Are Democrats and Republicans “two boxers, swinging wildly”?

Hartz determined that the “distinctive element in American civilization: its social freedom, its social equality” should have been the focus of the historical and contemporary American figures (63).  However, political thought in America from the 1790s to 1840 could be characterized as like “two boxers, swinging wildly, knocking each other down with accidental punches” (90).  Accordingly, the capitalists in the Hamilton faction of Whigs were “frightened” of democracy and social equality, while the Jefferson / Jackson faction embraced democracy but “seemed to deny its faith in capitalism” (89).

The two boxers were two factions, and the Founders troubled greatly over the idea of factions.  Madison diligently explained in Federalist No. 10 that parties may form in the United States precisely because the people are free to express themselves.  The salient issue is that one of the factions might become too dominant, and engulf the liberties of any particular minority.  He found two remedies, “destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests” (Levi, 110).  Either scenario was antithetical to Madison.  Thus, the Constitution ought limit government so that it would not extinguish liberty by the government, or, by the people.

To the author, it was vitally important that the lack feudalism confused the Whig faction.  Therefore, the Whigs were not as powerful or robust as they should have been, as they would have been—had they understood the giant of liberalism.  Hartz saw that the Whigs had an “absence of an aristocracy to fight, the absence of an aristocracy to ally with, and the absence of a mob to denounce”; and, they were like a blind boxer (96).  If the Whigs would have usurped more of what liberalism had to offer, then perhaps they would have found a more positive political platform for the populace to embrace.  Or as Hartz said, their “biggest mistake in [American] politics [was]: claiming a privilege without performing a service” (98).

In America, there was no proletariat, not even a petit-bourgeois. America “shattered it” (91).  Democracy, or the equality of opportunity among White men (during this time period others were not “equal”), allowed any six year old to become a thirty-six year old Representative in their respective state legislature.  Indeed, this was often the campaign slogan for many of the presidential candidates—candidate X was raised in a log cabin, etc.  Here, Hartz explained, “there are no aristocracies to fight, and the Federalists and the Whigs are denied the chance of dominating the people in a campaign against them” (93). In America, the people that wanted legitimate power over the people always arose from a majority of intellectual factions—of the people.  Hartz concludes, “there was no mob: the American democrat was as liberal as the Whigs who denounced him” (95).

The Democrats could reconcile that equal opportunity under capitalism created an American democrat starving for prosperity.  Hartz called this America’s “acquisitive democracy,” citing Hammond (138).  The idea of monetary enrichment at election time found a flow of capitalist rhetoric.  However, the Democrat had a peculiar trouble articulating capitalistic development within the party framework.  For example, how could capitalism embrace equal opportunity in the midst of slavery?  The White men that held onto the idea of equal opportunity were constantly forced to witness the hypocrisy within the nation, especially for Jefferson, since the closest slave was often preparing food in his kitchen.

The boxers continued to land punches and ignore the referee—liberalism.  Hartz found that the Whigs could have overcome the obstacle of the “aristocracy” and mob.  At election time, the Whigs could have “confronted the economic heritage of feudalism” (99).  Likewise, the Democrats could have embraced capitalism and confronted the issues of exploitation.  To do so, Hartz argued, they should have “distinguished between a middle class attack… and a democratic attack on the promotional aims of the middle class itself” (100).  Here, the latter was never seen, or if it was noticed, it was articulated under ignorance. Thus, “they were too unenlightened to recognize their friends” (101).

Once the boxers landed a few hits, they maneuvered and reevaluated their political opponent. The Whigs, particularly Hamilton, made the constitution and judicial review their elite—mistakenly likening them to their aristocracy.  The Democrats, in this manner, would invariably overrun the Whigs—regardless if the appointed judges resembled Democrats.  For example, the landmark Supreme Court decision of McCulloch v. Maryland was a liberal decision (109). Here, the Whig and democrat boxers both landed unnecessary blows; the Whig manifestation of “unite[d] … rich individuals” was as foreign as the Democrats “anti-nationalism” overture to campaigns in the arena of liberalism (109).

Hartz discovered that the Democrat was swinging wildly under the idea of majority rule.  He said, “at the flood tide of Jacksonian democracy, the Democratic Review painfully confessed that the majority concept [is] open to assault, and most difficult to defend’” (133).  This was because the party was opposed to majority rule, unless by elected officials—recognizing the democratic law.  But then the Democrats also attacked the setup of the judicial branch, the judges, and therefore the law itself.  Hence, Democrats were, as the metaphor goes, struck by the Whigs in the gut.  They could hardly breathe words to embrace checks and balances and the overall permanence of liberalism.

Andrew Jackson’s “Farewell Address” (1837) illuminated ideas Democrats found within the country.  Jackson trumpeted the Constitution as the reason America “preserved unimpaired the liberties of the people, secured the rights of property…” (Levi, 190).  He showed that Europe, with its “multitude of petty states,” created multifarious problems which too often led to war (191).  Thus the union of the United States must remain strong, lest it be “ready to submit to the absolute domination of any military adventurer and to surrender their liberty…” (191). In order to dodge domination, the people must remain loyal to the enumerated limits within the Constitution and “every attempt to exercise power beyond these limits should be promptly and firmly opposed” (193).  Thus, the Democrats (or any other party in government) must not usurp capital from the people if it would violate the design of Republican government.  Moreover, government ought stay out of the peoples’ business, no matter how that business is practiced.

The fighters may be viewed as two liberal factions that could not reconcile their ideals and the make-up of reality.  But these fights were not meaningless.  Hartz delineated how Whigs impacted the surviving Democrats.  Hamilton’s hatred of the people was certainly not one of those factors, but Jefferson and Jackson then realized how capitalism ought be embraced by “equal opportunity” (111).  The idea that today’s poor may become tomorrow’s rich permeated the society.  Again, the demise of the Whigs was generally due to the fact that they could not break from European ideas: feudalism, or, aristocratically designed economic structures.  Freedom was too strong here and the Whigs mistakenly (and constantly) desired to control it. They were knocked out and didn’t realize that “equal opportunity” was indestructible in a liberal society.  The Democrats accepted, embraced, and eventually totally enabled the idea of equal opportunity to natural citizens in America.

Eventually, all parties embraced the Alger Myth. However, American politics could have been more efficient had the parties accepted liberalism from the get-go. The same is true today. America is about capitalism and democracy–about liberalism. And if we apply these notions to the median voter, we just may take the blind folds off the boxers we call our [go call out] representatives!


2 thoughts on “Are Democrats and Republicans “two boxers, swinging wildly”?

  1. Pingback: what’s a “Liberal democrat”? An American! | Political Pipeline

  2. Pingback: Review for American Politics Comp. Exams | Political Pipeline

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