“I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world.
The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives.
Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate.
That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing.
For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community.
It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
“Even while the Civil War raged, slaves in Cuba could be heard singing, “Avanza, Lincoln, avanza! Tu eres nuestra esperanza!” (Onward, Lincoln, Onward! You are our hope!) – as if they knew, even before the soldiers fighting the war far to the North and long before most politicians understood, that the war in America would change their lives, and the world.
The secession crisis of 1860-1861 threatened to be a major setback to the world antislavery movement, and it imperiled the whole experiment in democracy. If slavery was allowed to exist, and if the world’s leading democracy could fall apart over the issue, what hope did freedom have?” Don Doyle New York Times
John Quincy Adams. Shall we bow our heads for an early nap before discussing a white dead president? It’s kind of superficial to judge a person because they’re white and dead, don’t you think?John Quincy was pretty cute (okay that’s superficial) as a young guy, but he was much more than that.
You know how we always love to trash kids who have famous parents?We say they got where they got because their father knew, say, George Washington, but a meeting with a president doesn’t always assure you a brilliant career. John Quincy started his brilliant career at the age of 14. Yes, fourteen. He accompanied Francis Dana as a secretary on a mission to Saint Petersburg. (WIKI)
Do you know any fourteen-year-olds? How many impress foreign diplomats and presidents? Well, maybe Justin Beiber did in his prime, but if you check out John Quincy’s love poems to his wife you might be surprised at Mr. Adam’s sensuous side. So young Adams did have the advantage of being born into a brainy family (funny they lived in Braintree, Massachusetts), but John Quincy’s younger brother with all the same advantages died young of alcoholism.
How many kids today know Greek, Latin, French, German and Dutch? How many consider it a fine hobby to translate Virgil, Horace, Plutarch and Aristotle? Anybody for one more opinion about deflated footballs?
Lest we think young Johnnie had it easy, let me mention his parents. John and Abigail groomed him for moral and intellectual greatness. This was no soft curry-comb grooming. Lovingly and beseechingly–daily, weekly, monthly and yearly–John and Abigail bombarded John Q with “advice.” When excelling at language, Abigail bemoaned his sloppy handwriting. When dancing with the girls in Europe, John Adams Sr. worried he might bring home a horrible Euro-trash girl.
Johnnie could have bolted under the pressure. He could have whined. Instead he wrote volumes in his journals, he translated volumes, he married well and became a great husband and father. These things were done in his spare time!
Here are some of his other accomplishments:
Graduated Harvard and became a lawyer (he thought this terribly dull). Later taught at Harvard.
Became a respected foreign minister to the Netherlands, Portugal, Germany, Prussia and later Russia.
Became Secretary of State
Was elected President
And then for 18 years decided to hang out in Congress refusing all the while to descend into party politics. This guy had tons of courage. At one time or another everyone hated him. He stood for what was morally right and best for the country he loved. This meant that he vehemently opposed slavery before it was cool. He was a hard-working trail-blazer!
“The discussion of this Missouri question has betrayed the secret of their souls. In the abstract they admit that slavery is an evil, they disclaim it, and cast it all upon the shoulder of…Great Britain. But when probed to the quick upon it, they show at the bottom of their souls pride and vainglory in their condition of masterdom. They look down upon the simplicity of a Yankee’s manners, because he has no habits of overbearing like theirs and cannot treat negroes like dogs. It is among the evils of slavery that it taints the very sources of moral principle. It establishes false estimates of virtue and vice: for what can be more false and heartless than this doctrine which makes the first and holiest rights of humanity to depend upon the color of the skin?” (Journal entry Wiki)
John Quincy Adams also sat for one of the first presidential photographs:
“One night, probably in 1880, John Swinton, then the preeminent New York journalist, was the guest of honour at a banquet given him by the leaders of his craft. Someone who knew neither the press nor Swinton offered a toast to the independent press. Swinton outraged his colleagues by replying:
‘There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.
‘There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty four hours my occupation would be gone.
‘The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press?
‘We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”
(Source: Labor’s Untold Story, by Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, published by United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, NY, 1955/1979.)
Is private property a good thing? I happen to think it is. Have you ever noticed how public beaches are always disgusting? No one takes pride of ownership. I’ve heard people say after throwing some trash around, “that’s why we pay taxes.”
Since at least Biblical times there’s been a tension in history between communitarian-ism and private ownership. People have written songs and novels about this tension. People have gotten into university debates and great wars over this tension.
We bemoan the loss of Indian hunting grounds even as we sit in our comfortable highrises or suburban ranches. We feel vaguely guilty because that’s what we’re told to do. Yet a study of the Iroquois nation quickly reveals that their dominance of a vast territory of the US and Canada came at the expense of other weaker tribes. They didn’t just sit around being peaceful. They were into conquest. It didn’t matter if some tribes were all about sharing.
We can say it’s primitive not to share, but the tragic thing about history is that, search as we may for a progressive walk towards enlightenment, it’s always just out of reach. I’m not celebrating “might makes right,” just pointing out that despite lofty ideals everywhere in the world the human tendency is towards this behavior. No matter the style of government or organization or friendship, might often makes right.
I lived with American communists for a while. They worked their “interns” (indentured servants) like dogs for the good of the community and the ecology. They had the land and the power to make our lives miserable. They made sure they had a voice on the local radio station and in the town council. They preached peace and love, but might makes right pushed their interns and neighbors.
Once we see this tendency to push each other around we then can see that it’s not them over there or us over here. We can stop expecting our governments to present us with good new schemes to cover our moral failures. The reason why private property is important is because without it we’re at the whim of people who could care less about us and use their might to do whatever they want. Private property gives us a stake in the game. (This doesn’t for a second mean there are perfect systems on Earth)
We can be charitable or not based on the knowledge that what Jesus said about the poor always being with us is true and no amount of second-rate political thought is going to change that. Some people are always going to be stronger, smarter and more evil than others no matter how well we institute Common Core or apologize for winning wars.
Private property means I get to keep my mind as well as my responsibility. With that I must answer to a higher power.