Monday, December 15, 2008

Aristocrats of New England, Unite!

More of HBO's John Adams.

I must say I like this Thomas Jefferson fellow. It is pleasurable watching him spar with a man named Alexander Hamilton over questions of centralized power, especially regarding finance. I believe Jefferson may have been ahead of his time -- except that he owned slaves, expelled natives, and didn't adequately anticipate industrialism. Nonetheless, his philosophical affinity for anarchism stands out at a time when republicanism was still a heady trip. I suspect he eventually capitulates to the latter in practice -- he was president for crying out loud -- if not in philosophy.

What is lost in the constant obsessing over the founding fathers are the sort of people who got it right from the beginning. The problem is that very few were white, landholding males. This presents audiences with a choice: are you interested in historical figures who most share your contemporary values, or with white men who assumed authority and, by consequence, significance? If you think slavery was wrong, you may be surprised that many slaves shared this forward-thinking attitude. I am sure none of them thought "it had to be." The same goes for making native Americans extinct: they weren't explicitly opposed to sharing the continent, you know. But if our frame of reference is merely "what needed to happen to build the republic" with "the republic" being dominated by a European propertied class, then you end up with a bunch of historical necessities that were only "necessary" for a very small portion of the population.

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