Ecclesiastes states bluntly: “There is nothing new under the Sun”. Alas, the present can be better understood through the lens of history. Even in socio-political economics, the statement in Ecclesiastes seems to hold true. The idea of class warfare throughout history is not new. Karl Marx basically explained that this contention is the driving economic force throughout history (with Engles). In the Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote a vastly popular and maligned book on the matter. You cannot talk about class warfare in this day in age without discussing Marx in some detail. Marxist theories were a catalyst of revolutionary thought; essentially being the fuel that drove many nations on contentious paths. This blog post is not made to condone Communism. It does not condone Capitalism either. Those two terms and been so convoluted that there are multiple meanings, sub-meanings, & contexts to them. Alas I will attempt to define Neo-Victorianism within the context of history & political thought. The Neo-Victorian theory is an attempt to catalogue & contain a system of political thought. It is a way to better define the concepts driving certain forces together into unified political thought. In such, it attempts to show that history can never be forgotten if we are to make the right political moves for society’s future. I define Neo-Victorianism as political thought that romanticizes the historical period between 1865-1929. There are some unique factors about society, their politics & economic models, during this period of time. Those two dates, 1865 & 1929, encapsulate events that have profoundly affected our global culture.
1865. The United States Union won the bloodiest war in its history: The Civil War. The United States was forever changed. The country now faced a Brave New World in which old wounds were to be forcibly mended. The country was still isolationist on foreign affairs, but this would soon change. Economically speaking; the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. The US had for half a decade focused all its energy on defeating the Rebel Confederacy. This was the modern start of Eisenhower’s Military-Industrial Complex. In economics they speak of the tradeoff between guns & butter. During the Civil War, the US economy was completely focused on guns. Now it had no need for the guns, but lots and lots of butter could make lots and lots of bread. The birth pangs of the Corporation also began during this time. There was a huge economic engine in the US and it needed to adapt to make it go.
The solution to bring wealth to the Military-Industrial Complex came both domestically and internationally. The argument can be made that the US found itself ideally situated for growth. Major European immigration was utilized to fuel the factories and the military. A new life was to be had & Industrial Revolution technologies were bringing about massive economic growth. International trade became very enticing; again leading to massive wealth. This all culminated greatly into the political and economic scenario that followed.
Between 1865 – 1929 saw the rise of the Robber Baron. Essentially, after Lincoln & the Civil War, the country was ready to settle down and find its own stride. It did so by electing and molding a weaker Executive Branch and a gridlocked Congress. Through the engine of growth & the manipulation in economies of scale, industry leaders amassed great wealth on levels never seen before. This wealth begat more wealth via poor oversight and regulation of the economy. Industry leaders held enormous sway over vast populations. It was far easier in this time to manage the masses while controlling the purse strings from above. All of this culminated into monopolistic and manipulative practices by the Robber Barons. This period saw the rise of JP Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, & Rockafeller to name a few. Those names were the biggest of the big bad boys of them all. Wealth siphoned to the top with competition eaten up by the monopolistic predators. These purse strings led to the political maneuvering of the day. They profited more from weak government.
Charles Dickens wrote masterfully during this period of time. He showed the horrible disparity between Rich & Poor. The rigid social order maintained the status quo & political systems followed suit. Lack of oversight and regulation allowed for inhumane working conditions. Exponential wealth was siphoned to the top while the masses struggled. New migrations to cities for work & the immigrant populations fleeing the Old Country led to an environment of desperation. This of course led to profiteering.
In this environment dominated by the machinations of the Robber Barons, the modern day Worker’s Movement evolved. Very real economic & political systems had very real effects on greater society’s well-being. The working class organized and heads began to roll. This movement did not come without a fight. Corporate leaders utilized force to put down the uprisings within these companies. Governmental forces were slow to respond. Bad working conditions brought about things taken for granted today. You cannot talk about OSHA, USDA, & the Department of Labor without looking at this period of time. The birth of the Union was born & they were maligned from the get go. Upton Sinclair – The Jungle, is a wonderful read to see what poor regulation does to consumer goods.
Theodore Roosevelt arose from fighting corruption in NY. His detractors wanted to get rid of him asap and used elected office to get him out of town. It worked, but only so far. The country and vast amount of citizens had enough of the power monopolies of their day. The trust busters emerged attempting to limit the formation of monopolies. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil break up was a fine example of this historical time. Even though Standard Oil broke up, Shareholder proxy ensured that Rockefeller would be able to maintain some semblance of control.
Industry was not the only sector to see great change; with the accrual of wealth and power. The JP Morgan’s of the world ran sophisticated market operations in their financial empires. It was said that JP Morgan ran the economy. In many senses he did. Major political and economic interactions were held sway to his company’s ability & status. The 19th Century did have recessionary periods. Wild swings in the markets were common with insider trading & other market manipulations. All of this culminates into 1929. The stock market crash of 1929 was an end of an era. The world went into great global depression, necessitating a New World Order. This was only reinforced by WWII. As for the end of an era, the only thing the Roaring 20’s seemed to leave as a legacy was Prohibition & Organized Crime.
Just as with the Industrial Age politics, The Information Age seems to have those who are bound to repeat history. This is due to the fact that their information economies are skewed & biased. Economic & political theory is based on social science. Science being the key. Its not beakers and test tubes, its statistical significance & research. Most importantly its the process understood as the Scientific Method. If you don’t know the Scientific Method, you are ignorant of the world today. All this being said, at bare minimum, those in political debate need to back up their arguments with established facts & information.
The ideology I’m labeling Neo-Victorian, is a biased political label. Even so I do feel that it is based on history and the realities of statistical significance. Much of it comes from my understanding of certain political thought that I was exposed to as a Page for the US House of Representatives. Finally here is the argument at hand: it is how I analyze the current state of affairs in the US. Conservatives & Libertarians have assumed ideological control of the modern Republican Party. They are in fact Neo-Victorian ideologues. Knowingly or unwittingly, their plans are to take the United States back to the Victorian era … about 1865-1929. Small Government, Big Business is nothing new. The rhetoric may change but history does not; unless you change the history books.
I speak of a party obsessed with Supply-Side Reaganomics. Of economic theories that hold some warrant, but not in the absolutist form that is assumed. Around 1979 and the rise of Ronald Reagan, the stars aligned & the Republican President promised to change America. As fears of recession & Cold War loomed, The American public was sold a dream. The ills of America were said to be due to Liberal policies of past administrations. Congress was viewed as incompetent while the Democrats held control. The Reagan Administration went on a spending bing on the backs of the American people. This was done by the massive incursion of public debt to fund the Administration’s initiatives. This was a very Keynesian move as this spending boosted the economy. That being said, the rhetoric of small government while growing it tremendously was hugely popular. Supply-Side “economists” claimed that low taxes would spur private industry. Surely this would create more jobs and the wage environment. Socially, the notion of “Family Values” included a dichotomy of governmental involvement. To institute “Family Values” Government must regulate the Citizenry greater, while dismantling regulation and oversight for the economy.
This is the ridiculous state of affairs brought to us by the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers. Moreover this is my understanding of the modern Republican Party and current political debates. The acceleration of wealth disparity affects every American today. Executive pay versus the Working Class continues to be driven apart. Collective Bargaining is being outlawed by States while taxes continue to be cut. Banks too big to fail gave us the great recession of 2008. No Executive has been held responsible; Nor have the regulators & policymakers of the past. Supply Side Economics is being sold as the root of economic success; all while the numbers show very little trickling-down financially. Congress is weak. They have the worst ratings ever! Everyone feels their beholden to special interests. All the more as Citizens United ensures that money is speech and the wealth can manipulate the decision making process. The President is regularly attacked in ways that attempt to diminish Executive power and place it in the private sector.
Neo-Victorian labeling comes in to play under these auspices. Libertarians base their theories on personal freedom and responsibility. Think Tanks such as the Heritage Foundation flesh out political arguments espousing Libertarian ideals. Conservatives take Libertarian economic models while instituting stringent social ideologies based on religion. Through this lens, I find myself understanding the logic of the modern Republican Party. I am a registered Democrat and I embrace my philosophical bias. By understanding Neo-Victorian thought, one understands Modern Republicans. By understanding Neo-Victorian thought, one also has a better sense of the drastic negative consequences of Conservative thinking.
The mechanics involved in Neo-Victorian thinking does not stop at the borders of the United States. Time and time again, we see the consequences of hoarding wealth & manipulating Governments. Take Bangladesh. The horrible accident at the clothing factory was completely avoidable by regulations and enforcement. So what if the cost of goods sold were to rise, well-being is at stake. Take China, they’re currently investigating baby formula producers for collusion in price fixing. Take the protests of today. Brazil has seen an uprising of the middle class when their economy faltered. Take the Arab Spring. vast majorities of the population are under 21 and there is endemic problems with employment. There is also a super rich elite that controlled the State. The world is on notice. The communications and information of the Information Age is here to stay. It is increasingly hard for the power elite to utilize ignorance as a means to social control.