What Happened in 1066? (1 of 2)

220px-Jean_Froissart,_Chroniques,_154v,_12148_btv1b8438605hf336,_crop.jpgWhy is it that the English language is a hybrid of French, Latin, Germanic, and other languages? Why is it that, throughout history, the English and the French warred with each other so much? Why is it that Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor? All these questions have to do with English culture, but they also have one more thing in common: They are the result of the year 1066, the year of the “Norman Conquest of England,” as it is called by historians. The Middle Ages were a time of learning, worshiping, and kingdom-building. Around the 9th and 10th centuries, European powers as we know them today slowly began to emerge, often in small, unorganized towns and villages, becoming stronger as their ambitious rulers expanded their territories and claimed new land through wars. Before the 11th century, England and France were hardly recognizable. It was only until the Norman Conquest of England that not only the English, but the French too, managed to become independent powers with their own customs and traditions. Students hardly hear about what happened in 1066; and those who do, probably have a cursory understanding of it. However, the events that transpired in that momentous year had tremendous effects on Britain, on France, and on history. Today’s blog will explore the historical circumstances that produced the Conquest, the Conquest itself, and its aftermath.


Before jumping straight into the Norman Conquest, it is important that we first look at the state of the world at the time, around the fall of the Roman Empire to the blooming of the Middle Ages. What was England, and how did it come to be? An isolated island with nice, fertile land, England was originally inhabited by the Britons, who were also known as the Celts, who were attacked and defeated early in the 1st century A.D. by the Roman Empire. The Romans had an extensive empire, and they were constantly on the lookout for new land to conquer; England was just off the coast of France, which had been previously occupied by the Gauls, another sect of the Celts, on whom Cæsar famously waged war. After several expeditions, England was conquered, named “Britannia,” and settled. At its heart was the city of Londinium, later to become London, the capital of Unknown.jpegEngland. All was fine at this point—that is, until the 476 A.D., when a series of barbarian attacks carried out by various Germanic tribes in Europe brought down the glorious Roman civilization, putting an end to its over-a-millennium-old history, decentralizing Europe, resulting in the fragmentation of the Empire into different kingdoms, each of which was ruled by a German tribe, such as the Franks in France. A group of these German tribes—the Angles, Saxons, and, less importantly, Jutes—came to Britannia to create their own kingdom. Between 400 and 600 A.D., the Angles and Saxons, or collectively Anglo-Saxons, colonized the island. Westerners referred to it as Angeland. As you might guess, this is from where we get the name England. The realms of Angleland were named after the Saxons. From them, we get Sussex, Wessex, and Essex, thought to be a combination of Saxon and the cardinal direction from which it was derived; in other words, Sussex is thought to be South-Saxon, and Wessex West-Saxon, and likewise for Essex. Over the course of the next few centuries, these realms were formed and molded into independent kingdoms. While such ones as Sussex, Essex, and Kent existed, they did not play so big a role; instead, the four most important kingdoms at the time, which shaped much of politics, were Northumbria, Wessex, East Anglia, and Mercia.


Unknown-1.jpegGiven this general background, we can now look at the more immediate events leading up to the Conquest. Edward “the Confessor” (1003-66) was the King of England before the Conquest. Raised in Normandy as a child, taught to speak French, he came to the crown more loyal to the place of his rearing than his birthplace; upon ascending to the throne, Edward favored the Normans over the English. He imposed Norman traditions on the English; he appointed to the most important and prestigious religious and political positions the Norman nobles; he favored his Norman subjects more than his English ones; and he opted to build with the Norman style, constructing the illustrious Westminster Abbey in 1055, with its many vaulted arches and spires. Of course, none of the English liked this, and they despised their King. Despite being English in blood and in name, he was truly a Norman at the core. This man was not fit to be King of England; no, he was a foreigner with a crown, in the eyes of the Anglo-Saxons. This led to bitterness among the nobles. One such man was Godwin, the Earl of Wessex, the most powerful man in all of England, even more powerful than the King himself, for he was a crafty leader and had strong allies. His daughter married King Edward; his son married into the Kingdom of Flanders; and his nephew happened to be the King of Denmark. As such, Godwin was not a man to be trifled with. Principled, prideful, and conscientious, he opposed Edward’s Norman reforms, and actively protested them. With his power, he was able to alter the political climate of England, as if it were a game of chess, carefully navigating his pieces around, influencing the nobles, casting doubt on the King’s decisions, acting as an advisor to the King while trying to dissuade him from causing any more damage. One day, however, a scuffle went down between an Englishman under Godwin’s rule and a Norman who was a friend of King Edward. Godwin was forced into a tough position, pressured by the King Godwine-s-Death.pngto carry out a fitting punishment on his subject for starting the brawl and killing the Norman. This Godwin refused to do; no longer would he put the Normans before the English, his countrymen, his brothers, so he was exiled, along with his son, Harold Godwinson, who shared in his father’s resentment. The King dealt with the problem himself, to the gain of his Noble friends, which angered the English nobility. Now, at this point, the Normans having gained more land and money, the English nobles sent for Godwin, promising their armies and their allegiances to him, asking that he come back, depose the falsely English King, and restore the greatness of England. So, raising an army, Godwin and his son returned to England while under exile, joined now by the armies of the nobles, so that they had a substantial force, with which they ravaged much of Northern Europe, tearing apart villages, soundly defeating the King’s forces. Edward conceded his loss and gave Godwin back his earldom over Wessex. Shortly after that, though, Godwin died. His son, Harold, became Earl of Wessex, and his other son, Tostig Godwinson, became Earl of Northumbria. Such were the immediate circumstances of England prior to the Norman Conquest.


Now we must ask: Who were the Normans, and what business had they invading England? The Normans were a collective of different Germanic tribes who lived in the 250px-Normandy_in_France_2016.svg.pngNordic Countries, or Scandinavia, which consists of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. These days, we would refer to them informally and loosely as “Vikings”—indeed, those rugged, violent, barbaric seafarers and warriors who raided the coasts in their small, maneuverable ships. Now, it would be naïve to say the Normans were French, because that is not the case: The Normans were not French, but, we have said, Nordic. How is it, then, that Normandy, land of the Normans, was located in France, and why is it we associate the Normans with France? Simply, the Normans, being Vikings, raided the French coast, and to stop these raids, the Franks gave them land to keep, land that would end up becoming Normandy, located in Northern France, right below England. Not only did the Normans 250px-Scandinavia.svg.pngown land in France, but they adopted the French language. For this reason, also, we associate the two—the two cultures, though separate, were practically indivisible, to the extent that the Normans borrowed their culture from the French—”cultural appropriation.” Another wrong assumption is that the Normans and English were total opposites, like the Minoans and Mycenæans of Ancient Greece, the Normans being warlike and uncivil, the English peaceful and civil. In fact, Normandy and England were very similar in terms of their cultures; it was only until the introduction of Christianity to England that the two drifted in separate directions. But our cultural stereotypes are not wholly wrong, either, as the Normans and Vikings were notorious for their raids on England from the mid to late 800’s, or the 9th century, their victims usually rich Christian monasteries. The main star of Normandy to whom we must give our attention is a man named William, Duke of Normandy. Born the illegitimate son of Robert I of Normandy, William was given the epithet “the Bastard.” Robert left the throne abruptly, leaving his son to lead the kingdom at a very Unknown-2.jpegyoung age—seven—when he was thought unfit by most; as a result, the Normans did not initially like William, calling him by his then-known title William “the Bastard.” Like many other successful rulers, such as Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, William earned his right to keep the crown. He proved to be strong, firm, and inflexible. His iron will impressed the people, and he came to be respected by them. William, Duke of Normandy, emerged triumphant amidst the chaos that was Normandy, and with this newly earned respect and power, he would do great things. Yet another misconception is that, because England and France had so many feuds, they must have hated each other from the beginning. Rather, Normandy and England had always been on good terms, notwithstanding the raids from the North. Their leaders often intermarried, and both countries had safe-havens for each other. As fate would have it, these good ties, blessings, we say, might actually have been curses in disguise—it was their good relationship which would fate them to one of the greatest Conquests in European history.


In 1066, Edward died. Having had no children, Edward nominated Harold (surprisingly, considering Harold fought against him). On January 6, the Witenagemot, or Witan, an early assembly that functioned like Parliament, elected Harold King of England. William Unknown-3.jpegheard of this and was outraged, because he had been betrayed. In 1051, William said, Edward himself promised William the latter would get the throne after him. To add onto that, William was Edward’s first cousin, once removed, whereas Harold was not related to Edward whatsoever. To William, it was clear he was the rightful King. Secondly, two years earlier, in 1064, Harold’s ship was wrecked in Normandy, and he, seeking safety in the duchy, went to William, to whom he swore his allegiance, saying he would serve under him. Even though Harold confirmed this story, neither Edward’s nor Harold’s word was valid, the Witan declared, since they had not been present when it was made; seeing as there were no other witnesses, neither really happened, so Harold was the King, not William. Determined to get the crown, William knew he had to take it by force. He did so with the support of the Pope.


During Edward’s reign, there was a Norman archbishop who was absent, so Godwin, using Edward as a puppet, installed an Englishman, Stigand, as the new archbishop; however, Leo IX stated that this was not allowed, considering the Norman archbishop could not be replaced if he was not dead. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Godwin did not heed this, but still got Stigand into power. In response, Pope Leo IX excommunicated Harold. The next Pope, Alexander II, under the supervision of Hildebrand, later Gregory VII, gave William his blessing. An old time friend of William, Lanfranc, joined William’s side, calling for a holy war on the Harold, the excommunicated English King—in effect, calling a crusade. If things were not intense enough, however, a third variable came into play: Harold’s brother Tostig.


After Tostig became Earl of Northumbria, his kingdom revolted in 1065, and Tostig was exiled. Like William, when Tostig heard the news of his brother’s coronation, he grew jealous and sought out a way of getting back into power. Exiled in Norway, he befriended the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada, with the help of whose Viking army he would invade English. In return for his help, Hardrada, Tostig promised, would be crowned King of England.


Facts_Harald_Hardrada_Last_Great_Viking.jpgAccordingly, Harold was put in a precarious position, a true dilemma: To the north was Harald Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson, and to the south was William of Normandy. Although both poses a great danger, William the stronger of the two. Because of bad winds, William was delayed; so the Vikings led their attack first, landing at York in September, where the first battle was fought, the Battle of Fulford. On September 20, Tostig and Hardrada defeated the English, killing the Earls of Northumbria and Mercia. As promised, Hardrada was crowned King of England. Three days later, the message of the Viking attack reached King Harold, who, hearing the news, surprised by this attack, and not expecting William any time soon, decided to take back his land from the invaders. He and his army covered 200 miles in under a week. Reaching Stamford on September 25, the Royal Army, BattleofStamfordbridge.pngnumbering around 10,000, faced off against the Norwegian interlopers, around 5,000 of them. Harold commenced the attack, but he was quickly rebuffed when his brother and the Norwegian King launched a counter-attack, although it was no use; for during the battle, Harald Hardrada took an arrow to the throat, killing him, leaving Tostig isolated, Tostig, who refused to back down, who would not compromise with his brother, ultimately ending in his death. Viking reinforcement arrived, but it was too late. By the time the battle ended, with the Anglo-Saxons victorious, only 24 of the 300 Viking ships that had come returned to Norway (so only 8% survived, while 92% were slaughtered!). This victory was not to last long, however, for a storm was brewing in the south, literally and proverbially.


Harold, when he left the south in order to attack the Vikings, decided William was not going to attack, so he pulled all of his troops out, leaving the coast entirely unprotected. Furthermore, the harvest season was going on, so much of the English army left to tend to their farms. This was a poor decision on Harold’s part, although it is hard to blame him, in truth, because what else could he have done? There was an immediate threat in the north, as opposed to a possibly imminent, albeit more dangerous, one in the south. Forced to act quickly, he went for the immediate threat, not counting on the latter. Unknown-4.jpegUnfortunately for him, as soon as he left, the weather in Normandy turned good, allowing William and his army to sail to England without obstacles. Departing on September 28, with either 700 or 1,400 ships—as with most historical events, the details are shoddy and conflicting—and on them 7-15,000 men and 2,000 horses, William, Duke of Normandy, left his homeland to conquer what he thought was his, rightfully, and with the assent of the papacy. He landed in Pevensey Bay, located in East Sussex, almost directly opposite of York, where Hardrada and Tostig landed. Now, Harold had even more reason to be alarmed: His enemy, whom he did not expect to come, had come, and with a sizeable, prepared army, in contrast to his worn-out, mostly untrained militia, which was composed, for the most part, of farmers; and his enemy had come at a terrible time, when large parts of his force had left for harvest, and after having defeated the Vikings, resulting in a large loss of Anglo-Saxon soldiers.


At first, Harold was reluctant to face off against William, understandably: He had not the forces to fight him. But William did not come to England for nothing; he was not going to sit around and wait for Harold to build up his forces again, so William, fortifying himself near London, had his men construct little castles, from which they could get food and other supplies, while they anticipated Harold’s next move. When it dawned on William that Harold would do no such thing, he decided that he needed to lure the King of England to him. The Duke of Normandy wanted to get it over with and become King himself, which is why he intentionally stayed close to the coast, such that, when he won, he could go back to Normandy. Hence, he would not take the battle to Harold, but what have Harold bring the battle to him. To gain the King’s attention, he and his army went around Southern England, pillaging villages, setting fire to them, wreaking havoc wherever and to whomever. Harold could not handle the stress, and so his forces marched in two days, from October 11 to 13, toward London, than which they would go no farther, to their advantage. Setting themselves up on Senlac Hill, the English forces, tired, anxious, jittery, jaded, awaited their foreign invaders. The next day, October 14, 1066, would become famous in history—the Battle of Hastings.


Unknown-5.jpegArriving with around 7-15,000 men, the Normans would be going against the English, of whom there were 9,000, who were up on the hill, which was 50 feet high, giving them the height advantage over the Normans, who would have to travel across wet swamp marshes and around ravines to reach them. Looking at the English army, it was made up of the Royal Army and the Fyrd, which was the local militia, recruited from the nearby counties, similar to the Minutemen of the American Revolutionary War, all of whom had no experience in battle. In contrast to the Fyrd, the Royal Army stuck around the King and was highly trained, equipped with chainmail armor and double-handed axes that were capable of decapitating horses with a single blow. The Fyrd wielded spears and swords, but they were most apt with shields, which would come in handy. Across from them, the Norman army was more diverse and—clearly—superior. In the front were the archers, and behind them the infantry, behind which were the cavalry, and among them William himself, on his own horse. In addition to his Norman troops, William had on his side the Flemish and the Bretons, another branch of the Celtics. Harold, too, would be in the front lines of his own infantry. Both commanders were skilled and excellent fighters, each of whom had fought and won numerous conflicts. The battle is reminiscent of the American Revolution, but in reverse: The highly trained Norman army versus the rag-tag, weakened Anglo-Saxon army—the victor was apparent before the battle began.

 

 


For further reading: The Story of Civilization Vol. 4 by Will Durant (1950)
The Development of Modern English 2nd ed. by Robert Stuartson (1964)
Commanders: History’s Greatest Military Leaders by R.G. Grant (2010)
The Encyclopedia of World History
6th ed. by Peter N. Stearns (2001)
History of the English People 
Vol. 1 by John Richard Green (1882)
100 Battles That Shaped the World
by Parragon (2012)

History of England Vol. 1 by Lord Macaulay (1967)
History of England 
4th ed. by W.E. Lunt (1957)
The Battle 100 
by Michael Lee Lanning (2009)
Scaling the Centuries
by Edwin J. Urch (1939) 
Battle: A Visual Journey
 by R.G. Grant (2005)

Extra:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zx2c4j6

Play a fun, educational strategy game based on 1066!

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Adam Smith on Compassion

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 3.58.11 PM.pngWhen our passive feelings are almost always so sordid and selfish, how comes it that our active principles should often be so generous and so noble?

Adam Smith (1723-1790), Scottish philosopher.

 

From The Theory of Moral Sentiments, p. 137 

Gail Wynand and the Second-Handed Dialectic of Power

Unknown.jpegBesides money and pleasure, what does a man want? Power. The desire for power is an innate human drive, an impulse that has throughout history shown itself time and time again to be a formidable factor that has shaped civilization, for both good and bad. In the hands of one, it can turn horribly wrong; the few, it can quickly deteriorate; and the many, it also not exempt from corrupting. Overall, the pursuit of power over others proves a fickle, destructive thing, whereas, say, power over oneself, is thought to be more respectable. But power itself is not a bad thing, only in the hands of men, who, upon achieving it, will succumb to their darkest instincts and show their true selves. To dominate and to control others, is to control the world, a sentiment which has given rise to the notion of ruling the world, or world domination, which, as seen in history, never leads anywhere good. As such, humans are driven by a desire that they cannot escape, but which will lead to their ruin in the long run. In Ayn Rand’s philosophical novel The Fountainhead, Gail Wynand, the owner of a newspaper called the Banner, makes it his sole mission to get power over his peers, to show the world that he is capable of ruling, to prove everyone wrong who doubted him. Unfortunately, by the end of the novel, his rise Unknown-1.jpegUnknown-2.jpegto power takes a turn for the worst, leading to his personal destruction and the ruin of the only things for which he cared. Rand, who carefully constructed each of her characters, made Wynand’s need for power his weakness, the very thing that would destroy him in his pursuit, eventually. About a century earlier, the 19th-century German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, in a famous section titled “Lordship and Bondage” of his work Phenomenology of Spirit, explains the process by which a person, or self-consciousness, achieves knowledge of itself through a power struggle with another individual, demonstrating the perils of power in relation to other persons. Therefore, this post will explore how Hegel’s ideas clarify Rand’s cautionary tale of Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead—the second-handed dialectic of power.


In Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel tells the story of the Absolute Spirit and its progression through the course of history. As pure self-consciousness, Spirit must be able to reflect upon itself, to be conscious of itself, if it wants to become complete. It is only through self-recognition that self-consciousness comes to fruition and realizes its place in the images-1.jpegworld and in the lives of men. Spirit is manifest not only in the world, but in individuals. Every self or person that exists is an individual self-consciousness that partakes in Spirit. Pure self-consciousness is a hard thing to imagine, surely, and it can best be explained using the Law of Identity, used by both Hegel and his predecessor Fichte: A=A. This merely means that self-consciousness is itself—nothing more, nothing less. If you were to have a person, and if you took away all their properties, e.g., physical, intellectual, emotional, etc., then you would have their irreducible, simple self-consciousness, which is itself. Anything that is not self-consciousness is an object for it. For this reason, self-consciousness consists both of the self, the subject, and an object, such as another person, or self-consciousness. It is the subject that thinks about the object. So self-conscious must be able to think about itself as an object, despite its being the one doing the thinking at the same time. Such is the essence of self-consciousness. Without an object, consciousness is not itself.


Unknown-3.jpegTo achieve contemplation of itself, self-consciousness works through what Hegel calls “desire,” which is the need to dominate external objects; in a word, self-consciousness appropriates, it takes something for itself in order to have it and make it its own. This important idea says that the self comes to know itself through what it is not. Simply put, self-consciousness learns what it is through every object that it is not. The self knows itself from the not-self. In Fichte’s writing, this is called the Anstoß, or “impetus,” the instant in which the self springs back from the world and into itself. The problem is that desire does not lead to knowledge of the self, only of the not-self. Desire, mind you, is only a function of self-consciousness, a means of obtaining consciousness, the by-product of which is a faint idea of reflection. In other words, desire is not self-consciousness itself; desire informs self-consciousness because it is not reflexive; desire does not act like a mirror in which the self can see itself. Further, desire is object-centered (allocentric), rather than self-centered (egocentric). This means desire is not what leads explicitly to self-conscious reflection. Instead, desire for another self is what leads to self-conscious reflection. Now, the self becomes social, and it interacts with other selves, from which it obtains knowledge of itself.


When two people meet, they are separate from each other in that they see the world differently, yet they live in the same world nonetheless. Each self-consciousness exists in itself, disconnected from everyone else. Two persons are like bumper cars: They can drive around and interact with each other, but only by coming into contact with each Unknown.pngother violently. Person A seeing person B, a reciprocal process ensues. Person A desires person B—that is, desires to own them; and likewise, person B desires to own person A. There is a mutual recognition between the two, and a mutual resistance. Both realize what the other wants, but they are also resistant to it. Tension builds between the two, for they both want to conquer one another. Asserting themselves, person A will try to establish its dominance in an attempt to bring person B under their control. This subjugation of the other, this literal objectification—turning the other person into an object for oneself—means both persons use the other as a means-to-an-end rather than an end-in-themselves. Neither person A nor B respects the individuality of the other, sees the other as an equal, but immediately assumes a superiority toward them. Recognition, in this sense, is not the friendly kind, as between two friends who see each other and wave, thereby recognizing each other, no; this is a vicious recognition between two enemies who begrudgingly acknowledge each other’s existence. Neither person is respected as a person, but seen as an object for taking.


In our everyday lives, this hardly seems an accurate portrayal of our encounters with other people, yet it was also championed by another philosopher, the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, who said that, by looking at another person, they become an object for us, and vice versa. Under our gaze—”the Look,” as Sartre called it—the other ceases to be an independent consciousness, but degenerates from a subject into an object. If two people were to look at each other, then, a battle between the two would follow. Sartre said that the two selves fight to assert their self-consciousness in the face of the other. Going back to Hegel, though, person B serves for person A as a mirror kind of. Unknown-4.jpegUnlike desire, which we said is not a mirror, the other person, who is perceived by desire, does become a mirror for us. Self-consciousness requires another self in order to be conscious of itself. “Self-consciousness exists in and for itself… only in being acknowledged,” writes Hegel.[1] He also says at this moment that the two selves “recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another.”[2] What this means is that A realizes that it is desiring B, and this must mean that B is doing the same thing. In a strange way, it is basically saying that the two selves feel a kind of empathy toward one another. A wants B, and A and is aware that B wants A at the same time. The same goes for B in terms of A. Children develop at a certain age what is known as a “Theory of Mind” (ToM). Theory of Mind is the ability of a child to reason what another person is thinking. Once the child is able to do this, it is able to think by means of analogy of what is going on in someone’s head. “When I want milk, I cry,” the child says, “and this boy is crying, so he must want milk, too,” he observes. In effect, this is what self-consciousness does when it “mutually recognizes” another self-consciousness. The two are aware of their own thinking, and they attribute it to each other, equally.


images.pngBecause a subject needs an object, a thinker a thought, A desires to control B as a means-to-an-end. This much we know. We know, further, that in order to control B, A needs to assert itself to gain supremacy. The problem is, when both A and B engage in self-assertion, they risk destroying each other. Should B be wiped into oblivion, A would lack its mirror. Thus, destruction of the other is counterintuitive, and, in a sense, self-destructive. To have A gain control of B without destroying B in the process, thereby preserving the mirror, A forces B not into subjugation, but subordination. A does not destroy B; A must enslave B, must make B lower than itself. A life-or-death struggle involves both parties. Whoever comes out on top, retains their dignity. “It is only through staking one’s life,” Hegel says, “that freedom is won… that [self-consciousness] is only pure being-for-self.”[3]  There is no other option, in other words. Engaging in battle, self-consciousness has nothing with which to bargain except for its own life. These two self-consciousnesses, A and B, are like medieval jousters—only, they are not putting their pride and dignity on the line, but their very lives, as that is all they have, being self-conscious individuals, “pure being-for-self.” To assert self-consciousness is to put one’s life at risk. The end of life means the end of 20150724001158840212-original_drupal.jpgconscious experience. For sake of understanding, we can equate “life” with “self-consciousness.” Understandably, putting one’s life at risk reveals the fragility of one’s life. When we consider nothing else besides our life, our self-consciousness, when we confront our bare existence, what are we left with? Pure being. This is very Heideggerian, this speaking of “pure being.” However, what Hegel is implying is that consciousness qua pure being is what one is. One is nothing more than one’s life. You are not your clothes, or your thoughts, or your emotions, or your likes or dislikes—you are a living individual, and when you risk your life, you realize that life is not some sort of solid, empirical object that can withstand such a trial, and so you face your mortality, the threat of non-existence, non-consciousness.


This conception of Hegel’s is summarized by Thomas Melchert: “So being self-consciousness in this strong sense is engaging in an absolute abstraction from all the facts that make you the existing individual that you are, turning every facet of yourself into an object for yourself.”[4] It all boils down to one thing: Self-consciousness. In finally risking one’s life, in finally facing another conscious individual, one confronts one’s finitude, one’s mortality, and then becomes aware of themselves, not as this or that, but as essentially aware, as self-consciousness, pure and simple. Self-consciousness is itself. Such a confrontation with death strips away everything but pure being-as-such—Heidegger would very much agree with this statement. Hegel predates Heidegger even more in the following excerpt:

For this consciousness has been fearful, not of this or that particular thing or just at odd moments, but its whole being has been seized with dread; for it has experienced the fear of death…. But this pure universal moment, absolute melting-away of everything stable, is the simple, essential nature of self-consciousness, absolute negativity, pure being-for-self….[5]

Indeed, this whole excerpt sounds like it could have been written by a Heideggerian-Sartrean hybrid. Piece by piece, we shall examine it. The first part discusses the experience of existential dread, or anxiety, which has been taken up by authors like Kierkegaard (who hated Hegel), Heidegger, and Sartre. Hegel says that self-consciousness, in staking its life, experiences a fear unlike any other, insofar as it is of nothing in particular. In fact, the essence of dread lies in exactly that—that dread is a images-2.jpegfear of Nothing. And dread is not some kind of fading emotion; rather, self-consciousness’ “whole being has been seized,” suggesting that it is a very powerful, moving feeling. It derives explicitly from death. Death is characterized by Nothing. Life is consciousnesses, death the end of consciousness, the experience of Nothing. Contemplating this, the individual feels dread. Through dread, pure self-consciousness arises as its own object, quaking in the face of being-as-such. Because self-consciousness is a subject, something that thinks, and because in facing death self-consciousness acknowledges its mortality, self-consciousness suddenly becomes… self-conscious. Everything but Life and Death themselves disappears, leaving self-consciousness alone with itself. However, risking one’s life in self-assertion requires courage, and only the most courageous soul will emerge from an encounter with death. The battle is over, and when the dust settles, A has won the battle, has faced death, leaving B defeated. B is thus forced into servitude under A. The two self-consciousnesses now take up a new relationship: Person A is the lord/master, B their bondsman/slave. We will now undertake a study of both of these roles and their relationship.


The [master’s] essential nature it to exist only for himself; he is the sheer negative power for whom the thing is nothing. Thus he is the pure, essential action in this relationship, while the action of the bondsman is impure and unessential. But for recognition proper the moment is lacking, that what the lord does to the other he also does to himself, and what the bondsman does to himself he should also do to the other [i.e., mutual reciprocation]. The outcome is a recognition that is one-sided and unequal.[6]

main-qimg-16ee790f3911c03019c882b5d2b39b3a.pngHegel is saying that the newly emerged master—person A—is now self-sufficient. The master serves no one. He, the master, cares only about his own existence, and he need not bother with the slave’s. Being self-consciousness, his concern lies not with things or the slave, but himself. Taken this way, the master is considered “essential,” as he is the one being served, he is the important one, whereas the slave is “unessential,” expendable, living a lowly existence, the one who serves, the unimportant one. While the master is independent, the slave is dependent. Recall that self-consciousness’ goal is only to gain recognition of itself. This it has done through staking its life against another consciousness, which is now become a slave. However, this creates a problem: If respect is a mutual thing, then so is recognition; recognition is only gotten through two people on equal standing—equals. The master gets work from the slave, who in turn gets nothing out of the relationship. Only the master profits. This, Hegel notes, is “one-sided and unequal.” The balance is tipped to one side, and this means there is no mutual recognition. The slave recognizes the master as his “everything,” recognizes his subservience to him.


And the master? The master recognizes the slave as… well, nothing, nothing at all. Bluntly, the master does not recognize at all, as there is no one, nothing, to recognize. To him, the slave is nothing. Therefore, the master cannot recognize the slave, and this means that, although the slave recognizes the master, the master will never acknowledge this—and this, readers, means that the master lacks the self-awareness he needs. The master no longer recognizes himself, and summarily loses self-consciousness. Reciprocity in the relationship has been compromised. If you have read The Fountainhead before, then you will have already seen some parallels, but for those who have not, now begins our formal comparison between Hegel and Rand. Gail Wynand, talking to his wife Dominique about an upcoming trial, intimates,

Dominique, I know you’ve never been able to understand why I’ve felt no shame in my past. Why I love the Banner. Now you’ll see the answer. Power. I hold a power I’ve never tested. Now you’ll see the test. They’ll [the public will] think what I want them to think. They’ll do as I say. Because it is my city and I do run things around here (Rand, 655).

Here, Wynand explains his position. As the owner of the newspaper the Banner, notorious for its sensationalist, eye-catching stories, Wynand is able to write stories that will spread a specific message. With his control over the people of New York, he can do whatever he wants; he can the people them vote a certain way if he tells them to. This, he says, gives him his feeling of power, a feeling which he enjoys very much, enabling him tonewspapers.jpg take control of his past. Little does he know, though, that in doing this, in “enslaving” the people of New York, depriving them of their power, their self-consciousness, in this context, he is actually depriving himself of the very self-consciousness, the very self-assertion, that he himself desires, to the extent that the people who read his newspapers cannot give him anything in return. He impoverishes himself by mediating himself through the people. The Banner, Wynand’s source of power, makes him a master, an independent person, but it prevents the people from giving anything back, from giving him equal recognition. His belief that he owns the city and that he can direct it blinds him even more from his predicament, for he is blinded by power, such that he cannot realize that, in asserting himself, he will have nothing left to reel in. Wynand has put his entire self out there, into the world, leaving nothing salvageable behind, by risking his life for recognition, which he will now never get. This, we have said, is the position of the master, and Gail Wynand is the representative of it. Hegel further says of the master:

[The lord] is a consciousness existing for itself which is mediated with itself through another consciousness…. And since he is… now at the same time mediation, or a being-for-self which is for itself only through another, he is related (a) immediately to both, and (b) mediately to each through the other.[7]

Seeing as the master gets his self-consciousness from the slave, he is “mediated” through the slave, which is to say that he uses the slave as a means of reaching his own agenda. He is not doing it on his own, but through the slave. The slave is not “for itself,” because it is dependent on the master, but the master is “for itself” since it is independent. Based on this, he is himself while maintaining his relationship with his slave, hence the immediate relation, but he is also himself and the master of the slave through the slave, mediately. The master is only a master who recognizes himself through the slave.


Wynand, similarly, walking through the empty streets of New York at night, feeling guilty for having betrayed his closest friend, looks up at the buildings around him, at the ordinary people going about their routine days, admitting his defeat, submitting to each and every one of them, because he realizes that, in trying to gain power, he has become their slaves, rather than their master, and the realization terrifies him, makes him feel Unknown-5.jpegworthless. He thinks to himself, “You were a ruler of men. You held a leash.” But then he sees the truth of this: “A leash is only a rope with a noose at both ends” (Rand, 691). The significance of this quote is that Wynand thought of himself as a powerful man, the most powerful man in New York, so he had a leash on everyone, to keep them in check; yet in reality, this hold on other people, this ability to manipulate others, kept him in check, too. In enslaving the people, he enslaved himself to them. The masses became his master, he their slave. Wynand, pandering to the masses, was really serving them, not the other way around. Like a dog owner, Wynand held the leash, the tool of power, in his hands, meaning he was able to control where the dog—the people—went. But he forgot that dogs, too, can pull and yank, sometimes stronger than the owner can. When he was not looking, the dog ran at full speed, dragging Wynand with it. Having a noose at both ends, the leash chokes both of them; they are bound to each other, and yet there is no equal recognition, no mutuality. The master depends on objects for desire, not caring about the slave; the slave wants to serve his master in recognition of him, albeit unsuccessfully, since the master refuses to lower himself to the slave’s level.


What of the slave? What becomes of the slave if the master is revealed to be less powerful than he thought? The slave, forced to work for the master, produces. He labors for the master, and he finds himself therein. By this, Hegel means that the slave finds Unknown-6.jpeghimself through his work, which is a creation of his, a reflection of him. Looking at his craftsmanship, his handiwork, the slave sees the fruits of his labor, sees himself in them, because he has put his effort into them. He differentiates himself from the world, from the objects of his creation. Compare this, again, to the Fichtean Anstoß, the kick-off whereby the slave sees all that is not himself, and therethrough finds what is his. Self-realization comes when the slave compares himself to the master, who is a self-consciousness like himself, against which he can mirror himself, and to his material labor, allowing the slave to achieve reflexive self-consciousness. “[T]he bondsman realizes that it is precisely in his work wherein he seemed to have only an alienated existence that he acquires a mind of his own,” states Hegel.[8] We see this in The Fountainhead, too, when Wynand reflects further on his fall from power:

I released them all [the public]. I made every one of those who destroyed me. There is a beast on earth, dammed safely by its own impotence. I broke the dam. They would have remained helpless. They produce nothing. I gave them the weapon. I gave them my strength, my energy, my living power. I created a great voice and let them dictate the words. The woman who threw the beet leaves in my face had a right to do it. I made it possible for her.

Anything may be betrayed, anyone may be forgiven…. Bot not I. I was not born to be a second-hander (Rand, 694).

Had Wynand not tried to shape public opinion, had he not sought to exert his power over others, had he not underestimated the public by being condescending, then, he says, his fall would not have happened. By letting things go as they had been, everything would have been fine, but he intervened, causing his own downfall. The “beast” he talks about is the mediocrity, the conformity, of the masses, and this very mediocrity and conformity is what held them back from doing anything. Their own standards and artificially made beliefs were precisely what kept them from making their own standards and beliefs. Wynand, however, is the one who “broke the dam.” His vehement articles stressing the urgency of the trial, his pleas to acquit Howard Roark provoked the people, let them make up their minds, form their opinions, gather together in protest. His power struggle released them upon himself. He put his life on the line, his being, and he had won judging by his success in the world, his riches, his art collection, his personal life—he was the master. And in so doing, he surrendered himself to the people, became subordinated to them, paradoxically.


Interestingly, he says, “They produce nothing,” which can be linked to the slave, who produces for the master and finds awareness in it. It is true the masses never produced anything for Wynand; but then again, he never recognized them as they recognized him; he did not give them reciprocal acknowledgement; he desired the objects, instead of his own self-consciousness; but the people, the consumers of the Banner, the mindless noose-e1337727704742.jpgreaders, the manipulable crowds—they were the true laborers, and Wynand, it is also true, was dependent on them. He could not exist without them, could not have been as successful as he was without them. He needed them; he was dependent on them. He sought power of them. He went so far in pursuit of power, that he could not look back from where he came, and he lost perspective. He lost the ability to recognize the people, who became to him an anonymous, faceless crowd. With great power comes great responsibility, we know from Spiderman. Wynand’s power, symbolized by the “leash,” got him caught up in his own noose, to which he was tethered. The laborers could not give what Wynand demanded of them, and this empowered them through their production, of which he had none, except for the Banner, his form of control, causing the inversion of the master-slave dialectic, so that Wynand was the slave, the people the masters, the collective. Wynand, had he not risked his life in the power struggle, would not have provoked and alienated the people from their labor.


In chapter XI of part 4, Howard Roark and Gail Wynand are sitting on the latter’s yacht, talking about the “beast,” the mediocrity of the masses, which Roark appropriately titles “second-handedness,” or the tendency to live second-hand, vicariously, mediately, through other people. They formulate their principles based on what others before them have said; they follow the latest trends; they do not think for themselves; they seek the approval of their peers; and they depend on others, instead of relying on themselves. Wynand agrees with Roark, who declares that he is happy that Wynand is not a second-hander himself. At this, Wynand smiles. Unbeknownst to Wynand, Roark thinks: “I haven’t mentioned to him the worst second-hander of all—the man who goes after power” (Rand, 636). Secretly, Roark disapproves of Wynand, knowing that his pursuit of power will not end well for him, for it never does; after all, it is second-handed. This moment becomes all the more meaningful when we reread what Wynand says to himself later, about how “Anything may be betrayed, anyone may be forgiven…. Bot not I. I was not born to be a second-hander.”


Unknown-7.jpegIn conclusion, it is human nature to want power, especially over others, yet Gail Wynand from The Fountainhead serves as a warning to us all about the dangers of pursuing power. The master is but a pawn in the grander scheme of things, Hegel thinks, for the dialectic of Spirit continues onward, through thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Two self-consciousnesses meet, they fight, one becomes subservient but ends up becoming the master, only to repeat the process infinitely. If one independent consciousness is the thesis, another the antithesis, then the resulting self-consciousness is the synthesis; but now this self-consciousness meets another one, and the cycle continues, as you can see, ad infinitum. The seeking of power, therefore, is futile and never-ending. Recognition is grounded in mutuality and reciprocity, which simply cannot be achieved when narrow-minded, individual power is sought after. Both Gail Wynand and Howard Roark grew up poor, working for the entirety of their childhood, told they were worthless, that they would never amount to anything, yet they both became incredibly successful, Wynand with his newspaper business, Roark with his architecture. They are a rags-to-riches story, full of inspiring individualism and idealism. But Rand wanted to demonstrate that something separated Roark from Wynand. Whereas Wynand goes after power to show others that he can be Unknown-8.jpegin charge for once, rising to identify as a master, Roark, it can be argued, is a slave by nature, in the Hegelian sense, of course. He finds himself not in other people, but in his work, his labor. Every draft he draws up, every granite block he touches, and every building he builds—they are all in his image. Roark finds self-recognition, self-assertion, self-consciousness, purpose, meaning, in his passion, which is really his whole life. He is full of dread because he is always risking his life for his work. For months, he goes without any commissions, yet he endures it, because “it is precisely in his work wherein he seemed to have only an alienated existence that he acquires a mind of his own.” Roark was not born to be a second-hander. The worst second-hander is “the man who goes after power.” Who seeks to become powerful, thereby becomes powerless.

 

 


[1] Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, §178, p. 111
[2] Id., §184, p. 112
[3] §187, p. 114
[4] Melchert, The Great Conversation, p. 410
[5] Hegel, op. cit., §194, p. 117
[6] §191, p. 116
[7] §190, p. 115
[8] §196, p. 119

 

 

For further reading:
A History of Philosophy Vol. 7 by Frederick Copleston (1994)
Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit
by G.W.F. Hegel (1977)

The Great Conversation by Norman Melchert (1991)
History of Philosophy by B.A.G. Fuller (1952)
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1986)

Who Were the Robber Barons? [2 of 2]

Click here to read part 1, where I talk about the rise of the Robber Barons.


Unknown.jpegNow that the Robber Barons have been introduced and explored, we can begin to look at the environment and conditions in which they grew, and how the political, economic, and ideological climate shaped them, gave them opportunities, allowed them to grow, prosper, and flourish. After the Civil War, in the late 19th-century, the dominant belief at the time was Manifest Destiny, which states that it was the destiny of the people to expand westward, into now-empty Native American lands, as manifest by God. As a result, a mass migration occurred, with both immigrants and settlers moving to occupy the West, supplying the nation with plenty of workers with empty hands. Furthermore, there was lots of open, unexplored, unclaimed land. These two conditions—lots of land and lots of people—made industrialization possible; hence, the Second Industrial Revolution. Land was provided by the government, on which laborers who immigrated would work, given Transcontinental-Railroad-e1440014161748.jpgsteel by Carnegie, and funded by Morgan. Problems occurred, however, when rampant corruption spread throughout these railroads, which were needed. Railroads were all the craze, because industrialization provided the materials, because the Civil War meant peace and Reconstruction, because people needed to travel, and because goods needed to be imported and exported. The Transcontinental Railroad was commissioned for this reason. Stretching West to East, it combined the Central Pacific line, owned by Leland Stanford, and the Union Pacific. Most of the workers who built it were immigrants, either Irish or Chinese, who underwent a lot of cruelty, suffering, and injustice, forced to overwork, in the hot sun, in extreme terrain, costing far too many innocent lives.


In terms of ideology, what allowed the Robber Barons to rise to supremacy was laissez-faire capitalism, a system that promotes individualistic entrepreneurship without interference from the government. To summarize, this economic system, created in the 18th-century, during the Enlightenment, expounded on famously by Adam Smith and images.jpegJohn Stuart Mill, said that any individual could create their own business, and they would be free to do whatever they wanted with it, and the government could neither get in the way of it nor direct it in any way, creating a free, competitive market. The reason the Robber Barons could grow so quickly was because the government could not restrict their growth. Using whatever tactics they had, they could gain more money, more property, more business. Unfortunately, laissez-faire capitalism in 19th-century America was inherently self-destructive: “Laissez-faire in the 1900’s tended to kill off competition…. And when monopoly dominated the scene, the concentration of power in the hands of the few threatened the liberty and freedom of the many.”[1] Even though capitalism is based on free competition, laissez-faire, paradoxically, limited competition, ultimately creating monopolies.


Unknown-1.jpegThis effect was compounded by the popular belief in Social Darwinism, which became widespread after Darwin’s publications that were given a social twist by fellow scientist Herbert Spencer. According to Social Darwinism, competition was inherent to all societies across all organisms, and in each society there was a Spencerian “survival of the fittest”; society is always in conflict, and it always the strongest, the smartest, the most acute, who not only does, but should, come out on top. If one is stronger than his peers, then he deserves to win at the expense of the loser, fair and square—nothing personal, just business, in other words. Predictably, this was applied to the economy, such that whoever’s business was carried out most efficiently gained all the business, squashing his competition without any conceivable threats. Those who were successful became unstoppable titans, people whose riches made them powerful.


Now, the rise of big business, expectedly, was not positive, and many people, especially the farmers and workers, tried to revolt. Workers formed unions in order to halt business and get fair treatment. These unions were obliterated by the big businesses and monopolies, which stomped on them with their big boots. These unions tried to plea with the Government, all in vain, though. Upset with their unfair treatment and pay, many protests broke out, most notably the Grange Protests of the 1870’s. While more can be said about these protests, it is enough to say that they were largely unsuccessful, SS2559332.jpgresulting in even more casualties. To demonstrate the plight of the workers, we can look at Carnegie’s business: His workers earned $10 for 84-hour weeks, despite the business earning roughly $2 million a year. Much as entrepreneurs came to Morgan for loans to start up their own businesses, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and other successful industrialists needed money to start their businesses. This purpose was fulfilled by the Government, which granted land grants left and right, applying protection tariffs to each business, so that they could grow, just like how a plant requires water and sunshine to sprout. Consequently, businesses, aided with the Government’s money, were able to get started; and yet, the protection tariffs—taxes put on imports to improve the interstate economy—were only in place to get the companies off the ground. Nothing was done, though, once the companies started. The inertia was over, and the companies started accelerating exponentially, without any brakes, and the tariffs only sped them up. It was as though the Government gave the businesses training wheels, but forgot to take them off. Thus, big businesses popped up throughout the country with unrestrained control, supported by government subsidies—financial aid.


1-2-1936-25-ExplorePAHistory-a0m0a4-a_349.jpgAll of these factors in the U.S. led to increased concentration of wealth. It is estimated that in 1865, there were only 19 millionaires, but fast-forwarding 35 years to the turn of the century, there were thousands of them! Big business overshadowed small business, virtually wiping it off the surface of the country. Monopolies owned the market, giving way to oligopolies. In the market, a monopoly is a single seller that has all the business to itself, and its name literally means “one seller.” Standard Oil, for example, was a monopoly inasmuch as it controlled and dominated the oil business, and its tendency to buy out competitors meant it had the oil business to itself. Oligopoly, on the other hand, its name meaning “few sellers,” refers to a market in which a few companies control the market, limiting competition—essentially the result of laissez-faire. An example of this is the fact that ⅔ of the railroads in the U.S. in 1900 were owned by only 7 companies. These 7 companies Unknown-5.jpegowned even smaller companies, meaning the bigger ones, the “mother companies,” the conglomerates, the ones that own the subsidiaries, formed an oligopoly. The rise of monopolies and oligopolies meant a concentration of wealth, and concentration of wealth translates into the concentration of power. Recall the quote from above: “[W]hen monopoly dominated the scene, the concentration of power in the hands of the few threatened the liberty and freedom of the many.” In recent years, movements like “Occupy Wall Street” have tried to combat the notorious “1%,” the wealthy elite that “rule the world”; and while this may be a conspiracy, it is not hard to understand the rationale from where it comes.


Moreover, this concentration of wealth led to an even greater, more abstract force: The “Gospel,” or good word, “of Wealth.” If we go back to the founding of the nation, then we find in Alexander Hamilton and James Madison the beginnings of this movement. Both Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 10.58.28 PM.pngmen believed that power deserved to be in the hands of the rich, elite few. Those who were successful with money proved to be better in management and organization than those who were not, they argued. A nation, they reasoned, needed this kind of leadership and initiative— not that ensured by the masses. They were cynical of hoi polloi, the commoners, the people. Carnegie, we discussed, popularized this view when he expressed that he foresaw a future in which America was a wealthy, industrial nation. He tried to make an example out of himself, giving future generations a guideline by which to become rich, and to use their riches to better civilization, by donating, by helping those in need. Obviously, this is a different, more optimistic message than that of Hamilton or Madison. Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth” implored the masses to rise up, to become rich, and to use this opulence to become “lovers of men,” philanthropists. As with most good things, though, the “Gospel of Wealth” over time became corrupted, perverted, bastardized, popularized, dumbed-down—to a gross materialism and consumerism:

And so, the schools, the churches, the popular literature taught that to be rich was a sign of superiority, to be poor a sign of personal failure, and that the only way upward for a poor person was to climb into the ranks of the rich by extraordinary effort and extraordinary luck.[2]

Fittingly, in 1899, economist Thorstein Veblen published his famous The Theory of the Leisure Class, in which he outlined his theory of “conspicuous consumption,” according to which the new wealthy class would senselessly buy expensive things so as to images-1.jpegdistinguish themselves from the poorer classes, a way of saying, “I’m richer than you are, and for that I am better.” The capitalistic-hedonistic-materialism of the 21st-century, in which the Pursuit of Happiness really means the Pursuit of Wealth, arose initially during the Gilded Age, and has only gotten worse over time, as more and more money became concentrated. We believe and convince ourselves that “happiness = $,” and that, more foolishly, money can buy happiness. Success is nowadays defined by how much money we have, how business is running. Millions of dollars are spent on millions of books aimed at entrepreneurs, self-help books that promise us a money-filled, problem-free life if we “follow these simple principles,” which are fail-proof methods pertaining to becoming successful, get-rich-quick schemes passed off as good literature and common-sense thinking. How we live in an age of illusions and fancies! To quote George Carlin: “That’s why they call it the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.”


Unknown.pngThe next area of focus in understanding the Gilded Age economy is the Government’s reaction, specifically in the context of regulatory laws. The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 was passed by Grover Cleveland, formally creating the Interstate Commerce Commission (I.C.C.), whose objective it was to regulate railroad business, and see to it that they not engage in anything corrupt. From the start, it was doomed for failure, as it was passed more as a publicity stunt than as a serious regulation. For years, frustrated protesters demanded Congress take action against big business, and to make them happy, Cleveland passed the Act. It worked: The people were happy because it appeared to them that the Government was taking an interest in their affairs and helping them out. In reality, it was just a cover, and the I.C.C. was just a useless puppet, a nominal regulation, and it did nothing useful, unable to enforce its rules. The I.C.C. became a laughing stock, and all the senators and politicians knew it.


But big corporations were more real than any of them knew, so in 1890, Benjamin Harrison passed the legendary Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. The first article of the Act goes like this: “Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or John-Sherman-2.jpgconspiracy, in the restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations is hereby declared to be illegal.”[3] Legislature is eminent for its ambiguity, and the Sherman Antitrust Act is but an example of this. The most troublesome phrase, as noted by many, is “in the restraint of trade or commerce,” which would cause a lot of ruckus in future cases, having to be hashed out in further detail in specific circumstances. What the Antitrust Act basically protects against are monopolies and horizontal integration. The Act was designed to target companies like Standard Oil, which, forming trusts, were able to bypass laws that prohibited competition. By making illegal such methods, the Government hoped to disassemble these massive conglomerates. However, as we have seen, this did not work, considering Rockefeller was clever and took advantage of the Holding Company Act in New Jersey, thereby obviating the Antitrust Act. In all truth, the Act actually backfired, strengthening monopolies, instead of weakening them. Foolishly, the Government cornered the big companies, and they, being cornered animals, lashed out, coming back at them stronger, more viciously, with a vendetta. The industrialists struck back, forming oligopolies, as political-cartoon-of-monopoly-devouring-united-states,2322652.jpgmentioned in the fact that only 7 companies owned over half the railroads in the U.S. Because horizontal integration was outlawed, corporations were forced to adopt vertical integration, which worked to their behoof, increasing business. In order to disambiguate the Sherman Act, the Court introduced two important concepts: The “rule of reason” and “per se.” According to the former, a trust that restrained business “unreasonably”—that is, excessively or unfairly—was illegal. And according to the latter, a trust that engaged in activities against the Constitution were illegal per se, i.e., in themselves, without further reason. Yet another shortcoming of the Antitrust Act was that it was used against workers’ unions—correct: The law made to protect workers’ rights against big companies was used against workers in favor of big companies. Unions, the Court said, disrupted trade, and were classified as a “restraint” in commerce, so they were targeted by the Court. This widened the rift between the privileged and the underprivileged.


Next, we will look at a series of important Supreme Court cases that shaped the course of antitrust laws and businesses. The first case is Munn v. Illinois (1876), in which the Court, pestered incessantly by the Grange Movement, made up of farmers, looked into grain elevators—warehouses or storages for grain—and found that they were charging the farmers exorbitantly. Although the companies argued that they had the right to charge their own rates since they were private properties, the Court argued otherwise, requiring Antitrust-Monopoly.jpgthat private companies that served the public interest, like grain elevators, had no right to enforce their own rates, leading to the Court setting a maximum charge on grain. For once, there was a victory for the people against the big businesses. It was short-lived. A decade later, in 1886, the Wabash v. Illinois case changed the flow of the tide, in favor of the companies. Now the Supreme Court ruled that states could not regulate charged rates, that this was the job of the Federal Government. In essence, the Supreme Court went bipolar, completely overturning its earlier ruling in Munn, supporting the opposite side. The Court was just getting started; Zinn writes that in 1886 alone, about 230 proposed laws regarding corporate regulation were rejected by the Supreme Court. Then, in 1895, as a result of Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Company, Congress’ ability to tax higher incomes was deemed unconstitutional. Effectively, the Supreme Court had thus far prohibited not just state governments, but the Federal Government itself, from regulating private commercial interest. No fixed rates, no income taxes, could legally be imposed. It did not stop there. United States v. E.C. Knights antitrust.jpgCompany (1895) declared that E.C. Knights, a sugar-refining company that owned 90% of sugar production—which is surely unreasonable—was not, in fact, a monopoly at all, to the extent that manufacturing does not equal commerce. This refers to the Sherman Antitrust Act, which prohibits “restraint of … commerce.” Technically, E.C. Knights was not selling sugar to anyone; it was merely making the sugar, despite taking up pretty much the entire market in so doing. To further support this, the Supreme Court added that the Federal Government’s concern is with interstate business, the locals with intrastate (within the state). Because the manufacturing was intrastate, and because E.C. Knights never sold sugar interstate, it was outside the domain of the Federal Government; and seeing as the local governments had no power over monopolies, they, too, were utterly useless against it. One reason the big businesses managed to get cleared by the Supreme Court was due to the recent passing of the 14th Amendment. This addition to the Constitution protected persons from having their property taken away from them without a fair trial. What had this to do with anything? Well, corporations were regarded as “persons” in legal terms; therefore, corporations could not have property taken away equal-protection-560x418.jpgfrom them without a fair trial. “Supposedly, the [14th] Amendment had been passed to protect Negro rights,” Zinn writes, “but of the Fourteenth Amendment cases brought before the Supreme Court between 1890 and 1910, nineteen dealt with the Negro, 288 dealt with corporations.”[4] In other words, corporations were given priority over real persons, specifically blacks, who, it was implied hereby, were even lesser people than corporations. A business was considered more human than a black. Finally, in 1898, the last nail was put in the I.C.C.’s coffin, with Smyth v. Ames (1898), known also as the Maximum Freight Rate Case. It was here established that the I.C.C., like both the Federal and state governments, could not fix rates on railroads. Why did neither Congress nor the Supreme Court try to intervene on behalf of the people? The simple explanation is that “what is good for the economy, is good for the country.” Simply put, they believed, and rightly to an extent, that a good economy is necessary for a successful nation. On the other hand, neither of the two branches was totally pure, and both were venal at times, liable to be bribed, which is not to say that they always were, of course. Obviously, local governments are not as powerful Sherman-Anti-Trust-Act.jpegas the Federal Government, so they could not enforce their laws, and the states, too, were often bribed because they were corrupt, leading to a lack of action. As soon as the Standard Oil Trust arose, many more followed, including the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, A.K.A. AT&T. But it was not until Theodore Roosevelt became President that the Government decided to face head-on big business. For example, the most notable confrontation was in 1911, with the prominent case Standard Oil Company of New Jersey v. United States, the result of which left Standard Oil, that indomitable monopoly, diffused over the country, into separate, smaller, competing companies. It was carried out because Standard Oil was established to be a monopoly, too powerful for the market; yet one has to ask, How come it was not recognized as a monopoly earlier, when the Sherman Antitrust Act was passed?


images-3The most important takeaway, of course, is that history is alive, and that the Robber Barons are not just a thing of the past, but alive and well today, just under a new guise—that of technology. Nowadays, in the world of U.S. media, there is an uncontrollable concentration of power and wealth. If you want to read more about oligopoly and concentration of power in the media, then you can read my other blog here. To summarize, in the 21st-century, only 5 or 6 companies in America own all media networks. Compare this to the railroads in 1900, of which ⅔ were owned by 7 companies—not much has changed in a hundred years. And just as Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Morgan dominated the business world as godlike entrepreneurs, so today there are tech titans, such as Jeff Bezos (1964- ), owner of Amazon, worth $143.1 billion; Warren Buffett (1930- ), creator of Berkshire Hathaway, a holding company like Standard Oil in the 1890’s, worth $84.7 billion; Bill Gates (1955- ), owner of Microsoft, worth $93.3 billion; and Mark Zuckerberg, the youngest of them, inventor of Facebook, worth $77.6 billion. It very difficult, indeed, to find accurate, reliable sources regarding the wealth of the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age, especially regarding what their wealth would be worth today, taking inflation into account. What can reliably be said, though, is that, if they were alive today, they would be at the top of images-4.jpegthe list stated above. Even their worth back then is hard to come by, although figures put Rockefeller at around $2 billion in his day (which would be in the hundreds of billions today), Carnegie $350 million, and Morgan $118.3 million. The latter, markedly, was less wealthy than either of his contemporaries, causing Rockefeller to lament Morgan’s rather low net worth. Going back to the current age, all the billionaires in the world have a collective $6 trillion, it is said.[5] Modern billionaires, fearing protests like those of the Grangers’ over a century ago, turn to philanthropy, worrying over their image, how they are perceived, so they donate to earn good graces, something of which Gates and Bezos are guilty. There are two ways of evaluating this: From one perspective, it is immoral, because they are donating out of guilt, in order to preserve their image, whereas they would not have donated otherwise; and from another, it is still a noble, virtuous thing, to be charitable, because donating is donating, regardless of its motive.


Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, Carnegie’s Steel Company, and Morgan’s Bank have been paralleled by the dominant tech businesses like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft, which stand tall, casting a shadow on the corporate world, indestructible giants, influencers of the world, caterers to the people. And just like the old businesses, which were tainted by tales of abuse and inequality, these new tech industries have their fair share of injustices, such as Apple’s factories in Foxconn and Pegatron, where workers suffer from overworking; and Amazon, recently, has come under fire for its Unknown-2.jpegterrible work conditions, which boast hot temperatures, high expectations, miles upon miles of walking, and low wages. More comparisons can be made between Gould and Fisk and the notorious Wall Street scandal of Stratton Oakmont, Inc. (1989-96), dramatized in the movie The Wolf on Wall Street, which depicts Jordan Belfort’s attempt to use a corrupt investment business in order to amass a great wealth using a “pump-and-dump method,” similar to Gould’s watered, highly inflated, stocks. The 21st-century, in short, is no more different than either the late 19th– or early 20th-centuries, in that both saw the rise of new industries that came to establish themselves as the de facto leaders of business, whose careers would not be challenged, by way of their clever, inventive methods that got them to the top, the top from which they could look out at the rest of the world, comfortable upon their stacks of money, free from the petty, everyday problems of the canaille.


Unknown-3.jpegIn conclusion, as with the Sophists of 5th-century Greece, the Robber Barons of the Second Industrial Revolution ought to be studied carefully, disinterestedly, for history always has at least two sides. On the one hand, the Robber Barons were exploitative, mischievous scammers who operated through disingenuous methods, ruining local businesses, in a fight for who could come out on top, cold-blooded, calculative, greed- and money-driven, who only begrudgingly donated to the poor masses. They did not deserve their wealth because they earned it dishonorably, through vices rather than virtues. By buying out the competition, they hogged the market, not allowing anyone else to compete, like a childhood bully on the playground who blocks the slide for his own use. Yet conversely, the Robber Barons, or captains of industry, were entrepreneurs in the truest sense of the word, individuals who believed in themselves, believed in a better future, and used their newly earned wealth to work toward that future, through donations and philanthropy, advertised by the well-meaning Gospel of Wealth. People like Carnegie showed that images-5.jpegsocial mobility was possible, that anyone, no matter from where they came, could achieve their dreams, becoming rich and successful. The captains of industry transformed the U.S. into an industrial superpower, able to compete with the stronger, older European nations. Samuel Eliot Morison appropriately titled a section of his chapter on the industrialists “Hamilton wins,” in reference to the fact that it was Hamilton who envisioned an industrial America, as opposed to Jefferson’s wish for an agrarian republic. Thanks to the Robber Barons, the U.S. became what it is today. Again, we must take all the facts into account. While the industrialists are very much responsible for the standards of living we enjoy today and for making America a force to be reckoned with, they also had their moral faults. Harry S. Truman had this to say: “No one ever considered Carnegie’s libraries steeped in the blood of the Homestead steelworkers, but they are. We do not remember that the Rockefeller Foundation is founded on the dead miners of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and a dozen other performances.”[6] A populist speaker by the name of Mary Unknown-4.jpegElizabeth Lease gave a popular, oft-quoted speech around 1890 in which she denounced the power of the industrialists, whose wealth gave them power over the Senate, and it is reminiscent of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Her very relevant words are not foreign to us moderns’ ears: “Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street.”[7] And so, conclusively, whether or not the Robber Barons were good or bad cannot be decided objectively, because in the end, we cannot change what they did or how they did it, and it is due to their actions that we are where we are today.

 

 

 


[1] Dulles, The United States Since 1865, p. 64
[2] Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, p. 256
[3] https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/1
[4] Zinn, op. cit., p. 255
[5] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/oct/26/worlds-witnessing-a-new-gilded-age-as-billionaires-wealth-swells-to-6tn
[6] Qtd. in Brinkley, History of the United States, p. 266
[7] http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/marylease.html

 

For further reading: 
The United States: The History of a Republic 2nd ed. by Richard Hofstadter (1967)
The Oxford History of the American People Vol. 3 by Samuel Eliot Morison (1972)
The Historians’ History of the United States 
Vol. 2 by Andrew S. Berky (1966)
The Growth of the American Republic 
Vol. 2 by Samuel Eliot Morison (1955)
A History of American Life and Thought 
by Nelson Manfred Blake (1963)
America: A Narrative History
8th ed. by George Brown Tindall (2010)

A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart (2004)
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (1995)
Don’t Know Much About History
by Kenneth C. Davis (2003)

The United States Since 1865 by Foster Rhea Dulles (1959)
History of the United
 States by Douglas Brinkley (1998)

 

Online Reading:
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/oct/26/worlds-witnessing-a-new-gilded-age-as-billionaires-wealth-swells-to-6tn
https://www.newsweek.com/ruthless-overlords-silicon-valley-63639
https://socialistworker.org/2018/01/08/the-robber-barons-of-silicon-valley

Who Were the Robber Barons? [1 of 2]

Unknown.jpegLiving through the technological revolution of the 21st-century, characterized by new, groundbreaking inventions, we are experiencing the height of ingenuity here in America, navigating a post-industrial capitalist society, the home of several influential figures in technology, technological titans like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos, all of whom have built up awe-inspiring businesses, and who take up the global stage, leaving us to face the overwhelming consolidation of big corporations, massive conglomerates like Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon, which dominate the market, providing everything we need, from social networking to searching to shopping online. Famous for its invitation to live the “American Dream,” the U.S. prides itself on its economic status, flaunting its capitalist success, making it appealing to young entrepreneurs looking to get a start and build a wealthy enterprise. But this is nothing new in American history, for just over a century ago, having recovered from its destructive Civil War, this young, promising country—a newly christened republic and “democracy”—was trying to lose the training wheels of Europe and ride on its own, without help, ushering in the Second Industrial Revolution, which heralded the so-called “Gilded Age,” which oversaw a rise in inventors and entrepreneurs. The late 19th– and early 20th-century saw the flourishing of an industrial, capitalist America. It was during this period that the big names like Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Morgan became known as “Robber Barons,” men who built Unknown-1.jpegbusinesses ruthlessly, mercilessly, for their own private profit. We are at a critical point in history, when our democratic ideals of freedom, liberty, and privacy are threatened by unstoppable businesses that are indispensable to our lives, and without which we could not imagine living, exercising a powerful hold over us. So how did we get here? History shows us the parallels between seemingly disparate ages. As such, by looking back at the Robber Barons—who they were, how they became who they were, and how they managed to prosper—and the conditions that allowed for their growth, we will gain a better understanding of this contemporary, urgent junction at which we now stand, enveloped by and subjugated to the corporate world, which at any moment threatens to swallow us whole. We will be looking at the lives and careers of the infamous Robber Barons, the environment that enabled them to expand, and the current situation and how it resembles the past.


Unknown-2.jpegAfter the Civil War, Americans began to settle down peacefully and rebuild. The growing nation had to deal with the fact that there were lots of people who needed to get places, that if the economy were to improve, it needed to be sped up. Railroads were the solution to these two problems. By constructing vast railroad lines, people could get one from state to another in a matter of days, instead of months, and commerce would be boosted because goods could be moved farther and faster. The problem was, building railroads was a big project, so it required both able workers and money—lots of money. Men eager to make a buck saw an opportunity in this opening. Early on, in 1867, when the First Transcontinental Railroad was set into action, a company was hired to build it, called Crédit Mobilier. Although the real projected cost of the endeavor was about $44 million, Crédit Mobilier managed to get the Government to pay them $94 million in order Crédit-Scandal.jpgto begin. Cons like this were not uncommon in the railroad days, as opportunists profited entirely off of land grants and construction projects which were blown way out of proportion, costing the Government millions. The scam was not noticed until several years later, and much to the public’s surprise, many of those complicit in it were notable politicians, such as Representative Oakes Ames; founder of Stanford University Leland Stanford, who was also guilty of bribing other governments for control of other railroads; future President James A. Garfield (yup, President’s are not immune to corruption by any means!); and the then-current Vice President Schuyler Colfax, among others. This was but the beginning of a long series of scandals that would plague the U.S. railroads. The fact that powerful people were involved, too, is no exception, but rather the rule of the Gilded Age.


While Crédit Mobilier was busy stealing millions from the Government, there was another controversy going on, except that this one was neither private nor peaceful. Unknown-3.jpegCornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt (1794-1877) had up until the latter part of his life worked with steamships, before the Civil War, from which he gained his nickname. Later, he moved onto railroads, seeing in them a lucrative business. He used the many openings as a way of getting rich, buying and consolidating different racks, notably the New York Central Line, which was heavily used, making him incredibly rich at the time. But as Vanderbilt devoured mile after mile of railroad, he looked back behind him to find that his enterprise was being encroached upon by a rival of his, Daniel Drew (1797-1879), who proved a tough competitor, just as meteoric in his acquisitions as Vanderbilt was. Accompanied by his two associates, Drew had two goals: To grow his business and to retard Vanderbilt’s business. The latter was most important, so Drew was determined to prevent Vanderbilt from dominating the railroad lines. In order to keep Vanderbilt from buying him out, Drew held steadfastly to the Erie Line. He refused to sell it, but kept adding onto it, stealing more and more land from Vanderbilt, rising the prices more and more outrageously, provoking his nemesis not just once, but numerous times, to put a bounty on Drew’s head, in a vicious attempt to usurp him and take his business. Both men, Drew and Vanderbilt, bribed railroad operators to obtain and add them to their collections, as if they were trophies. Vanderbilt would stop at nothing to extend his grasp over the railroads, and he constantly tried, in vain, to buy the Erie Railroad from Drew. He was known, Vanderbilt, for hosting lavish parties, showing off his wealth through ostentatious displays of conspicuous consumption, proving to everyone he was the real deal. Whoever owned more railroads, whoever was richer, by whatever means necessary, was the better of the two. It became known as the Erie War.


Unbeknownst to either of the two, both of Drew’s associates were doing their own thing, independently. The most controversial of the two, Jay Gould (1836-92), was probably the most deserving of the name “Robber Baron,” and for this reason, he is like the Prodicus of 19th-century America; that is, Jay Gould was to the American public what the Sophists of 5th-century Athens were to Socrates and Plato: Good-for-nothing, 408_108567419405.jpgtalentless, swindling charlatans, imposters, who got money dishonorably, by both charging too much and deceiving their “clients,” or, more appropriately, “victims.” Gould, the Sophist of American business, bought abandoned Southern railroads, fixed them up, then sold them for way more than they were worth—essentially, Gould flipped railroads—and earned hundreds of millions of dollars from it. Thus, from 1867-72, Gould, Drew, and their third associate, James Fisk (1835-72), all vied with Vanderbilt for the railroads, each using illegitimate means to do so. Drew, to keep Vanderbilt from buying the Erie Railroad, and Gould, to make a fortune off of ruined railroads elsewhere, sold “watered stocks,” i.e., stocks whose prices were unbelievably inflated, more expensive than they actually were. Because of these watered stocks, Vanderbilt was unable to pay for the unrealistic cost of the Erie Railroad proposed by Drew, and Gould was able to make bank in a matter of years.


Finally, in 1872, Gould and Fisk dissociated themselves from Drew and sought a new get-rich-quick scheme, this time going on a bigger scale, their eyes set on something which seemed utterly insane and dangerous, should they be exposed. Gould, who had contacts, 120.pngmanaged to befriend the President of the United States, ex-Union General Ulysses S. Grant. His goal: To “corner” the gold market. By getting close to Grant, Gould hoped to get confidential insights into the Gold Exchange, whose prices changed monthly, so that he and Fisk could jump at the right minute, buy it all up, and thereby gain control of the entire market, influencing its prices, driving them up, and getting lots and lots of money—this was what “cornering the gold market” meant. Steadily, with caution and precision, Gould and Fisk drove the prices up, remaining low-key, careful not to attract any attention. They were successful, until, that is, Grant caught on. A panicked Grant released $4 million worth of gold into the market on September 24, 1869, a day that is known as “Black Friday,” and as the day that the gold market crashed. It was a tragic event, culminating in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars from investors and a loss of trust in Grant, who unwittingly abetted the two criminals, Gould and Fisk. While the term “Robber Baron” was used first in 1859, it was applied most trenchantly to the railroad tyrants in Charles Francis Adams, Jr.’s, book Railroads: Their Origins and Problems (1878), only then to be spread into the mainstream in 1934 by Matthew Josephson.


Now that we know from where the term “Robber Baron” originated, we will look at the Big Three of American business, three entrepreneurs who, like the trailblazers who charted the New World, first charted what would become modern-day capitalist business and corporation. When Robber Baron is mentioned, it is usually these three who come to Unknown-4.jpegmind: John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan. John Davison Rockefeller (1839-1937) was born in New York, and his father, fittingly, was a conman. At a young age, his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Rockefeller was noted to be neat, organized, and highly individualistic. This last quality was especially important back in the Gilded Age, when the value of the individual was important as it is today in the U.S. The Pennsylvania Oil Rush of 1860, it is reported, was even more impactful in terms of economic boons than the California Gold Rush of 1848; it was in this context that a young Rockefeller ventured forth into the budding oil business, fresh and ready for work, confident, ready to compete for his share. Because the oil business was still in its infancy, it was easy for Rockefeller to get started. In 1870, he and a few others created the Standard Oil Company of Ohio. At the time, it was modest, but few would predict the success and legacy it would have later one. Rockefeller created a year later the South Improvement Company. The South Improvement Company was Rockefeller’s notorious method of gaining the upper hand in the oil world: He quickly assumed ownership of several railroads, from which he demanded rebates, or price reductions—basically, a discount—yet he also ordered them to raise the prices of shipping for other companies, the gains of which he himself would get. In short, he was able to assert complete control over railroads, to the extent that he could ship large freights for a reduced price, while also collecting money gotten from his rivals, procured from taxes his railroads put on them. His influence was so great that the railroads literally paid him to transport his oil. Why would the railroads agree to pay Rockefeller? Because the railroads were in competition, they needed lots of business, which Rockefeller could give them, so they accepted his terms. Another aspect of the contract signed between the South Improvement Company and the railroads was that large frights were allowed to go only Unknown-5.jpegon certain railroads, namely Rockefeller’s. He made the railroads refuse to export or import other companies’ oil. Of course, such a deal like this was outrageous, and many people knew it; unfortunately, Rockefeller could not bribe his way out of this one, and the South Improvement Company was shut down for its corruptness shortly thereafter. Other than this one instance, Rockefeller was generally able to bribe the legislature and judiciary easily, giving him a major advantage, allowing him to bypass laws to beat his opponents. Even though the South Improvement Company produced a lot of controversy, even more controversial was Rockefeller’s use of “horizontal integration,” by which Rockefeller would buy out his competition. He pressured and then eliminated other oil companies through vicious tactics, one of which was “predatory pricing,” a form of cutthroat competition. In predatory pricing, a seller lowers their prices, and everyone likes low prices, so everyone will go to that seller, forcing the competition, too, to lower their prices, in order to still have a clientele; yet smaller companies often cannot afford to keep this up for long, as they will not be able to make sufficient profits to stay functional, whereas a larger company, like Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, was able to sustain this price reduction; and ultimately, after some time, the smaller company, “driven to the wall”—forced to insufficient funds—would have two options: Go bankrupt or sell. Therefore, either way, Rockefeller gained: If his competition went bankrupt, he would have one less competitor; and if the company sold itself, then not only would Rockefeller have one less competitor, but he would add the company to his own as an asset, adding to his empire. Rockefeller can be likened to a vulture insofar as he waited for his prey to slowly die from starvation, only to sweep in at its weakest moment, when its emaciated body decayed, and eat its carcass. Between 1879 and 1890, Rockefeller owned between 90-95% of the entire refined oil business in the U.S. (only 10 years after creating his company)! Horizontal integration was frowned upon, so Rockefeller resorted to another, respectable method, “vertical integration,” in which a company produces its own Unknown-6.jpegresources needed to create its specific product. Think about it this way: If Rockefeller wanted to sell oil, he would first have to go through other companies, companies specialized in, say, refining oil or making barrels. In other words, in normal business, there is a middleman. Through vertical integration, a company gets rid of the middleman, becomes the middleman. Hence, Standard Oil, in order to become independent, in order to be fully self-sufficient, began producing resources such as barrels and cans and refineries on its own. This reduced the amount Rockefeller would pay to ship his oil, and it also expanded his business. Rockefeller also kept large amounts of reserve money in case of emergencies, lest a panic or depression come. Add to this the fact that Rockefeller, in addition to owning most of the railroads, owned a majority of the pipelines in the country. He shipped his oil more extensively as a result, and his competitors, left with barely any pipelines, had to fight amongst themselves for the limited supply that was left; and from these little wars, a victor and a loser would emerge, and Rockefeller would swoop in once more and eat the loser, while the victor, weakened from the battle, would struggle to recover, soon to be eaten itself by Rockefeller—it was only a matter of time. Because horizontal integration was so deadly, the Government caught on, and Rockefeller, with the spotlight on him, had to find some way of getting out of the spotlight while still keeping his supremacy. Subsequently, his lawyer, Samuel C.T. Dodd, devised something ingenious to counteract this obstacle: The trust. Thus, in 1882, theStandard_Oil_Trust_1883.JPG Standard Oil Trust was created. How it worked was, the trust incorporated 37 separate stockholders, some of which were in different states, and they were given certificates of trust. These interstate—in a different state—subsidiaries, or smaller companies that form a branch of the bigger company, gave these certificates to a board of nine trustees, kind of like spokespeople. A certificate showed that a company was invested in a bigger company, but it did not give the subsidiary any management over the bigger company. The trust was a clever move because it allowed Rockefeller to own interstate business, which thitherto was illegal—that is, to own a company outside of one’s own state. Accordingly, Standard Oil was not liable to be dismantled, seeing as it technically did not violate any laws. In fact, it had the added advantage of providing Rockefeller with high prices for his buyers and low wages for his workers. The state of Ohio brought the trust to court on the grounds that it was a monopoly, and the court promptly broke up the trust. But Rockefeller was not discouraged; he came back, stronger, smarter. In the late 1880’s—the date is not clear, maybe 1888—New Jersey passed the Holding Company Act, and Rockefeller saw an opportunity, swiftly moving to the state, in which he found refuge, establishing the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey in 1899. Whereas Ohio, for example, prohibited both horizontal integration and trusts, New Jersey was rather Unknown-8.jpegliberal in its economy, and Rockefeller used this wisely. As a holding company, Standard Oil could own the majority of the stock of another company, enough stock to properly own it. Now, Rockefeller had a legal precedent for an interstate enterprise. By the height of his career, Rockefeller was on the board of 37 separate companies. A deeply religious man, Rockefeller believed his wealth was divine, God-given. Consequently, he wanted to give back to his fellow men. It is estimated that, throughout his lifetime, he donated $540 million to hospitals and colleges, like the University of Chicago. Another thing worth considering: If Rockefeller revolutionized the sale of kerosene, thereby reducing whaling, then did Rockefeller help save the whales, too?


The next figure is the prototypical entrepreneur, called by pretty much every author on the subject the most genuine “rags-to-riches” billionaire. Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was born in Scotland, but he moved to Allegheny, Pennsylvania as a teen in 1848. He Unknown-9.jpeglived with his parents, who were poor, but he was determined to make a name for himself and his family, and his rise to power shows his sheer determination and passion. Carnegie’s first job was at a cotton mill, where he got very little pay, yet it was a start; from there, he went to work as the secretary for the Pennsylvania Railroad; later, on account of his skill, he became the superintendent, rising up the ranks, respected by his peers and superiors; and during the war, he made a telegraph system that aided the Union; but this was a temporary fix, replaced when he became a stockbroker on Wall Street, first selling bridges, then rails, and finally oil; but his real breakthrough came when he finally got into the steel and iron businesses. Then he really prospered. On a trip he took to England in 1872, Carnegie met an inventor named Sir Henry Bessemer, who revolutionized steel production with the “Bessemer converter,” which functioned by pushing air lots of air onto pig iron (from a furnace), making it into steel. The Bessemer process, as it came to be known, was both cheap and effective. Whereas theretofore making 3-5 tons of steel took a day, the Bessemer process reduced the same output to just a quarter of an hour! To put this in perspective, in 1860, the U.S. produced 13,000 tons of steel annually; twenty years later, when Carnegie utilized the Bessemer process, the U.S. produced 1.4 million tons of steel. Later, the Bessemer converter would be replaced by the open hearth furnace, which was even more effective than its predecessor. Another reference point: Once Carnegie got involved in the steel business, he single-handedly outproduced Great Britain. Schweikart, the author of A Patriot’s History of America, jokingly states that “B.C.” means “Before Carnegie,” in terms of the steel business. Before the late 1800’s, steel was hard to come by, yet highly needed, and it was Carnegie who took up this challenge. It is recorded that Carnegie’s factories made 642 tons of steel weekly. Eventually, after he Bessemer_process.jpggrounded himself in his business, quickly rising to the top as he had done at the railroad, he started investing in steel in 1873, which, conveniently, was an incredibly good time to be investing in steel, for just two years prior, in 1871, the Great Chicago Fire burned blocks upon blocks of buildings, and they needed desperately to be rebuilt, stronger, sturdier, and lighter. Seizing this opportunity, Carnegie used his massive supply of steel to build the skyscrapers that now stand today, laying the foundation for future architecture. When he was informed that his factories were out-of-date, Carnegie had them taken down then rebuilt. Competitive, industrious, sharp, efficient, pragmatic, and devoted, Carnegie differed from Rockefeller in that the former was entirely self-managed, which is to say that he owned his business solely, without any partners, and he did his work himself, without a board, because he wanted to avoid big business like Standard Oil. However, this could not last forever, so to keep up with the changing affairs, Carnegie started integrating vertically, producing, in addition to steel, things like fences made of steel—pretty much anything steel. He befriended Henry Frick, a wealthy coal and coke (fuel) investor who owned many Unknown-10plantations, which greatly benefitted Carnegie’s business endeavors. Unlike Rockefeller, Carnegie was more optimistic, and he since a young age envisioned an industrial U.S. where everyone could pursue their dreams and build their own businesses and get rich like he did, no matter the circumstances. Twice he donated $60 million, the first time to local libraries, the next to colleges, such as what would come to be called Carnegie-Mellon University, previously bearing the title of “Institute of Technology.” Further, he donated $50,000 to Marie Curie to aid her in her research. It was through the next Robber Baron that Carnegie would become one of the richest men in America.


25261-004-C26B9FA0John Pierpont Morgan, Sr., (1837-1913) was born in Hartford, Connecticut to a wealthy, aristocratic family. He attended education all throughout Europe. Morgan then worked under his father as soon as he completed his education. When the Civil War rolled around, Morgan was conscripted, but he managed to get out of service by bribing someone with $300 to take his place. In the meantime, Morgan served his country in another—let’s just say, less than honorable—way. Already economic-minded, Morgan purchased about 5,000 rifles, $3.50 each, from the Government, which he then resold, each of rifles $22, about 8 times the original price. Who did he sell these rifles to? Glad you asked: The Government from which he bought them. This scam, called arbitrage, consisting in buying something in one place then selling it for more in another, earned Morgan over $90,000 from his own government, during a time of war. Like Gould and Fisk before him, Morgan then got involved in the gold market to manipulate it, although not to the extent they attempted. He formed J. Pierpont Morgan and Company in New York in 1860 to help out his father’s bank in London. Morgan became the board director for his bank, investing in stocks and bonds. It is important to understand that, at the time, there were only a few big banks in the world, the best ones being in London and New York City, on Wall Street; therefore, any entrepreneurs looking to start a business had to begrudgingly go through Morgan, for they had no other choice, and this gave Morgan a lot of money through investments. Using this wealth from businesses that appealed to him, Morgan bought out a lot of his competition, just as Rockefeller and Carnegie had done, and he ended up owning ⅙ of the Panic_of_1893_02railroads in the nation after the Panic of 1893, during which many a railroad went bankrupt, being bought out by Morgan’s growing empire. Two years after the Panic of 1893, which was caused when the Government loaned out way too much money to corrupt railroad companies, the Federal Government itself neared bankruptcy, and seeing as desperate times call for desperate measures, the Government called on Morgan to bail them out—Morgan, who was amassing a fortune through his affluent banking, the man who bought their rifles then sold them back to them. So Morgan bailed out the Government: He delivered 3.5 million ounces of gold to President Cleveland, invested in this drop-off, then resold it, naturally, for $18 million. It should be noted that Morgan initially refused to bail out the Government since they had no collateral. Disaster struck again just over a decade later, when the Panic of 1907 deprived the nation of money once more. And just like last time, the Government, tail tucked between its legs, appealed to Morgan, who hesitatingly bailed them out for the last time, fearing the economy to be too much a burden for him to carry. Morgan over time consolidated his bank and railroad investment stocks, building up his fortune to match Rockefeller and Carnegie, placing himself on the pedestal of the rich and powerful, the elite of the Gilded Age. Some of his subsidiaries complained to him that they were facing too much opposition in the market. Like a uss-morgan-oct16protective father whose son was being bullied, he asked them with whom they were competing. Their answer: Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. With Carnegie’s steel business, Morgan’s smaller companies could barely keep up, so they asked him to deal with Carnegie. At an important meeting, Morgan talked with Carnegie’s advisor Charles Schwab, who directed the former to Carnegie, with whom he presently had a discussion. A deal was made. In 1901, Morgan bought Carnegie Steel Company for $492 million, forming the United States Steel Company, which was worth a whopping $1.4 billion—astounding due to the fact that it was the world’s first billion-dollar company, whose price nowadays would be in the hundreds of billions. Morgan’s personal share was $300 million out of the deal. At the pinnacle of his career, Morgan was on 48 boards, compared to Rockefeller’s 37. And unlike either Rockefeller or Carnegie, Morgan was not as charitable. He is said to have replied, “I owe the public nothing.”[1]

 

 

 

 


[1] Dulles, The United States Since 1865, p. 60

 

For further reading: 
The United States: The History of a Republic 2nd ed. by Richard Hofstadter (1967)
The Oxford History of the American People Vol. 3 by Samuel Eliot Morison (1972)
The Historians’ History of the United States 
Vol. 2 by Andrew S. Berky (1966)
The Growth of the American Republic 
Vol. 2 by Samuel Eliot Morison (1955)
A History of American Life and Thought 
by Nelson Manfred Blake (1963)
America: A Narrative History
8th ed. by George Brown Tindall (2010)

A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart (2004)
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (1995)
Don’t Know Much About History
by Kenneth C. Davis (2003)

The United States Since 1865 by Foster Rhea Dulles (1959)
History of the United
 States by Douglas Brinkley (1998)

Human Relationships Are Like a Kind of Four-dimensional​ Chess

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 4.07.08 PMChess, which exists predominantly in two dimensions, is one of the world’s most difficult games. Three-dimensional chess is an invitation to insanity. But human relationships, even of the simplest order, are like a kind of four-dimensional chess, a game whose pieces and positions change subtly and inexorably between moves, whose players stare dumbly while their powerful positions deteriorate into hopeless predicaments and while improbable combinations suddenly become inevitable. To make matters worse, some games are open to any number of players, and all sides are expected to win.

From Time and the Art of Living (1982), by Robert Grudin, Section VII.9, p. 95 

Pirsig on Awareness

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 12.19.37 PM.pngWe take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.

 

Robert M. Pirsig (1928-2017), American philosopher and novelist.

 

 

From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), p. 82

Why Did Jax Take the Hemlock?

Unknown.jpegSocrates has gone down in history as one of the greatest philosophers in Ancient Greece, if not of all time, having turned the subject away from nature, from the stars, and to man, as Cicero put it. He went around Athens asking everyday people whether they knew such grand ideas like “justice,””temperance,” and “courage,” much to their annoyance, such that, by the time he had become notorious, he had been tried by the Athenian court for corrupting the youth and being impious toward the gods. He defended himself bravely, but in the end, he was sentenced to death. In 399 B.C., surrounded by friends, Socrates willingly drank the poisonous hemlock, which would momentarily kill him. Fast forward 2,300 years to Charming, California, where the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original (SAMCRO) operates under Jackson “Jax” Teller. Started by Jax’s father, the Sons of Anarchy is the name of a network of motorcycle clubs. As can be gathered from the name, the Jax_706.pngclub values anarchy, or the absence of authority, and this is shown by the fact that they can pretty much get away with anything they want with impunity, be it bribing, selling drugs and weapons, doing drive by’s, or killing left and right—in a word, absolute freedom, anarchy. After the (forced) resignation of Clay Morrow, the young, ambitious Jax Teller becomes heir to the motorcycle throne, and becomes President, which leads to a tumultuous series of events littered with dead corpses. By the end of the show, Jax severs all ties, finally establishes peace—we hope—lets his sons live a normal life, and, with a slightly clearer conscience, decides to go out the same way his father did: At the wheel. And so, as we watch Jax extend his arms like Jesus, close his eyes, and smile as he rushes into an oncoming truck, we must ask ourselves: Why did Jax take the hemlock?


Thought to be written around 360 B.C., the Crito is Plato’s dialogue concerning Socrates and his decision not to escape from prison, but to accept his fate. While he sits in prison awaiting his execution, Socrates is awakened by his friend Crito, who is a wealthy man. Crito is a close friend of the accused and offers Socrates a way to escape if he wishes. He tells Socrates that he can easily bribe the guards, for they are known to accept low 738_734px-jacques-philip-joseph_de_saint-quentin_-_the_death_of_socrates_-_wga20664.jpgpayments. Socrates is not convinced, however, so Crito argues that his friend should escape because he owes it to his sons, whom he would be leaving behind if he should die, and they would be without a father and a wise role model. Furthermore, if Socrates were to run away with his help, then he could seek refuge in other city-states, which would gladly welcome him, based on his many friends, connections, and students. All this seems convincing, as it would to Jax Teller, too. After all, the Sons of Anarchy (abbreviated SOA or “the Sons” hereafter) are notorious for finding their way out of trouble. If an APB is put out on one of them, then they can just talk to one of their corrupt cops, or if someone is in prison, then they can talk to one of their contacts and get the problem “taken care of.” Throughout The Sons of Anarchy, gang members are constantly in trouble, including Jax, who, under the threat of being arrested upon sight, is rescued by the “Mayans,” another motorcycle gang, and safely contained. By the end of the show, Jax is wanted by the police because he has killed Charlie Barosky and August Marks and the rest of the SOA charters because he has killed another club president, and the punishment therefor is “Mayhem,” or death. As such, despite being in such a pickle, Jax can easily rely on his own charter to get him out of the mess, and he does—to an extent. If he were to escape, then Jax could take his sons elsewhere, and start anew, away from the club, away from violence. Unlike Socrates, however, Jax cannot just go to another charter as Socrates can go to another city-state, given the tensions between Jax and the other charters. Nonetheless, escape is a viable option if he goes out of the country, for example.


Unknown-1.jpegCrito says to Socrates, “I do not think you are undertaking a right thing by throwing yourself away when you can be free. What’s the good of taking pains to do for yourself exactly what your enemies would like to do, and what those who tried to destroy you want?” (Crito, 45c). In other words, Socrates is wasting his opportunity for getting his life back. All it takes is a little bribe and he can have his life back. Why, asks Crito, would Socrates want to die just because has been condemned to? The Athenians sentenced Socrates to death, so they are his enemies; but why do what his enemies want, why fulfill their sentence, when he can just as easily not? Likewise, the enemies of the Sons—the police, the Chinese, the other Sons charters—want to see Jax dead, or at least imprisoned, and by killing himself, Jax is only satisfying their needs, not his own. It seems nonsensical. Why not go on living? If such a fate is avoidable, why not avoid it? Jax can easily ride away free, with the help of his club.


Socrates is not content with Crito’s pleas. Instead, something is gnawing at his conscience; something is telling him deep down that to escape is not the right thing to do.  Unknown.pngHe engages in his famous dialectic to get at the why’s and wherefore’s of his resignation, and to convince Crito why he ought not to run away from his condemnation. Socrates begins by asserting that it is wrong to do evil or injustice to another in any circumstances whatever. Crito accepts this. Socrates, arguing on this premise, states that even if one is wronged themselves, then it would be wrong to fight back. In short, two wrongs do not make a right. Just because he was unfairly sentenced does not mean he is allowed to do something unfair to those who accused him. No evil can be traded for an evil, such as breaking a law for death. Moreover, Socrates is obligated to the state, above all, so to disobey the state is to do evil to it, and nobody should willingly do evil. Thus is Socrates’ argument, which moves Crito, although not entirely: A stronger argument is needed.


Now Socrates speaks to Crito through the voice of “the Laws,” a personification of the state to which he is obliged. What are laws, they say, if exceptions can be made by the privileged? A state is dependent on laws, of course. Socrates can get out of jail and break the law no problem, it is true; but what does that mean for the Laws? It creates an example: It says that, if Socrates can get away with this injustice through money, then anyone with enough money can! The Laws are thereby undermined, and soon, the city-state collapses into anarchy. Strangely enough, the Sons of Anarchy, despite their image.jpegappraised freedom, still live by rules, too. It is through and under the state that we live. Through institutions, we are conceived, raised, and housed. To do away with the laws of a city, is to do away with the city itself, for it will inevitably fall apart. The Laws observe that we are careful not to rebuke our parents out of respect; however, if the state is more powerful than one’s parents, then surely we must be even more respectful of the state. Socrates, bespoken by the Laws, questions, “Do you not realize that you are even more bound to respect and placate the anger of your country than your father’s anger? That if you cannot persuade your country you must do whatever it orders, whether it be flogging or imprisonment?” (Crito, 51b). By now, it should be clear that what the state or country is to Socrates, the motorcycle club (MC) is to Jax. We see that Jax, embodying anarchy, can be unfeeling, going so far as to kill both his step-dad and his own mother. But it is simply inconceivable to see Jax killing the club. Not only is it hard to do because it is an institution, not a person, but also because he has dedicated his life to it. So while Jax is not afraid to go against his parents, he is afraid and unwilling to against his own club. “Everything I do—,” he often says, “—I do for the club.” Whatever the club orders, be it his own charter or the neighboring one, he must comply with.


Unknown-4.jpegSocrates, by staying in Athens his whole life, thereby pledged his loyalty to it, implicitly. He stuck by it. At any time, he could have moved to another city-state, knowing full well how Athens treated its people. Similarly, Jax grew up in Charming and took his father’s mantle when it was necessary. However, there were several points at which he could have put the gavel down, walked away, and made a new life; he chose not to. By staying president, even after getting out of jail, Jax takes responsibility for his actions, and all that results therefrom. From what has been said, it follows that Socrates, being an Athenian citizen, must either act according to the state or persuade the state otherwise; by doing neither, he disobeys the state, meaning he is doing an injustice to them—something morally bankrupt. To quickly summarize the argument up until now: It is wrong to do immoral things, and we are in a social contract with the state when we stay in it, meaning that we must obey it, Unknown-2.jpegbecause disobeying is an immoral thing, or convince it, because lying is an immoral thing. Hence, there are two choices: Give in, or fight for one’s rights. Jax is given the same ultimatum by the SOA: The penalty for killing another president is a Mayhem vote, which must be unanimous. Therefore, Jax has two options: He can either accept his death penalty, or he can try to convince the other charters that what he did was out of self-defense, or was justified because the victim was a rat. The problem is, the second option is not an option at all, as Jax admits to the Sons that Jury, the president he killed, was not in fact a rat, and Jury’s club does not think that Jax’s actions were out of self-defense, seeing as it was Jax who instigated the brawl leading to Jury’s death. It seems unlikely at this point that Jax would disobey the MC in spite of it all.


The Laws of Athens say to Socrates, “[Y]ou will not be the least culpable of your fellow countrymen, but one of the most guilty” (Crito, 52a). By this, the Laws mean that Socrates, in defying the state, would be doing only himself a favor, to the damage of the city-state and its constituents. Because Socrates is not actually guilty, Crito believes Socrates has the right to go against the law, since it is unjust. On the contrary, Socrates’ leaving would not absolve him of any guilt; it would only add to it. By leaving, it is not as though all the wrong-doings of Socrates will be forgiven and evaporate; rather, by breaking a law, Socrates will be all the more injurious to the state. Take Jax’s situation: Even if Jury were the one who turned in the MC to the Chinese, Jax’s taking him out might appear righteous to the Redwood MC, but to the rest, it would seem like cold-blooded murder. However, this is not so, as Jury was not the rat. This only makes Jax’s situation worse, obviously. The death of Jury is just another wrong for a wrong, so Jax would not be pardoned for anything, only blamed more.


Unknown-3.jpegNow the Laws make another point: Socrates lived in Athens for all 70 years of his life, fought for it, had children in it. Is this not a man loyal to and loving of his state? Compare this to Jax Teller, the Charming native, whose father John Teller started not just SAMCRO, but the SOA itself. Jax then became president of the club, lived in it, fought for it, had children in it. His former wife, Tara, wanted desperately to get their two sons out of Charming, out of crime, and into a safe place, but all in vain; for Jax and his mother Gemma refused to move anywhere but Charming, and neither did they want their progeny to. Such is a show of loyalty for the club. The whole of Jax’s life was dedicated to the club. Even though he claimed his actions were for his sons, they were really for the club. If you count the number of times he states his motives, “for the club” will be more numerous than “for my boys” or “for my sons.” Another thing the Laws hold over Socrates is his choice to do things legally or illegally. During his trial, Socrates could have opted for banishment rather than death. Done this way, his escape would be legal; but if Crito were to help Socrates escape, then it would be illegal. Why not just do it during the trial and save all this trouble? Accordingly,  escape is not an appealing option for Socrates. In Sons of Anarchy, Jax might have been able to bend the rules so as to allow his patch to be taken off, and just that. He would have to live with that shame. That is, if the vote were not unanimous, which was a possibility. If it were so, then the legal-illegal distinction would not apply. Considering it does though, Jax, if he chose to escape, would be doing so contrary to the club. All of this arises from the fact that both Socrates and Jax, out of free will, on their lives, chose to obey through their actions their respective institutions—the former Athens, the latter the SOA.


7x12-Red-Rose-Tig-Jax-Chibs-and-Happy-sons-of-anarchy-37804979-500-374.jpgIf all these arguments from the Laws are not enough to dissuade Socrates, then surely the consequences of his actions will. Perhaps principles are too abstract, and repercussions are needed to show the severity of his disobedience and disloyalty. First and foremost, Crito’s helping Socrates would make the former complicit in aiding and abetting a criminal. Two innocents will be imprisoned at the cost of one. Should Socrates be caught being helped by either friends, or should the guard who was bribed be interrogated, then many innocents would unnecessarily be dragged into the mess and hurt. And even if Socrates were to escape Athens without being caught, who says the other city-states will let him in with open arms, like Crito said? If anything, they will see Socrates as a miscreant, a troublemaker, a criminal, and a breaker-of-laws. Such is not a good image. But Jax does not have to deal with this image, his being a notorious gang member and all. It would not matter his reputation; he already has one. When Jax escapes death by the hand of his own club—they orchestrated it together—he puts them at risk of being discovered to have helped him. This is a risk they are willing to take, though, given that he is their president. What if, when the other charters come to see if the job has been done, they see Jax escaped, and figure out they staged the whole thing? Surely, SAMCRO would be in big trouble, and not just Jax. The option of finding safety at another charter is basically insane, for no amount of history between Jax and them could pardon what he has done. No charter, like a city-state for Socrates, will harbor a defier-of-principles like Jax, no matter if he is the “son of anarchy.”


images.jpegLet us look at children briefly: If Socrates takes his kids with him, then they will grow up not knowing their home, and they might be considered as disobedient as their father; and if he leaves them in the care of his friends, then what is the difference whether he dies or flees? They will never know him either way. Jax could tell his ex-wife Wendy and business partner Nero to bring the kids with him to another country, but such would be too uprooting in Jax’s mind. Or he could leave the kids with Wendy and Nero to go up to a farm, which he does. Thus, it matters not whether he dies or goes out of the country: They are in safe hands regardless. Finally, the Laws caution Socrates that by obeying them, he would not be breaking any principles, and he would thereby be ridden of all guilt:

As it is, you will leave this place, when you do, as the victim of a wrong done not by us, the laws, but by your fellow men. But if you leave in that dishonorable way [escaping], returning wrong for wrong and evil for evil, breaking your agreements and covenants, and injuring those whom you least ought to injure—yourself, your friends, your country, us—then you will have to face our anger in your lifetime….” (Crito, 54b-c)

socrates-on-trial.jpgPut another way, Socrates’ acceptance of his death, albeit unfair and not at all deserved, would not be the result of the principle at work, the law, but the result of Socrates’ fellow Athenians, who pronounced this sentence upon him. Do not blame us, the Laws are saying, Blame those who condemned you, those who were only acting in accordance with us. In a sense, the Laws are just the messengers, and they are saying not to kill the messenger, in essence. To die at the hand of these principles is honorable; to flee from them is dishonorable. Because escaping, we have said, is just evil acting out against evil, it means that Socrates’ social contract with the state is broken. In doing so, he endangers himself, those who are close to him, the state, and the laws. We can relate this to Jax. The penalty of death was not put on Jax by the laws of the MC, but by the members of the MC, the charters of the SOA. The MC is just an idea, of course, an institution, nothing concrete. The laws prescribed by the MC were laid down by his father and the original members and have largely gone unrevised (except, recently, for the admittance of African-Americans). As such, Jax cannot shake his fists at the MC, shouting in revolt, “Curse you, Sons of Anarchy!” Instead, all he can shout is, “Curse you, members of the MC!” In a word, it is not the MC that is to blame for its rules, but those who make the rules, and those who enforce them. Perhaps pure anarchy was a better option than a representative democracy in retrospect? Notwithstanding, Jax, should he disobey the MC’s rules, would be injuring many in the process, not just himself, but SAMCRO, the entire MC, and his extant family.


Unknown-5.jpegIn conclusion, both Socrates the Greek philosopher and Jax the reflective motorcycle gang (actually, officer, it’s a club) president killed themselves in the name of a principle, of an idea. Like a heretic of the Renaissance, they stuck to Truth with a capital “T” and accepted the consequences thereof. Socrates urged his friends not to cry as he drank the hemlock, calm and collected, and Jax comforted his loyal members—Chibs, Tigg, Happy—telling them, “I got this,” before talking one last time to his father, only to ride out on his motorcycle, Unknown-6.jpega parade of police cars and motorcycles trailing behind him, a confident look on his face, replaced by an accepting smile as he approaches the truck, arms out like Jesus on the cross, going out doing what he loved most. Now, by comparing Jax to Socrates, I by no means equate the two. Socrates was an exemplar of virtue, Jax of mercilessness and impetuousness. Jax certainly had his virtues, but he also had many a vice. See, Jax had one thing many other characters in Sons of Anarchy did not: Acceptance of death. Much like Socrates, Jax regarded death positively and embraced it, seeing in it salvation, promise of renewal. The Will-to-live is prominent in the show, as you are able to see just to what extents people are willing to go to stay alive. Connor drives desperately to evade SAMCRO even though he knows he will die by either them or the Irish Kings. His death is certain, but he postpones it futilely because he wants to live. We see in Gemma this Will-to-live most: She spins a spiderweb of lies in which everybody gets caught up—all for what? She says the only things she has left are her grandsons, over whom she is fanatically possessive. Her lies get hundreds of people killed, and she refuses to tell the Truth because she will do whatever it takes to avoid death, to keep living, to be with her sons. Anything that keeps her alive, she will do. Jax, on the contrary, knows what he has to do and welcomes death with open arms—literally. Jax is not a good person. Even he admits it to Wendy. He is conscious of his shortcomings. Jax, viewing death as Socrates did, redeems himself and gives himself over to death, in the name of conscience, ideals, and principles.


It is as if, when Jax is about to hit the semi, we can hear him utter, “We owe a cock to Asclepios.”

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For further reference:
Sons of Anarchy (2008-20014)
Crito by Plato (2008)