Historian Howard Zinn is an absolutist. Forget all the moral relativism allegations that conservatives love to cast against progressives. Zinn’s values are unflinching about war and power. War is evil. Zinn doesn’t use that word but he damn well describes the horrors of war as evil as hell.
Nobody can say Zinn is some wishy-washy liberal wuss. His ethical standards transcend expedient politics and patriotism. Zinn’s moral principles are more like an Old Testament prophet than are the religious right’s values of supporting Bush and Mammon’s war in Iraq.
Nowhere in “A Power governments cannot suppress” does Zinn mention his own spiritual beliefs. He doesn’t have to. Zinn cherishes peace, harmony and well-being for one and all. Zinn is an absolutist. We the people means all of us, and not just the elite few. Talk about letting the sunshine fall on both saints and sinners.
Zinn holds that since the very start, the United States government has excluded who is included in “we the people.” The rich and powerful have not wanted common folk to have a common government. The elite have wanted an elite government to cater to elite tastes. And the elite sure enough do need a lot of common folks to serve their demanding requirements.
Zinn argues since the get-go politicians have been spinning and jiving. Take for example the term “American.” We “Americans” love to think of ourselves as something truly unique. We created democracy and forged an entirely new system of government without precedent, goes the orthodox mythology. Although Zinn did not discuss the following in his book, this background helps sets the stage for a central theme of persistent propaganda.
Originally Europeans used American to refer to the indigenous people of the New World. And what a new world it was to Europeans who had experienced centuries of stench and strictures. The original Americans inspired European philosophers like Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Marx to dream of natural law, social contracts and what life could be. Thomas More wrote Utopia after Europeans stumbled upon America.
Plato, Aristotle and the Bible were all right. The original nature of man was good, as proven by how original Americans were living like in Eden. Man could live democratically and share all things fairly because that was his original nature before being corrupted by imperial civilization. Life was good after all. What a rebirth America helped impregnate in barren theocratic and monarchial Europe.
Of all the original Americans encountered by Europeans, the Iroquois have made the greatest impact. Their model of government heavily influenced the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The Iroquois constitution, known as the Great Law of Peace, provided for universal suffrage, separation of powers, elections, freedom of speech and religion, and even included provisions for impeachment.
In 1987 the U.S. Senate issued a resolution to “acknowledge the contribution of the Iroquois Confederacy of Nation the development of the United States Constitution . . .” The resolution added that the “ original framers of the Constitution, including most notably, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, are known to have, greatly admired the concepts, principles and government practices of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.” The resolution went so far as to declare that “ the constitution of the original Thirteen Colonies into one republic was explicitly modeled upon the Iroquois Confederacy as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the Constitution itself.”
Yet the Constitution did not even count American Indians as people. Blacks counted as 3/5's of a person but Indians did not count at all. The greatly admiring founding fathers took Indian principles of democracy and government and didn’t even give them enough credit to count as a person in their own land.
As to the hypocrisy between America’s lofty ideals and the brutal reality, Zinn’s book is a magnificent collection. While the subject matter is harsh and dreary, Zinn is surprisingly uplifting in the valley of the shadows of atrocities. For Zinn has realized, and well knows, that the desire for true liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness is an eternal power that no temporal government can long suppress.