Reflections on Ken Wilber's The Religion of Tomorrow (2017) - Parts I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII - PDF
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber



powered by TinyLetter
Today is:
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".

More essays by Ray Harris | Ray Harris' website: www.novelactivist.com
Ray Harris Ray Harris is a frequent contributor to this website. He has written articles on 9/11, boomeritis, the Iraq war and Third Way politics. This is a reply to John White's essay "Enlightenment, Freedom and America", posted at this website. Harris lives in Australia and can be contacted at: rharris6@bigpond.net.au. Addendum on slavery added September 4, 2003 ; Addendum on Native Americans added September 5, 2003 (FV)

"The sheer size of America hides a multitude of sins."

The American Myth

A Response to John White

Ray Harris

Dear John,

I hardly know where to begin. I read your letter "Enlightenment, Freedom and America" with a mixture of amusement and disbelief. At first I held back from responding because I didn't think it was worth the effort. I now feel compelled to because of your background of involvement with Ken Wilber and the fact that you call your propaganda piece 'Integral Patriotism'.

It is not integral, it is far from integral. It so deeply believes in the American myth that it is actually a textbook case of mythic thinking.

But it's not simply the mythic thinking that makes it so troubling but that the central idea is dangerous and highly delusional. It's a good example of political pathology.

THE AMERICAN MYTH

Every country has a myth. America is no exception. Myth making occurs when people inflate the importance of certain events and ignore facts contrary to the inflated image. The companion of the inflated image is national hubris.

So at this point its worthwhile deflating the hyperbole and grounding our discussion in a good dose of reality checking.

The general tenor of your article suggests that America has led the way in bringing democracy to the rest of the world as part of the divinely inspired 'American Spirit'. You make the proud claim that over time the American Spirit extended the vote to women, lowered the voting age to 18 and ended slavery. The reality is that America did not lead - it often followed.

Let's take women's suffrage as an example. The suffragette movement was a worldwide phenomenon that had its origins in England. Women were granted the vote in New Zealand in 1893, South Australia in 1894 and the newly federated Australia in 1901. America passed the 9th amendment as late as 1920.

By 1970 35 nations had extended the vote to 18 year olds. America joined their ranks in 1971 by passing the 26th amendment.

For example, slavery is a millennia-old worldwide institution, but America eliminated it through a great civil war which established abolition as right for all the world. Since 1865 the evilness of that institution has been sealed upon the conscience of humanity by America.

Indeed? Except that the anti-slavery movement began in England around 1770 and that country abolished slavery in 1807. An event that helped inspire the abolitionist movement in the US. No amount of romantic, rose-coloured, glossing over of American history can deny that. Despite the ideals of the American Revolution, blacks were treated as second-class citizens for a further century. It's not just the segregation, the lynchings and the job discrimination (which created a legacy of poverty) it was the existence of Jim Crow laws that prevented blacks from voting, laws that were not challenged until the 24th amendment in 1964. But as I will argue later blacks are still electorally discriminated against.

And then you tell this whopper of a lie. It's worth quoting this beauty in full.

As for Native Americans, they, too, now have equal rights under the law. They may live anywhere in mainstream American society or reside on reservations where tribal law and culture reign. Although poverty and poor health are problems sadly afflicting some Native Americans, that condition is not exclusively theirs, nor is it due to governmental action.

Native Americans were not given the vote until 1924 but it took a further forty years for all states to remove restrictions with New Mexico being the last in 1962. The policy of the American government has largely been that of a massive land grab. American Indians were forcibly removed from their lands. The long march and the massacre at Wounded Knee are now infamous. The final indignity is that the government has reneged on all the major treaties and continues to avoid paying due compensation. The Native Americans have been robbed. The poverty of the American Indians is indeed directly related to government policy.

I wonder how many blacks and Native Americans would agree with your assessment?

Now I don't want to suggest that America is worse than any other country when it comes to racism, its just that its not any better. The constitution promised equal rights for all but it took centuries of struggle to wrest those rights from those who actively sought to deny them. The American Spirit is equally about the denial of human rights to maintain economic and political power for white men – pun intended.

The main point here is that the steady march toward democracy is NOT due to some unique American genius. It was the result of a long process of political evolution that began in Europe with the Magna Carta (although there had been some notable rebellions against feudal power in medieval Europe). In 1654 Oliver Cromwell established the first parliamentary government and although it eventually failed its affects were profound. Remember the Puritans? Might the Pilgrims have been influenced by Cromwell's revolution?

This long process of evolutionary change, spurred on by political and philosophical debate in Europe, inspired both the American and French revolutions and led to the evolutionary change of many European countries and their colonies. Americans often reflect romantically on the symbol of the Statue of Liberty but what they so often gloss over is that it was a gift from the French and is based on the French myth of Marianne.

But with typical American arrogance you assume that this process was due to the American Spirit. It was not. Each country has pursued its own path of political evolution. The American Revolution was but one of many democratic experiments. Are you aware John that Australia is called the laboratory of democracy, that it initiated several reforms? Are you aware that in America the secret ballot, when it was introduced, was first called the Australian ballot? Are you aware that many Americans interested in electoral reform look to Australia as an exemplar?

It's been said that immigration is the sincerest form of flattery. If so, people all over the earth have voted with their feet on the question of which is the best nation of all.

Ah yes, the huddled masses. There is no doubt America has been a haven for immigrants but did you know that, per head of population, Canada and Australia, in that order, have a greater migrant population? You see these are the kind of facts that hubris glosses over. I could speak to my Vietnamese co-worker Phong, a Vietnamese refugee, and ask him why he left America after six years and came to Australia instead. But your statement ignores the simple fact that America, once it dispossessed the Native Americans, was a vast and empty resource rich land that needed immigration. It was inevitable and necessary.

Besides, most immigrants are not attracted to the US because it is the 'best' nation but simply because it is the wealthiest. They want a slice of the American pie. Sadly America has always exploited that, just ask all the poorly paid illegal immigrants working as maids, day labourers and farm hands.

THE BEST COUNTRY?

Americans have great reason to feel proud, but the self-evident superiority of America to all other nations need not--indeed, should not--be proclaimed boastfully.

Today, the United States of America has ascended to pre-eminence among the nations of the world. Economically, technologically, commercially, politically, militarily, culturally and in so many other ways, the American Spirit has produced enormous changes for the better in civilization around the globe.

John this is simply not true. When you compare countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on a 'per head of population' (php) basis America actually rarely rates at the top of the list on a whole range of indicators. In some areas it is quite a poor performer.

A recent study into educational standards showed that the US ranked seventh in literacy for 15 year olds and failed to make the top ten in numeracy, even failing to meet the OECD average.

A recent survey indicated that American cities failed to make the top ten list of most liveable cities (all the major Australian cities made the top ten with my city Melbourne number one - the highest ranked US city was San Francisco at 48, New York was 53).

You see John you have to factor in that the US in the third most populous nation after China and India. It has a population of over 290 million people compared to Australia's 20 million, Canada's 32 million and the UK's 60 million. So you would expect that the US would dominate in so many areas. Yet despite its size it simply does not. It is in fact a rather middling country. Despite its size it does not dominate in the areas of science, the arts, sport or academia as it should. Yes America, like every country, has produced great minds and great athletes but an honest survey indicates that America is relatively mediocre.

Lets take sport as an example. At the last Olympics, whilst America won the most medals overall, it was Australia who, on a php basis, was the best performer. Australia came fourth with 16 gold. The population ratio between the US and Australia is roughly 14:1. To match Australia's performance the US would have to have won 224 gold medals, not just the 39 that it did. Let's put it another way, if the US had Australia's population it would have only won 3 gold medals, putting it on a par with Iran, Turkey and Kazakstan.

The sheer size of America hides a multitude of sins.

There's a fundamental dishonesty that America indulges in. It revises history to suit its own inflated self-image. A prime example is the film U-571 which tells of Americans capturing a German U boat that carried vital information used to crack the enigma code. The truth is that it was the British who captured the U boat (actually called U-110) and decoded enigma before the Americans even entered the war (remember, England had actually already won the battle of Britain before Pearl Harbour). Thing is, many Americans will see that movie and believe its true. Time and time again other countries have to listen to America say they discovered this or invented that when in reality the honour goes to other countries.

The sad thing is that far from reaching the top of so many fields it actually often wins first prize at being the worst on a number of scales. The US has the largest per capita carbon dioxide emissions, the largest per capita energy consumption, the largest per person creation of waste (720K per person), the most civilian gun deaths php, the most obese population php, the most reported rapes php, the largest prison population php, the greatest income gap in the OECD, the greatest rate of homelessness php, of relative poverty php, of teen suicide php, of school shootings php.

Dare I suggest that the mass of America begins to look more and more like a greedy, bloated, self-satisfied, over-rated, spin doctored, image managed land of the average? Isn't the reality more like Jerry Springer than your pumped up ode to the American Spirit? Rather than exalt the highest in all forms of human achievement the US has given us the concept of 'dumbing down'.

I don't want to beat up on the US. Nor do I deny the faults of my country or any other country. I just want to calm down your patriotic sugar high.

Last of all, the United States contributes far more than any other nation to the UN in so-called "dues" and in international foreign aid (such as food, clothing, shelter, medicine and manpower) administered through the UN, while the UN itself provides for us only a platform for terrorist-harboring nations to issue their anti-American diatribes.

Diatribes? And your piece isn't an anti-UN diatribe? In any case lets examine this great generosity. In terms of total dollar amounts the US is the largest aid donor, no doubt about it. But remember that the US also has the world's largest GDP. It is by far the wealthiest nation on the planet, so it is to be reasonably expected. So let me ask you a question: if a poor man donates a dollar and a billionaire donates five dollars who has been the most generous?

The fact is that on a php basis the US is the lousiest aid donor in the OECD. At the Rio Earth Summit the industrialized nations agreed to fix international aid at 0.7% of GDP. The only countries to reach that target have been the Scandinavian countries. The US ranks at the very bottom with a pathetic 0.14% (interestingly surveys of the American people show that they believe the myth that America gives too much foreign aid and then when they are asked what percentage would be reasonable the answers range from 1% to 5% of GDP – so Americans think they are more generous than they really are and not as generous as they think they should be).

Now it can be argued that one of the positives about the US is that it does have a very good record of personal philanthropy. But even when you factor in private donations to overseas aid organisations the US still fails to get up from the bottom.

But it gets worse. The idea behind aid is to target those most in need. However the majority of US aid is political aid. It is used to prop up regimes favourable to the US. In short it is used as an extension of foreign policy.

The World Bank also points out that at the World Economic Forum in New York, February 2002, "[U.S. Senator Patrick] Leahy noted that two-thirds of US government aid goes to only two countries: Israel and Egypt. Much of the remaining third is used to promote US exports or to fight a war against drugs that could only be won by tackling drug abuse in the United States."

So not only is the US the greediest nation on earth in terms of energy and resource consumption it is also the most miserly.

While the US provided large amounts of military aid to countries deemed strategically important, others noted that the US ranked low among developed nations in the amount of humanitarian aid it provided poorer countries. "We are the stingiest nation of all," former President Jimmy Carter said recently in an address at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois. Christian Science Monitor, December 29, 1999

And as far as UN dues are concerned, once again UN dues are based on the capacity to pay. The US has in fact been noted as one of the most recalcitrant members of the UN. It has withheld 25% of its obligation totalling $1.6 billion. It does so in order to place political pressure on the UN.

THE MOST POWERFUL NATION

So it is clear that on quite a few counts America is simply not pre-eminent. However everyone can readily agree it is the most powerful. It is number one in the OECD on percentage of GDP spent on the military. In fact the total budget exceeds the budgets of the next eight largest military spenders. The US maintains a huge and dominating military grip on the world.

But has the American Spirit that you praise so highly been used to promote democracy and spread goodwill?

Frankly John, no, it has not. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks a common refrain was that people hate America because they envy its way of life. This is self-serving nonsense. America is hated because it abuses its power. As the new nation of the US cleared the West of pesky natives through military might it metaphorically stood on the coast of California and greedily eyed the rest of the world. America is an expansionist power. From the bluntly imperialist invasion of the Philippines and Cuba at the turn of the 20th Century to the contentious invasion of Iraq at the turn of the 21st America has shown a predilection for war on foreign soil. Why? To bring liberty to the world? That is the myth - it is not the reality. America does it for one reason and one reason alone. Being dominant allows it to stay rich. If America had been sincere about its desire to bring democracy to the world it would have acted entirely differently. In the rest of the world it is more noted for its cynical support of dictatorships and for its overthrow of democratically elected governments. Can you ignore the facts? Can you ignore the atrocities committed by the Shah of Iran and Pinochet? What of Panama, El Salvador and Haiti? What of Vietnam?

And what now of Iraq? As the truth about the lies unfold, as the reality of the incompetence of the rebuilding program is finally understood can anyone believe that the war was designed to bring the American Spirit and democracy to Iraq? And why only Iraq and not all the other countries suffering under dictatorships and corrupt governments? As you stand in the government district of Baghdad you notice all the government ministry buildings that have been destroyed, all except one, the ministry of oil.

Rather than be a beacon of freedom, rather than selflessly promote the highest ideals of its founding fathers the reality is that America has indulged in the same grubby game as every other country. It has played for the largest slice of the world's resources and wealth as it can.

All of this is well known. Perhaps the best summary comes from two of America's generals at different periods of history.

Major General Smedley Butler in 1934

There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to ... It may seem odd for me, a military man, to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to do so. I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service, and during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all members of the military profession, I never had an original thought until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of the higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for National City Bank boys (Citicorp) to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1902 to 1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. In China in 1927, I helped see to it that the Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

General David M Shoup in 1966

I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-crooked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own. One that they design and want, one that they fight and work for. And if, unfortunately, their revolution must be of the violent type because the "haves" refused to share with the "have nots" by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don't want and above all don't want crammed down their throats by Americans.

THE REAL SPIRIT OF AMERICA

America also has the lowest voter turnout rate in the OECD. Less than 50% of eligible people turned out for the last presidential election. Is this the Spirit of America? Is this kind of apathy an indication of American pre-eminence?

The last presidential election simply indicates all that is wrong with American democracy and what needs to be changed. Sadly John you may not be aware of all the facts. The 'free' American media chose to ignore the real scandal of the Florida election. It's not about hanging chads and voting machines, it's about the fact that thousands of blacks were denied the vote by being incorrectly and illegally struck off the electoral rolls for allegedly being felons. You see the thing is that there are still some remnants of discriminatory laws in Southern states. These laws prohibit felons from voting with the clear understanding that the majority of felons in America are black, a social phenomenon that is the direct result of racism. But Florida took it to a new level. It authorised Database Technologies to survey Florida's records to remove felons. It was given extremely broad powers. The result was that 90% of the list was wrong. It meant that thousands of Democrat voters were illegally disenfranchised. Bush won Florida by only 537 votes.

Now it is not just this fact that is so extraordinary but that the person in charge of the Florida election and consulting DBT was a Republican and a member of Bush's re-election committee, Kathryn Harris.

Another myth of American politics is that anyone can become President. That is now patently false. You need to be very wealthy and have very wealthy corporate support to have any chance of becoming President.

In short, a minority of illegible citizens voted and the candidate with the minority of the national and Florida (and therefore college) votes won - in other words a minority of the minority won. What was Bush's saving grace? Lots of money - truly the American Spirit.

In comparison Australia has an independent electoral commission to run elections and rigorously enforce electoral law. It simply would not be possible for a partisan to oversee an election. Furthermore, the campaign finance regulations demand a full and honest disclosure of campaign finance and the way elections are publicly financed allows anyone with the capability to rise in the ranks of the political parties. The former Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating, was born in the working class suburb of Bankstown. In Australia it really is possible for anyone to become the leader of the country.

John, America may have been founded on grand ideals but it has failed miserably to live up to those ideals.

And this is the system you want the world to adopt?

GOD AND AMERICA

God is the foundational and overarching reality of the cosmos, and America is a deliberately constructed reflection of that. When we recognize that God is the reason we exist and that we are always in the presence of God, it requires us to recognize that for others as well. We are all children of God the Father.

The system of government devised for America matches the principles of the universe's operating system more closely than any other form of political organization does, and therefore it most closely reflects what has sometimes been called "the government of God"--that is, the laws governing creation, the structure and process of the cosmos, the way reality works.

Of all the delusional material in your letter this would have to be the most outrageous. But it is not surprising. One of the major influences on the American myth is the notion that somehow God selected it above all other nations. Many Americans believe sincerely that their nation has a special God given mission, a manifest destiny. What utter crap.

But it is not this piece of inflated thinking that disturbs me but of your complete failure to distinguish the different concepts of God inherent Wilber's model. Despite the fact that you do acknowledge the nondual it is the mythic level God that you cling to. Let me ask you this question: if the true reality of the Divine is Emptiness how can a system of government be based on it?

I seem to recall that numerous kings and emperors thought that they were divine. The Chinese court was modelled on the celestial court of the Jade Emperor. King Louis the XIVth, the Sun King and Cardinal Richelieu created the notion of divine right. Several Roman emperors made themselves gods. As we know this is all simply psychological projection and inflationary 'mythic' thinking. The same applies to the idea that the American Spirit is somehow divinely sanctioned.

The potential of spiritual realisation belongs to all of humanity.

But what are we to make of the religious contribution of America? Because of its large population and its wealth it has attracted a good number of foreign and new religions. Buddhism, Hinduism and so on can afford to establish ashrams and teaching institutions. Let's do the math. If 5% of Australians are interested in new religions then that equals 1 million people, but if only 2.5% of Americans are similarly interested that equals 7.25 million, which is a significant 'market'. But I think you'll find again, according to php that America is not the largest adopter of 'new' religions. It just seems that way. In fact what America is noted for is its enthusiastic support of Christian fundamentalism. It is after all the home of Creationism and Evangelism. America remains a religiously conservative society and its understanding of God is still largely magical and mythical. For several years a Gallup poll has consistently indicated that approximately 47% of Americans believe that God created man according to the Genesis story. How is it that, despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary, so many Americans can still believe a mythic view of history?

And what is most strange of all is that you are still having a debate over the separation of church and state - the latest example of hysteria being a debate over a statue of the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court.

ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT

You save your nastiest polemic for the notes. It contains a rabid attack on the UN that any fanatical militiaman in the wilds of Montana would be proud of.

Look, there is no doubt that the UN is a deeply flawed organisation but in truth many of the faults of the UN can be blamed on internal politicking, of which the US is the main culprit. As I have pointed out the US has had a deliberate policy of choking funds to the UN. The budget shortfall has seriously affected several UN operations. But when it comes to manipulating and pressuring the UN to concede to its wishes, in terms of using its power of veto in the Security Council, the US is second to none.

Every failure of UN policy is a failure of US foreign policy. If the UN fails it is because the US wants it to fail.

THE UNITED STATES OF THE WORLD?

How about the Commonwealth of the World? I've travelled to the US and lived there for six months. I've also spoken to many Americans who have visited Australia. A comparison of countries usually arises in conversation. The overall tenor of the conversations can be summarised as this, 'I've always been looking for the promise of the American Dream, now I've found it – it's Australia'. Of course such sentiments never overcome homesickness and familiarity but it tells a story. Some countries are better at the American Dream than America.

You see whilst you guys were going through a war of independence and a civil war the Commonwealth countries were evolving in their own steady way. We adopted the Westminster system and separated church from state and created an independent judiciary. Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand all have the same freedoms Americans do. In the mid 1800's Australia even had the world's highest standard of living. And here's the other thing, on nearly all the OECD social scales we tend to best the US every time. I mentioned above that the US ranked 7th in terms of literacy, well New Zealand ranked 1st, Finland 2nd, Australia 3rd and Canada 4th. Our governments are very stable and our political systems are very open. We haven't assassinated any Prime Ministers or national leaders and our overall crime rate is lower.

So perhaps if we were going to model any world government on a particular system we ought to choose the Commonwealth model over the US model. Perhaps the US should adopt the Westminster system and Australian electoral laws? Obviously we are doing a lot right.

We could also look to the emerging EU. The euro has certainly given the dollar a run for its money and it can be easily argued that Europe is a far more cultured place.

But I've got a better idea. The fact is some countries do better than other countries at some things. Australia still has a high teen pregnancy rate (yours is still the highest) but some European and Scandinavian countries have very low rates. The link seems to be frank and honest sex education in schools.

Shouldn't an integral model borrow the best from around the world even if that challenges some precious national assumptions?

Wouldn't an integral world aim to promote the best in the human spirit rather than indulge in delusional zealotry under the banner of some bogus national spirit?

You see; to be integral you have the courage to admit failures and the rigorous honesty to realistically assess the truth. Your open letter did nothing of the sort. In the middle section you went through a rather torturous process of twisted logic and spin to try and redefine American patriotism as unique and separate it from nationalism, chauvinism and jingoism. Yeah right. Guess what John? No one outside the circle of romantic American revisionists buys it – certainly not outside the US. In fact your letter reads as the very essence of jingoism and chauvinism. Let me remind you of what chauvinism means – it is “enthusiastic devotion to a cause” and “a smug, irrational belief in the superiority of one's own race, party or sex” (Oxford).

You have no right calling your ultra-nationalistic diatribe integral anything.

Addendum 1 on slavery

When I wrote my reply to John White I did so rather quickly. I didn't have the time to do detailed research. I thought it might be worthwhile to revisit some of the issues. This addendum looks at bit more closely at White's claim that America is responsible for eliminating slavery. Any student of history will know that this is absurd. In fact at one point in its history the founding fathers of America actually betrayed a slave revolt. First let's revisit White's statement:

For example, slavery is a millennia-old worldwide institution, but America eliminated it through a great civil war which established abolition as right for all the world. Since 1865 the evilness of that institution has been sealed upon the conscience of humanity by America.

Note how White claims that it was the American Civil War that established abolition as a right for the entire world, a right 'sealed on the conscience of humanity'. But what White either does not know or chooses to ignore is that Britain abolished slavery in the British Empire in 1833 - a full thirty years before the Yankees had to force the Southern states through a bloody civil war. We need to really contemplate what this means. The abolitionist movement was founded in England. It immediately had some support in the Americas amongst the more enlightened colonists. But what the timeline tells us is that because of the American War of Independence slavery continued in America longer than it otherwise would have. Had America remained a colony slaves would have been freed earlier.

But the true history of America and slavery is even more chilling than that. The American government actually acted against the slave rebellion of Haiti in 1791. Both Washington and Jefferson were concerned about the implications of the rebellion on the American slave trade. George Washington wrote Jean Baptiste de Tenant, the French minister, in September 1791, promising to lose no time in dispatching orders to furnish money and arms requested by the French government to quell the revolt. "I am happy in the opportunity of testifying how well disposed the United states are to render every aid in their power to our good friends and Allies the French to quell 'the alarming insurrection of the Negroes in Hispanola' and of the ready disposition to effect it, of the Executive authority thereof."

Another source states:

According to the historian Douglas Egerton, "Jefferson was terrified of what was happening in Saint Domingue (Haiti). He referred to Toussaint's army as cannibals. His fear was that black Americans, like Gabriel, would be inspired by what they saw taking place just off the shore of America. And he spent virtually his entire career trying to shut down any contact, and therefore any movement of information, between the American mainland and the Caribbean island. He called upon Congress to abolish trade between the United States and what after 1804 was the independent country of Haiti. He argued that France believed it still owned the island. In short, he denied that Haitian revolutionaries had the same right to independence and autonomy that he claimed for American patriots. And consequently, in 1805 and finally in 1806, trade was formally shut down between the United States and Haiti, which decimated the already very weak Haitian economy. And of course, Jefferson then argued this was an example of what happens when Africans are allowed to govern themselves: economic devastation, caused in large part by his own economic policies. (Douglas A. Egerton, Professor of History, Le Moyne College Public Broadcasting Service, Africans in American Resource Bank ))

But even though the Americans were keen to support the French in suppressing the slave rebellion they were increasingly uncomfortable with the progress of the French Revolution itself. The reason seems to be that they became alarmed at the fact that the French National Convention, then dominated by Robespierre, decreed the emancipation of all slaves in the dominions of the French Republic in 1794.

Why is it that the French Revolution acted to free slaves and the American Revolution did not? The answer is simple. The War of Independence was less about idealism and more about Americans being free to trade. The existence of slaves was essential to the economic wellbeing of American business. After all, we are talking about a nation whose number one residence, the White House, was built using slave labour. Slaves hired from their masters by Pierre L'Enfant begin work on the Construction of the White House. "Since much was accomplished very quickly there must have been many; the conditions of their labor from daybreak to dark under the command of tough, hard-drinking James Dermott can only be imagined." Do to lack of skilled labor in Washington, DC, The White House master stonemason, Collen Williamson, had to train hired slaves on the spot at the quarry to cut the stone to build the foundation of the White House. (The President's House: a History by William, Seale and Harry N. Abrams, White House Historical Association with the Cooperation of the National Geographic Society, 1986, vol. 1, Pages 38, 50, 52,57,60)

And what of Canada? The then province of Upper Canada (later Ontario) passed a law in 1791 instituting the gradual phasing out of slavery. The effect was that slaves were free in this region well before Britain freed slaves in 1833.

It clear from this that rather than lead the world America actually dragged its heals. Slavery was just too profitable for it to surrender. It dragged its heals so badly that it fought a bloody civil war because so many did not want to free the slaves. At the time New York faced a severe riot as many violently rejected conscription. The ideal of Liberty for blacks was far from their minds as the recent film 'Gangs of New York' highlights. And after the war the South fought a rearguard campaign of intimidation for a further century. America has only recently acknowledged the descendents of a liaison Jefferson had with a female slave.

John White is simply revising American history to suit his idealised vision.

Sources:

http://www.innercity.org/holt/slavechron.html
http://www.english.northwestern.edu/llipking/18thc/slavery/
http://www.anti-slaverysociety.addr.com/huk-wilberforce.htm

Addendum 2 on Native Americans

I have already mentioned that John White glosses over the truth of America's recalcitrance in ending slavery. What is little known is that Native Americans were enslaved as well.

The history of America is the history of the dispossession and cheating of the Native Americans. A part of the American myth involves the shameful minimization of what was effectively a massive land grab. In order to achieve this the government conspired to demonize the Native Americans. Even today Native Americans struggle against the Hollywood image of Cowboys and Indians. And there is a collective denial of the level of sophistication of many of the tribal groups. The book 'Forgotten Founders: Benjamin Franklin, the Iroquois, and the Rationale for the American Revolution' by Bruce Johansen describes how Franklin admired the confederation of the six tribes and how they inspired some of his political thoughts. The tragedy for the confederation was that they sided with the British in the Independence war and were defeated by Washington. Perhaps they understood that they had better protection under the British and knew how land hungry the average American was.

This link http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/iroquois.html explains that the Iroquois federation had a Constitution which began "We the people, to form a union…."

But does John White know that part of his mythical Spirit of America owes a debt to the Iroquois confederation?

But other Native nations were well organized. Archeologists have uncovered large city like settlements in the Mississippi delta. The following link details the sad end of the Cherokee, Choctaw and Seminole people. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2959.html

It is a history of white settlers invading their land and President Andrew Jackson cheating them and forcing them further west, the infamous 'trail of tears'. The tragedy is that later, as settlers moved west these groups were further dispossessed. Native Americans were forced onto remote reservations and poor farming areas. The best land was taken for American settlers. How could a people expect to prosper materially by being pushed into unproductive land, denied their hunting rights and generally discriminated against?

Every tribe has a story of dispossession and of the betrayal of treaties.

But it does not end there. The government had set up the Indian Trust Fund which was charged with administering treaties and ensuring the fair and proper payment of due compensation to Native Americans. Because of a fundamental disregard for the rights of Native Americans the fund has been neglected. The result is that Native Americans have been cheated of billions of dollars of legitimately earned compensation from mining leases, land rental and so forth. The government has effectively cheated the Native Americans again and again.

See these links:
http://www.monitor.net/monitor/free/biatrustfund.html
http://www.indiantrust.com/

The picture that emerges from this material and the material on slavery is that the true American Spirit is about the expansionary lust for riches. The true story of American slavery is that Americans resisted emancipation because white American wealth was based on slavery. They used it to expand into Indian territories. After Britain had freed all the slaves in the British Empire America was still using slave labour on newly acquired cotton farms on former Indian lands.

The expansion west was directly at the expense of Native Americans who have still not been paid legally due compensation. It was theft on a grand scale.

The real story is not that Native and Afro-Americans were eventually granted the right to vote but that it took so long. The real story is the resistance to abolition and the systematic theft of Indian land.

Ray Harris August 2003

Comment Form is loading comments...