I just came back from a trip to our nation's capitol, Washington D.C., where I spent some wonderful, inspiring, and thought provoking time with dear friends. It is quite a stunning experience to go as deeply into the heart of the monuments and memorials of our country as I could and try to feel the essence of the United States. And it seems fitting on this Memorial Day to try to summarize my notions of what the essence of our country is.
I believe at the heart of America is the overthrow of rule by aristocracy.
When George Washington and the founding fathers of our country rose up and created our nation, it wasn't just the rule of England that they said "no" to, it was the rule by an aristocracy that they said "no" to. It was an amazing revolution because it was the elite of the American colonies who led the revolution rather than the masses. One of its wonderful characteristics, it seems to me, was that it was so deeply rooted in deep understandings of political history and philosophy. They understood the virtues and failings of previous democracies and set out to establish system where the people would rule themselves rather than be ruled by an aristocracy.
So, what happened in next couple of centuries? We have done a pretty good job, I believe, in doing just that - ruling ourselves in a country "of the people, by the people, and for the people" to quote President Lincoln. But to fend off newly forming aristocracies has always been the challenge of our country. Teddy Roosevelt struck a blow against the over-control of the oligarchies and monopolies of his era and became the trust buster. Reagan struck a blow against the impersonal bureaucracies of overly controlling governments in the state and federal governments.
The Tea Party extremists of the right wing see the liberal government headed by President Obama as becoming tyrannically controlling more and more of people's lives and rebel against it. They are impervious to arguments that the government is taking over more and more of society for our own good, and reject the righteous puritanical tyranny of the "do-gooders" as meddling tyrants. They see the left wing as a new "aristocracy" of the highly educated by the elite schools trained to become the philosopher kings dreamed of by Plato. And they reject them as puritanical scolds who force the country to conform to more and more trendy intellectual fads that the intelligentsia become enamored with. They see the aristocracy of the intelligentsia as being impractical, idealistic, hopelessly out of touch with reality, and dictatorial.
The Occupy Wall Street movement extremists of the left wing see the financial industry and industry in general becoming more and more tyrannical as they control more and more of the electoral and governing processes with their enormous wealth for the purposes of feeding their own greed for huge wealth and political power. They are impervious to arguments that Wall Street and industry are the gooses the lay the golden eggs for all, and see wealth creation as a function of the greedy at the top with no concern for the rest of us.
In other words, the extremes on both the right and the left are wanting a new revolution, patterned on the original American Revolution - they want to overthrow the tyranny of the ruling aristocracy. But for the right, the ruling aristocracy are the intelligentsia who dominate the government and the media, and for the left, the ruling aristocracy are the business leaders of Wall Street and industry.
The both have a pretty good point, it seems to me.
The biggest problem with both extremes is that they see their opponents as devils who must be destroyed. Kind of strange that they don't see themselves as allies united in rebirthing a new version of the America dream, a dream where the people are able to rule themselves, and create a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" - the original dream of America - and of the world.