Thesis Number: #3 (Page 5 of 10)

America’s Social Contract

European migrants dreamed of a new beginning in the New World. Was this a new chance to develop a viable way of life based on a new metaphysics? It was not to be. Settlers were granted a secular contract which gave them qualified right to life and liberty. This deprivation was achieved by negating the Covenant with God. Each person’s equal right of access to nature was replaced by the right to happiness. The central figure in this misuse of the Covenant and the Epicurean philosophy was Thomas Jefferson, the land and slave owner from Virginia.

Jefferson was an Epicurean. He owned five Latin editions of On the Nature of Things. When he crafted the declaration that sealed the break with Britain, he ensured that the people of an independent America would enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Greenblatt 2012: 262-263). This trilogy of rights merged – one might say twisted – the doctrines of John Locke and Epicurus.

Locke’s formula for freedom in civil society was based on the natural rights doctrine of “life, liberty, and estate”. The word estate was the English term for land. Jefferson dropped it in favour of “happiness”. So the first comers, the English aristocrats who established their landed estates in Virginia, retained control of their properties along with the power to make the laws of the land. The peasants driven out of their homelands in Europe by the enclosures that dispossessed them of their traditional access to common land would have to submit to the laws of the land lords. Outcome: a population atomised, individuals alienated in the pursuit of an elusive happiness, coerced by secular myths that cynically exploited the language of the divine to secure compliance with a declaration of independence and a constitution that incubated the pathologies that blighted the Old World.

It could have been different, if the spirit of the Covenant was written into the foundation texts of the new republic. But Jefferson was acting in the best interests of the land lords. His attitude was revealed some years later when, while in Paris, he unsuccessfully tried to have deleted the word property from the list of inalienable rights in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man (Miller 1988: 201, n.140).

The threat from Political Economy

While Jefferson and the patrician land owners of America were embedding Henrician pathologies in the New World, something exciting was emerging in the Old World. Moral philosophers were integrating scientific rigour with the values derived from the theology of the land in a new social discipline: political economy. The French Physiocrats and Adam Smith explained that rent ought to be paid to the state that provided benefits to those who occupied land.

Elaboration of the rent thesis was undertaken in the 19th century by David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill in England, Johann von Thünen in Germany and Henry George in America. Their work became a threat to the rent-seekers. Something had to be done, because Henry George was equipping the masses around the world with the knowledge of political economy.

A number of Catholic bishops mobilised themselves against George. He had successfully combined the science of economics with Christian beliefs. The bishops wanted the Vatican to ban his book. The Inquisition subjected Progress and Poverty (1879) to critical study. On February 6, 1889, the Holy Office deemed the book

worthy of condemnation. The members of the Congregation…decided to abstain from making known publicly their disapproval. But they are confident that all local bishops, as far as land is concerned, will stick to the perpetual Catholic doctrine on private property, as defined repeatedly and as stressed most recently in the encyclical letters Qui pluribus of Pope Pius IX and Quod Apostolici muneris of Pope Leo XIII. They are confident, too, that the local bishops will beware of the wrong theories which Henry George tries to sell thereon”.[1]

By their actions, the bishops rejected the Covenant as elaborated by Jesus. Leo XIII followed up with Rerum novarum (1891), the encyclical that attacked Henry George’s version of the Parable of the Vineyard. Emboldened, the secular experts eviscerated land and rent from their economic models, to create post-classical economics (Gaffney 1994).

All the Christian denominations, and custodians of the Islamic faith, disqualified themselves as champions of right living on planet Earth. Rent-seekers were free to wreck their societies all the way through the 20th century, and inflict collateral damage on nature, without fear of censure from the monotheistic religions.

[1] Communication from Cardinal Simeoni to Cardinal Gibbons. The Latin original is quoted in John Tracy Ellis, The Life of James Cardinal Gibbons, I (Milwaukee, 1952: 584). The English translation is cited in Michael Silagi, Henry George and Europe, NY: Schalkenbach Foundation, 2000:150.
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