Romney’s video – which is now as famous as Paris Hilton’s sex video, and like P.H.’s, shows what the rich do when they are naked – actually plays on the strings of national memory, going all the way back to our beloved John Locke. Locke, as we all know, was very important to the founders. In his own life, actually, he was very concerned with America, for he was, as Robin Blackburn points out in his history of New World slavery, a member of the Board of Trade, which dealt with matters from the colony. Incidentally, one of those matters was slave conspiracy. Locke had an excellent opportunity, whilst attending such meetings, to put into policy terms his notion that slavery was a natural consequence of the state of war between “a lawful Conquerer and a Captive.” As Blackburn notes, during Locke’s time on the Board, it vetted many documents coming from the colonies, including the Act for Suppressing of Outlying Slaves, in which we read this:
Or as us Continental Philosophe types say: Martin Heidegger, eat your heart out.
But besides countenancing genocide, Locke was also on the cutting edge of freedom. Freedom, in the Anglosphere tradition, takes a rather bizarre turn from its old theological and philosophical uses. It becomes attached more and more to property. The freedom to own becomes, in this tradition, the very soul of freedom, its breath, its majesty. Tacitly, the more you own, the free-er you are – which is of course reflected in a legal system tilted massively against the poor and towards the wealthy, which we keep like a beloved pet barracuda to this very day in our mock democracies.
Still, if property is the root of freedom, those who have no property are an embarrassment in a free state. They represent, well, non-freedom. Naturally, their superpowers of non-freedomness involve them in sucking the property from those who have them – or, in other words, quantitatively lessening their freedom. The image of the poor as parasites was not an invention of Locke’s – it was certainly part of a larger fear of the masses that one finds in all over Europe at the time –but what was different was attaching this fear of the poor to the idea that they were, in a sense, the antithesis of freedom. Thus, by a rather bizarre alchemy, those people who benefited least from the system, who, by any practical view of the system, had the least power, posed the gravest threat. This inversion of social reality has had a long and glorious career in the Anglosphere: most recently, the right has been drooling over its theory that the financial crisis arose cause black and Hispanic poor people, prodded by the government, tricked poor honest bankers into subprime loans and couldn’t pay them, thus causing the downfall of the true and onlie system of Operation Freedom, under our beloved Bush.
Locke would have recognized the truth in this story. Locke, in his pamphlet to the Board of Trade on the Poor Laws, which responds to the appalling rise in the charge for keeping the poor (a diminishment of freedom if there ever was one), cast about for ways to repair the situation. He came up with solutions that Romney himself might consider. There were the working schools, where poor children from three (when idleness starts cropping out like a disease) to fourteen could be maintained in blessed industry; then there is the revival of Elizabethan laws against beggars, where Locke proposes seizing them and taking no shit from them, but hustling them off to seaports, finding places for them on ships, and treating them like galley slaves for three years time – which should be sufficient to do them in; and the maimed, of course – who have an excuse for begging – should be stuffed into a house of correction.
If I were Romney, I’d be reading my Locke. He’s your man for regaining the Freedoms We Have Lost to the rascally 47 percent.