Monday, December 17, 2007

My theory on the difference between Republicans and Democrats

This idea has been kicking around in my head for awhile, and it may have absolutely no historical validity, but I finally put it down in writing today when I was commenting on Becky's latest Ron Paul post over at Just a Girl in short shorts talking about whatever. What I said was:

The real conflict in American politics isn't Republican vs. Democrat and it didn't just start in the last say 40 years, it is French vs. Scottish and it started in the mid 1700's.

Despite being educated at William and Mary College (which was founded by scholars associated with the Scottish Enlightenment) Jefferson was really a child of the French Enlightenment. This can be seen in his vision for America as an agricultural nation of Yeoman farmers and his hostility to the idea of corporations. It is also evident in his hostility to organized religion. These are all characteristic of many French Enlightenment writers.

Hamilton (and others) with whom Jefferson was antagonistic believed that America should be a commercial nation and pointed to Scotland's transformation from the poorest nation in Europe to a modern society as a model. Many of them also believed that religion should have a prominent place in civil life. An idea much more in line with the Scottish Enlightenment.


Becky responded back that I was making Jefferson out as a proto-marxist. Since I don't know what a proto-marxist is I will have to take her word for it, but the more I have been thinking about it today the more I think I am correct about the origins of the differences of the two parties. Now I just have to prove it.

........

I did a quick Google search and I can't find anyone else that has specifically addressed this issue although this article is close:

The two Enlightenments today

The two Enlightenments were not a passing phase of history. If we still debate their character, it is not only as an exercise in the intellectual history of the eighteenth century (although that is warrant enough), but as a forecast of the social history of later times. The spirit of the French Enlightenment may be seen in communism, for example, which aspired to the "regeneration" of man, the creation of a "new people" liberated from the old pieties and constraints; or in socialism, which sought the "common good of men" in a society and economy that transcended the good and the will of individual men; or in the welfare state, with its penchant for social-engineering, which could well be described as "the struggle to impose man's rational will on the environment"; or in the modern disposition for "value-free" social policies inspired by an ostensibly "value-free" social ethic, which recalls the "reason" that the philosophes valued so highly.

In the last few years, we have been witnessing--in the United States, if not in Britain--something like a turning away from the French Enlightenment and toward the British. It is curious to find social thinkers and policy makers recapitulating, unwittingly, the essential ingredients of the British Enlightenment: the idea of compassion that was at the heart of this moral philosophy; the political economy that made of natural liberty a moral as well as economic principle; and the evangelical movement that played so large a part in the philanthropic and humanitarian spirit of the time. It was an impressive, not predictable, and perhaps not entirely compatible conjunction of forces that made up the British Enlightenment. And it is a no less impressive, unpredictable, and somewhat incompatible conjunction of forces that are defining--or redefining--the social ethic today.


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