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View Diary: What Would James Madison Do (WWJMD)? Would the Framers Support the Occupy Wall Street Movement? (112 comments)

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  •  This is very complicated (3+ / 0-)
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    JMoore, nicolemm, Sinan

    in the end.

    If the founders can be said to have believed in anything, it was that success should be based on the actions of the individual, and not based on  that person's father.  Put another way, they believed that they should be judged on the content of their character.  This meant they opposed the idea of a nobility based on birth, but make no mistake, Jefferson and Adams both believed that there was a "natural aristocracy" among men.  Most of the founders agreed with them.

    If you read them there is a great deal of discussion about how government should develop virtue (this is particularly true of Franklin). Certainly self-reliance was a virture they believed in, but they also believed that extremes of wealth would lead to oligarchy, which was something they viewed as dangerous.  At different times even Adams and Hamilton both wrote about the danger that concentration of wealth posed to republican government.  Many also believed that inherited wealth was an evil to be avoided - Franklin supported taxes on inheritance for that reason.

    What is critical to note here is that they believed and wrote that the US did not have the extremes of wealth that were found in Europe because there was no nobility.  While they worried about oligarchy, I think they thought the development of one in this country would be unlikely, since there was no nobility in this country. The Transcendentalists to some extent also wrote about how the extremes of wealth were less here than in Europe.

    It is hard to draw a direct line to OWS or the Tea Party back to the founders.  A major part of American Exceptionalism was the belief that any man could acquire land (and in their time land was equated with wealth) for himself, and to a large extent this was true in 1800.  It was in fact just this that lead people to come to the US.  That this is no longer the case means that a central assumption of the founding fathers is no longer true, and it is hard I think to know what they would have concluded in the absence of that assumption.

    The bitter truth of deep inequality has been disguised by an era of cheap imported goods and the anyone-can-make-it celebrity myth - Polly Toynbee

    by fladem on Fri Oct 28, 2011 at 06:51:09 AM PDT

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