The one who meets his needs, but rises above his wants, has found freedom.
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“You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty.” – Jessica Mitford
The following TSr (The Small “r”) Institute papers are available on TSr Institute’s Google Drive. The complete URL for this Google Drive folder can be found below.
Simply look for the paper by title in the TSr Institute’s Google Drive folder.
Studying the American Republic: A reading list of original source materials that influenced America’s founders, writings directly from America’s founders, along with newer works that expound on contemporary political and economic conditions. If you’re weary of trying to gain a sense of the American Republic through secondary sources/ideologies and want to pursue an eye-opening intellectual experience, here’s a map laying out the trailhead.
Humans as Commodities (formerly The Dignity of Humanity): Above all else, America’s founders sought to establish the dignity of the individual, with political and economic institutions benefiting the individual, not the converse. Contemporary arguments seek to undermine this ideal of human dignity with the use of ad hominem attacks that discredit the founders and, by association, their ideals. Yet, the dignity of humanity resided at the very core of the American Republic, regardless of the founders’ personal lives. This paper reviews the history of Western thought that led to a negative outlook on the human condition, why it triumphed over the positive outlooks, and how this negativity influenced our society, government and economy along the way. This devolution led to hyperindividualism, paradoxically denying individualism and human dignity.
The American Republic and Its Relevancy in the 21st Century: Far too often we hear contemporary political voices invoking America’s founders and the Founding Era to support their ideologies. An investigation into the original source material of the founders, along with the political philosophers who influenced them, reveals a different vision for America. This paper serves as a brief introduction to small-r republicanism, the original framework for America’s governance, including equality, liberty, sovereignty, civic engagement, decentralization and more. This paper also considers why America devolved from a democratic republic to a mere democracy, and how a republic’s political framework continues to hold potential for addressing many of the social, political and economic issues of our modern, complex society.
Does Centralized Government Work?: This paper is a considered response to the growth of our Federal government, arguing that there is no deterministic reason for large, centralized government in a modern complex society and that, in fact, decentralized government could work better than a massive, unresponsive centralized bureaucracy mired in corruption and agency capture. However, political elements must move beyond simplistic calls for “smaller government.” American citizens taking responsibility for their communities is the starting point.
The Chasm Between the Economy and Finance: This white paper discusses how the disconnect between Wall Street and the U.S. economy emerged, and investigates the precipitous increase in wealth amassing in corporations, hedge funds, and more. As this wealth has increased, finance’s economic -and- political power has grown precipitously over the past three decades, influencing national, state and local governance, as well as the day-to-day functioning of the U.S. economy. The paper ends with a call for returning to substantive finance, one that invests in American business, rather than Wall Street’s current mode of operation, using money to chase money, with little in the way of substantive economic investment.
The Vanishing Middle: Stagnant incomes and rising debt loads eradicated American middle-income wealth over the past 30 years. Here’s why, and a way forward.
A Roadmap to Follow: Japan’s economic woes have reached a 20th anniversary. There are deep lessons to be learned here by Americans, particularly government leaders and policymakers.
An excerpt from The New York Times Sunday Book Reviews, “Surveillance States” by Azar Nafisi:
“The real reason for government surveillance is fear, in this case the state’s fear of its citizens. Governments that spy on their people want to gain information and thus control not only over their enemies but over everyone, keeping them perpetually suspicious. What begins as a political action quickly permeates every aspect of life, including our most private spaces. What originates in fear of an enemy, sometimes founded in reality, quickly attaches to the familiar and mundane. The enemy becomes our eccentric colleague, the new neighbors speaking in a foreign tongue, those three people talking quietly to one another on the metro. Soon, every bag carries a bomb, every question contains a trap and all the places where we felt comfortable are no longer safe.
“It stays with you, that fear. It burrows under the skin. Even after you escape and are thousands of miles or many years away, you will still sometimes feel you are being watched. Something within you has been permanently damaged by the terrible knowledge of the human capability for cruelty and your own weaknesses in the face of it.
“When I came to America in 1997, for a long time I was in a state of euphoria, basking in the freedom to say anything to anybody. But euphoria doesn’t last long, in the real world or the fictional one. The fear I thought I had left behind when I immigrated caught up with me. In Iran surveillance and violence against citizens are naked and obvious. Here it is insidious. Here we are threatened by indifference. I fear the reign of ignorance, of citizens uneducated in their own and others’ histories and cultures. How can we find answers to the predicaments we face, without knowing what the questions are?
“Saul Bellow expressed anxiety over how those who survived the ordeal of the Holocaust would survive the ordeal of freedom. I don’t fear the ordeal of freedom. I fear the moment when we stop thinking of freedom as an ordeal.” (emphasis added)
Freedom is, should be, an ordeal. Our freedoms are something for which we should never cease fighting. Here in America, we often hear the phrase, “Freedom isn’t free” as it pertains to military service. But what of our responsibilities as citizens in a alleged free society? What of our responsibilities to uphold one of the most cherished documents in human history, the Bill of Rights? Do we truly believe our government and economic leaders are going to uphold our civil rights of their own volition?
Cato's Letters, communal property, consumer debt, debt, debt encumbrance, dignity, employment, freedom, Herman E. Daly, household debt, indebtedness, indentured servitude, independence, John taylor of caroline, liberty, liens, Marxism, mortgages, personal responsibility, privacy, private property, property, salary labor, savings, self-reliance, state ownership, Thomas Gordon, Thomas Jefferson, wage labor, Wilhelm Ropke
“(T)he United States waged a long war upon the ground, that governments are instituted to secure, and not to bestow, the freedom of property.” – John Taylor, Construction Construed and Constitutions Vindicated, (1820), Sec. 1.
“To live securely happily and independently is the end and effect of liberty… All men are animated by the passion of acquiring and defending property, because property is the best support of that independency, so passionately desired by all men… as happiness is the effect of independency, and independency the effect of property; so certain property is the effect of liberty alone, and can only be secured by the laws of liberty; laws which are made by consent, and cannot be repealed without it.” – Thomas Gordon, Cato’s Letters, No 68, (1721).
“Private property is the bulwark protecting the individual against exploitation by others,” Herman E. Daly wrote in Beyond Growth. “A property owner has an independent livelihood and need not accept whatever conditions of employment are offered.”
Indeed, Daly taps into the very essence of private property with these sentiments. If there is one single element of Marxism that presses the hardest against the individual’s freedoms, it is the question of property. While it is true that in a perfect world – wherein everyone’s sincerity of altruism would be above question – a society based on communal property may indeed be a workable framework.
But this is not a perfect world, and as sure as the sun rises in the east, there will always be those individuals who would eye the control of communal property as a means to power. In fact, we find in history that state control of property defines every major establishment of communism in the world. And while contemporary Marxists will contend the communism of the USSR and China does not represent “real” Marxism, it is fair to level these criticisms against Marxism until such time its followers show us a society in possession of a complete sincerity of altruism.
It is for this reason, and others, that the tenant of private property continues to hold in free societies, at least for the foreseeable future. But there is another insidious threat to private property, one that Daly did not recognize in his statement above (but does so elsewhere in his works), and that threat is indebtedness.
The Big Lie
Today, “free” societies everywhere are populated with a large number of home and property owners, but only a small percentage outright own this property lien free. Almost all of it has been purchased with the help of a mortgage. And within this reality rests The Big Lie, that is, we live on the illusion that we are “homeowners.” Yet, unless we hold title to our property lien free, it is very difficult to align this illusion with reality. And so, to tap Daly’s passage again, encumbered homeowners are forced to “accept whatever conditions of employment are offered.” Continue reading
bigotry, Bill of Rights, civic engagement, community involvement, discrimination, eyes on the street, faction, freedom, Hannah Arendt, Hayek, inequality, intolerance, James Madison, Jane Jacobs, John Locke, liberty, license, Montesquieu, Niebuhr, On Revolution, partisanship, prejudice, propaganda, racism, society, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Federalist Papers, The Spirit of the Laws, The White Ribbon, xenophobia
Following most presidential elections, talk turns towards the newly elected (or re-elected) candidate, cabinet nominations, policy changes, and so forth. For the party of the losing candidate, discussions revolve around how the winning candidate achieved success, or which missteps their candidate took.
In the aftermath of the 2008 presidential election, we experienced something else: A backlash against the winning candidate, which emerged in the Birther Issue, the Faith Issue (Muslim or Christian?), so on and so forth.
For those of us who thought racism had been largely banished to the hinterlands, we were quickly reawakened to the reality. While the other side may have felt they held legitimate claims, for most Americans we uncomfortably recognized the racial (due to gender) and xenophobic (due to name) undercurrents. Racial issues and xenophobia are only two symptoms of prejudice, bigotry, partisanship, discrimination, inequality.
But how did we get here? Why, after decades of trying to eradicate these social diseases, do we still suffer them in America? Merely an intuition, in some sense these problems seem to be getting worse.
It is due, I postulate, to American citizens’ withdrawal from the public sphere, retreating to the private sphere of our homes and becoming anonymous, inconsequential, faceless individuals. We no longer understand what it means to be recognized, consequential and involved in society or, more specifically and pragmatically, in our local communities. Continue reading
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A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.
– Greek proverb.
In a republic, political and economic elements are embedded within a society to serve the betterment of the individual, not the converse. At its birth, the Founders framed America as a democratic republic, not just a democracy, and small-r republicanism places the individual – living within society – to the foreground.
Unfortunately, certain 21st-century voices have embraced an under-informed version of small-r republicanism to represent some sort of ultra-conservative political framework that sends us back to Neanderthal times.What’s being discussed here isn’t an atavistic ideology, but an argument for decentralizing both political and economic institutions to a human scale, one wherein the individual minimizes his or her struggles with hopelessness, feelings of victimization, loss of control, or meaninglessness.
In fact, a thorough reading of original source materials reveals small-r republicanism remains as radical in the 21st century as it was in the 18th century. Sadly, this suggests the state of humanity has evolved but little.
There are also those who are leveraging one of the central tenets of republicanism, decentralization, as an insidious means to promote the deregulation and downsizing of government. Yet, the decentralization of political institutions in a modern, complex society can only be pursued with the simultaneous decentralization of economic institutions, reformed at a human and local scale, better positioned to serve the individual and society. This decentralization makes citizen engagement with political and economic institutions easier and in parallel, expects citizens to engage these institutions for better governance and responsive economic activity.
The organic American form of small-r republicanism:
a) declares all humanity as created equal, in that all possess the same divinely-given or naturally-imbued rights, natural in that no external body bestows these liberties on individuals, thus they cannot be arbitrarily revoked;
b) establishes these natural rights as individual liberties, liberties that need citizens to voluntarily uphold through social and civic responsibilities (public morals), otherwise liberties without responsibilities degenerate into license, which tears asunder the fabric of society;
c) defines sovereign power as resting in the people, since it is the people who possess natural rights and liberties, with the people bestowing limited powers to local, state, and national governments so that these levels of government ensure the functioning of society. Power emanates from the citizenry, laws emanate from the legislatures. No government, corporation or other institution possesses a conscience, thus cannot claim natural rights or a personhood equivalency.
d) realizes that government does not always provide for the good of society, thus establishes not merely a vote, but the need for citizen engagement within the political process to ensure political and economic powers do not tyrannize individual liberties nor corrupt governance. This is why America’s founders included the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution: Its central purpose is to create a free space in society so that citizens can act as a check and balance against the usurpation of powers by government, powers that were never intended for it;
e) positions most governance near the people, which enables civic engagement and does not isolate government in a remote, opaque, centralized institution with increasing arbitrary powers;
f) upholds private property which, when held without debt encumbrances, ensures a citizen’s independence;
g) supports the presence of decentralized free markets with numerous independent proprietors, so that large monopolies or oligarchies operating in corporate- and/or government-controlled centralized markets do not threaten liberties or lives. In fact, largely decentralized capitalism existed for over 300 years before the British (1760-1840) and American (1865-1929) industrial revolutions initiated the great push towards the centralization of economies.
Decentralized economies focus on effectiveness rather than efficiency, a moral choice. Capital does not pursue the lowest-cost labor markets overseas, and profit maximization is not necessary for capitalism to survive. The health of a country’s national, regional and local economies remains foremost, and this is not the same as practicing isolationism: Local labor produces for both local and global trade a.k.a., lobal: LOcal for the gloBAL.
h) regulates society by the rule of law, wherein fixed rules provide guidance to citizens, thus assuring neither assertion of arbitrary powers nor lawmakers existing above the law. In addition, the nation maintains a separation of church and state, and the state regulates public – not private – morals. The state cannot compensate for the failures of religious institutions; and
i) values a society where citizens can secure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with contentment, preferable to a hyper-competitive, over-stretched empire that is domestically distraught and globally despised. Military defense is maintained for protection of the nation; it is not funded by citizens/taxpayers via the federal government as a means to carry out economic colonialism machinations for multinational corporations.
For more information on small-r republicanism, see The Small “r” essays on TSr Institute’s Google Drive, and The American Republic white paper in particular.
For a brief introduction to “The Commonwealthmen,” writers who laid the foundations for small-r republicanism during the Enlightenment and later influenced America’s founders, read this Britannica entry.
Full TSr Institute’s Google Drive URL: