Posts Tagged ‘American Revolution’

Dr Gerald Horne on Trump as the Product of the Racist History of the US

September 10, 2017

This is another fascinating video from Telesur English. It’s from an edition of the Empire Files, in which the host, Abby Martin, interviews Dr. Gerald Horne, the chair of History and African American Studies at the University Houston. Dr. Horne is the author of 20 books on slavery and black liberation movements. The blurb for the video on YouTube states that his most recent work is The Counterrevolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States.

The video is just over half an hour long, and it completely overturns the entire myth of the founding of the United States, in which the Founding Fathers were noble idealists, intent on bringing about a truly democratic state in which all men would be free. In fact the opposite was true. The Founding Fathers were either slave-owners, or else otherwise deeply connected to slavery and slave trade through their business interests. Instead of noble liberators for everyone, they were deeply opposed to granting Black Americans their freedom.

Dr. Horne argues that they were the products of British imperialism and its slave trade, which was first introduced into the Caribbean and then shifted north to the English colonies in North America. He traces the history of Black enslavement and anti-Black racist movements from the American Revolution to the American Civil War, and thence to the formation of successive waves of the Klan. His intention is to show that Trump is not an historical aberration, a strange historical throwback on America’s long progress to freedom and liberty, but a product of America’s racist history and the mass support anti-Black movements have enjoyed and exploited throughout it.

The programme begins by explaining the background to the Confederate monuments, which the Unite the Right stormtroopers marched to defend in Charlottesville the week before last. These were not simply memorials to great generals or valiant soldiers, as the myth around them says. Most of the Confederate monuments in the US were erected in two periods – the period of Jim Crow in the 1920s and ’30s, when the segregation laws were being introduced, and the 1950s when the Civil Rights movement was beginning. They were set up to convey a very specific message: that while Black Americans were technically free, the ‘Negro’ had better know his place beneath the White man. Or else.

He then goes on to describe the emergence of slavery in the US. He states that Britain at the end of the 16th century was ‘a failed state’. The British Civil War of the 1640s between Charles I and parliament was a quasi-bourgeois revolution, which gave some rights to the British merchant and middle classes. The real bourgeois revolution was the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which allowed the middle classes to exert more political control, and allowed British merchants to wrest control of the slave trade away from the Crown as a royal monopoly.

The most important part of the British empire in the New World at the time was the Caribbean, and particularly Jamaica. These colonies became immensely profitable due to sugar. However, in the 1720s there was an economic crisis in Caribbean slavery, so some of the major Caribbean slaveowners moved north, to Carolina and other parts of the US. It was from these slave-owning families that the Founding Fathers were descended.

Horne also briefly discusses the role north American slavery played in the definition of White identity. Back in Europe, the different European peoples saw themselves as members of separate nations – English, Irish, Scots, French, Germans and so on. it was only when they crossed the Atlantic to America that they created an overarching racial identity to differentiate them from their Black slaves.

Horne then goes on to argue that the major catalyst for the American Revolution was the American colonists’ frustration at the British governments attempts to limit slavery and stop further colonial expansion beyond the Alleghenies. One of the critical moments in this was the Somerset Case, which ruled that slavery was illegal in England. The ruling was expanded to Scotland a year later. The taxes against which the Boston Tea Party was staged included those levied on slaves. They had been imposed by the British government as a deliberate anti-slavery measure. The British government was also tired of expending men and treasure in the various wars against the continent’s indigenous peoples. This angered the colonists, who longed to expand and seize native American land to the west. One of those, who stood to make a profit from this, was George Washington, who was a land speculator. As indeed, in a curious historical parallel, is Donald Trump. The Founding Fathers also feared and hated Black Americans, because the British had given their freedom to all Black Americans, who remained loyal. As a result, the Black Americans were solidly behind the British against the emerging independence movement.

Dr. Horne then goes on to talk about the American Civil War, and Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves held by the Southern states. Horne points out that it was felt at the time that Lincoln had somehow broken the rules of war, and done the unthinkable by arming the slaves. As for Lincoln himself, he didn’t have much sympathy with them, and was considering deporting them after the end of the war. Horne goes on to discuss how the deportation of Americans of African descent continued to be discussed and planned at various periods in American history afterwards. It was yet again discussed in the 1920s, when there was a movement to deport them back to Africa.

After the ending of slavery in American following the defeat of the South, many of the American slave-owners and traders fled abroad, to continue their business overseas. Several went to South America, including Brazil, while others went to Cuba.

After the Civil War came the period of reconstruction, and the foundation of the Ku Klux Klan in the late 19th century. Horne also talks about the lynching movement during this period of American history, which continued into the early 20th centuries. Not only were these intended to terrorise Black Americans to keep them in their place, but at the time they also were also almost like picnics. Photographs were taken and sold of them, and White spectators and participants would cut the fingers off the body and keep them as souvenirs. Dr. Horne remarks that, sadly, some White homes still have these digits even today.

He also talks about the massive influence D.W. Griffith’s viciously racist Birth of a Nation had on the Klan, boosting its membership. Klan groups began to proliferate. In Michigan, one branch of the Klan concentrated on fighting and breaking trade unions. Later, in the 1950s, the Klan entered another period of resurgence as a backlash against the Civil Rights campaign.

Horne makes the point that in this period, the Klan was by no means a marginal organization. It had a membership in the millions, including highly influential people in several states. And the Klan and similar racist organisations were not just popular in the South. The various pro-slavery and anti-Black movements also had their supporters in the North since the time of the Civil War. He also argues that the campaign against segregation was extremely long, and there was considerable resistance to Black Americans being given equality with Whites.

He also states that one of the influences behind the emergence of the Alt-Right and the revival of these latest Fascist and White supremacist movements was the election of Barak Obama as the first Black president of the US. Obama was subject to rumours that he was really Kenyan, with the whole ‘birther’ conspiracy theories about his passport, because he was Black, and so couldn’t be a proper American. And it is this bitter hostility to Obama, and the perceived threat to White America which he represents, that has produced Trump.

Watching this video, I was reminded of Frederick Douglas’ great speech, What To the Slave is the Fourth of July? Douglas was a former slave and a major voice for abolition in America. His speech noted how hollow the rhetoric about the Founding Fathers protecting Americans from slavery under the British, when they themselves remained slaves in reality.

He’s right about the rule of the sugar economy in saving the British colonies in the Caribbean, though from my own reading about slavery in the British Empire, what saved these colonies first was tobacco. It was the first cash crop, which could easily be grown there.

The role opposition to the British government’s refusal to allow further colonial expansion in provoking the American Revolution has also been discussed by a number of historians. One book I read stated that British colonial governors were encouraged to intermarry with the indigenous peoples. Thus, one of the governors on the British side actually had cousins amongst one of the Amerindian nations. The same book also described how the British granted their freedom to Black loyalists. After their defeat, the British took them to Canada. Unfortunately, racism and the bleak climate led them to being deported yet again to Sierra Leone. There were also Black loyalists settled in the British Caribbean colonies. One report on the state of colony instituted by its new governor in the early 19th century reported that the former Black squaddies were settled in several towns, governed by their own N.C.O.s under military discipline. These Black Americans were orderly and peaceful, according to the report.

As for the former American slave traders, who emigrated to Latin America, this is confirmed by the presence of one of the witnesses, who appeared before the British parliament in the 1840s, Jose Estebano Cliffe, who was indeed one of the émigré merchants.

Cenk Uygur and The Young Turks have also described the horrors of the lynchings in the Deep South, including the picnic, celebratory aspect to these atrocities. They made the point that if news reports today said that similar lynchings had been carried out by Arabs in the Middle East, Americans would vilify them as savages. But that attitude doesn’t extend to those savages in the US, who carried out these atrocities against Blacks.

It’s worth mentioning here that Blacks weren’t the only victims of lynching. Tariq Ali in an interview in the book Confronting the New Conservatism about the Neocons states that in Louisiana in the 1920, more Italians were lynched than Blacks.

The video’s also worth watching for some of the images illustrating Dr. Horne’s narrative. These include not only paintings, but also contemporary photograph. Several of these are of the slaves themselves, and there is a fascinating picture of a group of Black squaddies in uniform from the Civil War. I found this particularly interesting, as the photographer had captured the character of the soldiers, who had different expressions on their faces. Some appear cheerful, others more suspicious and pessimistic.

There’s also a very chilling photograph of people at a lynching, and it’s exactly as Dr. Horne says. The picture shows people sat on the grass, having a picnic, while a body hangs from a tree in the background. This is so monstrous, it’s almost incredible – that people should calmly use the murder of another human being as the occasion of a nice day out.

This is the history the Republican Party and the Libertarians very definitely do not want people to read about. Indeed, I put up a piece a little while ago at a report on one of the progressive left-wing news programmes on YouTube that Arizona was deliberately suppressing materials about racism, slavery and segregation in its schools, and making students read the speeches of Ronald Reagan instead. As for the removal of Confederate monuments, right-wing blowhard and sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly, formerly of Fox News, has already started making jokes about how ‘they’ want to take down statues of George Washington. Nobody does, and the joke shows how little O’Reilly really understands, let alone cares about the proper historical background behind them. I’ve no doubt that Dr. Horne’s interpretation of history would be considered by some an extreme view, but it is grounded in very accurate historical scholarship. Which makes it an important counterbalance to the lies that the Republicans and Libertarians want people to believe about the country and its history.

The Young Turks On Obama’s Refusal to Allow Americans to Sue Saudis for 9/11

April 25, 2016

This is another video that shows the essentially Conservative attitudes held by Barack Obama. In this case, they’re his concern to protect the American empire by not allowing its citizens to sue Saudi Arabia for its role in aiding the 9/11 terrorists. The Young Turks’ John Iadarola and Wes Clarke, and Elliot Hill of the Lip TV, here discuss Obama’s comments to an interviewer about a bill that was passed by Congress earlier this year, that would allow the families of the victims of 9/11 to sue the Saudi government. Obama is not in favour of it, because it would also allow foreign nationals to sue America for what it’s doing around the world, as ‘we are up in everyone’s business’. Allowing foreign nations to sue America for its military actions would put American officials and servicemen at risk.

Elliot Hill points out that while there can be no compensation that can make adequate restitution for someone’s life, this is all about the 28 pages that have been redacted out of the original report in 9/11. Despite the fact that they’ve been suppressed, their release isn’t really necessary as it’s known that this material relates to Saudi Arabia. One of the 9/11 terrorists, who did not hijack the planes, possessed a flying certificate that was found wrapped in an envelope from the Saudi embassy. This shows that the Saudis had a role in aiding 9/11. Perhaps it didn’t go all the way to the very top, but certainly very important members of the government and ruling royal family were involved. In this sense, allowing the families of the 3,000 victims to sue would be good as it force the truth to come out.

Wes Clarke makes the point that the victims of American foreign policy over the past thirty or forty years should have the right to sue. Like the victims of the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile, the hundreds of thousands that have been killed in the illegal war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now the families of the people America is killing illegally through drone strikes in Syria and the Yemen. Americans would not tolerate such drone strikes on their country, and so should not be doing it to others. He also makes the case that America was originally a revolutionary country, not an imperial power. That has changed, and America is now an empire, which is not supported by the majority of its people.

The panel also make the point that publication of the redacted part of the 9/11 report is important, because Bush and the other pro-War politicos have played on the ignorance of American citizens over the true causes of 9/11 to justify their wars. And they’re still doing it, by pushing an American invasion of Iraq. The panel also make the point that the disclosure of Saudi Arabia’s role in assisting the 9/11 terrorists would be explosive. It would blow apart America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. Wes Clarke asserts that as they’re a ‘religious nut-job’ state with an appalling human rights record, America has no business supporting them anyway. The panel also make the case that the Saudis could threaten to wreck the American economy by withdrawing $760 billion of investment, but ultimately the Saudis need America far more than America needs them. Who else is going to sell them the arms equipment they need, or the ability to maintain and service them?

The panel does argue about the effect such disclosure would have on American foreign policy. They note that since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, America has not had a foreign policy. Everything’s been reactive. Elliot Hill makes the point that severing the link with Saudi Arabia would leave American foreign policy rudderless in the Middle East, as they are America’s one ally. Clarke makes a point questioning why America needs to be tied to one country.

Understanding Trump’s American Fascism

March 21, 2016

Okay, I’ve tried for about a week not writing about Donald Trump. I know some of you feel that I’ve given too much attention to this moron, and that this country has enough on its plate with the thugs who are in power over here. Including the one that left office late Thursday evening, the fall-out of which is still continuing. The problem is, Trump’s too big, too slow moving and the parallels with real Fascism too glaringly overt. You can compile a list of all the elements in Fascism, which are present in Trump’s campaign or the general background of right-wing anxiety and hysteria, which has contributed to it.

And if Trump gains power, he will be a problem over here. Not just personally, in that his decisions on the economy and policies of the world’s only surviving superpower will have direct consequences for Britain and the rest of the world, but also in the malign political influence his election over there will have on domestic politics. Events in America and elsewhere in the world have a legitimising effect on similar developments over here. Blair and the New Labour clique took their queue from Bill Clinton and his New Democrats. These aren’t to be compared to the Canadian New Democrat party, which is the Canadian equivalent of the Labour party. Clinton’s ‘New Democrats’ were a revision of the Democrat party, which took over much of the ideology of Reagan’s Republicans, especially financial deregulation, curbs on welfare spending and workfare. Clinton was almost certainly better than the alternative, but nevertheless he continued Reagan’s squalid political legacy. And over here, Blair copied him, introducing workfare, and pursuing Thatcher’s policies of deregulating the economy, including the financial sector, and cutting down on welfare spending. And then you can go further back, to the 1920s and ’30s, when Fascist parties sprang up all over Europe in imitation of Mussolini’s squadristi and later the Nazis in Germany. The British Union of Fascists was just one of them. They also included such groups and political cults in this country as the British Fascisti – actually extreme Right-wing Tories and Arnold Leese’s The Britons. If, heaven help us, Trump ever gets into power, his occupation of the White House will mean that European politicians will start aping him. Which means more racism, more misogyny, further restrictions on personal freedom, and domestic politics marked and supported by brutality and violence. So, here’s a bit on Trump’s ideological precursors and the similarity of his campaign to Fascist and proto-Fascist movements.

As I said, you can make a list out of the similarities between Trump’s campaign and personal style of politics, and those of real Fascists. Let’s begin with

Violence

Trump’s campaigns have been marked by his supporters striking and beating protestors. Trump himself has stood on his platform fondly looking back on the old days when those who dared to disrupt political campaigns like his would be taken out on stretchers. He’s even offered to pay his supporters’ legal fees if they assault someone. And at the weekend his scheduled rally in Chicago descended into a near riot when Trump cancelled and refused to show up.

One liberal female newsreader commenting on the violence at Trump’s rallies said that when she was growing up in California in the 1980s, you never saw it except on the extreme right-wing fringe, at was barely politics – Skinhead concerts. Marinetti in his Founding and Manifesto of Futurism, an avant-garde artistic movement that became briefly aligned with Fascism, declared

We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure and by riot; we will sing of the multi-coloured polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals.

Georges Sorel, a revolutionary Syndicalist, who later became involved with extreme right-wing French royalist and anti-Semitic movements, proclaimed in his Reflexions sur la Violence that it was only in violent revolution that men were truly free, and were able to make a new man inside themselves. He was published by a French artistic group, the Compagnons de l’Action d’Art, who declared ‘Long live violence against all that makes life ugly’.

Marinetti went on to further declare ‘We today separate the idea of the Fatherland from that of reactionary, clerical Monarchy. We unite the idea of Fatherland with that of daring Progress and of anti-police revolutionary democracy’.

It could almost describe exactly Trump’s ideological background. Much of extreme right-wing politics in America is predicated on a profound opposition to monarchy dating from the Revolution. You can see it in such extremist political movements as Lyndon LaRouche’s ‘Democrats’ back in the late 1980s and 1990s, who believed that the Queen and the Vatican were locked in a deadly covert battle for world domination, with Her Maj running the world’s drug trade from the back of Buck House. Alex Jones’ Infowars internet set has been heavily backing Trump as ‘the only anti-globalist candidate’. He’s also paranoid about the British monarchy. There’s a hilarious segment on his show where he talks about Britain’s secret police picking up anybody who failed to show due respect to Brenda during some royal occasion a few years ago. He roundly declared that ‘they (the British) have no freedom’.

Well, I must have been out when that happened. I don’t doubt that the rozzers did pick up a few troublemakers back then. But that last time I looked, you were still free in this country to say what you liked about the Royal Family. A few years ago the Queen turned up in my home town of Bristol to present the Maundy Money at a ceremony in the city’s cathedral. Apart from those due to receive it, and the crowd of royalists and general rubberneckers, there was a demonstration from MAM – the Movement Against the Monarchy. A lot of the pensioners and other members of the public were annoyed at their demonstration, but I don’t recall there being mass arrests.

Trump also retweeted one of Mussolini’s sayings ‘It is better to live one day as a lion that one hundred years as a sheep.’ Trump said he just liked it because it’s a good quote. And so it is. What makes it suspicious is that it comes from Musso, who advocated a similar cult of violence. When he was still a revolutionary Socialist, the future Duce wrote an essay on Nietzsche, published in the magazine La Voce. He announced

We must envisage a new race of “free spirits”, strengthened in war, in solitude, in great danger … spirits endowed with a kind of sublime perversity, Spirits which liberate us from the love of our neighbour.

Misogyny

Trump has an extremely reactionary attitude towards women. When a female journalist at Fox News dared to ask him a difficult question, he sneering responded that she did so ‘because she was bleeding’. This too, is par for the course for the Fascist Weltanschauung. ‘We advocate scorn for women’, declared the Futurists, who celebrated ‘youth, speed, virility.’ This later became ‘Youth, Speed, Violence’, as women joined the movement. This was coupled to the cult of the charismatic leader. Adolf Hitler said, ‘the masses are like women. They want a strong man to lead them.’ Il Duce in Italy was also opposed to women skiing, riding or cycling, as this was supposed to make them infertile and prevent them from their ‘natural and fundamental mission in life’, of having babies.

On this matter, the general attitude of the Republican party and the American Right is very similar to that of Mussolini’s Italy. Musso was also worried about the declining Italian birth rate. In 1927 he made a speech stating that he aimed to increase the Italian population from 40 million to 60 million over the next 25 years. Contraception and abortion were both banned. In Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany women’s role was defined as very traditional and domestic. Instead of going out to work, they were to stay at home and raise families.

The Republican party and the Right today is similarly worried about the fall in the birth rate of the White race, and there are websites and discussions on Right-wing internet sites devoted to the demographic decline of the West. The American religious Right is also strongly opposed to abortion and there is similar opposition to women taking up positions of economic or political leadership. I can remember way back in the 1990s one Republican pastor hysterically declaring that Hillary Clinton was ‘the type of woman who leaves her husband, turns to lesbianism, practices witchcraft and sacrifices her children.’ There, and I thought that she was just a bog-standard, rather boring corporate type. Who could have guessed she led such an exciting, subversive life?

But this leads on to and is part of another feature of the Fascist Weltanschauung, that is also part and parcel of the GOP worldview:

The Decline of the West

Italian Fascism and Nazism also grew out of the 19th century feeling that Europe was threatened by decadence, and racial and cultural degeneration. It was threatened by democracy, organised labour, feminism, all of which were making Europe enfeebled. Hans Nordung described this supposed decline in his book, Degeneration, as did Oswald Spengler in his The Decline of the West. It’s an attitude that similarly pervades the Right today, alarmed by the challenge posed by militant Islam, the rise of China as a world power, and mass immigration from the Developing World. Various Republican and Right-wing leaders today in America scream about the threat of Socialism, by which they mean any kind of collectivism or state intervention, as well as feminism, which is also held to weaken America. Mussolini declared at one time that he supported women’s demands for the vote in England, as one women became politically enfranchised they would spread pacifism, leading to Britain’s decline as an imperial world power.

Exceptionalism

Right-wing American politics still has the belief that America is different from and superior to all other nations. It’s more moral, and hence America demands the absolute right not to be bound by the international treaties and conventions it imposes on others. Kyle Kulinski over at Secular Talk commented on the outrage that would occur if, say, one of the Muslim countries launched drone attacks on known White supremacists in America. Drone attacks on Muslim terrorists in countries like Yemen, with whom America is not actually at war, is nevertheless perfectly acceptable. And way back under Clinton, the Americans were keen to set up the International War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, and that the other nations around the world should sign the treaties binding them to it and outlawing such crimes. Except for America. It was felt that America did not need to be so bound, and indeed that this would only be an impediment to the ability of the Land of the Free to export that freedom around the globe.

The Italian nationalist poet, Gabriele D’Annunzio, whose own later excursion to Fiume set up all the political institutions that were taken over into Musso’s Fascist Italy, made the same claim for Italy and her imperialist adventures in Africa. In his ‘Augural Song for the Chosen Nation’ he proclaimed

So you will yet behold the Latin Sea
covered
with massacres in your war … Italy, Italy
sacred to the new dawn
with the plough and the prow.

Racism

Fascism is, for most people, synonymous with racism. In this, Italian Fascism was originally rather different from Nazism. The Italian Fascists, while extremely nationalistic, weren’t originally racists. About 80 per cent of Italy’s Jews managed to survive the War, because many Jews had been extremely patriotic and supported the new Italian state which had been brought into being by Mazzini and the other Italian revolutionaries in the 19th century. A number of them had joined the Fascist movement. One of the leading Italian generals, Ovato, was Jewish, and he was buried with military honours and a headstone ‘For Family, Faith and Fatherland’ at the same time his compatriots elsewhere in Italy were being rounded up and butchered. The Nazis were bitterly anti-Semitic, as is notorious, and took over the scientific racism that originated in the 19th century with Count Gobineau in France, amongst others. Apart from Jews, the Nazis also hated Gypsies and Slavs, as well as non-Whites. Once in power, they organised a campaign to sterilise the mixed-race children of German women and Black American soldiers, who had been part of the army of occupation after the First World War. Mussolini also passed a series of anti-Semitic legislation in imitation of Hitler’s.

Although not initially racist, they also sterilised and butchered the indigenous African peoples in the parts of Africa they conquered. Their nationalism also led them to launch campaigns to force Italian language and culture on the other ethnicities that found themselves within Italy’s borders, like ethnic Germans and Slavs.

Trump’s popular because he has announced that he will build a wall to prevent further immigration from Mexico. At rallies his supporters have also racially abused Black and Muslim protestors. The Young Turks interviewed a group of three young guys protesting against Trump at a rally in West Chester, Ohio. One of them was a substitute teacher. He was worried by White pupils on schools in which he taught coming in, and saying to their Black and Asian classmates that ‘once Trump gets in, you’ll be deported.’ There have also been instances of racist abuse at College sports events. In one instance, the supporters of a basketball team from an all-White area chanted ‘Trump, Trump, Trump!’ when playing a mixed-raced team from a much more ethnically diverse part of the same state. Among his supporters Trump has attracted various card-carrying Nazis and White supremacists. He’s even been endorsed by the Klan. There has also been a recent documentary in America by PBS television, which covered the way one southern family had been brought together by Trump. Many of them had not voted for decades, and the family had been divided between Republican and Democrat supporters. But they had all been brought together by Trump. This was fine, until you saw the tattoos on the wife’s arms. These included the type of Celtic cross used by the Neo-Nazi right, and the numbers 88, which in Nazi circles stand for Heil Hitler.

Trump has also announced that he wishes to place a ban on Muslims entering America. Those Muslims permitted to remain will have to carry badges and identity documents. These has naturally alarmed Jewish and civil rights groups, who have noted the obvious parallels with the treatment of Jews in the Third Reich in the years preceding the Holocaust. Mussolini too was an opponent of Islam. In the 1920s he prevented a mosque from opening in Rome.

Militarism

Trump’s actually ambiguous on this. Both the Nazis and the Italian Fascists had at their core radicalised, extremely nationalistic corps of ex-servicemen from the First World War. These former the Brownshirts of the SA in the Nazi party, and the Blackshirts, the squadristi and arditi, the latter elite Italian soldiers in Mussolini’s Fascists. The American Right has also thrown up in past decades various paramilitary movements. The survivalists stockpiling food and guns for the end of the world in the 1980s were succeeded by the Militia movement, who were similarly arming themselves for an invasion. Amongst the loonier theories was the idea that the Russians had left secret tank battalions in Mexico and Canada, ready to roll into the American heartland. A few days ago after one rally, one group appeared on the Net declaring themselves willing to serve as the ‘Trump militia’, working as bodyguards. They called themselves the Lion Militia, and debated online which uniform to wear. One was a lion costume, the other was that of the Brownshirts. I’m fairly certainly these were jokes, but nevertheless, there is something more seriously Fascistic underneath.

On foreign policy, Trump has been vague, issuing blatantly contradictory statements about his intentions in the war in the Middle East. At times he’s said that America should keep out of it, and leave it to Putin to sort out. At other times he’s announced that he intends to go in much harder than the previous presidents, killing not only the terrorists themselves, but also their families. He has also stated that he’s in favour using torture, ‘even if it doesn’t work’.

Mussolini similarly had a contradictory attitude to war. His regime was always strongly militaristic. He demanded that Italians should live in a permanent state of war. He wanted an army of five million men with a forest of bayonets, an air force so vast it would blot out the sun and a navy that other nations would fear as a threat to their security. And yet he also saw himself as a great peacemaker, and was genuinely affronted that he did not win the Nobel Peace Prize for the Locarno Settlement.

Historians of the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe noted that they generally arose in countries, where the military was accorded a very high respect, and which had been united through military action. This included Germany, which was united through Bismarck’s conquests of the individual German states, and Cavour and Garibaldi, who did the same in Italy. It also applies to America, which was created through violent revolution and expanded westwards through military conquest.

The Activist Style of Politics

Conservative critics of Fascism have suggested that Fascism owes its basis partly to the development of the activist style of politics, which arose with liberalism and democracy. Before the French Revolution, politics had been strictly confined to the governing elites. After the French Revolution, all citizens were required to be politically involved. This expansion of direct political activism also involved the definition of those who were outside the new nations. In the case of the French Revolution, this was the aristocracy. In the case of Fascism, it revised the activist style so that those outside the new national community were the regime’s political opponents and ethnic minorities.

America was one of the world’s first modern democracies. It emerged from a Revolution against British government and perceived tyranny. That liberal tradition of democratic political activism is also revised on the American extreme Right. Trump’s backed by Alex Jones’, the motto of whose Infowars internet programme is ‘1776 Worldwide’. Jones, Trump and the other right-wing demagogues believe that democracy is under threat, and can only be defended through strong and sustained action against powerful internal and external threats.

Conspiracies

The Nazi Right has always been characterised by bizarre conspiracy theories. In the case of the Nazis in Germany and their successors, these were anti-Semitic theories, some derived from the infamous Tsarist forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Nazis believed that Germany and the West was under attack from a Jewish conspiracy linking financial capital to the Communists. Germany had not been defeated in the First World War, but had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by the Jews. These stupid and vile theories have continued on the Nazi fringe. In the 1990s various members of the American Nazi fringe and Militia movement, like Timothy McVeigh, believed that their government was secretly ruled by ZOG – the Zionist Occupation Government, dedicated to exterminating the White race through racial mixing. There have also been all manner of bizarre conspiracies about the Bilderberg Group and Trilateral Commission. Jones, Trump’s supporter, is one of those who believes in these, though I think he’s Jewish. Whatever his religious background, he’s very definitely not anti-Semitic. Nevertheless, he is part of the same conspiracy fringe. These have reached bizarre extremes. Jones and his predecessors, for example, believe that the FEMA legislation passed in the 1990s is in preparation for an act of emergency, which will see Christians and other political opponents rounded up by the regime and placed in concentration camps. 20 years ago, back in the 1990s, the coloured dots on road signs in Philadelphia which marked when they were painted so that the highways authorities knew when to give them their next lick of paint were also the subject of a bizarre rumour. Those dots were supposed to show the location of the secret concentration camps which were going to be set up.

Contempt for Parliamentary Democracy

Both Nazism and Fascism were motivated by opposition to liberal, parliamentary documentary. The Nazis overthrew German democracy through a series of emergency decrees following the Reichstag fire. Mussolini led his Fascists on a March on Rome. Trump has similarly said that there will be riots if his opponents in the Republican party conspire to deprive him of the nomination to be the candidate for the presidency in a brokered convention. In the 1990s there was briefly a call for the Militias to march on Washington, though this was turned down as some of their members feared that it was an attempt to provoke them so that they could be banned by the government. More recently there has been a march in Washington held by the militant supporters of gun rights, though they did not attempt to overthrow the government.

Elitism

Both the Nazis and Italian Fascists believed that only elites had the right to rule, taken from writers like Ortega y Gasset and Vilfredo Pareto in the case of the Fascists. For the Nazis, this was based in Social Darwinism. Businessmen, provided they were Aryans, had the right to enjoy their prominent social positions and economic leadership because they had shown their superior talent and genetic worth through competition in the world of business. It’s an attitude that can still be found in the mainstream Right, both in America and Britain. Trump is the most outspoken in his embrace of this attitude. A businessman from an extremely wealthy family, he has made sneering reference to the poor, and how those from poor families should not have the right to rule because their family background shows that they don’t have the necessary biological inheritance to have made their way to the top earlier. And he has absolute contempt for the poor.

Charismatic Leadership

At the heart of Fascism was the cult of the strong, charismatic leader, whose unique qualities made him supremely fitted to govern. They alone possessed the ability to govern according to the popular will, even if the people themselves didn’t know it was. Furthermore, as men of exceptional ability operating in times of crisis, they were not bound by the judicial constraints placed on others. Carl Schmidt, a jurist, who worked briefly for the Nazis before falling out with them, established this principle in his piece, ‘The Fuehrer Protects Justice’, defending Hitler’s action in the mass killing of the SA by the SS in the Night of the Long Knives. Trump has not gone so far as to advocate the mass killing of his political opponents. But he has made it very clear that his supporters will use force if his claim to power is denied, and that he will revise the laws to permit torture. And at the core of his appeal is his claim to be able to provide America with strong leadership. And that’s always been synonymous with authoritarian rule.

Conclusion: Trump’s Political Inheritance of American Fascism

From this it’s clear that Trump is not an isolated phenomenon. He’s the culmination of a growing sense of threat and militaristic political movements that have been growing since the 1980s. Many of these qualities – the xenophobia, anti-Feminism and hatred of organised labour is actually fairly commonplace and characteristic of right-wing politics in America. But with Trump they’ve became particularly extreme. Some of this is a reaction to Barack Obama’s presidency. The presence of a Black man in the White House, whose background is Islamic though he himself isn’t, has created a profound alienation amongst the more hysterical elements in the Republican party. He’s been denounced as a secret Muslim, Nazi and Communist. In the case of the latter, it’s because of Obamacare, which was in origin a Republican idea. But it’s held to be too close to socialised medicine, and thus to Nazism and Communism. Because both are varieties of Socialism. Or at least, they are to right-wing pundits like Jonah Goldberg.

And the result has been the rise of Donald Trump.

Now I don’t think that once in power, Trump will overthrow democracy, force all Americans into uniform and start opening extermination camps. I do think, however, that American will become a much more intolerant place, and that Muslims and illegal immigrants will stand a far greater chance of losing any kind of political rights. And I can certainly see him interning Muslims, or at least some of them, like the Japanese, Germans and Italians were also interned as enemy aliens in the Second World War.

But his presidency will be a nightmare, and it will weaken democracy and genuinely liberal institutions in the Land of the Free. And that will be a disaster in a world where the forces of Right authoritarianism is growing.

Farage to Speak at American Republican Convention

February 18, 2015

This is another piece from the Torygraph, though this time not about the corruption of their contents in order to please their advertisers. I found it through the SlatUKIP Facebook page. Entitled, Nigel Farage to join Sarah Palin at CPAC conference for US conservatives it reports that the Fuhrage is due to speak next week at the CPAC Conference next week. This is an annual conference held by the rabidly right wing of the Republican party. Evangelical Christian groups have in the past attended it, and handed out plastic foetuses to those attending to mark their opposition to abortion. The Conference is used as an opportunity for aspiring Republican candidates to meet and gather support in the rest of the party.

Other politicos attending the conference will be Sarah Palin and Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association. Alongside the religious activists are members of the Tea Party, who sometimes dress up in the costume of the American Revolutionaries of 1776.

Amusingly, given the vicious hatred of homosexuality by many in the Duce’s party, the conference is going to be held at the Gaylord Centre.

The Torygraph’s article begins

Nigel Farage will speak alongside Sarah Palin and some of America’s most extreme Right-wing conservatives at a conference in Washington next week.

The Ukip leader will share a stage with a host of gun activists, Tea Party leaders and anti-abortion campaigners at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Visitors to the summit are sometimes handed plastic fetuses by Evangelical Christian activists as a symbol of their opposition to abortion, while some Tea Party supporters walk the halls in uniforms from the 18th-century American Revolutionary War.

Mr Farage’s string of election wins has intrigued some on the American Right and his address at the Gaylord centre is expected to be met with interest by Republicans.

Of his connections to the American Republicans, Farage says:

“There are parts of the American Conservative movement that I get on well with and other parts not so well with.

“We have learned quite a lot from some of them in terms of campaigning techniques, many of which we put into use in Rochester.

“Some of the very hard-line religious stuff is not where I’m going with politics and I often find myself disagreeing about interventionist foreign policies.”

The article’s at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/nigel-farage/11416352/Nigel-Farage-to-join-Sarah-Palin-at-CPAC-conference-for-US-conservatives.html

Go and read it before one of their advertisers complains and it gets taken down.

I really am not remotely surprised that Farage is due to speak at the Republican Convention. Farage’s links to the Republican extreme right have already been extensively reported. A number of other bloggers have posted the piccie of the Mussolini of the reactionary middle grinning with they major Republican gargoyles, who would like the British government to end the welfare state completely and sell off the NHS to their profit. This is yet more proof that Farage is a danger to the poor, sick and disabled on both sides of the Atlantic.

With friends like these, he is definitely no friend of the working class, no matter what angry Kippers have posted on their vlogs.

He will betray you, and destroy everything that makes our country great.

Don’t give him your vote.

Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The Agitator

May 22, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

Over the past few days I’ve been posting the sheet music to various radical folk tunes and songs as examples of the long tradition of working class radical popular music and poetry. On Tuesday I posted the music from Robin Williamson’s collection of British fiddle tunes for ‘The Rights of Man’ hornpipe, celebrating the work of the 18th century American revolutionary, Tom Paine, who was born in Thetford. Yesterday I put up ‘The New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory’, from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England, which I assume attacked the establishment of the workhouses in 1832 by the new Liberal government. Today it’s the turn of ‘The Agitator’, again from Palmer’s book. As with yesterday’s tune, I’m afraid I didn’t note the words at the time. The title suggests it comes from the early 19th century during the period of intense Chartist agitation, when working men campaigned for the extension of the franchise to all men over 21 and the reform of parliament so that working men could enter it. There were two aspects to the campaign. One consisted of peaceful meetings and the compilation of petitions to parliament. Much less peaceful were the ‘physical force’ Chartists, who saw revolution as the only solution to the problem of creating democracy in England. Here’s the tune.

Agitator Tune

As with the ‘New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory’, this issue is still very relevant today. There is still a problem with the under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in parliament. Despite the introduction of equal suffrage and the payment of MPs, parliament is still dominated by the upper and middle classes, who have increasingly turned away from working class and very much legislate in their own interests. The aristocratic background of Cameron and Clegg, and the cabinet they lead is very much an example of this. Parliament needs to be reformed and made more representative of the working class. Now.

Radical Balladry and Prose for Proles: Tom Paine on the Evils of Aristocratic Rule

May 20, 2014

Common Sense Cover

One of the pieces collected by Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove in their anthology of democratic, republican, Socialist and radical texts, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport, is an excerpt from Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. Paine was a committed democrat and revolutionary. He was born in Thetford, and made his living from making ladies’ stays, before emigrating to Pennsylvania in 1774. IN 1776 he published Common Sense, attacking British rule in America and demanding a revolutionary, republican government. He became a firm supporter of the French Revolution when it broke out, writing the Rights of Man in 1791 to answer the criticisms of the Revolution made by Edmund Burke in his Reflections of the Revolution in France. He was arrested and imprisoned as a suspected counter-revolutionary for arguing against the execution of the king. He was eventually released, and moved back to Britain.

Rickman, Paine’s friend, described him in 1819 was

In dress and person very cleanly. He wore his hair cued with side curls and powder like a French gentleman of the old school. His eye was full brilliant and piercing and carried in it the muse of fire.

The Rights of Man is the first complete statement of republican political ideas. In the passage included by Firth and Arnove, Paine argues against aristocratic rule and a House of Lords:

Title are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title. The thing is perfectly harmless in itself, but it marks a sort of foppery in the human character which degrades it…

Hitherto we have considered aristocracy chiefly in one point of view. We have now to consider it in another. But whether we view it before or behind, or sideways, or anyway else, domestically or publicly, it is still a monster.

In France, aristocracy had one feature less in its countenance than what it has in some other countries. It did not compose a body of hereditary legislators. it was not ‘a corporation of aristocracy’, for such I have heard M. de la Fayette describe an English house of peers. Let us then examine the grounds upon which the French constitution has resolved against having such a house in France.

Because, in the first place, as is already mentioned, aristocracy is kept up by family tyranny and injustice.

2nd, Because there is an unnatural unfitness in an aristocracy to be legislators for a nation. Their ideas of distributive justice are corrupted at the very source. The begin life trampling on all their younger brothers and sisters, and relations of every kind, and are taught and educated to do so. With what ideas of justice or honor can that man enter a house of legislation, who absorbs in his own person the inheritance of a whole family of children, or metes out some pitiful portion with the insolence of a gift?

3rd, Because the idea of hereditary legislators is as inconsistent as that of hereditary judges, or hereditary juries; and as absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man; and as ridiculous as an hereditary poet-laureate.

4th, Because a body of men, holding themselves accountable to nobody, o8ught not to be trusted by anybody.

5th, Because it is continuing the uncivilized principle of governments founded in conquest, and the base idea of man having property in man, and governing him by personal right.

6th, Because aristocracy has a tendency to degenerate the human species.

(Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2012) 108-9.)

More than 200,000 copies of the Rights of Man were sold in England, and Paine denounced by the authorities. The book was banned and its printer arrested. Nevertheless, the book continued to circulate underground, especially in Ireland and Scotland. It even inspired a hornpipe tune, a Scots version of which was included by Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band, in his collection of folk melodies, English, Welsh, Scottish & Irish Fiddle Tunes (New York: Oak Publications 1976). Here it is:

Tom Paine Hornpipe

Paine’s arguments are clear very relevant today, when reform of the House of Lords is very much on the political agenda following Tony Blair, and with a cabinet of Tory and Tory Democrat aristos, like David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne, and Iain Duncan Smith, who have no knowledge of and absolutely no sympathy for ordinary people. They seem to see us very much as their ancestors did: as proles, peasants and ‘rude mechanicals’, to be exploited, whilst government should be very firmly held in the hands of an aristocratic elite.

An edition of Paine’s Common Sense, edited and with an introduction by Isaac Kramnick, was published by Penguin Books in 1976.

Kropotkin on the Potential of Communal Agriculture

February 13, 2014

Kropotkin Conquest Bread

Amnesiaclinic posted this comment, pointing to the development of co-operative gardens in America, on my post about Workfare Exploitation

‘I like the idea of doing as much bartering as possible and definitely blacklisting any company or charity having anything to do with this. There seems to be quite a movement taking off in the US of community gardens where people work together cooperatively and organically to produce good food for schools. hospitals nurseries but could be expanded into teaching basic cooking with fresh food and veggies for Food Banks etc etc. We need to help ourselves become independent and self sufficient leaving them with their useless walls of gold as Voice of Reason says!’

The great 19th-early 20th century Anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, would have agreed. Kropotkin was a Russian nobleman and scientist, who had requested being posted to Siberia when he joined the Russian army. He had earlier been at the tsar’s court, and his experience there, and with the peasants on his own estate and in Siberia, convinced him that the peasants and ordinary working people were more humane and moral than the aristocracy. His research into the botany and animal life of Siberia convinced him that Darwinian ideas that stressed competition in evolution were incorrect, and that co-operation and mutual support were instead the driving forces of biological development. He published his ideas in his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution.

His experiences also made him a convinced anarchist, believing that the state was both oppressive and unnecessary. Like many other anarchists, he believed that society could only reformed through a revolution. Unlike some contemporary anarchists, like Bakunin, he did not delight in violence, and his works take a more evolutionary line. He realised that the revolution would be violent and bloody, but believed that the new, co-operative order which would replace capitalism and individualism would develop from trends already in place. As proof of what voluntary groups could achieve without state support or interference, he pointed to charities and organisations such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institute in Britain, and the international courts set up by merchants in Europe during the Middle Ages, in which merchants administered their own laws.

In his book, The Conquest of Bread (London: Elephant Editions 1985), Kropotkin discusses how an anarchist revolution would reform society, with a comprehensive reorganisation of industry, housing, agriculture, the provision of food and clothes, and the abolition of the wages system in favour of the direct provision of goods between communities and the workers in particular areas.

The chapter, ‘Food’, describes how a new anarchist commune, like the Paris Commune of 1871, would organise its agricultural production to feed itself. This sounds rather like the community gardens mentioned by Amnesiaclinic. Kropotkin writes

‘The large towns, as well as the villages, must undertake to till the soil. We must return to what biology calls ‘the integration of functions’ – after the division of labour, the taking up of it as a whole-this is the course followed throughout Nature.

Besides, philosophy apart, the force of circumstances would bring about this result. Let Paris see that at the end of eight months it will be running short of bread, and Paris will set to work to grow wheat.

Land will not be wanting, for it is round the great towns, and round Paris especially, that the parks and pleasure grounds of the landed gentry are to be found. These thousands of acres only await the skilled labour of the husbandman to surround Paris with fields infinitely more fertile and productive than the steppes of southern Russia, where the soil is dried up by the sun. Nor will labour be lacking. To what should the two million citizens of Paris turn their attention, when they would be no longer catering for the luxurious fads and amusements of Russian princes, Rumanian grandees and wives of Berlin financiers?

… Thus, learning the art of horticulture from experts, and trying experiments in different methods on small patches of soil reserved for the purpose, vying with each other to obtain the best returns, finding in physical exercise, without exhaustion or overwork, the health and strength which so often flags in cities – men, women and children will gladly turn to the labour of the fields, when it is no longer a slavish drudgery,, but has become a pleasure, a festival, a renewal of health and joy.’

In the last chapter, ‘Agriculture’, he argues that an anarchist commune, such as a town, could provide enough food to support its inhabitants and to trade with other communities, through the use of the intensive agricultural techniques that were then coming into use, with only a few hours labour being demanded of each citizen. He similarly describes the benefits of such communal agricultural work thus:

‘Of all the great days of the French Revolution, the most beautiful, the greatest, was the one on which delegates who had come from all parts of France to Paris, all worked with the spade to plane the ground of the Champ de Mars, preparing it for the fete of the Federation.

That day France was united: animated by the new spirit, she had a vision of the future in the working in common of the soil.

And it will again be by the working in common of the soil that the enfranchised societies will find their unity and will obliterate the hatred and oppression which has hitherto divided them.

Henceforth, able to conceive solidarity-that immense power which increases man’s energy and creative forces a hundredfold – the new society will march to the conquest of the future with all the vigour of youth.

Ceasing to produce for unknown buyers, and looking in its midst for needs and tastes to be satisfied, society will liberally assure the life and ease of each of its members, as well as that moral satisfaction which work gives when freely chosen and freely accomplished, and the joy of living without encroaching on the life of others.’

One of the criticisms levelled at him is that of excessive optimism. He believed strongly in the essential goodness of human nature, to the point where he believed that even people guilty of the most heinous crimes would behave selflessly. In Mutual Aid, for example, he points to a case in France where a murderer in hiding dashed out to rescue a child from a burning house, knowing full well that this self-less act would lead to his arrest and execution for the crime. It’s been said that this is unrealistic. Given the horrors that have occurred in the 20th century – the mass killings by a succession of brutal and tyrannical regimes, and some of the truly revolting crimes you can read about nearly every day in the press, I have to agree.

The other, related point is that, if people really are as good and noble as Kropotkin believes them to be, it’s doubtful how their condition can be improved through a revolution and Anarcho-Communism, when left to themselves in the present system people can be expected to improve their conditions and that of their fellows. It’s another good point.

I have to say that I think any revolution is far more likely to end up in a blood bath than not, though there are exceptions, the greatest of which is the American Revolution. Nevertheless, ideas like Kropotkin’s continue to have a very strong influence on modern Anarchists, and strongly influenced the American hippy counterculture. Furthermore, recent studies of Anarchism have pointed to the various communities and experiments in work and business that have been set up according to anarchist ideals in parallel and within the modern capitalist state. The communal gardens Amnesiaclinic mentions sound like just such a social experiment, though they may not be directly influenced by Kropotkin or anarchist theory generally. I wish them, however, every success if they are bringing fulfilment and good food to the people that own and work them.

John Locke and the Origins of British and American Democracy: A Reply to Ilion

July 10, 2013

Ilion, a long-term and respected commentator here, made the following comment on my post John Locke and the Origins of British and American Democracy:

“Black Britons, American and West Indians may well consider Locke’s comments on slavery profoundly wrong, considering their own peoples history of enslavement by Europeans.”

Only if they are either:
1) ignorant (which is curable);
2) stupid (which is not curable);
3) intellectually dishonest.

Locke: “‘Slavery is so vile and miserable an estate of man, and so directly opposite to the generous temper and courage of our nation, that it is hardly to be conceived that an “English,” much less a “gentleman”, should plead for it.’”

In other words: “How can a man call himself an Englishman, much less a gentleman, if he would argue *for* slavery?“

It’s a good point, and it raises a number of issues, which need to be examined.

Slavery Not Recognised in English Law by 17th century

Firstly, at the time Locke was writing slavery in England had long died out, and villeinage – serfdom – had more or less withered away. The last serf died in the middle of the seventeenth century, as I recall, and Cromwell’s government abolished the last legal remains of feudalism in England. This was important for the abolitionist cause when it arose in the eighteenth century. Abolitionist campaigners like Thomas Clarkeson brought a series of cases before the courts of Black slaves, who had been taken to England. Like the Dred Scott case in America leading up to the Civil War, Clarkeson and the other Abolitionists argued that as slavery did not exist under English law, these slaves were therefore free. They won there case, and during the 19th century a number of slaves came before the British authorities in the West Indies claiming their freedom, because their masters had taken them to England. They also believed that they were free by setting foot in a country that did not recognise the existence of slavery.

Slavery and Indentured Emigration to British Colonies in America and Caribbean

As slavery did not exist in English society, when slave traders turned up in Jamestown in 1621 to try to sell a consignment of Black slaves, the colonists initially did not what to do with them. Emigration to the British colonies in America and the Caribbean was largely through indentured servants, and slavery was not initially needed. Indeed, Hakluyt records in his Voyages and Discoveries the statement by one British sea captain to the African people he encountered that Englishmen did not enslave people, ‘nor any that had our shape’. Unfortunately, this attitude of some mariners did not prevent many others, such as the Elizabethan privateer, John Hawkins, from raiding Africa for slaves, which he attempted to sell to the Spanish in their colonies. By the end of the seventeenth century the British colonists in Barbados attempted to discourage further immigration by indentured servants, as all the available land was now occupied. They thus turned to importing Black slaves to supply the labour they needed on the plantations. These were for sugar in the Caribbean. In the British colonies in southern New England, by the early eighteenth century they were importing African slaves to work on the tobacco plantations.

Locke’s Hierarchical, Feudalistic View of Society

Now Locke, while the founder of modern theories of liberal representative government, wasn’t a democrat in the modern sense. He believed in a restricted franchise, which reserved the right to vote to the wealthy and a parliamentary upper house of landed aristocrats. His proposed constitution for Carolina was quite feudal, in that envisaged a social hierarchy of estates of increasing size, in ‘baronies’ and so on. Now I’ll have to check on this, but I’m not sure that Locke raised any objections to slavery in the New World. In any case, it continued regardless of his comments on how it was antipathetic to the English.

Frederick Douglas and the Irrelevance of the 4th July to Black American Slaves

One of the great abolitionist speeches in 19th century was Frederick Douglas’ ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ Douglas’ point is that the rhetoric of free, White Americans celebrating their liberation from British slavery and tyranny, rang hollow and meant nothing to Blacks, who were still very much in bondage. It occurred to me while I was writing my post on Locke that some people could say the same thing about this great master of British constitutional theory.

17th Century Slaves Treated More Equally than Later On
Now there’s some evidence to suggest that as, as horrific as slavery is, in the 17th century it wasn’t quite as degrading and horrific as it later became. A few years ago I came across a paper on the material culture of slave and free burials in early colonial America in the collection of archaeological papers in Historical Archaeology, edited by Dan Hicks. This found that there was no difference in material culture, and the reverence with which the deceased were buried, between White American colonists and their Black slaves. Both were interred with the same amount of respect, suggesting that in life there was, at least in their case, a degree of equality between masters and slaves. It is a deep shame and pity that this did not continue, and lead to the decline of slavery in America as well as England.

Locke Still Founder of British Constitutional Liberty

As for Locke, his hierarchical views on the structure of society were very much standard for his time. Nevertheless, he laid the foundations for modern representative government and democracy, as opposed to centralised, monarchical absolutism.

John Wise and the Christian Congregationalist Origins of the American Democracy

July 7, 2013

For most people, the origins of modern American democracy lie in the Revolution of 1775. In fact, American clergymen and political philosophers had been advocating democracy almost from the beginning of the 18th century. One of the first was the Congregationalist minister, John Wise (1652-1725). Wise was the pastor of the second church at Ipswich in Massachusetts. He was imprisoned during the Andros regime for urging his congregation to withhold their taxes. He wrote his two books, The Churches Quarrel Espoused of 1712 and A Vindication of the Government of New England Churches of 1717 in defence of the Congregationalist system of church government. In Congregationalism, every church is independent, and the congregations choose their own ministers. At the time Wise was writing, there was a movement within the Church to replace that system with a Presbyterian organisation. Wise rejected this and defended the Congregationalist system of church government as that had been the form of ecclesiastical government established by New England’s founding fathers. He went further than merely defending democracy in church, however. He advocated that it should also be established as the secular political system as it was based on ‘right reason’.

Sovereignty Lies in the People through the Social Contract

Like Locke, the basis of his argument for democracy is the idea of a social contract: that sovereignty lies with the people, who surrender their freedom to a king or other authority in order to preserve order. He states:

‘The first human subject and original of civil power is the people; for as they have a power every man over himself in a natural state, so upon a combination they can and do bequeath this power unto others, and settle it according as their united discretion shall determine. For that this is very plain, that when the subject of sovereign power is quite extinct, that power returns to the people again. And when they are free, they may set up what species of government they please; or if they rather incline to it, they may subside into a state of natural being, if it be plainly for the best. In the eastern country of the Mogul, we have some resemblance of the case, for upon the death of an absolute monarch they live so many days without a civil head; but in that interregnum those who survive the vacancy are glad to get into a civil state again, and usually they are in a very bloody condition when they return under the covert of a new monarch; this project is to endear the people to a tyranny from the experience the have so lately had of an anarchy’.

‘A civil state is a compound moral person whose will (united by those covenants before passed) is the will of all, to the end it may use and apply the strength and riches of private persons towards maintaining the common peace, security, and well-being of all, which may be conceived as though the whole state was no become but one man; in which the aforesaid covenants may be supposed, under God’s providence, to be the divine fiat pronounced by God, “Let us make man.” And by way of resemblance the aforesaid being may be thus anatomized.’

The Position of Magistrates and other State Servants and Officials Depends on the Sovereign Power

‘As it takes in ministers for the discharge of business, so it is called the right of appointing magistrates. So that all great officers and public servants must needs owe their original to the creating power of sovereignty; so that those whose right it is to create may dissolve the being of those who are created, unless they cast them into an immortal frame, and yet must needs be dissoluble if they justly forfeit their being to their creators.’

Human states are formed by People to Protect themselves from Harm from Other Humans

The chief end of civil communities is that men thus conjoined may be secured against the injuries they are liable to from their own kind; for if every man could secure himself singly, it would be great folly for him to renounce his natural liberty, in which every man is his own king and protector.’

Origins of Democracy in Ancient Communities Where All Men are Equal

A democracy, which is when the sovereign power is lodged in a council consisting of all the members, and where every member has the privilege of a vote. This form of government appears in the greatest part of the world to have been the most ancient. For that reason seems to show it to be most probable that when men (being originally in a condition of natural freedom and equality) had thoughts of joining in a civil body, would without question be inclined to administer their common affairs by their common judgment, and so must necessarily , to gratify that inclination, establish a democracy; neither can it be rationally imagined that fathers of families being yet free and independent, should in a moment, or little time, take off their long delight in governing their own affa9irs and devolve all upon some single sovereign commander; for that it seems to have been thought more equitable that what belonged to all should be managed by all, when all had entered by compact into one community. The original of our government, says Plato (speaking of the Athenian commonwealth) was taken from the equality of our race. Other state there are composed of different blood, and of unequal lines, the consequences of which are disproportionable sovereignty, tyrannical or oligarchical sway, under which men live in such a manner to esteem themselves partly lords and partly slaves to each other. But we and our countrymen, being all born brethren of the same mother, do not look upon ourselves to stand under so hard a relation as that of lords and slaves, but the parity of our descent inclines us to keep up the like parity by our laws, and to yield the precedency to nothing but to superior virtue and wisdom. And moreover, it seems very manifest that most civil communities arose at first from the union of families that were nearly allied in race and blood. And though ancient story makes frequent mention of kings, yet it appears that most of them were such that had an influence rather in persuading, than in any power of commanding. So Justin describes that kind of government as the most primitive which Aristotle styles an herioical kingdom, namely, such as is no ways inconsistent with a democratical state.’

A democracy is then erected when a number of free persons do assemble together in order to enter into a covenant for uniting themselves in a body. And such a preparative assembly hath some appearance already of a democracy; it is a democracy in embryo properly in this respect: that every man hath the privilege freely to deliver his opinion concerning the common affairs. Yet he who dissents from the vote of the majority is not in the least obliged by what they determine till by a second covenant a popular form be actually established, for not before then can we call it a democratical government, namely, till the right of determining all matters relating to the public safety is actually placed in a general assembly of the whole people; or by their own compact and mutual agreement, determine themselves the proper subject for the exercise of sovereign power. And to complete this state and render it capable to exert its power to answer the end of a civil state, these conditions are necessary.

(1) That a certain time and place be assigned for assembling.

(2) That when the assembly be orderly met as to time and place, that then the vote of the majority must pass for the vote of the whole body.

(3) That magistrates be appointed to exercise the authority of the whole for the better dispatch of business of every day’s occurrence; who also may with more mature diligence search into more important affairs, and if in case anything happens of greater consequence, may report it to the assembly; and be peculiarly serviceable in putting all public decrees into execution. Because a large body of people is almost useless in respect of the last service and of many others, as to the more particular application and exercise of power. Therefore it is most agreeable with the law of nature that they institute their officers to act in their name and stead’.

It’s clear from the above that Wise’s model of democracy was based on the direct democracies of the ancient world, such as Athens. While this is some way away from modern, representative democracy, where MPs, senators and congressmen actually pass the laws as the people’s elected representatives, it nevertheless shows the beginning of American democracy and particularly the Town Hall meetings that are a vital part of it.

18th Century Religious Scepticism Not Based on Science: Part 2 – Atheist Materialism

June 8, 2013

In the first part of this essay, I examined how most of the arguments against Christianity and revealed religion used by the Deists were philosophical, rather than scientific. Science did play a part in their attacks on Christianity, but it was a subordinate role. The same is true of 18th century atheism. Most of the arguments used by Jean Meslier in his Testament, for example are again, moral, philosophical and political, rather than scientific. Meslier was a former Roman Catholic priest, who attacked Christianity and particularly Roman Catholicism for its supposed immorality. He considered that religions were artificial creations of ruling elites, intended to justify and further their own power. He attacked Christian morality for supposedly preaching an acquiescent attitude towards tyranny, like monarchist rule in contemporary France. Like many later atheists, he also attacked the idea of an immortal soul and rewards in the hereafter for discouraging people from social reform here on Earth.

The Three Scientific Developments Used to Argue for Atheism in the 18th Century

Like some of the Deists, he also believed that matter had self-organising properties. The evidence for this came from three sources. These were John Turbeville Needham’s experiments into spontaneous generation, Haller’s discovery that muscles from recently deceased animals contracted when pricked, and the hydra’s ability to regenerate when cut. Needham was an English Roman Catholic priest. In his experiments he noted the appearance of microscopic organisms from the remains of vegetable matter and even the gravy from roast meat. Albrecht von Haller was a Swiss naturalist, who believed that there was an unknown force present in the heart. This indicated that matter had its was able to move itself independently of the soul. La Mettrie, the author of the materialist, L’homme machine (Man a Machine) of 1747 incorporated it into his own arguments against the existence of the soul. The dissection of polyps showed that this creature would become two or more when cut into pieces, and so apparently disproved the idea of indivisible animals. Finally, the great 18th century atheist, Denis Diderot argued living creatures may have evolved over millions of years to produce their present forms. He suggested a kind of natural selection, in which useless or defective physiological features had died out. This gave living creatures the appearance of design, even though they were simply the products of chance evolution.

These Experiments Do Not Necessarily Lead to Atheism

In fact all three of these scientific discoveries could be interpreted in other ways that did not support materialist atheism. Needham himself did not see any danger to religion in his results. Indeed, he was attacked by Voltaire as an Irish Jesuit monger of fraudulent miracles, despite the fact that he was English, not Irish, and not a Jesuit. As for the new force of motion supposedly inherent in muscle tissue, Haller believed it was similar to gravity. Both forces were known through their effects, but were ultimately instruments of a Creator God. He considered the presence of this so-called “irritability” in muscle tissue was much less important than contemporary debates in embryology in supporting or leading to atheism. At the time Haller was engaged in an argument with C.F. Wolff over the nature of the development of the embryo. The debate centred around two rival concepts, epigenesis and pre-formation. Epigenesis was the view that the embryo developed from the less organised material of the egg. Pref-formation, by contrast, was the view that creature already existed, pre-formed in the egg or sperm of the animal. Haller strongly supported pre-formation. He considered that the development of living beings from unorganised matter would indicate that similarly life itself had originated through these forces without the action of a creator God. Wolff believed that his observation of chick embryos had indeed shown that individual organisms develop from the primordial, undifferentiated matter of the egg. Unlike Haller, he did not see any theological difference whether one believed in either theory. He stated that ‘Nothing is demonstrated against the existence of divine power, even if bodies are produced by natural forces and causes, for these very forces and causes … claim an author for themselves just as much as organic bodies do.’ Thus immaterial forces and the matter they shaped were both grounded in God.

AS for Abraham Trembley’s experiments with the polyp, this was only felt to show that polyps did not have indivisible souls. It was not believed to be relevant to other animals and humans. Indeed, more conservative naturalists believed that the polyp was actually a missing link in God’s great chain of being between plants and animals.

Joseph Priestley: Scientist, Revolutionary and Unitarian, Rational Christianity

Some Unitarians, such as the Dissenting Minister Joseph Priestly, also managed to combine materialism with a form of Christianity. Priestly was an active scientific research. His experiments on the various gases included the production of what he termed ‘dephlogisticated air’, which was later called ‘oxygen’ by Lavoisier. Priestly attempted to show that materialist science would serve to purify Christianity of what he considered to be superstitious features derived from ancient Platonism, such as, he believed, the doctrine of the Trinity. Priestly was a philosophical monist, who believed that God worked through forces that were neither physical or immaterial as commonly understood. They could be identified with matter, but this was a matter that possessed active powers of motion and organisation. He did not believe in an immaterial soul, but did look forward to the Resurrection. He also accepted miracles, and argued as proof that without them, Christianity could not possibly have spread. He was also an egalitarian, who supported first the French, and then the American Revolutions. He finally moved to America after the War of Independence. In an 1802 letter to Thomas Jefferson, Priestly described how he was looking forward to living under the protection of the American Constitution. He praised this as ‘the most favourable to political liberty, and private happiness, of any in the world’. Despite his scientific scepticism of orthodox Christianity, he always denied that he was an atheist. When one of his French materialist friends at a dinner stated that he no more believed in Christianity than they did, he replied that he was indeed a Christian believer.

Science as Means for Purifying Christianity, Unitarians Active in Scientific Advances of Industrial Revolution

For Priestly, scientific progress was ‘the means under God of extirpating all error and prejudice, and of putting an end to all undue and usurped ahtority in the business of religion as well as science’. These views were shared by other Unitarians in the main British manufacturing towns. These Unitarians were active in scientific research and their practical application in industry. They were particularly prominent in the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, but were also strongly present in most of scientific societies outside London. William Turner, another Unitarian, was the dominant figure behind the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society. Turner has been described as believing that the Industrial Revolution was not happening behind God’s back, but at His express command.

Conclusion: 18th Century Science Not Necessarily atheist, Could Lead instead to Rational, Unitarian Christianity

Thus, scientific developments also played only a small role in the atheist arguments that arose during the 18th century. Like the arguments of the Deists, these were also primarily moral, philosophical and political. The three major scientific observations that did seem to argue for atheism and materialism – Needham’s observation of spontaneous generation, the response of dissected muscle tissue to stimulation and the polyp were largely seen as having no relevance to the wider debate about the Almighty. In the case of the continued activity in muscle tissue, this was seen as like Newton’s force of gravity in being based in God, and as a force through which the Lord worked.
Finally, Joseph Priestly and his fellow Unitarian scientists showed how some Dissenters combined a belief in science to produce an unorthodox form of rational Christianity.