Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Miniature Infinitessimal Deities"

Beneath all the specific constitutional grievances against British authority lay a more elusive social and political rancor that lent passion to the Revolutionary movement and without which the Americans' devotion to republicanism is incomprehensible. The Whigs' language suggests a widespread anger and frustration with the way relationships of power and esteem seemed to be crystalizing by the middle of the eighteenth century, under the apparent direction of the Crown. Among all the grievances voiced against executive power, what appears to have particularly rankled the colonists, or at least was most directly confronted in their Whig literature, was the abuse of royal authority in creating political and hence social distinctions, the manipulation of official appointments that enabled those creatures with the proper connections, those filled with the most flattery, those "miniature infinitessimal Deities" John Adams called them, to leap ahead of those equally--if not better--qualified into lucrative positions of power and prestige.
For most Americans...this was the deeply felt meaning of the Revolution: they had created a new world, a republican world. No one doubted that the new polities would be republics, and, as Thomas Paine pointed out, "What is called a republic, is not any particular form of government." Republicanism meant more for Americans than simply the elimination of a king and the institution of an elective system. It added a moral dimension, a utopian depth, to the political separation from England--a depth that involved the very character of their society. "We are now really another people," exclaimed Paine in 1782.

Socially, of course, they were not really another people, despite much economic unsettling and the emigration of thousands of Tories. But intellectually and culturally they were--and this is what Paine meant. "Our style and manner of thinking have undergone a revolution more extraordinary than the political revolution of the country. We see with other eyes; we hear with other ears; and think with other thoughts, than those we formerly used." Republicanism did not signal the immediate collapse of the traditional social organization; but it did possess a profound social significance. The Revolution was intended in fact to "form a new era and give a new turn to human affairs." From the moment in 1774 and 1775 when independence and hence the formation of new governments became a distinct possibility, and continuing throughout the war, nearly every piece of writing concerned with the future of the new republics was filled with extraordinarily idealistic hopes for the social and political transformation of America. The Americans had come to believe that the Revolution would mean nothing less than a reordering of eighteenth-century society and politics as they had known and despised them--a reordering that was summed up by the conception of republicanism.
The sacrifice of the individual interests to the greater good of the whole formed the essence of republicanism and comprehended for Americans the idealistic goal of their Revolution. From this goal flowed all of the Americans' exhortatory literature and all that made their ideology truly revolutionary. This republican ideology both presumed and helped shape the Americans' conception of the way their society and politics should be structured and operated--a vision so divorced from the realities of American society, so contrary to the previous century of American experience, that it alone was enough to make the Revolution one of the great utopian movements of American history.
By definition it [republican government] had no other end than the welfare of the people: res publica, the public affairs, or the public good. "The word 'republic'," said Thomas Paine, "means the public good, or the good of the whole, in contradistinction to the despotic forms, which makes the good of the sovereign, or of one man, the only object of government." Its most exact English equivalent was commonwealth, by which was meant, as Edmund Pendleton suggested, a state belonging to the whole people rather than the Crown.

From The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 by Gordon Wood.

Glenn Reynolds links today to a report that:

A $1 million earmark request by Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) would allow the Interior Department to expand a wilderness area neighboring properties the Congressman owns.

And this is just one grain of sand on the seashore. Today it is not some king making the good of one man the only object of government, but rather Congress making the good of 535 men and women (with maybe a handful of exceptions) the only object of government. In a blind taste-test, would we be able to distinguish between our Congress and some third-world kleptocracy? "Shrinking the gap" begins at home.

OH YEAH: Almost forgot that the "miniature infinitessimal Deities" voted themselves a pay raise.

Dan Riehl: I can't think of a time when I have been more disenchanted with America's political class and that is saying something, as I basically distrust them to start.

Yeah, Baby.

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