It has been noted before that the world is a battleground between two great ideologies. America is an extremely visible description of this war. The revolution was not a war against an oppressive monarchy, though lives were certainly lost in that endeavor. It was really a war between the concepts of ruler-ship and autonomy. It was a war between preservation of the status quo and the enlightenment. At the time the writing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson was given free reign to use his gift with words, his philosophical leanings, and the dream of enlightenment ideals to stoke the passions of the citizenry towards the establishment of an independent nation. But there the single minded unity of the appointed delegates ended.
Two camps soon formed. One camp was dedicated to the establishment of an idyllic society in which everyone was self-sufficient. To do this, the population needed to be educated landowners who were involved in the political process and who were not dependent on any entity for their survival. If everybody had a stake in their society and had the education and means to do so, they would build a nation of unity, strength, and resilience. Everyone would have an equal voice and, through cooperation and debate, would set policies that ensured the strength and endurance of such a society.
The other camp was a hold-over from the days of empire building. They wanted to appoint a new king. They operated under the notion that people are incapable of ruling themselves and need an agency to dictate behavior, ethics, and morality to preserve the social structures of a nation in order to create wealth and maintain control of the population. They held that wealth and power were bestowed on specific agencies by God, and everyone else was there to support the will of those appointed few.
It is fair, of course, to point out that neither camp was primarily formed by men who had created their own wealth; they were not self-made men, they were men who were born into wealth. Certainly, none of them sacrificed their wealth to ensure freedom. They did gamble their freedom, but ridding themselves of British monarchy was largely a financial consideration. The difference revealed itself after the yoke of monarchy was cast off.
Today this battle is still being fought. The titles of the entities at war have changed, but not the underlying ideologies. On the one hand are corporations and corporate government and on the other, social programs and individual freedom. It has always been an uneasy alliance. Our most prosperous periods as a nation have been those times when our nation leaned towards Jeffersonian ideals at the expense of those of Hamilton. Our darkest hours are always at those times when we have allowed Hamilton’s perspective to run unfettered.
Historically, when we allow the wealthy and corporate entities to horde wealth, they horde it, they do not take the bulk of it and spread among the population. When we spend more time legislating against the individual and relax the regulation of big business, they take advantage of relaxed regulations of relaxed oversight and behave badly. Corporations are formed by individuals. Why we expect more restraint from them than we do from ordinary citizens is beyond me.
Relaxing the regulation of big business and the banking industry allowed for the Great Depression and the Great Recession. Under the New Deal, we place the brunt of taxation on those who gained the bulk of the wealth. We promoted social spending such as jobs programs, housing, nutrition, and education and we saw our strength, unity, and wealth as a nation grow. I think we sometimes forget this important lesson of history. I think we forget why we are here and what we did last time we got to this place. I think we have forgotten what’s important and what works, not for the upper 5%, but for our nation. We have forgotten the Great Idea, the same one espoused by the central figure of Christianity as we run wholeheartedly to the one espoused by the medieval church, by monarchy, by corporations, and by the state. The two are very different.