Chris Lehman at The Baffler:
Whether we like it or not, the big idea behind American democracy is to make us like each other more. It’s a faintly embarrassing dimension of our social experiment, carved out of the crack-up of the original British colonies, that the great theorists and practitioners of new world order in America were looking for something more than political independence. They sought to create a basis for the small-r republican ideal of fraternity: a territorially limited, widely participatory, and socially equitable economy made up principally of small producers—home manufacturers, merchants, and farmers. Only on such a basis, the theory went, could America be prevented from regressing into anarchy, despotism, or worse.
But things didn’t exactly go as planned. Come the Jacksonian age, the legal interpreters of the U.S. Constitution, spurred on by the directives of a fast-consolidating national and corporate economy, ratcheted the whole enterprise upward into something that many of the founders would have seen as a blatant contradiction in terms: a “commercial republic,” as the jurisprudence of the Federalist-on-the-make John Marshall (echoing the political rhetoric of his close political ally Daniel Webster) had it.