and political system" are not.

The increasing incidents of crimes and acts of violence present problems for the media as well. Accoring the the mainstream media, the perpetrators of the crimes and acts violence at OWS protests are not core members of the movment but only "opportunists." Diversity isn't so great afterall.

Interestingly, the  Tea Party movement in the beginning experienced the same problem getting its message out. The mainstream media reported the Tea Party's message about reducing government spending and reducing taxes. They even acknowledged the Tea Party's push, not for restructuring government, but for keeping it within  constitional bounds. But when they brought it the "experts," the real  mainstream media narrative began. They linked the Tea Party to racists, John Birchers, Christian Dominionists,and everything else under the sun.

 And, of course, they faithfully reported every nasty e-mail to Democratic politicians as "threats of violence." In constrast to their reporting about OWS, the mainstreammedia assessed any words or actions that suggested a "climate of fear" as the essence of the Tea Party movement.

If not for cable news, talk radio, and the blogosphere, the Tea Party might have been force to become "Occupy Times Square" outside the headquarters of the New York Times.

New York Times

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Why the Tea Party Will Outlast the Occupation

Despite superficial similarities cited in my previous post, the Tea Party Movement and the Occupy Wall Street possess some fundamental differences. It is these differences that will enable the Tea Party Movement endure while Occupy Wall Street will be swept into the dustbin of history, hopefully with all the garbage they have accumulated at the various Occupy sites.

Despite some diversity within the Tea Party Movement, most members and supporters focus on one core message. As the largest and most grassroots based of the Tea Party organization, the Tea Party Patriots, succinctly identifies it: "Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets." Despite the charges leveled by Social Democrats and their enablers in the "main stream media" that this constitutes a radical agenda, it is actually in the historical and  political mainstream. Perhaps that is an indication of how far liberal have degenerated when political appeals to the cornerstone ideas of our founders are labeled "radical."

The Tea Party Movement  not only has settled on a simple, core message, it also has organized to publicize the message and effect political change. The movement attracted attention with its rallies, but it sustained the message through blogs and social media. More importantly, members organized local chapters to sustain the message and coordinate political action. The results of the last election cycle evidences the movements success.

Below is an account of a Tea Party meeting in DC by Reason TV

Meanwhile, the Occupy Wall Street Movement still searches for a message, because it still searches for leadership. A group claiming the speak for the original Occupation in NYC, calling itself the New York City General Assembly, posted this  this list of demands. Some of the demands are moderate; others call for a fundamental transformation of our political and economic system. Meanwhile, Adbusters, the original initiators of OWS, warned supporters against a rival faction calling itself the Demands Working Group, that has created its own agenda.

It remains to be seen if OWS can organize for political action. The movement communicates through websites, blogs, and social media, but it has given no indication that it can organize itself into an effective political movement. So far, they continue to "occupy," apparently believing that their mere presence is sufficient for change.

 Perhaps this gets back to the kind of change sought by Adbusters. This group is convinced that corporations and the media have imposed a kind of "false consciousness"  called consumerism on "the people." Perhaps they are equally convinced that occupying downtown parks with signs, chants, and bongo drums will break through this "false consciousness" and enable Americans to see reality as it really is. Then Americans will act politically on behalf of the changes supported by the occupiers.

Below is a visit by Reason TV to OWS:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Insurgencies of Tea Party Movement and OWS

It was inevitable that after the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street protests would lead to comparisons with the earlier Tea Party movement. Because  they both emerged during this current financial and economic downturn, it seems a matter of common sense to look for affinities between the two, even when they offer starkly difference solutions. Let's take a look at the general and somewhat superficial ways that the Tea Party Movement and the Occupy Wall Street Movement resemble each other. The next post will examine some differences.

First, they are both populist movements against established institutional authorities. Members in both movements perceive that these established authorities--government, political parties, corporations, and financial institutions--have in some sense failed the people.

Second, they have attracted diverse followers with different interpretations and different agendas. The Tea Party began in opposition to the massive expansion of government behind the  bailouts of investment banks, government loans to automobile manufacturers, and the stimulus packages. It also sounded the alarm about the tax burden that the people will be forced to carry in order eventually pay for those bailouts. Consequently, the immediate goal of the  Tea Party Movement was to reign in government intervention and government spending.  With the introduction of "Obamacare,"  some elements in the Tea Party Movement  embraced the cause of restructuring of Medicare and Social Security. And of course, other members of the movement see our current malaise as a moral problem. More religiously minded among the Tea Party Movement see a need for moral reform and restoring honor. Others have added the problem of illegal immigration to the Tea Party agenda.

Occupy Wall Street, too, has attracted  a diverse following. Initiated by Adbusters as protest against Wall Street greed and corporate influence on politics, the OWS Movemnt has attracted debtors, students,  the unemployed, vegetarians, pacifists, open borders supporters, and anti-death penalty advocates. All these participants hoped to add their causes to the OWS message.

Third, some outside groups have embraced the two movements, perhaps in order to influence  them into alternative directions. Organizations such as Freedom Works, Americans for Prosperity, and others have embraced the Tea Party movement. They agree with much of the Tea Party's agenda but no doubt would like to steer the movement away from those areas with which these other groups disagree.

Although the OWS Movement is much newer, it, too, has experienced the bandwagon effect. In addition to the predictable cast of  actors and actresses that try to "steal the scenes" to enhance their own egos, the Association of University Professors, MoveOn.Org and others have endorsed OWS.
Unions such the the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, SEIU, and  the Teamsters among many others have officially announced their support for  OWS. Two additional unions are all the more interesting because they represent journalists who actually cover the OWS and disseminate information about it: the Communication Workers of American and the Newspaper Guild.

Finally, the Tea Party Movement and OWS both challenged our two main political parties while at the same time are subject to being co-opted by them. The relationship between the two populist movements and the main two political parties have generated the more typical comparisons.   The basic paradigm is that "the OWS movement is to  the  Democratic Party what  the Tea Party Movement is  to the Republican Party. Establishment Republicansearly on  criticised the Tea Party, its positions, and its candidates. After witnessing its impact in recent elections, however, they have come around to embracing it. The Democratic establishment kept its distance in the early days of the OWS Movment. They seemed to have recognized that the movement was almost as much about them as about Wall Street. Now President Obama, Vice-President Biden, and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all have welcomed OWS. They, too, hope to co-opt the movement in the interests of the Social Democratic Party.