Tag Archives: John Locke

Looking Back At United States History

Over the years, I’ve studied American History in both college and on my own. In line with this, I’ve read various schools of historical thought so I could form an educated opinion on the subject. The historians I’ve studied range from those with Marxist interpretations, to moderates who emphasized Liberalism from classical to modern, to traditionalists. Needless to say, since history is somewhat an interpretative discipline that uses facts to shape narratives, the views of America by different historians are often profoundly different. 

The Marxist influenced historians I’ve read tend to view America’s history as a series of events meant to cement in the power of the ruling class. Therefore, their views of America lacked the optimism other historians had. The moderate historians, who sometimes reflected Classical Liberalism, emphasized how the American ideal of equality of opportunity, became a key feature as America evolved and influenced the world. The traditionalist historians tended to view the United States as a good and decent country with few strong critiques. Over the course of my studies, I’ve come to the conclusion that the moderate historian’s dynamic view of American history seemed reasonable. In addition, I’ve realized that Classical Liberalism – as exemplified by the philosopher John Locke and our Founding Fathers, was not quite the same as modern Liberalism.  As many know, Classical Liberalism has much in common with modern Conservatism.

Those frustrated with America often claim that human rights progress has not been fast enough. Therefore, they sometimes turn to Marxist theory in hopes of finding answers. Although some find this theory attractive, this hope is often tempered by the fact that Marxism in practice, as opposed to theory, has not always respected human rights. In reality, Representative Democracies such as the United States seem to provide the strongest support for human rights advancements. Prior to the development of modern democracies – a movement America helped inspire, human rights protections were more rare. The Founding Fathers vision of America – as shown through the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, has provided many of the seeds of hope to address oppression. Our Constitution’s Reconstruction Amendments – which addressed racial injustice, provide proof of this. Also, modern civil rights and human rights legislation draws somewhat on the inspiration of our Founding Fathers.

The United States, as well as other democracies, has checks and balances setup to maintain societal and political balance. Understandably, this is a constant work in progress. And yes…in looking through history, America has treated certain groups unfairlyThis is shown by the injustices suffered by Native Americans through the years, as well as the slavery, Jim Crow laws, and racism impacting the lives of African-Americans over time. However, if there was ever a society capable of acknowledging and rectifying historical wrongs, and respecting human rights, it’s the type of Representative Democracy America has. As many can attest to, the United States has been one of the most durable and hopeful societies in human history.       

Elections and the Promise of Democracy

Each year at election time we’re reminded several things about the nature of life in a Democracy. For some, a wide range of emotions accompanies elections. These emotions run the gamut from sheer elation if their political side wins, to dismay at the imperfect nature of politics if one’s on the losing side of the political equation. However, no matter the variety of emotions that hit us at election time, it’s clear that for all its faults, Democracy is the best political system. A quick glance at life in a totalitarian regime can give proof to that.

Democracy’s strength lay in how it allows for a filtering of ideas from several levels of society. And yes, although Democracy is often diluted by special interests, it needs to be noted that some special interests actually represent issues important to us all.

Since America’s form of government is technically known as a Constitutional Republic, there’s debate as to whether one should refer to it as a Democracy. As a compromise, some call it a Representative Democracy. After all, as voters we elect representatives to do a majority of legislative decision-making. In a true Democracy, voter referendums may be more common and simple majorities could determine many more aspects of modern life.

In modern America, the political process has changed much the past twenty years. Due to proliferation of new media and a consolidation of existing media outlets, a much different mindset exists now. On many issues media and political elites now aggressively use their skill and savvy to rally the masses to perceived victories. Although this aspect of populism has been with America from the days of William Jennings Bryan in the late 1800’s, the skill, power, and sheer repetition of today’s media arena has heightened political intensity.

Obviously, the advent of the quick-hitting verbosity of social media can give modern politics a more intense feel than in the past. When the bullet point mindset of social media is applied to today’s complex political issues, emotional reactions can erupt due to the fact issues are often shorn of their complexity. Also, by using closed-ended bullet point language that talks sometimes of absolute defeat of political foes, modern day political operatives and politicians may be giving rise to an all or nothing dogma that used to be mostly the province of monarchies and totalitarian regimes.

In line with this, it’s been recently noted by many that the ability to civilly “agree to disagree” is being lost in America. Since many individuals and political operatives now perceive political stakes to be so high, there’s a strong sense of activism on many levels that encourages intense loyalty and at times retribution for things that used to be allowed to slide in the past. Some feel this type of activism is leading us away from reasoned debate and more into a react first, and think later, mindset. As result, a new kind of political segregation is arising in America. This newer trend seems to be resulting in fewer marriages and friendships between opposite political ideologies.

As most of us know, countless issues of modern life are now incredibly complex and defy categorization as a bullet point. In a world that runs the gamut from complex economics, to high level scientific-technological issues, to the ever-growing legalisms evident today, it’s clear that using bullet point explanations with some issues may be taking the easy way out.

Seemingly lost in today’s political-media frenzy is the sense that government sometimes functions best when a compromise is struck between opposite interests. Although political deals are often struck these days, most political operatives and politicians are afraid to explain the reasoning behind their deal making to the public at large. Therefore, since many voters perceive a lack of sincerity, the tag of RINO-Republican in name only, or DINO-Democrat in name only, is attached to a politician who refuses to explain their motives to the electorate.

Unfortunately, diluting political issues to bullet points and embracing a more emotional approach to governing can potentially contradict the checks and balances our Founding Fathers had in mind. This is the situation America faces today.

To counteract the emotionalism of today’s politics, one can look at what it was like to live in pre-Democracy times before the 1700’s. Although Democracy had been tried for a while in ancient Greece and Rome, it didn’t become a standard for governments until the 1800’s. If one goes back to reading what life was like then, and if one looks at the issues Enlightenment political theorist John Locke faced, it’s easy to see that Democracy is not a gift to take lightly.

If we sincerely look at the struggles mankind faced to reach the Democracy threshold, one comes away with a renewed awareness that Democracy is not just a vehicle to use for vanquishing a political foe, it’s more importantly a tool used to free all mankind from some of the more brutish aspects of life. This is because it is in the balance of opposites that true Democracy exists. Reconciling and living with opposite tendencies, as opposed to merely controlling or vanquishing them, is the essence of the checks and balances that Enlightenment thinkers used to create our amazing Constitution.

In line with that, if we realize how economics is tied at the hips with politics, it’d behoove us to become more aware of the seemingly boring, yet very important, study of economics. Too often, politicians reduce economic ideas to the simple concept often repeated that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Ironically, many of the people who advance such a simple economic dogma are often rich themselves. In addition, another simple economic myth politicians sometimes promote is that those who struggle economically simply don’t work hard enough.

If we embrace the fact our complex world demands the ability to think and debate more rationally, there’s a chance politics can return more to the concept of Representative Democracy our Founding Fathers had when they framed America’s constitutional government. As they envisioned it, such a system, by creating checks and balances through a separation of powers, would be superior to the dogmatism of a monarchy or dictatorship. This sense of governmental balance, which seeks to somewhat reconcile opposites, as opposed to controlling or vanquishing them, has been key to America’s strength. If we can work towards this concept of government more, the promise that elections hold for Democracy may become bright yet again.