A Small Medium at Large – Galen Chadwick
“Man does not weave this web of life. He is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” Chief Seattle
“When white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, tho’ ransomed by their friends . . . [They] take the first opportunity of escaping again into the woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.” Benjamin Franklin
Back in the 1740’s a hot topic at the Junto, an intellectual club organized by Franklin (and the predecessor of the American Philosophical Society), was “Which is the best form of government, and what form first prevailed among mankind?” Revolutionaries such as Franklin were eagerly absorbing Native ideas along with forming strong alliances, all the better to resist British tyranny as conflict wore on.
Britain, it should be noted, has a long tradition of getting violently involved in everybody’s business. British troops have invaded, controlled or fought in almost 90% of U.N. member states, a record we Americans have topped only through sheer grit, immense cost and Manifest Destiny. Our “special relationship” with their Empire, however, though often repeated, is never quite explained.
To the long list of “things we never voted for,” add England’s overthrow of Iran’s elected president in 1953, orchestrated by British Petroleum, the CIA and American ambassador Kermit Roosevelt. (You’d think they’d have gotten over it by now). Cut to today’s news about Christopher Steele, the “retired” MI-6 spy and his discredited effort to frame President Trump: Look! Up there in the sky! It’s Russian Collusion Man! The hypnotic absence of media curiosity over the straight line connection of Steele to the small world atop England’s espionage nest reeks of misdirection. The Crown (i.e., City Bank and oceans of Brexit money at stake), would never, never, never, never, never, never meddle in our politics!
Back in Franklin’s day, when the pioneers were sorely buffeted by contending European empires, there was nothing inevitable about thirteen separate colonies becoming a single, united nation. Against all odds they produced our Constitution, the greatest governing document ever devised by human beings.
But with the passing of subsequent generations, the founder’s great skepticism of big government was betrayed. Various provisions of the Constitution have been deliberately deformed by feats of deceitful legal alchemy, have turned corporations into “individuals” (The Atlantic 3/5/18), and given powerful private banks the “right” to create debt money (The Creature From Jekyll Island).
Along with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, originalism is much in today’s news. Conservative judges view originalism as an essential bulwark against the judicial and presidential usurpation of legislative powers. Liberals believe such a philosophy hinders social progress. Both have their points, yet two squarely opposed social principles or goals remain: First, the enforcement of private (and now corporate persons) property rights against invasion and second, the economic (and now environmental) well-being of a community.
But the underlying question remains: which is the best form of government if not the old bones of European feudalism? In answer, Franklin borrowed extensively from the people of the Six Nations, called the Iroquois Confederacy by the French. The following excerpt comes from Utah Senator Mike Lee’s inspired book, Written Out of History: The Forgotten Founders Who Fought Big Government:
“The Iroquois presided over a vast, powerful and advanced civilization and had developed and put into practice the basic ideas of federalism and political liberty without having any exposure to John Locke, Adam Smith or Rousseau et al who suggested much later that such things were possible.”
Lee notes that Cadwaller Colden, a colonial official with extensive experience dealing with the Iroquois, had written: “The five nations have such absolute Notions of Liberty that they allow no kind of Superiority of one over the other, and banish all Servitude from their Territories.” Franklin, who participated in treaty-making contacts with Iroquois societies, observed that they were largely free of social stratification and oppression. While certainly not a utopia, most colonists knew that their Native American neighbors upheld a system of egalitarianism and informal democratic process that tied different tribes in a permanent alliance they could only envy. Lee continues:
“In October of 1753, Benjamin Franklin, early in a distinguished diplomatic career that would later make him the United States’ premier envoy in Europe, attended a treaty council at Carlisle, Pennsylvania . . . (he) listened while Scarrooyada (a great Oneida chief) recounted the origins of the Great Law to the Ohio Indians:
“We must let you know, that there was a friendship established by our and your Grandfathers, and a mutual Council fire was kindled. In this friendship all those under the ground, who had not yet obtained eyes or faces (that is, those unborn) were included; and it was then mutually permitted to tell the same to their children and children’s children.”
Absent in the English Constitution, and from the minds of colonial lawyers trained in it, was inclusion of something like the Great Law. Absent yet today is a proactive regard for future generations, and by extension, the primacy of the web of life itself. Todays “law as economics” [see Aug. 16th D.C. Herald] will not advance the goal of protecting the individual over the power of the state until pinned to planetary health and economic stability in relation to future time.
Franklin shrewdly observed that, when given the choice, our children will voluntarily flee our way of life for the radical liberty of the wilderness “from whence there is no reclaiming them.” He might as well have added that when people truly love each other the world would not need bankers, lawyers, cops and armies in the first place. Human tribes traversed the long ice age millennia only by sustaining unconditional love for their children and for generations unborn.
“Savages we call them because their manners differ from ours, which we think the perfection of civility; they think the same of theirs. The Indian men, when young, are hunters and warriors; when old, counsellors; for all their government is by counsel of the sages; there is no force; there are no prisons, no officers to compel obedience or inflict punishment.”
Working together for over 800 years, these Native Americans comprised the oldest participatory democracy on earth. This means that individual citizens participate directly in political decisions and policies that affect their lives rather than through elected representatives. I’ll bring up the Swiss model another time.
The original United States was created as a representative democracy, founded on the principle of elected officials representing a group of people as opposed to direct democracy. The omission of participatory democracy was both intentional and arguably necessary, yet this left wide the path to corruption and dark dealing, not because we wanted such but because it came in the door with us. As the legacy of empire, of our accustomed way of life, today’s rot at the Departments of Justice and the politicized FBI is no accident. It continuance highlights the point.
The 20th century philosopher Rudolph Steiner, teaching from the Christian tradition, could only speculate about possibilities the Iroquois had long achieved: “There is no reason why the free spirit in man should defer to any stereotyped pattern in the interest of the state. It [the free spirit] is not limited by the condition that only those should receive education who can command economic resources.” And so the crux remains: American law believes that how a society defines economic terms and relations will determine who controls it. Conflicts in the philosophy of law still follow, not lead, the interests of the ownership class.
We can’t fight the present arc of American empire; it would only compound the insanity in any case. Such was the lesson under monarchy: We cannot have both empire abroad and democracy at home. Whether it will take great suffering to convince us otherwise is a separate point. What we can personally do, however, is to insert love into our watershed-defined, local community affairs through the creation of carefully targeted Charitable Foundations. We can protect the “web of life that man did not weave;” we can restore the balance our future requires.
We possess spiritual resources that are not subject to economic pressures! The fulfillment of law ultimately hangs upon a process of self-realization, of knowledge that the intelligence of man is meant to be highly developed, to work in harmony with the divine plan. An element of horizontal (participatory) democracy can be lawfully added to temper the corruption of hierarchical power. The inner science of self-control is, more than ever, as necessary to governance as the outer control of policies and police. We can act wisely; we can heal past mistakes by using a small part of our temporal stash for the sake of the planet.
NEXT WEEK: Waking up is hard to do