Saturday, October 15, 2011

How "Working-Class" Is Socialism?

How "Working-Class" Is Socialism?: Not very, is the short answer to this question. Aside from Eugene V. Debs and A. Philip Randolph, who worked as a boilerman and porter, respectively, and who participated in unions like the American Railway Union (ARU) and Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), socialism has largely been the product of highly-trained technocrats, especially in Europe. For example, one would be hard-pressed to find historical accounts of early socialist/communist thinkers like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels toiling away in factories along the Rhine. However, Engels did observe the drudgeries of working-class England when he visited Manchester's textile factories in the early 1840s. But one-hundred years after Marx and Engels, Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek stated that "socialism has never and nowhere at first been a working-class movement." While this might be somewhat of an overstatement, Hayek understood that socialism, as an ideology of the downtrodden masses, rests unabashedly on the supreme assumption that a central authority, i.e., the state, can somehow consolidate and utilize all earthly knowledge for the purposes of equalizing society. While this idealistic assumption may sound appealing, the logistical difficulties behind central planning in this fashion simply preclude most forms of socialism from existing.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Young America to the Rescue!

Young America to the Rescue!: In an 1837 editorial for the Democratic Review, John L. O'Sullivan (pictured above) wrote that "all history is to be rewritten." This statement came to define the mission of the Young America Movement. Modeled after certain intellectual groups in Europe (Young Italy, Young Hegelians, etc.), Young America advocated political reforms for all Americans. And as a group of young Democrats living in New York City during the mid-nineteenth century, the movement was mostly urban and middle class. In particular, O'Sullivan was perhaps best known as the man who coined the phrase "Manifest Destiny" to depict America's westward expansion in the 1840s. According to historian Edward Widmer, the movement specifically sought to promote cultural change within the confines of Jacksonian democracy. By using visual arts, Young America hinged on the works of American artists like Asher B. Durand, Thomas Cole, and William Sidney Mount. These artists specialized in natural landscape paintings, which hinted at America's innocence and youthfulness. In fact, many of Young America's landscape painters belonged to a concurrent art movement known as the Hudson River School.