Harvard Square Observer: Democracy and Capitalism

Ernest Cassara

For some time now, I have been meaning to put pen to paper on the subject of how our leaders confuse democracy with our particular economic system.  Then, the other day, looking over the shoulder of our colleague Polonius, I was delighted to see that Eleanor Roosevelt had something to say on the subject.  Allow me to quote her at some length: "A respect for the rights of other people to determine their forms of government and their economy will not weaken our democracy.  It will inevitably strengthen it. One of the first things we must get rid of is the idea that democracy is tantamount to capitalism."

Unfortunately, our leaders have spilled blood in profuse amounts around the globe because they do not believe what that wise lady said on the subject.  Consider: Years of a "cold war" with the Soviet Union because of its economic system.  Then, because we fell into the wrongheaded notion of "falling dominoes," we undertook to relieve France of its colonial war in Vietnam. We feared that if North Vietnam's communist government proved successful in its battle with the south, it might lead to imitation by other countries.  Thousands of Vietnamese and American service people lost their lives as a result of this obsession.

Then, Henry Kissinger managed to throw U.S. support behind the military thugs who overthrew the duly elected Salvador Allende (1970) in Chile.  His replacement, General Augusto Pinochet, led a reign of terror.  (We will never know how many people were "disappeared," many of them dropped from helicopters into the sea.)

President Reagan's support of the Contras' war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua is a further example of U.S. meddling in Latin American affairs. (The Iran-Contra affair presented good grounds for impeachment.  But, of course, Republicans prefer to impeach presidents because of sexual peccadilloes!)

Now, we will see if the present U.S. government has the sense to stay out of the affairs of Venezuela and its President Hugo Chavez.  Then, there will be the temptation to interfere with President Evo Morales in Bolivia. In both cases, we see leaders who seek to raise the standard of living of the humblest of their constituents.

I could go on dredging up examples of past U.S. interference in the lives of other countries. But, these examples lead to the question of where in the U.S. Constitution  it states that the U.S. is committed to a particular economic system?  I realize that some scholars say that the business and economic views of Alexander Hamilton won out over those of Thomas Jefferson, who looked forward to a nation of farms and rural life.  But, that is not in the Constitution.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the communist witch hunts of our own government, with  Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, look back in shame at the excesses that we experience periodically, because we insist on confusing our form of government with capitalism.

What puzzles me is why a nation born in revolution turns out to be opposed to revolutions in other places. Indeed, becomes a force of reaction.

By the way, lest I be swamped with e-mails challenging me on the above, I must own up to the fact that I have enjoyed the fruits of our present economic system.  That, however, is not the point I'm making! But, keep the e-mails coming, in any case!

Comment on this Article:

Return to the Table of Contents

Articles may be quoted or republished in full with attribution
to the author and harvardsquarecommentary.org.

This site is designed and managed by Neil Turner at Neil Turner Concepts