This is an essay inspired by a podcast James Tracy published at his Memory Hole Blog, where I am a frequent presence.
I publish it here now, inspired by Rich’s recent comment, which hoped I would generate some action here. I certainly will try. As I replied to him, time is a problem I am always fighting.
Another issue is that I created this site to be about the Stairway book, and have felt constrained to keep the thing somewhat tied to that theme. Much of my most inspired recent writing I have done at MHB, and not cross-posted here, because of that. I think I shall change this way of thinking, and break out of that mold I set for myself.
Another thing I shall endeavor to change is the clunkiness of this web site’s presentation. Since I put it together myself, and only learned by doing, that will be a further challenge. Pray for me on that one, everyone. I’ll need all I can get.
Here’s the piece:
Josh Hart, in his recent conversation on James Tracy’s Checkin’ It Out podcast, made some interesting offhand observations about what he called “capitalism,” and a sort of “wild west” environment he perceives as prevailing when new technologies are introduced in our era. While I am sympathetic to what I think he’s trying to say, I thought it might be helpful to explore this idea a little more closely.
It’s always nice to begin at the beginning, so I’ll try to summarize the origins of America as I understand them, and see how the country has changed fundamentally, to the point where monstrous tyrannies can be imposed upon all of us without our consent, by vast corporations, without the Federal or State governments having any interest at all in representing mere human beings. “We the People” supposedly created the Federal government, but you’d be hard pressed to see any evidence of it today, given the way Leviathan acts.
We can say that America was founded in four waves of immigration from four regions of the Island of Great Britain, as David Hackett Fischer argues so wonderfully in his book Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. These were the Puritans, who went to New England; the Cavaliers (those who conformed to the Church of England), who went to Virginia; the Quakers, who went to Pennsylvania and Delaware; and the Scots-Irish (protestant Celts), who settled over the Allegheny mountains. Each of these groups came from a different part of the English Island, spoke with different accents and had always lived life very differently one from another. All were anglo/saxon or celtic protestants, but each had a VERY different notion about what protestantism was supposed to look like. For all their of similarity, they were very diverse indeed: the idea of them joining together into one nation would have seemed preposterous to them at the time.
Each of the colonies was pretty much like a distinct country, although colonies with the same folkways felt a kinship. The four folkway-groups were sufficiently separated geographically and economically that there was little strife between them in the first century of English presence in America. Meanwhile, back home, the place was in religious (which was intensely political) turmoil, what with the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, and the Restoration. This proved a very fortuitous distraction from the point of view of Liberty here in America: the British king (when there was one) was too distracted to try to govern the colonies, so we got used to taking care of ourselves. Depending upon what part of America you lived in, this was probably the freest civilized place in history. We had proved that, given a shared set of moral principles, people will naturally govern themselves; people who self-govern don’t need police to threaten to punish them if they misbehave, much less need politicians to create new laws to impose upon them.
But then again, was that America’s REAL beginning?
While we are supposed to believe that Columbus discovered America, anyone who looks into the matter quickly learns that it’s not true. The Knights Templar discovered it, in the person of Henry Sinclair (Columbus, who sailed in a direct line, as if he knew exactly where he was going, had the Templar Cross emblazoned on his sails). Look up the mysterious and amazing Roslyn Chapel, built by Henry’s grandson, which has stone carvings of plants and animals only found in America, that predates Columbus. No doubt this is the reason the estimable Francis Bacon, notably of the court of Queen Elizabeth, wrote his book about the future of America, The New Atlantis. The future use of the new continent was long brewing in esoteric minds. It was a Masonic vision of a perfected future.
So the Christians who founded America were salted with, for lack of a better term, illuminati, from the start. There was a grand plan for America that the Christians who set about building this country knew nothing about. It brings to mind Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares, growing together unto the End. Even as the world that Bacon flourished in was being destroyed in the chaos of English religious politics in the 17th century, America’s people were growing confident in the easiness of living happily while being truly free from state control. No one here would have noticed the Masonic “tares” growing amongst us at the time; we were just happy to be free of the strife on the other side of the Atlantic.
It was perhaps inevitable that we separate ourselves, once British overlordship was restored with the renewed stability of the British state as the 18th century unfolded. Certainly, the constitution we adopted reflected the principles of the goodness of freedom from state power we had spent a century and a half learning—a kind of point/counterpoint George III could not comprehend. The Articles of Confederation were perhaps the perfect expression of that freedom we had learned to live while England was burning: if the former colonies, now independent countries, were to bind themselves together, it would be very loosely. The new countries were on their own, in most matters of state, and they liked it that way.
But this did not sit well with the faction Bacon’s vision had set forth. James Madison, through various means, managed to convene a Convention of the American States to “fix” a couple of perceived flaws in the Articles that loosely connected them. But once convened, the conclave decided to scrap the constitution they were only to propose alterations of, and start from scratch. When they were done, had I been alive, I would have been an Antifederalist (Patrick Henry refused to be a delegate to the convention from the start, saying, quite presciently, “I smell a rat”).
The new government would have a city built for itself, carved out of Maryland and Virginia. Lest anyone wonder which “beginning” was now in charge, its streets were laid out all in Masonic symbolism, and all the buildings would harken back to pagan Greece and Rome. There would be not a hat-tip to the Judeo-Christian Mind of the Christians of Fischer’s four British folkways.
Today, it’s easy to see who won the contest between the visible and the secret founders of the new country, simply by examining the District of Columbia. Christians today, who frequently whine that they want to reclaim their country, are deluded. It hasn’t been theirs since 1787.
That delusion is understandable, though; it didn’t look that way for a long time. By the time of the Constitutional Convention most of the Northern states had gotten rid of most of their slaves, so most of America’s slaves were now in the South. If it were me at the Convention, representing a Southern state, I would have held out and demanded that every single person be counted in the census—and I would pressure every other delegate from the South to demand the same. But so desirous were they of replacing the constitution, they agreed to a compromise that would artificially elevate the population ratio of the states in favor of the North: when the census would be taken, 2/5 of the slave population would be discarded, giving rough parity between North and South in Congressional representation. A grave mistake, in my opinion.
Still, even having granted the North that handicap, the South, which alone by that point held to the little-to-no-government vision of freedom that prevailed in the 17th and 18th centuries, was able to stop at every turn the goal of building Bacon’s New Atlantis in this country. The South constituted an effective veto on that Plan, all the way up to 1860, when the ultimate agent of Bacon’s vision came to power. The Southern states exited the Union, almost immediately, knowing that if the old vision of freedom was to survive, they would have to do it on their own.
Well, the North won the War to Prevent Southern Independence. What resulted?
A consolidated Federal government no one could have imagined prior. Two new Departments, which would forever change America, were created as a result of the War: Justice and Agriculture. Justice gave the Federal government a law enforcement role in Americans’ lives, something no one could have imagined or tolerated before the War. And Agriculture created something entirely new: a way for private interests to crowd out competition by having an inside track with an increasingly powerful Federal government. Economists call it “rent-seeking,” which Wikipedia summarizes as “the manipulation of regulatory agencies to gain monopolistic advantages in the market while imposing disadvantages on competitors.” Lots and lots of Federal agencies followed over the coming decades. Freedom went the way of the dodo bird, as insider deals, made possible by the federal government, enabled cartels and monopolies to come into being, and vast oligarchic fortunes to be made.
This is in fact the “Wild West” Josh Hart bemoans. And quite rightly.
He uses the term “capitalism,” which in my opinion is also entirely appropriate, to describe this horrible state of affairs. It is a coinage of Marx, taken from the title of his most famous book, “Capital.” It describes a perversion, indeed a destruction, of the free marketplace, a place anyone can enter and challenge the established players on an even playing field. Without these federal “friends” protecting monopolists and cartels, such enterprises could never get overly large because when true competition prevails the potential size of the players is self-limiting. By definition. New entrants, with different ideas, constantly hold back the potential excesses of their competitors—unless they are artificially protected.
A good example of this is in electrical utilities. If it were not for the sham “regulation” the Federal government uses to run interference for its favored entities in that field, Tesla technology would not have been absconded with (by the Federal government, incidentally), and Josh’s vision of safe, clean, decentralized electrical power would have out-competed the paradigm that enslaves us today. Probably, Tesla’s work being a century old by now, even better technologies would have been developed by free, happy, innovators, by now, young, creative, minds unfettered by the ongoing effects of the world that Lincoln’s War bequeathed us.
The really sad part is, outside of the ill-effects of this horrible “capitalism” in squelching the widespread human happiness freedom would create, the fake “regulation” represented by these administrative agencies, inevitably, grows exponentially more corrupt, as the government functionaries supposedly doing the “regulating” discover that bending over for the interests they are supposed to oversee and limit the activities of guarantees them a fat job with those very interests once they retire from government “service.” The public be damned.
So by now, a century and a quarter after this new, horrible, system came into being, public utilities can do anything to the public, no matter how health-debilitating, and the Federal and state “regulators” run interference for them every step of the way.
This is where the “Wild West” of American lore becomes a perfectly apt metaphor.
In the aftermath of Lincoln’s War, his generals were dispatched to the lands beyond the Mississippi to eradicate the Plains Indians. These monsters had proven themselves up to the task when they effected a program of “total war” against the civilian populations of the American South. The Indians soon found out what that was like. But why?, you ask. To make way for the railroads, silly. And then cattle interests (usually one and the same, come to think of it). And timber. And mines. Those years in Washington, under Grant, were called the “Great Barbecue.” A friend in Washington could make you rich beyond your wildest dreams, because the Union Army would be at your service.
It’s only gotten worse since the West was “opened.” We are all the Plains Indians, now.