Civic Revolution: "to alter or to abolish"
by Richard D. Vogel
Permission to copy granted
Principles of Democracy
The American Revolution of 1776 was the beginning of the most profound political experiment in history. It offered a clear alternative in a brutal world where all established governments were based on privilege and tyranny. The aggrieved American colonists presented their argument for democratic revolution to the world in The Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Power from the Consent of the Governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such Principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
The founding principles for this new democratic state were set forth in the preamble to The Constitution of the United States of America in 1787:
We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure the domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The promise of democracy in America has been hollowed out by corporate domination of the US government. Today justice is for sale; domestic tranquility is threatened by growing economic inequality; the machinery of national defense is employed regularly as a corporate police force; the government promotes the welfare of the rich at the expense of working people; and the majority of the US population and their descendants face an uncertain future.
An Early Warning from Tom Paine
The greatest threat to democracy is economic inequality. Tom Paine (1737-1809), the man who helped win the common people of the American colonies to the side of revolution with stirring essays like Common Sense and American Crisis and staunchly defended the principles of the French Revolution in his historic Rights of Man, expressed his deep concern for the future of democracy in his last major political essay, Agrarian Justice.
In Agrarian Justice, Paine emphasized the difference between law and justice. He recognized the right of personal property, but, at the same time, observed that all production is social production and when one segment of society monopolizes the means and products of social production, the mass of the people is unjustly deprived of the fruits of its labor. Governments that support such exploitative systems are inevitably despotic and unstable. Only true representative democracy based on principles of distributive justice offers liberty and security to any nation. To this end, Paine advocated redistributing a share of the products of social production to ensure social justice and preserve democracy.
The neoconservative hijacking of US democracy that was initiated under the administration of Ronald Reagan is a modern manifestation of the despotism generated by monopoly that Paine warned the legislators and citizens of the newly established democracies about.
The Neoconservative Hijacking of US Democracy
A candid review of neocon policies that have produced the current economic crisis in the USA reveals the roots of the present problems and underscores the imperative to reclaim democracy.
- The neoconconservative hijacking of the US government was anti-democratic from the beginning. Neocon politicians established a political contract with a small but powerful constituency that has benefited both at the expense of the nation at large.
- In a mere 30 years of neoconservative political rule, the USA has been transformed from the self-reliant workshop of the world to a dependent debtor nation. The economic bubbles created by finance capitalism have burst, one after another, leaving economic ruin in their wake. The reconstruction of the US economy, which has not yet begun, is going to take decades of hard work.
- The offshoring of American jobs and mass importing of foreign goods and services under government sponsored policies of neoliberal globalization are enriching a small minority of Americans while bankrupting the working people of the nation. Neocon attempts to establish guest worker programs to supply an unlimited reserve service and industrial workforce that will further undercut citizen-workers are ongoing.
- The unregulated activities of transnational corporations facilitated by client governments at home and abroad are driving global climate change. The fossil-fuel industry, concerned only with delivering dividends to their stockholders, has derailed every attempt to confront this dire environmental crisis.
- After the fall of the Soviet Union, neoconservative politicians converted the US military into the guardian of the interests and assets of transnational corporations, producing a naked empire that is despised by freedom loving people of the world. The citizen-soldiers of the past have been replaced by professional soldiers whose citizenship is compromised the moment they enlist. The Armed Forces Enlistment/Reenlistment Document (DD Form 4) reads more like an open-ended agreement to submit to the conditions of indentured servitude than a legal contract between a free citizen and her/his government.
- The neocon strategy to privatize public services has undermined the general welfare of the nation. The decline of public education, the bedrock of American democracy, is especially egregious. Education in the US has been revamped to serve the neocon agenda. History has been rewritten and civics, the study of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, has been dropped from most curriculums. Other social sciences, like psychology, have been enlisted in the cause. Funding for pure research has been curtailed and the findings of science that don't serve neocon programs are challenged or ignored.
- Neoconservative plans to privatize healthcare will be a boon to the stockholders of insurance companies and healthcare providers but a sentence of misery and death for millions of Americans. The cutbacks to Medicare and Medicaid are already impacting the lives of elderly and poor Americans.
- Neocon criminal justice policy, in place since the 1980s, has established the USA as the Prisonhouse of Nations. The United States imprisons more of its citizens than any nation in history. The public policy of warehousing the relative surplus population of the nation has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and all but precluded efforts for the rehabilitation of prisoners.
- Neocon politicians reinstituted the barbaric practice of capital punishment in the US. The death penalty, the ultimate symbol of the power of the state over the individual, has been renounced by democratic nations around the world.
- Neoconservative politicians have perverted American justice. They have gone as far as attacking the right of habeas corpus, the ultimate protection of the individual against the tyranny of the state. Neocon "Three Strikes and You're Out" legislation has resulted in sentences of life in prison for tens of thousands of US prisoners.
- The neocons have systematically undermined the Bill of Rights guaranteed to all citizens by the US Constitution. Freedom of speech and the press have been abridged by media consolidation and the prohibitive costs of communication; the rights of privacy and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures are systematically violated by the state under national security policies; the right to trial by jury has been subverted by the high cost of justice and the widespread practice of plea bargaining; the rights of citizens to sue for damages under common law have been curtailed by neocon tort reform; and, under the pressure of mass incarceration, cruel and unusual punishment is widely inflicted on prisoners nationwide.
Civic Revolution: "to alter or to abolish"
It is clear that the current government of the United States, dominated by neoconservative politicians and legions of corporate lobbyists, has thoroughly subverted US democracy in pursuit of narrow class interests. The neoconservative hijacking of US democracy succeeded only because a critical mass of citizens were persuaded to vote against their own interests by ruthless politicians who assailed the nation with campaigns of lies and fear. The neocons capitalized on the civil unrest of the 1960s and 1970s by pledging to "Take Back Our Streets" through a War on Crime. They promised to end the post-Vietnam recession by dismantling all institutions for public welfare, reducing taxation on the rich, and relying on "trickle-down economics" to provide economic opportunity for the nation at large. They vowed that the 21st century would be a New American Century based on US military power. The neocons claimed that they were backed by a Moral Majority, asserting that those who did not support them were immoral and unpatriotic. It was all lies and fear-mongering.
The founding principles of American democracy offer a way to break free of neoconservative domination:
…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends [the principles of democracy], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such Principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
This is the basic right of civic revolution on which the future of democracy in America depends. The majority of the American people, committed to the principle of liberty and justice for all, can find the ways and means to make it work.
(For an in-depth discussion of civic revolution see Civic Revolution: Securing Human Rights and Responsibilities in the USA .)