Only the next generation can see what were the big stories of 2014, but one appears clear even now. In 2014 Americans finally became aware that the 1% has screwed us, taking most of America’s productivity gains since the 1970s. We saw it in the news about rising inequality, in new studies about inequality (e.g., by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez), and films expressing our fears about our future (e.g., “Divergent”, “The Hunger Games”, “Snowpiercer”), and news about the police oppression of the underclass.
A more interesting stage begins after we assimilate these facts; perhaps it starts in 2015. What do we do about this? Acceptance means becoming subjects, 21st century peons. Willingness to act puts us on a long road, probably beginning with a naive belief in small easy solutions — and that the 1% won’t strike back with the vast economic and political power they’ve gathered during the past 4 decades.
We’ll need inspiration during the inevitable dark days ahead, when victory seems unlikely while the cost appears high and imminent. There’s not much in Western history to draw upon. I recommend re-purposing songs and speeches, ones similar in spirit but directed to different ends than ours of today. Here’s one such speech by Lloyd George, one of Britain’s major reformers and greatest leaders (Prime Minister 1916-1922). We can take heart from his words, applying them to a better cause.
Perhaps we have become too sophisticated and too cynical so that such words no longer stir us. What then will do so? If nothing — we’ve become that passive — then perhaps we can no longer govern ourselves. Stronger people will rule and do so in their interest, not ours. We can console ourselves by tears and fantasy, as each person prefers. But I believe we remain strong when acting together, if only we realize it.
Conclusion of a speech by David Lloyd George
To the London Welshmen at Queens’ Hall, London
19 September 1914, at the start of WWI
Slightly tweaked to apply to us (changes are in italics)
What we are fighting is that claim to predominancy of a class, a material one, a hard one, a class which if once it rules and sways the world, liberty goes, democracy vanishes … You know the type of motorist, the terror of the roads, with a 60-h.p.car. He thinks the roads are made for him, and anybody who impedes the action of his car by a single mile is knocked down.
… All I can say is this: if the old British spirit is alive in British hearts, that bully will be torn from his seat. Were he to win it would be the greatest catastrophe that has befallen democracy since the days of the Holy Alliance and its ascendancy. They think we cannot beat them. It will not be easy. It will be a long job. It will be a terrible conflict. But in the end we shall march through terror to triumph. We shall need all our qualities, every quality that Britain and its people possess.
Prudence in council, daring in action, tenacity in purpose, courage in defeat, moderation in victory, in all things faith, and we shall win.
It has pleased them to believe and to preach the belief that we are a decadent nation. They proclaim it to the world, through their professors, that we are an unheroic nation skulking behind our desks …
May I tell you, in a simple parable, what I think this war is doing for us? I know a valley in North Wales, between the mountains and the sea — a beautiful valley, snug, comfortable, sheltered by the mountains from all the bitter blasts. It was very enervating, and I remember how the boys were in the habit of climbing the hills above the village to have a glimpse of the great mountains in the distance, and to be stimulated and freshened by the breezes which, came from the hill-tops, and by the great spectacle of that great valley.
We have been living in a sheltered valley for generations. We have been too comfortable, too indulgent, many, perhaps, too selfish. And the stern hand of fate has scourged us to an elevation where we can see the great everlasting things that matter for a nation; the great peaks of honour we had forgotten — duty and patriotism clad in glittering white: the great pinnacle of sacrifice pointing like a rugged finger to Heaven. We shall descend into the valleys again, but as long as the men and women of this generation last they will carry in their hearts the image of these great mountain peaks, whose foundations are unshaken though Europe rock and sway in the convulsions of a great conflict.
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- Inequality & social mobility: once our strength, now a weaknesses
- Politics in America – and the 2012 Campaign
Notes from the past:
- de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
- A wonderful and important speech about liberty, 23 July 2009
- George Orwell sends us a note, giving some perspective on our situation, 22 January 2012
- Lessons for America from the Russo-Japanese War, 4 February 2012
- Thomas Jefferson saw our present peril. We should heed his warning., 21 April 2012
- Rome speaks to us. Their example can inspire us to avoid their fate., 22 April 2012
- We’re drifting towards tyranny, again. Jefferson describes our first brush with tyranny., 28 April 2012
- Sobering words from a great man about the road ahead, 1 January 2013 — martin Luther King
- Voices from the past describe the coming New America, 1 February 2013
- Martin Luther King Jr’s advice to us about using violence to reform America, 20 January 2014