Monday, 8 August 2011

Liberal Violence.

Barbarians of Civilisation.

We might see John Locke as the father of liberalism today as the Two Treatises of Government were the earliest of liberal ideas. Though it is important to note that at the time John Locke was embedded in the English ruling class and was close to Lord Shaftesbury, the founder of the Whigs. So Locke was one of the elite when England was taken hold by a political crisis in the 1680s as the reign of King Charles II came to an end and the Duke of York succeeded him as James II. The new monarch had ambitions to restore Royal absolutism and Catholicism to England, which would have meant another war of religious sectarianism. The succession was inevitable as Charles II had plenty of illegitimate children, but no legitimate heirs, so when he died in 1685 it fell to his brother. There was a campaign to prevent the succession throughout the 1680s and just as James II stepped up to the throne. The King was successful in crushing all rebels, whether they be Archibald Campbell or the Duke of Monmouth (one of the illegitimate sons of Charles II).

Finally in 1688 the Whig nobles were successful in their treason and found a way for Prince William of Orange to invade England from Holland and seize the crown. This was the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Unsurprisingly, as he was involved in the plot, John Locke set out to provide a retrospective justification for instigating the downfall of King James II. If the Whigs had failed, Locke would not be the father of liberalism and 1688 would just be another year of another failed rebellion. The grand narrative of liberalism is accepted because it has been successful in achieving hegemony. These same writings went on to influence the American Revolution and directly influence the US Constitution. As opposed to the pursuit of happiness guaranteed by the US Constitution Locke advocated property along with life and liberty. The French Revolution was influenced in a more indirect fashion by Lockean philosophy, it was Rousseau and Montesquieu who had a greater influence over the French revolutionaries.

Despite the fact that the French Revolution smashed a lingering feudal order into pieces, which could only then be reconstituted as the liberal order for the sake of capital accumulation, the likes of Niall Ferguson and Simon Schama are not so happy with the "excessive violence" of Jacobinism. The American Revolution is commonly put forward as a favourable alternative of a bloodless revolutionary shift from colony to republic. The only blood that had to be spilled was from the millions of Native Americans and countless African slaves who were butchered and terrorised into subservience. Slavery destroyed the cultural heritage of African-Americans, the religions native to Africa were supplanted by Islam and Christianity. The hands of the East and the West are responsible for the destruction of Africa, but in particular without the material preconditions established in slavery the US would not exist as it is. Not only without slavery but without warfare and genocide, the United States would not exist as the vast concentration of a political and economic power today.

The American Dream.

In the US slavery would drag on for centuries and was officially abolished after the Civil War. During the war between states which raged from 1861 to 1865 at least 630,000 people (equivalent to 2% of the population) were killed out of the 3 million who fought in the war. Around 50,000 were slaughtered in the three-day battle of Gettysburg, close to the number of American soldiers who died in the Vietnam war. Without the bloodbath at Gettysburg the abolition of slavery may have come much later in the history of the United States. This great advance came under Abraham Lincoln, who had suspended habeas corpus, it brought emancipation as well as barbarism in even more advanced forms. After Reconstruction slavery was in effect re-established in the United States through an alliance between the corporations and state-authorities with the courts and prisons. It would last in a covert form through the prison system until the 1940s and slave labour was vital to the process of industrialisation.

As a colony of the British Empire, the American economy was prosperous, none of which would have been possible without slavery and ethnic cleansing, the revolution was a push for independence from which the process could be completed. The inspirational documents of the revolution, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution itself, were based on the ideas of John Locke and provided a retrospective justification for insurgent militias who had killed Crown troops. The white people who had settled in America and had done very well out of it's prosperity did not want to pay taxes, but they did want 'Indian' land and a lot more slaves. Some even wanted to seize Mexican and Canadian soil, which they would go onto attempt and succeed in the theft of half of Mexico. Though these tendencies were real in the colony, the prospect of American independence was not a popular one, it was the revolutionary leadership which had to win over the masses who were heavily armed.

New England had done particularly well out of the colonial experience, specifically out of shipbuilding, whaling and warfare. Out of the booming economy a merchant class emerged with such prominent figures as John Hancock, whose firm had done very well out of supplying the British army and Royal Navy. The idea that the American colonies should gain independence from Britain was held by very few in the Americas until the British began to impose further taxes on the colonies in a period of economic decline. The Treasury was heavily in debt and was looking for a way to shift the tax burden off of the British tax-payer in order to maintain the Empire. Prime Minister Grenville decided that the prosperous colonies should take on more of the burden. So new taxes were imposed on the Americans, the merchant class that had developed around shipbuilding, whaling and war resorted to tax-evasion and smuggling. Even while encouraging the British to smash Louis XV the Americans refused to pay their way.

Revolutionary Terror.

The accepted reading of the French Revolution functions to restore the counter-revolutionary doctrine, in that the cynical liberal wisdom cuts to the 'truth' that all revolutions fail and furthermore "anti-totalitarianism" is preferable to avoid the gulag. Naturally this involves avoidance of any historical analysis of the circumstances under which the Revolution emerged. The obscene situation in pre-revolutionary France is commonly ignored and even glossed over by liberal historians. The country had been devastated by crises of finance and food, which led to the repudiation of the national debt and the bread riots. It was a social order in which there was a huge gulf between the rich and the poor, the latter of whom were the only people who paid taxes in pre-revolutionary France. There was a great explosion in a French society which was inevitable because of the pressures that had mounted up in the stagnant order.

It ultimately led to the rise of the Committee of Public Safety, which initiated a slaughter that was only rivaled by the orgy of violence which would follow after its end. Thousands were slaughtered in reaction to the military assault launched against France by powers such as the Holy Roman Empire, Britain and Russia. Contrary to common sense, order and disorder are not opposites rather the imposition of a contingent order onto a chaotic situation is the highest level of disorder. In the words of Walter Benjamin "There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism." This is the reason that if the Declaration of Independence of US was re-declared by a newly independent society today, we would rightly condemn them as Nazi-ish for the Declaration identifies black people as "subhuman". This is true regardless of the inspirational nature of the Declaration, which is based on the ideas expressed by John Locke and the Putney Debates at the time of the English Revolution.

Just as the unconscious is the founding act of repression upon which consciousness is established, the Act onto which a new political order is predicated are often unjustifiable at the time before the act. Only when looking backwards we might wonder whether or not it was justifiable for an Irishman to shoot a police officer in the head. The Act can lack a justification in preceding standards of justice, politics or even ethics. But violence is not just sequential, it is not just a necessary evil for the establishment of liberal society, it is synchronous to the development of civilisations and the US is no different. The debt owed by liberalism to feudalism and the institution of slavery is hardly, if ever, recognised. Especially by liberals and conservatives, for whom only seductive dreams of egalitarianism might lead to mass-murder. For them any revolution which doesn't fit the idealised vision of the Tea Party is a step too far. The truth is that if we the British had crushed the Americans then we would probably celebrate hanging Jefferson and Franklin as 'traitors'.

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