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The Not So Hidden Roots of Today’s Republican Party Insanity

  

    Over a century and a quarter ago important American political thinkers, ironically members of the young Republican Party, warned of the very ideology that now infects the nation as a result of the Republican control of our government. Henry Carey, the economic theorist of the Civil War and post war Republican Party, and his associate Stephen Colwell, in the 1870's launched an attack on the growing influence of the ideas of Herbert Spencer in America. They saw Spencer, the originator of the doctrine of Social Darwinism, and the influence of his ideas as a growing threat in the battle of ideas that has always been a critical part of America’s cultural and political history.

     This evil spawn of the residue of Confederate doctrine emerged at a critical point in the battle for the nation's, and the Republican Party’s, soul. These were the years when, having won the military battle against Southern treason (and that of a large part of the Democratic Party in the North as well), the political, economic and cultural battle to return the U.S. to its republican roots was being waged.

    This period, that of the attempted Reconstruction of the 11 Southern slave states that had left the Union in 1861, was a key turning point in U.S. history. The “national reconciliation” that was the final act in this political drama was a compromise of the nation's principles as both the Republican Party, and with it the North, surrendered to a cause that had been defeated on the battlefield. After four bloody years of a war to protect their right to a society, based on human slavery, antithetical to the republican principles the nation had been founded upon, the southern slave holding oligarchs had waged a guerrilla insurrection to insure the preservation of the way of life, de facto if not de jure, that had existed prior to the war. A critical element of this anti-republican insurrection was the creation of the so called Lost Cause ideology that erased the truth of the real Southern Confederacy, sanitizing, romantizing and ultimately glorifying it as an honored part of our nation’s history. What the best of the young Republican Party understood was that this subversion of the hard fought republican victory during the Civil War was as much cultural and ideological as political. Along with sanitizing the true nature of the Southern “cause” in terms of the issue of slavery and race, it also laid the foundation for today’s Republican Party view of the relationship of government and its people and the meaning of such concepts as freedom, individualism and choice. The Lost Cause turned the South’s struggle into one against so called government over reach, and for destorted ideas of states and individual rights, and freedom. With these “noble principles,” resurrecting the anti-federalist concepts rejected by the Founders with the adoption of the Constitution, the South became the template for the warped views of today’s Republicans. One cannot over emphasis or exaggerate the direct descendancy of the outlook of today’s Republicans and their Confederate ancestors.[1] 

   But this victory of anti-republican ideas, having profound and far reaching implications for the nation’s future, was not the end of the corruption of our nation's purpose. [2]

    Even though the Lost Cause rewriting of history conveniently tried to wipe away the overt racism that human slavery and the newly emerging era of Jim Crow were based on, both the new order in the South and its corruption of all of America required something more. This is where the roots of today’s Republican Party were born. Both Carey and Colwell, as well as others of the surviving members of the Civil War era Republican Party, saw the way this combination of “Lost Cause” mythology and the emerging fascination with the new theory of Social Darwinism were both being used to justify this monstrous compromise of principle parading as “national reconciliation.” This would define the future of the United States as it not only represented the abandonment of the African American in the South, whom the Reconstruction era measures[3] were supposed to make full citizens, but also laid the foundation for the reversal of gains that had existed for free Blacks in the North as well. In this sense the cornerstone of the Southern Confederacy, as proclaimed by virtually every Southern political, religious and civic leader, the inferiority of “the negro race” became the racist national creed towards all people of color.[4] While such views as those of Edward Pollard[5] and his “Lost Cause” still haunt our national dialogue on race, today they are largely held by hard core neo confederates south of the Mason Dixon Line. For the likes of more “moderate” of today’s Republican Party something less abrasive was needed.

    Here is where the social darwinist theory of the late 19th and early 20th century created a virtual revolution in America's cultural outlook, and as a result in its political and economic practice. This more “scientific” thinking in social theory allowed Americans to discriminate, disguising from themselves the racist character of not only Jim Crow in the South, but its spread to the rest of the nation as well. It also had the added benefits of expanding this “scientific “ justification for exploitation to the poor, of all ethnic backgrounds, and providing a rational for the maintenance and expansion of an oligarchical class, North, South, East and West. After all, if “science” proves that if you are poor and unsuccessful you deserve to be or if you are rich and successful that is also because you are more deserving, then any attempt to tamper with this “natural order of things” defies the laws of nature and therefore a “just” society. [6] All of this is, of course, quite Orwellian, but for decades after the collapse of Reconstruction and the beginning decades of the 20th century, with the emergence of the Gilded Age and massive inequality, exploitation and denigration of the Darwinian “losers” in society, of all races, such ideas prevailed in both political parties, and all geographical regions of the U.S.[7] And just as African American slavery and the racist cultural outlook that was used to justify it attached to Southern economic theory and practice, this social darwinist outlook, along with perpetuating racism in our cultural outlook under a different guise, also attached to modern economic theory. The early 20th century’s economic theory, as well as, practice was nothing if not the survival, in fact, the triumph of the fittest and the barest survival of the those society had judged, and therefore made, the unfit, based on race, ethnicity, and accident of birth. Much of the trappings of such social darwinist thought remain to this day, representing a thinly veiled quality of the thinking and policies of today’s Republican Party.[8]

    However, yet another ideological makeover would be required, as the Great Depression both demonstrated the flaws of such Darwinian economic theory and practice and demanded a very different statist approach to save the nation. Roosevelt’s dirigist policies, very much like those of the original Republican Party during and immediately after the Civil War, not only reversed the crisis of the 1930’s but also sowed the seeds of an extraordinary economic transformation of the nation after World War II.[9] What resulted was an equally profound change in the nation's ideas about the role of government in society and the economy.

    With the Presidency of Franklin Roosevelt the return of the principle of the government’s role as significant in the nation’s economic and social life became hegemonic. Like the original Founders of the Republic and the Republicans of the Civil War era, Roosevelt saw that government existed as an essential good in regulating, and facilitating not only positive economic growth, but also for promoting social justice.[10] The legacy of the Confederacy and the rein of social Darwinist anti-federalist ideas no longer had, at least temporarily, a stranglehold over national policy as the New Deal was followed by the massive government expenditures on education, social programs, and research and development in technology via the space program and institutions like the National Institutes of Health. This with a growing number of affordable institutions of higher learning producing growing numbers of college graduates laid the foundation for the U.S. to enter the 21st century. But the ideology of anti-federalism had not died, it still represented the view of large portions of the post War Republican Party and was the foundation of their opposition to such dirigist policies of successive Democratic Administrations.    

    Now, however, once again a reinvention of the same anti-federalist ideas was needed. The Congressional Office of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan provides a clue to this latest assault on the values of the Republic as intended by the Founders. Ryan has proudly displayed the works of Ayn Rand since he first came to Washington in 1999. One imagines that somewhere he also has the works of Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman.  These ideological icons of today’s Republican Party emerged as yet another oligarch’s insurrection against the Federalist principles and policies of the New Deal and Democratic Administrations into the 60’s. You see, insurrections and coups need not be of the violent kind we usually think of, they can be, and often are, ones of ideas and ideology. That is what drives a change in political policies. As this article has tried to convey throughout, through all of American History the struggle over ruling policy has been a battle of ideas – between the republican, federalist outlook of the architects of the Constitution of 1787 and the anti-republican, anti-federalist ideas that have existed from the very founding of the United States. The last 50 years has been an insurrection of these hostile ideas, which has produced the ultimate coup which is today’s Republican Party’s heresy to our founding principles. While they couch there policies in the garments of liberty, freedom, the Constitution and the original principles of our nation, they have created a warped and less than truthful justification for an outlook, and the policies that flow from it, that are an insult to the struggles of those who created this Nation.

    Today's Republicans have turned the ideas of the Nation's founders upside down. Their interpretation of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence is not only wrong, but an exact throwback to the anti-federalist ideas that have animated each and every attempt to undermine and destroy the historic purpose of the United States of America. This helps to explain the rise of Donald Trump; a Party and movement so hell bent on such an ideology inevitably produced the ultimate real life John Galt[11].  The ultimate egotist, devoid of empathy, filled with disdain for altruism, charity and the idea of the common good, and a modern day Narcissi.[12] Obsessed with his own self-interest and believing in his own, and that of his peers in the 1 percent, entitlement he has made the Republican agenda all about dismantling the State. Trump’s obsession with destroying all things Obama borders on the nihilistic, which it should be noted was the major influence Rand brought with her from the Russia of her birth and formative years. After all, the John Galt of Rand’s novel effectively brings the State to its knees with an act of nihilism, organizing a strike, actually a boycott of society, by the “producers, the creators of society”. While the Republican leadership feigns holding its nose at the political Frankenstein they have created, he is after all the quintessential expression of the ideas they have embraced since the 1980's. If you wish to destroy Government, as the radical libertarian Tea Party types do, who better in the White House than someone like Donald Trump? While Ayn Rand would disagree I am sure, Trump is Galt in the real world as opposed to the fantasy world Rand created in Atlas Shrugged; individuals who adhere to the concepts of individualism, freedom, self-sufficiency, radical self-interest and laissez faire capitalism as she defined them inevitably become egotistical monsters of the sort we see in President Trump. Rand herself, ironically, was anything but the type of "rationally egotistical[13] creative personality" she hailed as the savior of western civilization, and the U.S. in particular. What should surprise and shock many who have followed her philosophy, if they knew more about her, is that she was an atheist, an amphetamine addict subject to irrational mode swings, and an unrepentant libertine. She was known for her misanthropic personality, not getting along with even her closest associates. She lived the better part of her later life as the matriarch of a personal cult, the so called “Collective” the most famous member of which was Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Gerald Ford, and Chairman of the Federal Reserve, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1987 and reappointed by Presidents William Clinton and George W. Bush, serving until his retirement in 2006, just in time to avoid dealing with the financial crisis of 2008 which he played such a large part in creating.

    Rand’s ideas, which were initially sowed in the aftermath of the Second World War, and the beginnings of the Cold War, used the 20th century emergence of authoritarianism, in the form of Nazism[14] and Communism as the backdrop for their argument against statism - warning of the danger of tyranny that inevitably results from government control of economic decision-making through central planning.  Along with her admirers in the economic sphere, the Austrian School economists, Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and their protégé in America Milton Freeman, they counterpoised to what they believed was the inevitable authoritarian character of the State the idea of what would become Neoliberal theory. Only through such market supremacy, grounded in individual self-interest, could the "Road to Serfdom" as Hayek called it, be avoided. The works of both Rand and the Austrians, but particularly Friedman, in the 1960's flooded the U.S. and laid the groundwork for what would follow. Rand's Atlas Shrugged would become the most widely read book other than the Bible (ironic for someone who did not believe in Christianity), Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom was similarly massively influential in shaping the ideas of the future. The Reagan Revolution, that so many Republicans today remember with such fondness, was actually the beginning of the destruction of the United States as an independent Nation State. With such simpleton's philosophy as Reagan's "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem" and Friedman's "If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand" or “I think that the Government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem, and very often makes it worse,” the supremacy of the free market took hold over Government policy. The following 30 years of deregulation, privatization and similar neoliberal policies have led us to a financialization of the bulk of the U.S. economy, a monstrous, and largely unregulated, parasite that has produced the Crisis of 2008, the greatest inequality in American history and an ass backwards notion of how to insure economic and technological growth and with it the well-being and security of the vast majority of Americans. This is, like the Lost Cause, and Social Darwinism that were its predecessors, the greatest lie ever perpetrated on the American people.

    Today’s Republicans go even further than their icons, with the free market ideology becoming the radical (dare I say nihilistic)  vision of what amounts to the destruction of the State and with it the creation of market solutions to virtually every activity the Government used to perform. This means turning over to Wall Street the vast surplus of such entitlement programs as Social Security and Medicare, effectively financializing Government’s single largest program to protect Americans in their retirement. It also means insuring the Government plays no role in such things as education, health care, housing, infrastructure, research and development, and much more, all areas in the vital national interest. In fact, almost all of these programs where originally created during or just after World War II because the poor health, inadequate education, and other lagging aspects of many Americans' living conditions had been seen as National Security vulnerabilities. The short sightedness of such policies is insane, for the private sector will not fill the void, and while we may have the most advanced technology (for solely military purposes if Trump has his way) in the world we will also have a population too unhealthy and under educated to take advantage of it. This is what Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson all understood. There are developments, economic, technologically, and of social importance, that are too grand, too expensive and which do not yield the immediate returns that the market demands, which the private sector is incapable and unwilling to take on, and which only the Government can insure the investments in. The space program, Kennedy’s pledge to place an American on the moon within a decade, is a perfect example. Only the Government could commit to such an endeavor and all of the extraordinary advances of the past several decades, in medicine, science generally, and the IT revolution are the result. Without Kennedy’s commitment of the Government to space exploration, and Johnson’s later massive investments in education, the economy we have today would not exist, and the American companies of the 21st century, Apple, Google, Amazon, Netflix, all based on the public investment of the 60’s and 70’s, would never have been born.

   An accurate reading of the Constitution, and an actual understanding of the history of this country would allow one to recognize the outlook and intentions of the Founders. Such significant ideas, and they are ideas not phrases, unlike the misguided platitudes of today’s Republicans, as are located in the Preamble to the document they refer to, erroneously, so often repudiate their anti-federalist outlook.[15]

    "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..."

And the Declaration:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable 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,…”

    In the Preamble, with what is known as the General Welfare Clause, the Founders empowered the Government they were creating with it to promote the General Welfare, the welfare of its people. They included this along with such essential functions as establishing Justice, insuring Domestic Tranquility, and providing for the Common Defense. All of this In Order to form a more Perfect Union, and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. One could, as numerous Republicans try to do these days, interpret this to mean that all of these essential functions of Government were meant to be carried out by the private sector, but both the history of the early leaders of our Nation in shaping it, as well as the functioning of Government for over 200 years, tells us otherwise. The United States has never, and no one until today, has argued that we should have a private army, navy and air force, nor a private police or judicial system. The Constitution itself outlines the creation of precisely these entities, and only a fool would argue that the demands of all of these functions could be carried out by “the market.” The same is, without question, both from interpretation and historical usage, the case with the General Welfare. I know the word Welfare elicits for Conservatives nightmares these days, but such was not the case with the Founders. They were not short sighted and uncaring reductionists. They had a slightly more expansive view of such matters, which is further demonstrated by the Declaration, which, as the very foundation of the principles embodied in The Constitution, tells us that certain unalienable rights, which they believed were self-evident, were secured by Governments established by Men. Not Men who still argue for the doctrine of ‘States Rights’ despite the weight of history and with it a war against such an unconstitutional principle that over 625,000 Americans died in. Rather it was Men who believed that only a Federal government, not a confederation of States which they had experimented with, and which had signally failed in this, could secure such unalienable rights among which were the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. I will, as my last point, simply emphasis the phrase ‘among which’ that demonstrated that the Founders of our great Nation were not as literal in their view of human affairs as our anti-federalist Republican Party of today.


 

[1] It is important to understand that the Southern Confederacy was an anti-federalist revolt in defense of the “domestic” institution of slavery and the feudalist system that it supported.

[2] It is strongly suggested that my two 1992 articles be studied to add further context to this period. See: Reconstruction: The Civil War Battle Yet To Be Won; and Time To Bury The Dead Culture Of The Confederacy.

[3] The various Reconstruction Acts, The Freedmen’s Bureau and most importantly the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

[4] Here again I refer you to my 1992 article. Time To Bury The Dead Culture Of The Confederacy.

[5] See, Time To Bury The Dead Culture Of The Confederacy.

[6] So no one thinks that such ideas are long gone take a look at the recent remarks of British Foreign Secretary and former Mayor of London Boris Johnson's regarding the difference between rich and poor.

[7] Much like the ideological myth of the free market and neoliberal orthodoxy dominate thinking in both parties today.

[8] Take for example the statements of Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan, views held by a majority if not all members of that Party today, on Health Care. Those that can afford good health care deserve it, but those who can’t have the ‘choice’ of something less. While couched in the language of freedom and choice it really is nothing more than society, in the name of the so called ‘market,’ imposing the Darwinian mandate of the fittest. The difference between health care as a universal, and guaranteed, right and a market choice is justified by nothing other than a thinly disguised social darwinist theory of economics.

[9] I am not going to reargue here the issue of the successes of The New Deal. I’ll simply assert that the undeniable prosperity that followed the war was to a large degree the result of massive government investment in areas of the civilian economy. For example, the effects on productivity and economic growth of such government funded programs as The Rural Electrification Act, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the GI Bill and the Hill-Burton Hospital Survey and Construction Act.

[10] For a further discussion of the original purpose of government as envisioned by the Founders of the U.S., as well as the Civil War era Republican Party, see: The Fourteenth Amendment And Natural Law; as well as A Short History of The United States For The Miseducated.

[11] John Galt is a principle character in Ayn Rand’s influential and bestselling novel Atlas Shrugged.

[12] Mother Jones remarked that "Rand's particular genius has always been her ability to turn upside down traditional hierarchies and recast the wealthy, the talented, and the powerful as the oppressed". Such is the clarion call of not only today’s Republicans but the man who occupies the White House and sees himself as the most persecuted in American history.

[13] Ethical egoism is the normative ethical position that moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest. It differs from psychological egoism, which claims that people can only act in their self-interest. Ethical egoism also differs from rational egoism, which holds that it is rational to act in one's self-interest. Ethical egoism holds, therefore, that actions whose consequences will benefit the doer can be considered ethical in this sense.

[14] It is ironic, and something lost on those who subscribe to such anti big government ideas, but the defeat of the authoritarianism of Nazi Germany, and its Italian and Japanese allies was possible only with the greatest mobilization of State power in human history.

[15] I have elaborated the principles developed here at greater length in several other pieces. See: A Short History of the United States for the Miseducated; and The Fourteenth Amendment and Natural Law.


 

 

 

 

    

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