Financial, economic and wealth related issues in the broadest sense of the word.
Will The Real Left Please Stand Up
January 3, 2013
Both Left and Right generally treat working people with contempt, relying on the elites in universities, the media, think tanks and government agencies to tell them what working people need. Since it is thought that the masses are unable to understand complex issues such as health, economics or
education, these things have to be decided for them.
The origin of Left and Right wing politics goes back to the National Assembly in pre-revolutionary France. Inside the chamber where the National
Assembly met, members of the Third Estate (the revolutionaries) sat on
the left side and members of the First Estate (the nobility) sat on the
right. Thus, the left wing of the room was more liberal, and the right
wing was more conservative. The Right, whether it consisted of
aristocratic, religious, corporate or monied elites, has always attempted to manipulate, control and exploit working people for its
benefit. The behavior of the Left on the other hand, has been more
inconsistent. There was at least one period in history when the Left
genuinely represented the interests of the masses. Unfortunately, it was a very different Left than we have today.
In the early 19th century the Left wing radicals and progressives in Britain wereclassical liberals and they dominated politics until the First World War. Classical liberals
were the party of hope, radicalism, and revolution in the Western World. They believed in individualism, liberty, equal rights and a free
economy with minimal government interference. In the 19th century
similar ideas were popular in the United States, but they manifested
themselves through the Jeffersonian, Democratic-Republican and Jacksonian movements. On both sides of the Atlantic these ideas were popular because they had inspired the French and American revolutions that had split apart both feudalism and mercantilism, and freed individuals from the shackles of monopolies, caste privileges and exploitative wars.
Classical liberal ideas produced genuine mass movements such as the campaign to repeal the Corn Laws, which had been imposed on England in 1815 to preserve the abnormally high profits made by the landed aristocracy during the Napoleonic War. The abolition of the Corn Laws in 1846 marked the successful culmination of the Anti-Corn League’s work in mobilizing working people against protectionism, which harmed
the interests of the masses by inflating the cost of bread, a staple
part of the working man’s diet.
In the United States, arguably the most successful mass movement of the 19th century, was the ‘homesteading’ land reform movement that grew under the stewardship of the classical liberal, George Henry Evans. When Evans began his crusade in 1829, he had the support of his friends and only a few newspapers in New York. But by 1850, more than 600 of
the approximately 2,000 papers that were published in the United States, supported land reform. In 1862, the first of the homestead laws were passed by Congress providing that any citizen who was either 21 or the head of a family could acquire title to a 160 acre parcel of
federal public land.
Much classical liberal theory is based on trusting working people more than members of the elites. For example, the 19th century classical liberal legal theorist Lysander Spooner, argued for consistent use ofjury nullification. Jury nullification occurs when a jury returns a verdict of “Not Guilty” despite its belief that the defendant is guilty of the violation
charged. The jury in effect nullifies a law that it believes is either
immoral or wrongly applied to the defendant whose fate they are charged
with deciding. Jury nullification evolved to make community opinion a
bulwark against state oppression. For example, it was used in the
pre-Civil War era when northern juries sometimes refused to convict for
violations of the Fugitive Slave Act because jurors felt the laws to be unjust. Today, juries are routinely not informed about their rights in this matter but despite this, jury nullification is still sometimes used to good effect:
Classical liberals such as H. L. Mencken and Albert Jay Nock were still generally regarded as ‘Men of the Left’ through the 1920’s because they opposed war, militarism, Prohibition, the repression of civil liberties and most importantly, a government
which allied itself with big business in a network of special
privileges. However, everything changed with the advent of the New Deal. But that’s another post.