Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Liberty and Revolution

This morning I came across the following sentence in Gordon S. Wood’s review for The New York Review of Kevin Phillips’ new book 1775: A Good Year for Revolution:
Everywhere in the colonies countless numbers of ordinary people like the Jack Tars—artisans, mechanics, militiamen, and farmers—were radicalized by arrogant, out-of-touch officials and irritating government regulations and actions; and ready at a moment’s notice to rise in defense of what they called their liberties.
I suspect that Wood worked hard to choose his words carefully for this sentence, given its power to suggest the motivation behind the rise of the current TEA Party. Nevertheless, there are differences worth noting. Most important is that Wood’s “ordinary people” had one major priority, which was to make a living out of the meaningful work that occupied that largest portion of their waking life. Today “countless numbers of ordinary people” face that same problem of making a living in the face of a choice between mass unemployment and drone-like meaningless work subjected to bizarre swings in compensation. It is thus questionable whether or not an American citizen would take up arms in the name of the pursuit of wage slavery imposed by a corporation like Walmart.

This raises a higher-level discrepancy. The TEA Party is not so much a popular uprising as an act of organized provocation supported by those moneyed interests that impose the sort of wage slavery we associate with Walmart. Consequently, what current TEA Party members call their liberties never really signifies, since that “definition” of liberties resides in the money behind their activities.

In other words “ordinary people” are at the mercy of a clash between opposing forces of “arrogant, out-of-touch officials,” those in the corporate world for whom greed is the only motivating factor and those in the political world concerned only with amassing and maintaining power. In 1775 radicalization could rise up against a common foe. When that foe is attacking from two different sides, however, radicalization faces a greater challenge.

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