More than two thousand years ago the philosopher Plato, in his great dialogue The Republic, observed that every state is in fact divided into two states, one composed of the rich and the other of the poor, and that these two states are forever at war with one another.
Actually, there have been some notable exceptions. Ancient Athens itself during its golden age (the Periclean era) provided the model for a productive and harmonious society, where the wealth was spread relatively equitably and where the rich were strong supporters of community needs, from public works to hospitals and food for the poor.
A similar period of internal peace occurred in this country after World War II, when the gap between the rich and the poor was smaller (in those days, corporate CEOs averaged 20 times the income of their workers compared with more than 260 times as much today), when there was also a large, affluent middle class, and when we had the most generous social welfare system in the world.
All that has changed. Over the past 30 years the income gap in our society has progressively widened while our social safety net has become ever more stingy and the tax burden ever more regressive, with the middle class and the poor paying an ever greater share of our taxes. Nowadays, many of the European countries provide models for more equitable societies, while this once great nation has fallen further and further behind. We now rank near the bottom of the 30-nation OECD in terms of various measures of health and well being.
The Republicans may reject the notion of class warfare in their political rhetoric, but the fact is that they have practiced it with their political agenda – most recently in their threat to hold middle-class tax cuts hostage to preserving the Bush-era tax cuts for the very rich (the top 1 percent) -- including those taxpayer-subsidized investment bankers. Meanwhile, some of our wealthiest citizens, like the oil and gas billionaires Charles and David Koch, have been major financial backers for the retrograde Tea Party movement. Shame on them.
The Republicans’ ignorance of history is appalling, for class warfare ultimately leads to social turmoil, civil violence, and even rebellion. The history of the twentieth century was littered with bloody revolutions against repressive oligarchies. We are already well along on this road to ruin. If we don’t make a u-turn soon, things are likely to become even more ugly in this country.
As the philosopher Thomas Hobbes long ago warned: “Seeing every man, not only by Right, but also by necessity of Nature, is supposed to endeavor all he can to obtain all that is necessary for his conservation, he that shall oppose himself against it, for things superfluous, is guilty of the war that thereupon is to follow.”