Sunday, May 20, 2012

Liberty, Slavery, and Class War

Liberty is both reciprocal and relative, not individual or absolute. Otherwise, it just means "my liberty, and your slavery."

Slavery is the power to compel. In the long and bumbling struggle of Americans for liberty, the physical bondage called slavery has been more clearly condemned than the more subtle but equally effective financial bondage of a rich elite, in part because the dial of financial bondage is far more sensitive (in modern parlance, "trickle down"), in part because the dial of financial bondage has been spun with far more skill, and in part because financial slavery is not easy to define, whereas physical slavery is. In the event, physical bondage was prohibited after a war that nearly destroyed the nation, while the level of financial bondage waxes and wanes with the alertness of the citizenry.

In the 21st century, carefully distracted and manipulated by culture wars, bribed by cheap Chinese consumer junk, scared by the marvelously useful specter of terror, and beguiled by a breathtakingly bold stream of elitist propaganda nonsense, American citizens are not very alert at all. Hence, the super-rich elite has been steadily spinning the dial on the financial slavery machine in the direction of transferring the marvelous wealth of American society into their own hands. It is no longer necessary to debate the idiocy of trickle down, for trickle down has been transformed into squeeze dry.

The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for Liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable [sic] things, called by the same name–liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable [sic] names–liberty and tyranny.” [Abraham Lincoln, Speech to the Sanitary Commission, April 1864, as quoted in Ronald C. White, Jr., "Lincoln and the Rhetoric of Freedom," in Harold Holzer and Sara Vaugn Gabbard, eds., Lincoln and Freedom (Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois UP, 2007, 139.)]

What in the language of abolition does not equally apply to the struggle against financial slavery?

When American families use the word "liberty," they are not referring to granting monster banks the liberty to engage in mortgage fraud or bet against their own clients or demand welfare to compensate them for their gambling losses. When billionaires use the word "liberty," they are referring to all this and the right to buy elections by pitting their billions against the savings of normal voters in a "free" contest of "one dollar, one vote." The billionaires are referring to the right to tell the politicians they have bought to pass laws for their private convenience, laws that break unions, drive down wages, and push virtually everyone into subservience. The billionaires are referring to laws that allow them to destroy the environment that is our common heritage in order to enrich themselves even as they impoverish the rest of us.

When the average American uses the word "liberty," that word means "government  of the people, by the people, and for the people." When billionaires and their lackey politicians use the word "liberty," it means something incompatible: it means  "class war." And the billionaires are winning.

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