The prevailing thought regarding humanity in this modern, 21st century world can rightly be deemed as having reached a pinnacle: the more civilized, and therefore westernized, a culture, country, or geographic area, the better. Long since past are the days of political theorists taking great pains to discover the state of man in pure nature, for the values and dreams of man have been so thoroughly conditioned by civilized society that they are seen as being attainable only ina civilized society. Whether drawing from the philosophical school of Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, or even Marx, there exists agreement regarding the concept that man enters into a social contract with his self-interest in mind: he sacrifices the freedom and equality enjoyed by man in the state of nature in order to preserve his well-being and protect his personal property through a social contract. The pro’s and con’s are weighed out, and as human history has shown, civilization has always won out. Now, thousands of years into the evolution of developing societies, the United States of America is the preeminent power in and prime example for the rest of the world–the city upon a hill–and so should strive to maximize the benefit to the general will (utility) inherent in its social contract, regardless of whether that contract is already the most advanced and humane in the world. All that comes to follow will show how the American government has strayed from its roots, and thus will attempt to provide a viable solution in the form of a progressive, just, and diversely-influenced political theory: an American reformation, so to speak. Sacrificed will be the narrowly beneficial economic motives that drive the political system today, replaced by utility and liberty for the people; and in the process, the ideals of the nation’s founding fathers will be resurrected and molded to serve the needs of a modern American populace.
Beginning with the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, there has been constant movement towards the fruition of a globally-interconnected, free-market, capitalist economic system, the motive of which is summed up by the need to increase profits. Over the past two decades, though the movement has continued unabated, this interconnectivity has reached levels hardly predicted, even by radicals such as Karl Marx and the like. The age of the internet has eliminated geographic difficulties inherent in international trade; the free-market system has opened access to the resources of undeveloped nations; and the prospect of unimaginable and unprecedented wealth has solidified essentially worldwide acceptance and praise of free-market capitalism. The political and philosophical figures of centuries past, such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jaques Rousseau, while differing in the their theories of human nature and the formation of societies, share one common characteristic: the importance of property and wealth for humanity and the impact they have throughout history. For Locke, the social contract serves to protect private property; for Hobbes, the perpetual drive for power (i.e. property and wealth) inherent in man ends only in death, and the social contract protects mankind from destroying one another through its pursuit; and Rousseau argues that the very founder of civil society is the concept of property, with its creation beginning an ever-deepening inequality amongst man. No matter which of these three very different thinkers, property and wealth are that which always has and always will drive mankind.
Ironically, the portion of North America that would eventually become the United States of America was initially colonized in order for European kingdoms to gain access to its resources, thereby expanding the kingdoms’ power, wealth, and influence: blatant realization of the aforementioned thinkers’ base-line theories. The Colonies gained their independence as a nation through a war fought, in its most simple sense, over taxation without representation. The group of men known to this day as the ‘Founding Fathers’ played significant roles in the formation of a revolutionary type of government, the purpose of which is outlined in the Declaration of Independence and its operation in the United States Constitution. A mission statement of sorts for the independence they longed for was included in the beginning of the Declaration and would become some of the most famous words in American history:
“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.”
Eventually a federal constitutional republic, a form of democracy, was created by the Constitution, whereby the people elect the officials who will act (through designated political duties) on their behalf. But before the Constitution was finally ratified, there existed dissension throughout the states, mainly in the form of opposition to a powerful Federal government.
The Federalist Paperswere written by some of the authors of the Constitution itself, and they ultimately succeeded in their argument for ratification by countering possible issues and pitfalls. In Federalist No. 10, written by James Madison during the fall of 1787, the future President recognized the dangers that powerful factions presented to a democracy and argued that the proposed federal constitutional republic was the best solution to and safeguard against their dangers. By electing a relatively small number of men to serve the populace as its elected officials, the greatest overall representation of the people’s voice would be achieved while preventing large groups from effecting change contrary to the general will of the people. Madison’s argument eventually won out against the anti-federalists who sought to protect the power of individual states, and the shape that the new government took is a testament to the success of Madison and his federalist counterparts.
The Founding Fathers feared that, by allowing individual states to possess the power capable of challenging the federal government, there would be as many factions as there were states with differing needs and opinions. But Madison and his like-minded brethren had no way of anticipating the groundwork that the federalist and anti-federalist feud would lay for the seemingly unbreakable two-party, highly partisan system that exists today. Couple with this partisanship the unmatched influence that money enjoys over the modern electoral system, and a picture begins to appear of a political system wholly unrecognizable to the founding fathers’ vision, despite it being the very evolution of their idea of an independent United States of America. Perhaps ‘unrecognizable’ is less accurate than ‘the realization of a worst nightmare’. James Madison describes factions as entities that wield their influence in a way that is adversenot only to the rights of other individuals, but to the interests of entire communities and populations: the general will. Can it not be rightly said, therefore, that since there are only two relevant political parties, and because these parties rely fully on the financial support of private interests rather than their party members, they are, in fact, the embodiment of the very factions which Madison warned against? Nay, the evolution of factional interests far surpasses those feared by this nation’s founders; James Madison was concerned with factions comprised of entire states or industry groups, such as the agricultural faction, which would at least represent significant numbers of working men, women, and families: average citizens. But today, factional interests are most often industry groups and lobbyist organizations, whose goals merely serve the upper-echelon executives and industry leaders, all the while drawing certain (and numerous) politicians into their respective factions with promises of money, power, and support in elections.
Imagine, for example, a hypothetical group of 100 million eligible voters who, with the sole intention of relieving the tax burden of all Americans, seek to withdraw from any and all foreign military involvement and drastically cut the defense budget, which was close to $700 billion in 2011 (for this purpose, it will be assumed that national security will not suffer from the budget cut). This group not only needs a significant portion of the legislature to pursue this action for the public good, but most likely the support of the President as well. With the partisan political system as it functions, the only way to put forth viable candidates is to do so through one of the two political parties. And for the group to put forth a candidate they must begin by pouring money into lobbying organizations, which will then exert as much influence as is paid for. However, both the Republican and Democratic parties rely heavily upon the financial support of private donors: donors who would immediately withdraw support if their respective party, no matter which of the two, happened to choose a candidate that were to champion such a cause. Universal privatization of government does not stop short of national defense due to industry’s full knowledge of the power of fear (present throughout America, caused mainly by the war on terror) and thus the virtually blank check given to the Department of Defense (DoD): in the fiscal year 2007, of the approximately $600 billion spent by the DoD, $312 billion was spent on private defense contracts. There is simply too much money at stake for these private contractors to allow for such a drastic cut-back as is desired by the general will, and they would surely use any and all money, influence, and power necessary to remove the threat to their profits. Whether a candidate is running to become a Representative, a Senator, or the President of the United States, he or she doesn’t stand a chance without the support, both financially and through the power structure, of one of the two political parties due to this dystopian reality. The hypothetical 100 million voters would, in the end, be forced to disregard the fact that they are strong enough in number to elect a president in an historic landslide (just over 125 million voted in the 2008 election, with Obama taking just over 67 million votes to win comfortably). In summation, the exercising of the general will of 100 million voters would be done in futility, for despite their pure intentions and accurate representation of the populace, they cannot defeat the factional political structure that controls America today. The more pessimistic can easily argue that getting a President elected, despite all of the pomp and circumstance and the reverence Americans hold towards the presidency, really comes down to purchasing more votes than your opponent. Every four years the election season gets a little bit longer, the television and radio ads become harder to avoid or ignore, and new campaign platforms spring up out of fertile technological advancement, namely the internet and social media: all factors which continuously move national elections away from an expression of freedom and democracy and towards a business transaction, a boardroom battle, or a hostile corporate takeover.
This sad reality is terribly anti-American as far as the founding fathers intended it, but it is decidedly American given its unchallenged presence in and domination of American politics. The state of this nation, which would disturb any and all of the founding fathers, brings forth the question of whether or not the government, as it currently stands and functions, is legitimate: do the people really have a say in who represents them or what they stand for? Does the system, as a whole, act upon the general will, and nothing else? Or is it the ultra-elite, comprised of the leadership of the two parties and the very few individuals, corporations, and lobbyist groups who fill their coffers, that actually has all of the say? Reason and analysis shows that the reality lies in the latter option; so the dangers of factions have, by definition, been realized, and that which Madison warned will destroy popular governments is, in fact, dictating all significant functioning of America today.
It remains to be seen when and how this inevitable destruction will come about, but rather than proving the great political thinkers of our past correct, all who thirst for significant, positive change must follow in their footsteps: the status quo must be constantly challenged to ward off complacency, in turn opening the collective American mind. The first step towards reformation and a return to truly American ideals must begin at the source of its ongoing demise. The single largest influence on the electoral system, money, must be completely removed. By imposing strict campaign laws, namely limiting and making uniform the amount of money that every candidate may raise, not only will private, faction-like influences slowly be removed from the electoral process, but the current monopoly by the two-party system will begin to break. As things currently stand, the extent of the voice that the populace has with regards to their government essentially equates to the choice between two options, Republican or Democrat. The universal right to liberty promised in the Declaration of Independence and in the U.S. Constitution would have the candidates, their political platforms, and their actions as elected officials all be determined by the general will (which can be the nation’s will for the president, a state’s will for a senator, etc.). Regardless of political or ideological tendencies, one cannot argue that the people–the majority, the general will–has little, if any, say in the particulars surrounding who and what they are voting for. The people are forced to choose between option A and option B, both of which have been previously picked and well-coached by very narrow and private interests. There is a valid reason why the president does not earn the salary of a corporate executive or superstar athlete but rather that of a mid-level manager or a minimum salary requirement bench player: patriotism, honor, and duty to one’s fellow Americans were all that interested the early presidents of this young nation’s history, and thus the purity of the position and the reverence in which it was held provided more than enough incentive for aspiring leaders to dedicate their lives to the pursuit of the highest office in the country. In the 21st century, though, the office of the presidency comes with multi-million-dollar book deals and the promise of even larger private-sector signing bonuses to come.
In conjunction with the fast-moving industrial revolution and development of capitalism in the 19th century, Karl Marx predicted that the end result of capitalist societies, which occurs when the class struggle inherent in such societies reaches a boiling point, is armed revolution in which the working class overthrows the ownership class–in his own words, “… to win the battle of democracy”. The oppression of the many by the few in the name of profits, Marx surmised, could only carry on so far before the many revolt and regain power for the masses. Marx’s own theory of communism was as controversial as it was groundbreaking during its development in the 19th century, and his most outspoken critics at the time argued against, outcast, and attempted to discredit him much in the way that 21st-century champions of free-market economics damn any opinion or action that can be deemed ‘socialist’. One misconceived yet popular fear common in the 19th century regarding communism imagined such a society pillaging anything and everything from all citizens: taking food from mothers, houses from families, toys from children, and the dreaded destruction of their private property. Marx simply, yet eloquently, counters these false assumptions by forcing the working class to recognize the sad reality in which they suffer:
You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society private property is already done away with for nine tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its nonexistence in the hands of those nine tenths.
While the political theory that is being attempted herein does not claim a communist or socialist essence, it certainly draws from these, among many other, schools of political thought, in the end seeking a reformed tandem with the ideals of the founding fathers combined with maximized liberty and utility for all of man. In doing so, however, it is necessary to quell prejudices and fears that western society has made almost uniform regarding the theories of communism and socialism.
With regards to the former theory, which took hold amidst the industrial revolution, the incentive for the wealthy capitalist class of the time to portray communism as immoral and corrupt was really a matter of life or death in their estimation: the radical ideas posed a direct threat to the exponentially-expanding profit pool that washed in and continued its rise along with industrialization. The capitalists knew that the more efficient a factory, the more oppressed were the workers; increasing profit potential is inversely proportional with worsening conditions for the workforce; and the theory of communism contrarily promised, first and foremost, to empower the worker and improve his condition in life. Propagandized disinformation spread fear of communism by claiming that, in a communist society, a tyrannical leader or regime would take away everything from the people for the gain of the ruler(s), and in doing so all freedom and happiness would be lost. In accordance with his reputation as one of the elite philosophers this world has seen, Marx foregoes the typical debate-style approach and instead simply prompts the open-minded to look at the situation and the opposing sides from a different perspective. In doing so, especially with the words of The Communist Manifesto, Marx is able to turn the focus exactly 180°, revealing to the working class the hypocrisy of the ruling class: the claims launched against the specter of communism were, in effect, the very characteristics of the oppression present in the industrialized society. Once again, there is no effort being made here towards a communist America; rather, with America embodying the realization of Marx’s predictions for capitalist societies, coupled with the outrage of capitalists to anything that isn’t purely free-market–whether directed towards Karl Marx or Barack Obama–exquisitely illustrated is the cyclical nature of history. This is most notable in terms of the working class’ yearn for a better life and more opportunity on the one hand, and the elite power structure’s willingness to take extreme measures to maintain and expand profits on the other. The American reformation being called for does not include the abolition of private property or really any characteristics specific to communism, but does seek to draw upon Marx’s unparalleled ability to challenge the status quo and thus effect change. Marx even recognized that his dream of a purely communist society, which is essentially utopian in its complete fruition, could most likely never be achieved because of human nature. So while the worldwide failure of so-called communism seems to discredit Marx on the surface, any student of history knows that not a single one of the communist systems created could be deemed Marxist; in practice, communism took a tyrannical and dictatorial form and always included widespread oppression. Marx sought the liberation of the masses, and his efforts in this regard and his previously-noted opinions can be paramount in sparking change in America today. War must be waged against the status quo; average Americans must realize that empowerment comes not from obedience to the elite party leadership and therefore the capitalist power structure, but rather through a unified movement comprised of all those who stand to benefit from a return to the truly American ideal of liberty. Because the portion of the population that falls into this category equates to 90% or more of the population, and not even the most powerful government and largest economy in the world can compete with an organized populace.
The approach of the modern-day capitalist towards socialism is, as stated, strikingly similar to that of his predecessor centuries ago. The difference now, though, is that all it takes is a mere inkling of socialist thought or tendency for free-market proponents to plunge into vicious, seething, and radical conservative rhetoric. Consider the treatment of the economic crisis that shook the world in 2008 and stood looming over the new government that took office early in 2009. One of the primary measures taken to remedy the financial woes was the auto industry bailout. With so much industry already having left American soil in search of cheaper labor and lower production costs (the process of outsourcing), and the once-great American automobile industry already struggling mightily, the American government obliged the executives of the “Big Three” auto makers when they came to Washington begging for assistance in the form of billions of dollars in bailout funds. While government intervention in private business is typically viewed as anti-capitalist, and inevitably further deemed anti-American, in this instance it was the very leadership of the companies that sought government help. The bailout, which was temporarily started by President Bush at the end of his second term, is almost universally opposed by conservatives, who claim that it was Obama’s attempt to centralize government power and spark a socialist takeover. Then what is the end result of this bailout, without which experts believe a full-blown depression could have settled in, and which was thought to be the only option by both a Republican (surely the conservative opposition is not aware of this fact) and a Democratic president? “The jobs were saved, the economy was helped, and the government gets repaid ahead of schedule. GM too is earning healthy profits again, allowing the government to divest itself of its GM stock.” Obama must therefore be severely limited in his ability to centralize the power of his federal government in an attempt to socialize it, because otherwise, surely a stipulation of the bailout would have been permanent government stock holdings leading to the transition from a private to a public (socialized) auto industry.
To illustrate the complete lack of reason employed primarily by the ultra-conservatives who often oppose all foreign thought or theory, consider now (and try to ignore the grammar, or lack thereof) the article titled Obama Is Remaking America Into Socialism–an attempt to explain how anti-Republican equates to anti-American–published by the online version of the conservative newspaper Human Events (a legitimate publication which advertises itself as having been President Reagan’s “favorite newspaper”). Penned by Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative political analyst, author, and lawyer, the opinion piece is dominated by scare tactics and disinformation that seek to label the Democratic Party as a subversive element striving to destroy America through socialism. What frightens her and the like-minded so much? “Socialism requires a totalitarian system–that gives the ruling gang the power to distribute the fruits of other people’s labor to its political pals. That is what is happening to the United States as President Obama proceeds with his goal of ‘remaking America’.” The ‘ruling gang’ in terms of the auto bailout (the bailout being Schlafly’s main example of Obama’s “remaking America” goal) has proven to have no interest in overtaking the industry: the Big Three were given almost a decade to repay the $80 billion they were loaned, and as of May 4, 2012, $70 billion out of the total $80 billion loan has been repaid. Furthermore, language included in the TARP legislation (which included the auto bailout) stipulated that the government ownership stake was temporary, and significant strides were taken to increase industry competitiveness and profitability through modernization of respective business models. Conclusive evidence provided by the actions of the government regarding the bailout prove Schlafly’s claims grossly inaccurate and, given her status as a political analyst, lacking in professionalism and ethics. Also brought into question by the mere publication of such an article is the ever-expanding and increasingly partisan American media, but this is undoubtedly a topic for separate discussion.
Furthermore, a democratic society and certain socialist ideals and theories can go hand-in-hand to a considerable extent. Nowhere in the Constitution does it dictate a permanent and textbook capitalist economy; in fact, some socialist influences on the government and the nation have in the past and could in the future improve the level of real democracy enjoyed by Americans. Schlafly also claims that both Merriam-Webster and Random House identify Socialism as a “Marxist theory”; another false statement, as socialism is instead a system that can fall in between the two extremes of capitalism and communism or rather exist during the transition from one form of government to the other. But the sad reality is that, for the radicals and extremists, both left- and right-wingers alike, truth is not that which they primarily strive for: they merely seek outside confirmation of their set-in-stone beliefs and surround themselves with similarly closed-minded individuals. And if all this is not enough, she explains that the plague of socialism has disappeared from America due to two events: Ronald Reagan’s policies toppling the USSR and the United States destroying the Nazis. Even though Reagan himself would never take credit for such an event because he was not responsible for it, and despite the fact that the Nazi party was not really socialist at all save for its name, these examples suffice because, as discovered, truth and reality matter not to extremists trying to confirm and further their views.
Capitalist America has evolved far beyond that which the father of communism could have foreseen, and instead of the balance of power lying in the hands of wealthy factory owners, it is possessed by the largest corporations; industry organizations that pool their wealth to consolidate power and maximize influence; enormous lobbying groups with bottomless pockets; and financial institutions that blur the lines between public and private entities and maintain control of vast portions of America’s wealth. Working-class America could very well rise up and arm itself, but there are no longer clear oppressors from whom they can take back power. Indeed, the working class has reached levels of oppression Marx didn’t dare predict. There are no longer products of labor for workers to identify with and measure themselves against, for there is hardly any industry or manufacturing left in the country; and there exists no factory owner towards whom the worker can focus his angst, but rather near-mythical boards of directors that pass down orders from faraway cities atop soaring skyscrapers. But while the specific steps involved in Marx’s remedy for the ‘evils’ of capitalism are no longer viable, the essence of his dream–for a working class with a voice, for the majority, whose sweat and blood form the foundation of nations, to likewise control the loudest voice in the political system for which they suffer–this is still within reach.
Growing numbers of Americans, especially among the generations that followed the baby boomers, yearn for a change in the status quo: for a just government concerned, first and foremost, with the rights and liberties of its populace. This notion is evidenced by the most recent presidential election, in which Barack Obama won comfortably, some would say in a landslide, on the platform of ‘Change’. What did this ‘Change’ mean? Many of his supporters and those who elected him did not even know, but they knew they wanted something different. In fact, his first term in office brought about very little, if any, of this promised ‘Change’, aside from the healthcare reform commonly known as Obamacare (but this, too, was dominated by partisan compromise, accomplishing a mere fraction of Obama’s campaign promises on the topic). Following the narrow passage of this healthcare reform bill, the Obama administration has been largely handicapped by partisanship coupled with in-fighting amongst Democrats, not to mention its service to the interests of its largest donors. For his campaign, while praised for its ingenuity and especially its use of technology, was ultimately won by the money. Obama’s campaign spent an unprecedented $730 million, compared to the $330 million spent by McCain; in total, $2.4 billion was spent on the presidential election alone. The average man–even taken as the overwhelming percentage of the population that his lower and middle economic classes make up–stands no chance of pushing his collective voice and views to the forefront because he must compete with unimaginable amounts of money (i.e. power), and with each passing word it is becoming more visible that dollars, not votes, translate to influence over the political system.