Transcript: Thom Hartmann: OWS - Revolutionary vs. Reactionary? 6 February '12

Well, the press is reporting that there was an incident at the Occupy DC movement - a brick thrown at a cop - apparently in court they said it was just a plastic bottle. If you combine that with the recent act of vandalism in Oakland, and you wonder, what's going on, with this Occupy incident.

Is there a flaw in this model of general assemblies? Frankly, I think not. But what we're seeing here is a core battle and the battle lines that are being drawn within the occupy movement as it grow, as it moves along, is whether it is going to be a liberal in the classic sense movement or whether it's going to be in the conservative movement, I'm talking not talking Rush Limbaugh vs. me on the radio here, I'm talking in the classic sense.

Is it going to be a revolutionary movement or is it going to be a reactionary movement? That's the question. This is a primary question that is literally thousands of years old. I mean, Socrates 3,000 years ago supported the revolution of the 400 then the revolution of the 40. People got so upset with them they said, ha ha, no thanks Mr. Socrates, drink your hemlock, commit suicide.

The Romans said, you know, democracy sounds like a good idea but only if you live in Rome can you vote and only if you're a Roman citizen, and so as the empire spread all over Europe a very small number of people were actually voting.

The Catholic Church was asked this question, can people govern themselves? This is the essential question of the assemblies - can people govern themselves? And their answer was, the catholic Church's answer was, no. Only God can govern us and since he's not shown up too often, the Pope will speak through him.

And then of course you've got kingdoms, which actually were always started by war lords, and those war lords, you know, were ruling by power. Again, they were saying no. Shoguns and emperors in Japan, in China for example. The Mayans, the Aztecs, you had kingdoms. All of this stuff, all through history, everybody said no - people can't govern themselves. That was the core belief which is the core conservative belief.

Then in the 1770s - American democracy's greatest experiment as Alexis de Tocqueville called it - was started. And it has an interesting genesis, the whole American experiment, the small 'd' democracy. It started out with Thomas Hobbes back in 1651. He wrote a book called "The Leviathan". And Leviathan contains the seeds of both today's modern conservative and modern liberal movements. You can trace both of their roots to this book. And there are 2 central arguments.

The conservative argument is that people can;t govern themselves because they're essentially evil and dysfunctional and therefore they need strong leaders.

And the liberal argument that Hobbes also made was that people can govern themselves. It's a very interesting debate that happened back in that time. Now why can't people govern themselves? One of the reasons that has been proposed for a long, long time is that Eve ate that damn apple, right? She screwed up. Everybody born is born with original sin.

And so the question is, what is the natural state of humankind? Whether you take the religious story or not. Hobbes thought that the natural state of humankind was the same thing that he thought he saw out in nature, where animals ate each other. He said if we did not have the iron fist of state or church controlling us, then...

In such condition, there knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

This is the core conservative world view. People are evil and therefore you need these constraining forces. And this is why, you know, Chris Matthew's old joke - Republicans are looking for a leader, Democrats are looking for a meeting - is true. Because this was the conservative view.

Then John Locke came along and in 1689 John Locke suggested that the “state of nature” might not be what Hobbes described, that it might be different than other animals. Why? Because we have reason. The ability to reason is what separates us from claw and fang. Now, actually, modern research shows the whole claw and fang thing ain't all that true but there's democracy in nature. But nonetheless, this is the evolution of democracy. And what John Locke wrote in his State of Nature, was...

Men living according to reason without a common superior on earth, to judge between them, [and that] is properly the [uniquely human] state of nature.

Right? In other words, reason. That idea of Locke's was taken by Rousseau and Voltaire and turned into the Enlightenment, a truly revolutionary period of time. And this is when we saw the real clear definition of liberal and conservative. The British were the conservatives - the Kingdom - the liberals were the revolutionaries here in the United States.

And oddly enough you had Americans who fundamentally were conservatives - Alexander Hamilton, John Adams - and you had Americans who were fundamentally liberals - James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were the most well known.

And what the difference between the two was that these guys [conservatives] thought that people were basically evil and therefore you had to have the appearance of democracy - but not too much. And therefore the compromise, for example, when they wrote the Constitution that the Senate would not be directly elected.

On the other hand you had Jefferson and Madison saying, no, no, all the power has to be with the people. And they were so emphatic about that that the constitution - read article 3 section 2 - it says even the Supreme Court shall function “under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.” In other words, everything is subordinate to Congress. Why is that? Because Congress stands every two years for election. It's the closest to the people. It's the way that you make sure that the people's will is followed.

Which brings us to today's Occupy movement. The question that they're facing is that are they going to be a liberal representative democracy, functionally? Are they going to operate on the assumption that everybody can participate? Or are they going to turn into a more authoritarian top down organization?

I remember the Weather Underground. I was in SDS when the Weather Underground came out. It was an authoritarian top down organization, by and large. We saw the same thing in Oakland. Oakland is really interesting. You had, in fact we had a guest on this show who said, yeah, we, the Oakland Occupy movement, we marched to this store, we had no idea where we were going because the leaders in secret decided where we'd go. That's conservative, not liberal. That's reactionary, not revolutionary.

So, in a way we live right now in revolutionary times, and we're seeing this same battle that was played out between Jefferson and Adams, right now in the Occupy movement.

My hope, personally, is that they don't go the direction of an authoritarian movement, that you don't see "leaders" emerging. That instead, if there is anything, it representatives, that individuals will say, 'OK, you're collectively, you know, if anybody's going to be a spokesperson they will be elected. If anybody's going to be a leader they will be elected'. Because as they say in the Occupy movement, “The whole world is watching.”

That's The Big Picture.

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