Most of us have received that email-perhaps from family-with those oversized letters and big exclamation points in the headers or improper punctuation in general, that goes about describing the end of the good days in America-such as when Eisenhower ran things. Specifically, you have encountered that one from 2000, during the election of President Bush #2, where the 200-year lifespan of a democracy is outlined, followed by a collection of demographical statistics about the constituency of Al Gore, to argue that only conservative candidates have the right stuff. When it was discovered that Kerry and Obama were also used with the same statistics during their elections, the whole thing lost some credibility. I don’t try to be partial, I really just want the facts, but since those facts are in question, let’s go without the statistics and decide if its necessary to bring them in later.
In 1887 Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh, had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years prior:
“A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse over loose fiscal policy, (which is) always followed by a dictatorship.”
“The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:
From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependence back into bondage.”
Without even scrutinizing what this professor means, his overall liberal or conservative nature, conservatives have their interpretation, suggesting that Obama is our Hitler. Because why else point to some old text that might not actually have any lasting relevance than to argue a conservative agenda? Click to see a good example of this idea being purported in a room full of whacks that lose validity instantly.
But I am not rejecting the concept above, I am compelled by it and go on some faith that Tyler’s analysis was also published and that his conclusion is supported. It seems logical and reasonable. I just want to trace the whole thing out.
Alright, what year marks the 200th year of America? In case you forgot, the American Revolution was 1776. That would make it 1976: the year Jimmy Carter was elected. He followed Nixon, a rather scandalous President, Carter was the regular guy, elected to clean up the dirty dishes in the White House. But that’s just it. He was elected to do it and not supported. The people did not follow his high moral character–and like Obama, he is accepting of his dire political situation. Three years later, he was baffled and felt he had nothing to lose by giving a televised speech that went down unfavorably, leading directly to Reagan in 1980.
It is called the “Malaise” or “Crisis of Confidence Speech” because the tenor is that the only fundamental threat to American democracy is that people are expecting too much out of government; deferring our lives and American spirit to government; we are so prosperous and abundant that we expect food delivered on trucks to restaurants and gas in our tanks so that we can whimsically go out dancing on cocaine and booze and have a 24-hour pancake house to cool out with before going home to have unprotected sex with someone we just met. Maybe all this abundance without self-reflection in who we are and what we’re asking government to do on our behalf could possibly lead to dangerous consequences. That’s the nutshell of Carter’s speech. He is a Democrat. Not a shrink-the-government-conservative.
If the people were enjoying an all-time high of self-indulgence in the 1970’s, having that reputation, then maybe we could be placed at the apathy and dependence click on the wheel of samsara that is democracy. The next one is bondage. The logic follows that apathy precedes bondage because it would require our distraction for the powers to lay the chains, to lead the sheep to the barn for capture. “Just keep feeding us and we’ll go with you, baaah.” But just as a shepherd is bonded to his flock, so are the American people bonded to our government. There are loving shepherds and there are shitty ones.
Carter is arguing that a combination of austerity and creative solutions could drive the American spirit to resolve problems with OPEC and our foreign policy with the middle east. The Bush and Reagan names go down in history as the administration that escalated the conflicts of the middle east. Remember that whole Iran-Contra thing? The people didn’t realize that they were growing the wealth of terrorists by driving hot rods and hippy buses–claiming American freedom while funding the Fundamental-Islamist dream. Carter wanted to get through to the people that bondage is inevitable; either bonded to war or bonded to oil. Take your pick.
The inevitable happened: we embedded our military in to the middle-east so deep, it has surpassed Vietnam as the most careless foreign policy in the books, continued across all administrations since Regan–with a brief lull during Clinton years. Ironically, fuel inefficiency and low-pricing were off the charts compared to the 1980’s, during Clinton’s reign, making his advances in to domestic, clean energy rather moot. All because we, as a people, couldn’t stop to follow the chain of our consumer habits, and wonder, “does my Subaru run on blood-oil?”
Maybe we should even question Clinton’s relationship to the middle east. Just because we didn’t hear about it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Ron Paul gives a proper account concerning the impeachment of Clinton. Because during the height of the distraction of Monica Lewinsky, bombs were dropping over Iraq and Afghanistan. This is only a few years before 9/11.
Regan campaigned and won on a basic principle of self-satisfaction. His “are you better off” campaign has nothing to do with American spirit or ingenuity. The tenor of his short speech is not to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, not to share resources and develop new technology, but just wait for daddy to provide a new policy that will give you a job. But then of course, when he visited the depressed Flint, MI, he suggested people move away, find another job somewhere else. I mean, how apathetic is that? Conservatives are supposed to be about preserving values and communities. It’s not possible when you’re moving all the time.
So if the 200 year mark signifies the point of apathy, then what preceded it? How did that develop? Times were abundant in the post-war and cold-war generations, WWII and immediate post-war years were everything but complacent, and it was liberating. So what marks the era of liberty? There have been two major waves of human rights roughly 100-years apart.
The 1950’s were complacent during abundant times: colored people stayed in their place, segregated, women stayed at home, discriminated, men knew their business, and it was all very much the beginning of a “keeping up with the Jones” society.
Although the civil rights era was brewing in that complacency, that tendency sort of embedded itself in to the new post-civil rights era. If you were Black and reached the status of other White men, then you were keeping up with the Jones’ and it was something to be proud of. Example: Bill Cosby. He was an advocate for portraying black actors in what had been assumed to be white roles. But he also helped fund projects like Melvin Van Peeble’s Sweet Sweetbacks Sweet Asssss Song. It was the Black Panther scene that made that film a financial success. So perhaps Cosby seems like a sign of weakness and selling out. So it’s relative.
Keeping on a general curve is going to keep us on track, not so many sharp turns. On the journey of this discussion, let’s think of that as scenery, and avoid more pitfalling specifics.
So then, the stage of Courage could be Lincoln’s era and his 13th Amendment would mark the turning point toward liberty in this country. Let’s try that out against the Harvard Professor’s opinion.
I just went about suggesting my case that the 70’s and 80’s were the height of complacency as the result of national abundance, but the trend started in the 50’s. The final stage of liberty rolled out in ’64 with the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, a long range trend that that could only have been brought upon with the closing of the Civil War with the passing of the 13th Amendment. In the present, we are trying to determine whether or not America is on the verge of bondage, because we have achieved universal liberty in contemporary American society, abundance has come to pass, and apathy is no doubt a known problem. But if we are not yet in bondage, then we are close to it. We should consider that our government has compiled a tremendous list of scandals and bad wars since the 50’s, while economic disparity increased as the financial powers shifted since the 60’s.
[Professor Joseph] Olson believes the United States is now somewhere between the ‘complacency and apathy’ phase of Professor Tyler’s definition of democracy, with some forty percent of the nation’s population already having reached the ‘governmental dependency’ phase.
Wait a minute, let’s not get hung up on that interpretation just yet. Governmental dependency sounds like a sign of bondage to me, not apathy. What is governmental dependency all about? History shows that the 1940’s-1960’s were the height of government benefits and those benefits have been declining since Nixon took office. Moreover, the economy was booming, folks had jobs or could otherwise pick up gigs. It is possible that Tyler was arguing in his earlier statement something about the wealthy people of the nation and not the poor, dependent citizens. Let’s consider that possibility and trace our history back a ways.
It was the era of great courage that brought this nation both to and out of Civil War. And before that it was religious persecution that brought the first settlers here, becoming the backbone of America. It wouldn’t have been liberty bringing us to civil war, but perhaps courage is what it took to settle in a strange land, full of “savages” who “needed” to be “saved.” The civil war didn’t have any religious context–other than prayers to end it. So the religious era began to wain, although the whole Manifest Destiny project, displacing scores of Native Americans, was justified as an act of God but truly gave power to the rise of industry and industrial men.
I wonder if God wanted us here so much that he made us arrive after the Native Americans, when we could kill them with weapons, for the primary purpose of mining for gold, clearing forests, and pouring industrial waste in to the drinking water. It’s a bizarre concept of religious thought, but there it is. No more strange than the idea of going to Heaven as a result of suicide bombing Americans. Both at the end of the day have a way of primarily benefiting a few industrial men.
Lincoln delivered justice and that is his legacy, liberating the slaves knowing well that he was on the brink of defeating the Confederacy, thereby maintaining American unity and eliminating the possibility of another civil war. The era of liberty is what brought abundance as we ventured to the west coast, creating free market states without slavery, and an era of expansion with seemingly limitless prosperity. This era continued with women’s suffrage and gradual integration.
The abundance of this new era came with the advent of central banks, stabilizing the state-operated banks, but had the simultaneous effect of making perpetual debt. On the surface it would look like an all-time high for both liberty and abundance as the cash cow just kept milking. The bondage of debt revealed itself as the continuous ramping up of credit collapsed in to The Great Depression by 1930. Lasting a decade or so, we regressed as a nation. The religious provided hope, the courageous survived, the liberated found a new path to abundance, while the depressed became absolutely complacent and the fearful died. America was reborn in the following decades and WWII put a complete end to the Depression.
The American spirit was waning, as there were no new lands to discover, markets were not booming, and the uncertainty of financial markets always looming. The New Deal rolled out benefits from the public treasury faster than bombs over German u-boat bunkers. This is also the time that federal debt soared and the perpetual war machine began to amass.
The conservative approach wants to point the finger at poor people, but we still haven’t even considered that our dependence could be elsewhere. Face it, we are far more dependent on the American military holding down our position in the world than we are on SNAP or the Affordable Care Act. Our financial systems are entirely dependent upon the policies from the banks and the agreeable cooperation of public officials.
NSA revelations are beginning to illustrate the bondage of BIG DATA, now tethered to every act we make in the world wide web. Moreover, we depend on that technology to make money and hold that position for ourselves in the marketplace. The eye of Big Brother is beginning to open.
It is clear now what Eisenhower was talking about when he decided to coin the term “military industrial complex”.
Meanwhile the Too Big To Fail reality is right before us. The banks connected to the federal reserve like to act up and hold the barrel of our economy to our head and suggest that irresponsible consumers are the people to blame for widespread market failure. Then the same folks who pass legislation for that scene turn around and talk their ass off about free markets and the benefits of free markets. It’s an irony when the free markets are purported to be the best thing ever and perfect and self-maintained, then our public legislators constantly have to protect it and legislate for it to keep it going.
Total contradiction all the time in government at this point, because as the famous analysis states by accident, once the legislators learn how to obtain gifts from the treasury, or in this case, insider trading and campaign contributions, then democracy has had it. Call it a day and await the next revolution.
The quote again is “the voters can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury,” so we have to consider what the Author was talking about. The Athenian Republic was not a contemporary democracy. Even the 1887 conclusion herein that started all of this was not a contemporary democracy. The voters in both of these eras were the men who owned property. People were considered property: women and inferior men were thus not voting.
So who are we talking about in contemporary terms? Because only the rebirth of our nation in the 1960’s did we truly realize social liberty. So who are the voters today? Everyone! In the first fifty years of actual existing democracy, the public treasury has squeezed out the poor, more and more.
We can elect Obama to hopefully push some new health care law, make public benefits simpler and more efficient, but is that really a generous gift? We can elect congressmen to pass food benefits through the budget for another year, but is that a really a benefit, or simply the right to eat? If an economic system apprehends natural areas, gardens, and small local farms, then holds its portents against you at a price, then it limits your human rights. SNAP is a way to guarantee that a modern economic system can sustain a population in a fair way.
I think this Olson interpretation is just cynical, naive as he forgets that the voters are not just white men anymore. And he is hopeful in a way, because he really doesn’t want to believe that bondage is debt, because debt is what drives our economy more than anything, because it’s too big to fail–or else.
Perhaps even he is too complacent and afraid to interpret the life cycle of America with honesty. Because we are well passed 200 now, at the ripe age of 237. Perhaps we are on the verge of collapse and dictatorship. I just don’t think its Obama trying to do that. Although I believe he is very supportive of the bondage of PRISM and the NSA policies, although he’s trying to get us out of there and to leave office out of there while dudes like Lindsey Graham just want to keep going to war.
We live in a country now where folks that invent things, to bring real solutions to the table with the capacity to liberate the people from economic instability and international conflict, are killed or ruined. Stanley Meyer invented a water car in 1990. Nicolai Tesla invented a free electricity grid. Thomas Edison had developed efficient batteries and was devising a business plan for homes to be independently powered with personal energy storage. All of these folks had some sudden, mysterious endings to their lives or projects. I am not saying its all American interest, in fact, that wouldn’t make sense. But the bondage is in the fact that markets are held above people, so the people who are apparently the top, most influential, the wealthiest, the most powerful, the so-called 1% is under the bondage of these markets and I am sure they are not fully conscious as to whom they are serving.
If you love democracy, America, as do I, then perhaps you have to reconsider what it actually is and get some balls together, to do something about keeping it.
Oh yeah, and concerning those statistics, I’ll just refer you back to this analysis of it. They were debunked anyway and it only serves an interpretation that I don’t much care to support or repeat.