We stood on the top of the Chateau de Chambord, Chambord, Loir-et-Cher, France and looked toward the Loire River. Leon said to me, “can you imagine owning all of this, for as far as the eye can see?”
No I could not imagine it, and Francis I who ruled France from 1515 till his death in 1547, owned not only the estate (now about 21 square miles) but also the people, homes, businesses, crops, and livestock of the entire kingdom. In essence everything belonged to the King and was his to use as he saw fit.
There is another side to “the king owning everything.” Along with owning comes obligation. It is the king who is responsible to make sure the people and all of the property is protected from bandits and invading armies. It is not just my field of wheat or the tools I made at the forge, it is ultimately the king’s wheat and the king’s tools. I am using the grain and tools on his behalf.
I realized while traveling through Europe the last couple of years is that the Europeans have had over 10,000 years to sort through the rulers and the being ruled process. In the “sorting out” they have develop systems based on their history that work.
In Europe the general direction for the last 2,500 years has been:
· The Roman Empire, which lasted from about 500 BCE to 500 CE.
· The Holy Roman Empire starting Charlemagne’s crowning in 800 CE until it was dissolved in 1806.
· The Industrial Revolution in the 1800 to 1900s creating unimaginable wealth. This distribution of newly created wealth spread from the ruling class to classes of people who had never experienced it before thus changing the whole social fabric.
· The growth of Nationalism leading to the French Revolution, the British Empire, the end of the Ottoman Empire, the German Empire, the Russian Empire and eventually the First World War followed 29 years later by the Second World War.
· The creation of the current states carved from monarchies such as France 1789, Italy in 1861, Germany 1861, Netherlands in 1813, Belgium and Luxembourg in 1839.
I know there are big gaps here, but basically until about 200 years ago, some type of royalty and power has always ruled most of the people of Europe. There have been concessions such as development of craft guilds in the 14th century or the Magna Carta signed by King John in 1215 it awarded rights to the mid level aristocracy. The English Civil War 1642 which took power from Charles I and gave it to the English Parliament. A turning point was the defeat of Napoleon in the early 1800s set much of Europe free to form the current political map.
All these experiences shaped the way Europeans viewed their governments and their expectations. The general trend of the last 2,500 years has been a movement of power from hereditary kings to the people. With each step toward today the people being governed have had an increased say in how they will be governed.
At the same time there has never been a question by the people about the need for being governed. The premise based on their 2,500 years of somebody being in power has become how to manage and check the people in power.
Which brings us to the United States. Columbus landed in the Caribbean in 1492 and the Spanish colonization followed thereafter. The French established their presence in the early 1500s. The Dutch started their colonization with Fort Nassau on the Hudson in 1615.
The English established their first settlement at Jamestown in Virginia in 1603, followed by the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1620.
The difference between the English and the others was while the other nations came to exploit the resources of a newly discovered continent the English came to stay, and live and build. The English were settlers, not traders and explorers.
Eventually through disagreements with the rulers in England the 13 American Colonies led a successful revolution which ended with General Cornwallis surrendering to Washington at Yorktown in 1781.
The United States has been an independent nation for a total 236 years. It has only been a little over 400 years since we tried our first settlement on the continent, compared to the 10,000 years spent marching across the lands of Europe.
Primarily English and immigrants settled the Americas. Some Europeans wanting to start new lives came to the Americas. All had a streak of independence, if not contempt for authority, especially governmental authority.
With our “cowboy” attitude and concept of the “self made individual” we carved a nation out of the Eastern Forest and spread westward across a continent. In the process we displaced the existing inhabitants and made the country our own. Friendly neighbors on the north and south and boarded by the Atlantic and the Pacific we were pretty much able to grow and develop without interference from other peoples.
It is only since the emergence of the European nations in the 1800s that the rest of the world has been a factor in our progress. The real impact on our politics and government came with the start of World War I. Suddenly the United States became an international power.
We are still in that transition stage today. While the rest of the world has been sorting out the needs of the people, the responsibilities of the governing, and the limits and the uses of power for10,000 years we have only been at it for 400 years. Until recently most of the 400 years was spent in conquest and security of the land.
In the United States are still sorting things out:
· Environmental Questions: We do not have public consensus on how to manage of our natural environment. Is it there for corporate exploitation or is it public heritage?
· Healthcare: Is healthcare a right to all people, or does it only belong to those who can afford it?
· Social Justice: We are till trying to figure out how people should treat each other, and how the government should treat those it governs.
· Racial Issues: Things have not changed that much since Martin Luther King led marches in the 1960s and George Wallace supported segregation as the governor of Alabama.
Today we are in dialog with countries around the world that have spent thousands of years working on these issues. Some, such as Europe, have made significant process.
Our hope is in time. Given time as a nation we will get there. If we all start the discussion and begin the conversation by acknowledging the issues, the sooner we can start to resolve them. The rest of the world is moving on these issues quickly so we need to start now.
Thank you for reading the blog. Please leave a comment or send me note. Rob