The Decline of the West and Personal Finance PT2

January 28, 2020

My Dear Reader,

Often the phrase true Freedom begins with Financial Freedom is one that’s it’s interesting to a lot of people, but I’m not sure if we all even understand the ramifications of that. When we last left off on Friday, We spoke about the rising attitude in the government, and by the people that run it, that they can redistribute wealth at their will. So what is the real purpose of government? Is it to correct the ills of society? In order to answer this question should we look back at the history of why our government was created in the first place.

The first position which we will examine is the conservative view point. This is because we have already explained who John Locke was and his influence on the American Constitution. To understand the mechanism by which the government perpetuates its influence in everyday life, which is laws and taxation, we ought to ask ourselves what the nature of the laws is from a Lockean perspective.
To John Locke, the most important principal to preserve was property. As we’ve learned, Locke biased this concept on both the idea of the social contract and on the Christian concept that God gave humankind stewardship of Nature, for good or ill. As a result, no government had the authority to remove that right from anyone. We’ve also explored the relationship between power and wealth, that the two are directly correlated. As a result, we can see that Locke’s purpose for the law is that the law is designed to equally apply to everyone living in a given society and that the law would provide for the maximum amount of liberty, without violating the social contract. To bring Lockean theory into today’s modern debates, his position on gun rights would have been far more to the right than even most of the GOP politicians in the senate, but on women’s reproductive measures, he would have been to the very left. However even this example is not perfect, because Locke would not have supported the government in any sector of the economy, as that would be a violation of individual property rights. But we can still make out one central point. The individual is sovereign and his sovereignty is paramount in Lockean political theory.

But what good is political theory without results? The only good judge of political theory is history, and is Lockean theory strong enough to last the trials of human history? The two greatest examples of Lockean influence on the citizenry of a nation is the United Kingdom and the United States. In the United Kingdom, John Locke’s philosophies began to take hold in the Tory party in the early 1800s. Because of the fundamental right to property, the laissez-faire economic policy allowed the industrial revolution to take hold in the British cities- from London to Edenborough. This created immense wealth for a number of different inventors and entrepreneurs. However, with this new wealth, the effects of destitute poverty and dirty environments created a horrible juxtaposition that characterized the Victorian age.
In the United States, the history of Lockean philosophy is one of great triumph. It is one of the key reasons, outside of the Great Revival, that pushed the abolitionist movement in the north. After the Civil War, the same influence created great wealth in the northern cities, similarly to the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom. But on the world stage, the same philosophy is much less successful.
After World War One, the victorious Allied powers were tasked with redrawing the map of Europe. Taking the same Lockean principles that had created immense prosperity in America, Woodrow Wilson used much of his influence on drawing the borders on a cultural basis. The idea is that the new nations of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Ukraine, Belarus and Yugoslavia would balance the power structure of Europe. Under the Lockean principles, each one of these nations should have been able to rule themselves without interference from the great powers of their day. Instead their division allowed aggressive resurgent powers like Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union to divide Europe between themselves and lead into World War II. Though it seems to be less effective on the world stage, it is clear that the best policies for maximizing freedom are those of John Locke. But the competing theory from Jean-Jacques Rousseau merits discussion as well.

In what can loosely be regarded as the basis for modern leftist politics both abroad and in America, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. We can examine the same mechanisms in government, with the same intent- freedom, and structure the government entirely differently.
Jean Jacques Rousseau was born into a Calvinistic family in 1712. In Geneva, he traveled from job to job until age 28, where he came under the protection of a wealthy woman. She succeeded in converting Rousseau to Catholicism, and allowed him to tutor her children, as Rousseau was an indisputably well gifted thinker. He was noted for his works, such as Emile and The Social Contract. Rousseau is also remembered as a man who was a self-proclaimed deist who considered all other deists infidels, a man who eventually turned on all his friends, a man who hated obligation and always held others to a high standard, but not himself. A man who wrote numerous books on parenting theory and still sent all of his children to an orphanage. Despite all of his obvious contradictions, his theory on law takes a major divergence from Locke, though the two agreed on so much

Both Locke and Rousseau agreed that the law must apply to everyone in a society because God was the ultimate law-giver and judge. Both agreed that all written laws must be biased on natural law. However, while Locke argued that laws exist to provide the most amount of liberty in a society, Rousseau argued that laws exist to enforce the “will of the people”. This idea is born out of the general philosophy that all men are born good and it is society that corrupts. His argument was that if laws are based on the general will of the public, that it will always orient towards the best moral outcome. Rousseau argued that because Lockean political theories often coincide with a republic, laws written were still corrupting and only written to benefit those at the top of the social structure. Therefore, argued Rousseau, those laws were still part of the corrupting society which ruined the inherit goodness of Man. As idealistic as this sounds, if we are going to judge Locke by how his theories played out in history, shouldn’t we do the same with Rousseau?

In 1789, just six years after American Independence was secured, the French made their own Declaration of the Rights of Man. Influenced by one of their greatest philosophers, what would become the new French government copied the Rousseauian line in their first Article:
“Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good.”
Aside from the slap at the old French Nobles, this article changes the nature and philosophy of taxation. Under Locke’s idea, taxation is used to preserve the liberty of a given society and therefore is mainly used to provide a military force. But under Rousseau, the idea of taxation is to prevent the wealth that comes with liberty from corrupting others. It gives the government the right to determine who is worthy of social distinction, or political favor. Therefore, under a pure Rousseain system, taxes are used to redistribute the wealth of those whom are deemed to be malevolent to the will of the people, and spread the wealth to society at large. During the turbulent years of the 1st French republic, this argument was used as a justification to behead formal nobles and use their wealth for state purposes. Robespierre, the leader of the French Revolution, captured the nature of his government

“Terror is nothing more than speedy, severe and inflexible justice; it is thus an emanation of virtue; it is less a principle in itself, than a consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing needs of the [fatherland].”

The 1st French republic ended with Robespierre’s head on a pike. The resulting chaos led to the rise of Napoleon as Emperor of the 1st French Empire. If this first investigation into a pure Rousseauian government is the result, can we agree that it appears to be chaotic?
However disastrous the 1st French Republic turned out, the American founding fathers used it to balance the American public. The reason that the United States has a House of Representatives is because the founders felt as though the general public must be able to air their grievances with the government through both protesting and through government action, just like the French republic. The combination of the two means that the public can and ultimately does influence the government, but the people are still able to create their own social distinctions without interference from the government. The great American example of this system working to perfection occurred during the progressive era.

Much like the United Kingdom’s soot filled roads during the Victorian era, the great skyscrapers that were built in New York were a spectacular achievement of personal liberty and ingenuity. However, behind the glitz and glamor was a number of dirty industries that were hurting the overall public health. Cheap contaminated meat was crushing public confidence in the farming industry, lead paint was creating reproductive problems in adults and developmental problems in children, and factory fires were common, sometimes killing hundreds in just one incident. In response, the American public demanded action. A Lockean government would not have been able to act, because the nature of its laws would be to create the most liberty in the economy and for cooperation’s as well. But because of the Rousseain house of representatives, agencies such as the FDA regulated both food and new pharmaceuticals. Workers began to unionize to protest the working conditions that exposed them to copious amounts of lead and safety regulations diminished the amount of workplace accidents. It would seem as though the two political bases for the right and left have strengths and weaknesses that strike a balance in the political field. Now that we can see this, we’ll determine the role of taxation in this framework, but that will be another topic for another day.

To your creation and potential,
Kevin Prendiville