Friday, January 26, 2007

So-Called 'Conservatives' as Government Centralizers

I'm reading a very interesting but little known book by Edward Handler, America and Europe in the Political Thought of John Adams, Harvard UP, 1964. There are many interesting things about the book but what I want to emphasize here is how mistrustful of the unpropertied masses Adams was. Recall that Adams is nearly universally recognized by conservatives as their prime exemplar in American history, so we get a look at what the biases of 'conservatives' in America are.

While I see Joseph Ellis' book on Jefferson, American Sphinx, as an unfair hatchet job on our third president, reading Handler suggests that if one wanted to, which Handler does NOT, one could write a fairly critical and unempathic view of Adams quite easily. Adams used arguments in support of our war for independence which he later contradicted when opposing the French Revolution. But my primary point here is that Adams was so mistrustful of 'the great unwashed' that it is easy to see how he would have been a centralizer of government power. That he certainly was so is demonstrated by the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts during his administration:
The Sedition Act says anyone "opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States" could be imprisoned for up to two years. It was also illegal to "write, print, utter, or publish" anything critical of the president or Congress.
Oh boy, would Cheney and Bush love that law. I think if you look at the types of political attitudes held by so-called American 'conservatives', whether it be Adams, Hamilton, William F. Buckley, or the 'neo-conservatives' of today, you will find them far more friendly to centralized government power than their rhetoric would like you to believe. They preach checks and balances and divided government, they profess reverence for our Constitution, but in practice their anti-democratic tendencies show in their readiness to support central authority and sacrifice civil liberties whenever they see fit.

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