03/14/2011 06:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Rosetta Stone of the Right

Struggling to comprehend the right-wing assault on unions in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, the attempts to defund federal programs for the poor, the increasing demonization of the non-white, and the championing of a tax system that is throwing more and more of the country's wealth into the hands of less than 1 percent of the population, I chanced upon the Rosetta Stone of the Right Wing, the one that explains the reasons behind these disparate actions. It is the Mudsill Theory.

As articulated by Senator James Henry Hammond, a plantation owner from South Carolina, in a speech to the senate on March 4, 1858, the Mudsill Theory holds that there is, has been, and always will be a lower class -- a mudsill of a foundation on which the house of the upper class, the ruling class, rests and should rest, since it is superior and bred for command. That division was set in the Bible, and nothing since then has changed it, Hammond asserted. In 1858 the lower class, Hammond continued, consisted of slaves: black ones in the South, and white beggars and factory hands in the North. Socially, economically, morally, and in terms of intellectual capacity, the two classes were eternally separated, and would always be. Anything that misguided Northerners might do to encourage the aspirations or facilitate the upward mobility of those in the lower class would be to the detriment of those in the upper class. Slavery forever!

Abraham Lincoln refuted and rejected the Mudsill Theory during his campaign for the presidency in 1860, and in several addresses as president, as incompatible with the expressed aims of this representative democracy and of free-market capitalism; but he was under no illusion that he had struck a stake through its heart.

As usual, Lincoln was correct. Mudsill Theory is back today, with a vengeance. It underlies the reasoning behind the attempts to rescind the right to unionize -- slaves should not have equal rights with their masters. It underlies the reason for defunding long-term unemployment and welfare -- "the poor ye shall always have with you" (Matthew 26:11), so why bother providing for them? It underlies the reason for demonizing Latinos, legal and illegal immigrants, and inner-city blacks -- since they are not white, they must be members of the lower/slave class, to be shunned and excluded by the upper class. And Mudsill Theory also underlies the reasoning behind the willingness of even middle-class and impoverished Tea Partiers to agree to tax breaks for the ultra-rich, even though the tax system is steadily funneling an increasing percentage of the country's wealth to the upper stratum -- after all, if the upper class is the once and future ruling class, they must be entitled to the lion's share of the wealth.

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