If you permit unprincipled and ambitious men to monopolize the soil, they will become masters of the country in the certain order of cause and effect.
Apparently no American was going quietly into that good night. “The Other Civil War” was waged by the disenfranchised working class, locked out of the system that placed them where they were, as if a matter of destiny. Unfortunately, any rebellion was invariably assimilated into that very system.
The farmers had fought, been crushed by the law, their struggle diverted into voting, and the system stabilized by enlarging the class of small landowners, leaving the basic structure of rich and poor intact. It was a common sequence in American history.
What political action can anyone take that doesn’t ultimately get assimilated – and therefore neutered? Anytime we experience political victory, we ought to wonder how the powerful have primarily secured the endurance of their own power. A concession is a concession, not surrender; certainly not revolution.
The Atlantic featured a piece during Trump’s campaign that offered his psychological profile in comparison to past presidents, trying to understand where he fits historically in American politics. Andrew Jackson was his closest psychological kin. Jackson “was the first President to master the liberal rhetoric – to speak for the common man,” and brought “the new politics of ambiguity – speaking for the lower and middle classes to get their support in times of rapid growth and potential turmoil.” All politicians, in their necessary service to American hegemony, adopt this posturing, so Trump doesn’t have singular ownership of this devastating inheritance. They are beholden to “an economic system not rationally planned for human need, but developing fitfully, chaotically out of the profit motive.”
What was true in the mid 1800s is true today: “Money is this day the strongest power of the nation.”
Law was and is marketed as natural law, making it counterintuitive to ever question it. Good thing we love to go against our “better” nature, i.e. the nature that we’re told by our “society” – aka people in power who have a vested interest in how we interpret “human nature” – is Truth. Workers certainly didn’t blindly accept their purported inferiority, and they fought constantly against their “natural” conditions. Unfortunately, such rebellious energy was easily diverted, e.g. “party politics and religion now substituting for class conflict.” The greatest threat to American democracy (see: plutocracy) was a sustained confrontation with the reality of America’s ruthless class structure. How to curb such consciousness? “Racial hostility became an easy substitute for class frustration.” Easy: control the inevitable scapegoat “them.” “The anger of the city poor often expressed itself in futile violence over nationality or religion.”
Wonder why our government doesn’t really give a shit about something like the murder spree in Chicago? Because that’s the system working. That’s what America was designed to produce. If the poor direct their energy at each other, the system stays intact. If the middle class gets upset about shit they can’t control, the system stays intact. If the rich focus on staying rich…you get the picture. All political motivation – in terms of top-down action – stems from preservation of the status quo. Every rousing political speech you hear? Look what’s lurking behind it: how does buying into this perpetuate things as they are? How am I being manufactured into a pawn of hegemony? Even Obama’s “hope” campaign – despite any positive personal will he brought to the table – was in service to the stability of Power. Live with hope, not active interrogation or willed consciousness, and all will be well. Hope is a wonderful drug that numbs us to the reality of continued suffering and our responsibility to change it.
Despite countless rebellions, why was there no revolution over class? The people rejected the myth of success, but one writer, Alan Dawley, argues: “electoral politics drained the energies of the resisters into the channels of the system.” So is it impossible to bring down the system from within? Can you never have enough energy once you get to the core?
Think of the American political machine as the Death Star. It has a weakness. How do we bring it down? Full frontal assault. Send people in to disable its shield, deep in the heart of the machine, and make sure people are there on the outside to fire at will. The odds aren’t ever in the rebellion’s favor, and there is no hero ball; it’s a full-scale cooperative effort. We have no Luke, but that’s okay: we can all be Luke.
This is as long as we’re not tempted by the political machine trying to suck us in as it did after the Civil War (and as it’s still doing brilliantly): “the political parties took positions, offered choices, obscured the fact that the political system itself and the wealthy classes it represented were responsible for the problems they now offered to solve.” Your boss will never save you from your subjugation, for then he can’t be your boss. Why surrender that? Instead, he’ll concede ground to you so that you never wonder why you even need a boss in the first place.
Law did not represent the ethics or ideals of advanced humanity; it exactly reflected, as a pool reflects the sky, the demands and self-interest of the growing propertied classes.
The circle was completed; the law had come simply to ratify those forms of inequality that the market system produced.
Checks and balances. Checks and balances. To what end?
In the thirty years leading up to the Civil War, the law was increasingly interpreted in the courts to suit the capitalist development of the country.
Ah, that’s right, the profit motive. In God we trust, but there’s a reason that’s on our money. It’s not because we honor any divine deity; we honor the greenback on which it is written. Money is God, and we entrust everything to its “care.”
If you’re inclined to consider this borderline socialist ranting, ask why you see it that way. Your vision has origins, origins you’re not supposed to question, or even think that they’re possible to question. Of course we “instinctively” oppose anything that contradicts capitalism. Capitalism is the environment in which we know survival is possible. Living versus being alive? In God we trust.
In premodern times, the maldistribution of wealth was accomplished by simple force. In modern times, exploitation is disguised – it is accomplished by law, which has the look of neutrality and fairness.
Strikes happened. The people fought back. And?
“Whatever we poor men may not have, we have free speech, and no one can take it from us.” Then the police charged, using their clubs.