… I seek this balance of operating with excellence in life all the while…I don’t want to be pedantic. Certainly not to the point that I stifle any forward motion towards constructiveness.
I think one of the most important things I could possibly say at this point in time in my life is that I am so sorry for all of the destructive mistakes I made in my past, whether they hurt someone, or me, or not.
Most of all, I’m sorry for all the times I disrespected or offended my wife, or my mother. And I’m sorry about friendships I may have ruined.
Looking back on my past it seems something must have been deeply wrong with me for I was just so incapable of basic, rational, critical thinking. The perfect illustration of this was that, despite inheriting money from my father when he passed away, and despite having people in my life who loved me so much, I spent all that money, strained all those relationships (I am beyond grateful to have repaired many of those relationships) and I achieved…really…nothing.
A college dropout making at times no money, contributing nothing tangible to society, flaunting my cockiness, my arrogance, my pretentiousness, acting as if I was a philosophical genius despite seriously lacking in basic education, acting as if, with all of my failing relationships, that it must be them that is the problem and not me… these memories, the fact that this was me… particularly prior to about 2017, but especially prior to about 2011, these memories haunt the hell out of me but I don’t want to be marred by them anymore.
I take just the slightest bit of comfort from a quote in a book my mom bought me when she traveled to Ireland. It’s a book about James Joyce and censorship. James Joyce is cited as writing this to his wife:
Now my darling Nora, I want you to read over and over all I have written to you. Some of it is ugly, obscene and bestial, some of it is pure and holy and spiritual: all of it is myself
How many of us, I wonder, if we look in the figurative mirror…or maybe even a literal mirror, can find something about ourselves which we find horrifying and never want the world to see, hiding in shame?
As much as possible, I do not want to “hide” in shame.
How do I reconcile that with the shame I feel towards so many aspects of my earlier self? How are we to deal with mistakes? Well, we must not let them ruin our lives and interfere with finding happiness or defining what we have become– that which we prefer.
And so…what of memories that we cannot seem to block out which trouble us so?
What of those wretched things?
What of the time I said to my mother “Fuck you” which to this day nauseates me, horrifies me, tortures me?
What of the times when I treated women like extensions of my vanity or people to use to assuage my deep depression, anxiety, paranoia, anger, loneliness, dread, and that whole plethora of troubling mental states?
And how I failed to be “responsible”– to clean this or that, to throw out the garbage when I should have, when I went to some job high or drunk…when I drank too much?
When I insulted anyone!?! When I started an argument just because I wanted to feel like I might win it? I hate my old self so much that sometimes all I can do is crucify him as to show I am no longer him. But if this person was someone else, how would I treat him or her? I’d ask; what’s up now that’s constructive and good?
I’m a bit frustrated this afternoon because I don’t make very much money and because I don’t know exactly what “job” is right for me while I take my time learning how to make money vlogging.
I do realize, if I really want to keep a video journal that is of substantial worth, it is not going to happen over night. I want to do this correctly. In the meantime then, I must find work…I must find a job where the workplace culture consists of people who believe deeply in the ethics of compassion and who believe in enough objectivity as to not fight each other physically or verbally, or with lies, double crossing each other out of terror that he or she won’t make as much money as the rest or that someone else will take his or her job from him or her.
Are my standards too high?
Would I not find at the end of the day that the New York Times does not lay on a pedestal? That people on NBC are not perfect?
The truth is…while I work on this artistic endeavor I am terrified of aiming for the wrong job, for missing something else, for not approaching the search correctly. I am quite capable of doing things wrong. And I don’t want to do this wrong. I was wrong after all, about my aim for graduate school and frankly it hurt and makes me feel like I wasted a lot of time and mental energy…but I also can’t be pedantic.
Isn’t it ironic? We try and uphold this belief that we’re supposed to do things right and when others to wrong, we can be hard on them, chastising them. Not always. Sometimes we watch from the sidelines and are willing to support them in thinking for themselves. But even the supposedly non-judgmental, I would imagine, are critical. In my hippiest of hippie phases, with all my “peace and love” I was still critical and harsh. So….I seek this balance of operating with excellence in life all the while…I don’t want to be pedantic. Certainly not to the point that I stifle any forward motion towards constructiveness.
I despise the clips I am about to share with you here. They horrify me. At times because I try too hard to sound like some kind of “cool” Jim Morrison poet hippie or cold stone realist Charles Bukowski type guy. But should you watch what follows, you will see I try to wrap my mind around thought, around sharing thought, around our economic system, around metaphysics, politics, art, et cetera. It was a lot of “jive talking” but to get to Joyce’s point…it was me.
And if I want to do this video diary thing right…and if I want to really commit to the value of preserving an evolution of my thoughts on things day to say, it seems reasonable for me to share with you a sort of prologue to the prologue, a rough draft of the rough draft, as I experimented with topics of focus, and how I dressed and wore my hair, and how I interacted with the camera, et cetera.
Recently it was suggested to me that the way I write can be perceived as uninviting and that I keep my audience at arms length. I don’t know if I agree. Or maybe I did. And maybe you think I still do. But hey…here I am, at least trying to be honest, and to get closer to you, to be more inviting the best I know how here and now. Moreover, imagine if we never taught our children, or if we never learned, what happened during the Holocaust, or what Americans did to African Americans or American Indians. Just because I am not proud of who I was in these videos doesn’t mean I should erase who I was either.
My name is Sean O’Connor and I thank you for checking out my video diary vlog. I call it “Public Comment” to underscore the value of commenting on one’s most valued thoughts publicly, of soul-sharing. Though I like to think wide and deep in our increasingly specialization -and -niche oriented international society the three most basic subjects my diary tends to focus on focus on include politics, culture and self. Though my approach is philosophical, political and intellectual, I’m also emotional and artistic. I’m a registered Democrat and thus lean liberal but I don’t bind myself to any political party. I’m 33, live in New Jersey with my wife, recently graduated William Paterson University with a BA in Liberal Studies, and currently work as a writing tutor for Mercer County Community College. Please enjoy my videos, subscribe if you want to follow along, and join the conversation in the comments sections.
How does one determine one’s dream job and why does it matter?
Good day, folks! (Yes, I’m playing with my opening line today. Usually it’s just “greetings ladies and gentlemen!” but I want to embrace experimentation)
But moving on: What do you want to be when you grow up?
This question, and my variety of answers through the years (I’m 33 years old now…does that count as “grown up?” Sometimes I think not working one’s “dream job,” or not earning a desirable wage are things that can make one feel less “grown up,” “adult,” “empowered to practice responsible adulthood,” et cetera, as the “grown ups” talk about property taxes they pay on the homes they own, the expenses related to bringing up their children, et cetera. This is all worked in to my confused notion of equating landing your dream job with growing up).
One of the privileges that I believe Americans and other Western countries, along with the wealthier factions of other nations, get to enjoy is aiming for that “dream job”— conceptualizing such a thing—what is my dream job?
As the strangeness of our still relatively new internet economy continues to shake up the old order of things, that seemed to endure… approximately from after World War 2, and into the early part of the first decade of the 2000’s, and as a millennial in this changing marketplace, the notion of a job worth putting all of my effort towards capturing has boggled my mind a bit.
For example, intellectually speaking, since I tend to think about and approach questions in what I think is an academic way, I thought seeking a job in academia was entirely logical for me.
With over two years of experience as a writing tutor “under my belt” (as they say) and a lovely 3.98 GPA, graduate academia seemed like simply a natural progression of what I’ve already been doing.
But academia’s prospects, as I’ve scoured Indeed.com and Glassdoor.com, and as I’ve heard insiders speak out on the budgetary bleakness of prospects even for those armed with a PhD under their belts, and as the revolutionary abundance of information and resources for digital productivity available on the internet seem only on the uptick, I’m not sure, as a long term investment, that the depths of academia seem so wise—at least, not for me.
I’ve been troubled over the question of where I’m supposed to look for a “job,” how exactly I’m supposed to look, et cetera.
Obviously, I could render my college education, which I poured my very life and soul into – perhaps to excess?—utterly useless and just dive back into some easy retail position where I won’t make so much money, unless I rise on up into management, but that simply doesn’t interest me.
This reminds me of something someone recently said to me: “you young people” he said, “have to be happy” — as opposed to just finding work.
But why not?
YOLO, as they say.
(Do they still say that?)
I do not want to waste my life negating and denying the depths of my soul engaged in activities that mean only a simple means to an end.
If there is a God, which I speculate there is, what an insult to IT, (I don’t call God a he or a she as I think God is neither quite a person or an advocate of sexism) to simply ignore one’s potential, one’s soul, one’s dreams!
Okay then, so what the hell do I want to do with myself?
Perhaps you’ve heard this story of mine. By the time I was 10 years old I thought I wanted to be an actor, screenwriter, movie producer. In the years that followed I idolized Meryl Streep, John Travolta and Tom Hanks—among other actors. When I was about 13, In the depths of my John Travolta craze ,I fell in love with the unique and romantic style of their Bee Gees and the music they produced for Saturday Night Fever.
(I asked a handful of my coworkers if they had seen it. Most had not. It reminded me of middle school days and how I felt very, very alone in my love for the Bee Gees. Everyone else was into Brittney Spears and Eminem. I could not relate to either. )
But I wanted to do what the Bee Gees did: write songs.
That became my new dream. Of course, I could not sing or play a musical instrument, so I’d just have to be a poet.
Upon my entrance to college, I juggled desires to write novels and poems, and in a fit of cockiness and naivete I dropped out, thinking some how I could “make it” as a poet. And then I wanted to be a philosopher (though not one who got a university degree). And then I wanted to be a politician. And then I wanted to be a documentarian. And then I wanted to be a political commentator. And then I wanted to do this. And then I wanted to do that.
My point is this: I’ve contemplated so many possible jobs and through the years, struggled to “stick to one.”
Of course…some of you might be able to relate as we now live in what is for some considered a “gig economy.”
Unless you’re relatively young and have a job in the STEM fields, you may likely be forced to learn how to juggle and integrate a number of jobs just to pay your bills. In this context, the swirl of job prospect confusion worth injecting a deep personal investment in seems understandable.
Anyway, so goes the story and context of my contemplations regarding “dream job” over the last few decades.
What about now? Now I have a bachelor’s degree. What do I do? What do I want to do? What do I really want? (And what SHOULD I do?)
Do you think I am a narcissist if I say THIS, HERE, is what I want to do? (Well, people buy Charles Bukowski books…he wrote this way, but he glamorized his misogyny and alcoholism, so I have to believe this could be [ or ought to be] more marketable than that, as I strive to project a more constructive world view…Identifying what I think, and sharing it all in that context?
Talking to you about my thoughts.
I realize not everyone can be what some call a “YouTube Star.”
I’ve plunged myself into research on the question of how vlogs and blogs manage to become widely shared. Some tips WordPress rather ambiguously suggests: be “interesting, important and/or funny.”
Of course what does that mean?
By the way…I’m not funny.
I cannot be funny. I don’t know how.
I may have told you this before but it seems to be a genetic defect. Anytime I make someone laugh it seems to have been pure accident. Moreover, and perhaps this explains it…I don’t really enjoy trying to be funny. Not that I don’t enjoy those who do. It’s a pleasure working with, and socializing with such people. But it’s simply not me.
I have a “serious” disposition. (Maybe we can blame my father? He used to say, when he took my picture, “don’t smile” in a dark, quiet, ominous voice.).
To be clear, it is not as though I’m depressed or depressing or melancholy or incapable of smiling. In fact, I tend to be in a good mood most of the time.
So what do I mean by “serious” anyway? Less so than serious, I suppose, overall I simply just tend not to joke a lot. More so then…a lack of joking than extreme impersonal “seriousness.” That, and I always tend to be in the depths of my psychological and philosophical evaluations of things—do I agree with workplace policy? If not, that tends to annoy me and I try and conceptualize a better policy.
For example, at the community college where I work: how do they decide how newly admitted students will be placed into their first English or Math classes or if such coursework ought to be required? This is a loaded discussion in itself so I won’t digress, but I have my opinions, and my opinions seize me like air seizes my lungs. (Or should I say, like my lungs seize air).
So perhaps more so than serious, I am extremely “opinionated” and passionate about my opinions. (The opinion page is my favorite page in the newspaper, and for awhile I was an opinion page editor for the College VOICE, so I suppose that much adds up).
Then with respect to the question of what job out there I desire…first and foremost, I want a job where my opinions count.
One of the most miserable aspects of working retail is that my opinions counted for nothing. (In fact I felt as if I counted for nothing since I was paid severely little…I think a whole 10.50 an hour in my prime with a random and inconsistent number of hours per week?)
For example, the customer, they tell you, is always right.
That is far from true. Sometimes the customer is right and sometimes the customer is wrong.
Not that I fail, by the way, to appreciate doing all one can to make one’s customer happy. I do believe in exceptional customer service.
But not at the expense of being insulted, being treated as a robot, not being worth a “hello, how are you” and just turning into a receptacle for the customer’s anxiety to get out of the store as quick as possible and lodge their sometimes irrational complaints at you, maybe because a coupon was expired for example, but they demanded it to be honored anyway.
Meanwhile…they’re on their cellphones treating you as if indeed, you are literally just a transactional machine. I tried to articulate my beliefs in a set up where cashiers could preserve a bit more dignity but…I will give you a perfect example of how little management cared.
A man who used to work for this one place I cashiered, his name was Bob— may he rest in peace now— he was an older man, I think close to his eighties if not already in his eighties, and had given decades of his life to this grocery store company and Bob had some ideas on how the store might improve its operations.
So he wrote it all out in an 8 page letter—that is what he told me—and gave it to the man who owned the stores. The man never so much as acknowledged reading it or even receiving it.
If at all possible, I do not EVER want to work for such an arrogant, disinterested company ever again.
Opinions, if they are backed by facts and logic, ought to at least count for something such as basic respect.
I’m not saying I’d rather be on the streets. We do what we must in this life. But to the degree which we can identify and strive for what we most deeply want— I’m stating as much for the record!
The WordPress article also says to be “important.”
I’m not sure I know how to be important— at least not in your eyes, though I do know at least what’s “important” to me, and in fact, I try to treat that which I view as important with “the utmost importance.” (I’ll give forms of that word a rest now. Ha ha. As I try to be slightly funny. I didn’t say I would succeed but I give myself credit for trying)
That’s why I try to read and take notes on the news every morning. What, of consequence, is occurring in the world? Even when things don’t appear to affect me directly—take the abortion question for example, as I am not a woman and thank God and knock on wood but my wife and I don’t appear to be embedded in a scenario right now where we have to address the question—it affects the society I live in, and I believe the well-being of society impacts the well-being of the individual, even if it is beyond the scope of his or her recognition…unless you choose to be totally oblivious…which by the way… I’ve done before…
I don’t mean to suggest that not having an x amount of knowledge on the news necessarily means someone is oblivious.
That would be unreasonably and rudely presumptuous. Though I would say, getting back to this YOLO issue….
If you only live once, will you make the most of your look at the world…at the universe…will you see it with as much depth and understanding as you can, or will you…cheapen your experience?
Thus, you see, I find a relationship between importance and richness of life experience even if I have not quite figured out how to make myself important and enriching to others, or how to show that I could.
Greetings ladies and gentlemen. Today I want to talk to you briefly about the stability of the Republican obsession with subservience of sorts to Trump, the blessing and curse –I’m being slightly rhetorical and hyperbolic here– of freedom of productivity, and my slow but steady development of thoughts on crafting and aesthetics of the vlog…as both a means of effective, meaningful communication and as an artistic medium
Republican Congressman from Michigan, Justin Amash, and Fox New’s Chris Wallace recently offered a slight iota of new criticism aimed at Trump from Republicans and the Conservative Media, which I find at least a little uplifting, though by no means am I deluding myself with notions that this means there’s a significant crack in the egg, so to speak.
1. Attorney General Barr has deliberately misrepresented Mueller’s report. 2. President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct. 3. Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances. 4. Few members of Congress have read the report.
He tweeted quite a bit…he also said:
Impeachment, which is a special form of indictment, does not even require probable cause that a crime (e.g., obstruction of justice) has been committed; it simply requires a finding that an official has engaged in careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct.
And, regarding the actions of attorney General William Barr, Fox News Journalist Chris Wallace said on television last Friday :
“he clearly is protecting this president and advocating his point of view on a lot of these issues.”
He also conceded that :
“I think there are other lawyers who would say…he certainly was not forthcoming [to congress] about what he knew about Mueller’s opinion”
I wouldn’t quite characterize Wallace’s attempt at objectivity a victory for holding Attorney General Barr, or President Trump accountable, however, I believe we must note that Fox News — the Trump train propaganda machine— doesn’t…as far as I know… pressure or require its so called journalists to entertain the notion that Barr is putting his strange and perplexing public relations protection of President Trump above honesty and justice. (By the way, do any of you have a theory on the story with Attorney General Barr? What does he GET out of working as another one of Trump’s sycophants? I wonder– but don’t have grounds to quite suppose– if Trump has some kind of blackmail on people like Barr, Giuliani, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham– people who so strikingly changed their anti-Trump tune).
What are we to make of the perplexing reluctance of Republicans and Conservatives to stand up to President Trump with respect to…virtually anything? Are we witnessing not just the cliche political corruption but true moral corruption, a swath of politicians, lobbyists, and pundits who have chosen to switch off their consciences as we find ourselves with direct evidence of president Trump’s obstruction of justice, violation of the constitution’s emoluments clause, cruelty towards political asylum seekers (some of whom are children or babies) and expressed admiration for tyrants?
The psychology and their supposed pragmatics behind it truly arouse my curiosity.
You may note I’m producing these vlogs a little differently now. Now, I write down what I want to say, even if I improvise or omit additional comments here or there. You may also note that there is no podcast accompanying this vlog. I’ve been inspired most of all by Chris Hayes of MSNBC, who has his show at 8 PM five days a week, a weekly podcast, and the occasional article. I like that pace so I’m adapting a similar approach.
(By the way, I highly recommend Hayes’ New York Times article “The First Presidential Impeachment” about the book “The Impeachers” which is about the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, back in 1868. Typically, commentators refer to Watergate when contemplating the prospects of a Trump impeachment, but I’ve been saying for months to consider the Andre Johnson impeachment because I believe this may be one of the greatest examples of a president who appears to contrast the majority or plurality ethos of the country he or she is supposedly “leading”)
The question of how to approach this new world of digital media self expression fascinates and excites me, but also confuses me. It’s a luxurious confusion though. That is to say, even though i get frustrated over questions like how often to vlog or podcast or post something on twitter or Instagram, i’m privileged to probe THESE questions as opposed to, “how am I going to afford dinner tonight?”
The complexities of freedom is a topic that has occupied my contemplation for over a decade now.
In the miserable summer of 2007,(I say that summer was miserable because it was the summer of my near homelessness in Tampa, where thanks to the charity of the man who owned the hostel I stayed in, I had a place to live and food to eat)– this was when, for the first time in my life, it seemed that we possess so called “free will.” (As to the question of whether or not I still think we do, I call myself a “soft determinist”– I think we experience what feels like choice; that is to say, our minds inherently contemplate and land on an option…and our inclinations and knowledge would count as factors with respect to that “choice”– the “choice” as an action occurs I believe, in our minds– but can we fight the deeper, more fundamental genetics, biology and physics involved? I don’t think so)
But my point is that my awareness of some sense of free will, which first came to me twelve years ago now, has always complicated my approach to “free productivity” — by that I mean…with a full sense of creative autonomy, whether it is a question of “what do I want to be when I grow up?” or, now that I’ve decided what kind of “art work,” “product” or “service providing business” I want to produce, and now that I’ve found the confidence to do it my way as opposed to being told how to do it, how do I determine certain creative specifics? For example, take this vlog— how long should it be? How often should it be done?
Two things I tried to keep in mind the most: how those I most admire approach these things— I mentioned Chris Hayes before—, and of course, CONTEXT. This is something that totally slipped my mind over the last two weeks. For example, it should have been obvious to me that videos require more concentration…more mental energy– so perhaps the hour long camera in my face vlog concept turns out to be irrational…my stepfather did describe these as “long winded”– they were too much so…i apologize; if I want to go on for longer I think that is more ideal for podcasts as they allow for more listening flexibility–
I can’t get over how exciting this vlogging concept is to me and the question of what it means to me to make the most of it. I see various elements to it. I see it as a sort of open, public, video journal, I see it as talking to “the world”– or the universe (assuming this is preserved and in the future people can watch this from their smart phones on a terraformed mars or on some space station ), I also see it as something quite similar to the personal essay. In that sense, additionally there is something artistic about this. So I took the advice— I forget which site I read it on, or which vlog I heard about this in– and tried to be mindful of my background, to show you something more than just plain white, that adds to the context or depth of my “personality.” I’m curios though, do ya’ll prefer a plain white background, or something which exudes more personality? Please let me know. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.
Public Comment is a personal journal vlog and podcast where I share my free thoughts on politics, culture, and self.
Activist Philipos Melaku-Bello, who says he is “past my mid 50’s,” sits on his wheelchair in front of the White House every day, sometimes for as long as 16 hours, according to an ABC report. The Daily Mail reports that Melaku-Bello has been doing this since 1981. Melaku-Bello’s protest is part of the William Thomas Memorial Anti-Nuclear Peace Vigil.
On June 3, 1981, [Activist] William Thomas began a nuclear weapons protest outside the White House when vehicle traffic still passed by the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. For years the Department of Interior wouldn’t issue him a permit to stay there. His plan was to stay on the sidewalk, no matter what, just outside the White House by its iron fence. As the vigil continued he was repeatedly arrested for camping but challenged the Park Service in the courts over its attempts to remove him.
The outcome of many court cases was that the vigil was grandfathered into a permitted round the clock occupation. All other protests at Lafayette Park were limited to a 10:00 pm deadline. The Peace Vigil was later moved across the street and remained on the red bricked sidewalk, facing the North Portico of the White House. It may continue as long as it is staffed and no activist sleeps on watch.
Mr. Melaku-Bello told me he is a resident of Washington DC, that he studied Political Science at UCLA, and that he once worked with a former King of Ethiopia. More specifically, according to the Daily Nation, Melaku-Bello claims to have “work[ed] for Amha Selassie, the exiled son of late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie.
“In the course of that work, which involved preparing human rights reports, Melaku-Bello recounts being wounded by a landmine blast in Ramallah in 1987, leaving him in a wheelchair,” the Daily Nation added.
He was generous enough to grant me an interview.
When asked if he could change one thing, Melaku-Bello told me it would be the Military Industrial Complex budget, which he says has “misplaced $7 trillion” and contributes to our astronomical federal debt. Does Melaku-Bello think President Trump should be impeached? “Absolutely,” he told me.
Yes, the president of the United States can, legally, be indicted.
I made that declaration in front the Capitol Building- home to the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Not only did I say the President could be indicted. I added that he should be indicted.
In response to my video, some of my Facebook “friends” showered me with insults. They say I have “Trump Derangement Syndrome” and shouldn’t discuss the law because I didn’t get a degree in law (meanwhile they never address the actual arguments I make, which those with just a little background in philosophy would know amounts to the ad hominem fallacy).
Despite the fact that my critics did not refute or even address my arguments, I wanted to delve into the proof that indeed the president can be indicted.
In my latest episode of PUBLIC COMMENT LIVE I discussed a letter addressed to former Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr.
This letter was written by Law Professor Ronald D. Rotunda thoroughly citing remarks made by our Founding Fathers, constitutional law, Supreme Court decisions, and other legal experts demonstrating the “Indictability of the President.”
My friend- an Aerospace Engineer who used to do national security related work under the Obama administration- Mark Lewis, and I decided to do a live stream discussion on Facebook about the case for impeaching Trump.
Mark and I both decided on the same day that we wanted the president Impeached. It was the morning after we both heard audio clips of crying children- those children who had been forced and ripped from their parents. We got to talking about it that morning and both found that any person enabling such a policy was enabling cruelty.
We began collaborating on a script for calling congress and demanding they impeach Trump. The priority of this scripting was to outline Trump’s various impeachable offenses which include:
-Publicly humiliating U.S. intelligence community in front of the world and chossing to take the word of a dictator who murders his critics over the word of the U.S. intelligence community
– Even considering handing over to Putin (known for murdering his critics) American citizens for interrogation.
OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE
-Refusing to legitimize U.S. intelligence
-Firing Former FBI Director James Comey
-Attempting to fire Special Investigator Robert Mueller III
VIOLATION OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT
-Incessantly attacking the free press every time it publishes content that puts Trump in a light he dislikes
-Barring reporters from attending public events for questions he deems “inappropriate”
-Threatening to remove security clearances from former Intelligence officials as retaliation for being critical of him
-Banning Muslims from entering the United States
VIOLATION OF THE DUE PROCESS CLAUSE
-Separating families at the border who had merely sought political asylum and denying them a right to stay together and state their case
VIOLATION OF THE EMOLUMENTS CLAUSE
-The president currently earns a profit from foreign government officials who pay to stay at his Washington DC hotel
-A Critical Examination of President Andrew Jackson’s Economic Policies-
PART 1- INTRODUCTION: IMPORTANT, FUNDAMENTAL, ABSTRACT QUESTIONS ABOUT ECONOMIC RIGHTS
What entitles a person or a country to land? What entitles a state, county, or town to land?
It is an extremely important question because land is a resource and a resource is valuable and thus is worth money, and moreover, land and money are both properties- things people can possess. This only leads to further questions.
Should a person be allowed to claim and keep his or her own property?
If not, why?
If so, under what conditions, and why?
The degree to which a person cannot claim and/or keep his or her own property is the degree to which either rampant slavery, theft or government regulation defines a region’s official or unofficial economic policies, and there are various factors which determine these policies.
Are we talking about a region that does not acknowledge property rights, doesn’t enforce property rights, or doesn’t fairly recognize and enforce property rights?
In the case of the United States, from a historical perspective, we must start with the fact that Thomas Jefferson wrote in our Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (1776)
Further, in the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution, it is stated that its purpose was to “secure the Blessings of Liberty.”(1787) (Tragically though, we must add that this most sacred right of “Liberty” (so sacred a right that our founders capitalized the “L” in the word) was not fairly secured even slightly until the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteen Amendments (the prohibition of slavery, the guarantee of equal protection under the law, and equal guarantee ((but only among men)) to vote) were passed.
It took until the 20th century for women to have the right to vote, and until the 21st century for homosexuals to have the right to marry. To this very day, the clash of Native American culture and Capitalist American culture remain an issue. It is one of the more tragic truths of the human condition that moral enlightenment of a society is an evolutionary process, no matter how self evident it may be to some, and no matter how self evident some may say it is while not practicing what they preach.
But this is really only half of the complexity of economic policy.
There is the morality of property rights, and then there is the politics of it.
After all, a government cannot operate if it cannot tax the citizens. Sometimes the government is short of money and needs to borrow. Moreover, the government has to decide whether or not there should be a federally mandated universal form or currency of money and whether or not the government should have any hand in the circulation of any given currencies, which means, should it have a central bank, or should banking be an entirely free enterprise?
Money is not just currency exchanged or deposited in a bank. Money is, or buys, resources.
One of the greatest resources on Earth is land.
When European Colonists came to America they faced a tremendous land conflict because there were already Native American Tribes living on the land.
And on the one hand, the Native Americans claimed the land first.
On the other hand, Colonists were introducing, albeit in a very sloppy, totally inconsistent way, an official and capitalistic idea of land ownership, whereby a person purchases land that may be his or her own to do whatever he or she wants with it.
Many Native American tribes did not share that view of handling land.
When two cultures have such fundamentally different different views of land ownership, what is to be done?
These are just some of the economic policy questions that early American politicians faced. But that’s only the more intellectual-philosophical part of it.
What about the politicking part of it?
That is to say, what about that part where, in an American context, politicians have to:
1) please enough of their constituents to get and remain elected, which is a horrendous task if that constituency base is bigoted, biased, or generally ignorant, which means that in the realm of campaigning the politician’s rhetoric may resort to entirely betraying his or her real conscience just to get perhaps, a chance to suddenly flipflop and use the power of his or her vote/authority in the legislature or within his or her office to promote a policy he or she truly believes in (I am not necessary saying I condone this so much as I am saying it is a clear reality much of the time)
2) get a majority of fellow politicians with a wide range of different perspectives and different constituencies to agree on rules that everyone in country must follow. This means, I am willing to assert, that just as the moral enlightenment and education of a country is an evolutionary process, the politicking of a country is a messy and fundamentally imperfect, contradictory process.
Tying all of this back to economic policy, I’ve offered the above context, not in defense of American history’s immorality and totally unacceptable politicking and policy, but rather, as a framework from which we can at least objectively evaluate economic political reform from the perspective of the political and cultural and economic climatethat politicians have had to work within so that at least we might gain something legitimate to appreciate.
So far as reforming economic policies go, I can think of no other politician who addressed them so comprehensively than former United States President Andrew Jackson.
It may be true that Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson may have given us some basic principles of economic philosophy, and it may be true that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson may have uplifted the poor with the “New Deal” and The “Great Society” policies but each of these men I have mentioned tended to have particular focuses. In contrast, so far as economic policies in the United States goes, President Andrew Jackson took on virtually every aspect of it.
Andrew Jackson’s comprehensive economic policies, in each case, surely addressed the issue of property rights, but with the exception of paying back the federal debt and lowering tariffs, it was not the property rights for all that he concerned himself with; as his mandated increase in the supply of land was at the expense of Native American rights and tragically their lives; his increase in the circulation of gold meant a loss of purchasing power for those who owned mostly silver; and finally, his decentralization of the banks in the name of taking on the monopoly on the money supply only empowered and enriched those heading his so called “pet banks”, leaving many to fall prey to loosely regulated state chartered banks or free banks; each case being a matter of either upholding or violating property rights.
By looking back and critically examining each of these treatments of property rights, it is my hope that at the very least, it will be perfectly clear that Andrew Jackson was no hero for “the people”- that instead he was a hypocritical, extremely dangerous megalomaniac who used the seductive pretense of protecting property rights to simply bask in his own power, act vindictively towards others, impoverish some, authorize murders, and enrich his friends in his pet banks.
PART 2: ANDEW JACKSON’S FISCAL POLICIES
*PAYING BACK THE DEBT
Some historians, at least those participating in the publication of Robert Divine’s America: Past and Present, Volume 1 either are generally uneducated historians (very doubtful considering the depth of its scholarship in many aspects of its chapters on United States History) or are ones so entirely and terribly biased that they want to completely evade the monumentally historic fact that in 1835 President Andrew Jackson paid back all of the United States’ federal debt, which was, according to John Steele Gordon, “about $58 million.” (2011, 3) Gordon also notes that no president ever had paid back the debt before, and never has since. One might think that in Devine’s textbook, somewhere in the index, under “D” and “debt” one would find, among the following:
Debt: for American Revolution, 142; attempts to reduce England’s, 109–113; growth in colonial period, 89; Hamilton’s solution for national, 161–162; Jefferson’s policy on paying national, 184 (Divine 2012, I-3)
…some mention of ‘Jackson’s complete repayment of.’ Alas, it is not there. But the event did occur and as I stated, it was quite momentous but not only because Jackson was the only president in our history to do it.
Governmental debt is, in almost every situation, an unjust taxation on future taxpayers without even a democratic say in having it bestowed upon them. Moreover, it is quite literally a liability. It was debt which destroyed the Ottoman Empire. It was debt which so weakened the United Kingdom that it sought to usurp money from the American colonists. In the words of President Jackson, in his first inaugural address, debt is “incompatible with real independence.” (1829) He is quite right about this if one will think about it literally. When a country needs money from or owes money to another country, it is to that degree, dependent on it. When a country owes no money, it is literally independent, and the amount of its surplus represents the degree of its economic strength.
Unfortunately, governmental debt alone is not the sole cause in a country’s thriving, mediocre, or failing economy and thus while Jackson may be exceptional for extinguishing it temporarily, it did not make him a savior of the United States economy. Noteworthy as it certainly was, in the context of improving the U.S. economy, ultimately it was simply a single achievement, buried under an list of failed, immoral economic policies.
LOWERING DUTIES AND TAXES
When Andrew Jackson entered the Presidency the United States was suffering from “tariffs [that were] at their highest level in American history.” (Whaples 2014,11) In 1832 Jackson approved a reduction in tariffs. (Divine, 10) A year later Jackson lowered tariffs even more. (Ibid) Tariffs went down from “an average of more than 50 percent to less than 20 percent—a rate that was well below the nineteenth-century norm.” (Whaples, 11)
It should be duly noted that historians appear to agree generally and implicitly at the time, tariffs were the main form of taxation in the United States, however it should be likewise noted that historians tend to be ambiguous about the exact particularities of early tax policies. According to Policy Almanac “in the late 1790’s, the Federal Government imposed the first direct taxes on the owners of houses, land, slaves, and estates [but then w]hen Thomas Jefferson was elected President in 1802, direct taxes were abolished and for the next 10 years there were no internal revenue taxes other than excises [until] the War of 1812, [when] Congress imposed additional excise taxes, raised certain customs duties, and raised money by issuing Treasury notes [which i]n 1817 Congress repealed …and for the next 44 years the Federal Government collected no internal revenue [i]nstead…receiv[ing] most of its revenue from high customs duties [i.e., tariffs] and through the sale of public land. (History of the US Tax System; The Post Revolutionary Era)
This is more or less corroborated by Charles Adams who tells us that the earliest federal taxation policies were 1) a tax on whiskey (which was ultimately repealed by Jefferson); 2) tariffs, 3) a “direct tax” (which is left undefined, but also referred to as “Hamilton’s taxes” which were ultimately repealed) (Adams, 2006)
Syracuse University Historian Andrew Wender Cohen also confirms that taxation in the nineteenth century “meant tariffs…” (When Americans Loved Taxes, 2015) The significance of emphasizing the notion of tariffs as the main prey of taxation is that when we think of how property taxes, and income taxes affect us, this is how people would have viewed the tariff rates, which, by the late 1820’s and early 1830’s were viewed as so intolerable that Vice President John C. Calhoun and the South Carolina declared them unconstitutional and nullified! (Divine, 235)
To realize then that Jackson cut the tariffs, i.e., the tax rate, by about 30 percent, is to further realize that he gave the American people a lot of their money back! Just as paying back the federal debt was no small gift for the United States, neither was this massive tax cut! Say what one will about taxes and the need for various government programs, there is a point when taxation turns from a necessary revenue for financing the government, to a point of abuse and theft.
When folks are taxed up to fifty percent, in other words, half the value of their product or service, or income, or property, that is utter abuse as it is depriving a person of half their assets. But even if one wishes to criticize Jackson for giving the people more of their money back, one cannot deny that his tariff reductions, just like his debt elimination, were acts of protecting private property rights.
Unfortunately Jackson’s two major fiscal policy achievements, which more or less served the American population universally, are more or less undermined in the broader scope of things as his monetary policies proved to bring tragedy to Native Americans, deprive owners of silver their due purchasing power, and demonstrate that at his core, however much he wanted to give Americans some of their money back, he was ultimately a megalomaniac, which his banking policy proves.
PART 3: JACKSON’S MONETARY POLICIES
INCREASING LAND OWNERSHIP AT THE EXPENSE OF NATIVE AMERICAN RIGHTS AND LIVES
If history is to have any meaning whatsoever then its most horrific episodes must to some degree haunt us; we must feel so angry with those who committed the gravest of evils in the name of our country, that as part of our tradition we condemn them passionately, we teach every generation about the evils perpetrated, and although we cannot change the past we can at least know it and out of contriteness and self esteem constantly improve ourselves morally, and politically. True, it is ultimately insufficient but in a universe where humanity can’t be omniscient and perfect, settling for improving upon our consciences and making something out of it is better than not. I say this because one of America’s ugliest and bloodiest money grabs occurred at the expense of the Native Americans, and although Andrew Jackson was not the only American President or politician or official or person to partake in it, (in fact some of the state legislatures were arguably crueler) he nonetheless led a fair share of it.
It would be inaccurate, incomplete, immoral, unjust, ugly, useless and I think even crazy to discuss Jackson’s monetary policies without discussing the Indian Removal Act. Land is an extremely valuable thing and bloodbaths over it have plagued humanity from its earliest days even up to the present. One need only to look at the crisis in Ukraine which is really a dispute between the American-Western European Alliance and Russia, or to look at the dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
As is stated in Divine’s textbook, in 1830 Jackson “called for the speedy and thorough removal of all eastern Indians to designated areas beyond the Mississippi.” (2013, 234) After the Indian Removal Act was passed he “us[ed] the threat of unilateral state action to bludgeon the tribes” as means of coercing the Native Americans to leave their homes and migrate West. Divine adds: “[b]y 1833, all the southeastern tribes except the Cherokee had agreed to evacuate their ancestral homes.” In response, the military “forced them to march to Oklahoma.” (Ibid.) The event has been termed the Trail of tears because a quarter of the Cherokees who marched died.
The Seminole Tribe was also reluctant to be coerced by Jackson and his accomplices. This resulted in what historians call The Second Seminole War (1834-1841) which Divine tells us lasted seven years and was America’s “most expensive Indian war” in its history. (Ibid.)
With Native Americans now forcibly removed from their land the government had vacant land to sell, which means the government now had 1) a massive-although immorally, unjustly obtained- source of revenue and 2) a massive amount of property to give, mostly to white males. Such an explosion in newly own land was an explosion of new capital, that is to say, an explosion in newly valuable and/or exchangeable, sellable property. Speaking strictly in terms of money supply and material wealth America was greatly enriched.
I grant that a complexity in the matter was the fact that not all Native American tribes were capitalistic and speaking economically, for perfectly valuable, money-making land to have its economic potential frozen when there were people willing and able to make the most of it economically, it amounted to a legitimate political conflict. To say that some kind of deal should and could have been struck where Native Americans could keep the land they inhabited while American capitalists could have found a way to profit is obviously easier to state, than to show how it could have been done. But in hindsight that is what should have been striven for. Instead, the Jackson administration committed massive theft and genocide against the Native Americans and cashed out tremendously. This demonstrates how wickedly racist and hypocritical Jackson and his accomplices were.
On the one hand, Jackson was supposedly about property rights. He lowered the tariffs and reduced the debt. He enacted policies that let people keep more of their money; and not only let them keep more money- he even increased the supply of money they could gain and not with fiat money but with actual assets: land. But what about the property rights of the Native Americans? What about their money supply?
Suddenly one has to grow suspicious of just how pious Jackson was about property rights and economic prosperity. Clearly this principle did not apply to Native Americans and American history is forever damned by Jackson’s evil, racist exception. But was racism the only stain in Jackson’s supposed protection of property rights?
INCREASING THE CIRCULATION AND VALUE OF GOLD AS AN ATTACK ON THE NATIONAL BANK
While Jackson was increasing the money supply by stealing land from the Native Americans he was also stealing purchasing power from owners of silver in favor of owners of gold. To be contextually fair though, there was more to this political move than Jackson merely having an extreme bias in favor of owners of gold over owners of silver. The Founding Fathers of the country had unfortunately and inadvertently set the stage when they passed the Coinage Act of 1792.
The Coinage Act of 1792’s currency policy and the rationale behind it and relevant history are all a bit complex, mainly because prior to the act there were several competing currencies in America.
As the very famous economist, professor, and contributing force behind the establishment of the modern Federal Reserve, Laurence J. Laughlin, writes in his classic book The History of Bimetallism in the United States: “[i]n the time before the adoption of the Constitution the circulating medium of the colonies was made up virtually of foreign coins.” (I.II.1, 1885)
Among them, he tells us, was the English guinea, the French guinea, the Johannes, the Half Johannes, the Spanish pistole, the French Pistole, the Moidore, the English Crown, the French Crown, and the English Shilling. (Ibid.) Laughlin adds that: “[f]rom 1782 to 1786 the colonies began seriously to consider the difficulties arising from the variety of different coins in circulation, and their deleterious effects on business and methods of accounts.” (I.II.2) This, he tells is, is what propelled American leaders to seriously contemplate the establishment of some kind of official currency policy. (Ibid.)
And so the issue was debated among Robert Morris, the Super Intendant of Finance, and Jefferson, and Hamilton. (I.II.2-8) Although it was ultimately determined, based on Hamilton’s advice, that the United States Dollar would be backed by both silver and gold- a policy called bimetallism, Laughlin tells us, Hamilton did have a bias towards gold. (Ibid) To enforce this policy would of course require determining how much gold is worth how much silver.
To determine the how much gold was worth how much silver our Founding Fathers researched gold and silver values across the world, with a keen eye on Spain.
“[Hamilton] announced that the later issues of dollars from the Spanish mint had contained 374 grains of fine silver, and the latest issues only 368 grains, which implied a current market ratio in the United States (if these dollars exchanged for 24¾ grains of fine gold) of from 1:15.11 to 1:14.87, or a mean ratio of about 1:15. Of this ratio Hamilton says it is ‘somewhat more than the actual or market proportion, which is not quite 1:15.’ But, throughout his inquiry, no one can doubt but that he was honestly seeking for a ratio as near as possible to that existing in the markets of the United States. He certainly can not be charged with an intention of underrating gold.” (I.II.16)
In other words, it was Hamilton’s point of view that fifteen ounces of silver should be worth one ounce in gold. This in fact was the standard determined by the Coinage Act of 1792. Unfortunately it led to unintended consequences: a devaluation of gold by the mint and an overvaluation of silver. This was so problematic that, in the words of Laughlin, “gold coins were seldom seen during the largest part of this period from 1792 to 1834. Even when bank-paper was used, the reserves of the banks were generally in silver, not in gold. Whatever the cause of the change in the relative values, certain it is that gold disappeared, and that the United States had but a single silver currency as early as 1817, and probably earlier.” (I.II.31)
President Andrew Jackson and his allies understood that this was a consequence of a bimetallist monetary policy and reasoned that if silver could overtake gold, as it did, under such a policy, then by changing the ratios, gold could overtake silver. Writes Laughlin: “the majority [of those debating a change in monetary policy] were evidently aiming at a single gold standard, through the disguise of a ratio which overvalued gold in the legal proportions. In the market an ounce of gold bought 15.7 ounces of silver bullion; when coined at the Mint it exchanged for sixteen ounces of silver coin. Silver, therefore, could not long stay in circulation.” (I.IV.17) Indeed the Coinage Act of 1834 was passed and the new standard increased to 16 ounces of silver for one ounce of gold. Was this change in a policy merely an appeal to owners of gold who had been essentially ripped off for decades, or was there yet more to it?
Economist Paul M. O’Leary writes: “[t]he real forces back of the ultimately successful effort to establish a coinage ratio of 16:1 were immediately political; what looks like a friendship toward gold was really more a case of animosity toward the Bank of the United States with its circulation of bank notes.” (1937, 84)
An expression of this animosity was published in The Washington Globe, as cited by O’Leary, stating that pro-silver members of congress, and the the bank favored silver because “the United States bank can then get nearly all the domestic and foreign gold, to sell to Europe and the West Indies for a premium.”(89)
Jackson most certainly agreed with
this perspective, saying in his Eighth Annual Address to Congress that “[a] value was soon attached to the gold coins which made their exportation to foreign countries as a mercantile commodity more profitable than their retention and use at home as money.” (1836) ( In other words, a bimetallic policy that favored silver, according also to the Washing Globe, O’Leary tells us, empowered the Bank, being a super rich entity compared to average Americans, would have the upper hand in gold purchases, and not for the purpose of circulating it within the American economy, but rather, for the purpose of enriching itself by selling to foreign interests.
Andrew Jackson did not stop after the Coinage Act of 1834. He also instructed the Secretary of the Treasury-Roger B. Taney- to stop depositing federal money into the national bank and to in fact withdraw federal money that was presently deposited in the bank. Then the newly withdrawn money was to be deposited into preferred state banks that were referred to by anti-Jacksonians as “pet banks.” (Divine, 238-239)
Further, in 1836 he passed an executive action named “The Specie Circular” which required that all purchases of public land be made in gold or silver. (Divine, 240) In defense of this policy, Jackson stated:
“By preventing the extension of the credit system it measurably cut off the means of speculation and retarded its progress in monopolizing the most valuable of the public lands. It has tended to save the new States from a nonresident proprietorship, one of the greatest obstacles to the advancement of a new country and the prosperity of an old one. It has tended to keep open the public lands for entry by emigrants at Government prices instead of their being compelled to purchase of speculators at double or triple prices. And it is conveying into the interior large sums in silver and gold, there to enter permanently into the currency of the country and place it on a firmer foundation. It is confidently believed that the country will find in the motives which induced that order and the happy consequences which will have ensued much to commend and nothing to condemn.” (Jackson’s Eighth Annual Address to Congress, 1836)
While it may appear that Jackson was heroic by taking gold away from the national bank’s self enrichment, devaluing its silver thus in the process, making gold more valuable than silver so that the people, and Jackson’s pet banks may enjoy gold’s newly increased purchasing power, and while it may appear that Jackson took on the evil of fiat money, logical analysis will show, I contend, that it was not quite what it seemed to be.
It is true that central banking is always a suspicious activity.
After all, left unchecked, it has the power to devalue the national currency by putting more money into circulation, backed either by something fundamentally less valuable than another commodity (as in the case of silver coins as opposed to gold ones) or fiat money, while still having the advantage of being the institution in charge of the money supply, and thus being the institution with the most money which could be used to manipulate policies domestic and foreign- everything from handpicking politicians to cashing out on instigating wars by lending money to arm two opposing parties. That being acknowledged, it would be foolish to assume that private, or free banks would not necessarily climb to the same position of corrupting power.
The only difference is, at least in theory, that a central bank can actually be held more accountable, whereas a series of free/private banks, by virtue of being totally free, or separate from the government, again at least in theory, could be subject to less scrutiny since they would be free, and separate from the government.
It should be noted emphatically here then that the current central/national bank of America- The Federal Reserve- is NOT an example of what a good central bank should and could be as is evidenced by the fact that it has not been audited in decades and is shrouded in secrecy and is significantly independent of the government, functioning almost like a federally sanctioned private bank that can do virtually whatever it wants. (One could I think argue that it is a regulated central bank in name, but a free and independent one in practice which is further arguably how it gets away with its evil and exuberant inflation)
By taking on the national bank, Jackson did not really do anything to reform actual banking so much as he took power away from particular bankers, suggesting that his famous war against the central bank was more like an act of personal vindictiveness than any kind of political heroism.
As for increasing the value of gold and decreasing the value of silver, ultimately it ripped off and served as an act of theft towards anyone in possession of silver or seeking possession of silver as it was unnaturally devalued. Now, if Jackson had the wisdom to do away with the bimetallic standard and instead establish an official monometallic gold standard, nobody would have lost out. But that he did not do.
Even Jackson’s “Specie Circular” is not really impressive since the country was under a bimetallic standard, not a fiat money standard.
In other words, paper that could be redeemed for gold or silver wasn’t fundamentally a bad thing. It was not of less value and so it really was totally unfair for Jackson to grant land purchasing rights exclusively to those in immediate possession of the gold or silver.
Granted one could argue to a holder of paper money at the time ‘just go to the bank and get your gold or silver’ but what is the point of possessing money, paper or metallic, if it cannot buy?
It might be one thing if paper money could not at all be redeemed for silver or gold but such a policy should either be universal or not at all. It is obvious by the exclusiveness of the policy (it only pertained to purchases of public land) that Jackson was seeking to grant the government’s new pet bankers with gold and silver- especially gold. After all, we must consider the fact that it was they- Jackson’s pet banks- who were now receiving deposits of money from the U.S. Treasury-in other words, money (gold and silver) that went from the hands of purchasers of public land to the U.S. Treasury then to Jackson’s pet banks.
To clarify it even more so: it was the undoing of one system of crony-capitalism which had been orchestrated by the former national bank, and the creation of a new system of crony-capitalism, which had been orchestrated by Jackson and his pet banks. The bottom line: Jackson was a hypocrite and megalomanic. His monetary policies were not about ‘the people’, they were about manipulating the people, appeasing cronies, and getting to be the man in charge.
PART 4- THE CONCLUSION: A THOUGHT FOR HISTORY TEACHERS
A portrait of Jackson’s economic policies is a highly complex one. It is also highly controversial. Within it are actions so controversial even to historians today that those with biases that federal debt is good will not even mention in their history books that Jackson paid back all of the federal debt and was the only one to do so. Some other historians with a more libertarian or nationalist leaning bias might portray Jackson as a man who took on on the evils of the institution of the central bank. James Perloff writes in his book Shadows of Power, for example: “the Bank of The United States (1816-1836), an early attempt to saddle the nation with a privately controlled central bank, was abolished by President Andrew Jackson…American heeded Jackson’s warning for a remainder of the century.” (1988, 20-21) What Perloff does not mention is that, first of all, if any credit is to be granted to anyone in curbing crony capitalism it was actually President Martin Van Buren who fought for an Independent Treasury so that government money wasn’t benefiting certain peoples’s banks. Secondly Perloff fails to mention that the country was subject to the instability of fairly unregulated banks.
Larry J. Sechrest reports in his book on free banking that nearly fifty percent of free banks (of which there was about 709. 678 of which had sufficient records for historians and economists to evaluate) failed! ( 97-98) And among the ones that didn’t fail immediately, on average, they failed to remain in business for even a decade. One could debate the significance of those statistics for a long time thus I shall not pursuit it longer.
The point is that this is just how complex Jacksonian economics was: it is a topic worth the examination of countless books, but still a bottom line about the essence of it can be succinctly stated: Jackson’s economics amounted to property rights for some, but theft and death for others.
Yes, he paid back the debt (a wonderful thing!) and yes he lowered tariffs (in other words, taxes- another wonderful thing) but it really wasn’t all that meaningful in the grand scheme of things since he stole land from the Native Americans, many of whom were murdered and died as a result, which he then sold to people only with gold- which had been newly granted a higher value- and silver-which there was less of and which had less value, amounting to theft committed against owners of silver- all of which ultimately enriched Jackson’s pet banks since federal money received for purchase of land (again, stolen by native Americans) in the form of gold (again, at the expense of silver owners).
Ultimately, the notion of protecting property rights seems more like a means to an end for President Jackson; it seems, in conclusion, to have served as nothing more than an attractive political principle that he used to appeal to and seduce the people as to remain powerful in a newly and highly democratic culture. It would have been different if Jackson had refused to force the Native Americans from their land, if he had passed an official monometallic gold standard instead of a bimetallic standard that favored owners of gold and Jackson’s pet bankers. It would have been different if instead of moving power from one banking system to his preferred bankers, he had just reformed the National Bank and sought to forbid it from conducting self enriching activities that were not fair to the American people. But he did not do those things so as lovely as his debt elimination and tariff reductions might be, they were not done in the context of integrity.
Humanity is not perfect and politics is extraordinarily messy but John Adams did not need to fit in with his peers by owning slaves. Lincoln may have tarnished his name by being a racist but he still fought for the end of slavery- and won! Jackson does not have, as an excuse, that people just tended to dislike Native Americans.
And while, again, politics is no doubt messy, if messy politics can at least lead to good policy- to justice!- at least then, we the people could feel somewhat less cynical about it all.
But Jackson did not bring more justice to America. In fact, his presidency brought to America more injustice, and not solely “more”, but great injustice, using the beauty of the protection of property rights as mere bait so that he could commit his atrocities.
Let us note that President Elect Donald Trump appears to have learned from Jackson, not about how Jackson’s actions were evil though, but rather, how Jackson used the promise of justice to enjoy his own power at the expense of his fellow Americans.
One need only consider Trump’s recent attack on the First Amendment, when he suggested that those who burn the American flag should go to jail or lose their citizenship, to know this much. (Nelson, 2016)
With that in mind I must close by stating emphatically and very seriously, that a critical examination of Jackson’s economic policies tied to a critical examination of current US politics, makes it very obvious that history teachers need to do a much better job teaching their students about the real nature of the evils of Andrew Jackson.
Divine, Robert A.; Breen, T. H.; Williams, R. Hal; Gross, Ariela J.; Brands, H. W.. America: Past and Present, Volume 1 Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.
Gordon, John Steele. “A Short History of Debt.” American History. Volume 46. Issue 4. pp. 58-63. Accessed December 3, 2016. <a href=”https://ezproxy.wpunj.edu/login?url=http:// search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=fth&AN=64393590″>A Short History of DEBT.</a>
O’Leary M. Paul. “The Coinage Legislation of 1834.” Journal of Political Economy. Volume 45, No. 1. February, 1937. The University of Chicago Press. Accessed on December 3, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1824056
Perloff, James. Shadows of Power. John Birch Society through Western Islands. Appleton, Wisconsin. 1988.
(Note: When I originally wrote this I was registered to the Republican Party. I am now a Democrat)
By voting Donald Trump for President, and telling others to do the same, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, has deeply damaged the already rotting Republican party- (which, merely as a result of hope and optimism for a better future I am very reluctantly still a member of) and further, Speaker Ryan has tarnished his legacy.
Neither of them should win a single vote. Unfortunately, unless there is some wild miracle, Gary Johnson will not be the next president, and both Trump and Clinton, despite their sociopathic approaches, will win plenty of votes and one will most likely become president. But just because some people are evading the totally unacceptable and violent natures of Clinton and Trump does not mean the Speaker needs to join in. He had the chance to be a Republican hero- actually a hero the entire country could unite around and embrace, however, alas he has destroyed it.
I understand that political pressures can run very deep- that the Republican Speaker of the House not voting for a fellow Republican presidential candidate could potentially alienate him, burn a lot of bridges, hurt his political career- his very job as Speaker of the House could be at stake as could alliances that might have been facilitating any presidential ambitions the speaker might have, but sometimes the magnitude of a wrong is not worth condoning just to keep one’s job or keep one’s alliances.
Republican Governor of Ohio, John Kasich, understands this much, as he told us he could not vote for Donald Trump. In his own words, Trump fails to “offer a positive, inclusive vision for our country.” (https://www.facebook.com/notes/john…)
It is Republicans like John Kasich who preserve a shred of hope for the Republican party- a shred of hope that the party still can be led by men and women of conscience, and not be destroyed by bigots.
I do realize not all Trump supporters are violent, coarse, bigots. And they’re not all idiots either. They are not “deplorables” as Clinton would have us all believe. Some of my best friends, who I greatly admire, are Trump supporters, but I do believe those of you supporting Trump are failing to take into account the man’s truly violent nature, and what embracing him means for the future of the Republican party, and I think Speaker Paul Ryan is downplaying just how harshly history will judge him.
Let’s face it. The Republican party is losing popularity and legitimacy. It’s not Reagan’s golden decade of the 1980’s anymore.
It was a Republican president- George W. Bush- who led the United States into the war in Iraq, on a bogus claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. It was Republican President George W. Bush who led America into more debt in two presidential terms than the United States had ever accumulated in its entire history.
Meanwhile it is largely the Republican Party that is responsible for alienating homosexuals and women with their religious fundamentalism. (They complain about religious freedom only when it pertains to their religions!) Meanwhile, a large number of Republicans have sought to alienate the intellectual and scientific communities by denying their findings of climate change.
When Donald Trump sought the Republican nomination the Republican Party had a huge opportunity for a makeover. It had the opportunity to condemn bigotry and the inciting of violence. Ironically, during that primary, most Republicans did just that. Even though Trump won a plurality of votes, he did not win a majority! Sadly all he needed was a plurality, and in a race with so many contenders, he needed just the slightest plurality.
That much cannot be blamed on the greater portion of Republicans, however, the subsequent support earlier Republicans opposed to Trump suddenly gave him- on that point- by and large, far too many Republicans have let us down, despite having a chance to show they were truly men and women of principle and of moral conscience. Remember Ted Cruz? Trump had implied that Cruz’ wife was ugly compared to his own wife. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news…) And Trump suggested that Cruz’s father might have been involved in the JFK assassination. And according to Cruz, Trump was “utterly amoral!” Yet Cruz and others, like Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, end up backing the utterly amoral man- thus lacking conscience and courage; voting for Trump anyway.
Cruz may have been on a path of self destruction anyway, but Ryan, who had such a bright future and great credentials- Romney’s VP Pick, Speaker of the House- now he’s in with the violence inciting ways of Donald Trump, and one might guess Ryan thought it was to his political advantage. But whether Trump wins or loses it’s not a win for the Republican party or Paul Ryan. If Trump wins this election it will only be because Hillary Clinton was such a bad candidate as well, and Trump has been better at playing the Jacksonian “populist”.
It will not be a long term victory for Ryan. Again- if Trump wins, essentially by default- after a Trump administration, Ryan will be one of the “utterly amoral” who helped destroy the Republican party, not the man of conscience who stood against the evil within his party, like John Kasich, among a few courageous others. And whether Ryan knows it or not, in the history books, that’s how he’ll be contrasted to those like Kasich- just like George W. Bush became so toxic that the family name hurt brother Jeb and destroyed his political ambitions.
I don’t know how long the Republican Party can hold out for. I don’t think the Libertarian Party is necessarily a serious competitor (I’m voting for Gary Johnson anyway, of course!) nor do I think the Green party has impressive prospects, but at some point I suspect some wise Republicans who will want long political careers passing reforms they can be proud of will eventually want to cut their ties.
In my personal fantasy, those wise Republican separatists, along with some Libertarian separatists who refuse to go along with the extremism and pseudo-anarchy will form a “Safety-Net Libertarian” Party. That may not be likely in the near future, but the decline in credibility within the Republican party is. What of the prospects of it’s potential destruction?
Just look at the most basic facts: most university professors are not Republican. Most media organizations do not lean Republican. That’s not because they’re totally brainwashed by a communist subversion scheme. It is because anybody who is watching the Republican Party can see it is destroying itself. It fails to compete and gain real legitimacy in the eyes of the people, who only go to the Democratic party, because at least the Democrats try to pretend they’re addressing more concerns that affect more people.
The Democrats are for the civil liberties of homosexuals and women. The Democrats at least claim to look out for the poor. The Democrats at least listen to the scientists who are concerned about climate change. The Democrats at least try to claim respect for religious diversity. That’s why they can get away with having a presidential candidate with such horrible judgement – one who votes for deadly war, astronomical debt, and violates state department policy.
Because they do a better job trying to reach out, where as Trump is the alienator in chief. Both the Trump and Clinton are disasters and that should mean something to Speaker Ryan and if rebranding and improving the Republican party meant anything to him, all he did by voting for Trump and voicing support for him was dramatically lower the odds of Republican Party’s and his own long term success.
-An evaluation of the major theories of jurisprudence, with an explanation as to why the ‘natural law’ theory is the best one
(Note: I originally stated in this post that I wanted to be a philosophy professor. That is no longer the case. I want to concentrate on advancing a Social Democratic agenda via activism and commentary.)
All questions pertaining to politics and law, in my view, are a result of one question that is so consequential that its answers can cause genocide, or protect the freedom of individuals so that they may thrive.
The question is: “what should people be allowed to do, and not allowed to do?”
Answers to this fundamental question give us political philosophies and theories of jurisprudence. As someone who aspires to be a philosophy professor, and has run for political office three times, I have had much to say about political philosophy, and yet little about that branch of philosophy called jurisprudence.
Now I shall for the first time say a bit on the topic. In my opinion, the “natural law” theory is the superior theory of jurisprudence, and is so because it is based on reason (a word with many different definitions. For the purposes of this paper, when I refer to reason, I refer to non-contradiction) and morality.
That being said, there are some valid criticisms of other aspects of the theory, in particular, the assertion by some, that natural law is necessarily based on a God, and also, the fact is, some proponents of natural law theory have misapplied it.
Before I elaborate further, I shall be clear about exactly what natural law theory is said to be. In an academic outline on the term “natural law theory,” where it is also referred to as “classical naturalism,” it is defined as “a group of theories that contend, in a variety of ways, that law is to be identified by reference to moral or ethical (as well as formal) criteria of identification.” (Principe, 1)
I think it is worth adding that most proponents of classical naturalism- including Grotius, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and John Finnis (Banks, O’Brien, p. 82) (as well as Locke, even if merely by implication) to name just some- believe that inherent to the discovery of morality and natural law is the application of reason.
The standard of reason that is upheld by so many ‘natural law’ theorists is, in my opinion, its most important and fundamental element, for, as I view it, everything in life should be and absolutely can be approached via reason. (As Aristotle would say, A is A, i.e., a thing is itself, therefore A cannot be B, or C, or D, ad infinitum, i.e., a thing cannot be both itself and not itself.)
In my view, the very proof for this lay in the fact that it is empirically verified when one sees, or hears, or even feels with his or her skin, the letter “A,” and not any other letter, and thus, no other standard of knowledge should be used, as it would be incorrect, irrational, illogical, contradictory.
This is an epistemological idea, however, that every other major theory of jurisprudence introduced by Banks and O’Brien in their textbook on the American Judicial System, refuses to accept, either by a most obvious and fundamental misapplication of reason, or the complete disbelief that reason is the correct standard, or even a possible one.
For example, consider what I believe to be the profound irony and most basic contradiction of legal positivism.
We are told that according to legal positivism, “law is empirically discovered by reason,” yet on the other hand, we are told that law is “free from moral judgements about what the law should be.” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 85)
But a person cannot be both rational and legally amoral.
In fact there is no such thing as legal amorality.
That which one calls “moral” is how one thinks he should fundamentally treat himself and others, or put another way, what is a right action, and what is a wrong action.
For example, in my view of morality, right actions are ones that a person takes in order to thrive, which means he or she must take care of him or herself first, out of self-compassion, and should, further, do for others, out of compassion for them, whatever he or she is best equipped to do, when he or she can.
I call this the “morality” or “ethics” of “compassion.”
This necessitates political action- specifically, the protection of individual liberty, with safety-nets, to protect the integrity of individual liberty, i.e., protection against a laissez faire state where the utterly immoral people exploit the highly virtuous ones.
But all moral views necessitate political/legal action. Quite literally, a legal view that claims morality should be kept out of law merely confesses that one thinks implicitly that it is moral for the law to allow and prohibit particular actions, but, at least as I see it, either they do not recognize the implication or they are being dishonest.
At least legal positivism claimed to be rational. American Realism, according to the outline referenced earlier, is fundamentally skeptical, and “play[s] down the role of established rules (or the ‘law in books’) to discover other factors that contributed towards a judicial decision in order to discover the ‘law in action.’” (Principe, 2)
Moreover, American Realism claims to discover “what is empirically and pragmatically ‘realistic’ about judging” based on “sociological and psychological factors.” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 95) The empirical and the pragmatic and sociological and the psychological however, apparently have nothing to do, fundamentally with reason, only skepticism, which simply means chronic uncertainty.
To be fair to American Realism, at least it can be argued that empiricism could suggest probable guesses based on consistently observed things; at least it makes some kind of appeal to a notion of a more likely truth versus a less likely one, and/or maybe there is a truth, however not graspable by people.
At least then there is a sort of reaching for a semblance of logic. The theory of “critical legal studies” however, claims to “destroy the notion that there is one single ‘truth,’ and that by disclosing the all pervasive power structures and hierarchies in the law and legal system, a multitude of other possibilities will be revealed, all equally valid.” (Principle, p. 2)
If analyzed we see that the claim that there is no single truth is a contradiction in terms. Taken at its word, we must somehow accept it as singularly true that there is no single truth (that A is B, that a thing is not itself) when we are told that there is no single truth.
That is like saying I am not a cat but I am a cat.
That being said, I do concede that this theory of “critical legal studies” has at least one logical concern (although I guess adherents would not describe it as logical in my sense of the term)- “all pervasive power structures and hierarchies in the law and legal system” should always be scrutinized because application to logic is not automatic and guaranteed, even when the application is referred to as logical, and it has resulted at times in racist, classist, elitist actions. Similarly of feminist legal studies: chauvinism and misogyny can be problems within the legal system and elsewhere which is irrational and immoral which is why I would argue that an honest and consistent application to basic natural law theory would treat all fairly.
Although I have touched on the moral element of natural law briefly already, I believe it deserves more attention. It is one thing to say that it logically follows that morality must dictate law, but it would sell natural law theory short not to also mention in a bit more detail the nature of just how, in my interpretation, consistent and logical natural law theory would inject morality into law, and contrast that with how others might interpret the role of morality in natural law.
Nowhere in the texts I considered upon doing my research does it explicitly say that Natural law theory necessarily posits that all moral principles must be codified into law. In contrast, if we consider how natural law is the basis for “individual natural rights” such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 83) it follows that it is a right thing to do, i.e., a moral action that the law be made to permit and prohibit certain things- specifically to permit freedoms, and to prohibit violations of freedom.
That does not mean however, that an action which might be immoral, say prostitution, should therefore be illegal.
The moral claim is that the law should protect freedom, i.e., self determination, and thus prohibit coercion; only immoral acts which are coercive in nature require legal prohibition.
Adherents to natural law, throughout history, unfortunately, have not always understood this, despite it being the very meaning of their premise.
For example, in my view, it is a totally misguided idea of morality, based on a totally erroneous reasoning, how, “the Court appealed to natural law principles in asserting that blacks were not citizens entitled to constitutional rights in Dred Scott v Sanford (1857) [and] [i]n Bradwell v Illinois (1873), [when] the Court ruled that women could not practice law because it was ‘in the nature of things’ for them to remain relegated to the ‘domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood’ [and further, how] [m]ore recently Justice Clarence Thomas cited natural law and the Deceleration of Independence in criticizing the rationale in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the landmark case ending racial discrimination in public schools.” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 84)
Those are completely irrational moral claims that do not represent a proper application to natural law, but rather, forms of statism, altruism, collectivism, racism, chauvinism, and misogyny.
Although it is my opinion that classical naturalism, in its most general and popular sense – being explicitly based on the application of reason and morality- is the superior theory of jurisprudence, that is not to say the theory is perfect.
For example, many of the proponents of classical naturalism ascribe, with certainty, that its ultimate basis is in a God. As Banks and O’Brien write, “Natural Law is thought of in divine terms as God’s law.” (p. 81) Now, it very well may be, as I personally speculate, that a God does exist and that all truth is God’s creation, however, if so, it’s yet to be proven. Logic only tells us that there is no proof that a God does not exist but that nevertheless, one could. But a “could” does not justify a “does” and thus those classical naturalists who assert with certainty that a God does exist and that natural law is to be thought of as God’s law are, in my view, being hasty.
Briefly, on other theories of jurisprudence I have deemed inferior compared to classical naturalism, they at least have fair points regarding aspects of law they are critiquing- for example, American Realism, although “skeptical” at least leads us to question that which is asserted as moral-legal fact, and at least Critical Legal Studies dares to question the sometimes corrupting roles of power and higher status within the legal system- where economic status or race or sexual orientation, et cetera, is sometimes a factor when they should never be, and at least feminist legal studies dares to call out where the judiciary has unfairly treated women.
If classical naturalism could be revised and stripped of its contradictions, and if the mistaken applications of it could be made clear, I believe we would have a theory of jurisprudence which would be as perfect and logical as Aristotle’s laws of identity, and non-contradiction.
HOW THE PHILOSOPHY OF ROMANTICISM CAUSED THE RISE OF HITLER, THE NAZIS, WORLD WAR 2 AND THE HOLOCAUST
How does one lost and lonely, unsuccessful artist named Adolf Hitler become responsible for the sadistic torture and murder of nearly 11 million other human beings? (Schwartz, n.d.) Moreover, how does the population of a country with a rich intellectual, individualistic culture where major industrialization, liberalism and democracy (even inclusive to women at a time when women’s suffrage was a new thing yet to sweep the world) have taken effect, freely and voluntarily give dictatorial powers to a man who openly spewed racist anti semitic comments such as “it was the Aryan alone who founded a superior type of humanity,”(Hitler, Mein Kampf) and “[the Jew] is and remains a parasite…the effect produced by his presence is also like that of the vampire” (Ibid.) and threatened violence on his fellow Germans, saying in a court hearing that “I may assure you that if the Nazi movement’s struggle is successful…there’ll be some heads chopped off…[and] we will fight…with all the means at our disposal, even with those which are illegal from the world’s point of view”(Sax, 1992); how does a country of seemingly intelligent people surrender itself to the psychotic fury and totalitarianism of an openly racist and violent man?
To provide a comprehensive answer to these questions is an extremely complex undertaking, thus many books on the subject have been written. There are many angles and contexts one can investigate to gain hindsight into how Germany was hijacked by Hitler and his Nazis- there are economic factors (Germany suffered hyperinflation and a depression), and political factors (Germany had been defeated in World War One, and so its economy and military were downsized as a result, and Germany was just beginning as a democracy and it was an extremely divided democracy at that) and there are also crucial philosophical factors.
As Dr. Leonard Peikoff wrote in his article “Nazi Politics”: “[Hitler and n]azism triumphed because Germany was ideologically ripe [italics are Peikoff’s throughout], because the intellectual groundwork had been prepared, because the country’s [fundamental- philosophical] ideas- were ready.”
Dr. Peikoff goes on to explain that ideas spread across individual cultures and that the dominant, trending ideas essentially determine the philosophy of most of the people in the country and the basic philosophy of the country, and its government. Throughout The Objectivist Peikoff writes a series of articles on this topic defining and explaining the body of philosophical ideas that primed Germany for Hitler’s Nazi takeover. Of the various philosophical ideas that Dr. Peikoff discusses (pragmatism, dogmatism, collectivism, subjectivism, romanticism et cetera) the one that stands out to me as the most consequential, and responsible for Hitler’s tragic rise is “romanticism”.
In this article I will argue that the spread of the philosophy of romanticism in Germany from the late 1700’s to the early 1900’s is largely to blame for not only creating the monster that was Hitler and the Nazi movement, but that it was also responsible for creating within a significant portion of the population, a vulnerability and even an openness by default, to Hitler and Nazism.
To Support my argument, I am going to analyze what I believe to be the three elements of romanticism most relevant to Hitler’s rise: the romantic aesthetics, romantic epistemology and education, and romantic ethics, each, not merely as intellectual ideas, but ideas in relation to their manifestations in the history preceding Hitler’s rise.
Before I elaborate on exactly what romanticism is, and discuss its aesthetic, epistemological-educational, and ethical ideas and their impact, I think it must be noted that my assertion that romanticism is to blame for Hitler’s rise is a controversial one.
First of all, among philosophers and historians who do concede that romanticism played a part in the rise of Hitler and Nazism, they disagree on the degree in general, and in relation to other philosophical ideas (also in varying degrees) they also think are to blame.
As I mentioned about Dr. Peikoff, he emphasizes a range of ideas. In fact, more so than any specific idea, Peikoff seems to think the influence of philosopher Immanual Kantand the idea of collectivism were more to blame than romanticism (which is not fundamentally Kantanian).
In his own words, “It is Kant who made possible the sudden mushrooming of the Platonic collectivismand statism in the modern world, and especially in Germany,” (Peikoff, Nazi Politics II) even though Peikoff admits that Kant was not actually a statist.
In contrast, Lawrence Birken, argues, quite to the contrary that it was not romanticism that is to blame, but actually what romanticism was an opposition to. He writes that the philosophical problem “was actually a further development of the Enlightenment, a revolutionary Enlightenment which used fanaticism to destroy an older but weakened fanaticism, terror to destroy an older but milder‘terror’”. (Birken, 1999)
So then, what, in the most general sense, is this ‘philosophy of romanticism’ that philosophers, historians and commentators are debating about? There is not a consensus here.
Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert contends that there are types of romanticism, and that the romanticism of Germany is a specific “German Romanticism” and that even that can be divided into phases. (2004) For example, she focuses on what she terms “Early German Romanticism” which she defines as a philosophy that opposes the notion that a philosophy can have a basic, primary, fundamental principle, and one that posits that “an introduction to philosophy can only be a critique of earlier philosophy.” (Ibid.)
Dr. Leonard Peikoff agrees that there is a specific “German romanticism” but does not provide terms for different stages of “German Romanticism”. (Nazism Versus Reason) He defines “German romanticism” as “the open revolt against reason and the Enlightenment” that had its “greatest influence- in Germany…and that man’s true source of knowledge….is: feeling- or passion, or intuition, or instinct, or faith, or the subconscious.” (Ibid.)
I believe that Dr. Peikoff’s definition is accurate for as I analyze the romantic aesthetics, epistemology-education andethics, the most central theme throughout will be the primacy of “feeling”, especially the feelings of “passion” and “intuition.”
Indeed, I contend that a significant number of the German population, as a result of the spreading romantic philosophy, were quite literally lost in a plague of unchecked passion, and were so enthralled by Hitler’s extreme, out of the ordinary passion, that many had an intuitive feeling that his incredible passion could save them, and so they submitted themselves to him.
I think it is a very important point that, to a considerable degree, romanticism was first developed by philosophers who were contemplating art and poetry in the 1790’s and, in fact, throughout the so called romantic movement in Germany and even at the onset of the birthing political Nazi movement, the political activism was led by very artistically minded men. (As many know, Hitler himself was a failed artist).
I say this is important to note because one may not typically think of something as esoteric as art and aesthetics as a catapult for political movements.
In any event, of romanticism’s origin, Millan-Zaibert tells us that in the 1790’s, “[in the very early stages of [the romantic] movement [the term romantic was used in Friedrich Schlegel’s] literary criticism to denote…subjective [poetry as opposed to] classical poetry [which] was objective…”and then later, in reference to “an appreciation for the subjective elements in art [more broadly], [and] a developing interest in viewing and understanding art in terms of its history.” (2004)
This romantic aesthetic spread, developed and endured for over a century, and in fact, remained very key to romanticism as such, as well as the beginnings of the Nazi movement.
One very influential German thinker, for example, who wrote the bestselling Rembrandt als Erzieher in 1890 (Author Fritz Stern tell us “in the first two years the book went through thirty-nine editions”) said of art that it was “the highest good, the true source of knowledge and virtue.” (Stern, 1961) However, he added that “great art could spring only from the volk” (The Aryan Germanic people as a unified community and state) and that from such art knowledge could be intuitively gained. (Ibid.)
The popularity of this book, according to Stern, which I am willing to grant, indicates that a significant number of Germans either agreed with him or were open to or interested in those key ideas.
The meaning to gain here from this romantic aesthetic is that it made reason an unpopular thing in Germany, and intuition the popular replacement, but also we see an aesthetic idea that embraces racism- most notably a view of Germanic/ Aryan supremacy and the idea that good art is dependent on adhering to that racist tenant. Moreover, art, and this view of art in particular, is posited as a something like a religion- but on what grounds? This leads us to romantic epistemology.
ROMANTIC EPISTEMOLOGY AND EDUCATION
As romanticism developed and spread as an aesthetic philosophy, so to did the importance of subjectivity- the notion that knowledge (to whatever degree a subjectivist even believes in knowledge) is to be gained by feeling, and especially intuition and not by reason.
One necessary consequence of any given epistemological foundation is going to be the education that the youth of a culture receives. If parents, teachers, and professors agree that knowledge is to be gained one way or another by feeling, then curricula and pedagogy would of course follow suit and indeed it did. As we have seen from the romantic aesthetics, an emphasis was placed on the idea that good art can only come from communion with the volk. This general obsession with the Volk in aesthetics, and in other aspects of philosophy, was called Volkish thought and was a huge element of German education in the 1800’s.
Writes George L. Mosse: “Schools were founded according to Volkish blueprints and principles. In the state schools the ideology infiltrated into the minds of the students through books, curricula and teachers. [And then the teachers and students]…spread the ideas they had picked up.” (1964)
Mosse adds that Volkish ideology in the schools was the rule, not the exception. (Ibid.) Also, as a result of Volkish ideology in schools, antisemitism began to spread; it was believed that “[Jews] could not be expected to have sufficiently deep or sacred feelings about [the Volk, and the Volk landscapes, the Volk History] to appreciate the message.” (Ibid.) Further, it was believed and propagated that the Jews were too intellectual for German Volkish schools.
Through these romantic Volkish schools, as is evidenced by a new racism, it can further be seen how a romantic ethics can be established and taught.
Just like romantic aesthetics, and romantic epistemology centered on “feeling”, so too did romantic ethics.
In fact, it is the romantic ethics that are the most dangerous, because it is one’s code of ethics that mandate what essentially one is going to do with one’s life, and how one will treat one’s self and others.
By saying the romantic ethics are most dangerous I mean that perhaps through a subjective epistemology at least a universal compassion is a possible direction, or even, one could intuitively feel that at least sometimes there is a time and place for reason. (For example, it could be argued that American culture of today is pragmatic-existential and allows for degrees of subjectivity, but still concedes a value in science ((which absolutely depends on reason and empiricism)) and maybe even sometimes a degree of rational consideration with respect to treatment of others. Existentialists are by nature supposed to allow tolerance towards others as it posits that everybody can define their own meaning and values.)
Unfortunately, the romantic ethics essentially dictates a worship of feeling- especially of intuition and passion. I alluded to this earlier when I mentioned that art, and romantic aesthetics was viewed somewhat religiously and as superior to science.
Bertrand Russell writes that romantics had a “proneness to emotion…the emotion of sympathy…[which was] direct and violent and quite uniformed by thought.” (1945) (I contend that this sounds quite a bit like Adolf Hitler. No, I do not mean to say that Hitler was actually sympathetic, but I would argue that he thought he was sympathetic to the cause of the aryan race and providing them living space and making them strong and that that which he believed to by his sympathy was arguably a major motivating factor.)
It is not just an obsession with emotion, and sympathy or perceived sympathy. It is an obsession with passion. Russell adds:
“It is not the psychology of the romantics that is at fault: it is their standard of values. They admire strong passions, of no matter what kind, and whatever may be their social consequences…..most of the strongest passions are destructive- hate and resettlement and jealousy, remorse and despair, outraged pride and the fury of the unjustly oppressed, martial ardor and contempt for slaves and cowards. Hence the type of man encouraged by romanticism…is violent and anti-social, an anarchic rebel or a conquering tyrant.” [Emphasis mine] (Ibid)
Upon reading that assessment of the romanticist’s obsession with passion, I contend that a person with a basic understanding of Hitler cannot help but think of him again, as Hitler was violent, anti-social, and a tyrant.
But were the German people in general violent, anti-social tyrants? Some clearly were because they voted for the Nazis and became Nazis and participated in mass genocide. Other Germans leaned towards the other kind of passion obsessed type that Russell mentioned- the anarchic rebel.
I say that because Germany, when it was the Weimar Republic became a near de-facto anarchy, which Benjamin Sax and Dieter Kuntz describe as a “severe crisis over the distribution of power…which destroyed the parliamentary system in 1930.” (1992)
Another property of the romantic ethics was the idea that one should cultivate a strong personality. As Mosse tells us about romantic-volkish education: “The strong personality was important for the school, not the strongest intelligence.” (1964)
Robert W. Lougee calls this a “romantic individualism” which “ stressed the uniqueness of individuals, a uniqueness which placed them beyond conformity to any general law or principle” and “Man became a law and measure unto himself” and further yet, “developing one’s own individual nature is a primary objective.”(1959)
I would make the argument, that here too, we see the manifestation of Hitler, who was obsessed with his personality- so obsessed that he had to be the captivating, charismatic center of attention and of control and his fellow Germans were to idolize him, and never question him. Also, I believe it is true that one could see that in a culture where passion, and a strong personality, and intuition are like moral imperatives, how would one not be vulnerable to Hitler?
After all, Hitler had a strong personality, and he was extremely passionate. For a person who views such concepts as moral imperatives, and sees a man so methodically and extremely practicing them, what vision other than Hitler’s would be able to compete for their- it hurts me to say- love and worship?
Romanticism is an extremely complex, systemic philosophy. As a philosophy that was perhaps first developed with art in mind, i.e., in the philosophical branch of aesthetics, I believe, it should make one pause for a moment, for how often does one think of theories of art as potential precursors to something like the Holocaust?
In contrast, traditionally, perhaps, at least in western, or American culture, we think of art as the realm of a safe, free self expression, or maybe we think about Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa.But isn’t even that possibility quite telling of art and art theory- that is- that it has, at least, a kind of political implication.
If a certain kind of art and/or a certain kind of aesthetic becomes popular, perhaps we ought to question what the implications might be. But a subjectivist aesthetic alone, although I think it is at best a bad habit, does not have to mean a subjectivist epistemology- that is to say, perhaps one might think that in the realm of art, one should be subjective, but in matters regarding “what is knowledge?” and “how do I gain knowledge” one could still be an objectivist, or at least partly. The romantic epistemology however, does away with this possibility.
In truth, the romantic epistemology is actually extremely complex if fully examined, as it not only upholds ideas such as ‘knowledge comes from intuition, not reason”, but it further holds complex ideas as to how ones ‘intuition’ can be informed.
In fact, it is so complex that I do not believe it could be fully explained in this specific discussion, however, I would emphasize, as I mentioned earlier, that the romantic epistemology holds that intuitive knowledge comes from a religiosity towards art, and, at least according to the German romanticism, from oneness with the Volk, which thus breeds racism and did breed especially, anti-semitism, and a general culture of basic irrationality, and the German romantic volkish schools truly indoctrinated these bizarre ideas and taught what would become a truly deadly, destructive system of ethics that worshipped extreme emotion, irrational passion, and “strong personality” above intelligence and intellect.
As I have said, it is no wonder, not only that an Adolf Hitler entered the German scene, but moreover, it is also no wonder that enough German people were duped by him and democratically elected him thus enabling him to do away with the democracy he used to gain power and impose his evil tyranny.
This is important to keep in mind because Manfred Frank claims in his book The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism that the historical connection made between romanticism and Hitler’s Nazi Germany is an “invented” one and a “cliche”, because the Nazis “hated the protagonists of early German Romanticism.” (2004)
That some Nazis may have hated philosophers who contributed to romanticism for any reason, or that they may have rejected some aspects of various versions of or takes on romanticism is to totally miss the point: that romanticism created, within German culture, enough people with the mentality-the obsession with irrational art, the obsession with intuition, passion, racism, irrational, whimsical as opposed to intellectual and healthy cultivation of personality (or cultivation of personality for its own sake, as opposed to truly knowing one’s self and cultivating a good self)- that could be easily become or be swayed by Hitler and the Nazis and for any one who discusses this romanticism-nazism relationship and overlooks that and/or tells others to overlook it as “cliche” and “invented” is to literally ignore facts- which is exactly what the romantic epistemology called for, thus, such a person has fallen prey to it.
2 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf(London, New York, Melbourne: 1939), Kindle edition, chap 11 (Kindle Location 4548)
3 Hitler, Mein Kampf. (Kindle Location 4806-4808)
4 Benjamin Sax, Dieter Kuntz, “The Triumph of National Socialism, 1929-1933” in Inside Hitler’s Germany (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1992) , 108-109
5 Leonard Peikoff, “Nazi Politics” in The Objectivist original ed Ayn Rand (Irvine, Ca, Second Renaissance Inc., 1990) 599
6 Peikoff, “Nazi Politics”, 560
7 Peikoff, “Nazi Politics II” in The Objectivist, 625
8 Lawrence Birken, “Prussianism, Nazism and Romanticism in the Thought of Victor Klemperer.” The German Quarterly, Vol. 72 , No. 1 (Winter 1999) 33-43, http://www.jstor.org/stable/407902 accessed July 2, 2016
9 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction: What is Early German Romanticism” in The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004) Adobe Digital Editions, 1
10 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction” , 11
11 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction”, 10
12 Peikoff, “Nazism Versus Reason” in The Objectivist, 724-725
13 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction”, 12
14 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” in The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study In the Rise of The Germanic Ideology (Berkley, Los Angeles and London: 1961, 1974, 1989) 109
15 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” 98
16 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” 138
17 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” 119
18 George Mosse,“Education Comes to the Aid.” In The Crisis of German Ideology,
(New York, NY: First Howard Fertig, Inc. 1964, 1998) 152
19 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” 154
20 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” 155
21 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” 166
22 Bertrand Russell, “The Romantic Movement.” In The History of Western Philosophy. (New York, NY: A Touchstone Book- Registered Trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1945, 1972.) 675
23 Bertrand Russell, “The Romantic Movement” 681
24 Benjamin Sax, Dieter Kuntz, Inside Hitler’s Germany 13
25 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” , 161
27 Manfred Frank, “On Early German Romanticism as an Essentially Skeptical Movement: The Reinhold- Fitche Connection” in The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004) Adobe Digital Editions, 25
I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the College Media Association (CMA) Spring National College Media Convention in Times Square, where I got to ask CBS’s Scott Pelley a few questions about freedom and bias.
The CMA describes itself on its website (http://www.collegemedia.org/site/about.html) as “the preeminent source for education and support for professionals and students engaged in creating all forms of student produced media on college and university campuses.”
Also according to the website, it was founded in 1954 and has more than 900 members.
The CMA published a program for the convention and inside that program it says they hold two annual conventions. Every Spring they hold a convention in New York City, and every fall the convention “convenes at varying sites across the country.”
One of the convention’s keynote speakers was CBS’ Evening New’s managing editor, Mr. Scott Pelley.
When I got to question Mr. Pelley I mentioned some specific things that I found to be troubling that prompted me to ask my question: things such as the Washington Post article about former CBS employee Sharyl Attkisson, who resigned due to the network’s alleged liberal bias, and their alleged refusal to air certain stories on the Benghazi scandal (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2014/03/10/sharyl-attkisson-leaves-cbs-news/) , and a commentary in the USA TODAY that day on America’s drastic loss of freedom of the press. (Preserve Freedom Of The Press; Jonathan Turley; 3/13/14).
(It is worth noting that I was later told by an advisor at the convention who once interviewed President Barack Obama, that one should never ask someone in a political position to “comment” on something, because it only gives them the opportunity to dance around the issue. A point well made.)
While Mr. Pelley responded by saying “I will put The CBS Evening News- of which I am managing editor- up against any news organization, broadcast or print, when it comes to coverage of Benghazi”, and that he has been accused of having both a liberal and conservative bias, which in his opinion means he has “nailed” his interviews, he said nothing about whether or not he believed we are losing the freedom of the press.
For Mr. Pelley to fail to point out that the U.S. Justice Department seized phone records of reporters and editors of the Associated Press,and seized records of Fox News phone lines, and that the FCC had planned to monitor news rooms, and grill journalists on how their organizations select news stories, and that these events are problematic, is, on his part, most discouraging, especially because he is a veteran journalist, and was in a room full of people who will become future members of the media industry.
It was also rather inconsistent with the message he began his speech with, as he spoke of how without a free press there is no democracy.
He identified the lack of free press in Syria but failed to mention a single attack on free press here in America. Considering how important the issue theoretically is to him, he should have at least raised questions: Should the government monitor news organizations?
If it does, what is the difference between news that is officially run by the state, and news which is unofficially run by the state?
Why do we call the unofficial state ownership of the press “free press”?
There is something else Mr. Pelley said, in response to another person’s question. Mr. Pelley was asked if he worries about being a tool of the government. He said he did not worry about that and then added “I don’t care whether there’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House. I don’t care which party is in the leadership, on either side of the house or senate. Maybe it’s a genetic defect that I have of some kind, but I truly, deeply, do not care. My job is to report on what those people do or say and illustrate the contrast between what they do and say.” He said he is neither a conservative or a liberal, and that he just tries to “inflict as much pain on both of them” as he “possibly can, because…that’s what journalists do.”
It is one thing for a reporter to be unbiased in his official report, and another thing for him to have an opinion. Having an opinion does not make a reporter’s report inherently biased. Injecting an opinion into a report and refusing to tell all sides of the story is biased and is essentially what we would refer to as propaganda. I wonder what Mr. Pelley would say in response that.
I also wonder: was Mr. Pelley being honest?
Does he just tell us what he thinks we want to hear so we’ll like him and trust him, or does he mean it when he says he “truly, deeply [does] not care” whether America is led by Republicans or Democrats?
While I wish I could speculate that by not caring, he means that he believes both the Republicans and Democrats are corrupt and he himself is an independent, unfortunately his comment that “maybe it is a genetic defect” suggests that he doesn’t think that deeply about it, and instead, considers his apparent political apathy to be just some bizarre and very paradoxical aspect of his personality.
When he said that his job is to “report what those people do and say and illustrate the difference” and that “we [at the CBS Evening News] just try to inflict as much pain on both of them as we possibly can” it comes across as impersonal, detached, and somewhat nihilistic.
What does he mean when he says he tries to “inflict pain”?
Even supposing he is speaking figuratively, it still comes across as arbitrary since he “truly, deeply [does] not care” about who is leading America, causing his projected ideal image of a journalist to look, not like a person with a moral consciousness, but rather a sadomasochist who views an interview as a means of “inflicting pain” on people merely because it is his job to do so.
A journalist should care about the state of the universe. All people should care about everything that is produced, from ideas to food.
As for journalists in particular, it should be their rational consciences that prompt them to ask the questions they ask and report events honestly. No, not all journalists have to broadcast or publish commentaries.
Perhaps some would rather let reporters report, and commentators publish and broadcast their opinions. That is fine. But all people- no matter what job they work- should most certainly analyze the news and have opinions and share them if asked and act on those opinions.
I would have loved to ask Mr. Pelley if he even votes, and why or why not, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough time for me to ask a follow up question.
As I mentioned earlier, the CMA describes itself as “the preeminent source for education and support for professionals and students engaged in creating all forms of student produced media on college and university campuses”. If the association is what it claims to be, then it should be clear to students, that above all things, they should never be politically apathetic like Mr. Pelley, because in doing so, further attempts by the U.S. government to manipulate the media would grow more and more successful, would trickle down to the college media, and reach a point where American media begins to resemble the Syrian media that Mr. Pelley rightfully condemned.