Founding Fathers Would Not Approve of Occupy Wall Street

Those who wrote "We the People" disdained populist movements.

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Occupy Wall Street need not hold itself back because of this legacy, but it should also be aware of certain critical structural limitations. For the most part, these limitations were identified not only by the economists Marx, Engels, and Ricardo, but also by the later and lesser-known "elite theorists," namely Gaetano Mosca, Robert Michels and Vilfredo Pareto. "In all societies," wrote Mosca in The Ruling Class, "two classes of people appear—a class that rules, and a class that is ruled."

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This phenomenon, which Michels presciently called an "iron law of oligarchy," is, by definition, here to stay. What can be changed are the varying allocations of wealth and opportunity between the classes. To "optimize" these allocations, that is, to make them more favorable to the "99 percent," the Occupy Wall Street movement will first need to transform a still shapeless, fragmented, and inconsistent ideology into usable public authority and tangibly organized patterns of influence. Ultimately, of course, it will have to transform what the American Transcendentalist thinker, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once called "high thinking," into the social and political instruments of institutionalized power.

Would such a transformation be good for America? Oddly enough, the founding fathers would have answered with a resounding and near-unanimous "nay."

  • Read a timeline of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
  • Read about 7 groups with reason to protest.
  • See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.