A Second American Revolution: President Obama’s Opportunity?

Pundits of all political persuasions agree that Barak Hossein Obama has been elected to the U.S. presidency at a crucial time that comes at most once in a generation.  The scope and breadth of the problems, both domestic and foreign, come perhaps once a century.  The question is whether American politics will foster or hinder what could amount to a Second American Revolution. 

President Obama can carry through his hopes for the future only if he can bring along at least a critical minority of Republicans.  The basic split among Republicans for some decades has pitted the neo-cons against the paleo-cons.  At least until recently, the neo-cons have won resoundingly. 

Ironically, both claim to be conservative, but the neo-cons want to impose their own positivist utopias on everyone else by keeping the “people” in their place.  This puts them in the camp of the liberal extremists, who want to do the same thing in order to keep the reactionary extremists in their proper place or destroy them altogether. 

Fewer and fewer Americans know their own history.  The Great American Experiment started on the basis of the Scottish Renaissance, which emphasized enlightened faith as the key to balance and good government.  This was the opposite of the European Enlightenment, which ironically but inevitably led to the French Revolution based on maximized physical power as the solution to all problems.

The Scottish Enlightenment provided the basis of the minority Whig movement in the British Parliament led by Edmund Burke, who was by far the major mentor of America’s Founders.  This movement is known as traditionalism, which holds that the only way to build a better future is to build on the wisdom of the past not on any fantasies about the future.  Unfortunately, America’s Founders rejected Burke’s admonition that revolution is the enemy of justice, not its midwife. 

The basic traditionalist paradigm started to die out at about the time of the American Civil War, when natural law was rejected in favor of positivist law, and the trend has been downhill ever since.  The Republican Party was fractured into an alliance between the reactionary No-Nothing movement and the more enlightened movement that coalesced around Abraham Lincoln.  The No-Nothings got their name from their organizational secrecy, whereby their answer to questions was supposed to be “I know nothing.” This movement started in New York in 1843 as the American Republican Party, but soon changed its name to the Native American Party, because it demonized the Roman Catholics as agents of the Vatican.  It supported what nowadays would be termed rampant fascism. 

In the election of 1860, the bulk of the movement, almost entirely middle-class Protestants, joined Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party, while the minority, who supported slavery, joined the South in the Civil War.  The “No Nothings” have never died out.  In fact they sometimes emerge triumphant by capturing the Republican Party as they did during the regime of President George W. Bush and almost did in their attempt to capture President Ronald Reagan, who abhorred everything they stood for but was too concerned about consensus to exercise strong leadership in pursuing his traditionalist instincts.

The major difference between the two wings of the Republican Party, namely, the still triumphant Neocons and the almost annihilated Traditionalists, is their approach to power.  The NeoCons blithly parrot the Republican Party’s politically correct opposition to centralized power, while doing everything they can to subvert America’s traditionalist commitment to justice.  According to this traditionalist concept, which is almost unknown in America today, justice must originate from below in a culture based on enlightened education and on personal awareness of and loving submission to God.  The Traditionalists are 100% Islamic in all their premises and conclusions, which may be why they have fared so poorly in recent decades.

Thomas Jefferson was perhaps the wisest generically Islamic political leader in American history, as shown by his statement: “No people can remain free unless they are properly educated.  Education should consist primarily in learning virtue.  And no people can remain virtuous unless their entire lives, both private and public, are infused with loving awareness of Divine Providence,” by which he meant God.

The Traditionalists in specific policy matters are quite liberal, but in philosophy they oppose the secularist and utopian socialism of dogmatic liberalism, which speaks of human rights but denies human responsibilities.  The de facto socialists, now typified by Samuel Beer, who died at the age of 97 on April 26, 2009, feared all faith-based movements, because their past history shows how easily they can be perverted to simple fascism.  His solution of secular utopianism and central governmental responsibility for the pursuit of justice, however, according to the Traditionalists, poses a much greater threat.

Samuel Beer was a giant of Anglo-American intellectualism.  Nevertheless, he was a tragic figure.  He correctly saw the evils of big business in its power to concentrate wealth and control the political process in both Great Britain and America, but unfortunately he contra-intuitively sought the solution in further concentrating the power of big government.  He opposed America’s founding principle of republicanism, which was designed to avoid the mobocracy of the majority vote.  Instead, he praised America’s “modernization” in his belief that majoritarian democracy as an ultimate value, based on power not on principle, is the only way to pursue economic and social justice. 

In his critique of the American political process, which indeed was unjust in practice, he wanted the throw the baby out with the bath-water.  He wanted to reject natural law, which comes from a source of legitimacy beyond mere human positivism, in favor of a strong populist government.  Although he opposed the NeoCons, he shared the belief of the founding NeoCons, especially Strauss, that the Weimar Republic failed because it supported pluralism rather than centralism and thereby gave free reign to both Communism and Nazism. 

In 1945-46, I was a 16-year-old Freshman at Harvard when Beer arrived to help start the move toward a more holistic approach to knowledge, so that the narrow disciplines were left for more advanced students.  In theory, this was indeed a most productive innovation.  Unfortunately, however, the paradigm he embraced was secularist and excluded the traditional writings and wisdom of all civilizations, which since the days of the first cavemen had derived their creative power from the search for ultimate values beyond the search for mere happiness on earth.  I quit Harvard in January, 1947, in protest against this crime against humanity and against the dignity of the human person created in the image of God.  The greatest regret of my life is that after a career in the U.S. Army I then went back to Harvard in 1956 to earn a J.D. at Harvard Law School, which had long advocated Beer’s ideas and carried them to the most absurd extremes.

The perhaps inevitable result of Beer’s flawed concept of using big, centralized government as the only cure for the evils of big, centralized plutocratic oligarchy was his failure to recognize that the only way to decentralize any kind of power, economic or political, is to reform the institutions of money, credit, and taxation in order to expand or broaden direct ownership of productive wealth.  Whoever owns the means of production, including necessarily its ideative infrastructure, will control political governance.  The only way to avoid political totalitarianism is to pulverize its economic base.  This strategic approach to justice has been developed at great length in many books and position papers available at http://www.cesj.org and http://www.americanrevolutionaryparty.us and a number of related websites.

Beer’s approach was backwards, because he wanted to increase political centralization, despite its inevitable drift toward totalitarianism, in order to address the evils of economic centralization that underpinned worship of the corporate, plutocratic state.  He wanted, in effect, to redistribute wealth after it had been created, which is theft, rather to distribute wealth during the production process by removing the barriers to broadened ownership of wealth-producing assets.

Like Keynes, Beer was a socialist in his basic thinking and wanted to apply more of the medicine that had made the polity sick.  He rightly opposed the libertarian extremes that rejected all higher values in favor of anarchic freedom, but he wrongly opposed the world’s various systems of normative jurisprudence that were classically based on the natural law that is evident in both science and enlightened religion, including the universal right to property ownership not only of one’s own labor but of productive assets as the only means to avoid wage slavery. 

One can legitimately argue that the only way to change the financial institutions that produce the abhorrent and growing economic wealth gap both within and among nations is to mount a populist democratic movement such as Senator Mike Gravel’s direct democracy, http://www.mikegravel.us/issues.  Indeed, this may well be true.  Nevertheless, reform rather than revolution may be the safest approach.  If the result of the current meltdown of capitalism does not result under President Obama in the fundamental reform of central banking both in America and throughout the world then a political revolution may become necessary, despite the danger that it would result in an even worse system of economic socialism and political totalitarianism. 

Beer’s failure in life was his de facto preference for socialism as the only alternative to capitalism.  He may not have been aware of any other way to avoid the extremism of both paradigms of thought, in which case his own ignorance would be what made him such a tragic person.

Samuel Beer deserves to be studied by future generations.  He was a major figure in destroying the best of civilization in his misguided attempt to save it.  He deserves to be praised for his dedication to a life of principle, even though his entire life was a tragedy both for himself and for humankind.

Unfortunately, the same dilemmas have paralyzed the entire Muslim world for six hundred years, which has witnessed a war between the pragmatic, de facto secularists who ruled through the tyranny of so-called “Islamic Empires” and the “No Nothing” religious extremists who would impose their own tyranny if given half a chance.

What does this mean for the presidency of Barack Obama?  Somehow, President Obama is going to have to negotiate a popular path to avoid both extremes by pursuing compassionate justice in a Second American Revolution.  Ronald Reagan shocked his reactionary Republican supporters by calling for just such a revolution, but this time based on the wisdom of Edmund Burke not on the passion of Paul Revere.

At a gathering on April 25th, Professor Hossein Nasr answered a question about the Islamic position on justice by stating, “One will know whether one is truly pursuing justice if one can do so with serenity.” So far, by this criterion President Obama seems to be uniquely qualified.