Just wanted to ad a link to the recent article on the subject of that comment: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/30/king-cottons-long-shadow/

The argument is a relatively old one in Marxist circles, and always seemed likely true or at least very arguable to me, but the work referred to at the link attempts to support a more specific though still very ambitious argument.

That occurred later - the contradiction between the plantation system and the new industrial base. That industrial base was itself built on a foundation of slavery, in part directly, but also indirectly. All that cotton wasn't for stuffing pillows at Tara and making underthings for Scarlett. It was being sold and shipped out. The recent scholarship to which I referred has sought to quantify the contributions of the plantation system, and has suggested that they were critical and indispensable to the actual development of North America and the interdependent development of European capitalism. The argument is, of course, mainly framed as a moral indictment of the West, from the Left. That it echoes an argument made by the slavers once upon a time on their own behalf is one of those indicatively unspeakable ironies of history.

Not just Florence and Milan, by any means. The list of experiments in self-government is a long one, just in Europe, including among tribal and illiterate peoples, and also in North America. The Iroquois Federation was considered an influential example on the Founders. In England, the expansion of the powers of Parliament had been ongoing, and there had also been the Levelers, the Radical Whigs, and the Commonwealth. Self-government had grown up in the Colonies partly as a pragmatic matter, but also as a realization of religious and even somewhat utopian aspirations in many places.

It's also greatly underestimated, and almost forgotten except among scholars and aficionados of the Founding period, how much the "laboratory of democracy" was a lived experience of the 1780s. There were radical experiments in democratic-republicanism across the colonies, some of the purest experiments of that type ever tried out on human beings. The somewhat depressing results may have been as much in mind for the Framers as the lessons of their "liberal" education that seemed to be confirmed in them. The pattern was also set that arguably is the "trademark" of Americanism, defined by Schmitt as "economic presence, political absence," since the same depressing period was also overall a period of economic dynamism and expansion, as well as boom and bust cycles. The experiment in limited government or "freedom" or minarchism verges on an experiment in anarchism in a ground highly conducive to anarchistic development. Consider the expropriation of the continent itself, the chief historical task of the nation's first century. It was mainly achieved, other than through the non-intentional communication of pathogens, through the generally ungoverned activity of migratory populations, who continually acted against or beyond the will of the central government, whose often despondent high officials would afterwards find themselves ratifying the latest conquests. The uses of slavery occurred in a similar way, as central government was never powerful enough, or allowed to be powerful enough (same thing) to enforce its evident ideals against the immediate interests of the slave states that also happened to be the immediate larger economic interests of the whole state and even of the West generally. In this way, the British and European economic interest was likewise continuously "present" in the former colonies even after the Crown was forced into political "absence."

I'm referring to recent scholarship on the economic importance of slavery or the products of the slave economies to the introduction of capitalism and the factory system in Britain. Eventually, as we know, industrial capitalism developed its own form of wage slavery. Again, the limitation on government or the political (also incidentally a critical limitation on the politicization of "religion") allowed for continued operation of a system whose concrete character - what it did to people - ought to have contradicted any conceivable humanist ideal. I point this out not to fill you or anyone else with shame, since - I wonder if I may regret writing this - I don't claim to know of a superior or even possible alternative to slavery, effective slavery, genocide, imperialism, and war for the process of moving beyond slavery, effective slavery, genocide, imperialism, and war. America and Americans weren't unique in these tendencies,they were just uniquely positioned to force them further along to their own opposites, to a world order of less slavery, less genocide, softer imperialism, and alternatives to war. There is no Archimedean point external to the world available to us to pass judgment on this world, or, more accurately, anyone who reaches it will have done so in a spacecraft built by slaving genocidal imperialist warriors and by no one else.

well - not quite that exotic. There were numerous examples of self-governing republics and mixed systems, especially in Italy, but in a range of different situation including England and the Colonies between the fall of the Roman Republic and 1776-87. Not that the Americans did not set unique goals and come up with unique answers.

"Limited" means more than limiting the multitude or the poor, though clearly the thought that the mixed system and the sole type of government that Aristotle actually considered a true "polity," was the goal, not "democracy," which for classical political science remained the name of an inferior form of government. Today there may be a general sense, of widely accepted fiction, that true political equality without true economic equality is possible, and that either or if not one or the other then both would be achievable, desirable if achievable, and sustainable.

For many among the Founders and Framers, it was taken as something of a given or at least a very reasonable theory that only the economically secure would have the free time and relative disinterest, or greater interest in the long term and the general welfare, to govern wisely. It's believed by some historians, however, that by the time the Constitution was enacted a more jaundiced view had set in, approaching desperation, about the true positive prospects of self-government. In other words, the Madisonian limitations in general and the checks on majority tyranny in particular may have embodied a deeper pessimism about democratic-republican governance. The theory and the official narrative are therefore contradictory, in a way that seems to encourage the very people and forces, on today's right and left, most likely to be disappointed.

Thanks again, bob, not least for balancing the thread-scales against my arch or only nemesis don miguel.

It all reminds me of the Nature/Nurture or Deontologicl/Consequentialism discussions where the 2 poles taken too restrictively have no basis of interaction, or taken too loosely become identical.

...is crisply and economically stated. It's Jerusalem and Athens again, too.

What makes you think there is or can be final "limitations" on the system other than as arrived at concretely or politically, through its operation? In practice, given the will to make it work, it will achieve moderate or, if you prefer, muddled and intellectually un-satisfactory results. Any uncompromising ideal or theory, including an uncompromising ideal or theory of limits, will tend in the direction of a crisis of the whole state, which in "normal" times will be irrelevant, but in abnormal times, or at the final failure of the system, will produce the exceptional circumstance and potential dissolution or replacement of the system, or a new constitution or, if it comes to that, constitutions. Any written constitution will always be subject to the originary deficit between description and described, word and reality, pre-programmable routine and environment, and so on. Any limited government will interact with illimitable contingencies, unpredictable problems, insufficient prescriptions, etc., from the first moment of its operation, and immediately begin to contradict whatever limiting precepts. Conservatives grasp this concept somewhat intuitively when it comes to economics. Merely putting, or imagining that one has put, one's governmental concept in purely or mainly negative form does not solve the problem, or relieve government from the necessity of positive action, though it does potentially shape the discussion and add encumbrances.

Not sure how much more clearly I can state or re-state the aims of the discussion than in, e.g., Likko's summary, or immediately afterward, or in the first section, or, actually, repeatedly throughout this collection of notes. I don't propose a system: I seek to describe the system as it actually operates, by complementary and interdependent principles in search of a unity.