A Human Movement
Saturday, July 12, 2003
It's a real shame that I only just got a chance to read Nick's attempted theorization of what he (problematically and frustratingly) terms the monocultural hegemony of America. I worry that whatever momentum our dialogue generated that merry evening has been squandered by the time that has passed since, but I'll venture a response nevertheless. (The excessively graphic landscape of this blog demands more text.)

First of all, the ideological debate he cites between the anti-Federalists and the Federalists is constructive to his argument but ultimately misleading. Many of the wealthy landowners that managed the colonies did conceive a loss of stability (commercial, political, and otherwise) and life-threatening danger (treason being no slight offense) in a declaration of independence from England. But they also realized how much they had to gain: an enviably strategic geographic location as well as nearly unchallenged access to an abundance of natural resources and land to the west.

Nick seems to suggest that the wealthy landowners went along with the unprecedented republican revolution because they logically wanted to go along with the likely winner. But who in their right mind in that day and age would bet that a rag-tag collection of colonies could get away with revolting against one of the two major European powers, England, especially prior to the lengthy negotiation of a (tenuous) alliance with the other major European power, France, which itself wasn't immediately inclined to throw its weight behind a revolution that could just as easily come from its own subjects (as it later did)?

Ideological tensions between the colonists were real and anxious but these tensions manifested themselves in the entire revolutionary enterprise. A case in point is the text of the Declaration itself, famously penned by anti-Federalist Jefferson but edited intensely by the whole of the Continental Congress once the vote for independence had passed. Benjamin Franklin had to console Jefferson as vast sections were excised. The point being that, ultimately, both Federalists and anti-Federalists had a hand in the final document, which is something of a symbol of solidarity. In fact, after signing the document, John Hancock turned to his compatriots and said, "There must be no pulling different ways. We must all hang together." To which Ben Franklin replied, "Or most assuredly we will all hang separately," which gives some sense of the danger they knew they faced as traitors to the Crown.

Another indication of Federalist and anti-Federalist compromise was the constitutional compromise of 1790, when Alexander Hamilton's plan for a national bank that would oversee the consolidated debt of the individual states met with fierce, crippling opposition, led principally by his chief collaborator on The Federalist Papers, James Madison. Madison, who himself drafted the anti-Federalist (according to Nick) Bill of Rights, was also a Virginian, and distrusted the arbitrary power explicit in economic management at a national level.

Instead, like his other Virginians, he believed that the best economic course would be to let natural economic energies flow, not be directed from some distant seat of power. In any event, this is somewhat complex, but the gist of the (backroom) compromise is that federal assumption of debt was finally passed with the provision that the site of the national capital (which was then in New York) would be an uninhabited tract of land along the Potomac in northern Virginia, which would be built while the seat of government would temporarily move to Philadelphia.

The location of the capital appeased violent opposition to assumption because of its political implications, which were that if you were suspicious of federal government, you'd be reassured to visit the capital and see that it was all boggy farmland, not a city at all but virtually invisible. Further, the merchants, bankers, and moneylenders that were so close to Hamilton would find it inhospitable on top of the fact that all the financial institutions were located elsewhere.

It was a symbol of diffusion of power over consolidation, which ran contrary to the European model of having the capital city be a metropolitan center of all things cultural, political, and economic. You could say Hamilton had his way with his plan, and that corporate America has its roots in his development of a federal capitalist system, but the permanent situation of the capital on the Potomac site symbolized the establishment of a different set of political values that also directed the fate of the nation.

Anyway, despite Nick's characterization of the Constitution as a mostly Federalist document with "damage" only slightly "mitigated" by the anti-Federalists, the Constitution itself bridged the divide between sovereign states and federal government; it didn't solve these questions, but provided an institutional framework within which those questions could continue to be asked. Of course, these tensions broke out ultimately in the Civil War.

This is American history, and I love it and could go on and on about it, but then Nick invokes a monocultural hegemony that he doesn't spend one line of his post explaining. He somehow segues from the discussion of tension between the two major factions of American politics that have evinced themselves throughout its history (no argument there, pal, see above) into "look at how America continues to assert its monocultural hegemony."

One could argue that, as the first republic in an age of monarchy and despotism, strategically removed from the imperial grasp of European power, propitiously endowed with an abundance of natural resources and land, and with the dynamic political tensions we've addressed embodied in the very foundations of its republican government, America once established could only ascend the ladder of global power and supremacy. Once its independence had been achieved, I don't think it surprised anyone that it prospered in the manner that it did, especially as it was able to lay claim to the articulation and institutionalization of the enlightened virtues of liberty and justice and human rights as a philosophical justification for its prosperity.

Nick falls apart at this stage of his post, bringing up Marx and benevolent dictatorships and pale imitations, etc., which shows he really doesn't listen to me as closely as he professes to. My relatively succinct point on this matter being that as American corporatism continues to encroach on Third World cultures and its inexorable exploitation of the Third World's resources reaches a critical threshold, the concomitant development of an infrastructure in these struggling nations, while superficially the apparatus of oppression and exploitation, will provide a suitably revolutionary organism that will be infiltrated by whatever ideology (i never purported to articulate this ideology; call it an "-ism" of the distant future) that effects a revolution that will eventually reorient the global economic energies that maintain the present world order.

This will be a revolution of America's own making, in the way that the American revolution could be said to be one of England's own making. The Third World, so called because it is sorely undeveloped, has plenty of LAND and a wealth of natural resources too, Nick. And while America will possibly never have an incentive to revolutionize itself from within, as you say, I believe that it can definitely revolutionize itself from WITHOUT, by the mechanisms that I've outlined. Because once infrastructures of power and organization have been erected in the Third World, and provided ample time to strengthen, despite the implication of American power they will ultimately be manned not by Americans but by the Third World itself toward its own revolutionary ends, which might effect a similarly tense solidarity like the American states (which individually referred to themselves as countries, incidentally).

Anyway, all of this would of course not happen in our conceivable lifetimes, but would happen at some later stage of global development. I hope my lengthy explanation has cleared my argument up for you somewhat, and given the others some sense of what I was trying to discuss that night at McSorely's. I'm glad your post wasn't lost, Nick, I found it encouraging. I think we should exchange our views on these matters more often.
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