every Middlesex village and farm, A cry of defiance,
and not of fear, A voice in the darkness, a knock
at the door, And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past, Through
all our history, to the last, In the hour of darkness
and peril and need, The people will waken and
listen to hear. -- From Paul Revere's Ride by
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863
told us, in his lecture Angloam, that in America
"the old contest of feudalism and democracy renews
itself here on a new battlefield." Perhaps seeing
our day through a crack between the skeins of
time and space, Emerson concluded, "It is wonderful,
with how much rancor and premeditation at this
moment the fight is prepared."
be blunt. The real agenda of the new conservatives
is nothing less than the destruction of democracy
in the United States of America. And feudalism
is one of their weapons.
rallying cry is that government is the enemy,
and thus must be "drowned in a bathtub." In that,
they've mistaken our government for the former
Soviet Union, or confused Ayn Rand's fictional
and disintegrating America with the real thing.
government of the United States is us. It was
designed to be a government of, by, and for We,
the People. It's not an enemy to be destroyed;
it's a means by which we administer and preserve
the commons that we collectively own.
the new conservatives see our democratic government
as the enemy. And if they plan to destroy democracy,
they must have something in mind to replace it
with. (Yes, I know that "democracy" and "democratic"
sound too much like "Democrat," and so the Republicans
want us to say that we don't live in a democracy,
but, rather, a republic, which sounds more like
"Republican." It was one of Newt's efforts, along
with replacing phrases like "Democratic Senator"
with "Democrat Senator." But Republican political
correctness can take a leap: we're talking here
about the survival of democracy in our constitutional
conservatives are really arguing for is a return
to the three historic forms of tyranny that the
Founders and Framers identified, declared war
against, and fought and died to keep out of our
land. Those tyrants were kings, theocrats, and
noble feudal lords.
would never again be allowed to govern America,
the Founders said, so they stripped the president
of the power to declare war. As Lincoln noted
in an 1848 letter to William Herndon: "Kings had
always been involving and impoverishing their
people in wars, pretending generally, if not always,
that the good of the people was the object. This,
our  Convention understood to be the most
oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they
resolved to so frame the Constitution that no
one man should hold the power of bringing this
oppression upon us."
would never again be allowed to govern America,
as they had tried in the early Puritan communities.
In 1784, when Patrick Henry proposed that the
Virginia legislature use a sort of faith-based
voucher system to pay for "Christian education,"
James Madison responded with ferocity, saying
government support of church teachings "will be
a dangerous abuse of power." He added, "The Rulers
who are guilty of such an encroachment exceed
the commission from which they derive their authority,
and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are
governed by laws made neither by themselves nor
by an authority derived from them, and are slaves."
America was not conceived of as a feudal state,
feudalism being broadly defined as "rule by the
super-rich." Rather, our nation was created in
large part in reaction against centuries of European
feudalism. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said in his
lecture titled The Fortune of the Republic, delivered
on December 1, 1863, "We began with freedom. America
was opened after the feudal mischief was spent.
No inquisitions here, no kings, no nobles, no
great and revolutionary ideal of America is that
a government can exist while drawing its authority,
power, and ongoing legitimacy from a single source:
"The consent of the governed." Conservatives,
however, would change all that.
their brave new world, corporations are more suited
to governance than are the unpredictable rabble
called citizens. Corporations should control politics,
control the commons, control health care, control
our airwaves, control the "free" market, and even
control our schools. Although corporations can't
vote, these new conservatives claim they should
have human rights, like privacy from government
inspections of their political activity and the
free speech right to lie to politicians and citizens
in PR and advertising. Although corporations don't
need to breathe fresh air or drink pure water,
these new conservatives would hand over to them
the power to self-regulate poisonous emissions
into our air and water.
these new conservatives claim corporations should
have the rights of persons, they don't mind if
corporations use hostile financial force to take
over other, smaller corporations in a bizarre
form of corporate slavery called monopoly. Corporations
can't die, so aren't subject to inheritance taxes
or probate. They can't be put in prison, so even
when they cause death they are only subject to
and their CEOs are America's new feudal lords,
and the new conservatives are their obliging servants
and mouthpieces. The conservative mantra is: "Less
government!" But the dirty little secret of the
new conservatives is that just as nature abhors
a vacuum, so also do politics and power. Every
time government of, by, and for We, the People
is pushed out of administering some part of this
nation's vast commons, corporations step in. And
by swamping the United States of America in debt
with so-called "tax cuts," they seek to force
an increasingly desperate government to cede more
and more of our commons to their corporate rule.
vConservatives confuse efficiency and cost: They
suggest that big corporations can perform public
services at a lower total cost than government,
while ignoring the corporate need to pad the bill
with dividends to stockholders, rich CEO salaries,
corporate jets and headquarters, advertising,
millions in "campaign contributions," and cash
set-asides for growth and expansion. They want
to frame this as the solution of the "free market,"
and talk about entrepreneurs and small businesses
filling up the holes left when government lets
go of public property.
these are straw man arguments: What they are really
advocating is corporate rule, and ultimately a
feudal state controlled exclusively by the largest
of the corporations. Smaller corporations, like
individual humans and the governments they once
hoped would protect them from powerful feudal
forces, can watch but they can't play.
modern-day conservative movement began with Federalists
Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, who argued
that for a society to be stable it must have a
governing elite, and this elite must be separate
both in power and privilege from what Adams referred
to as "the rabble." Their Federalist party imploded
in the early 19th Century, in large part because
of public revulsion over Federalist elitism, a
symptom of which was Adams' signing the Alien
and Sedition Acts. (If you've only read the Republican
biographies of John Adams, you probably don't
remember these laws, even though they were the
biggest thing to have happened in Adams' entire
four years in office, and the reason why the citizens
of America voted him out of office, and voted
Jefferson - who loudly and publicly opposed the
Acts - in. They were a 1797 version of the Patriot
Act and Patriot II, with startlingly similar language.)
by their embrace of this early form of despotism,
the Federalists were replaced first in the early
1800s by the short-lived Whigs and then, starting
with Lincoln, by the modern-day Republicans, who,
after Lincoln's death, firmly staked out their
ancestral Federalist position as the party of
wealthy corporate and private interests. And now,
under the disguise of the word "conservative"
(classical conservatives like Teddy Roosevelt
and Dwight Eisenhower are rolling in their graves),
these old-time feudalists have nearly completed
their takeover of our great nation.
became obvious with the transformation of healthcare
into a for-profit industry, leading to spiraling
costs (and millions of dollars for Bill Frist
and his ilk). Insurance became necessary for survival,
and people were worried. Bill Clinton was prepared
to answer the concern of the majority of Americans
who supported national health care. But that would
harm corporate profits.
you want government bureaucrats deciding which
doctor you can see?" asked the conservatives,
over and over again. As a yes/no question, the
answer was pretty simple for most Americans: no.
But, as is so often the case when conservatives
try to influence public opinion, the true issue
wasn't honestly stated.
real question was: "Do you want government bureaucrats
- who are answerable to elected officials and
thus subject to the will of 'We, The People' -
making decisions about your healthcare, or would
you rather have corporate bureaucrats - who are
answerable only to their CEOs and work in a profit-driven
environment - making decisions about your healthcare?"
every $100 that passes through the hands of the
government-administered Medicare programs, between
$2 and $3 is spent on administration, leaving
$97 to $98 to pay for medical services and drugs.
But of every $100 that flows through corporate
insurance programs and HMOs, $10 to $24 sticks
to corporate fingers along the way. After all,
Medicare doesn't have lavish corporate headquarters,
corporate jets, or pay expensive lobbying firms
in Washington to work on its behalf. It doesn't
"donate" millions to politicians and their parties.
It doesn't pay profits in the form of dividends
to its shareholders. And it doesn't compensate
its top executive with over a million dollars
a year, as do each of the largest of the American
insurance companies. Medicare has one primary
mandate: serve the public. Private corporations
also have one primary mandate: generate profit.
Jeb Bush cut a deal with Enron to privatize the
Everglades, it diminished the power of the Florida
government to protect a natural resource and enhanced
the power and profitability of Enron. Similarly,
when politicians argue for harsher sentencing
guidelines and also advocate more corporate-owned
prisons, they're enhancing the power and profits
of one of America's fastest-growing and most profitable
remaining domestic industries: incarceration.
But having government protect the quality of the
nation's air and water by mandating pollution
controls doesn't enhance corporate profits. Neither
does single-payer health-care, which threatens
insurance companies with redundancy, or requirements
for local control of broadcast media. In these
and other regards, however, the government still
holds the keys to the riches of the commons held
in trust for us all. Riches the corporations want
to convert into profits.
example, an NPR Morning Edition report by Rick
Carr on 28 May 2003 said, "Current FCC Chair Michael
Powell says he has faith the market will provide.
What's more, he says, he'd rather have the market
decide than government." In this, Powell was reciting
the conservative mantra. Misconstruing Adam Smith,
who warned about the dangers of the invisible
hand of the marketplace trampling the rights and
needs of the people, Powell suggests that business
always knows best. The market will decide. Bigger
experience shows that the very competition that
conservatives claim to embrace is destroyed by
the unrestrained growth of corporate interests.
It's called monopoly: Big fish eat little fish,
over and over, until there are no little fish
left. Look at the thoroughfares of any American
city and ask yourself how many of the businesses
there are locally owned. Instead of cash circulating
within a local and competitive economy, at midnight
every night a button is pushed and the local money
is vacuumed away to Little Rock or Chicago or
is feudalism in its most raw and naked form, just
as the kings and nobles of old sucked dry the
resources of the people they claimed to own. It
is in these arguments for unrestrained corporatism
that we see the naked face of Hamilton's Federalists
in the modern conservative movement. It's the
face of wealth and privilege, of what Jefferson
called a "pseudo-aristocracy," that works to its
own enrichment and gain regardless of the harm
done to the nation, the commons, or the "We, the
is, in its most complete form, the face that would
"drown government in a bathtub"; that sneers at
the First Amendment by putting up "free speech
zones" for protesters; that openly and harshly
suggests that those who are poor, unemployed,
or underemployed are suffering from character
defects. That works hard to protect the corporate
interest, but is happy to ignore the public interest.
That says it doesn't matter what happens to the
humans living in what a national conservative
talk show host laughingly calls "turd world nations."
new conservatives would have us trade in our democracy
for a corporatocracy, a form of feudal government
most recently reinvented by Benito Mussolini when
he recommended a "merger of business and state
interests" as a way of creating a government that
would be invincibly strong. Mussolini called it
a previous Common Dreams op-ed, I pointed out
how media and other corporations will suck up
to government when they think they can get regulations
that will enhance their profits. We see this daily
in the halls of Congress and in the lobbying efforts
directed at our regulatory agencies. We see it
in the millions of dollars in trips and gifts
given to FCC commissioners, that in another era
would have been called bribes.
corporate-embracing conservatives are not working
for what's best for democracy, for America, or
for the interests of "We, The People." They are
explicitly interested in a singular goal: Profits
and the power to maintain them. Under control,
the desire for profit can be a useful thing, as
200 years of American free enterprise have shown.
unrestrained, as George Soros warns us so eloquently,
it will create monopoly and destroy democracy.
The new conservatives are systematically dismantling
our governmental systems of checks and balances;
of considering the public good when regulating
private corporate behavior; of protecting those
individuals, small businesses, and local communities
who are unable to protect themselves from giant
corporate predators. They want to replace government
of, by, and for We, the People, with a corporate
feudal state, turning America's citizens into
their vassals and serfs.
a public revolt in disgust over this unconscionable
behavior will stop these new conservatives from
turning America into a corporate-based clone of
Mussolini's feudal vision. As Longfellow reminds
us, "In the hour of darkness and peril and need/The
people will waken and listen to hear.."
is again that hour, and now is the time for we,
the rabble, to re-awaken our fellow citizens.
Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com) is the author
of over a dozen books, including "Unequal Protection"
and "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," and
the host of a nationally syndicated daily talk
show. www.thomhartmann.com This article is copyright
by Thom Hartmann, but permission is granted for
reprint in print, email, blog, or web media so
long as this credit is attached.
August 11, 2003