We Hate The Governed
Halloween has past, and that means the Christmas shopping season has begun here in the States. As is usual, Thanksgiving is mostly overlooked in anticipation of the most significant commercial activity of our year. Christmas music pipes through the malls now, holiday decor already sits out, and the war on Christmas 2012 has surely begun. This means the traditional kvetching of evangelical pastors is near at hand as well. Cue their endless efforts to reframe Christmas as a Christian holiday. God love them, they fight the good fight — but in the US, Christianity is a false cover for the worship of Mammon.
Mammonism is the basis of our civics and culture. As outlined in our Constitution, the main purpose of our federal government is to promote and protect our economy. The heart of our political system is commerce; the economics and the politics are inseparable. This is the source of our dollar diplomacy and the justification to stand our ground. It’s no wonder the Supreme Court has determined that corporations are people in our country, because personhood here means “property owner.” Our Founders were influenced by John Locke’s political theory, in which property was fundamental and ownership a natural right. Commercial activity rather than the Soul defines the political being then. True citizenship comes with the standing to make a binding contract. When you can sign for a loan, they let you vote. We aren’t the citizenry; we’re the “private sector.”
When Alexander Hamilton was drafting his plan to create a financial program for this country (one that privileged the elite investor class), this view of citizen-contractors infused it. Hamilton recognized that the key to creating wealth was spurring labor. It was essential to get Staters to produce for the market in order to develop manufacturing and commerce (and to provide investment opportunities for those “best men” and financiers). Self-sufficiency led only to sufficiency. Excess — profit — required more. Hamilton’s concern, then, was to encourage citizens to engage in market activity, and against that action stood anti-materialism, laziness, and the ideal of the proud independent yeoman. The anti-Federalists had insisted on checking the government’s power over the people, so how could Hamilton and his cronies compel them to pursue commerce? Perhaps Congress’ most fundamental and unquestioned power was to tax, and therein lay the answer.
Taxes would drive production by necessity. Citizens would have to obtain some means to pay their taxes — bartering, which worked within their local communities, would not suffice to meet this burden. (Gone were the feudal and post-feudal European practices of paying one’s lord in kind; accordingly, the merchant became the essential third party who offered credit and converted goods to coin for the Treasury.) Staters would have to engage in some commerce to pay their obligations, and the greater the liability, the more they would need to produce to earn the means to pay. Further, Hamilton counted on natural greed to compel market activity. When one was inclined to a certain standard of living and the government reduced one’s take through taxation, only additional production would return one to the level desired. Rather than punishing one for hard work, taxation here drives it. Hence, Hamilton advocated funding the national debt — or working out a perpetual payment system on federal obligations so that interest payments were met but the principle was never paid in full. Thus, there would always be an obligation requiring taxation and a burden that forced market activity on the citizenry. Continued debt and productivity would create wealth for the state and for the investor class obtaining the profits.
Clearly, this view of the people was neither noble nor generous. It relied on the worst of human beings — greed — to overcome the other vices of laziness and pride. The system was built to pit immorality against iniquity. In no sense did the ideology rely on the goodness of humankind or attempt to leverage good against evil or encourage righteousness. In this way, the anti-Federalists’ hatred of government was matched by the Federalists/pre-capitalists’ disdain for the people — only the small government forces meant to apply the rein, while the statists wanted the whip. Between the two parties, there was loathing for both the members of our confederacy and the mechanism of that body politic. It would seem, then, that the pessimism of our Founders drove them to create this great commercial system, this imperial market, this model of plenty. Had they any goodwill toward humankind, it might all be different, and we might have escaped the service of Mammon.
“They spend their days in prosperity, then go down to hell in peace.” — Job 21:13
We Hate Government
Our nation was founded on hate. It’s a sad truth. Rebellious English colonists hated the way they were treated by the mother country, and by extension, its crown head (king and country being one under the monarchy, acts by the government were ascribable to His Majesty — though the monarch’s power was no longer absolute even in those days). They despised the government that took from them privileges to which they felt entitled. That last bit is important because that was the crux of the issue. Under the rule of the king, citizens had no rights of their own. Liberties were strictly privileges granted by the king’s permission. In England, a powerful noble class had developed upon which the king relied — for money, support, and military might — and he was forced to make concessions in order to keep its allegiance. These concessions were outlined in the Magna Carta (1215), which required the Crown to forfeit some of its rights and subject itself to the law (the law no longer being whatever the king declared). A constitutional monarchy slowly developed, wherein His Majesty’s whims were limited and then replaced by the power of a republican parliament which codified entitlements and responsibilities — an effort at regulated and durable jurisprudence. In 1689, this parliamentary arrangement was formalized in writing in the English Bill of Rights. As for the colonies, the distance between North America and Great Britain allowed for a good deal of self-direction and initially, the colonies were largely left to their own devices. The colonists developed a number of their own traditions then — based on necessity and theoretical shifts resulting from their experience in self-governance — and their attachment to these prompted their resistance to efforts to bring them under greater English control later. They resented the change, and eventually enough of them grew to hate it so badly that actual insurrection by arms resulted.
So it was, a nation was born of hatred of government. Only, then, the rebels found they needed a government. They’d justified the split with Great Britain by arguing that human beings are not dependent on any regime for their liberties; certain privileges are actually rights and they are due to everyone by virtue of their birth. If it is the case that all citizens (or, white men) are individual sovereigns, what does government do but encroach upon their rights? It does just this, so it requires careful restriction to keep it from inserting itself too much and into areas in which it does not belong. Thus, our Founders drafted a Constitution to guide us that would limit government to the least intrusions necessary: conducting international diplomacy, providing for military defense, settling disputes between citizen-sovereigns and various governments, establishing uniform naturalization requirements and copyright/patent protections, and regulating and facilitating commerce. This is it. That is, boiled down, the full power of the federal government under the Constitution. To the administrative branch went diplomacy and defense; to the judiciary, the weighing of suits and review. What was left was essentially economic power, and it went to the Congress.
The representational legislature was to fund the activities of the other branches and organize them at the outset. It was to establish those uniform rules that would remove disparities between the states for citizenship and bankruptcies and protect the ownership rights of creative and inventive citizens — who would, of course, then be empowered by the force of law to benefit financially from their products. This leads to the main of the congressional duties: enabling commerce. The Founders did not charge the Congress with protecting citizens from domestic dangers or ensuring justice or promoting virtuousness. Rather, the Founders were mainly interested a federal system that would promote trade (those other duties fell to state and local governments or individuals), and they recognized that the economy required the assistance of government to succeed. This was no free market ideology. Theirs was a government whose only legitimate purpose was to aid the public in making money — it was necessarily a patron to the rich, then (as well as, to a lesser degree, others). Beyond this, governmental intrusion would be tyrannical and oppressive.
Government is evil, then, unless it promotes the pursuit of wealth (that is, the key to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness). It must secure the nation from attack and promote its interests abroad — and to a good extent these are economic — and facilitate commerce. Good government is really just a tool for promoting a market economy in this view. That is its proper purpose, and when it strays from that it becomes monstrous and oppressive and must be opposed. This negative view of government and it’s narrow value says much about our Founders and the motive behind their anti-government sensibilities. More so, it belies any claim to a nobler national purpose. This is no City on a Hill, but a storefront in a commercial zone.
“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil…” 1 Timothy 6:10