Have America's Oligarchs Succeeded in Destroying Our Ability to Conceive of Democracy?
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Most Americans know Jack London as the author of The Call of the Wild. Few have ever read his 1908 novel, The Iron Heel, which pits what London calls “the Oligarchy” (aka The Iron Heel) against the American working class, resulting in armed revolution.
The Oligarchy, London explains, is the ruling elite whose immense concentration of capital has empowered it to transcend capitalism itself. The Iron Heel is thus an allegorical tale of a fascist state whose hydra-headed business monopolies have seized control of all facets of production, consumption and national security.
London was not the lone American revolutionary author of his generation. Looking Backwards by Edward Bellamy, Caesar’s Column by Ignatius Donnelly, and the less militant Progress and Poverty by Henry George all assumed that some version of democratic-socialist Revolution was just around the corner of history – or if not, then ought to be.
As late as the 1930s (and briefly during the anti-Vietnam War period), many Americans still thought “The Revolution” was in the offing. But those days have passed, and no one today speaks seriously of any such thing.
The Traditional Oligarchy
“Oligarchy” means “rule by the few.” It is an ugly word in its pronunciation as well as in its implied meaning.
Moreover, it is a tainted word because it is used often by “dangerous radicals” to describe the people they wish to see blindfolded and stood against a wall. Nonetheless, it is the proper word to describe the current practice of governance in the United States.
This, of course, is not a new development.
The origin of American civil government was not, as certain champions of philosopher John Locke’s social contract would have it, to secure to each citizen his equal share of security and liberty, but rather to secure for the oligarchs their superior position of power and wealth.
It was for precisely this reason the United States Constitution was written not by a democratically-elected body, but by an unelected handful of men who represented only the privileged class.
Accordingly, the Constitution is a document which prescribes, not proscribes, a legal framework within which the economically privileged minority makes the rules for the many.
There is nothing in the Constitution that limits the influence of wealth on government. No better example of this intentional oversight exists than the creation of the first American central bank. It is worth a digression to examine this scheme, as it was the precedent for much yet to follow.
The very first Congress incorporated a constitutionally-unauthorized central banking cartel (the Bank of the U.S.) before it bothered to ratify the Bill of Rights – a sequence of events which eloquently reveals the priorities of the new government.
The bank was necessary in order to carry out a broader plan: the debts of the new nation would be paid with money loaned by the wealthy, and the people were to be taxed to pay the money back to the wealthy, with interest.
The 1791 Whiskey Tax – which penalized small-scale distillers in favor of commercial-scale distilleries – was passed to underwrite this scheme of bottom-up wealth-redistribution. When frontiersmen predictably rebelled against the tax, they were literally shackled and dragged on foot through the snowbound Allegheny Mountains to appear in show-trials at the national capital, where they were condemned to death.
Socialist bureaucrats were not the culprits here: the 16,000 armed militiamen that crushed the rebels were led in person by two principal Founding Fathers, President George Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, the author of both the central bank and the whiskey tax legislation.