Saturday, July 02, 2016

Happy Fourth of July—it was the creation of a new nation, for good or bad—Now it's time for fireworks

By SJ Otto
This year, as every year,  I plan to light off fireworks and take part in a family cook out with my family. 

While I am a leftist, that doesn't mean I don't like or admire some of our founding fathers. I like to remind people that there are both and bad things about the US revolution. We are talking about a revolution that concluded with the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, by the Continental Congress declaring that the thirteen American colonies were to become an independent nation.
Of our founding fathers, the Republicans (anti-aristocrats at that time) included both Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. They differed from George Hamilton and his Federalists who wanted to create some new kind of aristocracy.  In his later writings, Paine condemned the Federalists for trying to reverse the US revolution and what it stood for.
Thomas Paine 

Thomas Jefferson

I’ve often enjoyed reading Jefferson. His best writings were from his letters where he could write honestly about the people he had to deal with in the late 1700s, both before and after his presidency. I like the fact that he was not religious; he had an almost Epicurean view, as did Paine. I share his Epicurean beliefs. Jefferson was well educated.
I’ll never forget what he wrote comparing Hamilton to John Adams in his letters:

“Another incident took place on the same occasion, which will further delineate Mr. Hamilton’s political principles. The room being hung around with a collection of the portraits of remarkable men, among them where those of (Francis) Bacon, (Isaac) Newton and (John) Locke, Hamilton asked me who they were. I told him they were my trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced, naming them. He paused for some time: “the greatest man,” said he, “that ever lived, was Julius Caesar.” Mr. Adams was honest as a politician, as well as a man; Hamilton honest a man, but, as a politician, believing in the necessity of either force or corruption to govern men.”[1]

I would have drawn about the same conclusion about Hamilton, accept I would have been harsher on him. He seemed a bit of a dolt, to believe the Caesar was the greatest man who ever lived. Caesar was a tyrant and an imperialist. He had some good qualities, but comparing Jefferson’s favorites to Hamilton’s was like comparing a Harley Davidson Sportster to a tricycle. Hamilton was clueless as a revolutionary. I don’t share Jefferson’s enthusiasm for all of his theoreticians, but at least they are people with theoretical modern ideas for their time and scientific views as opposed to a political brute.
As for the judgment of Jefferson based on his 1700s writings, I can point to the writings of Antonio Gramsci in his writings on “Judgment of Past Philosophies;”

“The superficial criticism of subjectivism in the “Popular Study” leads into a more general question, that of the standpoint taken regarding past philosophies and philosophers. To judge the whole philosophical past as madness and folly is not only an anti-historical error, since it contains the anachronistic pretence that in the past they should have thought like today, but it is a truly genuine hangover of metaphysics, since it supposes a dogmatic thought valid at all times and in all countries, by whose standard one should judge all the past. Anti-historical method is nothing but metaphysics. The fact that philosophical systems have been suspended does not exclude the fact that they were historically valid and carried out a necessary function:
Their short-livedness should be considered from the point of view of the entire historical development and of the real dialectic; that they deserved to perish is neither a moral judgment nor sound thinking emerging from an “objective” point of view, but a dialectical-historical judgment. One can compare this with Engels’ presentation of the Hegelian proposition that “all that is rational is real and all that is real is rational”, a proposition which will be valid for the past as well.
In the Study the past is judged as “irrational” and “monstrous” and the history of philosophy becomes the historical treatment of teratology, since he starts from a metaphysical point of view. (In fact the Communist Manifesto contains the highest praise of the dying world.) If this way of judging the past is a theoretical error and a deviation from Marxism, can it have any educational significance, will it generate activity? It does not appear so, because the question would reduce itself to presuming that one is a special person simply because one was born in the present time and not in a past century. But at every time there has been a past and a present and being “up to date” is praise only for jokes.”[2]

Paine went to France to take part in the French Revolution, for which he wrote The Rights of Man. He fell out of favor of France’s first non-aristocratic leader, Maximilien Robespierre (also anti-aristocratic and considered an ally of the Republican movement). Paine remained in France until 1802, when he returned to America on an invitation from Thomas Jefferson, after he was elected president.
Pain condemned Napoleon Bonaparte's coup d'
état, overthrowing the  French Directory, calling him "the completest charlatan that ever existed."
Today the US supports regressive feudal states such as  Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The US is now the closest thing to the ancient Roman Empire, controlling almost ALL of the modern world.
Today we still have a quasi democracy (actually an oligarchy). We have a president, barely elected by people. Today this country takes part in torture, drone assassinations and concentration camps, in Guantanamo Bay. So there is a lot of bad baggage that this country has today.
And yet some good came out of the US Revolution, even if that revolution has far less modern significance than it had 200 years ago.
So the importance of this holiday for me is the family time, the observance of such important men as Jefferson and Paine, and knowing that history follows an important path from regressive to progressive states of government. The line is not always straight or consistent. But it is history and we can celebrate it as we want.

Something in the Air - Tom Petty

[1] Thomas Jefferson, The Life and Selected Writings of, (Modern Library Paperback), 1998, p. 558.

[2] Antonio Gramsci, The Modern Prince & other writings, (International Publishers) 2000, pp. 109-110.

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