John G Bell


Fall '03 - Gomez & Unsel

Week 1 – Critical Integrative Comment

The Founding and America's Dissenting Tradition: Consent, Competency and Equality

The period of sustained European settlement of the area that would be come the United States essentially started in 1607 with the establishment of a colony on Jamestown Island. While Jamestown itself was not a sustained settlement, it was by that point the first volley in a settlement by attrition. To be cliché, this was an interesting period in history. At approximately the same period of time, there was a large effort to colonize Ireland with the founding of the Ulster plantation after the 'Flight of the Earls' in 1607. There are some striking similarities and relevancies between the acts of dissent that led up to the settlement by many banished Scots families in Ulster to the dissent in the New World detailed in The Other Founders. Primarily, I find the discussion in The Other Founders about the interdependent relationship of social, political and economic interests in the Early Republic similar to what I've read of the social, political and economic elements at the beginning of King James I's rule and the migration of banished Scots to Ulster. Further, these similarities could be relevant to dissent in the modern era.

In Scotland, around 1607, there were socio-economic classes with rigid divisions. There were the middling and elite Scots in the lowlands and an unruly community of radically local, but loosely confederated clans in the highlands. The Scots in the lowlands were afraid of the violent and uncontrollable Scots in the highlands. The elites in the lowlands were trying to curry favour with the English King in exchange for feudal land grants and titles, all essentially means to economic advantage and control. The lowland middlings allied with the elite, who did not have the middlings best interests at heart, because they were frightened of the violent direct action and lawlessness of the highlands.

As described in The Other Founders, especially toward the end of part 1, there were some definite divisions along socio-economic lines at play in the conflict between the Federalist and the various groups that made up the Anti-Federalists. The elite in the Anti-Federalist movement wanted to protect the individuals from the reach of a strong national government in order to maintain social, economic and political power. The plebeians, typically from the outlaying and rural areas, similar to the highland Scots, were for radical localism and a kind of no-nonsense community of individuals. The middling elements of the Anti-Federalist movement were just as frightened, especially after Shay's Rebellion, of the threat of lawless violence as the middling Scots were of the border reiving and raids of the marauding highlanders.

It seems that there's a pattern in these relationships. There's a system of dissent and normalizing dissent at work here that repeats. Coming to the modern era, one could look to the social upheaval of the late 60's or even to the very recent protest in Olympia over the war in Iraq or the WTO protests in Cancun for another example of this system of dissent and normalizing dissent. A possible analysis of this system is that the unruly and apparent lawless direct action of the anti-global movement or the peace movement give the middling elements a reason to avoid hearing the authentic issues and concerns of the plebeians. Further, the flight of middling support from the plebeians provides the elite with no motivation to address the concerns of the middling or plebeian elements. Both of these functions provide increasing command and control to the socio-economic elite.

Recognizing that there is a systemic analysis of these conflicts and examples of dissent suggests that there may be ways to change the way this functions to produce different results. In the realm of systems thinking, one precept is that if one is not aware of the system, then one's behaviour is determined by the system. Having potentially surfaced a systemic pattern, the next step would be to try to identify points of leverage to change the functioning of the system. This suggests that the plebeian and middling socio-economic interests would be better served by examining this system of dissent and normalizing dissent in order to have more control over the attempts to address their authentic issues