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When we think about the transition from feudalism to capitalism, we take the long view – we scan the four centuries from 1400 to 1800, looking for signs of fundamental but incremental change. To be sure, we assume that the great bourgeois revolutions of the seventeeth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries were both symptoms and causes of this transition; in that sense, we proceed in our thinking as if capitalism were created by social movements, political activism, ideological extremism. Still, we know these early modern movements can’t be compared to the communist parties that created state socialism in twentieth-century Russia, China, and Cuba, because in these more recent instances, self-conscious revolutionaries organized workers and peasants to overthrow capitalism and create socialism.
In the mid seventeeth century, John Milton, John Lilburn, and Gerrard Winstanley clearly understood that they were overthrowing something, but they didn’t know they were creating the conditions of capitalism; neither did Thomas Paine a century later, as he made his way from the American to the French Revolution, from Common Sense to The Rights of Man. Not even Maximilien Robespierre, the mastermind of the Terror, was prophet enough to see this improbable future. And when Theodore Weld, Angelina Grimke, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln set out to overthrow slavery, they didn’t know they were making “The Last Capitalist Revolution,” as Barrington Moore, Jr called it in Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (1966).
In short, capitalism was the unintended consequence of bourgeois revolutions, whereas socialism has been the avowed purpose, or at least a crucial component, of every revolution since 1911. This difference has become so important that when we think about the transition from capitalism to socialism, we take the short view: we look for ideological extremes, social movements, vanguard parties, self-conscious revolutionaries, radical dissenters, armed struggles, extra-legal methods, political convulsions – as if the coming of socialism requires the abolition of capitalism by cataclysm, by insurgent, militant mass movements dedicated to that purpose. As a result, we keep asking Werner Sombart’s leading question, “Why Is There No Socialism in the United States?” And we keep answering defensively, on our way to an apology. [read]
A person who worked for Mitt Romney at the consulting firm Bain and Co. in 1977 remembers him with mixed feelings. “Mitt was … a really wonderful boss,” the former employee says. “He was nice, he was fair, he was logical, he said what he wanted … he was really encouraging.” But Bain and Co., the person recalls, pushed employees to find out secret revenue and sales data on its clients’ competitors. Romney, the person says, suggested “falsifying” who they were to get such information, by pretending to be a graduate student working on a project at Harvard. (The person, in fact, was a Harvard student, at Bain for the summer, but not working on any such projects.) “Mitt said to me something like ‘We won’t ask you to lie. I am not going to tell you to do this, but [it is] a really good way to get the information.’ … I would not have had anything in my analysis if I had not pretended.
“It was a strange atmosphere. It did leave a bad taste in your mouth,” the former employee recalls.
This unsettling account suggests the young Romney—at that point only two years out of Harvard Business School—was willing to push into gray areas when it came to business. More than three decades later, as he tried to nail down the Republican nomination for president of the United States, Romney’s gray areas were again an issue when he repeatedly resisted calls to release more details of his net worth, his tax returns, and the large investments and assets held by him and his wife, Ann. Finally the other Republican candidates forced him to do so, but only highly selective disclosures were forthcoming.
The assertion that he broke no laws is widely accepted. But it is worth asking if it is actually true. The answer, in fact, isn’t straightforward. Romney, like the superhero who whirls and backflips unscathed through a web of laser beams while everyone else gets zapped, is certainly a remarkable financial acrobat. But careful analysis of his financial and business affairs also reveals a man who, like some other Wall Street titans, seems comfortable striding into some fuzzy gray zones.
“It’s not a question of liking or disliking [Lyndon Johnson]. I’m trying to explain how political power worked in America in the second half of the 20th century, and here’s a guy who understood power and used it in a way that no one ever had. In the getting of that power he’s ruthless — ruthless to a degree that surprised even me, who thought he knew something about ruthlessness. But he also means it when he says that all his life he wanted to help poor people and people of color, and you see him using the ruthlessness, the savagery for wonderful ends. Does his character ever change? No. Are my feelings about Johnson mixed? They’ve always been mixed.” - Robert Caro, on LBJ. Caro’s fourth installment on Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power, comes out May 1st.The above photo illustrates Caro’s meticulous writing process (and you should read the accompanying NY Times Magazine piece on Caro):He writes his first few drafts the old-fashioned way: in longhand, on large legal pads. He doesn’t start typing — on an old Smith Corona Electra 210, not a computer — until he has finished four or five handwritten drafts. And then he rewrites the typescript. (Credit: Martine Fougeron/Getty/ New York Times)
Pass through security into the headquarters of Obama 2012, and the effect is like stepping into the world’s most high-tech dorm room. Spanning the entire floor of a Chicago skyscraper, the campaign’s nerve center boasts a ping-pong table, a staff of 300…They don’t use phones up here; most of the digital team weren’t even issued any. Instead, campaign workers communicate mostly by e-mail, G-chat and Twitter. Rows of young staffers, some perched on yoga balls, are quietly coding new online tools to engage supporters…and tracking metrics of volunteers recruited and new voters registered. An energetic hum fills the room, punctuated only by mouse clicks.
It’s official. There is no doubt in my mind that Rick Perry will be this election’s top culture war candidate. I first started to believe it when he announced “The Response”, a prayer rally, which turned out to be step one in a voter mobilization drive . That feeling was bolstered as his ties to religious extremists came into the light, and again when his Dominionist beliefs were confirmed. Then Perry passed former Iowa-frontrunner Michele Bachmann in the primary race, according to Public Policy Polling. Now, in my mind, Perry has taken the final step on the road to becoming a culture war candidate.
From The Hill:
Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday signed an anti-abortion-rights group’s presidential pledge, making him the seventh Republican presidential candidate to do so.
Perry’s decision strengthens his hand with conservative voters while drawing attention to front-runner Mitt Romney’s decision not to sign on. Candidates Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman and Gary Johnson have also so far refused to sign the pledge and are under pressure to do so.
“I not only pledge to protect unborn life, but have a record of doing so in Texas,” Perry said in a statement. “I have signed legislation requiring parental consent for a minor to obtain an abortion, and have long advocated adoption as an alternative to abortion in order to protect unborn children.”
The petition, called the Pro-Life Presidential Leadership Pledge, was created by the Susan B. Anthony List. The SBA-List is an organization “dedicated to electing candidates and pursuing policies that will reduce and ultimately end abortion.” The organization topped the list of Pro-Life PAC donors for the 2008 and 2010 election cycles.
One of my first “original” articles for this blog was a relatively short post titled, “Seven Mountains Dominionism: Why Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich Won’t Be President”. The post has a couple notes, but hasn’t been particularly popular ….until recently. Suddenly, in the last few days,…