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America took the notion of liberty and placed it in an economical framework, composed by Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations. Smith anticipated Marx by nearly a century when he focused on the nature of man and society in what amounted to a purely economical outlook. He views the violence that men do to one another and to themselves as stemming from an economical cause. The savage nations (hunters and gatherers) he states "are so miserably poor, that, from mere want, they are frequently reduced, or at least think themselves reduced, to the necessity sometimes of directly destroying, and sometimes of abandoning their infants, their old people, and those afflicted with lingering diseases, to perish with hunger, or to be devoured by wild beasts" (Smith 1x). The cause of violence, according to Smith, is want. For the Old World Church it was sin. For Rousseau and the Romantic/Enlightenment thinkers it was the suppression of naturalistic liberty. Smith's solution to the problem of violence was to place an economic restraint upon liberty. This economic restraint would serve to replace the religious (or moral) restraint in America. Savagery would be eradicated because man's economic needs would be satisfied -- so long as it followed Smith's economic advice.
How has it worked? One could easily measure the level of violence committed by America in its pursuit of capital gains around the world -- from the destabilization of foreign nations to the violent putting down of workers' strikes in domestic struggles. Smith's advice has not eradicated the problem of violence. As violence against self was replaced by violence against Church in Europe, violence against those in the way of capital gains became the calling card of America. America's commitment to an economic solution to the problem of liberty and violence has led to a system of governance every bit as totalitarian as the Church's in the medieval world or as the Revolutionaries' in Paris. The only difference between theirs and America's is the God at the top of the system. The Church's God was Christ. The Revolutionaries' God was Liberty. America's God is the Dollar and it rules with an iron fist.
John Stuart Mill saw tyranny as stemming from the exercise of "wrong mandates" (8). What he questioned was where to place the line between liberty and control, economic freedom and social responsibility. He saw the need for some sort of moral framework (which, in America, existed -- at least for a time). "Where to place the limit -- how to make the fitting adjustment between individual independence and social control" was the focus of his essay "On Liberty" (9). But Mill advocated a Utilitarian approach to life. His God was Pragmatic. He saw morality as a social construct (Mill 10) rather than as a God-given part of human nature. Instead of men and women being responsible before Christ for keeping themselves morally upright, men and women were (in Mill's eyes) responsible before one another for keeping themselves morally upright -- and if they failed to do so, the State could take the matter in hand. Mill's philosophy was not so separate from the revolutionaries.
Thus, in the end, violence has not been eradicated. It appears to be a part of the human condition -- a condition which the Church of the Old World saw as "fallen," but which the new, modern world saw as a victim of Old World dogmatism, oppression and prejudice. In order to liberate itself from the Old World view, it took upon itself the violent task of overthrowing the Old World order (as seen in Paris). It then, to varying degrees, attempted to set up a new social philosophy. Tocqueville was impressed by the ability of the Church and the State to exist in harmony in America -- but the harmony was illusory, for in reality the Church had submitted to the State, whereas in the Old World the State had submitted to the Church. Nor has America's history been free of violence. The Civil War was nothing if not a war over states' rights. Europe had fought a war over the Rights of God (the Church) and the Rights of Man. America's war was an extension of the need for violent restraint inherent in the system of the Rights of Man. Whether one chose to follow Christ or Man, one was bound to be violent (either with oneself or with one's neighbor) at the end of the day.
Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France. UK: Oxford World's
Classics, 2009. Print.
Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty and Other Essays. UK: Oxford World's Classics, 2008.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Basic Political Writings. in: Hackett Publishing, 2011.
Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations. NY: Modern…[continue]
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