The American Revolution Reconsidered: Part Fifteen
Before we get started, let me revive two terms that I have previously coined: "exterior" and "interior" politics.
What I mean by exterior politics is this: They are the politics of a nation-state that the world can easily see from the outside looking in. They are the politics that seem to radiate out majestically from a nation-state's capital city.
What I mean by interior politics is this: They are the politics of a nation-state that the world cannot readily see from the outside looking in. They are the politics that are found down on the local, atomic level (state, city, town, village, etc.).
Exterior, or federal, politics are understood to have jurisdictional authority over interior, or local, politics, to oversimplify.
How did democracy come to America?
To review quickly: How, first of all, did democracy come to England?
Previously, we identified two pathways by which the thing we think of as English democracy, in rough outline at least, came to be put together.
a. The destruction and reorganization of what I have termed the democratic worker self-determination, that had been enjoyed by English farmers before they were subjected to the enclosure movement, which privatized the commonly-held lands.
b. The democratic consultative voice English farmers had enjoyed before the age of enclosure, was "enclosed," along with the common lands, "privatized," along with the common lands, "upwardly redistributed," along with the common lands, and concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, along with the wealth that derived from it.
c. The previous, pre-enclosure democratic worker self-determination administration was based on the commonly-held land and resources system. This system had comprised what had been the interior politics of England. The exterior politics of England, had basically been the Crown and Parliament.
d. Another term we might use for the democratic worker self-determination of farmer consultation, based on the common lands and common resources system, is land democracy based on common lands and common resources.
e. As we said previously, the second direction wherefrom democracy came to England, was imperialism.
f. Paradoxically, as England became a stronger global imperial power, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the land of England experienced an opening up of space for democratic, societal freedom to grow.
h. What that means is that since England got an empire, it gave its military, intelligence, and security services other things to do than just monitor and patrol the domestic English population. The outer world provided additional and alternative outlets for the initiative of the military and allied services.
i. This means that the full weight of the repressive forces of the state did not rest entirely or squarely on the domestic English population.
j. This "space" allowed social justice and protest movements to be even more effective. In one sense, then, the protest movements and social justice movements were pushing on an open door, so to speak.
How did democracy come to America?
Well, it seems to me that the pre-enclosure 'land democracy' enjoyed by English farmers, we have been speaking about, had been the "interior" politics of an England whose 'federal' politics concerned the Crown and Parliament.
This 'land democracy' did two things.
1. It accepted the logic of privatization by way of the enclosure movement.
2. This, formerly "interior," now privatized 'land democracy,' crossed the Atlantic Ocean to become the "exterior" politics of the settler administration on the North American mainland from 1619-1776.
In fact, another way of looking at the intellectual rivalry of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, is within this context.
That is to say, Jefferson and Hamilton differed about the direction of what would become the United States of America, should go after the Revolution.
That is to say, these two intellectual giants of the eighteenth century, wrestled over the question of the future complexion of "exterior" politics of the new nation.
That is to say, Hamilton and Jefferson vied with one another about the "face" the new nation should show to the world.
Thomas Jefferson basically thought that they should leave well enough alone. For him the future of the country lay in what they were doing at the present. The country should go on, in his view, as a nation of big, small, and medium agricultural entrepreneurs, where every man is the king of his castle, lord of his family, and master of his domain, including all of the creatures on it, both human and animal, and both slave and free.
As you know, Alexander Hamilton believed that the "exterior" politics of the new nation, going forward, needed to involved a strong, single, national currency, a strong central (federal) government, a modern industrial manufacturing infrastructure, and a system of sophisticated high finance, and the like.
You know, if you want to, you can think of the American Civil War of the 1860s, as the armed version of the debate between Jefferson and Hamilton. Obviously, the ghost of Hamilton and the North prevailed over the ghost of Jefferson and the South.
There are certain things that follow from the implantation of a privatized 'land democracy.'
A. Because the system of 'land democracy' is now 'privatized,' it means that the right to own land, and with it the democratic consultative voice (previously enjoyed by pre-enclosure English farmers), formally requires 'private' efforts on the part of an individual to get both. Incidentally, we can see this transformation as the origin of an American ideology of so-called "rugged individualism."
B. This system of privatized land democracy, which requires private efforts for the acquisition of land and, with it, the right to have a democratic consultative voice---had forgotten the fact that the people who were the beneficiaries of upward redistribution, which occurred as a result of the enclosure movement---had, themselves, been the beneficiaries of, what we would today call corporate welfare. Are you following me?
C. The settlers on the North American mainland were a people who had equated land with "democracy," or, at least, the democratic consultative voice with the working of land. When land democracy accepted the logic of privatization, this ideology now equated democracy itself with ownership of land.
D. As we proceed in this line of thought, it becomes understandable that men without property were not allowed to vote until the 1840s. That is to say, it becomes understandable why the descendants of the settlers held on to the idea of property qualification for voting. The settlers were a folk that had come to believe that no one who did not own land could possibly have anything to say about life on land. Land is where we keep our feet. Land is where we live our lives. Our houses and all our stuff is on land. How could it be that a man who owns not a single piece of land himself, can or should have anything to say about life on land?
E. Another consequence of the implantation of a privatized land democracy has been America's obsession with home ownership and private property. It is important to always remember that the people of 1776, the settlers on the North American mainland and generations of their ancestors back in England, had experienced what we might call their right-to-land severed by the English government, by way of the enclosure movement we have been talking about all series long.
If you always remember that, you can easily understand why these settlers and their descendants would have felt compelled to do everything they could to consequently make now-private property as politically and legally unassailable as possible.
Historian Howard Zinn said much the same thing, though he brought a much more cynical and skeptical interpretation to his remarks.
Howard Zinn: "Around 1776, certain important people in the English colonies made a discovery that would prove enormously useful for the next two hundred years. They found that by creating a nation, a symbol, a legal unity called the United States, they could take over land, profits, and political power from favorites of the British Empire. In the process, they could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership (1).
"When we look at the American Revolution this way, it was a work of genius, and the Founding Fathers deserve the awed tribute they have received over the centuries. They created the most effective system of national control devised in modern times, and showed future generations of leaders the advantages of combining paternalism with command" (2).
As for the U.S. Constitution itself, Dr. Zinn quoted another scholar, one Charles Beard, who wrote a book called An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution.
Zinn quoted Beard thusly: "Inasmuch as the primary object of government, beyond the mere repression of physical violence, is the making of the rules which determine the property relations of members of society, the dominant classes whose rights are thus to be determined must perforce obtain from the government such rules as are consonant with the larger interests necessary to the continuance of their economic processes, or they must themselves control the organs of government" (3).
Zinn put it in his own words: "In short, Beard said, the rich must, in their own interest, either control the government directly or control the law by which government operates" (4).
In other words, to go back to what I have been saying: Since the settlers and generations of their ancestors back in England, had experienced their right-to-land (under the commons system) severed by the English government, by way of the enclosure movement, they and their descendants would obviously---if given the chance---move to ensure that now-privatized property is as politically and legally unassailable as possible.
F. By the way, if you think about, we can make a case that the general American skepticism, if not hostility, to socialism, communism, anarchism, and the radical left in general, is attributable to the implantation of privatized land democracy.
The general criticism of the "isms," amounts to the idea that they "don't work."
I give no credence to that assessment as any kind of valid technical analysis. Rather, I would suggest to you that a distant, ancestral memory is being keyed on, albeit somewhat distorted.
If you consider the system of democratic worker self-determination enjoyed by English farmers in the pre-enclosure era, and you wanted to think of it as a kind of "socialism," say---you might feel moved to say that it had not "ultimately" "worked."
But what you mean is that this system, based on common use of land, did not "last," which is to say, that the English government ended it for their own purposes. As I just said, I believe that the settlers and their descendants took that lesson, and decided, therefore, that property had to be made private and unassailable.
Okay, I'll leave it there.
Thank you for reading.
You know what? In part sixteen I believe I will want to say a word about the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692, in the context of the various social, economic, and political forces around the American Revolution.
Yes, I think we'll try that.
1. Zinn, Howard. A People's History Of The United States. HarperPerennial Modern Classics, 2003. 56
3. ibid, 90
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