Thursday, September 17, 2009

Guiding Principles of Jacksonianism

The following is a personal outlook paper of The Jacksonian Party.

If politics is a reflection of culture, then what happens when a culture doesn't embrace politics?

This is not a rhetorical question, but one that may decide the fate of the Nation and the course of global events within the next few years. It is about a people who are glad enough to live and let live, so long as you don't try to tell them: how to live, how to work, how to play and how to lead a good life. As one is born free, and with all their liberties, then each liberty and freedom that must be relinquished to form other constructs that we create so as to have culture, must be jealously guarded. Your rights are not bestowed by government, but recognized by government as residing within you and that very few things are given to government to do so as to safeguard the first construct that we create, which we call culture.

To create culture we must, as humans, come together not just to procreate, which is the animal based activity of ensuring that offspring born with half your genetic characteristics will continue your genetic lineage, but to also protect such offspring as they are poorly able to do much of anything for so long in life. That requires mutual understanding between man and woman that there must be a deeper bond between them and a mutual understanding, acceptance and work to keep that bond in place. It is that bond which forms the basis for marriage. It is that bond that forms the basis for culture. And it is that bond that forms the basis for Nations. This is the very first liberty we give up: the liberty to act without first thinking about how those actions will affect that bond. From that simple act of forethought we get the spark and full flame of intelligence, for which the God Prometheus was damned to a living horror that was unending. From that we must live with the things we create when we recognize that we can live a better life when a liberty is shared, and yet keep ever watchful eye out to ensure that our trust is not abused. While the goal is perfect, we are not and heir to the problems of the mortal world.

Thus we are not a perfect people, no matter how perfect the mission is that is handed to us.

Nor are we perfectible in this mortal realm, as the ways of the material world have problems that the realm of ideas are not heir to. Our social compact we call the Constitution has this exactly right: we can strive to be more perfect in our Union with each other. That is a goal of all individuals in society, however, not a statement of what government is to do to the people. The corruption of language to try and include the stated things of a people in a compact as only relating to government is one of the most pernicious and undermining of them all as it attacks the rationale and foundation of our understanding that rights come from individuals and are worked on, jointly, by agreement. To say otherwise is to say that government creates society, creates rights and creates liberty and yet it does not one single one of those things and cannot do them no matter how much we may wish them to as government is not divine, not incorruptible and is heir to the problems of those running it which are the problems of the physical and mortal realm. Forethought is given to individuals, not government, and it shows.

In re-reading Walter Russell Mead's The Jacksonian Tradition, put out in the fall 1999/2000 issue of the National Interest (archived here by Steven Den Beste) we see an analysis of the culture of Jacksonianism which is that tradition. For all of the talk of 'community organizers', Jacksonian culture is self-organizing and needs no higher level of 'organizers' than those who are interested in doing good works for the community. That tradition comes from the deep Scots-Irish, to which I would add the Nordic overlay of the Thing which holds rulers as accountable to the Common Law, which creates a vital and rich thread of culture due to its circumstances. From that period of 700 AD to 1100 AD one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Europe was that of Jorvik, also known as York by circa 900 AD, and for its earliest period would be the second most prosperous city in Europe. Both Scots and Irish culture would benefit from Viking trade as well as suffer from its depredations: the two went hand in hand depending on if you wanted to trade or fight. This was not a purely Viking concept, but became the well understood way of handling outsiders by the Scots-Irish: you treated them first in a friendly manner, then a neutral one if rebuffed and then in a hostile one if they attacked you.

This deviates from the more Christian tradition of The Golden Rule and Turning the Other Cheek as very few people take it well once both cheeks have been slapped, and to try and be forgiving after that requires bending over to ask for similar treatment. By inverting those concepts and being a bit more insular on top of it, a good faith demonstration of friendliness can be returned, but one is ever wary of having that trust abused. This is a first form of cultural separation while yet being open to working with others if they demonstrate they actually do want to work with you. The ability to utilize social standards to enforce other standards, including religious ones, would cause the Roman Catholic Church to excommunicate the Scots as they would not accede to the disbanding of the Knights of the Temple Mount. Roman Catholicism would remain a mainstay in the Scots-Irish culture, but the later attacks by Protestant governments and that original cutting off by the Roman Catholic Church would instill a deep-seated distrust of handing either temporal or spiritual power upwards to be used against society and its culture.

While this culture would retain its inward looking components and move to rugged wilderness inhospitable to direct government influence, it would also support the larger set of colonies as they sought to throw off the very yoke that the Scots-Irish had sought to dislodge for centuries: Great Britain. Common cause would bring the mingling of the hardy mountain pioneers of Appalachia into the Revolution in the southern Colonies, save Washington by cutting off the British southern command, and then allow for the tandem movement that would culminate at Yorktown with French help for arms, munitions and a sea blockade. For seven years north and south worked hard together, fought together, died together and won together. What came out of that, while started in the cities of Boston, Philadelphia and New York would be modified by those harder, more rugged folk of the hills and mountains who wanted to make damned sure that their sons and grandsons did not have to fight overbearing government ever again.

This ethos, this cultural ethic system, has moved westward from mountain system to mountain system, from Appalachia to the Rockies, Sierra Nevada and Cascades, and has left an indelible mark on US culture during this period leading up to and just after the Civil War. The great railroad building era, in particular, reached deep into Appalachian coal country to provide first hand contact and transport for this culture out of rural near wilderness and into the small towns and outskirts of cities at the end of the 19th century. These families found others that had been influenced by the previous migrations westward and by kith and kin in the North East, the 'Yankee' rural hill folk, and the culture accepted them and created a larger folk culture that, today, stretches from suburbia to wilderness in America. The attempt by the Progressive movement to 'urbanize' this culture went in the opposite way the Progressives wanted as Mead talks about in this section:

Most progressive, right thinking intellectuals in mid-century America believed that the future of American populism lay in a social democratic movement based on urban immigrants. Social activists like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger consciously sought to use cultural forms like folk songs to ease the transition from the old individualistic folk world to the collective new one that they believed was the wave of the future; they celebrated unions and other strange, European ideas in down home country twangs so that, in the bitter words of Hiram Evans, "There is a steady flood of alien ideas being spread over the country, always carefully disguised as American."

What came next surprised almost everyone. The tables turned, and Evans’ Americans "americanized" the immigrants rather than the other way around. In what is still a largely unheralded triumph of the melting pot, Northern immigrants gradually assimilated the values of Jacksonian individualism. Each generation of new Americans was less "social" and more individualistic than the preceding one. American Catholics, once among the world’s most orthodox, remained Catholic in religious allegiance but were increasingly individualistic in terms of psychology and behavior ("I respect the Pope, but I have to follow my own conscience"). Ties to the countries of emigration steadily weakened, and the tendency to marry outside the group strengthened.

Europe, left behind in the wake of the Revolution, was no longer the basis for American society although a large contributor to it due to the Colonial Era affiliations. America, protected by the Atlantic Ocean, formed a new culture that spread with the people as they moved and European culture was soon changed in ways that Europe could not do. While American culture has never been seen as equal to European culture by the intellectual elites, it was a great draw to all of those seeking to escape European elitism. Modern Progressives, by trying to import European elitist ideals soon found that the people that had immigrated didn't want to recreate European elite culture but create their own culture with their fellow citizens.

Socially this could not be countered by the US elite structure that would come to dominate the two party system. Thus the only venue left was to use the power of government to corrupt that society. This was done via the 'good ends' of the federal government subsidizing farming, during the expansion era, and then seeking to subsidize home mortgages during the New Deal era. Jacksonians, the relatively poor craftsmen, farmers and common working laborer, was glad of the help and took it. That said Jacksonians also remained starkly independent minded and the greatest thing to do was to have the mortgages paid off enough to shift them to commercial basis and the absolute greatest good was to pay it off, in full. For government to be able to do this, however, required the preceding Progressive era to have created a National financial system in the form of the Federal Reserve. That device has been cited for both the current problems of the economy and for creating the fiscal environment that created the Great Depression under the Progressive Herbert Hoover. In many ways the New Deal rebuilt the old banking system that President Jackson removed: the combined might of the Federal Reserve, SEC and Federal Home Mortgage system put the very problems and corruption back into the political system that had been removed in 1832. It is that distrust of the federal government that leads those getting home mortgages to want to get them off of federal backing, as the system, itself, is corrupt no matter how 'good' its ends.

Mead describes the result as 'Crabgrass Jacksonianism': it always crops up in the well manicured lawn of politics no matter what is used to eradicate it. The weed is mightier than the eradicant and grows stronger due to it:

The new Jacksonianism is no longer rural and exclusively nativist. Frontier Jacksonianism may have taken the homesteading farmer and the log cabin as its emblems, but today’s Crabgrass Jacksonianism sees the homeowner on his modest suburban lawn as the hero of the American story. The Crabgrass Jacksonian may wear green on St. Patrick’s Day; he or she might go to a Catholic Church and never listen to country music (though, increasingly, he or she probably does); but the Crabgrass Jacksonian doesn’t just believe, she knows that she is as good an American as anybody else, that she is entitled to her rights from Church and State, that she pulls her own weight and expects others to do the same. That homeowner will be heard from: Ronald Reagan owed much of his popularity and success to his ability to connect with Jacksonian values. Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan in different ways have managed to tap into the power of the populist energy that Old Hickory rode into the White House. In both domestic and foreign policy, the twenty-first century will be profoundly influenced by the values and concerns of Jacksonian America.

It is more than just entitlement to rights that Jacksonians want, but recognition that these are our rights as citizens and free people. The greatest right and freedom is that from government so as not to be beholden to government.

From these things Mead forms up the Jacksonian Code and I will paraphrase it somewhat and add commentary.

First is self-reliance, which means that each individual holds their place in society via hard work and contributing to the greater society by working. From that there is no love of poverty born of indolence nor of the indolent rich. The greatest value we have as individuals is to contribute back to the greater society by first and foremost taking care of ourselves as individuals and families. This is a Middle Class value, yes, but it is seen strongly in the working poor, who feel that they are to be recognized for their hard work and not patronized by politicians seeking to exploit them by making them into non-working poor. Because work builds self-confidence and self-esteem, that one can, indeed, perform tasks that have social value, it creates self-reliance and the ability to walk away from bad jobs, bad employers and know that the skills one has can find employment elsewhere. Thus self-reliance means you are not tied to one job, one company, one union, or one way of doing things. That ability is not only admired but respected because it demonstrates that the person in question is doing their job for themselves as a citizen and fulfilling their potential as a person. Those that disrespect that, beyond puerile 'dissing', can expect disdain and even outright hostility: you never, ever, degrade a man or woman who does hard work well for working hard.

I am going to take Mead a bit out of order as this next point goes higher, for me at any rate, and is a telling part of Jacksonianism. Also I see it in a far different light than Mead and cover his point prior to this section.

Fourth is Honor. Honor to one's elders and taking up one's Nation's honor as their own is a primary mover for Jacksonians. This is not understood in modern urban culture of elite and ghetto variety, but is recognized in the working poor. For hard work to be deeply meaningful, beyond oneself, it must be to sustain one's family or, if lacking that, the greater community around you. Thus helping the elderly, the sick and those even less well off than you are is just as important as being self-reliant. Indeed, you must first be self-reliant to do these things, but it is these things that make being self-reliant so important. If we create our society by how we work and how we spend our resources, then our society becomes a reflection of us as individuals. A generous and giving society is the reflection of generous and giving individuals who honor those around them and ensure that our elderly have a good life until their last day with us: they are the living embodiment of our memory and deserve that honor. That honor can be lost by an individual's actions, but it is first there to be lost and takes much venom on the part of an older person to lose it.

Likewise, in personal relationships, we come to understand that the words 'to love, honor and obey' places the precedence rightly. We must first come to love another and with that we come to honor them. That honor demands obedience so that it and the love that drives it are not lost by our actions. This is the obedience to that honor and love. As the Law of Nations starts with that personal relationship, how we act towards those we love creates the environment and society that our Nation reflects. To those that are allies, we hold them close and tightly and seek the greatest good amongst our people so that we may strengthen each other over time. That is exactly what we do in personal relationships and the support of our family to grow larger is foremost for Jacksonians. This honor that comes from family deserves respect and recognition from our fellow citizens. Similarly our love towards our allies deserves respect from our fellow Nations. There is no sliding scale between these concepts for Jacksonians: they are scale free ones that move perfectly from the individual to the Nation State. In a very real sense by binding our love and honor to another we do create a Nation and a duty to it.

Second is equality. All who work, do their job, care for themselves and their families are equal in respect and deserve that absolute equality of respect and recognition. No one gains a right to tell anyone else what to say, how to think or how to act and any attempt to do so via any spoken, written or 'unwritten' code gets just and due hostility for being authoritarian and elitist. Jacksonians are independent of church, state, unions, PC codes, social cliques, and political parties: the rise of the 'Independent' in America is the rise of Jacksonian self-reliance that defies anyone to categorize or classify us via any pre-scripted, pre-tagged definition. It is a part of the code that has equality as a necessary part of individualism and for one to be self-reliant one must be individuated from as many labels as possible so as to be free to act within respected and honorable means as they can. No one tells a Jacksonian what to contribute, how to contribute or when to contribute to society. It is that ability to contribute and have it recognized and respected that is the greatest equalizer amongst citizens, so that everyone determines the best way to build society on their own without being dictated to by any organization, any group, any religion or any political party. Jacksonians don't contribute to beggars but to known and respected charities, even while being willing to hand out a fiver to someone who really has worked on their spiel: they have worked hard and deserve the recognition for that. Jacksonians are that most dreaded amongst the beggars: when asked for money to buy a meal, we invite them to come join us in a meal. That is equality at work, so that good ends are performed, hard work rewarded and the poor cared for, and we do not hand that off to any government, any church nor any other institution in full as that is the responsibility of equality.

Third is individualism. Part of Mead's recognition is that these are interconnected things: self-reliance, equality, individualism. As we are born individuals, not born of a cookie cutter nor with social graces, we must come to learn that such individuality is to be sustained by us and that each person is accountable for what they do. That is not a negative but a positive: those that seek unaccountable actions seek tyranny. Each of us is responsible for how we conduct ourselves, what we see as necessary forms of ethics and morals, and to determine what, if any, spiritual outlook we have. With that said Jacksonians are respectful in these realms as we can recognize good moral and ethical individuals when we encounter them. Jacksonians invent new spiritual outlooks, new religious outlooks and new codes of ethics and morals: there are as many of those as there are Jacksonians. In honoring our forefathers and their religious outlooks, we are not tied to them as we are individuals. Yet the respect and honor for their religious outlook and for the good system of ethics and morals they used is never diminished by our own outlooks. By and large Jacksonians speak frankly about their beliefs or lack of same, as I have pointed out about myself quite some number of times previously. Yet I do not slight any religion, save those that seek to kill the innocent or force or coerce conversion to them, or those that do not allow an individual to find their own pathway within it towards greater enlightenment. There is an equality about that which goes with self-reliance and requires honoring the man or woman who does good deeds no matter, or in spite of, their stated belief system: a black knight who does the deeds of a Paladin had done those deeds, no matter how he gets to those ends.

Even with individualism, we are members of society and create a greater society by our actions. To have a good society we must do good and respect the efforts of others and afford them recognition and honor for their work. Raising a family means that children understand the discipline that is necessary to create a strong society. Corporal punishment is not handed out without reason, but as a pointed corrective to create civil behavior. To have self-reliance one must be civil in their dealings with others and fair to themselves so that they can expect only what is due to them in the greater society. Without such civility we cannot have honor to bestow upon the elderly nor to have in our relationships with others. To be civil is to be civilized. Thus civility for oneself is necessary, first, so that one can create self-reliance and honorable associations so as to be a valued member of society. That civility allows us to treat each other as equals in our work, and to have a civilization that thrives on that acknowledgement of respect. Even when a person's ways are far out of the norm, so long as they work to build society, protect their family and children, respect the elderly and show equality towards their fellow man and harm no others, then who are we to question how they get to those good ends? I have and reserve the absolute right to be scandalized by my neighbors and they are quite free to be scandalized by mine.

Mead's fourth is Honor, but tied to the financial realm. Growing up in the lower middle class and having family in the lower class, the poor working class, I do come from a different view on financial honor to a certain extent. The old adage of 'neither a borrower nor a lender be' was one that was understood as a way of operating. I think that looking at the 1990's fluidity in the marketplace, Mead took the transient moment of finances to be indicative of a greater view towards borrowing. To a degree borrowing is a form of self-expression, but paying off a debt is a matter of self-reliance and honoring a debt. While bankruptcy has moved from the venue of social catastrophe to serial event for many individuals, the inability to control one's finances and create lasting value for oneself is seen as a lack of self-recognition and, perhaps, valuing one's skills beyond what they actually are. With that said, borrowing to form a new business or to form a new way of doing business is seen as part of individualism and is the driving force of the US economy. What is left unsaid in this, however, is the origin for those loans, especially ones that are to businesses that have already started.

Jacksonians, being more on the 'doing' side of things, tend to have a unique way to start up businesses: in their homes. Livingrooms, basements and garages are tell-tale signs of self-reliant individuals following a business dream. Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computers, Dell, Cisco, and indeed a raft of businesses large and small have all started in just this venue, which is the family venue. There is a great difference between someone with a business plan and having done nothing when compared to a family business that has just gotten its first major order and finds that it cannot meet that with the manufacturing ability of a garage, basement and livingroom, plus all family and friends brought in on the work. Being tradesmen, tinkerers and similarly oriented individuals, Jacksonian businesses are, traditionally, family businesses with '& Sons' being a tell-tale sign of that. Failing in a family business that everyone has put their heart into is a tragedy, not a fiscal loss or impugning of capability. While Jacksonians do come from all walks of life, the concept of starting and growing a business by personal sacrifice is one that is proof-positive of a hard working, self-supporting individual.

Fifth is courage. To stand by one's beliefs one must, indeed, stand by them and back them up, to the hilt. That requires the ability to defend oneself in order to stand up for one's beliefs, be that in the verbal or physical realm. To be a citizen requires the ability to defend yourself, your family and your property against those that would seek to hurt or destroy them. I will use Mead's words for this:

Jacksonian America’s love affair with weapons is, of course, the despair of the rest of the country. Jacksonian culture values firearms, and the freedom to own and use them. The right to bear arms is a mark of civic and social equality, and knowing how to care for firearms is an important part of life. Jacksonians are armed for defense: of the home and person against robbers; against usurpations of the federal government; and of the United States against its enemies. In one war after another, Jacksonians have flocked to the colors. Independent and difficult to discipline, they have nevertheless demonstrated magnificent fighting qualities in every corner of the world. Jacksonian America views military service as a sacred duty. When Hamiltonians, Wilsonians and Jeffersonians dodged the draft in Vietnam or purchased exemptions and substitutes in earlier wars, Jacksonians soldiered on, if sometimes bitterly and resentfully. An honorable person is ready to kill or to die for family and flag.

Again, this is self-defense as part of the Law of Nations and that bond we form at the very and most intimate level being moved up, scale free, to our Nation. This is not an archaic form of honor, but the basic construct that allows us to have personal relationships, have families, create society and have a Nation that we all contribute to via our work. Written just two years prior to 9/11, the attacks of 9/11 demonstrated the strong Jacksonian streak of Americans: even when the media were reporting failure and attempting to undermine the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, men and women still volunteered in record numbers and the armed forces met all of their quotas not only for new recruits but often exceeded them for re-enlistments. Defending the Nation is a good, hard and deeply honorable job. Others talk about supporting the United States in war and peace, but Jacksonians do that, time and again. Even eight years on, this is still very true even with the changing winds of politics in the country.

Jacksonians draw a line between who is defended and why.

Those on the inside are those who are the people we love and care for, and will sacrifice for. Outside of that is a cruel, harsh world that really doesn't give much of a damn for liberty, freedom and the rights of man as individual. Attacks upon our families, our children, or those enforcing the law deserve what is coming to them in on uncertain terms: as much as can be delivered. That is true for rapists, murderers, pirates and terrorists: they are all of the same kind and type and unwanted in forming civil society. To Jacksonians the extent that civil society has expanded has not been missed, but not because Jacksonians have changed their view of self-reliance, but have extended that all men are created equal:

The underlying cultural unity between African Americans and Anglo-Jacksonian America shaped the course and ensured the success of the modern civil rights movement. Martin Luther King and his followers exhibited exemplary personal courage, their rhetoric was deeply rooted in Protestant Christianity, and the rights they asked for were precisely those that Jacksonian America values most for itself. Further, they scrupulously avoided the violent tactics that would have triggered an unstoppable Jacksonian response.

Although cultures change slowly and many individuals lag behind, the bulk of American Jacksonian opinion has increasingly moved to recognize the right of code-honoring members of minority groups to receive the rights and protections due to members of the folk community. This new and, one hopes, growing feeling of respect and tolerance emphatically does not extend to those, minorities or not, who are not seen as code-honoring Americans. Those who violate or reject the code—criminals, irresponsible parents, drug addicts—have not benefited from the softening of the Jacksonian color line.

Were Jacksonians racists in the past? Yes.

Now racism is relegated to the elite upper class and echelons of politics. Hard work, seeking approbation and equality for working hard, and being self-reliant so as to help those around one are universal in aspect. Creating civil society is damned hard work, and having those who come to America recognize that hard work gains equality of recognition is one of the greatest boons for spreading equality ever devised by mankind. No government can create that, but can only clear out the space and make the playing field equal without regard to race, ethnicity, etc. and then support that those who do violent acts against the community deserve punishment and those hurt are to get justice by having the law decided upon equally without favoritism.

This is paramount to Jacksonians, and the equal application of fair laws is a boon to all members of society. Good government, to a Jacksonian, is accountable government and that needs the most direct accountability possible. Mead puts it in this manner:

Jacksonians are instinctively democratic and populist. Hamiltonians mistrust democracy; Wilsonians don’t approve of the political rough and tumble. And while Jeffersonians support democracy in principle, they remain concerned that tyrannical majorities can overrule minority rights. Jacksonians believe that the political and moral instincts of the American people are sound and can be trusted, and that the simpler and more direct the process of government is, the better will be the results. In general, while the other schools welcome the representative character of our democracy, Jacksonians tend to see representative rather than direct institutions as necessary evils, and to believe that governments breed corruption and inefficiency the way picnics breed ants. Every administration will be corrupt; every Congress and legislature will be, to some extent, the plaything of lobbyists. Career politicians are inherently untrustworthy; if it spends its life buzzing around the outhouse, it’s probably a fly. Jacksonians see corruption as human nature and, within certain ill-defined boundaries of reason and moderation, an inevitable by-product of government.

Our representatives are human and just as apt to be corrupt as any ne'er-do-well who can't get a decent job. Often they are one in the same. To that end it is best to keep districts small and compact and keep the ne'er-do-well of the district accountable to the public of it. Without that accountability you get picnics over-run by ants and outhouses that have more flies than seating space.

Just as when money is lent to a friend - you expect to get paid back.

So when we lend our voices to our representative, we expect our voice to be heard in the halls of power. That is our payback for electing them.

There is no honor worth speaking of in politics, and what problems there are can be best handled by term limits and smaller districts, thus putting more of the scoundrels into the Congress and at each other's throats so they don't have time to swindle the rest of us as they suspect each other of swindling them. That mutual suspicion breeds good government, and keeping people out of government is a very, very good thing, indeed. Makes them have to work for a living. If more of our representatives treated their job as a job, and worked hard at it, we would all be better off. Sadly that does not happen with the ne'er-do-well no matter how much you help them to learn self-reliance.

This is why Jacksonians have fled the Democratic Party and have no great want of being Republicans, either.

Neither respects hard work and keeps government small so as to allow the people the greatest leeway in creating a good society.

Not honoring that impulse of the people to lead a good life without government interference is dishonoring them.

And no good has ever come of that.

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