Monday, March 26, 2012

The American Revolution and the American Counter-Revolution: Past, Present, and Future

[Today, we welcome back SWR!  PfP would like to thank him for his contribution!  As always, if you would like to contribute to People for Polity, email]

I want, here, to try to speak of something that bothers me about American history and how it is presented to and understood by the common person that no one ever talks about and then how this relates to the contemporary United States.

Often, people like to speak about and present the current U.S. Constitution like it is the document that embodies the values and goals of the American Revolution.

That, however, is not really true.

The true document of the revolution -- besides the Declaration of Independence -- was the Articles of Confederation.

The current Constitution was largely a counter-revolutionary document that sought to minimize and thwart the democratic goals and impulses of the revolution. The current (second) Constitution was the document pushed by elitists like Alexander Hamilton and John Adams who sought to ensure that their kind of people would rule (i.e. the emergent capitalist class, including the bankers, the factory owners, etc).

In fact, they were very open about their view if you actually read their writings; they did not want normal people making decisions. 

As an aside -- for me -- that type of openness about one’s elitism is remarkable and is a fascinating contrast to our current media-driven political environment where the ideas of genuine elitism have not gone away; rather nowadays they have to be hidden behind the rhetoric of a kind of (faux) populism.

We should also not forget that it is thanks to Alexander Hamilton that we have such undemocratic institutions like the Electoral College, which was put in place to prevent the people from actually choosing who would be president.

Additionally, it was Alexander Hamilton and his banker friends who pushed for the creation of the first Bank of the United States, which was bitterly opposed by people like Thomas Jefferson and is comparable in function to our current Federal Reserve System that so many people rightfully hate.

These counter-revolutionaries favored centralized power and aristocratic rule over decentralized power and democratic rule (i.e. what Thomas Jefferson wanted). We should also not forget that Alexander Hamilton basically wanted George Washington to be a monarch, serving a life-term as president.

The current Constitution -- as it was written by James Madison -- is perhaps best understood as a compromise document between the original liberal democratic revolutionaries (many of whom we would later call Anti-Federalists) and the more elitist counter-revolutionaries.

For example, there was a reason that these people had to write the "Federalist Papers". Through the Federalist Papers these counter-revolutionaries had to try to convince The People to give back some of the liberty and power that they had won during the revolution and enjoyed under the Articles of Confederation. Part of their strategy of getting the people to accept this new powerful centralized government was to give them a national Bill of Rights.

We need to all understand that this did not exist in the initial version of the second Constitution. That's why the Bill of Rights exists in the Constitution as a series of "amendments" rather than "articles". It was an add-on at the end to get the people to swallow the document of the counter-revolution.

We should not think that the Bill of Rights exists because everyone wanted it to be there; and even today there are many people who do not want The People to have certain rights but have no problem giving even more rights to those in power. Rather, it exists because that was the minimum compromise required to get the necessary votes to pass in Congress and in the state legislatures.

For me, this understanding of the early history of the United States is crucial to understanding our current situation. I see the same counter-revolutionary forces that existed in that period in our contemporary world.

These forces of the counter-revolution continually seek to expand their power and control over the American government and over all of American society, the main difference being that, as I said before, they are not as open about this as someone like Alexander Hamilton was.

This counter-revolution did not end with the passage of the second Constitution, nor did it end with the creation of the national bank. Rather, corporate domination of our society continues and is worse today than it was then.

Thomas Jefferson feared the rise of corporate power, and I think he would be appalled by the state of our current society in this regard -- to say nothing of him being appalled by our contemporary blurring of Church and State.

I feel that we need to return to the more radical principles of the revolution, including some of the core ideas of Jeffersonian democracy and a decentralized society (especially economically and politically).

Also, like Thomas Jefferson, I think we need to go through a rethinking and updating of our own political system to ensure that it promotes freedom, equality, and democracy for all people.

To clarify, I'm not, in any way, saying that the Articles of Confederation were perfect; I'm just saying that people should really think about and question why they value our current Constitution, and, more broadly, why they value our current system.

Personally, I'm in favor of a new Constitutional Convention.

I think we can do something better than what we have. We need a new document that will bring the issues and concerns of the contemporary world to the forefront and to make our positions on them -- in terms of securing liberty, democracy, and equality for all people -- clear and explicit.


  1. Many will try and suppress free thinkers such as yourself with rhetoric to make you think that change is a bad thing or "unpatriotic."

    Change is only a bad thing for the people who are benefiting from current legislation i.e. the ones who are in power -- or the one percent.

    What about the rest of the country?

    Free thinkers are a threat to those in power, and so they attempt to slander them with rhetorical terms such as "elitist."

    Ideas are always good. Even the bad ones. Without the bad ideas, we could not recognize the good ones. That is why we must pool our virtue; to have as many virtuous ideas as possible.

    To do this, we must change the electoral system, rid money from politics, and eliminate career politicians.

    It is vital that we have people in office that are their to delegate and govern and are NOT there for their own personal gain. Our system currently allows this with unlimited terms, and, even scarier, unlimited money, which give politicians unlimited incentive to work for themselves. It is vital that everyone has an opportunity to govern and know how it is to be govern. The more people that govern our country the better. It is vital that we use this collective virtue to make the very BEST decisions our polity can.

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