Are We Abandoning a Dangerous Freedom for the Security of Being Peasants in a New World Order?

America's Founding Corruption and Lies Economics Education Environment History Law and Order Liberty/Politics

Victor Davis Hanson styled his first Chapter of his book The Dying Citizen, How Progressive Elites, Tribalism, and Globalization Are Destroying the Idea of America, as “Peasants.” It is a word not regularly used in America. It denotes a lower class who owns a small scrap of land and must pay land rents to an overlord upon whom he is utterly dependent. It doesn’t really fit in America where millions of acres were given to the people in a Homestead Act (1862-1930) that granted land to any American who was willing to improve it and turn it into productive farmland. This he says, “created a stable, independent, and responsible middle class.”

In Europe however, it was relevant for most of its history. Peasants had limited autonomy and almost no upward mobility. They were stuck where they were for generations upon generations. Dr. Hanson writes, “this was a world where much of the population was dependent on an overclass of lords, barons, and bishops for its sustenance (and that is often true today in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America)” p.22.

In early America this was not even remotely the description of our society where church-going family farmers and a working middle class were the backbone of American society and provided stability and balance to the political system. However, Professor Hanson notes that “The modern use of the word identifies the erosion of the middle class into an indebted and less independent underclass. The current reality is that millions of Americans, through debt, joblessness, and declining wages, are now becoming our own updated urban and suburban versions of the rural European peasantry of the past.” p.22

‘The idea that, without a middle class, there can be little participatory democracy, social tranquility, or cultural stability is not new. It is a poignant lesson from our shared past…citizenship would have been impossible without this prior material security and independence.

“The agrarians (georgoi) of many Greek city-states were the next majority of the resident population. They also owned and bore their own weapons. By intent their military-grade arms and armor transcended the need for personal safety or hunting. Quite logically, the first citizens of the West soon determined the very conditions under which the city-state’s militias marched as hoplite infantry in the phalanx to defend their polis. The revolutionary right of the citizens to bear top-grade-arms – currently the most controversial amendment of America’s Bill of Rights – and to determine when, where, and against whom they would fight was also synonymous with citizenship at the very beginning of the West.”

“Perhaps most importantly, the new middling citizens assumed that as self-sufficient producers of food, they enjoyed economid independence from the urban rich and poor. In the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s analysis, once armed, moderate property holders became the majority in the city-state. Only then did consensual government for the first time become possible.”

As I read this I couldn’t help but think about two things. First, is all the reports of how the middle class is shrinking and how money is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. While capitalism and free enterprise rewards activity the idea of “trust busting” or breaking up monopolies (like the former Telephone company of “Ma Bell” when Bell Telephone controlled all the telephone service in the United States and was broken up to make competition properly. Before this break up phones and phone service had not materially changed for fifty years. It wasn’t too long after the break up that cell phones were developed and distributed. They were an innovation that Bell Telephone didn’t need to make because they had all bases covered and there was no competition for them to worry about. There was no longer “free enterprise” in that market. Breaking up monopolies was recognized as necessary to maintain free enterprise. There are many areas of the economy today where free markets don’t operate because a single company controls all of the outlets and can crush new competitors before they can fully enter the market. However, the government is so influenced by the money of the richest companies that no one even talks about breaking up the competition killing monopolies in America. Perhaps its because the needs of the many are no longer a concern for our congress because the investments of the few are what are paying for their re-election campaigns.

Another factor that occurred to me was of the United State’s failed attempts at democracy building. Perhaps if the elite who presided over the United States government during the Afghan and Iraq invasions had a better grasp on both history and political science they would have realized nations that did not come anywhere close to having these traits might not have been good choices for trying to install democratic republics. They first needed to establish an educated, stable, and propertied middle class society that was independent, armed, and able to take on the burdens of self-government. Aristotle was not alone in seeing such pre-requisites for a democratic republic.

Rarely, if ever, is it pointed out that a free democratic republic depends on the existence of a middle class as a cornerstone of our freedom. When we get reports about the failing influence and education of the middle class or we hear of the various schemes and propaganda efforts to disarm the law abiding citizens of America.

Hanson tells us of the Greek view (remarkably similar to the view of our founders,) that “proclaimed the mesoi morally superior by their singular virtue of working physically while taking on the burden of self-government. Drudgery in service to others was the predictable lot of the poor, idleness, the cargo of the rich. But hard work for oneself was enshrined as the supposed superior middle way. Families responsible for their own futures would be the best guardians of the democratic state…The poor could not afford the armor of a hoplite infantrymen, the rich were perched on ponies, The middle ones along were infantrymen, the armored spearmen of the phalanx – and the voices of when and when not to go to war.”

“…Polites, or “City-State Person.” Polis and Polites were later to spawn an entire array of English Constitutional terms…politics, politician, political, policy, and police the Roman Republic follows the Hellenic precedent. …Agrarian soldiers, the famed legionnaires of ancient Rome, became the foundation of the Republic to ensure political rights predicated on their economic viability and martial prowess – a paradigm found nowhere else in the Mediterranean. The Roman “civis” (Civil, civic, civilization, et cetera) or citizen, was the beneficiary of rights codified in an extensive body of law.

“Legal protection against arbitrary arrest, confiscation, or taxation ensured the value of citizenship. Indeed, later, throughout the Roman-controlled Mediterranean, echoed the republican-era boast – civis Romanus sum – “I am a Roman Citizen.” The speaker, if he was fortunate as to live inside the boundaries of Rome’s growing dominion, was entitled to rights that ascended those of both transient foreigners and mere permanent residents within Roman lands. Empowerment was again the key: give a citizen equality under the law, freedom, and economic viability, and his talents will bloom and enrich the stare at large.

“In the second and third centuries AD, the Italian middle class that had built the republic gradually over a millennium largely vanished. Rome increasingly became an empire of two classes, rich and poor, without much of a viable middle in between or indeed any national voting at all. The world’s first experiment with globalization (in this case the Mare Nostrum, the Roman Mediterranean) eventually hollowed out the Roman agrarian and middle classes.

“…Agrarianism, remember, was thought to be the backbone of the pre-industrial middle-class. The independence of the small farmer and his need to combine brain and muscle to produce food were considered to offer vital traits for self-governance, from pragmatism to individualism. Unfortunately, the once agrarian legions gradually either became mercenary or were manned by those whithout a stake in Roman society. To keep ruling, the elite relied on sending public largess to the army and to the poor, the stereotypical “bread and circuses” (panem et circenses) of the poet Juvenal, who caricatured the urban and often idle masses kept afloat by the combinations of state-subsidized food and free entertainment.” VDH p.23-25

Doctor Hanson tells of the persistence and reemergence of the middle class over the next fifteen hundred years:

“Yet, even after the collapse of the classical world in the later fifth century AD and the transitory disappearance of a vestigial middle class, the idea of Western broad-based citizenship never quite died. Instead it reemerged in various manifestations throughout Europe over the next millenium and a half. The sometimes waxing, sometimes waning agrarian classes sought to create a constitutional state to protect and reflect their own interests. [Vis-a-Vis the nobles. – Daniel] Unlike the landless poor, they did not want redistribution of someone else’s land and money. In contrast to the wealthy, they did not see government as an auxiliary to maintain privileges of birth or as an adornment to express influence and power…This reappearing European [Western] ideal of an independent middle class, originally agrarian, rather than a subservient peasantry became an American ideal, at least until recently…”p.25-26

Yet this ideal is in contrast to the America of today. Professor Hanson, himself a farmer on a family owned farm, gives us a cautionary warning about the reappearance of a peasantry in the Western World today. Are we following all to closely the example of Rome? And worse, the relationship of most Americans to debt and debt-holders is becoming remarkably similar to the arrangements peasants maintained with their lord and landrents. He continues:

“The result is the emergence of a new American peasantry, of millions of Americans who own little or no property. The new majority has scant, if any, savings. Fifty-eight percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in the bank. A missed paycheck renders them destitute, completely unable to service sizable debt….such short term debt is often roughly commensurate with the payments and share-cropping arrangements that premodern peasants once entered into with lords and made it impossible for the serf to exercise political independence or hope for upward mobility. The chief contemporary difference is the beneficiary of a sophisticated technological society that allows him instant communication, advanced health care, televised and computer-driven entertainment, inexpensive food, and a social welfare state. These material blessings often mask an otherwise shrinking middle class without confidence that it is in control of its own destiny.

“A fifth of America receives direct government public assistance. Well over half the country depends on some sort of state subsidy or government transfer money, explaining why about 60 percent of Americans collect more payments from the government than they pay out in various federal income taxes, in various health care entitlements, tax credits and exemptions, federally backed student loans, housing supplements, food subsidies, disability and unemployment assistance, and legal help.

“Such social insulation, along with science fueled by free market capitalism, has succeeded in ending starvation, dying in one’s thirties and forties, and, for the most part, chronic malnourishment, as well as ensured access to a wealth of material appurtenances. But otherwise, twenty-first century American “peasants” – currently perhaps about 46% of the population – usually die with a net worth of less than $10,000, both receiving and bequeathing little, if any, inheritance.” p.26-27

He gives us concrete examples:

“Drive on El Camino Real on the perimeter of Stanford University’s elite campus and witness hundreds living in curbside trailers in the manner of the poor of Cairo [Egypt], or visit the side streets near the Google headquarters in nearby mountain view where thousands live in their cars, or walk among the homeless on tony University Avenue in Palo Alto. Then juxtapose their lifestyles with estates in nearby Woodside, Atherton, or Portola Valley and the Mercedes Benz and BMW’s of those in their early twenties parked in the student lots at Stanford University.” p.27

These examples, all from Dr. Hanson’s native California may be a warning to us all about the natural end of leftist policies that may sound good in the short term but have long term, unwanted side-effects. If the saying is true that California leads the nation and what is happening in California spreads to the rest of America than we are in for a tough ride.

But this is not only in California. Over ten years ago I first witnessed a similar contrast in Kansas City where I attended seminary. You can drive down a street of houses with broken and boarded up windows, unworking cars in the yards or driveway and other junk adorning the outside of the homes that you, at first glance, don’t believe people actually live in only to eventually come to a ten foot high hedge. As you pass the hedgerow you are miraculously transported to a land of opulence and excess as you go directly into the country club area of Kansas City and a shopping center filled with expensive trinkets and baubles that only the rich could want or afford.

Professor Hanson recognizes this is a factor of progressively controlled cities and not only in California. Citing a 500 mile long progressive corridor where young people cannot afford to buy houses that stretches up to Seattle. But Boston, Washington DC, Chicago and other cities demonstrate the same extremes and tragedies.

Is this what the World Economic Forum means when they say on their website: “You will own nothing and be happy.” Itself, a communist, and not a capitalist saying.

The professor contrasts this with the American ideal where as a democratic republic and a new citizenship was born. This was in deep contrast to all the other nations of the Earth at that time. Born of the Western ideals at the very core of Western tradition. The colonies lacked the European traditions of class distinctions, had an almost limitless supply of land, and the protections of the United States Constitution and state constitutions. “America would soon become the freest and most egalitarian society in the history of civilization.”

He sites the near perfect combination of rights, checks, and balances for the United States to explode in productivity and freedom. “the new United States was unlike, or rather superior to, most contemporary nations. Indeed, almost alone of governments, America had hit upon a mehanism that would allow constant self-criticism, legal amendments to its founding documents, and moral improvement … within the boundaries of constitutional absolutes that transcended time and space.”

America was not perfect, Hanson agrees, but “from the moment of American founding, however, the new government confronted mounting pressure, predominantly Christian, to match its ideals with the grim reality of its tolerance of chattel slavery…This religious and abolitionist zeal dated back to … the 1688 Pennsylvania “Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery.” VDH notes that there is no mention of racial inferiority of any racial group in the new world although the dreaded three fifths clause. The result of a demand by Northern states that the South not be given credit for their populations held in slavery.

Dr. Hanson goes into some economic considerations of this new breed of American Peasants and the rich and I will leave most of that to you to discover when you read the book yourself. I will quote his statement that “Free market capitalism was not a zero-sum proposition: someone could succeed without an exact counterpart failing.”

However, it is not the failing of capitalism as much as declining home ownership, the professor says, is “largely a result of new government codes and zoning regulations, increased land prices, new builders’ and legal fees” which again come from taxes, codes, and licensing, resulting in developers’ reluctance to invest in less remunerative homes.” p.31

Indeed, while capitalism has a record of pulling extremely poor nations out of poverty (such as India – I still remember my mother telling me to “think of the poor starving children in India who wish they could have your food and clean your plate.” She never did act on my suggestion that she send my unwanted food items to them. But I, and my children, have all learned to eat what is set before them and not to expect special treatment. It’s opponent, Communism has the distinction of killing over 100 million people in the twentieth century.

Shockingly he writes that “nearly three in eight American homes today are rentals. Most are too near a hand-to-mouth existence.” Public universities in 1987-1988 cost $3,190 in adjusted dollars for tuition and now they pay a tuition average nearly three times as much only thirty dollars shy of $10,000.

Worse, he says “too often the universities saw themselves as no longer teachers of the inductive method and the elements of foundational knowledge [that is the hallmark of Western education and science]. Instead, they were activists….Deductivism – picking and choosing examples to conform to a preconceived result – was a recalibration that proved far more costly, and ultimately toxic, for the student than the prior commitment to traditional education…”

Other findings included the age of first marriage soaring from 23 in 1950 to 30 in 2019. (To which I would add the growing tendency to completely avoid educated – predominantly leftist indoctrinated college grads – of the current generation.) He talks about how populists are talking increasingly about how both conservative and liberal elites are ignoring or actively acting against the wishes of the middle class and parallels for these things in ancient Greece or Rome before their fall.

As I read his description of the hyped behavior of youth over the environment who believe the earth would be completely uninhabitable in ten or twenty years I couldn’t help but remember all of the hyped “emergencies” I remember the news embracing in my life.

I remember taking a science class in Junior High that said we were in an unusual period of warming but we were in the midst of an ice age and that the weather patterns indicated that there would be horrible snow falls and the rapid resurgence of the glaciers so that most of North America would be unlivable by the year 2000. All humanity, we were told, would have to cluster around the equatorial lands if we wanted to survive. If that happened, I completely missed it. If any of you had your house run over by a glacier in the last 20 years please let me know.

That is only one of two disaster scenarios I remember distinctly in my lifetime to have heard (long before Global Warming began being hyped.) Another occurred in the 80s regarding pollution making the Earth unlivable. During a decade where Love Canal waste disposal caused cancer in nearly every family that lived nearby, and the Rhine River in Europe repeatedly caught on fire I now have trouble panicking about the environment when these things no longer happen. If you ask them today youth don’t even know about the massive efforts the West has made about cleaning up the environment. Now it is the developing world that produces most of the pollution on the Earth. But these movements are not about reason.

It is said that if you are not leaning left in college you have no soul and if you are not a conservative by the time you have a family you have no sense. I guess I fall into that saying perfectly, because along with my undergraduate studies I was eager to fight the deforestation of the Amazon, “Save the Dolphins,” and stop pollution. I was a member of Greenpeace and got their magazine along with some others. I went to a convention of college activists in the Carolinas and was a leader of Ecology Now and UNL in the Action Committee (where I noticed that too many people who “feel” deeply about an issue have no clue how to organize for effect. Fortunately, the army trained me well in that regard.) Like so many youths today I was concerned with saving the future of tomorrow, but unlike so many of them, I saw environmental organizations “taken over” by corporate donations that they came to depend on and saw the environmental movement mutate into a weapon of the elite – regardless of what it did to the environment. So, when I see that the Green Movement is less about “saving the world” than saving Senatorial green energy investments and bringing about a change to other new and experimental technologies that are not yet ready to be fielded. Today I no longer see any rivers burning and VDH points out how the Hype over the environment has been turned into dollars in a phony green movement. In my day we were told that if everyone planted one tree for each person in their family it would process the carbon out of the air that we produce and replace it with oxygen. But no one gets rich selling trees so that never got hyped – today, the great names of the environmental movements of the 70s and 80s have either left in disgust or been bought up by the money flooding the movement.

Today, even though we are in what environmental scientists are calling a “carbon desert” and warning if it drops any further green areas of the Earth will turn brown. By a “carbon desert” they mean there is barely enough carbon in the air to feed the plant life on the earth, they breathe in carbon and we depend upon for food and oxygen. If agricultural lands stop producing because of low carbon the deaths may be enough to make those who want to depopulate the Earth happy.

I am not what I would call a conservative. I know we can’t go back we must go forward. I just want to ensure that we move forward on a firm foundation of the knowledge upon which Western Civilization was founded so that future generations don’t have to relearn truths that we already have proved and know.

Victor Davis Hanson has many more examples of our collapse into a new peasantry but you will need to read the book to get them. He also discusses our over reliance on experts who wave credentials to substantiate their theories. Saying on page 49 that: “The philosophical theories and economic tenets of elties were no doubt based upon logical premises, but often they guided public policy with little concern about their effects on real people.” He cites how philosopher Eric Hoffer “some seventy years ago could see the future contours of a working class regulated, controlled, and yet ridiculed by a new intellectual and bureaucratic elite…they are an army of scribes clamoring for a society in which planning, regulation, and supervision are paramount and the prerogative of the educated.”

He takes a fair bit of time outlining how out of touch and uncaring the elite are to the plight of the common man. They cannot even understand it because they don’t live in the real world they live in the isolated halls of the rich and famous just as the elite of France did before the French Revolution. After discussing our artificial and disastrous dependency on elite educated “experts” who make decisions that are logical but destructive of our way of life. He writes that “a historical model is at work of the wealthy medieval keep, primarily among the coastal elite in such iconic enclaves a La Jolla, Malibu… Carmel, Pebble Beach…[and others] Great fortunes and privilege surround global cultural and commercial brand names ssuch as Apple, Caltech, eBay, Facebook, Gap, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Hollywood, Intel, Netflix, Oracle, Stanford, Walt Disney, Wells Fargok, and hundreds more that anchor a five-hundred-mile-long affluent California coastal belt.” p.59.

He contrasts how previous generations grew up with a freedom that current generations cannot really imagine. When he says: “Many of us who grew up on these farms were “free-range.” That is, in our preteen years from ages six to twelve, we roamed freely and unsupervised [in the safe environment,] throughout the vineyards and orchards of our neighboring family farms, watched over by the rural community.” This struck me because I remember ranging through several blocks, riding my bike to a friends house miles away, and being told to come home when the streetlights come on.

He closes the chapter with this idea concerned by the flood of immigrants without our ideals or cultural paradigm to create a growing class of cheap labor that work for peanuts and how that drags down the wages for all others. He states that: “Well over half of all immigrant households in California receive some sort of public assistance, which can include health care, food, housing, transportation, education, and legal subsidies. California’s trifecta economic model and one party governance may become the model of most states: impoverish or drive out the middle class, import the poor from abroad, enable staggering levels of global wealth concentrated in the hands of the few – and see one party fuel such medievalism.”

“In the next chapter we will see that Americans are reverting to pre-citizenship not just because of the squeezing of the middle class and its transformation into a modern version of peasantry but, in addition, due to the conflation between residency and citizenship. One’s mere presence in the United States is becoming synonymous with the privilege of being an American citizen.”

Next Tuesday we will pick up with some of Dr. Hanson’s chapter entitled “Residents.” This Sunday, if nothing happens like it did last week we will finally get to hear from Epictetus. I will strive to post by 6 a.m. Central Time on Sunday, Tuesday’s and Thursdays. Yes, I failed to get it up in time today. I am re-reading Hanson as we go through his book and what I leave out is material that is equally good as what I cover. However, I try to not go over six pages if I can help it and I prefer 4 Thanks to all of you who stay with me throughout. If I can find a way to monetize the site it may help reduce external strains and make the site easier to keep up with. Until then, stay free and “ride to the sound of the guns!” Freedom Troopers.

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