Thursday, July 04, 2013
Alternative views of the 4th of July
I happen to enjoy this holiday. It's in the middle of the summer, features fireworks and barbeques and celebrates (or so I thought) an aspirational kind of patriotism --- the Declaration of Independence, a document which always seemed to me to be one thing Americans could all be proud of.
But noooo. America is a big country with a lot of competing philosophies and ideologies. Here are a couple of interesting dissents.
The Confederate view:
As a Southern nationalist the July 4 holiday is probably my least favourite time of the year. For a week or so leading up to the holiday the streets are decked out with Federal flags and the rhetoric about “the greatest nation in the world” reaches a fevered pitch. Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood songs that glorify the US flag and service in the Federal military are played again and again. Radio and television personalities implore us to be thankful for our (disappearing) freedom and to thank Federal military veterans for fighting in distant wars that do not make us safer and certainly have nothing to do with preserving our ever-fewer freedoms. Fireworks are launched, the US flag is everywhere and the churches take the lead in promoting a spirit of US nationalism. The Battle Hymn of the Republic, a song which glorifies the slaughter of Southern secessionists by the US military, is sung. All in all, it’s a very disturbing environment for any Southern nationalist to have to endure.
As Southern nationalists our primary political concern is for the well-being and independence of the Southern people. We reject the Empire that conquered our ancestors and killed about a quarter of a million Southerners, burned down Southern towns, churches and fields and raped countless Southern women. We reject the Empire that refused to allow our people to be independent and which has since then used us for cannon fodder in the continual over-seas wars. We reject the flag of our oppressors and the regime which seeks to displace our people and eradicate our culture.
After the conquest of the independent South by the United States of America, Southerners largely refused to celebrate the Yankees’ national holiday. This was not because Southerners rejected the Declaration of Independence (a secessionist document, after all) or Jefferson, Washington and the Founders. In fact, the Confederate Seal showed George Washington (a secessionist and a Virginian) on horseback. The South rejected the July 4 holiday because of what it had become – the national holiday of an Empire which oppressed Southerners. It was not until WWI (when tens of thousands of Southerners were conscripted and forced into the Federal military to be sent over-seas and participate in a war which had nothing to do with Southern freedom or well-being) that the holiday re-emerged in some Southern communities. Other communities held out even longer. But by WWII (when tens of thousands of Southerners were again conscripted and sent all around the world to fight in another awful war) the Fourth of July was celebrated by most Southerners. Since then, Southerners have become the most pro-USA region within the Empire. Our people in far greater percentages than peoples from other regions and cultures, volunteer for the Federal military and end up being used by the Empire to fight in imperialist wars around the planet. Few large Southern town is very far from a major Federal military base, a situation which further ties Dixie to Federal militarism.
This environment of chest-thumping US patriotism – even at a time when the US president is a very alien character with whom most Southerners can not identify and when US policies encourage millions of aliens to replace native Southern people - is pervasive across Dixie. There can be little doubt that the Empire is in decline. And there are also signs that secessionists and Southern nationalists are making gains. But until the Empire is dead and gone it seems we will have to endure the repugnant atmosphere that comes with the July 4 US holiday. Outside my house, the Confederate battle flag which flies pretty much sums up my feelings on this Federal holiday.
I'm not crazy about some of the Imperial policies of the US government but I don't think the Civil War was an example of it. But the Lost Cause never dies.
(Actually, it's only true that Southern whites refused to celebrate the July 4th holiday for many decades after the civil war --- newly freed African Americans celebrated with gusto.)
But modern confederates aren't the only ones who disdain the holiday, here's another one.
The libertarian view:
I do not celebrate the fourth of July. This goes back to a term paper I wrote in graduate school. It was on colonial taxation in the British North American colonies in 1775. Not counting local taxation, I discovered that the total burden of British imperial taxation was about 1% of national income. It may have been as high as 2.5% in the southern colonies.
In 2008, Alvin Rabushka's book of almost 1,000 pages appeared: Taxation in Colonial America (Princeton University Press). In a review published in the Business History Review, the reviewer summarizes the book's findings.
Rabushka's most original and impressive contribution is his measurement of tax rates and tax burdens. However, his estimate of comparative trans-Atlantic tax burdens may be a bit of moving target. At one point, he concludes that, in the period from 1764 to 1775, "the nearly two million white colonists in America paid on the order of about 1 percent of the annual taxes levied on the roughly 8.5 million residents of Britain, or one twenty-fifth, in per capita terms, not taking into account the higher average income and consumption in the colonies" (p. 729). Later, he writes that, on the eve of the Revolution, "British tax burdens were ten or more times heavier than those in the colonies" (p. 867). Other scholars may want to refine his estimates, based on other archival sources, different treatment of technical issues such as the adjustment of intercolonial and trans-Atlantic comparisons for exchange rates, or new estimates of comparative income and wealth. Nonetheless, no one is likely to challenge his most important finding: the huge tax gap between the American periphery and the core of the British Empire.
The colonists had a sweet deal in 1775. Great Britain was the second freest nation on earth. Switzerland was probably the most free nation, but I would be hard-pressed to identify any other nation in 1775 that was ahead of Great Britain. And in Great Britain's Empire, the colonists were by far the freest.
I will say it, loud and clear: the freest society on earth in 1775 was British North America, with the exception of the slave system. Anyone who was not a slave had incomparable freedom.
Jefferson wrote these words in the Declaration of Independence:
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.
I can think of no more misleading political assessment uttered by any leader in the history of the United States. No words having such great impact historically in this nation were less true. No political bogeymen invoked by any political sect as "the liar of the century" ever said anything as verifiably false as these words.
The Continental Congress declared independence on July 2, 1776. Some members signed the Declaration on July 4. The public in general believed the leaders at the Continental Congress. They did not understand what they were about to give up. They could not see what price in blood and treasure and debt they would soon pay. And they did not foresee the tax burden in the new nation after 1783.
In an article on taxation in that era, Rabushka gets to the point.
Historians have written that taxes in the new American nation rose and remained considerably higher, perhaps three times higher, than they were under British rule. More money was required for national defense than previously needed to defend the frontier from Indians and the French, and the new nation faced other expenses.
So, as a result of the American Revolution, the tax burden tripled.
The debt burden soared as soon as the Revolution began. Monetary inflation wiped out the currency system. Price controls in 1777 produced the debacle of Valley Forge...
Only after the price control law was repealed in 1778 could the army buy goods again. But the hyperinflation of the continentals and state-issued currencies replaced the pre-Revolution system of silver currency: Spanish pieces of eight.
I'm sure I could find some lefty literature that disdains the 4th of July for its sometimes show of martial fever or whatever but you get the picture.
The proponents of independence invoked British tyranny in North America. There was no British tyranny, and surely not in North America.
In 1872, Frederick Engels wrote an article, "On Authority." He criticized anarchists, whom he called anti-authoritarians. His description of the authoritarian character of all armed revolutions should remind us of the costs of revolution.
A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon – authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists.
After the American Revolution, 46,000 American loyalists fled to Canada. They were not willing to swear allegiance to the new colonial governments. The retained their loyalty to the nation that had delivered to them the greatest liberty on earth. They had not committed treason.
The revolutionaries are not remembered as treasonous. John Harrington told us why sometime around 1600. "Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason."
The victors write the history books.
What would libertarians – even conservatives – give today in order to return to an era in which the central government extracted 1% of the nation's wealth? Where there was no income tax?
Would they describe such a society as tyrannical?
That the largest signature on the Declaration of Independence was signed by the richest smuggler in North America was no coincidence. He was hopping mad. Parliament in 1773 had cut the tax on tea imported by the British East India Company, so the cost of British tea went lower than the smugglers' cost on non-British tea. This had cost Hancock a pretty penny. The Tea Party had stopped the unloading of the tea by throwing privately owned tea off a privately owned ship – a ship in competition with Hancock's ships. The Boston Tea Party was in fact a well-organized protest against lower prices stemming from lower taxes.
So, once again, I shall not celebrate the fourth of July.
As we watch events unfold in Egypt today (and debate our powerful government's relationship with the constitution) I thought it was sort of interesting to contemplate the meaning of our holiday in light of the freedom we have to hate it.
Happy 4th everybody.
digby 7/04/2013 10:00:00 AM