While there were never large numbers of Black Confederate combatants, they did exist and there were many more who served willingly in a non-combatant role. To deny this fact is simply to ignore the evidence in order to create a false historical narrative. This in no way justifies slavery OR secession and it raises the conundrum of why these African Americans did serve in the Rebel armies–something which no mainstream historian wishes to tackle, since it would cost them their academic tenure.
(May 10, 2019) Today’s article is obtained from a blog post by C. W. Rodenwho is a South Carolina member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. His analysis of Black Confederates is the most objective and authoritative discussion I have yet seen. While he estimates that the number who actually fought probably did not exceed five thousand he provides convincing evidence that a great many more served willingly as non-combatants. Most importantly, he cogently demonstrates that the white Confederate veterans themselves honored the black participants after the war.
One example involves the Southern Cross of Honor medal created by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in 1899. The medal was a high honor that could only be bestowed by the UDC to Confederate veterans. Even today a Virginia statute makes it a crime for anyone to wear one who has not earned the privilege. As documented by the…
“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.” General Obi-Wan Kenobi, (Ret.)
For many devoted fans of Star Trek (not Star Wars) something terrible HAS happened. Since upstart Producer Alec Peters surrendered to the Klingon Empire—sorry, I mean CBS–there has been a disturbance in the fan film Force that continues to reverberate. Peters, of course, had little choice, given that CBS’s deep corporate pockets had the ability to pursue the lawsuit to infinity–and beyond–regardless of its merits. This is how big business crushes opposition, real or imagined, and Alec Peters little project was obviously viewed as a threat, ostensibly because it was, “too good.”
For now, then, Les Moonves is reveling in his role as Ming the Merciless of the Star Trek TV franchise universe (Paramount has the movie half of that universe, but more of that another time). CEO Moonves now, seemingly, wields absolute power over Star Trek fans and their puny earthling attempts at emulating their mentor and founder Roddenberry. But let me suggest that this triumph is illusory and that what Moonves and his army of corporate lawyers and television hacks have done is sown the wind of discord which may yet net them a whirlwind of fan animosity and financial disaster for CBS. If that does indeed come to pass, the blame should be lain squarely at the feet of the Media Mogul/Emperor Palpatine himself.
This is not the first time that Moonves has come down like a ton of bricks on someone whom he deemed to have defied his Imperial dignity. In 2006, Moonves ordered his minions at CBS to file a $500 million lawsuit against shock jock Howard Stern for breach of contract. Stern had been negotiating a deal with Sirius Satellite Radio and failed to properly notify his lord and master, or so CBS claimed. Unlike Peters, however, Stern was not one to be bullied so easily. Stern lawyered up and went on the offensive, even to the point of going on CBS’s own Late Show with David Letterman, where he wore a shirt mocking Moonves. Eventually, the two parties settled: Howard and Sirius obtained exclusive rights to over twenty years of Stern’s radio shows, while CBS was paid $2 million for the tapes, a far cry from the $500 they initially asked for. All in all, Stern emerged smelling like roses and CBS, well, CBS could hardly have claimed victory, given the circumstances.
Significantly, back in 2006, Stern claimed that Moonves shies away from standing up for CBS’s own corporate interests, but instead, said Stern, “I’ll tell you who Les Moonves sues and goes after: talent! Because he thinks we’re easy targets.” Dan Rather has also had some choice things to say about Moonves and his corporate leadership as well.
Presumably, Moonves and CBS going postal over Scot Peters’ Star Trek Axanar project was due to their concerns over the new Star Trek Discovery series set to premiere on CBS’s new pay to play service. It does not say good things about the new TV show that a major television network views a fan film as a potential threat to their professional production. But, then, judging from the rumors emanating from the Discovery set, and fans criticisms of what CBS has released about it so far, maybe Moonves and CBS are right to be afraid.
Initially, the untold legions of Star Trek fans were overjoyed at the announcement that CBS would be coming out with a new iteration of the venerable Star Trek franchise. Better still, they were told, this new series would be set in the original time-line, nowadays referred to as the TOS Universe, the one which the original series, Next Generation, Deep Space 9 and Voyager (and Enterprise) were all set, not the newer “Kelvin Time-Line” universe of the Paramount movies produced by J. J. Abrams. While the two initial offerings of Abrams’ re-imagining of the Star Trek movie franchise were well received, the latest offering, Star Trek Beyond, only managed to squeak out a profit through its sales overseas; domestic sales of this big-budget film were less than expected.
Bit by bit, however, the enthusiasm over Star Trek Discovery has waned the more fans learn about the new series. Some critics have said that if CBS really believed in the show, they would put it on the network in prime time instead of relegating it to their “all access” (sic) streaming service that will cost fans money to see. The first view of the new starship Discovery, was first unveiled at the 2016 COMICON fan convention to much hype. But fans were less than pleased with the look of the new ship and, for a ship supposedly set in a period ten years before the time of the original Captain Kirk Star Trek show, it seemed oddly anachronistic, not to say even garish. The pilot episode was originally scheduled to premiere in January of 2017, but since the initial announcement date at COMICON, the start date keeps getting pushed back farther and farther, supposedly in order to ‘get it right.’
More seriously, hints of creative differences between the show’s initial producer, Bryan Fuller, and CBS Chairman/CEO Moonves started to surface. Fuller was the ideal choice to produce the show: he was a dyed in the wool “Trekkie,” who started out as a writer on Deep Space 9, and since has gone on to produce a number of successful television shows. Fuller has publicly made it known since 2009 that he would love to produce another Star Trek show and on one occasion said he would “drop everything” to produce a Trek TV show. But, after taking the helm as Show-Runner, in October of 2016 he abruptly stepped down from his pet project. CBS, in its official press release, claimed Fuller was too busy with “other projects” to oversee Discovery, but said he would stay on as Executive Producer; later statements by Fuller himself made it clear he was completely out of the picture with regard Discovery.
Rumors from insiders continue to seep out from the set of Star Trek Discovery, and none of it sounds good. To start with, Moonves was the one who decided to put the show on All Access instead of on the prime time network, hoping to thereby force fans to pay cash to see their favorite show and thereby bail out CBS’s failing streaming service. In truth, Netflix has paid most of the money to produce the show, in return for exclusive rights to overseas distribution. Despite this, Bryan Fuller would have been well able to produce a show that met fans high expectations, until, it is said, Moonves started to try to micro-manage the show.
Â Insiders claim that Moonves wanted to “sex up” the look of the show, to make it look and feel more like the J. J. Abrams movies, forgetting that the show is supposed to be in the world of the original TV shows, NOT the “Kelvin” one. He wanted to make the ships, the uniforms and the aliens unlike anything that had ever been seen before despite Fuller’s warning that fans would revolt if the new show deviated too far from the established Star Trek cannon. Insiders claim that Moonves has no interest or understanding of Sci Fi in general and can barely tell the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars. The latest trailer, which gives us a first look at the completed pilot for the series, seems to confirm this as it looks like a mish-mosh For example, the opening to the trailer states that it takes place “ten years before Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise” (sic) which indicates that no one on the new series bothered to check back and look at the original series to learn that Spock had been first officer to Captain Archer aboard the Enterprise during this same period! It is an obvious gaff and an inconsistency so glaring that it shows how careless the new showrunners are being in producing the new series.
Moonves and his minions seem to have forgotten a fundamental fact about Star Trek: what has made Star Trek the overwhelming success that it has become is due ENTIRELY to the devotion of fans. The original series was canceled after only three seasons; nonetheless, fans flocked to watch the re-runs for years afterwards, until eventually Hollywood saw the light–or dollar signs–and began churning out film versions of the original show. Fan loyalty–fan fanaticism is more accurate–is what has sustained these films and all the subsequent television shows. Nor is Star Trek unique in this regard: fan loyalty drives success in many other media: the reason the Beatles became so big, for example, was initially due to the devotion of their fan base, first in the UK and then in the US. A handful of other musical groups, such as the Grateful Dead, have also enjoyed steady success for decades–and this in an industry know for the short shelf life of its products.
Star Trek fans will put up with quite a bit in their loyalty to the universe that Gene Roddenberry created and, over the years, numerous fan films of varying quality and length have been produced. In fact, whole series of fan TV shows have been made, sometimes featuring professional actors reprising their characters’ roles from either the original series or its sequels, all with nary a peep, either from Roddenberry or his successors until now. If anything, these fan films and fan series have sustained fan’s enthusiasm for Star Trek and been the engine which has driven Hollywood’s fat box office and advertising profits.
Perhaps Star Trek Discovery can overcome the bad juju that Moonves and CBS have generated with its suppression of the Axanar feature film. Certainly, most Star Trek fans want the show to succeed. But if the rumors are right about Moonves’ contempt for the Star Trek canon and the new show turns out to be a garish mish-mosh as some claim, the blame will fall squarely on the shoulders of one person–Les Moonves. If that happens, heads may roll at CBS, especially if it results in the failure of the network’s streaming service; if so, I doubt whether Howard Stern, Dan Rather or Bryan Fuller will shed a tear at the result. As for Alec Peters, David may not have slain Goliath, but the fact that CBS sweated bullets, based only on a twenty minute short he produced, bodes well for his future career as a producer of (hopefully) major Hollywood films.
As the Corporate (actually Corporatist) Media goes into Chicken Little mode after smugly assuming for weeks that the citizens of the sovereign state of the United Kingdom would “do the right thing” and reject separation from the European Union, I thought it timely to provide a contrarian view of what is clearly a major political and economic world event.
Before I expound my own views on the subject, however, let me address the foremost objection a European reader might have to what I may say: being on the other side of the Big Muddy, I have no deep knowledge of the situation in the Euro Zone. There is a grain of truth in this criticism, but only a grain. True, American media has virtually ignored the issue, with the exception of BBC America and a few alternate media sites on the internet, even as it been the subject of intense discussion in Britain. But I would argue that one can be too caught up in the minutiae of an issue to assess it properly, especially if one is firmly aligned in what has clearly been a partisan political event. It is easy to be myopic in one’s outlook and overlook broader aspects of the vote. Distance gives one perspective and that I humbly provide in the following paragraphs.
One headline in this morning’s news suffices to point out all that is wrong with the European Union, as it is presently constituted. The headline this morning–quickly taken down because it was apparently too honest–had German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier saying “We must save our European Union.” The headline, if accurate, is very telling: save the European Union, but from whom? The citizens of its constituent nations? Apparently Herr Steinmeier and a select circle of EU oligarchs are greatly afraid of similar referendums in other Euro Zone countries, where a popular vote by the majority of the nation’s citizens may also go against the supra national–and, apparently, in many ways undemocratic–EU government apparatus. Is Herr Steinmeier’s possessive “our European Union” referring to the select circle of EU officials who make economic decisions which can–and have–adversely affected millions of average European citizens?
Since Steinmeier’s inadvertent honesty, pronouncements emanating from him have been more diplomatic in tone but also edged with a coercive subtext: he and fellow EU patricians have stated that they want Britain gone as quickly as possible and that Prime Minister Cameron needs to be pressured to begin the process immediately, if not sooner. Cameron, who opposed the exit, has already announced his intention to step down as head of the Conservative Party in October and, quite rightly, expressed the opinion that it should be up to his successor to carry out the process of separation. The Lisbon accords, which created the EU, allowed for its constituent members to leave and provided for up to two years for an orderly withdrawal. Apparently some of the EU oligarchs officials want a speedy divorce and some have even talked about making it as punitive as possible to Britain, as an object lesson to other nations whose citizens may also be unhappy with the way the EU is being run.
Wisely, Chancellor Angela Merkel was not among those wanting a nasty “divorce.” Apparently talking in opposition to her foreign minister, the Chancellor opined that the European Union has “no need to be particularly nasty in any way” in the negotiations with Britain about its exit from the Union and called for an orderly separation. Britain had previously opted out of surrendering its own currency to the Euro and instead recognized both currencies as legal tender, a prescient move in light of what the EU did to Greece when it dared to assert its own autonomy a little while back.
It should be remembered that the Euro Banksters–who colluded with Wall Street in bringing the world to the brink of fiscal collapse in 2008 by selling worthless paper and then providing easy credit to buy their worthless paper–when their self created bubble collapsed, demanded their pound of flesh from Greece and others nations who fell for their deceit. Greece was then forced into enacting programs detrimental to its own economic self interest; the EU colluded with the banks and forced upon a nation which could ill afford it crippling interest rates and counterproductive economic measures. In this scenario the banks may be seen as Mafia Dons, acting as loan sharks, while the EU served as their “enforcer” ready to (figuratively) break the bones of Greece, or any other nation of the EU that dared defy them.
It should be borne in mind that during this same time frame, “Austerity” was not pushed on the American economy by the Obama Administration as it had been by the EU and their bankster colleagues, and while the American recovery from the Great Recession has been slow and uneven, with the top 1% benefitting most from a rigged economy and the rest of us only benefitting marginally, the US, unlike Cameron’s Britain, did not suffer any subsequent recessions, still less than Southern Europe, which remains nearly as bad off as it was in 2008.
Greece, after it had endured all it could from the Euro Bankster imposed Austerity, rebelled against its economic exploitation by the EU, in response to which the EU abruptly cut off the money supply. It was an object lesson designed, not only to punish Greece, but to intimidate all other southern European countries to remain subservient to the EU or else suffer a similar fate. Because Greece had surrendered its own currency when it joined the Union and relied solely on the Euro for its money, Greek banks were forced to shut down and those in Greece still with jobs not destroyed by Austerity went unpaid. Finally, the reformist Greek government was forced to surrender to the economic imperialism of the EU.
By comparison, Britain is far better off, not only by wisely retaining its own currency, but also because it possesses a stronger industrial base better able to weather the ill effects and bad economics of Austerity. Hopefully, with David Cameron’s departure the counter-productive doctrine of Austerity will also be gone–and that can only be a good thing for Great Britain.
The idea of European unity is fundamentally a good idea; Europeans not murdering each other in local wars that mutate into world wars is also a GOOD THING. Likewise, the European Common Market, as originally formulated, made a great deal of sense when it promoted trade that was both fair and equitable across national borders. Similarly, the idea that neighboring countries, living on good terms with one another and sharing a common cultural heritage should having relatively easy transit of people back and forth, also makes a great deal of sense. But when a handful of bankers and powerful but unscrupulous trans-national corporations, hiding behind the curtain of European Union, adversely control the lives of millions of people and coerce punitive economic agreements from their national governments against their own citizens best interests and their nation’s economic well-being, that is neither democratic nor fair, nor just.
Britain was certainly a beneficiary in many aspects of the European Union; it may seem to many on the continent that the UK’s action was precipitous and unjustified. But the Brits are not the only voices of dissent in the EU; there are similar voices of dissent in the Netherlands, Italy and France. In Spain, in the wake of the Bankster created Great Recession, hundreds of thousands of families were evicted from their homes. In 2013, for example, firefighters in Coruña were called on to break down the door of an 86-year-old woman who was to be evicted; in that case they refused to do the bidding of the Banksters. But in the majority of cases the banks have had their way and the EU has been there all through it to make sure that their will is obeyed without question.
In the EU, vulnerable nations like Greece have been forced to eliminate jobs, cut pensions and privatize, privatize, privatize. Who benefits from all this? Certainly not the citizens of the countries coerced into such policies. The Euro bankers, like their Wall Street counterparts, reap in massive profits at the expense of individuals, cities and whole states. Spain, in particular, is a prime example of the adversity imposed from above by the EU and the bankers who run it behind the scenes. Eight years after the beginning of the Great Recession, Spain’s unemployment remains at over 20% nationwide, while the unemployment rate for those under the age of twenty-five is a whopping 45%! Explain to me how Spain being in the EU has benefitted its citizens? Could they be any worse off if they were independent? Perhaps, if it did not have to follow the dictates of a remote, undemocratic, essentially oligarchic entity for the supposed benefit of European unity, the Spanish people might have been free to pursue other solutions better suited to their individual needs.
The United States would be in the same situation if, in 2008, our nation had been in the control of the Republican Party who, no sooner were they out of power suddenly preached balanced budgets and smaller government. This is the same political party that spent like a drunken sailor for eight years, cut taxes for the ultra rich and got the nation involved in an unprovoked war in Iraq which added trillions to the deficit. Yes, it is a good thing to maintain a balanced budget and pay your bills on time; in prosperous times a nation should maintain a healthy economic balance and even accumulate a “rainy day” fund. But when one has a severe economic downturn, that is the absolute worst time to demand a balanced budget; still less do you go about laying off thousands or millions of people to adhere to a theoretical economic dogma.
Europe during this same period has been in the thrall of economic oligarchs, who used the shield of the EU to impose “Austerity” as a solution to the same economic downturn. The net effects of this dogma have been devastating and have retarded most of Europe’s recovery unnecessarily. Behind the smokescreen of this supposed solution to the Great Recession lies a hidden agenda. The banksters have used the dogma of Austerity as an excuse to roll back long established social benefits and economic rights, many of which Americans would envy if they could but experience them even for a short time. The Banksters have also used Austerity as an excuse to privatize publicly owned institutions for their own personal gain; they have similarly hidden behind the shield of the EU to engage in myriad other actions designed to enrich a junta of international banks and corporations.
Since the 1990’s in the United States, one after another so-called “Free Trade” agreement has been pushed through by politicians who touted its economic benefits to an uniformed public. Without exception, these agreements have resulted in millions of good paying jobs leaving the United States to impoverished third world nations, often controlled by military dictatorships. Ironically, these same impoverished nations have not benefitted from the influx of manufacturing jobs; rather, waves of immigration ensue, as local economies are also disrupted by these same “Free Trade” deals. NAFTA, CAFTA and now the TPP, are not about trade at all, much less are they free; they are about a handful of trans-national corporations acting in collusion to adversely control the economic resources of nations and subordinate those nations’ sovereignty to the will of a Corporatist oligarchy.
Lest Europeans think they are immune to this type of corporate economic imperialism, just remember that after the oligarchs have rammed the Trans Pacific Partnership through a corrupt lame-duck session of our Congress, they are coming after Europe with the TTIP to do the same to you. When they promise economic prosperity and jobs creation as its benefit, remember that the U.S. has suffered over twenty years of these empty promises and now Americans on both the right and left are wise to the lies.
At the present time, Europeans may be upset with the British for wanting to retain their own economic and political sovereignty; some Brits may be upset at their fellow nationals for what they perceive as being against “progress” or guilty of a perceived xenophobia. Perhaps they may be right in some regard. In the greater scheme of things, maybe the wiser course would have been for Britain to stay within EU and pull the fangs of the oligarchs and banksters who have been manipulating things behind the scenes, and make it more responsive to the will of the citizens of its constituent countries.
Instead of blaming the bearers of bad tidings, however, the citizens of those nations which remain in the EU should take stock of the situation and demand real reforms to an organization which has proven to be unresponsive to the needs of many of its constitutents. The voters of these same nations should also reflect on the nature of the leadership of the EU, whose first instinct is to punish any nation that may wish to emulate Brtain. Remember what the EU did to Greece; then reflect on whether the Brits were totally unjustified in the course they laid.
I’ve never voted Green Party, and I was never on the Jill Stein, Howard Dean, or Ralph Nader bandwagon. Why not? I agree with the Green Party’s viewpoints, but perhaps I was still too naive in my 20s or plain politically ignorant–I would have stared blankly had you asked me to explain Neo-liberalism, couldn’t have […]
“There once was a time in history when the limitation of governmental power meant increasing liberty for the public. In the present day, the limitation of governmental power, of governmental authority means the enslavement of the people by the great corporations.”
Her Royal Highness Hillary flew in to Los Angeles today, less to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and more to grab wads of cash from wealthy Angelinos, in between a stop to speak to Hispanics at a local college. Apparently, because Her Highness carries hot sauce (allegedly) in her handbag, she feels entitled to the Latino vote.
Not all Americans of Hispanic descent welcomed the new Evita Peron to their fair city however. Several Latin American groups in Los Angeles find plenty not to like about the former Secretary of State and planned to protest her Cinco de Mayo visit to East Los Angeles College.
Organizers protesting Her Majesty Hillary’s visit include Union del Barrio-LA, MEXA de ELAC and the Los Angeles Brown Beret. In a communique they “call on the L.A. community to join us this Thursday to tell Hillary that she is NOT WELCOMED in L.A.!”
Organizers called Clinton an enemy of the working class. They also argue that her Central American policies as secretary of state caused death, destruction and deportation. While Secretary of State, Clinton condoned a coup d’état in Honduras and then refused to take action against the military dictatorship. Pretending to be for women and children to American voters, Hillary has covered up the gang rape and murder of women and children in the Central American country, in part because a multi-national with ties to the Clinton Foundation wants to build a giant damn on native lands.
The demonstrators plan to gather at Belvedere Park in East Los Angeles at 3 p.m. and then march on the community college men’s gym two blocks away, where Clinton is scheduled to address supporters.
The notion that Socialism is a foreign innovation imported into the United States in the twentieth century is a falsehood which is deeply implanted in the modern American consciousness. We have seen how the Pilgrims and Puritans organized their first colonies on a socialistic basis and that that socialistic structure proved key to their survival in the dangerous early years the two colonies existence.
Let us now finally lay to rest the false narrative of socialism as being un-American by examining the case of American Patriot and revolutionary, Thomas Paine.
Having grown up in New Rochelle, New York–Paine’s home town during the American Revolution–I was exposed to Paine’s writings at an early age and visited Paine’s cottage to see where he penned many of his most famous phrases. I even wrote an early essay on the “Firebrand of the Revolution.”
So I have long been familiar with his life and works. However, until recently I had not grasped the economic aspects of his political ideology. In short, Thomas Paine was not only a Patriot and key figure in the American Revolution, but a Socialist as well.
Thomas Paine was about the closest the Thirteen Colonies had to a professional revolutionary. His pamphlets stirred the American rebels to action and motivated them to stay the course in achieving independence. His stirring calls to action and evocative phrases still resonate today: “These are the times that try men’s souls,” “The Summer Soldier and Sunshine Patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country,” “The harder the conflict, the more glorious t he triumph.”
But in amongst his calls to action in defense of liberty and independence, he also declaimed against organized religion (especially Christianity) and he also had quite a bit to say about equality—social as well as political. Of course, at the time of the Revolution, the Church of England was very much a political creature of both the Crown and the upper classes who ruled both England and America. We forget that it was the dissident Protestant sects in America who were most in favor of separation of Church and State which is enshrined in our Bill of Rights.
The economic aspects of his political philosophy are rarely mentioned in discussions of Thomas Paine today, but they were part of his political philosophy of equality and his ideas about promoting equality are perhaps more relevant today than they were in his day. If all wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few, you inevitably end up with an Oligarchy. Economic inequality is the enemy of Democracy. There is no way around that fact.
After the end of the American Revolution Thomas Paine traveled to France to join in the French Revolution The French call for not just Liberty, but Equality and Fraternity had a strong appeal to Paine—and inherent in Equality and Fraternity is the notion of economic democracy.
To be fair and balanced (as it were) we should note the Mr. Paine was well surnamed, for at various times he made himself a royal pain to his fellow revolutionaries, both in the America and France. He criticized George Washington at one point and when he saw the French Revolution start to devolve into the Terror, he began criticizing some of the French revolutionaries and he came close to getting his neck shaved by Madame Guillotine. Not surprisingly Paine once quipped that, “he who dares not offend cannot be honest.”
Paine concentrated much of his social democratic ideas in a pamphlet called “Agrarian Justice.” It was written in the winter of 1795-96, but he held off publication for a time, due in part to the war between France and England. What apparently motivated him to go ahead and issue his essay was the verbal diarrhea of an Anglican Bishop who thought to answer his work The Age of Reason; the smug cleric entitled it “The Wisdom and Goodness of God in having made both Rich and Poor.” The title of the pamphlet outraged Paine, who pointed out that God “made only male and female, and he gave them the earth for their inheritance.”
I think we still have far too many people today who still believe that their wealth is somehow due to God rewarding them for their virtue and that, conversely, poverty is God’s punishment for the unworthy. As Paine pointedly note, economic inequality is mainly a condition mainly due to man’s injustice towards their fellow humans. As Paine put it, “instead of preaching to encourage one part of mankind in insolence . . . it would be better that priests employed their time to render the general condition of man less miserable than it is. Practical religion consists in doing good: and the only way of serving God is that of endeavoring to make His creation happy. All preaching that has not this, for its object is nonsense and hypocrisy.”
But I digress. In his pamphlet, Paine pointed out that poverty and want are not the natural state of man. Paine illustrates this by giving the example of Native Americans of his day, whose tribes held all their land in common and enjoyed an egalitarian lifestyle: “The life of an Indian is a continual holiday, compared with the poor of Europe; and, on the other hand it appears to be abject when compared to the rich.”
It was Paine’s premise that “the earth, in its natural, cultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race. In that state every man would have been born to property. He would have been a joint life proprietor with rest in the property of the soil, and in all its natural productions, vegetable and animal.” However, because of the rise of civilization, which he noted was usually a product of the sword, the land was divided and subdivided so that now a handful of producers have possession the soil and its bounty.
Paine argues that the air, earth water and land are a common patrimony of all humanity and that only the improvements to the land as a result of civilization are actually private property. Beginning with the invention of agriculture, “the common right of all became confounded into the cultivated right of the individual,” Since it is impossible to separate the improvements from land itself, he proposed instituting what he called a ground rent on the propertied class.
From this single tax on land he proposed to funding payments to the landless to help equalize the disproportion between rich and poor. Beginning at the age of fifty and over, an annual stipend of £10 per annum was to given to everyone, regardless of economic status. Fifty is what at that time he considered the average life expectancy. Also, when anyone reached the age of twenty-one they would automatically be given a lump sum of £15 Sterling, “as a compensation, in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance.” This would, he hoped, help give them their start in life. A payment would also be made to those who became disabled or were infirmed and unable to support themselves sufficiently to make a living. These payments, he emphasized, were not charity but a right—a universal right—and would be paid out regardless of whether the individuals were rich or poor.
To modern ears, Thomas Paine’s proposal for “Agrarian Justice” may not seem so radical, but in its day it most certainly was—which is why it was never instituted, either in Europe or America. Bear in mind, in Paine’s day the Industrial Revolution had only just begun and land was still the primary measure of wealth and power. In fact, not just wealth and social status, but voting rights and office holding were also dependent on the possession of land, even in the United States.
The other side of the equation in Paine’s plan was the taxation. The improvements to the land would not be taxed, just the value of the land itself. The “land rent” of 10% was a once time assessment for a direct descendant inheriting property, although higher for “indirect” descendants. When that owner died in turn, an additional assessment was made. Paine estimated that the effective turnover in property would be about every thirty years, so that over time any concentrations of property and wealth would gradually be equalized, or at the least the extremes of wealth and poverty minimized. People would work still for their daily bread, but the extreme want and misery that existed would be eliminated.
Many aspects of Paine’s Agrarian Justice sound similar to our Social Security Insurance program begun by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930’s, although Social Security consists of an equal contribution between employee and employer and does nothing to fight inequality and the creeping Oligarchism of modern American politics. In recent years even Social Security has come under incessant attack by reactionary politicians and the billionaires who bankroll them.
Paine’s Agrarian Justice resembles another American Socialist’s ideas. Henry George, writing during the period when big business and monopolies were taking over the economy and the political establishment, penned Progress and Poverty in 1879. He advocated a Single Tax on land as a cure for the growing disparity between rich and poor similar to Paine’s tax. George, however, wrote in an industrial age and had a more elaborate political and economic program than Paine’s, and which also included proposals such as having all utilities being publicly owned and a secret ballot for elections. Many of George’s criticisms of industrial society remain relevent, although his Single Tax solution found less favor among both socialists and economists.
Whether or not one believes Thomas Paine’s Agragrian Justice would have been a practical means of achieving social and economic justice, he remains a notable early American Socialist and Patriot, whose ideas remain a cornerstone of American political philosophy.