Liberalism and populism in the US.

I have to admit that I find the blog American Creation to be really interesting and informative. Which leads to their credit for having a post about William Hogeland (Hysteriography), which is a name I’ve encountered before since we share interests: in particular, early American insurrections and populism. Although, I have to admit his pieces in the Boston Review, Real Americans, and at New Deal 2.0, Liberals and Populism: An Uneasy History, really struck a chord with me.

The left is often left wondering why its message is lost on the people. For example, I read a blog which made some wild claims about progressives being against “freedom”. Of course, the blogger in question probably has a different concept of the word freedom than I do if he dislikes the changes that progressivism has brought about: such as the pure food and drug act, the clean air and water acts, child labour laws, laws about safety in the workplace, and so on. Or is it a person’s right and freedom to want to be a slave?

The problem is that there is a strong anti-intellectual streak in the American population. As Hogeland points out “the main populist assault (During William Jennings Bryan’s time), just as today, was on common liberal modes of discussion, debate, and expertise.” There was the disgust with the East Coast, Elites, which today would be termed the “Within the Beltway mindset”. Hogeland takes his premise even further back at Liberals and Populism: An Uneasy History going to the War for American Independence.

Liberals and Populism: An Uneasy History gets me thinking my usual question about how many of the founding fathers would have chosen to incite the masses had they known how hard the mob would be to control? As I said at American Creation, Especially since Samuel Adams wasn’t a populist! That is truly an interesting point. I know that he had made a comment about Shays’ Rebellion which would point to his being a strong denouncer of insurrectionism (“Rebellion against a king may be pardoned or lightly punished, but the man who dares to rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death.”). Given that Sam Adams was prone to stirring up mobs as happened in the Boston Massacre and Philadelphia, this is truly a revelation!

Of course, this post may tend toward the elitism for which overeducated people such as myself, but one has to wonder how much the people who wanted independence at any cost would view the effect on US Politics (as opposed to the Tories who wanted any change to be done through legal means)? The problem is that the mob is not a body which can be controlled or is reasonable. One needs leadership. Or to quote James Madison:

From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions. Federalist #10

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