So, I was reading the late Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States this past weekend. Reading this book on Fourth of July weekend is probably enough to consign me to Hell in the opinion of some Conservatives, for Zinn aimed to de-romanticize many of our well-known historical figures, like Columbus and the Founders, and to tell history from the perspectives of native Americans, women, slaves and so forth. He was also a socialist, and certainly an obsession with class permeates his book.
One issue I see in it, particularly in Zinn’s section on the Founding Fathers, is that his reasoning often takes this form: the rules of the government were made by the powerful, and protected their interests. (A lot of this, in the case of the Founders, is based on the work of Charles Beard) This is certainly true, and it’s worth keeping in mind. But it is also worth remembering that the powerful always make the rules by definition, because that is what power is. This is trivially true, in other words.
Now, distrust of concentrated power is a very healthy thing in my opinion, and of course more equal distribution of power is theoretically what representative Democracy like ours does. We elect people who will act in what they think is the best interest of their constituents. But these people still have quite a lot of power; all voting does is give the people the chance to pick who they think will act in their best interest with power. And this is where things like charisma and personal qualities can be something of an “X factor”, and sometimes lead to undesirable results.
So, I’m not sure what exactly Zinn would have liked to see in place of this system, since 100% equality of power seems impossible. Still, Zinn’s idea of looking at history from a different perspective is very interesting one, and all the more so given the outright hatred his work inspires among the Conservatives.