One surprise for Americans reading the Declaration of Independence today is the relationship between the preambulatory paragraphs and the specific bill of indictments against the British King. Modern Americans (naturally) read the preambulatory theory largely in view of our own experiences, so we typically read it through the lens of the individual versus the government. This often blinds us to one important component of what the founders argued, that individual liberty has a necessary collective, communal, expression. It’s not simply as a matter of the individual versus government. Perhaps in a time that seems to be crying for greater solidarity among Americans, reinvigorating this line of thought from the founding might prove fruitful.
In The Federalist #10 James Madison famously observes that the “most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property.” But Madison discusses numerous other sources of faction as well:
The political situation in Poland has attracted the world’s attention. According to conventional wisdom, last year’s electoral victory by the Law and Justice Party was a setback for the democratic evolution of the country. The international media worries that the golden child of post-communist Central and Eastern Europe has gone astray.
In Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Gil Pender vacations in Paris with his fiancée and her parents. One night Pender takes a walk to escape the insufferable egotists who surround him and stumbles upon an antique Peugeot. It takes him to the 1920s, the golden age for which he has always yearned. He falls in love with Picasso’s lover Adriana, who herself has always longed for the 1890s’ Belle Époque. After a horse and carriage pass them by and whisk them to that period, and after the Impressionists they meet yearn for the Renaissance, Pender realizes that no age is as golden as we imagine and concludes that it is better to live in the reality of the present.
Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic is an extended essay on the same theme.
Summer is the time for big dumb action movies, but fans of intelligent and compelling filmmaking also have alternatives to superheroes, gross-out comedies, and Jason Bourne. Two newly released documentaries—Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism, and also Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief—are expertly crafted and explore the deepest questions about human belief and the nature of truth.
The only political prediction which I am proud to have made is that there would be demonstrations on the Boulevard St Germain if, in response to the riots in the banlieues of French towns and cities in 2005, the French government attempted the slightest liberalization of the French labor market. And so it proved: thousands of young people came out on to the streets to protest against what was really only a straw in the wind or a cloud on the horizon. They were protesting, in fact, against the potential withdrawal not of the privileges that they now enjoyed but that, as children of the prosperous and the fully-employed, they hoped to enjoy in the future.
It never occurred to them that the employment protections of some are the exclusion from the labor market of others. They were, in effect, like the white miners of the Witwatersrand in South Africa who went on strike in 1922 against the use of black miners as an economy measure by the mine owners. Their slogan, under the leadership of the South African communists, was ‘Workers of the world unite for a white South Africa.’
The case of Gérard Depardieu continues to agitate France. The most famous French actor in the world has recently taken Russian citizenship (granted in record time) in protest against high rates of taxation in France. By coincidence he had recently played the role of Rasputin in a film made for Russian television.
Depardieu is a very rich man; he has put his house in Paris up for sale at $66 million, and that is only one of his properties. It is therefore not entirely easy, psychologically, for most of us who live in slightly more modest conditions to see him as a man on the brink of ruin. But like all rich Frenchmen at a time of demagogic attacks on the rich, he fears the most confiscatory of all taxes, the ISF (Impôt sur la fortune), a levy on personal assets that could easily result in someone having to pay more, even much more, than 100 per cent of his income in tax. This would be quite popular in a country in which many people consider all personal enrichment but their own as illegitimate, and in which the ISF is justified as being a manifestation of social solidarity. Solidarité in France is no longer an expression of compassion, but a matter of fiscal policy mandated by the political class. To put it another way, human feeling has been nationalized.