John G Bell
Fall '03 – Gomez & Unsel
The Early Republic: Sedition, Rebellion and Economic Dissent.
Throughout the political, economic and social struggles in the Early Republic, there was conflicts between factions that can roughly be divided into the Elite, Middling and Plebeian classes. During the constitutional congress, the Middling class was fractured into those that supported the development of a strong national government, the Federalists led by James Madison, and pretty much everyone else, labeled Anti-Federalists. The dialogue between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists was affected by the Elite and Plebeian extremes in such a way as to centralize the dialogue toward a compromise of a nationalistic Constitution but amended by a protective Bill of Rights.
The readings for the last two weeks have made a clear case for a specific facet of a perennial struggle. The factions in this struggle are neither new nor are they relics. In The Other Founders there's clear reference to traditions of dissent and power derived from the social dialogue of the British Empire, but the history of the factions and struggle is far more historically attested. From the struggles of the bicameral legislative body and military executive of ancient Sumer to the quick rise of Ankhenaten's sea change, and it's equally quick fall at the hands of the elite, in ancient Egypt; the factional elements of the social dialogue attempting to control and maintain power appear very similar. This suggests a persistent systems of political, social and economic conflict.
The echoes of similarity between the factions and issues in the Early Republic and the current day are deafening. Our current societal trend toward ever increasing authoritarian control has created a resistance that's easy to discredit because it will tend toward extremism unless addressed by those seeking lasting real change. In Olympia, the perceived lawlessness of the extreme elements in the anti-war protests created an overly adversarial relationship with the larger community. The flight of Middling support for the authentic issues of the Plebeians was an example of this same mechanism working in the Early Republic.
The dissatisfaction and unrest during the early constitutional period and the Sedition Act have clear relevance to the current day. The righteous fear of a self-interested elite seizing control of a distant national government are as relevant at protests against the war in Iraq as they were in the Early Republic. Criticisms of the Sedition Act seem to meet the needs of those criticizing the Patriot Act today.
The process of normalizing the debate into a dialogue between loyal oppositions seems not to have done more than ameliorate the potential for violent changes. The conflicts have not gone away and the factions continue to this day. The structure of the government and these conflicts are, in fact, historically attested into even the ancient period.
Is this ameliorative effect the goal of the system? In asking who benefits from the status quo, there's a simple answer in the Middling control of the dialogue at the expense of the extreme elements of the conflict. There's a more difficult and more conspiratorial answer in that the pitting of factions against each other in a framed dialogue allows those that recognize the historical system to distract and misdirect to majority from the real and massive transfers of wealth and power.
Every time I think I've figured something out I end up with more questions. I read a book about effective and remarkable national dialogue and I get depressed. The idea of having to deal with the will to power, inherently undermining progress, of all the people involved in any issues makes me feel very tired. I think of all the things I want to do and I feel helpless to make real change.
p173 “What had seemed wild exaggeration in 1788 was becoming a terrifying reality. The Federalist agenda and political program to strengthen the new federal government seemed to fulfill the ominous predictions made by the Anti-Federalists during ratification.”
Is the Patriot Act, effectively repealing the Bill of Rights, an example of how this conflict continues? Is the current national administration evidence that the strong central government is easily swayed to hubris and tyranny?
The current system of winner takes all supports the lumping together of differing oppositions as one. Would proportional representation or a parliamentary system disarm the ability to claim loyal constitutional opposition, functionally all factions but one, is contradictory and fractured?
Given that the extremes produce wrongs, like how states rights was a goal of those wishing to protect slavery and support for the supremacy of the national government by those with aristocratic designs, how do we maintain a balance of interests without becoming politically stagnant and brittle?