I presume that all knowledgable readers will agree with historian John H. Bracey’s opinion that both Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois were doing their best at addressing the politics of that period of black disfranchisement that Rayford Logan called “the nadir,” and that they behaved heroically in a grim and terrifying moment in history. Fair enough and I agree. Even the dean of Marxist historians, Eric Foner, in his Give Me Liberty, allows that Washington’s undeniable support in the black community “arose from a widespread sense that in the world of the late nineteenth century, frontal assaults on white power were impossible and that blacks should concentrate on building up their segregated communities.”
This trite-but-true doctrine, that both leaders were doing their best with the limited means available to them has been made repeatedly, and indeed tediously, but it must be added that Booker T had an agenda more practical, and more laden with implicit political compromise than that of Du Bois. Booker T. Washington’s historical task was the precursor of Barrack Obama’s, and fraught with the same pitfalls. Washington’s responsibility was not with the creation of a literary, artistic or intellectual tradition, and neither is Barrack Obama’s.
Du Bois’s project was as undoubtedly political as T. S. Eliot’s, but as did Eliot’s, his ambitions included an additional layer that neither Booker T Washington, in his day, nor Barack Obama in his, have had the luxury of addressing. Du Bois assumed an agenda in the realm of abstract artistic and intellectual endeavor, a merger of folkish values with elite literary and intellectual ideals. This involved a concept of the interdependability of high and low culture, and of peasant and proletarian culture which would serve as the roots and nourishment of the talented tenth, who would be both leaders of and servants to the masses. For this conception of the interaction of high and low culture, he was indebted to Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, Germany’s pioneering cultural linguists, but Du Bois was an independent trail-blazer in his own right, and probably more comparable to Richard Wagner as a literary theorist, and innovator in the arts.
Du Bois, between 1896 and 1934, resembled Tony Morrison and Cornel West, in that he merged, and simultaneously represented folk traditions to fashion an elite literary and “high-cultural” agenda. His concerns as a writer and intellectual leader, were luxuries that few political leaders believe they can afford. Like Alexander Crummell, Du Bois felt that abstract intellectual activity was an important aspect of black civilization. Booker T. Washington, who has notably been called, “builder of a civilization,” in an important early biography by Emmet J. Scott and Lyman Beecher Stowe, saw “civilization” as necessarily founded on Yankee Protestantism and industrial education. Crummell certainly never denied these two building blocks, nor in any practical sense, did Du Bois, but they also saw the immediate necessity of non-material ideals. In all fairness, Booker T Washington was not a pure materialist, either. He admitted that what Crummell called “Civilization” and what Du Bois called the “civilizing message,” must go hand in hand with what Washington called “Character Building,” and what Crummell called, “Character, the Great Thing.”
But Booker T was primarily focused on confronting the realities of administering and economically sustaining a bricks and mortar institution, just as Barack Obama clearly has his own bricks and mortar concerns. Everyone knows, there is a difference between an institution such as the government of the United States of America, and the Tuskegee Machine. The similarities exist only in that both involve practical politics and economics on the national and international stages, although the relative sizes and impacts are oceans apart.
Du Bois, in addition to being “Propagandist of the Negro Protest,” had a literary and “high-cultural” agenda, and literary art meant little to BTW, who did not care about writing a book like Darkwater. In fact, it obviously meant little to him that his major works were all secretly ghostwritten. For Du Bois, composing a poem like “The Riddle of the Sphinx” was a matter inseparable from his personality, and affecting the depths of his soul, just as such a matter was fundamental to Proust, Joyce, Faulkner, and T. S. Eliot. And Du Bois can bear comparison to any of these authors, according to my literary methodology, on which I shall not elaborate, due to a lack of any observable demand.
If Du Bois were to come back, I don’t know if he would be capable of doing what Obama is doing, while I think Booker T would be able to handle the task, at least as well.
Bettye Collier-Thomas, Darlene Clark Hine, and others have made the indisputable point, that the debate was not the central concern of African Americans during the Nadir. Black women, for example worked heroically at the grass-roots level of institution building, a point that is undeniable. In the city of Detroit, I have a sister, named Miriam, who devoted many years to working at the grass roots level as a community organizer, a teacher, and a character builder. But I am afraid Detroit’s problems are beyond the efforts of grass roots workers, alone. They are of macro-economic proportions. They cannot be solved by the NAACP, the NACW, or the NCNW, or by the Churches. Such organizations are not capable of addressing the problems of interfacing the Japanese auto industry, or vying with computer production in China, or determining the relationship between the dollar and the Euro.
They can “Go tell Michelle” anything they wish, but grass-roots groups have little useful to say to her, respecting national or international politics or economics. Like Condolleeza Rice, Michelle is better educated, and better informed than most of her gushing admirers.
Booker T was, alas, not able to build a rival to MIT, but he grasped the importance of making such an attempt. Marcus Garvey was not able to build another Ford Motor Company, but he understood the problem! By the time he wrote Dusk of Dawn, Du Bois had finally come around to the Booker/Garvey position on institution building.
Du Bois, although an able social scientist, was always primarily a humanist, a man of letters, committed to projects in the arts and sciences that exceeded the limits of the immediately practical. Where Washington would have directed a gifted young mathmatician to become an atomic scientist or an aerospace engineer, Du Bois might have encouraged that same young person to pursue the luxury of a career in quantum theory, astrophysics or analytic philosophy.
Black Americans today, with or without the leadership of President Obama encounter a set of material and intellectual challenges that exceed the immediately practical. I don’t know if the solution to the collapse of the black metropolis of Detroit is to be found in Black Institutional Nationalism, whether in the moderate form of the Tuskegee philosophy or in the more radical forms of the UNIA or Dusk of Dawn. I don’t see that Black Nationalism is presently viable, without taking into account the macroeconomics of the current world situation in banking, commerce, industry, and communications. Obama is trying to manipulate these factors, but his chances of success are obviously limited, just as were the chances of BTW.
Ken Hamilton, an avid supporter and financial backer of President Obama, has recently completed a manuscript on Booker T. Washington. I have not seen the book, but over many years Professor Hamilton has shared with me, via numerous emails and primary documents concerning and quoting BTW, his belief that character building and industrial reorganization are at least part of the solution to the problems symbolized by a city like Detroit. I don’t know if industrial Detroit can be rebuilt as a Black Nation in accord with Mr. Muhammad’s fantasy, or Booker T’s dream, but I doubt whether grass-roots community organization by black women’s groups, or intellectual and literary-intellectual activity are likely to make much of a difference in the neo-colonial situation of a city like Detroit.
Jefferson ultimately found the Voltaire conjecture that mountains had once been under the seas unsatisfactory, for it appeared indemonstrable. He did not reject it any more than he rejected other unproven theories. Whether the deposit of shell fossils was the result of volcanic uplifts, or of ancient deluges, or of both was a matter that he could not resolve. He resorted to sarcasm cloaked in terms of theology. “How many millions of years it has cost Vulcan or Neptune to produce what the fiat of the Creator would effect by a single act of will, is too idle to be worth a single hour of any man’s life,” he wrote in the year of his demise. Was Jefferson in the end neither a Vulcanist nor a Neptunist, but a Creationist? Or was he simply demonstrating in his eighty-third year that he remained a temporizing ironist.
By temperament, he was far too inquisitive to consider any reasonable speculation a complete waste of time. By temperament he was also skeptical, and he possessed a continuing love of sarcasm until the final months of his life. But his skepticism and sarcasm masked his persistent theological creationism. For whether he invoked the Creator literally, or as a metaphor for Nature, he always relied on preconceptions about what constituted natural law. His position on the shell fossils is a good illustration of how Jefferson’s scientific mind functioned. Postponement of judgment in the absence of evidence was an idea that he understood. His position on the fossils allows us to witness his careful postponement of judgment for more than forty years—from the age of forty until three months before his death.
In the fifty years between 1786 and 1826 Jefferson’s theologically dependent scientific framework did not evolve. He wrote, to Charles Thompson. Paris, December 17, 1786, dismissing the brilliant and painstaking work of John Whitehurst, An Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth (1778). Whitehurst, a self educated man of humble origins, was a vastly superior scientist to Jefferson, both in terms of his methods and his technical accomplishments. Eventually elected to the Royal Society, he came from the artisan class that Jefferson despised, a mere maker of watches and compasses. But his competency in these realms was also superior to Jefferson’s. Whitehurst’s theory, which was based on scrupulous collection of data, far beyond Jefferson’s patience, was prophetic. His nascent thesis, that the Earth had undergone vast changes over the course of history, has stood the test of time. Jefferson’s response to Whitehurst was not to challenge his method or his evidence, but to engage in theological babble:
“I give one answer to all these theorists. That is as follows. They all suppose the earth a created existence. They must suppose a creator then; and that he possessed power and wisdom to a great degree. As he intended the earth for the habitation of animals and vegetables, is it reasonable to suppose, he made two jobs of his creation, that he first made a chaotic lump and set it into rotatory motion, and then waited the millions of ages necessary to form itself? That when it had done this, he stepped in a second time, to create the animals and plants which were to inhabit it? As the hand of a creator is to be called in, it may as well be called in at one stage of the process as another. We may as well suppose he created the earth at once, nearly in the state in which we see it, fit for the preservation of the beings he placed on it.”
The ideas Jefferson expressed to John P. Emmett, May 2, 1826 were similarly superstitious. Although by the 1780s, not only Whitehurst, but also James Hutton, were advancing theories of a changing geological universe. These were on the road to acceptance, with the rising influence of Charles Lyell, seven years after Jefferson’s death. But Jefferson rejected on theological grounds, both the emerging and ultimately dominant concepts of geological evolution and biological evolution. He died a few years too early either to accept or reject the contemporary theories that eventually stood the test of time. He discomfort with scientific speculation, revealed not only his theism, but a temperamental disposition that was not unknown in his politics — caution and temporizing. Elsewhere in the Notes he exercised this same prudence and on matters he considered momentarily unsolvable, he postponed judgment.
Jefferson’s notorious postponement of scientific judgment with respect to human equality occurs in every edition of the Notes. He could not prove it, but he argued systematically for the inequality of Sub-Saharan Africans with respect to the rest of the human race. He advanced it “as a suspicion only,” that black people of African origin “are inferior to the whites in the endowments of both body and mind.”
Paris, Sun Aug 17, 2013
In a typical French sentence, 50% of the letters are not pronounced, and the other 50% are unpronounceable. I have met people who can read French at a higher level than most native speakers, but who cannot make themselves understood in a restaurant. This situation simply does not occur in German where writing, spelling, and pronunciation are fairly rational.
How well one is able to converse in French depends on whom one is addressing. I had no difficulty negotiating a few matters entirely in French at the Air France office recently. But in a bookstore the following Saturday, August 10, I could not communicate with the young girl at the cash register, at all. With others on the staff, who were older and better educated, I had no problem communicating in French, or even making one or two playful pleasantries. In a recent conversation with an arrogant man of Algerian background, I felt that he was deliberately making his French as slangy and incomprehensible as he could, forcing me to speak English, so he could have the satisfaction of looking down his nose at me. I have noted Anglicized Pakistanis in London behaving in similar manner. Being forced to switch to English is one of the most humiliating experiences I know.
Younger people in speaking their own languages are sometimes afraid of sounding affected or “pseudo-intellectual,” and will often avoid expressing themselves formally, because they are very self-conscious about possibly sounding “unnatural.” A high school graduate from Senegal or Martinique is sometimes easier to understand, because educated “colonials” often speak a more elevated French than their continental European counterparts, the Franco-français.
There are several levels of any language: For the sake of simplicity, I would list three:
1. Formal and/or literary, where words are painstakingly defined, with respect to their numerous meanings, and where qualifying clauses are frequent — appropriate for courtrooms, classrooms, good journalism, and those business affairs where precise or nuanced articulation is necessary.
2. Vernacular or colloquial, for daily conversation within families, or between persons who are “on the same wave-length,” and where a wink or a nod might suffice to clarify a more subtle meaning.
3. Folksy and/or slangy, useful for situations where words may be one-dimensional, and meanings are direct and often blunt, or when people need only to communicate cultural predispositions or emotional reactions.
I have learned that when a native speaker is addressing a foreigner, the best way for the native speaker to communicate is to adopt the formality of a college classroom. The more colloquial, familiar, or vernacular one becomes, the more difficulty the speaker of Turkish or Mandarin may have understanding.
For example, if a friendly flight attendant asks, “Where are you off to today?” She might be misunderstood, even by an American, due to her use of a friendly idiomatic expression. She is likely to be more easily understood if she asks more formally, “What is your final destination?”
“Money is Speech” August 10, 2011
“What is money, anyway,” asks my nephew
“Money is Speech.” answers the Supreme Court of the United States in Buckley v Valeo
Whoever controls words controls thoughts. Whoever controls symbols – and words are sometimes although not always symbols – has tremendous influence over thoughts. Whoever controls communication controls the thoughts of those who are most arrogantly and stupidly convinced of their intellectual independence and free will.
Money is a complex instrument, but it is among other things a means of communication. For the clever and the very wealthy, it is a means of storing wealth. For the foolish and the very poor it is merely a medium of exchange. For those who have enough, it is a means of communication.
In Buckley v Valeo, the Supreme Court ruled that money is speech. This decision has been grotesquely fortified by the The ruling, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205.
Whatever you or I want to think or to believe, regardless of whatever my friends in the blogosphere maintain, the Supreme Court has ruled, just as Adam Smith predicted they would. The interests of the masters are served by the laws because the masters make the laws. Or as Adam Smith says in words that timelessly describe conspiracies of the master class, “the law, besides, authorizes, or at least does not prohibit their combinations, while it prohibits those of the workmen.
But matters are even more sinister than that. As Jack Vance argues in his satirical and brutal novel The Languages of Pao, the thinking of people is controlled, with varying degrees of success, by the master class. Whoever controls vocabulary and syntax controls thought. Mao and Stalin and Freud’s nephew, Eddie Bernays understood this, as did the War propaganda office of Woodrow Wilson. Unfortunately there are many people walking around with prestigious degrees who don’t understand this.
It is not enough to get a masters degree in German, Chinese, or Hebrew. That doesn’t necessarily mean you understand how language works. One needs to understand the extent to which language controls perceptions of reality. This is the classic, but contested theory of the so-called Sapir-Whorf theorists. There is a great deal of discussion of this controversial theory, which should be discussed thoroughly, but not accepted dogmatically.
Rupert Murdoch understands this, and so does Michele Bachmann. But there are lots of otherwise smart people who don’t understand this.
The Koch brothers certainly understand that money is speech, whether they understand semiotics, I cannot say. But what does it matter? Eddie Bernays is working for them, and Sapir-Whorf offers food for thought as to why the Koch Brothers and Rupert Murdoch invest so much money in the control of language and syntax.
The people who are currently rioting in Britain are expressing discontent, but if they are capable of articulating the sources of this discontent, the press is not reporting it. The media portray them as inarticulate.
The 1% of the population who constitute the master classes are easier to organize and more aware of their interests. All of this discussion of the powers of the Fed, the volatility of the market, the behavior of the Obama administration are of relatively little importance when one reflects on the fact that it is the masters who control the government and make the laws.
Adam Smith noted this with sorrow, contrary to popular mythology, although he recognized that from his premise only a dismal prediction concerning the rights of workers could follow.
Robert Malthus proposed means of redistributing wealth, and his ideas were adopted a century later by John Maynard Keynes, but Keynes has few defenders today. Certainly the Obama administration is not willing to consider putting money directly into the hands of workers. They endorse the Friedman-Greenspan-Bernanke method of creating large sums of money and putting it in the hands of the upper classes, ie, the big banks.
It is sufficient, unfortunately, to proclaim by fiat that Keynes has been discredited, and the misguided working people unfortunately contribute to Keynes defamation, preferring the bromides of Hayek, von Mises, Friedman, Rand, Bastiat, and all the other intellectual brigands who conspire to reduce them to a state of poverty, ill health, and ignorance.
I receive emails from honors graduates of Michigan and Penn State, who earn less than $20,000, and are burdened with debt, but continue to believe that unleashing the free market will solve all their problems. The master class preach the free market, but sneer at the idea of a free market. They understand the necessity of controlling the market, and they make the laws in order to serve their ends.
The masters control the law, and they control the language. This, alas, is how it always has been. This, regrettably, is how it always will be.
Wilson J. Moses
Reaganism is the Suicide of the Government of the United States
Copyright©2011 by Wilson J. Moses, Thursday, April 14, 2011
Ronald Reagan’s cunning and mischievous National Suicide Doctrine, is the cause of our present economic crisis in the United States. His insane anti-American doctrine is exactly the opposite of the patriotism of that true Republican, Dwight David Eisenhower, who led the Allies to victory over the Nazis, shaped the Korean Truce, balanced the national budget, and assaulted the bastions of racial segregation. No more pernicious and divisive philosophy than Reaganism has appeared in American politics since the time of Jefferson Davis.
Reagan openly announced his doctrine in his First Inaugural Address, when he said: “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Even more outrageous, the Reagan administration began to preach the slogan “Starve the beast,” in 1985, an idea later recycled by Sarah Palin in the 2008 Presidential campaign. Palin, who is married to a notorious Alaskan secessionist, is typical of Republicans, with her idea of cutting taxes until we have destroyed the national economy and the Government of the United States.
Reagan Republicans hate the Government of the United States. They call it a “beast.”
Ronald Reagan’s inaugural address, his doctrine of government suicide, is currently accessible at YouTube, and the text is at The Avalon Project of the Yale Law School http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/reagan1.asp. The phrase “Starve the Beast” applied to the government of the United States, originated with an anonymous hack in the Reagan White House, according to Michael J. New’s article in Cato Journal, (Fall 2009), published by the Cato Institute. Reagan’s words and his government destroying policy sets the tone for all subsequent discourses in American politics, and reignites the homicidal fires of American secessionism.
Republicans seek to validate a doctrine of localism, provincialism, and individual isolation that was openly rejected by Benjamin Franklin as early as 1754, repudiated by George Washington and Alexander Hamilton in 1787, and subsequently condemned by John Adams. But the quasi-populist fires of American secessionism were secretly stoked by the Machiavellian slaveholder and pseudo-egalitarian, Thomas Jefferson in his Kentucky Resolutions of 1798. The hypocritical and devious Thomas Jefferson was always covertly hostile to George Washington, to the Government of the United States, to its Flag, and to its Constitution. Regrettably his philosophy moved increasingly to the right over the years, until he repudiated the anit-slavery doctrines of his youth and supported the expansion of slavery into the territories. Jeffersonian thinking was among the contributing causes of the Civil War.
The United States had to fight a Great Civil War to extirpate “Jeffersonian Democracy.”
Capitalism is a necessary ingredient of all civilization, and capitalism is impossible without the existence of Law and Order. Government is necessary for property to exist. This is known to every college graduate who has read the works of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Benjamin Franklin, and Adam Smith. Without government, property is only an abstract and insubstantial theory. As Aristotle and John C. Calhoun pointed out, there has never been a human Society without government. And to this I would add that it is only within the context of Society. i. e. Government, that property rights can have any meaning, that capital can be accumulated, or that money can have any value.
All wealth derives from a social contract, and is inextricable from the idea of COMMONWEALTH.
Calhoun knew this was true, but he was intellectually dishonest, and worked to undermine the sacred institution of government that he knew was essential to human civilization, wealth, and happiness. His conception of culture was primitive, for he was not only a slaveholding racist, but contemptuous of the interests of the nascent industrial working class. Although he understood the necessity of strong government, he encouraged his constituents in refusing to pay their taxes, and for this, he was rightly upbraided by President Andrew Jackson.
Jackson was no paragon of statesmanship; he was a murderous, drunken brawler, a cold-blooded dueler, an Indian scalper, and a slave-driver. He stupidly destroyed the Second Bank of the United States, thereby causing a depression. But, to his credit, Andrew Jackson was the last American President to balance the budget and sink the national debt. He did this by asserting the principle that the federal government must collect taxes, at gunpoint if necessary. When South Carolina tried to nullify the Tariff of 1832, Jackson showed them he meant business. He demolished the extreme doctrine of states rights, announcing to the states rights deadbeats:
“The Constitution of the United States, then, forms a government, not a league; and whether it be formed by compact between the States or in any other manner, its character is the same. It is a Government in which all the people are represented, which operates directly on the people individually, not upon the States.”
Law and Order, are identical with Government; they are the basis of Property, of Capitalism, and of every other aspect of Civilization.
Even in so-called “primitive societies,” money has always been more than a mere medium of exchange. Money is, and must be, by definition, a means of storing wealth. Traditional African and Native American societies, long before the coming of European colonialism, created and used sophisticated money systems, in the form of wampum belts, and cowry shells, as means of calculating debt and storing wealth. One of the means employed by European colonialists to destroy African and Native American economies, was to counterfeit indigenous currencies. Inflation of wampum and cowries were among the gimmicks employed by Europe in destroying African and Native American economies.
Gradual inflation, as Benjamin Franklin knew, is sometimes good, for it may stimulate the flow of goods and services, and accomplish great public works. But unrestrained inflation is an evil, for it destroys money the most convenient means of storing wealth, and the basis of any predictability and stability in the exchanges of labor and commodities. James Madison viewed “a rage for paper money,” as evil and pernicious. In today’s terms, he would have to include, not only paper, but electronic money which is being recklessly generated by the Federal Reserve System, and leads to an inflationary expansion of the money supply. But a national debt, in the form of a stable national currency, and the governmental capacity to issue reliable bonds, is a national blessing, as the wise and fearless genius, General Alexander Hamilton well knew.
One purpose of the Constitution was to thwart “inflation, an abolition of debts, or for any other improper or wicked project.” (Federalist 10) The right wing of the Republican Party is presently calling for an abolition of the National Debt, for no other reason than to bring down the Government of the United States. They advocate the destruction of the Full Faith and Credit of the Government of the United States, because they hate the Government of the United States!
One of the great and tragic ironies or our time is that the Republican Party, once the champion of National Union and vigorous government, has become the party of weak government, fiscal irresponsibility and secessionism. The party of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower has adopted the National Suicide policies of Jefferson Davis, and Robert E. Lee, and Ronald Regan. How did this happen? It has to do with the disgraceful heritage of slavery and racism, as I shall demonstrate in a forthcoming essay. — Wilson J. Moses, 2011-04-14
TEA-PARTY, SCHMEE PARTY: Dems, Reps and Baggers all Have the Same Effect
by Wilson Moses
Back during the Presidential campaign of 2008, many of those who opposed the Big Bank Bail-out were Old Reaganites, long-time supporters of the deregulation that allowed the banks to pull down the economy in the first place. Or they were Old-Goldwaterites, or libertarians, or small-government advocates who oppose the existence of the Federal Reserve System, the Security and Exchange Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and every other mechanism that was established in the 20th century for the ostensible purpose of protecting the public from what Louis Brandeis called “The Money Trust.”
Of course, all the above agencies are controlled by the very entities they are supposed to regulate. This state of affairs was sardonically predicted in the 1880s by William Graham Sumner, a social Darwinist who insisted that Big Business would inexorably devour individual freedom and that there was nothing anybody could do about it. There was no point in progressive era reform “to make the world better.” Workers were inevitably doomed to become cogs in monopolistic industrial machines. As early as 1776, Adam Smith had noted, the progressive tendencies of society towards industrialization. Smith championed the “labor theory of value.” He believed in the moral and material rights of the working people as did Benjamin Franklin before him and Karl Marx after him. But Smith, although sympathetic to the rights of the emergent working class, recognized the difficulty of workers ensuring those rights. He feared that combinations of workers, i.e. labor unions, must always be doomed to failure because, “We have no acts of parliament against combining to lower the price of work, but many against combining to raise it.”
Smith’s statement seemed woefully outdated to anyone looking at the American economy in 1960, when the United Auto Workers was reaching its peak, wages were high, and the population of Detroit was close to 2 million. The collapse of the Detroit economy, and the concurrent withering of the industrial labor movement, make Smith’s observations tragically appropriate. Recent union busting activities of the Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio legislatures, aided by powerful combinations of anti-labor forces, such as the Koch Brothers, Fox Television, and Donald Trump demonstrate that Smith’s grim observations are every bit as valid today as they were 225 years ago. It is the “masters,” not the workers, who make the laws.
The masters not only make the laws, but interpret them as well, sometimes turning progressive laws against their original progressive aims. Sumner observed that progressive laws seemed only to generate endless legal disputes, which ended in court decisions favorable to the bosses, not the workers. As early as the Slaughterhouse Cases of 1873, the 14th amendment was being used by a conservative Supreme Court, not to protect the rights of the emancipated slaves, but as a means of breaking the unions. It was far from the minds of the Justices that trade unions happened, incidentally, to discriminate against black workers; it was very much on their minds that the existence of unions was bothersome to the master class. The Supreme Court came to support an interpretation of the 14th Amendment that treated corporations as persons. In the Case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company (1886). Thus, as historians Tindall and Shi have observed, “the fourteenth amendment became a judicial harbor for laissez faire.”
In Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled as Wikipedia summarizes, that “spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech.” Most recently in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205 (2010), the Supreme Court has ruled that money is the same thing as speech. Thus every political position today reflects the interests of the master class. The Supreme Court has deregulated campaign donations, and state legislatures have crippled the labor unions. Big government no longer balances the interests of big business, and the individual American worker is left to his or her own devices. The historical tendency of the past 35 years is to carry the society in the direction of feudalism, towards an environment of absolute, unregulated “liberty,” in which life will become increasingly “nasty, brutish, and short.”
In the progressive era, a number of wise and temperate members of the elite, most prominently J. P. Morgan, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, recognized the usefulness of a balance between big government and big business, and the necessity of both. They saw that the anarchy of unbridled capitalism was injurious to the interests of the elite. For this reason, they worked to fashion a new commonwealth in which government would place limitations on the greed of shallow-thinking capitalists, but could also be used to protect the feckless mob from its own ignorance.
The progressive tradition seeks to protect the mindless masses from their industrial masters as well as from their commercial masters, the greedy banks, insurance companies. Government is the only instrument that can protect the masses from the free-wheeling robber barons and swaggering exploiters who silently tax them. As George Fitzhugh observed, the man of strong intelligence and unstable morality exerts at tax on every inferior he encounters. In a world without big government, the brilliant and immoral capitalist exists in the natural state of a feudal lord. He is a robber baron in a Hobbesian universe. He desires a state of anarchy in which the ignorant masses suffer under the laissez faire system which they mindlessly praise.
The Democrats, the Republicans, and the Tea Party are tools of the people of superior intelligence and superior economic resources. All men are not created equal. Some are born with more money, more brains, better looks, better social contacts, more powerful families, greater charm. Others achieve positions of power. Obama is among those who have brains enough to rise to the top, due to the intellectual gifts he inherited from his parents. But his rise was impossible without the assistance of elites who were already in power. Thus his vague progressivism, which was doomed from the beginning, is symbolized by his feeble efforts at creating a national health care system.
I was among the first to criticize Obama’s half-stepping approach to health care. In my view, he should have “thrown the Hail Mary Pass,” as soon as he took office, by insisting on Socialized Medicine. If he had done so, the current state of play would have been no worse than it is. In the political cycle, Obama was destined to face disappointment. He should have accepted that fact and taken a firmer stand for the principles that ostensibly drove him in the progressive tradition. Had he done so, the only consequence of Obama’s failure, would have been the right to say, “I tried.”
As it now stands we have a weak health bill that nobody understands, and which is disappointing to most progressives. A series of reforms that will not take effect immediately, and that has a good chance of being overturned, before it can take effect, humble as it is.
Progressive forces in America are scattered and disorganized, just as Adam Smith predicted centuries ago. Some Pan-Africanists and Afrocentrists are more concerned with defending Gaddafi than with defending the public employees unions. White workers are terrified of “big government,” suspicious of “big business,” and completely brainwashed by both. Intellectuals and progressive elites are in complete disarray, and their immediate destiny of weakness and ineffectuality is apparently ineluctable.
American political thought is dominated by the meaningless rhetoric of three parties, all of which stand ultimately for sinking the price of labor, raising the price of education, protecting the insurance companies, rewarding corrupt bankers, inflating the stock market, cutting taxes, devaluing the currency, and bankrupting the United States Treasury.
Dear Tunomukwathi Asino,
Journalists always want rapid responses. The following answers to your questions have been posted at my blog, where I express views on a variety of similar issues.
How long have you lived in Centre County? (if not born here, then What caused you to move here?)
I moved to State College in 1992 to become a Full Professor of History at Penn State University. This is, however, a peculiar question. The chances of a university professor’s finding a job in the city where they were born is just about zero. I don’t know any university professors who work in the city where they were born. I was born in Detroit, and I tried once or twice to get positions at Wayne State University and University of Michigan, but nothing ever came of these efforts.
My first job was at the University of Iowa, and I liked it there, but I was uncertain about my future, so I took a step down and moved to Southern Methodist University in Dallas Texas, where I became the first black member of the history department of that “lily white” institution, and I believe the first black senior faculty member ever. Shortly after arriving at SMU I received a post-doctoral fellowship from the Ford Foundation, which made it possible for me to escape and live in England with my family for two years. I did not find Dallas a congenial social or intellectual environment for my children, and we were all much happier living in Cambridge, England.
From there, I was able to move to Brown University because I had produced two books. Then I went to Boston University, where I continued to publish. During the eighties, I also served as visiting Fulbright Professor at the University of Vienna and Fulbright guest professor at the Free University of Berlin. I improved my German and read 100 books in that language, meanwhile publishing two more books of my own.
What is/was your job?
I am a history professor, with interests in American, African, and European literary history, intellectual history, the history of political thought, the history of art, the history of theology, the history of classical music, Africana Studies, and opera. I decided on my career at the age of 14. I never seriously considered any other career, not even high school teaching or junior college teaching. I always knew I wanted to be a professor at a major research university.
Did you raise children here? (how many)
I raised no children here. My youngest son was 18 when I arrived, and he graduated from State College High School in 1993. He received earlier portions of his education in England, Germany, and Austria and in public and in the private schools of Rhode Island. My older son, who graduated from Yale in 1987, has never lived in Pennsylvania.
In your experience, has life changed for blacks in Centre County over the course if your time here?
I have seen no changes whatever in the status of blacks in Centre County during the 17.5 years I have lived here, but my perspective is extremely limited, due to the fact that my only tie to the community is the University. I have only once been called a “nigger.”
Can you point to key moments or events locally or nationally during your lifetime that had a significant impact on your life?
President Dwight D. Eisenhower had the courage to invoke the United Nations Charter and end de jure segregation in America. President Lyndon Johnson enforced affirmative action. Without their leadership, this country would still be a living hell, dominated by the likes of Senator Strom Thurmond, Republican from South Carolina, the great hypocrite, who seduced a young black girl and secretly had an illegitimate child by her, while preaching segregationist doctrines. Senator Trent Lott was rightly condemned for praising the evil racism practiced by Senator Strom Thurmond.
What is the most surprising thing related to being black that ever happened to you here? (this might be a good thing or a bad thing but follow up if necessary by asking how that turned out or what impact it had on the person)
I have had no surprises. Everything has gone exactly as I expected. I arrived here extremely well-advantaged, and have enjoyed a privileged and atypical life, unknown to most black people anywhere on this planet.
Is there more work to be done in the area of race relations here? If so, in what would you propose specifically?
I do not see any race-specific solutions to the problems of working-class black families, who earn less than $60,000 per year. I call for a national program of industrial revitalization, like the New Deal of the 1930s, which combined capitalism with socialism to improve the lives of white, black and other peoples in the United States. The best possible immediate solution to the problems of the working poor is a rebirth of American industry, but such a development is impossible without firm government support, such as the support that industry receives in China. Only with a rebirth of American industry will it be possible to raise interest rates, raise taxes, and to increase government spending in the public sector, as Franklin D. Roosevelt did. Industrial revitalization would also make it possible to have socialized medicine, with a private option, such as I enjoyed when I lived in England.
A good first step to improving the lives of working people – black, white, and other – would be to fire the fat cat senior executives who have been destroying the private sector, and working the puppet strings of Congress. They are obviously inadept, and have constantly demonstrated their lack of public spirit. Yet they claim that they deserve to be paid higher salaries than a dedicated public servant.
General David Howell Petraeus has a Ph. D. from Princeton, and he earns less than $250,000, although he is exceedingly more competent that most people in the private sector who earn 10 times his salary. The executives in the private sector don’t know anything worhtwhile and they have nothing to offer. They are the cause of our problems. When will the American people understand that the emperor has no clothes? The fat cats corrupt government, and manipulate media to elect officials who do not believe in medicare, social security, paying the national debt, or even supporting the military. These are the same hypocrites who are currently destroying both the private and the public sectors of our economy. The executives at Chase Manhattan and AIG ought to go out and get honest jobs, such as cleaning rooms at Holiday Inn.