America's first socialist republic
Added 11-25-21 06:31:02am EST - “Paul A. Rahe holds the Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in the Western Heritage at Hillsdale College and is one of the country's most distinguished scholars of history and politics. In view o?” - Powerlineblog.com
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Paul A. Rahe holds the Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in the Western Heritage at Hillsdale College and is one of the country’s most distinguished scholars of history and politics. In view of his study of Republics Ancient and Modern, Professor Rahe is the academy’s foremost authority on the history of republics. Although his subsequent work on Soft Despotism was not far from his Thanksgiving reflections when he wrote this column for us in 2009, at the dawn of the Obama era, neither was his older work on republics. Posted here annually on Thanksgiving since 2009, it bears directly on the socialist temptation that confronts us yet:
On Thanksgiving, it is customary that Americans recall to mind the experience of the Pilgrim Fathers. We have much to learn from the history of the Plymouth Plantation. For, in their first year in the New World, the Pilgrims conducted an experiment in social engineering akin to what is now contemplated; and, after an abortive attempt at cultivating the land in common, their leaders reflected on the results in a manner that Americans today should find instructive.
William Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth Colony, reports that, at that time, he and his advisers considered “how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery.” And “after much debate of things,” he then adds, they chose to abandon communal property, deciding that “they should set corn every man for his own particular” and assign “to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end.”
The results, he tells us, were gratifying in the extreme, “for it made all hands very industrious” and “much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.” Even “the women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”
Moreover, he observes, “the experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years . . . amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times . . . that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing.” In practice, America’s first socialist experiment “was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.”
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