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View Diary: David Brooks Please read a history book (14 comments)

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  •  Jefferson may not have actually uttered (2+ / 0-)
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    ConfusedSkyes, sydneyluv

    the term 'laissez faire', and the federal government has played a greater role in shaping American history than many conservatives will ever admit.  However Brooks is right that there has been throughout American history a creed of individualism and fear of government power that was and is strongly felt by large segments of rural, white Protestant America.  Among other things, Jefferson once wrote:

    “To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, ‘the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, and the fruits acquired by it.’”

    “I, however, place economy among the first and most important republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared.”

    “I am for a government rigorously frugal and simple. Were we directed from Washington when to sow, when to reap, we should soon want bread.”

    “I think we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious."

    A more obnoxiously Randian, teabaggerish set of statements, you cannot find.  But the fact is, the sentiments uttered above by Jefferson are deeply embedded in white Protestant American culture.  As historian Richard Hofstader wrote in The Age of Reform:
    The fear that Americans might be completely divested of control over their own affairs confirmed a well-established trait in the national character: the distrust of authority…This distrust of authority has often been turned against the government, particularly when the government was felt to be strong or growing in strength.  It was called upon during the agitations that led to the American Revolution, and it gave tenacity to the most ardent supporters of the Revolutionary War.  It helped impede the adoption of the Federal Constitution, it was invoked to justify secession, it caused Americans to postpone into the twentieth century governmental responsibilities that were assumed decades earlier among other Western societies, and in recent years it has sustained a large part of the population in its resistance to the innovations of the New Deal.  (Hofstader, The Age of Reform, 229)
    So while, as you say, Americans have long used the federal government to shape the private sector, whether through public works, tariffs or public education, the very same Americans have strongly-held and seemingly contradictory notions of hyper-individualism and unfettered economic liberty.  I'm no fan of David Brooks, but here his telling of this particular aspect of American history and culture is not bullshit, it was and is very real.

    “Th’ noise ye hear is not th’ first gun iv a revolution. It’s on’y th’ people iv the United States batin’ a carpet.” - Mr. Dooley

    by puakev on Sat Nov 10, 2012 at 12:38:44 AM PST

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