Tag Archives: classical liberalism

Why Are Republicans So Mean? – An Exploration

Revelations this week that the Orangutan Administration is going ahead with plans to repeal the ACA, as reported by myself and Joe Paduda, as well as the announcement by Education Secretary Betsy (I have ten yachts) DeVos, that her budget calls for cutting $18 million from Special Olympics, raises the question, “why are Republicans so mean?” and why do they hate the poor and those not like them?

This article will explore this question from an economic, ideological, political and sociological perspective, citing several previously published articles asking the same question as the title above. It is certainly not definitive, but does suggest some possible explanations.

To begin with, a little history. The Republican Party was formed due to the inability of the Whig Party to deal with the question of slavery and the disappointment many Northern Democrats had with their Southern brethren over this issue, one that occupied a central focus in the second quarter of the first half of the 19th century.

While that twenty-five year period ended in 1850, it is important to note that the GOP was founded in 1854, which is still in the range of the time frame.

After the Civil War, the Republican Party was made up of two wings: the Radical Republicans who favored Reconstruction and harsh treatment of former Southern Confederates (this will have a bearing on our discussion later) and the conservatives who were aligned with the Eastern bankers and industrialists.

In fact, it was the conservatives who, as pointed out in the Spielberg motion picture, “Lincoln”, that made it possible for the passage of the 13th Amendment when they were assured by the President that there were no Southern negotiators in Washington (They were on a riverboat in Virginia being guarded by African-American Union soldiers).

However, after the election of 1876, when Rutherford Hayes became President by promising the South to end Reconstruction, the Radical Republicans were slowly replaced by more conservative Northern Republicans loyal to the industrialists who would dominate the second quarter of the second half of the 19th century, and thus lead to future calls for reform and addressing of the effects industrialization had on the working class.

So as their wealth increased, so too did the misery and poverty of the working class, and this led to the rise within the GOP of a progressive movement, and a likewise movement among the rural population in the Midwest in the form of populism.

With the ascendancy of Theodore Roosevelt to the Presidency in 1901, progressivism took off, and many Republicans led the way for political, economic, and social reform. A brief return to the past in the 1920s under three successive Republican Presidents was followed by the election of FDR and the Democrats controlling Congress for decades to come, making more reform possible, and creating the largest middle class in history.

By the mid-20th century , the Republican Party had three wings: conservatives, moderates, and liberals. Barry Goldwater’s run in 1964, and Robert Taft’s in 1952 sort to change the dynamics in favor of the conservatives, but only meant they lost the battle, but won the war.

Then came Reagan, the first celebrity President. He brought victory to the conservatives and into government. Remember, he said that government was not the solution, government was the problem, and thus, that is how the GOP would operate when they took over.

Turning to the economic aspect of why Republicans are mean, let us look at something written a hundred years ago, Max Weber’s essay, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

According to Wikipedia,

“capitalism in Northern Europe evolved when the Protestant (particularly Calvinist) ethic influenced large numbers of people to engage in work in the secular world, developing their own enterprises and engaging in trade and the accumulation of wealth for investment. In other words, the Protestant work ethic was an important force behind the unplanned and uncoordinated emergence of modern capitalism.

So in this context, Protestantism, or rather its Calvinist form, which influenced the Puritans of New England, formed the moral and ethical basis for the rise of modern capitalism, and while the descendants of the Puritans today in New England are decidedly more liberal than in the past, due to evangelical missionaries in the late 18th and throughout the 19th centuries, in what historians call the Great Awakenings, these values were transmitted to people in the South and Midwest, or were carried with them during western expansion.

As for the South, as mentioned earlier, the debate over slavery has some bearing on why many of today’s Republican leaders in Congress are Southerners, and what that means for the country’s direction these past thirty years or so.

Sara Robinson’s article in Salon.com, attempts to answer why this is so, and sheds light on the difference between North and South. To begin with, despite the rise of Capitalism from Calvinist Protestantism, seen originally among the Puritan settlers, Robinson states that,

For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society).”

On the other hand, Robinson relates that the New England-based aristocracy is opposed by,

…the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.

Robinson cites David Hackett Fisher who,

described just how deeply undemocratic the Southern aristocracy was, and still is. He documents how these elites have always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press.

In addition, Robinson cites Colin Woodward, who wrote that,

…From the outset, Deep Southern culture was based on radical disparities in wealth and power, with a tiny elite commanding total obedience and enforcing it with state-sponsored terror. Its expansionist ambitions would put it on a collision course with its Yankee rivals, triggering military, social, and political conflicts that continue to plague the United States to this day.

However, Robinson writes that the most destructive aspect of the Southern’s worldview,

is the extremely anti-democratic way it defined the very idea of liberty. In Yankee Puritan culture, both liberty and authority resided mostly with the community, and not so much with individuals. Communities had both the freedom and the duty to govern themselves as they wished (through town meetings and so on), to invest in their collective good, and to favor or punish individuals whose behavior enhanced or threatened the whole (historically, through community rewards such as elevation to positions of public authority and trust; or community punishments like shaming, shunning or banishing).”

Robinson continues,

Individuals were expected to balance their personal needs and desires against the greater good of the collective — and, occasionally, to make sacrifices for the betterment of everyone. (This is why the Puritan wealthy tended to dutifully pay their taxes, tithe in their churches and donate generously to create hospitals, parks and universities.) In return, the community had a solemn and inescapable moral duty to care for its sick, educate its young and provide for its needy — the kind of support that maximizes each person’s liberty to live in dignity and achieve his or her potential. A Yankee community that failed to provide such support brought shame upon itself. To this day, our progressive politics are deeply informed by this Puritan view of ordered liberty.”

Conversely, Robinson states,

In the old South, on the other hand, the degree of liberty you enjoyed was a direct function of your God-given place in the social hierarchy. The higher your status, the more authority you had, and the more “liberty” you could exercise — which meant, in practical terms, that you had the right to take more “liberties” with the lives, rights and property of other people.”

Anytime a Southern conservative talks about “losing his liberty”, Robinson follows with, the loss of this absolute domination over the people and property under his control — and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws that he was once exempt from — is what he’s really talking about. In this view, freedom is a zero-sum game. Anything that gives more freedom and rights to lower-status people can’t help but put serious limits on the freedom of the upper classes to use those people as they please. It cannot be any other way. So they find Yankee-style rights expansions absolutely intolerable, to the point where they’re willing to fight and die to preserve their divine right to rule.”

This would appear to not only apply to the justification for the South’s secession from the Union in the 19th century, but for the way Southern politicians, both Democrats (remember, many were Southerners who were promised committee chairmanships by FDR to get the New Deal passed) and Republicans after passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 led to Southerners fleeing the Democratic Party for what LBJ said would be for a generation, have acted towards any legislation that would cause them to lose their liberty. Today, we call that White Privilege.

For an ideological perspective, Marc-William Palen, in Foreign Policy in Focus, provides us with a clear understanding that the Republican Party is not merely a party of classical liberalism, but something different from what it was when it was founded.

According to Palen,

From its mid-nineteenth-century founding, the Republican Party was the party of big government, high tariffs, and government-subsidized internal improvements. The exceptions to this rule were the Gilded Age Liberal Republicans. In their vocal calls for laissez faire principles, these Liberal Republicans quickly became the independent thorns in the side of the Republican elephant throughout the first decades following the Civil War. When the big-government Republican majority continued to prove intractable, these Liberal Republicans became known as the “Mugwumps” when they ultimately switched their support to the Democrats in 1884.

Palen writes that classical liberalism was founded on moral sentiments, and that these moral sentiments, “are almost non-existent within the Republican rank and file, especially since the ultra-nationalist party draped itself in the red, white, and blue following 9-11, and led the jingoistic charge into Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nor is morality to be found amid the incessant Republican demands to cut social spending,” he says, pointing out what Grover Norquist, the driving force behind the GOP’s anti-tax, small government ideology when he said in 2001,  he wanted to

shrink government to the point where he “could drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.

Palen suggests that if the Republicans current ideology is not found in classical liberalism, then where does it come from? Palen says, Ayn Rand’s pronounced atheism and intellectual elitism certainly does not align with the ideological outlook of most Republicans. And, he says, there is perhaps an element of a Social Darwinian “survival of the fittest” ethos—although no Republican politician is likely to admit to subscribing to anything associated with the theory of evolution.

So where does it come from?

…a large part of Republican ideological inspiration stems from fear. In particular, it is a reactionary ideological response to the turbulent upheavals inherent in an increasingly globalizing world. Such fears—let’s call it “globaphobia”—are frequently expressed on issues such as immigration, global terrorism, global warming, and American participation in international institutions like the United Nations. The massive federal intervention in the so-called free market following the global financial meltdown invariably exacerbated Republican fears that government intrusion in the market— and Keynesian economics more generally—would eventually undermine American individualism, citing Douglas LaBier.

However, Palen says it is not entirely satisfactory. According to Palen,

their fear-driven ideological inspiration dovetails with the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, who predated Adam Smith by a century and who expounded on an amoral philosophy of self-interested individualism, counterbalanced by acquiescence to authoritarianism. Hobbes believed that a strong state prevented “war of every man against every man,” a chaotic type of warfare that Republicans believe is contained within al-Qaeda’s radical philosophy.

As we have seen, there is no one answer to why Republicans are mean. It seems to be a combination of factors all valid and relevant to today’s political climate in Washington and in the nation at large.

But nothing ever is just as simple as being mean. since we are dealing with human beings and not machines.

For our purposes, health care is just one more “liberty” conservatives are afraid of losing, so therefore, they will deny it to others, so that they can have more of it. Any discussion of universal coverage in a single payer health care system is a threat to their liberty, and therefore must be opposed. Add to that, the economic loss of profit and gain by those in the medical-industrial complex, and you get a clearer picture of the problem.

But to answer the question raised at the beginning, why are the Republicans so mean? It’s because it is in their DNA passed on from one generation of conservatives to another like our genes are passed down from our parents, grandparents, and so on.

Now the question is, what to do about it?