Ta-Nehisi Coates has the best track record of any blogger I've ever read for throwing out a carefully- thought-out idea and then letting commenters have a go in discussing it. For the most part, the discussions are civil and full of organic nutrition.
Here's part of what Coates wants to talk about:
What gets lost in constantly having to point out that the Civil War was, indeed, about slavery is that it also was about the endurance of democracy in America. If a government can be sundered simply because the minority doesn't like the results of an election, can it even call itself a government?But Lincoln is saying something more than that.* He's not just concerned with the fate of government by the people in America, but globally. As he puts it, the War is about making sure that democracy "shall not perish from the earth."
How accurate was that statement in 1865? Is it even correct to say--as I have--that the United States was one of the few places in the West that could boast that ideal?
The discussion Coates touches off is invariably interesting and provocative. Particularly this part of it:
abk1985 1 day ago
The problem with constitutional monarchies and other such structures is that they maintain the networks of birth and nepotism that corrupt the stumble or slouch towards democracies.
What made, and makes, the United States unique is that it was based on the democratic voice of independent citizens, that is, people who were economically independent of the government. Therefore birth and nepotism in government would be irrelevant, since the government was foreseen to be small.
Of course, all of that has changed. Already the factory system was creating a proto-working class in the early 19th Century, and the only way out was to go West. Once the frontier was conquered, there was no place to escape to. I have heard that the Homestead Act can still be implemented in Alaska, but, certainly in the lower 48, if you don't own land, you will have to buy it, and that means you will have to work for someone else in order to buy it.
And of course the emergence of the working class and labor politics at the end of the 19th-early 20th Century is what gave us classic "Progressivism" with all that that entailed in terms of income tax, food and drug laws, and prohibition, followed by the New Deal, which expanded the role of government still further, and on and on.
And I have not even discussed the race angle or the gender angle.
But the point is that freedom and democracy as it was understood 200 years ago really bears no relationship to the kind of government we have today. We have incrementally traded away our real freedom for the safety and security a big government provides, as well as the pleasures and comforts that a highly networked society provides.
That doesn't mean there isn't still something exceptional in our American makeup. Because of our roots in free farming (even if that sometimes depended on indentured or slave labor), all of us -- of whatever race or whatever country -- have imbibed a notion of independence that is perhaps our best quality, because along with that notion of independence is a tendency to be unconcerned about a person's background or "birth", to be unawed by power or wealth, to be wary of government intrusions (but, unfortunately, not of government gifts), and to occasionally demand the right to say whatever we feel like, just because we can.
In short, I think in the mind of most Americans -- no matter how recent -- lurks the mind of a hardscrabble pioneer, who cleared a few acres for himself and his family, and expects to be left alone with what he does with it. I think that's our greatest protection against the mob mentality that has brought so much damage to other societies. I think those mental qualities should be cultivated and honored, even if they no longer fit the situation in which most of us live.
UncleStu 1 day ago in reply to abk1985
"What made, and makes, the United States unique is that it was based on the democratic voice of independent citizens, that is, people who were economically independent of the government."
Being economically independent of the government has always been a myth. It was never true, from day one to today, and can never be possible.
The government made the laws that allowed expansion, paid for exploration (Jefferson), made the expansion of the railroads possible (Lincoln), built the interstate highway system (Ike), provided armies to protect the new territories, made the Louisiana Purchase, bought Alaska from Russia, and on and on.
A skewed view of history, no matter how sweet it seems, does no one any good.
Rahmistan_resident 1 day ago in reply to UncleStu
Was in Las Vegas recently having dinner with a friend who feels virulently anti-government as of late. He was trying to explain how private enterprise and "we the people" (yeah, he's a little gone) can run the country better than "the government". I had to explain to him that we wouldn't be sitting there in a restaurant having a meal were it not for the giant dams that the government built to provide power to the region.
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Ken Nemeth 17 hours ago in reply to Rahmistan_resident
Indeed. The list of infrastructure projects spearheaded by the Federal Government that made us the country we are today is as long as my leg. This is why I've never understood the anti-Government crowd, nor the libertarians. They're like the pacifists. The only reason they can even have their opinion is because the dominant paradigm did not include their beliefs and now is able to give them space for their views.
k___bee 1 day ago in reply to UncleStu
Right. The Homestead Act was giving away federally purchased land. I mean, that at least is definitely part of the beefed-up national gov't established during the Civil War. And it was essential to making the American Frontier what it was.
smithbc1 1 day ago in reply to UncleStu
I'm in agreement with UncleStu on this, although I have also argued in a recent book that the "liberty" that most ordinary white colonists sought to preserve in the American Revolution was quite a different sort of thing than they or their children's generation managed to secure.
Their ideal of "independence" was not independence from government but independence from the great men, the wealthy aristocratic and gentry landlords who in England had been gobbling up the land and pushing families into waged labor either in the countryside, in factories, or in the great cities. The flow of immigrants into British North America came in significant part from that displacement from the English land, and many immigrants sought to establish themselves as "independent" householders with a decent security of land tenure. They wanted governments to protect them from the ambitious men who aspired to "lordships" in America. They rebelled against Parliament in the 1770s as they became convinced that that government was only serving the interests of West Indian sugar planters, East India Tea Company shareholders, and wealthy British taxpayers in general. They rebelled in order to secure power for their own representative governments, which they hoped would rule on behalf of the interests of the people rather than the great men who had all the land or all the money. Anyway, it seems to me that the changes in government that abk1985 describes reflected (among other things) the effort to make government powerful enough to counter the massive concentrations of power seen in the corporations and trusts on behalf of retaining a space of "independence" for smaller farmers, businesspeople, and even wage workers.
I'm going to repeat those final sentences from "smithbc" because of their relevance to our current situation.
They rebelled in order to secure power for their own representative governments, which they hoped would rule on behalf of the interests of the people rather than the great men who had all the land or all the money. Anyway, it seems to me that the changes in government that abk1985 describes reflected (among other things) the effort to make government powerful enough to counter the massive concentrations of power seen in the corporations and trusts on behalf of retaining a space of "independence" for smaller farmers, businesspeople, and even wage workers.
*"The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." ...Abraham Lincoln