Monday, July 9, 2007

Ancients&Moderns (Part I)

It's been said that the USA was the 1st Modern Nation and this is absolutely on the money. If one believes that ideas matter and carry long-term effects on the socio-political realm, we can see the spectre of John Locke planted on the American flag from the onset. Locke, following Hobbes, coined the 'Natural Rights' idea; we are all equal in the sense to act within our own motivations and interests and overthrow the State when these a priori rights are transgressed. This philosophy is stamped on The Declaration of Independence quite distinctly.

I will not go into much whether *natural rights/laws* are actually natural though this is a highly debatable point with the argument's upperhand pointing to the negative: it can be said that 'Natural' rights and laws are one of the noble lies/political truths that we automatically assume to be 'self-evident', yet the whole unvarnished truth it is not. The crux of this entry is to punch at the seams of this Moderns vs. Ancients debate, and how our FF's may have been too modern.

There are many things admirable about Locke's social contract theory, but one has the feeling with his resolve to toss the notion of the divine right of kings, Locke purged the tub with the dirty water and some of the Founders of the Republic, especially Jefferson, followed accordingly. One good thing about the medieval political system, perhaps the sole good, was the axiom of noblesse oblique. This largely explains later on in the 19th Century, monarchical, more authoritarian regimes in Europe adopted a sufficient Welfare State, whilst the republican/democratic United States was a johnny-come-lately to it, and very reluctantly. Even Great Britain, the home of Enlightenment liberalism and corresponding classical economics, adopted the Welfare State before America did and 'socialism' didn't carry quite the Dracula reaction with Brits as it did(still does) with Yanks, even with some Tories. Europeans blended in synthesis modern-Enlightenment ideas and still retained their old spirit of noblesse oblique. Also, the USA was born a middle-class society with land seemingly infinite to privately own;even in 1787 when the USA's territory was merely the Atlantic seaboard, America was geographically the largest nation in the West and sparsely populated. Europe is simultaneously both 'old' and 'new', whilst America was 'new' but many thought they were continuing the 'old'.

The contradiction with the Founding Fathers is that they revered old Classical Rome and Greece, but took the new nation on the modernist path, excepting retaining the institution of slavery. Hamilton and his allies in the Federalist Party appears to be the most cautious moderns of them all; the National Bank and proposal to partially publicly fund via the BUS internal improvements and jump-start industrialization was in a sense a retention of the old European noblesse oblique. This among other things opened Hamilton up to accusations that he was a closet monarchist, though he was not. Unlike the Lockeans, Hamilton wasn't into leveling everything connected with the ancient regime, and wanted to give the bathtup a new cleaning in republican fashion.

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