Bring Back That Old-Time Elitism

 

In 1780, François de Barbé Marbois, a French diplomat, sent a series of questions to each of the 13 states. His goal: To compile a report, to be sent back to Paris, on the economic life of the new country. In Virginia, the questions were forwarded to the state’s governor, Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson’s answers were eventually published as Notes on the State of Virginia. Among its most famous passages is Jefferson’s paean to agriculture:

In Europe the lands are either cultivated, or locked up against the cultivator. Manufacture must therefore be resorted to of necessity not of choice, to support the surplus of their people. But we have an immensity of land courting the industry of the husbandman. Is it best then that all our citizens should be employed in its improvement, or that one half should be called off from that to exercise manufactures and handicraft arts for the other? Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth. Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators is a phaenomenon of which no age nor nation has furnished an example. It is the mark set on those, who not looking up to heaven, to their own soil and industry, as does the husbandman, for their subsistance, depend for it on the casualties and caprice of customers. Dependance begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition. This, the natural progress and consequence of the arts, has sometimes perhaps been retarded by accidental circumstances: but, generally speaking, the proportion which the aggregate of the other classes of citizens bears in any state to that of its husbandmen, is the proportion of its unsound to its healthy parts, and is a good-enough barometer whereby to measure its degree of corruption. While we have land to labour then, let us never wish to see our citizens occupied at a work-bench, or twirling a distaff. Carpenters, masons, smiths, are wanting in husbandry: but, for the general operations of manufacture, let our work-shops remain in Europe. It is better to carry provisions and materials to workmen there, than bring them to the provisions and materials, and with them their manners and principles. The loss by the transportation of commodities across the Atlantic will be made up in happiness and permanence of government. The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body. It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigour. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution.

The clash between the Jeffersonian vision and the Hamiltonian vision—growth through manufacturing, trade, and modern finance—played out over many years, often bitterly. President Washington took both rivals into his cabinet; ultimately Hamilton prevailed. But the war did not end there, and its battles resonate down to this day. We see it in the maps illustrating the 2000 election, Red America vs. Blue America. We see it in recent Ricochet conversations about elitism and leadership. Hamilton was the elitist; Jefferson, the populist.

But elitism vs. populism does not quite capture the difference. Jefferson, for all his promotion of agriculture, was only a gentleman farmer. He read, wrote, invented, played the violin, enjoyed fine wine, and partied—often well beyond his means. He did not get his hands dirty. He was among the elite of the elite, as were most of the Virginians who formed the backbone of the Anti-Federalists. In fact, every part of the federal government, with the lone exception of the House of Representatives, was established as an elite institution. Senators were chosen by state legislatures. Justices and cabinet members were nominated by the president. The president was chosen by an Electoral College, whose elite members were chosen, again, by the states. Even the democratically elected Congressmen were elected by a voting base that was limited, in nearly all cases, to landowning elites.

*       *       *

In his masterwork The Jewish Century, Yuri Slezkine divides society into two groups, which he calls Apollonians and Mercurians. Apollonians live on the land, and are the country’s producers of food, commodities, goods, and military might. Mercurians are intermediaries who smooth the functions of society through their wits—merchants and traders, bankers, lawyers, doctors, thinkers and writers, entertainers.

Apollonians and Mercurians approach the world in different ways, and it leads to natural tension and even distrust. For Apollonians, the prime values are valor and straightforwardness, and cleverness is something to be suspicious of. Cleverness is a tool people use to take advantage of you. For Mercurians, in contrast, cleverness is to be admired, and one is suspicious of straightforwardness; it is too often a sign of false oversimplification, naivete, or just plain dullness. To Mercurians, an Apollonian lack of nuance can also lead to misplaced blame when things go wrong—and Apollonian scapegoating of Mercurians, or even violence toward them, is an all-too-common occurrence.

As Slezkine emphasizes, Apollonians and Mercurians need each other more than they care to admit. Just try to imagine a society without money, for example, or one without farmers. A healthy society values both Apollonian honor and Mercurian intelligence.

The Apollonian-Mercurian dichotomy can be useful for explaining many social phenomena. For example, Ryan M asks: Why are cities liberal? Well, I would argue that conservative or liberal tendencies have a lot to do with whether you think people’s fates are determined more through effort or luck. Thus producers (whose success comes from sustained effort) generally have conservative tendencies, while intermediaries (who see a lot of outcomes attributable to luck) tend to be more liberal. Also, the Apollonian lifestyle prizes stability, whereas Mercurian life thrives on change and innovation. So cities—which attract more Mercurian occupations because of network advantages and transportation infrastructure—tend to skew liberal.

For Slezkine, all this is merely preliminary to his main thesis. That thesis has two parts: (a) The Modern age (in the Paul Johnson sense) is a Mercurian age; and (b) (Ashkenazi) Jews, as the paradigmatic Mercurians, have been among both the biggest beneficiaries of, and the biggest contributors to, modernity. I’d like to consider the first part of that thesis.

*       *       *

Consider Jefferson’s passage above. It is written not in praise of populism, but pure Apollonianism. (That’s why I quoted it at length.) Jefferson was an elitist—an Apollonian elitist. In the early Republic, elites came from both sides of the Slezkine dichotomy. The country was led by elites then as well as now, but it was more balanced between Apollonian and Mercurian elites—perhaps represented by Virginia vs. Massachusetts (or Philadelphia) as the two centers of power.

Industrialism changed that somewhat, but not much. Producers share a certain mentality regardless of the product. Industrial producers became the new Apollonians. Carnegie was famous for doing deals with a handshake—that’s Apollonian trust. The values that H. Ross Perot pushed in the rust belt, among the factory-worker Reagan Democrats, were commonsense Apollonian values—set against those tricky Mercurians in elite centers like Washington, DC.

Modernity changed that. As Slezkine shows, the skills that are required to succeed in the modern age are Mercurian skills: Abstract reasoning, word manipulation, negotiation, storytelling. Lawyers can get rich, as can software developers. CEOs today are not the industrial giants of Ayn Rand’s imagination—innovators who garner the respect of their employees because they know every aspect of production through-and-through. Rather, today’s successful corporate leaders are managers who excel at people skills, and must know their way around a financial statement. Even today’s generals are steeped in Mercurian values. Our society aims to send all our children to college, to learn to become Mercurians, but not trade school or ag school. The only Apollonian professor of any note is Victor Davis Hanson.

Our federal government reflects this shift in values too. Elected offices are more populist than ever. (In what previous generation would a Bill Clinton or Michelle Bachmann or Joe Biden have risen so far?) But the government is run day-to-day by the bureaucracy and the professional congressional staffs—Mercurians all—and the People’s House is full of millionaire lawyers. Aside from Carter, the peanut farmer, and perhaps W., the rancher, we haven’t had an Apollonian president since Eisenhower. We are missing our Apollonian elites. We are missing our producer-leaders.

*       *       *

One theory regarding the fall of Rome is that the centralization of power in cities killed the productive countryside. First, from a social standpoint, the centralization of power in the hands of Mercurian elites undermined the large landowners—the Apollonian elites—who had theretofore helped maintain social cohesion. And then, from an economic standpoint, the high taxation and the direction of the fruits of production to the cities made it less and less desirable to be a rural producer, while making it more and more desirable to be an urban consumer. Ultimately, the Romans ran out of other people’s money.

I read the other day that Mitt Romney’s “47%” has now grown to 49%. Is there any way back? Frankly, I’m pessimistic. But I do know this: If we are to restore growth and dynamism to our country, it will be by restoring a more healthy balance of values. Mercurian values are essential, but insufficient on their own. We face a crisis of missing Apollonian values … and missing Apollonian elites.

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  1. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Been waiting for this post!  :)  

    • #1
  2. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    after reading, though, 2 substantive comments.

    1) what if you’re a lawyer who comes home and spends all day getting his hands dirty?  Apolloniacurian, I guess.

    2) yes, I’m pessimistic, too.  It is amazingly interesting to be able to draw such direct parallels to the fall of Rome.  I would love to see some analysis of Britian as well, being as it is our big brother.  The question is whether it is possible to limit the centralization of power (in the way that the US constitution attempted to correct this fatal flaw of Rome) enough to avoid what you’ve made seem inevitable.  As I previously mentioned, our “living” constitution seems to have evolved away from that balance…  and I think your pessimism is very well placed.

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    I think Toffler, Toynbee, and Jung tend to explain things much better than this as it is presented. I’m a software developer, writer, and alchemist. So, by my understanding through what you presented, I would be a Mercurian. Yet, I do not value that which you present as being valued by Mercurians. I am certainly not a progressive (or liberal to continue the abuse of that fine word).

    From Jung, there are personality types and temperaments, but there are more than two.

    From Toffler, we are in a conflict of civilizational waves. Jefferson represented the Agrarian Civilization. Hamilton represented the Industrial Civilization. I represent the Fourth Wave Civilization that will replace our current (Third Wave) Informational Civilization.

    From Toynbee, civilizations have life cycles. The closer the parallel between the types of civilizations, the closer the parallel in the life cycle. The United States was heavily modeled on the Roman Republic.

    • #3
  4. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    I can totally imagine a world without “framers”. After all our current one is virtually absent of them (what are they, like 1% of the population). Much of the Apollonian class is economically replaceable by machines. This is exactly what is happening to them. Heck even soldiers are becoming replaced by machines. The military of the future might be completely in the hands of people with joysticks commanding our irresistible droid armies.

    • #4
  5. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Valiuth: Heck even soldiers are becoming replaced by machines. The military of the future might be completely in the hands of people with joysticks commanding our irresistible droid armies.

     You’ve reminded me of the Simpsons episode where Bart and Lisa attend military school. At their commencement, the commandant’s speech informs the cadets that:

    The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots.

    • #5
  6. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    One small correction. In the early republic, it was not the case that “even the democratically elected Congressmen were elected by a voting base that was limited, in nearly all cases, to landowning elites.” The rules tended to limit the franchise to land-owners, but the amount of land required was minimal; it was cheap to buy; and most Americans qualified. Early America was quite democratic — in practice, far more democratic than our America. There were very few professional politicians, and next to no one served more than a term or two in the House. When they retired, they went home to be notables. They did not stay in the capitol.

    • #6
  7. The Mugwump Inactive
    The Mugwump
    @TheMugwump

    The soldier-farmer through history was always the foundation of a healthy republic:  Greek hoplite, Roman legionnaire, English long bowman, American minuteman.  The Mercurial class grows as a result of increased material abundance.  Contemporary America illustrates how a society can become so wealthy that the Mercurial to Apollonian ratio can skew 99:1.  There is, however, a third strand to this model.  I’ll call it the Dionysian thread.  Eventually, a society can become so wealthy that it produces a class of idlers:  a large dependent class with nothing better to do than amuse or sedate themselves.  Socialism can provide a basic material guarantee, but not a life that means anything beyond satiation of base human desires.  This is part of the conundrum that now faces western societies.

    • #7
  8. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Arahant: I think Toffler, Toynbee, and Jung tend to explain things much better than this as it is presented.

     I wouldn’t discount the possibility that the fault is in my restatement.

    Of course, Slezkine’s dichotomy is a gross simplification. But it is a useful framework for understanding large-scale social dynamics. It seems to me to have descriptive power across eras, civilizations, and geography–offering insight into such diverse phenomena as the Chinese experience in Malaysia, the Indian experience in Kenya, and the rise of Vladimir Putin.

    • #8
  9. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    The Mugwump: The soldier-farmer through history was always the foundation of a healthy republic…. Contemporary America illustrates how a society can become so wealthy that the Mercurial to Apollonian ratio can skew 99:1. There is, however, a third strand to this model. I’ll call it the Dionysian thread. Eventually, a society can become so wealthy that it produces a class of idlers: a large dependent class with nothing better to do than amuse or sedate themselves…

     Although I’ve emphasized the agricultural aspect here, the central aspect of Apollonian values (as presented by Slezkine) is rootedness. Farmers must be rooted to the land, but others can also be connected to a place, for various reasons: their communities, their industries (e.g. WV coal miners or Detroit auto workers), etc. Mercurians, on the other hand, are in part characterized by their seeming rootlessness. A banker can ply his trade in any country.

    Slezkine addresses the Dionysian tendency by treating it as part of the Apollonian character. He describes it as “the peasant after the harvest”. But I like your treatment of it better. It does exacerbate our contemporary challenge.

    • #9
  10. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    The farmer has been replaced by the energy worker.

    Think about it. The strength of any civilization depends on energy.

    In the pre-industrial age, energy meant food. Food for the freemen, food for the slaves, and food for the animals.

    With the industrial revolution, food was no longer the sole energy source available.

    Kirk Sorensen likes to say that slavery was abolished because humanity learned to make the carbon-hydrogen bond its slave.

    Nearly all wars are fought over energy. In the pre-industrial age, that meant farmland. In the post-industrial age, that means fossil fuels.

    This is also why pre-industrial Jeffersonian agrarians have been replaced in the conservative movement by the energy lobby.

    • #10
  11. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Paul A. Rahe:

    One small correction. In the early republic, it was not the case that “even the democratically elected Congressmen were elected by a voting base that was limited, in nearly all cases, to landowning elites.” The rules tended to limit the franchise to land-owners, but the amount of land required was minimal; it was cheap to buy; and most Americans qualified. Early America was quite democratic — in practice, far more democratic than our America. There were very few professional politicians, and next to no one served more than a term or two in the House. When they retired, they went home to be notables. They did not stay in the capitol.

    Thank you for the correction.

    Also, the fact that today’s politicians maintain only a token residence in their “home” state is significant. The essence of Apollonianism is affection for a particular place and its community, as one’s home. That our leaders increasingly feel no such connection is further evidence that Apollonian values have eroded.

    • #11
  12. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    We’ve spent the last week in the heartland of Appolinia — rural Ohio, midway between capital equipment producers in central Ohio (Galion) and the Amish to the east. It’s called the “heartland” for the virtues you describe, SoS. Even political liberals (one of my sisters) swoon over the goodness and decency of the people and their Judeo-Christian values (the only places where they are (sometimes) homogeneously retained).

    This is my recommendation to the next GOP presidential nominee: If you would persuade, you must first love. Love the people enough to tell them the truth (we will run out of other people’s money), and, in recognizing your love, they will trust you enough to hear you.

    • #12
  13. GKC Inactive
    GKC
    @GKC

    Phenomenal post and great read.

    • #13
  14. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Arahant: From Toynbee, civilizations have life cycles. The closer the parallel between the types of civilizations, the closer the parallel in the life cycle. The United States was heavily modeled on the Roman Republic.

     BTW, I’m just a teeny weeny bit hurt that you mentioned neither Spengler nor Spengler.

    • #14
  15. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Quoting Jefferson:

    Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators is a phaenomenon of which no age nor nation has furnished an example.

    Evidently, he had never considered the possibility of farm subsidies. We finally have an example.

    • #15
  16. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    The Mugwump: The soldier-farmer through history was always the foundation of a healthy republic: Greek hoplite, Roman legionnaire, English long bowman, American minuteman.

     I don’t think that’s as universally true as you’ve claimed. The English long bowman was not a yeoman farmer defending his home. He was, more often than not, a professional soldier employed by a mercenary company and engaged in aggressive wars in France, Ireland, and Scotland. I suppose the best counterargument to this point is that medieval England was not really a “healthy republic,” but eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain pretty much was. The British Army of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was emphatically not an army of soldier-farmers. Though it was officered largely by members of the landed gentry, it was manned by long-service professional soldiers.

    The Venetian Republic was one of histories longest lasting and most successful. It made extensive use of mercenaries. Same is true of the two hundred year history of the Dutch Republic.

    Continued.

    • #16
  17. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Despite featuring prominently in our popular perception of the war, Minutemen did not have a particularly impressive military track record. The regulars of the Continental (and French) Army won the war. George Washington was known to hold the militias in particularly low regard. General Charles Lee stated, “As to the minutemen, no account ought to be made of them.” Alexander Hamilton, who served as Washington’s chief of staff and later commanded a battalion of light infantry at Yorktown called the militia the “mere mimicry of soldiery.” Even arch-populist Samuel Adams held the practical utility of the minutemen in low regard. He stated, “Would any man in his sense, who wishes war may be carried on with vigor, prefer the temporary and expensive drafts of militia and minutemen to a permanent and well-appointed army?”

    • #17
  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Son of Spengler:

    Although I’ve emphasized the agricultural aspect here, the central aspect of Apollonian values (as presented by Slezkine) is rootedness.

    That makes more sense to me than singling out agriculture.

    Me, I’m not sure I buy the distinction between producers and intermediaries, either. Mostly because intermediaries  do  produce things of great value – supermarkets, for example. But also partly because even “producers” benefit from having “intermediary” skills – no matter what you produce, you’re generally better off knowing something about how to market it successfully.

    I do agree, though, that a person’s perception of risk shapes his outlook on life. People in more stable industries probably will tend to believe that hard work matters more than chance, while those in less stable industries have reason to believe somewhat differently.

    But not all producer industries are stable. Consider the fine arts. Artists are “producers”, whether you like what they produce or not. And even diehard traditionalists – say, classical musicians – aren’t wrong to perceive that talent and hard work, while necessary for success, are hardly a guarantee of it; that “intermediary” skills (such as marketing yourself) and luck (“catching a break”) play a notable role.

    • #18
  19. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Excellent post for promotion, by the way.  Very nicely done!

    • #19
  20. The Mugwump Inactive
    The Mugwump
    @TheMugwump

    Salvatore Padula:

    Despite featuring prominently in our popular perception of the war, Minutemen did not have a particularly impressive military track record. The regulars of the Continental (and French) Army won the war. George Washington was known to hold the militias in particularly low regard. General Charles Lee stated, “As to the minutemen, no account ought to be made of them.” Alexander Hamilton, who served as Washington’s chief of staff and later commanded a battalion of light infantry at Yorktown called the militia the “mere mimicry of soldiery.” Even arch-populist Samuel Adams held the practical utility of the minutemen in low regard.

    Your points are all valid as specifics, but you might review what VDH has to say on the subject (The Soul of Battle and Carnage and Culture).  My overall point still stands:  Citizen armies drawn from healthy republics have provided some of the most lethal military forces ever fielded.  The fact that what began as the Swiss militia eventually evolved into the most notorious mercenary band in history does not alter their origins as farmer-soldiers.     

    • #20
  21. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    I would tend to disagree somewhat. I agree that both are essential, which is why this latest attempt at grouping people into “classes” is counterproductive because it only breeds resentment. 

    On the other hand, we have to ask ourselves where this dynamism of America comes from. It comes from the Hamiltonian world view. That’s the world view that does away with privilege and birth status, and gives opportunity to anyone who can grab it. America’s wealth was build on Hamilton’s world view, not Jefferson’s. 

    Elites in Hamilton’s world view are transient. They can only stay on top as long as they can manage to stay on top. Elites in Jefferson’s world view are permanent. They stay on top because they are on top.

    As for cities: cities tend to be more liberal for 2 reasons which may have little to do with this (supposed) dichotomy.

    1) Cities attract younger people, and younger people tend to be more “liberal”.
    2) Cities attract poorer people, and poorer people tend to be more “liberal”.

    The rich “merchants” only work in the cities. They live in the suburbs. And the suburbs aren’t “liberal”.

    • #21
  22. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    As we see, the richer the person, the more likely they are to self-identify as Republican. 
    http://www.people-press.org/files/legacy/517-24.gif

    • #22
  23. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    I feel someone needs to throw some skepticism on these Apollonian virtues and people. So I will take it upon myself to do so. The Apollonian values and virtues that Jefferson describes and so many on our side admire and romanticize are the product of a dark and stagnant world. Since the dawn of man the naturally conservative Apollonian managed to get by. Yet the state of man from the founding of Jericho to Jefferson was much unchanged in its fundamentals. Why is that? Because the very virtues that breed stability also breed stagnation. It was the rise of inventors and investors that propelled man beyond the curse of scratching a living from the dirt to dreaming of colonizing the stars.  We may look with nostalgia at the humble earthiness of the Amish, but they are a dead end. Human society has advanced more in the last 200 years than it did in the previous 2000 not because it worked any harder but because we worked smarter.  In a static world the Apollonian ideals may be best, but we no longer live in a static world.

    • #23
  24. user_129539 Member
    user_129539
    @BrianClendinen

    Although I’ve emphasized the agricultural aspect here, the central aspect of Apollonian values (as presented by Slezkine) is rootedness. Farmers must be rooted to the land, but others can also be connected to a place, for various reasons: their communities, their industries (e.g. WV coal miners or Detroit auto workers), etc. Mercurians, on the other hand, are in part characterized by their seeming rootlessness. A banker can ply his trade in any country.

    I am not sure if demography bars this argument out. I would not be surprised if urban population in mega cities actually had significantly less migration than rural populations.  However, I think a large driver of this is the large dependency class because of welfare. So I don’t think you can say the liberal class are less rooted. Their rooting is based on different values, one of serfdom not a free men and women. 

    • #24
  25. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    The Mugwump: Your points are all valid as specifics, but you might review what VDH has to say on the subject (The Soul of Battle and Carnage and Culture). My overall point still stands: Citizen armies drawn from healthy republics have provided some of the most lethal military forces ever fielded.

    I’ve read both of those books and I’m generally a great admirer of VDH, but I think on this issue he’s overstated his claim. The idea that citizen soldiers are typically more militarily effective than other fighting forces certainly has a great deal of ideological appeal, but it is not anywhere near to being generally true (examples of Swiss pikemen and Greek hoplites notwithstanding).

    Continued.

    • #25
  26. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    The citizen armies of revolutionary France certainly had their successes, but they tended to lose when facing the professional (some would say mercenary) long-service British regulars. Most hoplites were citizen soldiers, but Sparta’s most successful general of the Peloponessian War, Brasidas (a man VDH has written of admiringly), commanded an army made up of slaves and mercenaries. The citizen armies of Greece were defeated by the professional Macedonian phalanx. The Roman legions reached their peak of comparative effectiveness only after they had transitioned from a farmer militia into a professional force. In Saxon England, the citizen fyrd were essentially fodder while the professional huscarls did most of the actually fighting.  For several centuries, the slave soldiers of the Ottoman Janissary Corp and the Egyptian Mamelukes were significantly more effective than their western opponents and were only superseded when western armies became more professional and technologically advanced. The spectacularly successful armies of the Huns, Mongols, and Timurids demonstrate that the western way of war has not been uniformly effective.

    • #26
  27. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Son of Spengler: BTW, I’m just a teeny weeny bit hurt that you mentioned neither Spengler nor Spengler.

    I gave examples, feel free to add to tearing apart the argument you presented.

    • #27
  28. Crow's Nest Inactive
    Crow's Nest
    @CrowsNest

    Count me in the camp that is skeptical of the Slezkine thesis of Apollonians/Mercurians. I am admittedly skeptical of all claims that divide society into two camps because they are invariably superficial and reductive.

    I think the application of that thesis to the Jefferson/Hamilton divide also misses important distinctions (as you also say in your piece).

    It is reasonably uncontroversial that yeoman farmers are bastions of traditional virtues, but lest we castigate the city too harshly, let us take note of some of the “bourgeois virtues” that Franklin praises in his Autobiography; virtues such as industriousness, thrift, sociability, honesty, reliability, responsibility, and modesty–they are as present in the city, and in commercial life, as anywhere; white-lightning alcoholism and meth usage exist in the country, as well.

    Hamilton was a bastard who rose to prominence on ambition and ability–on the back of his own accomplishments; he also spent much of his youth at war and not in commerce. Jefferson wasn’t born particularly wealthy either, but he remained at peace during the war; it should be acknowledged that his status as a “gentlemen farmer” was at least partially possible due to slave labor. The “gentleman farmer” and the yeoman farmer are perhaps not the same, then: Sparta, too, required helots.

    Jefferson’s populism was also an odd type of populism, don’t you think. Certainly by no means universal, it was also a populism that had plenty of praise for what he called, in a letter to Adams, the “natural aristocracy” of talent.

    All of this is not to say that I think you’re entirely wrong that the city is more conducive to a certain kind of softening that, coupled with a bountiful welfare state, can corrode the studier virtues of the countryside and create cyclical dependency. I think there is something to that and that it contains some truth.

    But I also think that is partially because the city, due to its being more rigidly founded on the division of labor than the country, is more conducive to seeing the whole range of human ability on display. It is hard to imagine a small town producing Socrates, who required exposure and urbanity; but in being capable of producing him, Athens was also capable of producing many charlatans and pretenders. Sparta had no philosophers (except its lawgivers).

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  29. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    An element I see in this discussion and that I have been pondering is a that of dependence vs. self sufficiency. The agrarian ideal that is at the heart of Jeffersonian populism is strongly laced with notions of self sufficiency. The farmer is moral and righteous because he is self sufficient. He can be born and die on his far without asking or needing anything from anyone. Thus he need not impose any limitations on his neighbors because he needs nothing from them. The city dweller/ factory worker is completely dependent on others for food, clothing, shelter etc. He barters with his labor, for these things but he in fact produces none himself. Therefore he must make demands on his neighbors all the time, and if necessary force their compliance to fulfill his basic needs. Their different circumstance though breed different priorities. The the self-sufficient demand strong property rights so that no impositions can be made on them. The dependent demand social compliance to allow them to gain access to their needs. Thus the two create divergent social structures.

    • #29
  30. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Valiuth: An element I see in this discussion and that I have been pondering is a that of dependence vs. self sufficiency. The agrarian ideal that is at the heart of Jeffersonian populism is strongly laced with notions of self sufficiency. The farmer is moral and righteous because he is self sufficient. He can be born and die on his far without asking or needing anything from anyone.

    Well, except for all the slaves he required to actually keep the farm running.

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