Saturday, March 07, 2009

Old World Feudalism vs Rugged American Individualism

Lately there has been a lot of gloomy news, and so I thought I would write a diary about why I am optimistic about the future of this nation. Now not only do I want the plans to grow the size, authority, and scope of the Federal government to fail, but I am also optimistic that Americans are going to succeed. Our nation is not as old as other countries in the world, and we never suffered under the yoke of a feudalist society. Our country was born in the same year that Adam Smith's book, Wealth of Nations, came out.

In the Old World for most of recorded history, people appear to have acquiesced in, and in some ways embraced, a society that was static and predictable. A young twelfth-century vassal could look forward to tilling the same plot of his landlord's soil until disease, famine, natural disaster, or violence ended his life. And that end often came quickly. Life expectancy at birth was, on average, twenty-five years, the same as it had been for the previous thousand years. Moreover, the vassal could fully expect that his children and doubtless their children, in turn, would till the same plot. Perhaps such a programmed life had a certain security, established by a rigid social and legal hierarchy that left little to individual enterprise.

Adam Smith lived at a time when market forces were beginning to erode the rigidities of the remaining feudal and medieval practices and the mercantilism that followed them. Influenced by the ideas and events of the Reformation, which helped undermine the concept of the divine right of kings, a view of individuals acting independently of ecclesiastic and state restraint emerged in the early part of the eighteenth century. For the first time, modern notions of political and economic freedom began to gain traction. Those ideas, associated with the Age of Enlightenment, especially in England, Scotland, and France, gave rise to a vision of a society in which individuals guided by reason were free to choose their destinies unshackled from repressive restrictions and custom. These ideas especially came to life in the American colonies.

Now about 233 years later we have amongst us some vile folks who want to get more power and more control over everyone by turning away from the capitalism and rugged American individualism that has made the United States of America the greatest nation on the planet. Rush gave an excellent description of what these vile folks are going to try to do on January 14, 2008 referring to Tocqueville's volume two, part four, chapter six: What Kind of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear:
I’ve always said, conservatism is hard, conservatism does not baby people. It doesn’t do what de Tocqueville was describing here. It doesn’t keep you a perpetual child. Conservatism doesn’t try to find a way to keep you happy. Conservatism is about making yourself happy and productive and fulfilled and making sure that there are as few obstacles in your path to all that as possible. But liberalism, Nanny Statism, why, it’s easy. It’s the most gutless choice you can make. Just tell everybody you care about them, understand that they can’t survive against the odds and they’re going to punish the people who do. We’re going to try to make everybody equal, and we’re going to make sure you’re as happy as you can be, and we’re going to make sure that you don’t do any damage to the country, you don’t do any damage to the planet, you don’t do any damage to the neighborhood, you don’t do any damage to your house. If you engage in fraudulent or mistaken practices that cost you econonically, don’t worry about it, no harm, no foul, because you were too stupid to know what you were doing in the first place, so we will fix it and make you indentured servants of ours, constantly owing us in the government for whatever pleasure and happiness you find in life, and that will keep you dependent on it and will keep you looking everywhere but yourself for contentment, for happiness, for satisfaction, and for pleasure. That, my friends, is what he’s talking about.

I am optimistic because I believe in the American Spirit described here by Alexis de Tocqueville still exists.
In Europe, nobody cared about making money. The lower classes had no hope of gaining more than minimal wealth, while the upper classes found it crass, vulgar, and unbecoming of their sort to care about something as unseemly as money; many were virtually guaranteed wealth and took it for granted. At the same time in America workers would see people fashioned in exquisite attire and merely proclaim that through hard work they too would soon possess the fortune necessary to enjoy such luxuries.

America was born from a desire for freedom instead of a desire for social justice equality or economic justice equality. Americans believe in equality at the time of one's birth, and believe that through freedom and hard work that different people display differently allow aspirations and a pursuit of happiness.

I believe in the American Spirit that John Wayne epitomizes in the movie, Hondo. The picture at the beginning is John Wayne as Hondo Lane riding his horse.

WaPo staff writer Stephen Hunter wrote the following in a review of Hondo
He was tall and strong, encased in buckskin, his wise eyes hooded by the broad brim of his hat, looking to and possibly beyond the horizon. He was fair and calm. He was tough but not mean. He had temper but not rage, only decency under the muscle. He had a poetic streak and an emotional one; he knew what love was, just as he knew the drop of a .38- 40 from a Winchester carbine at 100 yards and how to knife-fight and fish and swim. He could ride or shoot or fight as well as any man alive, but he didn't seem to brag on it. He killed Indians but he loved Indians; he killed white men but they were low-down skunks. He protected. He made things safe and let you grow. Otherwise he believed in letting alone, doing his duty and setting an example. He didn't order you to be like him, he made you want to be like him.

Perhaps the next time you really start to feel depressed with the news you ought to watch Hondo. It's a great movie, and a great reminder of rugged American individualism that may not be in display so much yet I believe it still is present in the United States of America.


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