17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes. (Image: John Michael Wright)While the nation was hypnotized by the Second Inaugural of Barack Obama on Tuesday, Republicans in Virginia moved America closer to the place envisioned by the 17th century dystopic philosopher Thomas Hobbes.
What they did is jam a new redistricting plan through the state senate that created more safe seats for Republicans, virtually assuring Republican domination of the state Senate come the next election in two years. It was blatant election rigging.
In an interview with TPM, Democratic state Senator Creigh Deeds blasted the surprise redistricting plan. “It goes against every tradition,” he said. “It was a dirty trick.”
And get this, the only reason why the measure passed a split state Senate with twenty Republicans and twenty Democrats is because one of those Democrats – civil rights leader Senator Harry Marsh – was in Washington, DC attending the inauguration. So, with a single vote advantage for a single day, Republicans pounced.
Just like Republicans in Pennsylvania pounced last week when they introduced legislation to change how their state allocates Electoral College votes. Rather than a winner-take-all system, which granted President Obama all of the state’s twenty Electoral College votes last November, Republicans want votes handed out based on which Congressional districts were won by each candidate. Why? Because they gerrymandered the congressional districts in 2010. Under this scheme, Mitt Romney would have actually won 13 of 20 Electoral College votes in Pennsylvania despite losing the statewide popular vote by four points. Again, it’s blatant election rigging.
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To make matters worse, Republicans state lawmakers in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin are all considering similar changes that will make it virtually impossible for a Democrat to win the White House in the future.
As Joe Biden would say, “This is a BFD.”
But these efforts around the country aren’t just to secure Republicans political victories over the next two to four years and beyond. They’re also to, in the opinion of Conservatives, save the nation from the “evil-natured masses.” They actually believe that by rigging elections to give them power, they’re saving America from the unwashed masses.
This mistrust of voters reveals the heart of the difference in worldviews between Conservatives and Liberals.
The Conservative line of thinking comes from Thomas Hobbes’ worldview that man is inherently evil. As Hobbes describes the natural state of man, our “state of nature” is a place where, “there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
As such, we cannot be trusted to govern ourselves. Instead, we must be governed by a strong central authority like a King or Pope.
There’s also a strain of Calvinist thinking to this Conservative fear of voters. While Calvinists in centuries past also concluded that the masses are, for the most part, wicked, they also claimed that there’s a small group of individuals who have been pre-chosen by God to rule the rest of us. They’re known as “The Elect.”
How did we know who these special individuals were? Well, they were the ones who were rich and powerful, because God made them so.
This is a very convenient ideology for the rich and powerful to convince us all to buy into. And it stuck for centuries, as people were reduced to mere serfs or servants, ruled by a “benevolent” King or an “enlightened” religious leader.
Today, Kings and Theocrats have been largely pushed aside. But this view that man is best governed by a small, wealthy elite remains alive. It’s the core assumption of the Conservative ideology that is each and every day eroding the power of the electorate in states across America. It’s why people like Grover Norquist would call for drowning American democracy in the bathtubs of oligarchs like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson – after all, you just can’t trust a government that offers “free stuff” like Social Security or universal healthcare to the rabble.
This is why Liberalism is so important.
It was John Locke in the 18th Century who first pushed back against Hobbes’ “state of nature” and argued that man is not motivated by malice, but instead by reason. And through reason, “we the people” can actually govern ourselves through laws based on reason.
To Locke, any sort of government that operates without the consent of the people – and without reason – should be overthrown. Needless to say, Hobbes’ absolute Kings and Oligarchs, who derived their consent from God or their riches, and not reason, shouldn’t exist in Locke’s world.
Ultimately, as the Enlightenment moved along, Locke’s idea prevailed over Hobbes. And it was in the tradition of Locke that our Founding Fathers became revolutionaries and overthrew the King of England. And it was in the tradition of Locke that Thomas Jefferson fought with the early royalists to spread democracy to more and more people.
To this day, this issue of how much power voters should have, compared to billionaires, churches, and corporations, remains the fundamental point of cleavage between Conservatives and Liberals.
For the last thirty years, the Conservative worldview has prevailed in America. It says we cannot trust the people to govern themselves, and so we must trust the wealthy elite and the market to organize society. And with recent democracy-suppressing efforts in Virginia and Pennsylvania, Conservatives use this worldview to rationalize their behavior.
But now, with President Obama saying “we the people” five times in his Second Inaugural, it’s clear he’s trying to put Hobbes and his Conservative ideology back into the dustbin of history.
And it’s time that we as a nation ask ourselves a fundamental question: Are we capable of governing ourselves as John Locke and Thomas Jefferson believed? Or should we simply let the modern-day kings, the billionaires, run things, as today’s Conservatives believe?
Our Founding Fathers answered that questioned with the Declaration of Independence. We must answer it anew today.