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Class Warfare

Freedom and equality are everlasting enemies. When one rises, the other falls. Political parties are divided by this conflict. Some conservatives want to conserve the past to preserve what they have acquired. If they become entrenched, the wealthy indeed have more power, and there are more barriers for others to climb the economic ladder and upset the status quo. Other conservatives want to conserve freedom. If these conservatives have their way, the future is uncertain because its course cannot be predicted, but every man has a chance to pursue his own happiness and live in freedom. Liberals want to advance social justice, which can only occur by taking wealth from some and giving it to others based upon their confidence that government persons, academia, and experts can make decisions superior to those which a free people would make. If liberals become too aggressive with their goal, they destroy the wealth their views require and, most generally, fail to realize that their views diminish the very freedom that makes possible the production of the very wealth they wish to bestow upon the less fortunate.


Almost everyone wants to help those who cannot help themselves, with resulting debate centered on the method of doing so. Reliance on freedom is not politically rewarding because its benefits are not easily discernible and freedom as the procuring cause is not obvious. Special programs are politically attractive because their benefits are more obvious and those persons specially benefited attribute their benefits to those who advanced those benefits in Congress.


The great debate between John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) and F. A. Hayek (1899-1992), which frames the current economic debate in America, illustrates the importance of method. Keynes, fully aware of the cyclical features of capitalism with high unemployment in the trough periods, advocated government planning and spending to maintain consumer demand, production, and employment. Hayek, on the other hand, argued that the unemployment problem was best left to corrections in the economy, which would naturally come about. He was concerned that there had to be limits to government planning or the country would trend toward socialism, fascism, tyranny, and the loss of freedom. Keynes was not unconcerned about the loss of freedom but argued that government planning and spending would not threaten it.  He said:


But the planning should take place in a community in which as many people as possible, both leaders and followers, wholly share your own moral position….  Moderate planning will be safe if those carrying it out are rightly oriented in their own minds and hearts to the moral issue.  This is in fact already true of some of them.  But the truth is that there is also an important section who could almost be said to want planning not in order to enjoy its fruits but because morally they hold ideas exactly the opposite of yours, and wish to serve not God but the devil.


Dangerous acts can be done safely in a community which thinks and feels rightly, which would be the way to hell if they were executed by those who think and feel wrongly.


There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has attained, [this] kind of security [laws alleviating poverty and ill health] should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom…. Whether those who rely on the community should indefinitely enjoy all the same liberties as the rest…might well cause serious and perhaps even dangerous political problems.


Keynes agreed with Cicero, who also believed government should rest on a moral foundation. The problem today is that the required moral foundation is crumbling. The so-called Judeo-Christian culture has been diminished according to some scholars. Secularism is on the rise. Persons of different faiths and cultures are growing. All of this creates special challenges to a system created by men who generally had common beliefs.


This crumbling effect is illustrated by the voting on the Affordable Care Act. In December, 2009, it passed the House of Representative by a vote of 219 to 212, with no Republicans voting for it and thirty-four Democrats voting against it. It passed in the Senate by a vote of 60 to 40, exactly what was needed to avoid cloture. A Nebraska senator got the federal government to pay Nebraska’s Medicaid bill in exchange for his vote. In January, 2011, the House voted to repeal 245 to 189, with no Republicans voting against repeal. The Senate voted against repeal 51 to 47. The most one can observe from this is that voting is divided at a moral level when our leaders would seek to impose a systemic change on our country consuming 18 percent of GDP annually without having the general consensus of the people and their representatives.


Those in need of wealth will vote for liberals. Demography tells us they will soon be a majority, and then they will control the nature of our government and have the power to destroy the harmony so essential to a unified purpose. This will destabilize our government and likely cause inflation. Hayek tells us that social justice is an illusion, but an illusion can be strong enough to ruin a government. The preservation of a free country and a government that supports a free country is no easy challenge. It takes informed citizens and statesmen with discipline and vision. Once lost, history tells us that dictators are more likely to appear than not, and thereafter they are difficult to replace with a more suitable form of government. Greece lost its democracy in 322 B.C. and dreamt for its return which did not occur until 1829, 2,151 years after it had been lost.


Hamilton forewarned us of this problem in Federalist No. 1, where he said: will be equally forgotten that the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interests can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.


The harmony essential to good government is easier to maintain where there is commonality. In a nation glorifying diversity, our only chance for harmony is if all of us accord dignity to our differences. As Jonathan Sachs said in The Dignity of Difference (2002), “Conversation — respectful, engaged, reciprocal, calling forth some of our greatest powers of empathy and understanding — is the moral form of a world governed by the dignity of difference.” If morality is essential to good government, as argued by Keynes, Sachs has set forth the challenge before us.


The need for harmony between disagreeing parties has never been greater. Paul Woodruff was blunt: “Without harmony, there is no democracy”. This essential ingredient is no easy term to define because it depends on so many things — respect, reverence, integrity, courage, virtue, and morality, to name a few. One could sum up the meaning of harmony by saying a nation that has harmony has character. And character allows us to accept differences, even though we disagree with them. The loss of harmony is historically associated with civil war, moral collapse, and atrocity.


We have harmony when what holds us together is stronger than what pulls us apart. We saw the former after 9-11, but we have witnessed differences that reinforce the latter ever since the Iraq War. For most of our history, our harmony was illustrated by a plethora of common interests grounded in ideas, morality, and the Constitution. Yet, today we have managed our government in a way that divides the rich and the poor, which heralds the conflict in ancient Greece, which witnessed a conflict between the people (poor) and the oligarchs (the rich and the few). The singular advantage of the Greeks was that they had experience in dealing with the consequences of such conflicts and adjusted their constitution to deal with them. Both sides knew how awful life could be if they did not work together. George Washington understood this when he said in his Farewell Address (1796), “Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest.” The Civil War further reinforced the need for harmony, and that was followed by the serious conflicts among the pioneers, farmers, ranchers, and American Indians, who eventually learned the same lesson. 


We have seen the need for harmony during the many wars we have fought, but we seem to have lost the need for harmony in dealing with public policy issues affecting everyday Americans. Declining education, growing entitlements, voter apathy, and misinformation are factors that  contribute to the loss of harmony. If our foundation were to be broad-sided by financial collapse, a distinct possibility considering the size of our national debt, we citizens need to be braced to work with each other to persevere through the tough times that history teaches us can be very unpleasant.


We believe reforms can be made to our Constitution that have a chance of restoring our country to the noble vision inspired by our Founding Fathers, even though the risks today are as great as they were then. They are just different risks.  But, properly managed, an acceptable balance of the conflicting values of Americans is still possible.