Saturday, June 16, 2012

Orestes Brownson: Occupier or Tea Partier?

Orestes Brownson was leading member of the radical, locofoco wing of the Democratic Party back in the 1830s.  I was reading his essay Prospects of the Democracy yesterday and was struck by the irony of how the Democratic Party has changed and not changed over the past one hundred seventy years.

The essay originally appeared in the January 1839 issue of the Boston Quarterly Review, during the Panic of 1837.  It begins with an appeal to class warfare that would do Barack Obama, Jeremiah Wright, Michael Moore, Bill Ayers and the Occupy Movement proud.  Brownson inveighs against the "aristocratic" "Stationary Party", the "party of privilege," which seeks "to retain things as they are, or to recall the order that is passing away," in order "to secure or increase the special advantage of the One Percent few over the Ninety-Nine Percent many."  It wars against the "Movement Party," which advocates "change" and "Equality" on behalf of "the many" "who suffer the evils of things as they are."

In all countries where there is life, where thought is active, and has scope to manifest itself in some degree, the community is divided into two parties more or less equal in numbers and strength. One party may be termed the Stationary Party, the party whose object is to retain things as they are, or to recall the order that is passing away; the other party-may be termed the Movement Party, the party whose leading object is always to develop and improve the existing order, or to introduce a new, and, as it hopes, a better order. The members of the first named party are usually that portion of the community whom the existing order, whatever it may be, most favors, or who hope the most from things as they are; and consequently of those who have, or fancy they have, the most to lose by a change: the members of the last named party are, in general, those on whom the burden of the existing order chiefly falls; who suffer the evils of things as they are, and of course, of those who have the most room to hope that a change will better their condition.

They whom the existing order of things most favors are in most countries the few; they whom it favors the least are the many. The interest, then, sought to be promoted by the stationary party, is necessarily the interest of the few in contradistinction to that of the many. Its object is always to secure or increase the special advantages of the few over the many. It is therefore always the party of privilege, the aristocratic party. The movement party is the opposite of the stationary party. Its object is to diminish the privileges enjoyed by the few, and to introduce as great a degree of equality as is practicable among all the members of the community. It is therefore the party of equality, and consequently, the democratic party. The war which is ever carried on between these two parties, whatever the name it may bear, or the forms it may assume, is always, at bottom, a war of Equality against Privilege.

These two parties may be found in every country in Christendom ; and in every country in Christendom does the war of Equality against Privilege rage with more or less fierceness, and with prospects of an issue more or less favorable to the movement or democratic party. Here, as well as in all other Christian countries, does this fearful war rage; and perhaps never with more fierceness than at this present moment. But Equality is stronger here than elsewhere; it has gained here more than any where else, has achieved more brilliant and decisive victories, and conquered a larger extent of territory. It therefore comes to the battle with high hopes, and with great confidence in its own strength, and the terror its name inspires.

Nevertheless it can count on no easy victory. Privilege exists here, has existed here from the origin of our government, and will exist much longer. Its forces are numerous, well disciplined, well furnished, and liberally paid; and they promise to do effectual service in its cause.

Reading this, our Occupier is ecstatic.  A fellow warrior in the battle for Change and Equality against the forces of oppression!  But then he discovers to his horror that something is terribly wrong.  Brownson is no kindred spirit after all, but in many respects a Tea Partier in disguise, advocating weak government and condemning government debt and bailouts:
These two parties have always existed here, and they showed themselves very distinctly in the Convention which framed the Federal Constitution. The party of Privilege, the aristocratic party, feeling themselves in the position to wield the power of the government, and of course to wield it in their own favor, asked for a strong government, one capable of holding the people in awe, in check, in submission. The party of Equality, the democratic party, on the other hand, distrustful of governments, in consequence of having suffered from their abuses, demanded a weak government and a strong people; so that the few, by seizing its reins, should not be able to make the government trample on the rights and the interests of the many. The party of Equality triumphed, so far as the organization to be given to the Federal government was concerned.

. . .

. . . Governments cannot operate without funds; consequently, they who can control its funds, or the sources whence it obtains them, can control its action. By connecting the fiscal concerns of government intimately with the business operations of the country, they who have the control of those operations, necessarily control the government.

Consequently, the first effort of the aristocratic party, after their defeat in the [Constitutional] Convention, was to bring about this connexion. This they did, first, by funding the national debt, and making thereby a portion of the capitalists the creditors of the government; and secondly, by chartering a National Bank, and making it the depository of the government funds, which were to be used as the basis of loans to business men. The party of Privilege became, as a matter of course, the purchasers of government stock, and the owners of the Bank; they became, therefore, the creditors of the government, and through the bank, sustained by government funds, the creditors of the whole trading community, and through the trading community, of nearly the whole population; and therefore able to exercise over both government and people the all but absolute control, which the creditor exercises over the debtor.

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