American is the first democratic nation-state.
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American is the first democratic nation-state.

-Stephen Ambrose

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Tom Paine has almost no influence on present-day thinking in the United States because he is unknown to the average citizen. Perhaps I might say right here that this is a national loss and a deplorable lack of understanding concerning the man who first proposed and first wrote those impressive words, 'the United States of America.'But it is hardly strange. Paine's teachings have been debarred from schools everywhere and his views of life misrepresented until his memory is hidden in shadows, or he is looked upon as of unsound mind.We never had a sounder intelligence in this Republic. He was the equal of Washington in making American liberty possible. Where Washington performed Paine devised and wrote. The deeds of one in the Weld were matched by the deeds of the other with his pen.Washington himself appreciated Paine at his true worth. Franklin knew him for a great patriot and clear thinker. He was a friend and confidant of Jefferson, and the two must often have debated the academic and practical phases of liberty.I consider Paine our greatest political thinker. As we have not advanced, and perhaps never shall advance, beyond the Declaration and Constitution, so Paine has had no successors who extended his principles. Although the present generation knows little of Paine's writings, and although he has almost no influence upon contemporary thought, Americans of the future will justly appraise his work. I am certain of it.Truth is governed by natural laws and cannot be denied. Paine spoke truth with a peculiarly clear and forceful ring. Therefore time must balance the scales. The Declaration and the Constitution expressed in form Paine's theory of political rights. He worked in Philadelphia at the time that the first document was written, and occupied a position of intimate contact with the nation's leaders when they framed the Constitution.Certainly we may believe that Washington had a considerable voice in the Constitution. We know that Jefferson had much to do with the document. Franklin also had a hand and probably was responsible in even larger measure for the Declaration. But all of these men had communed with Paine. Their views were intimately understood and closely correlated. There is no doubt whatever that the two great documents of American liberty reflect the philosophy of Paine....Then Paine wrote 'Common Sense,' an anonymous tract which immediately stirred the fires of liberty. It flashed from hand to hand throughout the Colonies. One copy reached the New York Assembly, in session at Albany, and a night meeting was voted to answer this unknown writer with his clarion call to liberty. The Assembly met, but could find no suitable answer. Tom Paine had inscribed a document which never has been answered adversely, and never can be, so long as man esteems his priceless possession.In 'Common Sense' Paine flared forth with a document so powerful that the Revolution became inevitable. Washington recognized the difference, and in his calm way said that matters never could be the same again. It must be remembered that 'Common Sense' preceded the declaration and affirmed the very principles that went into the national doctrine of liberty. But that affirmation was made with more vigor, more of the fire of the patriot and was exactly suited to the hour... Certainly [the Revolution] could not be forestalled, once he had spoken.{The Philosophy of Paine, June 7, 1925}

-Tom Paine

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Here we introduce the nation's first great communications monopolist, whose reign provides history's first lesson in the power and peril of concentrated control over the flow of information. Western Union's man was one Rutherford B. Hates, an obscure Ohio politician described by a contemporary journalist as "a third rate nonentity." But the firm and its partner newswire, the Associated Press, wanted Hayes in office, for several reasons. Hayes was a close friend of William Henry Smith, a former politician who was now the key political operator at the Associated Press. More generally, since the Civil War, the Republican Party and the telegraph industry had enjoyed a special relationship, in part because much of what were eventually Western Union's lines were built by the Union Army.So making Hayes president was the goal, but how was the telegram in Reid's hand key to achieving it?The media and communications industries are regularly accused of trying to influence politics, but what went on in the 1870s was of a wholly different order from anything we could imagine today. At the time, Western Union was the exclusive owner of the nationwide telegraph network, and the sizable Associated Press was the unique source for "instant" national or European news. (It's later competitor, the United Press, which would be founded on the U.S. Post Office's new telegraph lines, did not yet exist.) The Associated Press took advantage of its economies of scale to produce millions of lines of copy a year and, apart from local news, its product was the mainstay of many American newspapers.With the common law notion of "common carriage" deemed inapplicable, and the latter day concept of "net neutrality" not yet imagined, Western Union carried Associated Press reports exclusively. Working closely with the Republican Party and avowedly Republican papers like The New York Times (the ideal of an unbiased press would not be established for some time, and the minting of the Time's liberal bona fides would take longer still), they did what they could to throw the election to Hayes. It was easy: the AP ran story after story about what an honest man Hayes was, what a good governor he had been, or just whatever he happened to be doing that day. It omitted any scandals related to Hayes, and it declined to run positive stories about his rivals (James Blaine in the primary, Samuel Tilden in the general). But beyond routine favoritism, late that Election Day Western Union offered the Hayes campaign a secret weapon that would come to light only much later.Hayes, far from being the front-runner, had gained the Republican nomination only on the seventh ballot. But as the polls closed his persistence appeared a waste of time, for Tilden, the Democrat, held a clear advantage in the popular vote (by a margin of over 250,000) and seemed headed for victory according to most early returns; by some accounts Hayes privately conceded defeat. But late that night, Reid, the New York Times editor, alerted the Republican Party that the Democrats, despite extensive intimidation of Republican supporters, remained unsure of their victory in the South. The GOP sent some telegrams of its own to the Republican governors in the South with special instructions for manipulating state electoral commissions. As a result the Hayes campaign abruptly claimed victory, resulting in an electoral dispute that would make Bush v. Gore seem a garden party. After a few brutal months, the Democrats relented, allowing Hayes the presidency — in exchange, most historians believe, for the removal of federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction.The full history of the 1876 election is complex, and the power of th

-Timothy Wu

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We are dealing, then, with an absurdity that is not a quirk or an accident, but is fundamental to our character as people. The split between what we think and what we do is profound. It is not just possible, it is altogether to be expected, that our society would produce conservationists who invest in strip-mining companies, just as it must inevitably produce asthmatic executives whose industries pollute the air and vice-presidents of pesticide corporations whose children are dying of cancer. And these people will tell you that this is the way the "real world" works. The will pride themselves on their sacrifices for "our standard of living." They will call themselves "practical men" and "hardheaded realists." And they will have their justifications in abundance from intellectuals, college professors, clergymen, politicians. The viciousness of a mentality that can look complacently upon disease as "part of the cost" would be obvious to any child. But this is the "realism" of millions of modern adults.There is no use pretending that the contradiction between what we think or say and what we do is a limited phenomenon. There is no group of the extra-intelligent or extra-concerned or extra-virtuous that is exempt. I cannot think of any American whom I know or have heard of, who is not contributing in some way to destruction. The reason is simple: to live undestructively in an economy that is overwhelmingly destructive would require of any one of us, or of any small group of us, a great deal more work than we have yet been able to do. How could we divorce ourselves completely and yet responsibly from the technologies and powers that are destroying our planet? The answer is not yet thinkable, and it will not be thinkable for some time -- even though there are now groups and families and persons everywhere in the country who have begun the labor of thinking it.And so we are by no means divided, or readily divisible, into environmental saints and sinners. But there are legitimate distinctions that need to be made. These are distinctions of degree and of consciousness. Some people are less destructive than others, and some are more conscious of their destructiveness than others. For some, their involvement in pollution, soil depletion, strip-mining, deforestation, industrial and commercial waste is simply a "practical" compromise, a necessary "reality," the price of modern comfort and convenience. For others, this list of involvements is an agenda for thought and work that will produce remedies.People who thus set their lives against destruction have necessarily confronted in themselves the absurdity that they have recognized in their society. They have first observed the tendency of modern organizations to perform in opposition to their stated purposes. They have seen governments that exploit and oppress the people they are sworn to serve and protect, medical procedures that produce ill health, schools that preserve ignorance, methods of transportation that, as Ivan Illich says, have 'created more distances than they... bridge.' And they have seen that these public absurdities are, and can be, no more than the aggregate result of private absurdities; the corruption of community has its source in the corruption of character. This realization has become the typical moral crisis of our time. Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live.

-Wendell Berry

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Society has three stages: Savagery, Ascendance, Decadence. The great rise because of Savagery. They rule in Ascendance. They fall because of their own Decadence."He tells how the Persians were felled, how the Romans collapsed because their rulers forgot how their parents gained them an empire. He prattles about Muslim dynasties and European effeminacy and Chinese regionalism and American self-loathing and self-neutering. All the ancient names. "Our Savagery began when our capital, Luna, rebelled against the tyranny of Earth and freed herself from the shackles of Demokracy, from the Noble Lie - the idea that men are brothers and are created equal." Augustus weaves lies of his own with that golden tongue of his. He tells of the Goldens' suffering. The Masses sat on the wagon and expected the great to pull, he reminds. They sat whipping the great until we could no longer take it. I remember a different whipping. "Men are not created equal; we all know this. There are averages. There are outliers. There are the ugly. There are the beautiful. This would not be if we were all equal. A Red can no more command a starship than a Green can serve as a doctor!"There's more laughter across the square as he tells us to look at pathetic Athens, the birthplace of the cancer they call Demokracy. Look how it fell to Sparta. The Noble Lie made Athens weak. It made their citizens turn on their best general, Alcibiades, because of jealousy. "Even the nations of Earth grew jealous of one another. The United States of America exacted this idea of equality through force. And when the nations united, the Americans were surprised to find that they were disliked! The Masses are jealous! How wonderful a dream it would be if all men were created equal! But we are not.It is against the Noble Lie that we fight. But as I said before, as I say to you now, there is another evil against which we war. It is a more pernicious evil. It is a subversive, slow evil. It is not a wildfire. It is a cancer. And that cancer is Decadence. Our society has passed from Savagery to Ascendance. But like our spiritual ancestors, the Romans, we too can fall into Decadence.

-Pierce Brown

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The 9/11 Commission warned that Al Qaeda "could... scheme to wield weapons of unprecedented destructive power in the largest cities of the United States." Future attacks could impose enormous costs on the entire economy. Having used up the surplus that the country enjoyed as part of the Cold War peace dividend, the U.S. government is in a weakened financial position to respond to another major terrorist attack, and its position will be damaged further by the large budget gaps and growing dependence on foreign capital projected for the future. As the historian Paul Kennedy wrote in his book The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, too many decisions made in Washington today "bring merely short-term advantage but long-term disadvantage." The absence of a sound, long-term financial strategy could bring about a deterioration that, in his words, "leads to the downward spiral of slower growth, heavier taxes, deepening domestic splits over spending priorities and a weakening capacity to bear the burdens of defense."Decades of success in mobilizing enormous sums of money to fight large wars and meet other government needs have led Americans to believe that ample funds will be readily available in the event of a future war, terrorist attack, or other emergency. But that can no longer be assumed. Budget constraints could limit the availability or raise the cost of resources to deal with new emergencies. If government debt continues to pile up, deficits rise to stratospheric levels, and heave dependence on foreign capital grows, borrowing the money needed will be very costly. [Alexander] Hamilton understood the risks of such a precarious situation. After suffering through financial shortages, lack of adequate food and weapons, desertions, and collapsing morale during the Revolution, he considered the risk that the government would have difficulty in assembling funds to defend itself all too real. If America remains on its dangerous financial course, Hamilton's gift to the nation - the blessing of sound finances - will be squandered.The U.S. government had no higher obligation that to protect the security of its citizens. Doing so becomes increasingly difficult if its finances are unsound. While the nature of this new brand of warfare, the war on terrorism, remains uncharted, there is much to be gained if our leaders look to the experiences of the past for guidance in responding to the challenges of the future. The willingness of the American people and their leaders to ensure that the nation's finances remain sound in the face of these new challenges - sacrificing parochial interests for the common good - is the price we must pay to preserve the nation's security and thus the liberties that Hamilton and his generation bequeathed us.

-Robert Hormats

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