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American Liberty and Infrastructures

by Vigdor Schreibman Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2000 at 7:14 AM
fins2000@earthlink.net (202)547-8715 18 - 9th Street, NE Apt #206, On Capitil Hill, Washington, DC 20002-6042

An outrageous attack has been launched by the Library of Congress, in a book on "Thomas Jefferson: Genius of Liberty. Brought into question is Mr. Jefferson's moral integrity and the legitimacy of his ideas about Freedom and Liberty. If you accept the challenge to Mr. Jefferson what is left: savage capitalism and the "survival of the fittest"! I respond in this News Column.

America Liberty and Democratic Infrastructures

Fins-NC8-04 [Hypertext Document]
American Liberty and Democratic Infrastructures (August 2000)

Communicating the emerging philosophy of the Global Information Age
Vol. 8, Issue Number 04 (August 28, 2000)

American Liberty and Democratic Infrastructures
By Vigdor Schreibman

One must split apart the twin ideals of freedom and liberty, which are the core tenets of America's promise to itself and the world, according to the fictions of "free market" capitalism spinning out of the Library of Congress in a companion book to its bicentennial celebration now under way. This is the story told in the text of Thomas Jefferson: Genius of Liberty published last March by the Library of Congress under the questionable leadership of Dr. James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress. An explanation given in the book asserts that the ideals of freedom and liberty are "logically incompatible" because the ideal of "freedom" necessarily leads to "social and economic inequality."

Thomas Jefferson, which was edited by Joseph J. Ellis, professor of history at Mount Holyoke College, is a book packed with illustrations and reproductions of historical papers (though many of these are quite illegible), published in full color by the Library of Congress together with a private publisher who was granted equal copyright upon this treasure trove of public documents. At face value this publication has the superficial look and feel of an impressive work by the venerable depository of the largest collection of historical documents in the world about American government. Nevertheless, carefully measured in a frame of social systems sciences, those conclusions offered to the world about Mr. Jefferson's contribution to the ideals of freedom and liberty, are actually without a basis in logic, ethics, or esthetics.

This is a work written under the guise of historical analysis and realism, which does violence to the genius of Thomas Jefferson and the American charter documents -- the Declaration of Independence, presumptive foundation for the republican form of democratic government under the Constitution of the United States, and inspiration for Lincoln at Gettysburg in 1863 and Martin Luther King, Jr., a hundred years later. The rationale presented by the Library of Congress for bringing Mr. Jefferson's genius into doubt is that, "restoring a measure of equality means limiting freedom."

In short, it is asserted that the promise of America embodied in the natural rights section of the Declaration of Independence, of which Jefferson was the primal source, 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, is essentially meaningless because those words do no more than "articulate irreconcilable human urges at a sufficiently abstract level to mask their mutual exclusiveness."

There is also a personal attack upon the moral character of Mr. Jefferson, in the bicentennial book, charging that the man was inter alia, hypocritical with regard to the burning questions of slavery, his ownership of slaves, his trading on slave labor for his own pursuit of happiness, his having illicit sexual relations and children by a slave women, Sally Hemings. The charges of illicit sex by a public official are always sensationalized by the mass media in this country because, quite simply, its an emotional topic that sells, but the charges may not be true in this case.

A comprehensive research report on, "The Jeffersonian Perspective," has been prepared by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr., an experienced professional librarian who has a special passion for better understanding of this topic. The Coates Report digs deeply into the case and finds only the most tenuous evidence to support the charges of illicit sex against Mr. Jefferson.

Americans have a right to learn the truth of such charges but even if they were proven to be accurate, a matter brought into serious dispute by the Coates Report, any judgment upon the moral character of Mr. Jefferson, as messenger, two centuries after he lived, outside of the actual sociocultural context in which his life was nurtured, is unrealistic. The Golden Age of Greek civilization was also mired in the slavery question. Would we now trash their contribution to the democratic form of government by a sensationalized slave/sex scandal involving some leading Greek Statesman? Hardly! There is a considerable history of human failings throughout the last several millennium. What we can learn and try to emulate from the solid achievements of human beings during that long period is, in my opinion, of overriding importance to this generation of Americans.

Moreover, one must not confuse questions raised about the messenger with an understanding of his message. The Jeffersonian slave/sex scandal, is really not the issue of primary significance in the bicentennial book published by the Library of Congress. Mr. Jefferson's heroic message about the charter of the nation is!

The shocking challenge offered in the latter respect by the bicentennial book is simply nonsense. The ideas that cast doubt on Mr. Jefferson's vision of freedom and liberty are, rather, mere capitalist fetish , without principled moral, systemic, or scientific weight.

The capitalist morality of the marketplace, which is the dominant alternative paradigm to the Jeffersonian pursuit of freedom and liberty, has produced an ever widening gap in income inequities in the United States, with admittedly rising levels of absolute poverty in the world, and these "afflictions of inequality" lead to unhealthy societies, which cannot be sustained. This condition is caused by the driving forces of the philosophy of greed upon which the capitalist marketplace is predicated, not by the intrinsic nature of human society.

Money-driven politics has erected "a great stone wall ... between the people and their representatives," as reported by former Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ). The rigged and lopsided legislative process imposed by capitalist greed, has produced an Orwellian technological infrastructure,, as reported by Senator John McCain (R-AZ). The idea of the market, as applied to pay, is an analytical tyranny, which has produced a "catastrophic crisis of inequity," described in the book, Created Unequal (1998), by James K. Galbraith, professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin.

The practical efficiencies attributed to "free market" theory, which are derived from capitalist greed, is a perception founded upon ignorance. Individual market transactions, which disregard the goals of social equity and ecological integrity, which are essential to the well being of "the People" and survival of the biosphere of the Planet Earth are, as I have previously described: a formula for death. Indeed, except by the entirely discredited 19th-century economic theory of laissez faire capitalism, which has no credible intellectual foundation, and is otherwise without a mandate in the American Constitution as Mr. Justice Holmes explained in his famous dissent in Lochner v. New York, 198 US 45, 74-76 (1904), there can be no freedom without liberty in any community, certainly not in a community organized under the republican (i.e., democratic) form of government guaranteed by the American charter, see generally City of Eastlake v. Forest City Enterprises, Inc., 426 US 668, 672 (1976), citing The Federalist No. 39 (J. Madison). Citizens of a democratic community cannot live together freely in a state of bondage by the few over the many guided by no principle but the "survival of the fittest," which capitalism imposes!

Practical actions in the market without normative ends, based on a philosophy of greed, "could not produce anything but the most dire consequences" according to the commentaries of Charles S. Peirce (1839-1914), American philosopher and polymath, reviewed in V.G. Potter, On Norms & Ideals 176 (1997). Peirce's treatise on "Pragmatism and the Normative Sciences," and his analysis of the evolutionary theory of "Social Darwinism" Id., at 52, 175-176, for which he has earned internationally acclaim, was a devastating repudiation of the capitalist philosophy. Indeed, capitalist "free market" theory has been debunked by American sociologist James Coleman (1990), as no more than "a broadly perpetrated fiction".

What one is prompted to recognize by the challenge of the bicentennial book produced by the Library of Congress, is not that the ideals of freedom and liberty are "logically incompatible" but that the fictions of savage capitalism weighed against the fundamental promise of democracy in the America charter, are mutually exclusive.

For one to be free all must be equally free. These are not "mutually exclusive" ideas, but rather, mutually interdependent principles to be learned, and to encourage and facilitate such knowledge a democratic infrastructure and educational system must be designed and constructed by "government of the people, by the people, for the people." It is predicated on just such pragmatic social ideals that global citizens are now engaged in the design and development of postcapitalist, democratic, value-driven infrastructures.

  • One segment of this development has engaged the global people in a positively revolutionary anti-capitalist, anti-globalization political protest movement fostered by mushrooming Independent Media Centers. IMCs have a vital role to play in providing a channel of communications that can guarantee equal access, uncensored by silence or distorted by a rigged and lopsided competition of ideas imposed by major investor interests on the mass media. This opportunity may be most significant in terms of serving non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who, it is now believed, "have filled the information vacuum that exists due to low trust and confidence in government and business, therefore giving NGOs greater credibility," according to a June 2000 telephone survey of American, European, and Asian "opinion elites," reported by C. Gerald Fraser in Earth Times News Service (Aug 1-31, 2000).
  • Another segment is focused upon improvement of long-term viability of civil infrastructures in communities: for transportation, water supply, wastewater treatment, electric power, and telecommunication systems. This development is being carried out under the guidance of the recently established Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems (ICIS), which was funded in 1998 by a 5-year grant from the National Science Foundation. The Institute came to Washington, DC, Aug 14, 2000, and held a workshop and panel on, "Social Dimensions of Innovative Infrastructure Technology," to which I was invited by Professor Rae Zimmerman, the director of ICIS. Professor Zimmerman and other panel members confirmed that civil infrastructures around the country are presently in bad condition, public trust and confidence in these institutions is low, and public apathy high. Turning this situation around is logically depend, in significant respects, upon the extent to which non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are trusted by the public join these efforts and a vision is adopted for development of the new civil infrastructures, with a viable strategy, derived not from a philosophy of greed but from an ethic of public service rooted in Jeffersonian freedom and liberty. For example, if revitalization of civil infrastructures helped reverse the current trend of "[b]eggar-your-neighbour globalization" guided by a philosophy of greed and instead supported "better-your-neighbour localization" guided by the pursuit of Jeffersonian freedom and liberty this vision might have significant appeal to NGOs and motivate their creative engagement in the program to revitalize civil infrastructures.
  • Deep systems learning is yet another important branch of this ongoing democratic renaissance, modeled after the Agoras of the City States of the Classical Greek Period, which were "public spheres" where true Democracy was lived by citizens, who made collective decisions about issues affecting their daily lives. Inspired by their story, Bela Banathy, one of the leading systems scientists in the world, informed FINS about plans to develop New Agoras of the 21st Century. As reported in their new website, "This idea is a metaphor for social action contexts in which people can make collective decisions about their future."

The articulation of mutually interdependent principles for guidance of the American civilization by the genius of Thomas Jefferson, provided no mask of abstractions cloaking "irreconcilable human urges." The principles of freedom and liberty for all established the spiritual foundations of democracy in the new world, which have fueled the everlasting aspirations of the American people, and the global people, as well.

Jeffersonian abstractions are superbly consistent with the moral, systemic, and scientific enlightenment of humankind. Where capitalism and the pursuit of wealth and power are derived from a narrow means-centered psychology without genuine human purpose, advocates are largely blind to the value-driven psychology that is the real basis of the ideals of freedom and liberty See e.g. D. Yankelovich, New Rules (1981); A. Maslow, Motivation and Personality (2d ed. 1970). It is this psychological blindness that drives the deeply flawed bicentennial book.

The ideal of an "orderly and coherent corpus of knowledge," as defined by Kenneth Boulding, was predicated upon the ability made possible by systems sciences (the discipline that Boulding pioneered) to integrate increasingly fragmented disciplines at higher levels of abstraction. Moreover, in the postmodern, postindustrial, postcapitalist era there is growing awareness that improvement of the system of human society and its environment must be predicated upon the ethics of whole systems supported by democratic infrastructures. In practical terms, these ideas bring into focus the fundamental human right of the people "to take part directly in making decisions that affect their lives and to guide their own destiny."

The exercise of citizenship and achievement of freedom and liberty are dependent upon that human right of the people, which is the basis of American democracy drawn from the Golden Age of Greek civilization. In his remarks about the public interest in democratic politics, Pericles (495-429 b.c.), the popular leader in Athens at the zenith of Greek civilization, observed: Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs, but in the affairs of the state as well ... We do not say that a man who takes no interests in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all ... Thucydides, from "Pericles' Funeral Speech," The Peloponnesian War, (R. Warner trans. 1954): p. ii, quoted in N. Davies, Europe, A History (Oxford 1996).

The process of creating such strong commitment to democratic existence builds up the psychic powers that integrate individuals by harmonizing of differences through interpenetration of ideas, as explained by Mary Parker Follett, the early 20th-century sage of democracy now celebrated as a Prophet of Management (1996). Social power is, thereby, also created. These are the spiritual conditions of "guided evolution" for New Agoras of the 21st Century, the postcapitalist revolution of "conscious evolution," when it becomes our responsibility to enter into the evolutionary design space and guide the evolutionary journey of our species, see B.H. Banathy, Guided Societal Evolution: A Systems View (2000).

Breaking away from the ancient patterns that limited individual initiative and self-governance, the Jeffersonian ethic of freedom and liberty, called for "popular control pushed to the maximum of its practicable exercise." Breaking away from the tyranny of the strong man, the corrupt party boss, and the arrogant technical expert -- all seeking to exploit social chaos and assert unilateral power over the democratic assembly -- "the People" now have the knowledge and experience, and they are discovering the discipline to share social power with each other facilitated by a "technique for democracy".

These developments would place the individual citizen and the groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) through which they increasingly function, "at the center of authority" over social change movements, allowing "conscious evolution" to secure a desirable future for their families and communities. With such adjustments in shared power, a fair competition of ideas may be pursued concerning the forces of localization and globalization. Critical balance of those forces must be guided not by raw power and competitive advantage but by an ethic of democratic sustainability, "based on the advancement of ecological integrity, social equity and economic prosperity as mutually reinforcing goals." The well organized citizens' protests against globalization have already opened the possibilities for such changes, but genuine change must be more than a new "free market" swan song called "sustainable development" used merely "to dress up the failed market system."

Mr. Jefferson's genius is not stuck in a time warp irrelevant to contemporary America, as suggested by the Library of Congress bicentennial book. Rather, he was more than two centuries ahead of his time. By pursuit of the abstractions of freedom and liberty as a dynamic social aspiration of everyone, the whole global civilization is called upon to bring their awesome creative efforts into harmonious relations. Those who would supplant the pursuit of such a democracy for a "free market" philosophy of greed, which, like a cancer, would kill the host body that gives it life, have "no business here at all."


Federal Information News Syndicate, Vigdor Schreibman, Editor & Publisher,
18 - 9th Street NE #206, Washington, DC 20002-6042. Copyright 2000 FINS.
Phone: (202) 547-8715; Email: fins2000@EarthLink.net
Browse Fins Information Age Library at URL: http://sunsite.utk.edu/FINS/
Republication authorized for nonprofit use only, provided message is kept intact.

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