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