We, The Owners

in Deep Dives2 months ago

Like George Carlin said: they own you, they got you by the balls. The extremism displayed by reactionary and fascist movements in America are in part explained by the fact that "We, the People" was conceived in the minds of men who saw "people" as "owners." How that works is what I'll try to explain here.


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source: YouTube

There has always been this tension between classical liberals or libertarians and the government. Anarcho-capitalists remove this tension by removing the place government has in their ideology, but they're mistaken as well because the tension is there in the first place because of the problem government is supposed to solve; the lack of protection of private property in a completely free society. Maybe it's best to start this paradox by quoting the father of capitalism, Adam Smith:

Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.
source: Adam Smith

You see, Smith, as well as his predecessors and successors, knew that free market capitalism would invariably lead to massive inequality of wealth. Now, the phrase "We, the People" is so famous because it's from the preamble to the United States Constitution from 1787, but there's another preceding famous foundational document that's often referred to when discussing the principles and philosophy on which America was founded, and that's the July 4, 1776, Declaration of Independence. July 4 still is the day on which America celebrates its independence from England and this document may be even more famous than the Constitution. In it there's another often heard sentence in the second paragraph of the first article:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
source: Wikipedia

This declaration was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, and then edited by the Committee of Five, which consisted of Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. Although still disputed, it's reasonable to assume that Jefferson was influenced by John Locke's writings, most notably his Two Treatises of Government which was first published anonymously in 1689. Locke was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the "Father of Liberalism". Of Locke's influence Thomas Jefferson wrote: "Bacon, Locke and Newton I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical & Moral sciences". It was Locke's Second Treatise of Government that was to become the foundation of America's sociopolitical structure, and it was all about property.

Locke's first treatise was a harsh refutation of the divine right of kings, the idea that civil society was founded on a divinely sanctioned patriarchalism. This first treatise ends with the now widely accepted and correct conclusion that no government can be justified by an appeal to the divine right of kings. The second treatise outlines Locke's own theory of civil society, which can be summarized by the argument that all men are created equal in nature, that nature is given in common by God, that property arises through adding labor to nature, that government should protect that property and that government can only rule with the consent of the people. In short: civilized society based on natural rights and contract theory. Here we have all the elements of liberal democracies based on the rights of the individual to accumulate private property. The latter needs further explanation though, and we also need to establish how "property" became "happiness" in Jefferson's version in the Declaration of Independence.

You see, Locke saw as basic human rights life, liberty and property. In fact, Locke claims that civil society was created for the protection of property, and by "property" he means "life, liberty and estate," all of it. Your body is your property, your freedom is your property and encompasses the freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of association. And government is there to protect all of it, and infringe none of it. The appropriation of materials in nature is a simple process of using one's labor; an apple hanging from a tree is no one's property, but the act of picking that apple makes it mine:

The apple is surely his when he swallows it, when he chews it, when he bites into it, when he brings it to his mouth, etc.: it became his as soon as he mixed his labour with it (by picking it from the tree).
source: Wikipedia

If property is to be acquired and a fundamental condition for life - one has to eat to live, for sustaining one's original property, the body - and liberty is also property, then it becomes easy to see how "property" becomes the "pursuit of happiness" in Jefferson's version. Regardless, this all seems very reasonable on the surface, except for the fact that it all is an endorsement of capitalism, an endorsement of the freedom to accumulate property and wealth. Locke must have known that this would lead to enormous inequality, that the notion of government being there only to protect individual property would mean that government gives more protection to those who have a lot of it. In Locke's defense, he wrote his treatises with the assumption that there never would be the need to take, violate or destroy someone else's property, as he thought that we live in a state of abundance, that nature is plentiful and that each individual would be able to find his or her own apples to eat.

But Adam Smith knew this isn't true. Not in a free market economy which exists by the grace of scarcity and competition. What's the use of competition in a world where there's enough of everything for everyone, where no two men would ever have to compete over one juicy apple? That makes no sense at all. Even if Locke's assumption of a plentiful planet is right (and I believe he is right), capitalism won't allow for it. Supply and demand won't allow it. If supply is always greater than demand, no one would make any money. I can't sell apples if everyone can grow or pick their own. I can only sell them if I pick them all first, leave none hanging from the trees, and watch everyone go hungry until they knock on my door and ask me what I want in exchange for an apple. I'm king now, I regulate and control the parameters within which you can pursue your happiness. See how that works? I know, it's a very generalized and simplified version, but that's the reality wrought by Locke's and capitalism's individualist perspective on property and the accumulation of property.

Again in defense of Locke, and Jefferson and Smith for that matter, this post necessarily generalizes and simplifies the philosophies of these great thinkers; one post in a series of daily posts can't ever do justice to the full scope and depth of their ideas. Locke, for example, also wrote on the government's responsibility to promote the common good, the principle of majority rule, the separation of legislative and executive powers, and the separation of Church and state. I can't cover all of that and these ideas aren't important for what I'm trying to explain here. But above all; when modern classical liberals, libertarians or anarcho-capitalists defend their respective ideologies, it always comes down to "natural rights," "limited government," "private property" and "voluntary contracts." They don't mention the common good or majority rule, so I won't either.

I don't believe Locke explicitly endorsed capitalism, I only know that his idea about private property and individual freedoms are the foundations on which capitalism is based, and that even the father of capitalism knew that government ultimately would task itself with the protection of the owners against the people. Hence, "We, the Owners" and not "We, the People" because the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution were written by owners, not ordinary people. The tension I mentioned in the beginning is this: libertarians, anarcho-capitalists and to a lesser extent classical liberals, fear the government as much as they need the government. They need the government to protect their private property, but a government powerful enough to protect all private property is powerful enough to take it all away. This is why the Second Amendment exists in America, and is another one of Locke's basic principles: the right of the people to replace the government, the right to revolution if necessary. And democracy is no guarantee that government will serve the people, or indeed that democracy can't be destroyed by democratic means; it's happened before and it almost happened again in January, 2021 in America...

We think that our current wretched state of democracy is the result of money controlling politics, which is true, but what we don't discuss often enough is that this was true since the very beginning. Only the ideologies that oppose the rights of the owners of private property will ever change anything about this regretful truth. So how does this system, that since its very conception serves the interests of owners against those who own little or nothing, lead to the reactionary extremism we see today in so many liberal western democracies? For that I refer you to the below, linked video, but the TL;DR is that the owners take more for themselves, leaving next to nothing for the rest. They need the government, but don't want to pay for the protection that government provides them, so they devise a strategy concerning the national debt. Add to that unemployment and the politics of fear, and you get a population that loses all trust in this system, the government and the owners. The latter two then redirect that distrust to marginalized groups and voila, there we are now.


Mark Blyth | The Liberalism Scam


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