The Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century saw the intellectual maturation of the humanist belief in reason as the supreme guiding principle in the affairs of mankind. The Enlightenment introduced critical thinking to replace the dead weight of tradition and challenge the blind faith in institutions. Voltaire, a French Enlightenment thinker, known for his defense of civil liberties challenged the myths of superiority that underlie the aristocracy and monarchial governments of the eighteenth century. He opposed the corruption of the Church and believed there was an unfair balance of power and taxes between the aristocracy, and the commoners and middle class who were burdened with most of the taxes. He supported rights to freedom, equality of taxation, and respect for the individual.
Voltaire did not support revolution, but his ideas had a significant influence on the French Revolution. The French reformers introduced the revolutionary new ideas of Equality, Liberty and Fraternity to signify a transition from the old regime to the new liberal one. Equality was reflected in the elimination of hereditary privilege, the aristocracy was subject to the same laws as other French citizens. In addition admission to public office would now be based on capacity, virtue, and talent rather than heredity or status. There was the elimination of privileges based on birth; everyone will have to pay taxes.
Then came the counter-revolution in the early 19th century. Joseph de Maistre thought that the revolution and the republic it created in the name of reason and individual rights had failed. He thought social order had been shattered and there had been too much liberty and not enough religion. He attacked the idea’s of Voltaire specifically. He claimed there was a need for strong institutions, social, religious and political, to reign in human perversity which was ever lurking below the thin veneer of civilization. De Maistre described an authoritarian conservatism in which proper government required the upholding the functions of the state in enforcing moral and religious creeds, and attacked liberty as an abstract principle.
In the latter half of the 19th century a new revolutionary way of thinking appeared with Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. The Theory of Natural Selection, arrived at upon an empirical basis explaining the role in evolution played by chance, was a complete rejection of Newtonian determinism, the system that supported the invisible hand in Adam Smith’s economic theory. In addition, the theory made man equal to the apes (human were part of the natural world closely related to the smaller apes) – a process that undermined significant teachings of the Bible. Now it was necessary to factor in the meaning of freedom based on new ideas.
During the second decade of the 20th century the principles behind Christian fundamentalism developed in response to the challenges to the church that had appeared in the late 19th century (including Darwin’s theory). In the 1970s the fusion of the conservatives and fundamentalists appeared that countered the ongoing threats from communism and the new freedom of expression associated with the sexual revolution. In 1979 Jerry Falwell (1958-2007) established the Moral Majority that crusaded against what it viewed as negative cultural trends, especially legalized abortion, the women’s movement, and the gay rights movement. The Moral Majority became a very prominent movement and is credited with delivering huge numbers of votes to Ronald Reagan in 1980. President Reagan won the election on the principled platform of limited government laying the foundation for deregulation and the growth of globalization.
The Christian Coalition was founded by Pat Robertson (1930- ) in 1989 to give Christians a voice in government. In 1994 Roberson helped develop the document, the Contract with America which was devoted to rolling back government, included many ideas that originated at the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank) espoused shrinking the size of government and lower taxes. It used abortion and same sex marriage as wedge issues (to distract the middle class) and was responsible for the election of conservatives to the 1994 congress.
The ideology of reducing government regulation and taxes led to the growth of global corporations during the past four decades and the effective dismantling of unions in North America with the outsourcing of many high paying middle class jobs. Globalization leads to competition amongst countries for business. This, in turn, drives down taxes, and weakens health and environmental protection, creating a situation in which states are no longer in a position to impose reasonable taxes. The more tax rates are cut, the greater the share of national income that is mopped up by the wealthiest citizens.
A new world aristocracy that forms a global community connected by interest and ideology has appeared. The new aristocracy opposes increases in their taxes and the tightening of the regulations of their economic activities. They believe this (low taxes) is driving the whole system. The new global aristocracy is a system in which privileged groups in both developed and developing countries act (often in concert) to protect their own position at the expense of others. Under globalization the dominant business class no longer needs to accommodate citizen pressures within national boundaries.
In the 21st century, the epigenetics revolution is rewriting our understanding of genetic disease and inheritance. Individuals are much more sensitive to exposures from their environment, diet and lifestyles than previously thought. Epigenetic control of our genes represents a fundamental shift in the way we understand our world. Today the equality of individuals must be based on epigenetic harms. Wellness (good health) is the opportunity a person has to reach their full potential. The greatest influence on one’s health is not the absolute amount of money one makes, rather how income wealth is distributed. Rising income inequality is contributing to the deterioration of the health of all people, regardless of their income level.1 It is time for governments to raise additional revenues from those most able to afford it in order to support social programs that help reduce social and health inequities.
1Horsman, Greg. Evolutionary Economics and Equality: An Age of Enlightenment. Pp 225-227.