“Misgovernment in the United States is an incident in the history of commerce.”
As we unravel political knots, they resolve themselves into proverbs and familiar truth, and thus our explanation becomes a treatise upon human nature, a profession of faith. The idea that man is an unselfish animal has gradually been forced upon me, by the course of reflection which I give in the following chapters, in the order in which it occurred to me. The chapters are little more than presentations from different points of view of this one idea. The chapters on Politics and Society seem to show that our political corruptions and social inferiorities can be traced to the same source, namely, temporary distortion of human character by the forces of commerce. The chapter on Education is a study on the law of intellectual growth, and shows that a normal and rounded development can only come from a use of the faculties very different from that practiced by the average American since the discovery of the cotton gin.
Misgovernment in the United States is an incident in the history of commerce. It is part of the triumph of industrial progress. Its details are easier to understand if studied as a part of the commercial development of the country than if studied as a part of government, because many of the wheels and cranks in the complex machinery of government are now performing functions so perverted as to be unmeaning from the point of view of political theory, but which become perfectly plain if looked at from the point of view of trade. The growth and concentration of capital which the railroad and the telegraph made possible is the salient fact in the history of the last quarter-century. That fact is at the bottom of our political troubles. It was inevitable that the enormous masses of wealth, springing out of new conditions and requiring new laws, should strive to control the legislation and the administration which touched them at every point. At the present time, we cannot say just what changes were or were not required by enlightened theory. It is enough to see that such changes as came were inevitable; and nothing can blind us to the fact that the methods by which they were obtained were subversive of free government.
–John Jay Chapman, Causes and Consequences (1899)
N.B.: A simple substitution clarifies much of what is now happening in American politics:
“The growth and concentration of capital which the insurance and pharmaceutical industries made possible is the salient fact in our failure to reform health care over the last quarter century. That fact is at the bottom of our political troubles.”
Incidentally, the reference Chapman makes to the “cotton gin” may seem obscure. What he means is this: the invention of the cotton gin (along with other things for which it here stands as symbol) allowed for a vast expansion of slave labor in a system of mono-crop agriculture for export on a global market; and that this so perverted American politics & American mores, well after the Civil War, as to have infected even our system of education. (In 1860, by the way, revenues from cotton exports accounted for 53% of all export revenue in the U.S.A.)
Cf. the first comment below for my own introduction to John Jay Chapman, a great forgotten American. I should add that I owe my acquaintance w/ Chapman to a great friend & a great poet, Mark Scott.