Like most American school children (I hope, at least) I was exposed to some of Jack London’s stories (White Fang, Call of the Wild, To Build a Fire) pretty early. Of course, introducing us to the icons of American literature at such an early age allows our teachers to avoid messy aspects of the authors that our society, with its fixation on hero worship, good/bad dichotomies and bumper sticker explanations like to ignore.
So, it was with interest that I read that Jack London had written a precursor to the distopian genre in a book called The Iron Heel. I picked it up and began reading. That was when I found out that Jack was an ardent Socialist .
At other times I probably wouldn’t recommend this book but, given our current political and economic environment, I would recommend it very highly. Even though it was published over a century ago, if you’re concerned about companies ‘too big to fail’, political cronyism and corruption, the militarization and misuse of domestic security forces, the disenfranchisement of citizens, terrorism and the lack of choice among the various candidates and similar issues, you’ll be interested to see how similarly these problems were discussed at the turn of the last century.
So, does that mean London then, and people with similar concerns today, are simply Chicken Littles, declaring the sky is eternally falling? Well, certainly Socialist thinkers were unable to conceive of the flexibility and ability to adapt of Capitalism. Things like the New Deal just weren’t on anyone’s radar then I’m not sure that invalidates the whole line of thinking, however. Just because a system has flexibility in it doesn’t mean it’s infinitely flexible.
Feeding off some of those concerns (but, by no means sharing a Socialist underpinning) I was interested in the following blog posts that all seem to fit together.
First is by Paul Pillar who writes about “The Plutocratic Tradition in America” in which he talks about America in the late 18th century and the beginning of the tradition of the rich and well connected to game the political system in order to transfer wealth from the poor to themselves. At that time it led to the Whiskey Rebellion (which I wrote about here):
The Whiskey Rebellion tends to get treated in textbooks today as a landmark in establishing the authority of the fledgling federal government. But it was first and foremost class warfare—as was the forceful response to it, which was cheered on by well-to-do gentry anxious to quash what they regarded as a democratic threat to their class’s economic position. Today “class warfare” gets hurled as an epithet against political opponents, but class warfare—waged by classes above as well as ones below—has a long history in America.
We are at war, a war now in its second decade. We’re increasingly mobilizing every aspect of our society to defeat the enemy. Not just the massive expansion of our military, intelligence services, and domestic security services (no longer well-described as “police”). Inevitably this militarization spreads, affecting other aspects of our society. Our enemy is America, America-as-it-once-was. We’re winning!