Monday, July 6, 2009
I have been watching the opening episodes of the HBO docudrama John Adams. It won many awards and nominations among the Emmy 's and the Golden Globes. And they do seem well deserved. During parts I and II I was reminded that our founding fathers were making it up as they went along. The United States of America was a brave new experiment.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, while holding forth for the concept that all men are created equal (sidestepping the female issue) did not feel most men were capable of governing themselves. What they ended up creating was no so much a democracy as a representative republic. But they built into the constitution the ability to change it.
Throughout history, as we learn more let's hope, other ways to let free men govern themselves have emerged. In the late 19th century an ideology of the political left and center-left emerged called Social Democracy. The concept of social democracy has changed throughout the decades since its inception. The fundamental difference between social democratic thought and other forms of socialism such as orthodox Marxism is the belief in the primacy of political action as opposed to the primacy of economic determinism. In short they would be rather opposed to a free-market economy, and for regulation developed in a democratic or representative manner to control man's more basic instincts for the good of the many.
Democratic socialists reject social democrats because they are seen as too capitalistic. GW Bush and his cronies tried pure capitalism or as close to it as we have gotten here. And the current economic situation is proof it does not work. Man likes to acquire money for the sheer joy of the bottom line on the balance sheet. All religious movements have cautioned against man's greed and pride. The USSR never got close to pure socialism but close enough to prove that does not work. The argument then could be made that some place in the middle - a balance between the wants of the one or few and the needs of the many needs to be achieved.
The founding fathers were right - most men are not capable of governing themselves without firm guidelines as to how to do so. And what goes for governments should be applied to corporations. Especially banks and investment firms. Capitalists cannot be permitted to run riot any more than the masses can be allowed to riot in the streets. Both extremes are anarchy. The question then becomes where to draw the line in the sand. I propose we do not know.
Like the first congress of the colonies we are venturing into largely uncharted waters because we are no longer dealing with just 13 small colonies but a huge nation involved in a world economy. But having proved what John Adams and Thomas Jefferson knew more than two centuries ago, that men cannot govern themselves, we must now form a set of laws or regulations within free enterprise can exist without destorying itself and the people. It may take a few tries to get this right but at least we now know what is wrong.