The End of American Exceptionalism?

American exceptionalism may be disappearing. American exceptionalism posits that the United States is fundamentally different from other nations, particularly those in Europe. The United States was founded on a commitment to principles whereas other nations were founded on ties of blood. Moreover, our principles were those of the Enlightenment, embracing individual liberty and the rule of law.

One of the results, as Seymour Martin Lipset noted, was that the United States has never had a serious socialist party. But in this election cycle a serious socialist has come close to winning the Democratic nomination. Indeed, Sanders would be winning except for the loyalty Clinton enjoys among African American voters. But as the votes of the congressional Black Caucus show, African American voters are the most left-wing bloc economically. Next time they would be likely vote for the socialist candidate who imitates Sanders.

We have also never had a major nationalist party, like the National Front in France. Such parties run not only on protectionism and xenophobia but on preserving an unreformed entitlement state. But Trump’s platform is a somewhat paler version of such virulent European parties.

The combination of Trump’s and Sanders’ rise shows that the candle of liberty by which American exceptionalism glows may be flickering out. One principal reason is the decline of limited government. The original Constitution sharply limited the authorities of the federal government. While the states had essentially unlimited powers, they were in competition with another, and that competition prevented them from imposing too substantial exactions on their citizens.

But now the federal government faces no  substantial limits in spending and economic regulation. It thus makes much less sense to refrain from using the government to enlarge one’s own resources, because what you leave on the table others will take. It is not a surprise that Bernie Sanders has attracted the youth by promising free higher education. Today, most entitlements flow to the elderly and the youth want to get their share. In contrast, Donald Trump appeals to the elderly with promises to protect social security and Medicare spending which many fear may be crowded out by the expansion of other programs, like Obamacare. Nationalist parties in Europe also gain much of their strength from pensioners and people near retirement.

The success of Sanders and Trump show how hard it is to revive the classical liberal state, once the constitutional commitment to limited government is dissolved. Untune that string and hark what discord follows! Politics becomes a war of all against all for the federal dollar, and collectivist parties flourish to make sure that their supporters get a major piece of the action.

John O. McGinnis

John O. McGinnis is the George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law at Northwestern University. His book Accelerating Democracy was published by Princeton University Press in 2012. McGinnis is also the coauthor with Mike Rappaport of Originalism and the Good Constitution published by Harvard University Press in 2013 . He is a graduate of Harvard College, Balliol College, Oxford, and Harvard Law School. He has published in leading law reviews, including the Harvard, Chicago, and Stanford Law Reviews and the Yale Law Journal, and in journals of opinion, including National Affairs and National Review.

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  1. says

    Perhaps we live in the best of times, because the possible future with civic morality based on physics and the discovery of its benefits has emerged.

    Physics, which is mass, energy and space-time, is the reality which does not yield to opinion, reason, hypothesis, or ideologies. Physics is not combative: opinion is combative.

    Physics seems the fiscal conservatism that classical liberals have sought for 3000 years–we dub it PLwCWB, but want to collaborate for the better idea. PLwCWB does not deny the god hypothesis and accommodates every no-real-harm private pursuit. Civic individuals (70% of inhabitants since 100% agreement is not attainable) accommodate factional associations, but maintain the rule of law against real-harm activity.

    Fiscal conservatism and general conformance to physics for living in the same years in the same land (civic morality) can influence rejection of socialism, and we hope conservative law professors will contribute to the development of PLwCWB or better.

    • EJW says

      I’d say quite a leap from Professor McGinnis to this analysis. Forgive my apparent ignorance, but please explain what in “god[‘s] hypothesis” name is PLwCWB? Also, under this formula does “no-real-harm private pursuit” include aborting a million plus babies a year, selling of their mutilated parts, fetal tissue experimentation, cloning, an ever growing push for euthanasia, an exponentially burgeoning pornography industry, and the latest pharma-science fountain of youth elixir, i.e. have better sex, look great, and feel younger, all from a bottle of pills while chancing a stroke or heart attack?

      It’s entirely arguable Phil, as you posit, that the rule of law is even being maintained. Perhaps on a superficial level, but as the law justifies gay-marriage, diversity extremism initiatives, personal preference over communal integrity, and a reversed economic pyramid wherein America’s youth are to support a considerably disproportionate aging population, e.g. Obamacare, we are rotting from the core out.

      If God is merely hypothetical, then mankind is purely fantasy. After all, if “reality” exists only on a physics level, when I die and am forgotten did I ever really live?

      • gabe says

        No, you were actually just lost in a black hole, after having spent a short time hovering around the edges of the event horizon. But I guess that’s just physics…or in the words of John Lennon: “nothing is real, and nothing to write home about.”
        It may not be PLwCWB – but it is “Strawberry Fields”

      • says

        EJW, PLwCWB is an acronym for “personal liberty with civic well-being.” In that phrase, “civic” refers to personal connections due to living during the same years in the same land. Connections like negotiating a shoe repair or entrance to a symphony concert. Traditionally, people who write about personal liberty reference “society,” which entails preference, class, and imposition of opinion. The coordinating conjunction, “with,” limits personal liberty so that it is compatible with real-no-harm practices.

        For example, with PLwCWB, a laborer with no assets would not demand receipt of a doctor’s income or wealth merely on the fact of being. Yet, the doctor’s income would not in itself exclude the laborer from earning a living as well as enough to invest in assets. Reviewing the political philosophers who have contributed to the state of USA politics, none have proposed the use of physics and civic collaboration to settle such disputes. Jeremy Bentham talked about science, but science if merely a study, fraught with error. In fact error is one of its strongest tools.

        There have been two major assumptions in the USA’s journey to 2016: use of opinion-based force and use of theism to establish morals. The signers of the draft constitution for the USA proposed to break from those erroneous colonial (British) traditions with the literal preamble—a statement of goals and purposes by persons in forming a duality of democratic-republics; however, they erred by assuming totality instead of stating volunteerism respecting the stated contract. We dub people who would trust and commit to the preamble “A Civic People of the United States,” and our expectation is 70%, like the number of delegates to Philadelphia who signed the draft. Civic people in their states would collaborate on stated goals to manage both their states and a limited union of states. Instead of adapted British common law under American factions on the King’s trinity, there would be a balanced, tripartite central government without the arbitrary dispute between nature and nature’s god.

        However, in 1788, 99% of free inhabitants were factional Protestants and only 6% could vote. The advocates of Blackstone and Protestantism would not brook the draft constitution, and required promise of a bill of rights by the first Congress as a condition for ratification; the plan seemed alright to the 100% Christian people. The first Congress hired ministers for legislative prayer in May 1789, and the negotiated constitution was ratified on December 15, 1791. Lawyers adapted Blackstone to the constitution for the USA.

        These 225 years later, non-theist inhabitants have grown to 23%, and 100% of free citizens may vote. The era of traditional opinion-based dominance is over, and a new ethic is needed to replace both adapted-Blackstone and theism as the bases of civic morality. In reality, opinion never was a valid basis for civic morality, but we have arrived at the time when that can be observed by all people. However, 70% can agree to obey traffic signals and not lie when they state a civic request, so that the response will not be based on a lie.

        Physics is mass, energy, and space-time from which everything emerged 13.8 billion years ago. We have no idea what physics emerged from, and the age-old hypothesis that a god caused it is as valid today as ever. However, the many god theories that factions of mankind have constructed cannot all represent what caused reality. And any of the morals or claims that came from those theories and have been disproved by the discovery of what has emerged from physics is false. For example, the earth is neither flat, less than some 4.6 billion years old, nor does it support slave-master relationships.

        Respecting abortion, I think the US produces some 800 million potential ova per year (m), 300 m unconstrained, several m conceptions, 9.1 m implanted; 3.9 m implanted suffer errors of physics and are naturally aborted, 0.6 m physics errors are stopped with help from mom and her doctor, and 0.7 m are stopped because that’s what mom chose to do. That unknown amount of conceptions that do not implant is perhaps the largest part of natural abortion. Abortions decided by moms, about 0.7 m, pale before the 4.5 m natural abortions of implants plus the conceptions that did not implant. Only unjust opinion would care to dispute what physics has produced: A woman’s responsibility to her ova and a man’s responsibility to both mom and her ova. If a woman fails her responsibility it is on her, not a civic people. Woe be to men who do not appreciate a woman’s obligations to her ova.

        I could write about all your other topics, but let me pick gay marriage. That opinion-failure was set up by Congress’s DOMA based on Judeo-Christian tradition. Marriage fell prey to the administration and Justice Kennedy’s failed divinity respecting equality and dignity. The US supreme Court is confused by tradition (went the other way on Greece v Galloway), but attempting to preserve tradition is a failing proposition. What a civic people need is deliberate reform toward justice. A civic people can collaborate for physics-based ethics, but can never agree on opinion-based law. We can achieve PLwCWB and conservative law professors are the best candidates to make it happen.

        Lastly, no person (individual or organization) can predict your afterdeath, that vast time after your body, brain and person have stopped functioning. This civic person does not want responsibility for one person’s afterdeath. However our collaboration here, today can create the possibility for a better civic future for the USA and beyond.

        EJW, these ideas may seem shocking to you But please think through the need for PLwCWB to protect the opportunity to pursue personal preferences such as salvation of the soul or favorite no-harm ideology, and write me some more. That’s what civic collaboration for a better future is about.

        • EJW says


          I can appreciate certain aspects of your, what should I call it, “dissertation.” As a whole you leave me thoroughly unconvinced. I would like to take my numerous points of disagreement, elaborate, and engage you in further discussion. However, that would take up too much precious time at the moment for me to cover all points.

          My observation generally is that PLwCWB is too cold, impersonal, and calculated a way to view politics, civics, etc., life as a whole. I perceive your intentions are good, but the road to hell (hypothesis) is paved with such good intentions. As you know “physics” as a discipline is a relatively young field, yet you attribute its founding to the beginning of (at least) earthly existence. Naturally, physics cannot answer the ultimate question – what came before the “big bang.” Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D., physicist, founder of the Magis Center of Reason and Faith, plainly, succinctly states “something cannot come from nothing” – not of course the first to posit the idea. He concludes that the “not nothing” or the something before time and space IS God.

          In some sense you, as with so many others like yourself, evade the “moral” issues. Dismiss them, in effect, to avoid the fact they are actually God related issues. Since you cannot accept God, your reasoning on the moral issues devolves into some calculation, a kind of quid pro quo. This is mere moral relativism, so much alive in the world today.

          The most radical example of such thinking is Communism, the worst promoters being China and North Korea. The more benign forms, though no less ultimately debilitative to the human soul, exist in for example gender identity politics and all that encompasses. You’re aware the International Olympic Committee has recently approved transgender participation in world competition and purely according to self-identity, i.e. without, one would think, the prerequisite transitional therapies – absurd as that concept is alone.

          Your notions about our second founding document, the Constitution – you bypass the Declaration’s bold statement essentially regarding the endowment of our natural liberties by a creator, well, are too incomplete. You splice, dice, and surmise until reaching a particular conclusion; distilling the attribution of its final drafting to the influence of Blackstone (and his Commentaries) is too narrow.

          One final thought “Woe be (sic) to men who do not appreciate a woman’s obligations to her ova.” Really, Phil? There’s a wonderful solution to the entire mire and muck, immorality, of abortion and unnatural contraception – NaPro technology and abstinence before marriage – real marriage not the surreal version endowed by law(lessness).

          • says

            EJW, I appreciate your response. However, it does not address my proposals. Maybe you’ll take the time later.

            You wrote, “. . . PLwCWB is too cold, impersonal, and calculated a way to view . . . life as a whole.” PL is easy and coldly promising. CWB, the soft side of the proposition is warm and comes with personal realizations like this.

            Mom and Dad’s religion teaches me to save a non-Christian’s soul by converting his or hers to Jesus. However, a friend’s life seems more Jesus-like than mine: I do not want to influence change that could leave me responsible for his soul. I know of no greater human appreciation than to give up religious dogma out of respect for another person’s soul.

            I can share experiences like this because I am prepared for my afterdeath, that vast time when my body, mind and person have stopped functioning. I think CWB came when I did not want to share my preparation for that vast eternity. Privacy is too personal and I do not want anyone to follow me about personal matters. Michael Polanyi poorly addresses his side of this debate in Personal Knowledge, 1958. He saddles my focus on physics, which is, on science, a study practice.

            Physics as I use the term is not a discipline. It is, for humankind on earth: mass, energy and space time from which everything emerges. I doubt a god is responsible for the big bang, but beyond physics, have no evidence of the god. But whatever is, is probably not impressed with Spitzer’s reference to perhaps Leibniz’s idea, “something cannot come from nothing.” We have no idea what, future discoveries may indicate or how understanding what has or will emerge may best be employed by humans.

            But we can work together for “safety and security” (Burke, 1690): religious beliefs and hopes cannot be used to collaborate for civic morality. Religion, like fine arts, is a private pursuit. Much like the pope’s claims about Donald Trump, you are in no position judge me. I think people who fain to theistically judge other people may be more atheist than they realize, and atheists take a leap of faith I cannot take. One of my difficult challenges is influencing fundamentalists to consider that the preamble is civic rather than secular.

            Your tacit attack on my regard for the signers of the 1787, draft constitution for the USA is indeed an idea best defended by an un-grounded statement and quick exit. One of my dead antagonists is Abraham Lincoln, who codified the use of the Declaration of Independence. Thereby, Lincoln requiring its essence in recent (15) state constitutions, thereby trumping the signer’s presentation of possibilities for a better future. Your exit is your responsibility, but I am looking for collaboration based on understanding rather than false claims–straw men– about my writing. I am looking for volunteers who want to promote PLwCWB or a better practice for civic morality that they perceive. Mimicking the signer’s 70 % of delegates, we expect incomplete participation in PLwCWB.

            I takes work to collaborate for PLwCWB, so I read, study and write as often as I am able.

        • EJW says


          Apparently, “Oops. You were NOT thinking.” Two attempts for something as insipid and inane as a clip from the Simpsons. Although no doubt, your level of engagement with faith, and the polity. I imagine you must have taken a course in college on Television and Society.

          • z9z99 says


            Relax. That was not directed at the substance of your post, which I am largely in agreement with. Review the last several months of interactions with certain posters and I think the intent will become clearer. And no, I have not taken a course on television and society. Good luck.

  2. nobody.really says

    I’m largely persuaded – with qualifications

    Yes, the US has never had a serious socialist party. (And it’s doubtful whether people would really call Sanders a serious socialist.) But I would not trace this to Enlightenment philosophy. Rather, I’d trace it to the American concept of the “middle class.”

    Europe evolved from a world with a small aristocratic class, a small class of merchants/craftsman, and the masses of everyone else. Moreover, people were explicit about what class they belonged to; there was overt class consciousness. People in the bottom class had no one to look down on, and thus nothing to dilute their self-definition as people who were subordinated to members of other classes. In particular, these class identities faces little fracturing by way of racial diversity. So as democracy developed within a nation, there was little dispute about where any individuals group identity lay, or what interests they had. The largest group of people identified as being members of the subordinated class.

    In contrast, the US had no explicit aristocracy. It had wealth people. But more significantly, it had a large class of black slaves. People who did not find themselves in the category or slaves or of the rich could count themselves as somewhere in the middle. Unlike the descendants of serfs in Europe, this group did have another group to look down upon, and thus had a vested interest in some aspects of the hierarchy. Explicit calls for redistribution to the poor would entail redistribution to blacks – and the majority did not see that as in their interest. They simply did not identify with that group.

    FDR’s genius was to speak about – and ultimately to create – programs to redistribute wealth to the poor in a manner that effectively excluded blacks. Minimum wage laws did not apply to domestic help and agricultural workings – two fields of labor that were predominantly black. The Federal Housing Administration arguably created the concept of “red lining” – that is, declining to loan to black neighborhoods. The GI Bill effectively excluded blacks. The National Labor Relations Board might be race-neutral, but that didn’t matter because the unions weren’t. Etc. Thus we observed the first big rise of socialist policies in the US.

    Johnson faced stiffer resistance to expanding the social safety net because he was explicitly opposed to racism. He advocated that we all see ourselves as part of one Great Society – a message that was not especially welcome among Southern whites in the 1960s.

    It’s fascinating to hear the grievances of Trump supporters today. They pine for their father’s era post-WWII, when laborers without a college degree commanded respect and an income that kept them in the middle class – that is, safely above the status of black people. But this status has eroded. Women and immigrants now compete with them in the labor market. Globalization has undercut them: They must compete against the other industrialized nations, which are no longer in rubble, and against emerging market companies. They must compete against automation. They must compete against women. They must compete against the growing numbers of their peers who have pursued college education. But most of that competition is invisible, or has emerged so slowly that they don’t recognize that this represents a radical shift from their father’s day. But what they can see is competition from immigrants. This change is especially easy to observe, and has become a lightning rod for all their other frustrations.

    And the white working class is suffering social erosion. Many of the most ambitious and talented have pursued higher education and employment, and have moved out of the old neighborhoods. The only ones left are the ones who couldn’t escape, and they live amid growing unemployment, divorce, out-of-wedlock births, drug use, and social isolation. They’re bowling alone. And some even turn to a philosophy, libertarianism, that attempts to stick a smiley-face on their new status of atomization.

    The irony is that, as much as they crave to retain their status above black people, their circumstances echo the circumstances of black people as segregation eroded. During segregation, black doctors and black shoe-shiners all lived in close proximity in the black part of town. They attended the same churches and the same schools. As segregation eroded, the most ambitious and talented pursued new opportunities and left the ghetto – leaving all the rest behind to endure the social decay that was to follow.

    In sum: Yes, American’s “exceptional” social dynamic — whereby the broad majority of people could always count on having a class of people to look down on – has eroded. Ever fewer people see themselves as having a vested interest in the old hierarchy, and are now willing to vote for greater redistribution of resources.

    • z9z99 says

      There is a lot to agree with and disagree with here. As a general statement though, I am cautious about assigning a single cause to political and social phenomena, particularly those that evolve over the course of decades and centuries. Social, political and economic changes tend to be more the result of confluence of various factors, rather than the deterministic result of a single dominant influence. Nevertheless:

      I agree that ambivalence to competition is a strong motivator of biases and group resentment.

      I disagree that having a racial, economic or cultural group to look down upon is a major influence in the economic evolution of a society.

      I agree that southern whites, and a significant portion of southern Democrats, opposed Jonson’s Great Society philosophy.

      I disagree with the notion that a significant number of people turn to libertarianism as a rationalization of their circumstances.

      I agree that a large part of the appeal of Donald Trump is that he is able to portray those forces that you identify, i.e. globaliztion, immigration, technological innovation and for lack of a better term, dehumanizing efficiency, as adversaries that threaten and provoke anxieties among the masses, and that he wins support by proclaiming he will do battle with them. It may be that these forces seem threatening primarily because they are poorly understood, both by the masses and Donald Trump, and the cartoonish, brute-force way that he proposes to battle them is simply a consequence of this lack of understanding.

      I disagree with McGInnis that there has never been a nationalist party.Without knowing how stringently he confines that class by definition, I think that the nativist, anti-catholic, anti-immigrant “Know Nothing” American Party of the the 1850s is a pretty good approximation.

      Finally, I disagree that the appeal of socialism is primarily a consequence of class phenomena. I think the appeal of socialism can be approximated mathematically by the equation AS=(PO/AC)*R, where AS is the appeal of socialism, PO is the perceived opportunity that a society has to offer its working class, AC is the competition for those opportunities and R is a time- dependent factor describing the emotional appeal of an imaginary socialist paradise as promised by demagogues, mountebanks and sheltered idealists.

      • z9z99 says

        I got ahead of myself above. The appeal of socialism is directly related to the amount of competition for opportunities, and inversely related to the the perceived amount of those opportunities. The more opportunities that people perceive, the less likely they are to embrace socialism, the more competition for those opportunities, the more likely people are to embrace socialism..

      • nobody.really says

        I disagree that having a racial, economic or cultural group to look down upon is a major influence in the economic evolution of a society.

        The issue is whether people in a democracy have an interest in maintaining hierarchy, or in opposing it through wealth redistribution.

        If the majority identifies with those at the bottom of the social ladder, they may support redistribution. If they don’t — that is, if the majority perceives those at the bottom as meaningfully different than themselves — then they won’t.

        Thus we find the greatest “socialism” in homogeneous societies; consider Scandiwhovia. But as societies become more diverse (both ethnically and economically), social cohesion erodes and popular enthusiasm for redistribution wanes.

        • z9z99 says

          I am still unconvinced. If hierarchy were the main consideration one would expect lower socio-economic status whites to support the immigration of the lower skilled and less educated, if only to have to have someone below them in the hierarchy. I think you were on much firmer ground with your observation about competition. This is a much more robust theory, explaining for example why teachers’ unions are opposed to charter schools and vouchers, why professions seek to perpetuate an effective guild system and why corporations paradoxically seem to support regulations that seem burdensome, but that ultimately have the effect of impeding competitors.

          • nobody.really says

            The point is not whether people desire hierarchy; the point is whether people desire to preserve the status quo. If they identify with those on the bottom, they value shifting resources to that group. If they don’t, they don’t.

            Yes, concerns about competition matter, too. But if those were the sole concerns, then you would expect to find all laborers opposed to pretty much any immigration. Yet Hispanic laborers don’t seem to rally to Trump’s call to limiting Hispanic immigration. In short, their identification with a social class seems to supersede (trump?) their concerns about competition.

          • z9z99 says

            Above you said “The issue is whether people in a democracy have an interest in maintaining hierarchy,” and then “[t]he point is not whether people desire hierarchy.” Admittedly there is a distinction between interests and desires, but does the validity of your argument depend on such a fine parsing? If you had instead said “the issue is whether people in a democracy desire hierarchy” and “the point is not whether people have an interest in maintaining hierarchy,” would it be obvious that your were arguing the opposite point?

            I agree with the general proposition that competition is not the sole concern, but only as a specific case of the general proposition that nothing is the sole concern. I doubt that the generalization that “all laborers” would be of a single mind on any issue is valid.

            Good conversation though.

          • nobody.really says

            Admittedly, if social dynamics would prompt the majority to maintain a hierarchy, it would seem only logical that those same social dynamics would prompt the majority to create a hierarchy.

            Yet the Endowment Effect and loss aversion demonstrate that the human mind is illogical in precisely this way: We value what we already have more than we value to prospect of getting it. We fear the chance of losing $1 more than we value the chance of winning $1.

            I argue that working class America has grown accustomed to not being at the bottom of the social order – a dynamic that distinguished them from working-class Europe, and which explains a lot of differences in the behavior of these two groups. As the living circumstances of working class America grows ever closer to the circumstances of black people – in particular, with the erosion of stable households, the rise of out-of-wedlock births, the decline of labor force participation, and the decline of the status of men relative to women within this social class – working-class America now finds itself at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Consequently it may begin behaving more like working class Europe – including an enthusiasm for greater “socialism” and wealth redistribution.

            In any event, I find this argument more compelling than the idea that the American working class is more dominated by Enlightenment philosophies than the European working class

            And I expect to see soccer hooligans marauding through Detroit any day now.

        • gabe says


          Scandiwhovia (liked that BTW) is not the “non-hierarchial” paradise you envision. Nor has it been unanimously assented to by the populace that the society shall be redistributionist.
          Increasingly, the State mandated “concern” for the less fortunate has appeared to result in a somewhat pronounced counter narrative. With the influx of many seeking to enjoy the benefits of this redistributionist society, the very nature of this approach has been called in to question. Where shall it lead”
          One should also point out that with this new influx comes as Z99 says increased competition for those same benefits. while the philanthropic urge may still be present, it appears to be in danger of being overtaken by the effects of competition.

          Moreover, one could point out that it is this very redistributionist approach that having developed unchecked / un-moderated, has lead to the present reemergence of the competitive narrative.

          would we now claim that the Scandiwhovians are not, nor never were, compassionate redistributionists?

          • nobody.really says

            Increasingly, the State mandated “concern” for the less fortunate has appeared to result in a somewhat pronounced counter narrative. With the influx of many seeking to enjoy the benefits of this redistributionist society, the very nature of this approach has been called in to question,

            Yeah, that’s the point. If you identify with those on the bottom, you’re more inclined to favor redistribution. When there’s an “influx of many seeking to enjoy the benefits” — people that you don’t identify with — then you’re less inclined to favor redistribution.

            [W}ould we now claim that the Scandiwhovians are not, nor never were, compassionate redistributionists?

            No more nor less than anyone else, I think it was Aristotle who said that pathos/compassion arises when we imagine ourselves in someone else’s circumstances. From this, you might conclude that there is no such thing as compassion; rather, what we call compassion is merely self-love, projected onto others. Or you could conclude that this is merely the mechanism by which compassion has always worked, and that compassion is no less noble than it ever was, regardless.

            Anyway, I argue that Scandiwhovians have been relatively homogeneous — meaning that the people at the top of whatever hierarchy they have look pretty similar to people at the bottom — and thus they have a greater propensity to promote redistribution than less homogeneous societies. And as society grows less homogeneous/more diverse, this dynamic erodes.

          • gabe says


            I think we may be in more agreement than is apparent. Yes homogeneous societies, let us say a racial or ethnic homogeneity, are more *apt* (but not definitely so) to be more distributionist than say a broad diverse society such as the USA.

            Yet, it is also true that several societies of a multi-ethnic / racial composition have made a form of specified distribution a matter of constitutional law. Some African Republics (such as that term may be here employed) are best described as “consociational” republics. In this arrangement, the State oversees an entitlement / distribution system of, yes, “rents” to all ethnic / tribal groupings based upon (in theory) representation / population of each sub-grouping. And it is rather firmly enforced.
            Is this indicative of a cultural proclivity or simply a legal strategy to avoid continued conflict?

            What does it say about the distributive posture of a homogeneous society as a unique feature of such homogeneity?

            I suspect that as with most things there are multiple antecedent causes / collisions amongst and between individual members, tribes, etc which may lead the governing structure to make accomodations.

            Yet, it may also be true that such distributive efforts may be initiated / sustained and sanctioned by something far less salutary than a desire to maintain peace among various groups. It may also be that the motivations of some political actors and those actors desire for power and influence may be the driving force behind this attempt at “consociational” government. Indeed, rather than assuring peaceful concord amongst the populace, these actors are willing to excite (incite, perhaps?) discord and strife in order to present themselves as the “savior” and Great Provider.

            I think here of the Democrat Party Coalition in the USA which has practiced this fine art for nearly a century. Is it sustainable? both as a matter of economics and morally / culturally.

            So yes, homogeneous societies may be distributionist; but so too can a “melting pot” society.
            Indeed, as the political history of the USA has demonstrated for the past century, a diverse society may be MORE prone to pursue such an approach.

            The question may be: What additional mechanisms, shifts in motivations must occur before they are successful?

      • gabe says

        Well, suffering under YOUR ministrations, perhaps it would be advisable to say: “it is merely science.”

        One wonders how much longer the “discipline” may survive.

        • says

          gabe, physics does not react to opinion, and humankind works very hard to discover how to benefit from what emerges from physics. Physics has been evolving for 13.8 billion years, and some people have claimed their opinion was a god’s opinion to try to control other people. That era is over. Physics merely is.

          • djf says

            Phil, you demand that other people conform to your own opinions because you assert that your opinions somehow arise from “physics.” But physics is equally compatible with all ethical systems that do not call on people to violate the laws of physics, which is not possible anyway.

            Your arbitrary doctrines emanate not from “physics” the great and terrible, but from Phil, the little man behind the curtain. Who is a humbug.

          • says

            Not so. Attend a library meeting and participate in the collaboration. A civic people collaborate with a civic people. Phil Beaver means nothing if he is not contributing to the collaboration.

            Little people claim they know everything. Their personal god doesn’t even stand a chance when it comes to their opinion. Little people have been claiming they know the god to try to control other people for a long time. That era is over. Nevertheless, people who pursue their personal god, without practicing real harm, thrive: The god hypothesis is alive and well. At least, that is my opinion.

          • djf says

            It does not seem very civil for you to demand that people collaborate only on your arbitrary terms, and to exclude from membership in a “civic people” anyone who questions or refuses to abide by those terms.

            You are a wanna-be despot. I suppose we should be grateful that the extent of your tyranny is limited to clogging up the comments here with your half-baked, aspergery mish-mash. I am sure that you would do much worse if you could.

          • says

            djf, I appreciate your soft choice “It does not seem.”

            However, you then redirect to civil, without letting me know whether the tacit denial of “civic” is to indicate opinion-based law or social politeness and to what society politeness is judged. “Civil” is after all an opinion based idea.

            Then, you trash the word “collaborate,” first with “arbitrary terms,” a tacit claim that a writer cannot be explicit by clarifying the terms he is using, even though that is a customary, highly recommended practice. Once the terms have been used to convey the idea being expressed, we are very happy to listen to the other party’s views on the idea.

            Phil’s initial focus on “the ethics of physics,” through brutal dialogue with a civic people, clearly by email with Doug Johnson and then in library meeting with a group, was changed, by collaboration to “physics-based ethics.” Clearly, physics is and humankind works hard to understand you to benefit from it. For example, a civic people do not lie to each other, because they do not want the response to be based on a lie. Phil made a bid to change our title to “A Collaborative People of the United States,” as he thought is was more inviting, but collaboration by the group would not allow it. Collaboration claimed that the specificity of “civic” was essential to the title, but “collaboration” promised democracy-based ethics instead of physics-based ethics. I would not have written the consensus this way before just now (thank you for writing, djf).

            Our group does not exclude anyone, but we do seek people who would volunteer to both use the literal, updated preamble to the constitution for the USA to coordinate civic concerns and to collaborate for PLwCWB using physics-based ethics rather than opinion-based consent, the basis of Blackstone’s theism. The goal is safety and security, once sought by John Locke (1690), but without restriction on a person’s no-real-harm private pursuits.

            I think your time would be better spent trying to show me your words and ideas that could convince readers (not necessarily me) that PLwCWB is a bad idea. Face it: my person is not worth your propriety to trash: I am only a citizen.

          • gabe says


            I think you are demonstrating (once again) a rather unique ability to disregard the obvious with these words:

            “I think your time would be better spent trying to show me your words and ideas that could convince readers (not necessarily me) that PLwCWB is a bad idea.”

            Really? It is not djf’s task to convince others than your inflated notion of a theory of civil association is a bad idea. This would appear to be predicated upon an assumption that there are some readers here at LLB who may actually think that PLwCWB has any merit. Clearly, based upon the overwhelming preponderance of responses to your rather quaint notion of physics and civic association, there appears to be neither support for this “effluence” nor a desire to hear more of it.

            “At long last, Sir, have you no sense of decency.” I believe those words were uttered some 60 years ago to another individual prone to a certain type of unfounded and unsubstantiated “expressiveness”.

            Some would argue that Tailgunner Joe also had an imagination of advanced fecundity. I can not say as i was too young and wanted someone to switch the TV channel to a cowboy and Indian show – so don’t pay any attention to me (which you clearly will not).

            But do consider giving it (and us)a well deserved break.

        • djf says

          Since nothing else said here seems to make an impression on you, Phil, have you considered that the irrelevant sermons for your physics-based religion that you post here might be somewhat less ridiculous and trying of the patience of other readers if they were not accompanied by a photo of your Alfred E. Neumann-like face? At least, it would make it easier for the rest of us to scroll by your screeds without being provoked to making another futile plea for you to PLEASE JUST STOP ALREADY.

  3. gabe says

    Goodness gracious, what is this Fractured Fairy Tales (an old animated TV series spoofing Aesops Fables)!

    One can quite readily string together various bits of information, folklore and other assertions of questionable validity and VOILA! – we have the makings of another “race based” conspiracy!

    Yes, FDR did KNOWINGLY and DELIBERATELY cater to the DEMOCRATIC SOUTH (then known as the Solid South) to exclude many categories of workers from minimum wage provisions. However, as I recall, this was not in the manner of an exemption but rather the effect was achieved by setting the rates at such a point as to not have any significant effect upon southern workers, black and white!
    BTW: FDR that Great Savior of the underclass also knowingly and willingly colluded with the Southern Democrats to forestall the passage of anti-lynching laws.

    Yet, this does not establish that the nation as a whole sought to maintain a “permanent” unterklasse in order to provide psychological sustenance to the white lower classes. Socially, and especially in the South, there is some credence to this; as a formal political instrument or mechanism, not so much – again, the South with its Jim Crow Laws being the notable exception. Yet, it is important to remember that the South lost – both in 1865 and for the next century as well. Its economy, its mores, its civilization was dead or dying. Can one realistically argue that American culture was driven by the engine of southern intolerance? I think not; the history of the last 50 years supports my position.

    As for your portrayal of Europe and its class limited and class defined society, it would, perhaps, be helpful to place dates alongside the assertions. Indeed, at one time (and throughout all of time in ALL societies) people were defined by and restricted to their “class.” Yet, Europe moved beyond this. McGinnis would have us believe that this is the welcome child of the Enlightenment – Hmmm? I would suggest that it is the *working* child of changes in commercial relationships and activities. Whatever the origins, it occurred. The philosophical justification arose later to provide a legal basis for defining rights and duties. Only in America did its extend quite so far that it has come to be the basis for a sense of exceptionalism.

    We can look back into the past of any political society and find all manner of what we would today call folly; consequently we may be tempted to claim that long dead folly as the motivating principle for current or recent social / economic / political issues. We err when we do this in that we do not a) allow for and / or b) do not recognize the possibility of and for growth of the society.

    An example of this is your claim re: The GI Bill. Here is something specifically designed to enable many to move out of a lower social strata via assistance in Education and Homeownership. The fact that it may have had a disproportionately beneficial effect upon one group should not invalidate either the program nor justify the type of charges you comfortably advance. There may very well be a number of different causes / reasons for this – not the least of which may be an individuals decision to avail themselves of the opportunity.
    Some of us availed ourselves of it. Did I do that in order to be able to Lord it over some lower class?
    And yet, many (whom I served with) of the other class did take advantage of the programs. What does that say about the program and your thesis of the need for a permanent subjugated class / group.

    As for immigration, I suspect it has less to do with the need to feel superior to some other ethnic / racial group. Rather, it has to do with feeling comfortable – Yep, comfort in knowing that those invited (and un-invited) to our shores are willing and able to accept our ways and traditions and that they recognize that the possible cost of accepting our hospitality is that they conform to our ways. In other words, they will be welcomed in the same measure that they themselves are welcoming of us and our traditions.
    If this be a demand to maintain a permanent class of serfs – then so be it. But one would, of course, be then required to “re-define” serf – I wonder if Old Mr Webster is up to that?

    Once again, I would remind you to re-orient your time horizons. The dials on the watch may say “3” – let us be mindful that it could just as easily be 3 P.M. as 3 A.M.

    • gabe says

      Oops – and as for the praise of LBJ:

      Let us remember that it was that same old freedom loving LBJ that single-handedly quashed every piece of Civil rights legislation, from the time of his ascendancy to Legislative Power, and at the direction of that other great civil rights icon, Sam Rayburn, that had been advanced by Republicans and Northern Democrats.

      LBJ is reported to have urged fellow Democrats to permit passage of 1960’s civil Rights bills because “it will lock up the coloreds for the Democrat Party for 100 years.”

      This would seemingly support your thesis; however, it should be remarked that while LBJ’s motives may have been faulty, good did come of this BECAUSE there was already existent a countering philosophy and body of Legislators who did not believe that your thesis was or should be the motivating predicate of the American Republic.

      You know what they say about the unintended consequences of good intentions. One ought to acknowledge that there are unanticipated (and salutary) consequences of bad motivations, as well.

      The motive: I guess sometimes it is OK to mistake 3 a.m. for 3 p.m. – so long as we do not make a habit of it and recognize that it is usually better to view things in *real* time.

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