I’ve been reading about early America, colonial days up to the American Revolution, mostly. Of course, before the English got around to exploring things, the Spanish were the most prolific North American explorers.
The bulk of the Spanish explorer were hidalgos. Hidalgos arose from the soldiers of the Reconquista. They were the military class that fought the Muslims and, then, rootless after the fall of Grenada, saw the New World as an opportunity of conquest. (They also saw other places as opportunities, like Italy and the Low Countries, but this post isn’t about their fights there, but their exploration and conquest of the Western Hemisphere.)
Relative to Atlas Shrugged, they are significant not because of their military accomplishments, but because of an attitudinal similarity between the hidalgos and low-class labor and modern wealthy people’s attitude towards low-class labor. In short, both groups hate low-class labor, intensely.
For instance, none of the 400 richest people in the world actually came from even blue collar, much less poor, backgrounds. None of them have ever been things like farmers much less ditch diggers or garbage men. Forbes often calls them “self-made men” but they are, as a group, the children of millionaires. (Which shows one how perverted the idea of “self-made man” actually is – you can have every advantage in the world, including the ability to get large amounts of finance capital for your initial ventures based on family connections, and STILL be considered a “self-man man” – and it is self-made MAN. At least among the fifty richest people in the world, the only women on the list inherited their money.)
But let us be clear: without farmers, laborers and waste collectors, society quickly falls apart. We have a constant need for more food, more ditches and removal of waste. These are vital to civilization, immediately and absolutely necessary.
Well, those early American colonies really sucked balls. There was no infrastructure in most of the Americas to support a class of people who did no low-class labor. So, many of the early colonies in the Americas had intense issues with starvation and disease.
Rather than farm, the hidalgos preferred to raid Native American communities to plunder their food (and rape their women). Of course, this precipitated wars that the hidalgos did not always win. More than one early Spanish colony was wiped out by Native American attacks, including the first, Navidad in modern Haiti.
It would have been far more sensible for the hidalgos to farm and fish to get the food they needed to live, rather than loot and pillage. They didn’t do it. They were incredibly adverse to it, preferring to literally die. Eventually, the Spaniards started to import African slaves en masse to work the land, which meant that the hidalgos were no longer reliant on raiding Native Americans – allowing them the freedom to dispose with them as necessary, rather than be constantly being driven by hunger to engage in foolish military adventurism. As I read in the excellent book The Birth of America by William Polk, they did not come so far to work.
While not as intense in North America, where much migration wasn’t driven by an aristocratic lust for land, but religious persecution, this attitude is nevertheless highly evident in early American colonies – particularly in the southern colonies. Native Americans were used as slaves, and when enough African slaves arrived, Native Americans were disposed of when convenient to the European colonists. But the wealthy of North America were equally reluctant to engage in manual labor, even if it meant their extinction.
Emboldened by this realization and copious historical research to support the idea that rich people would literally rather die than do manual labor, the ideas that will be central to Atlas Stumbled came together. I came to really believe that if you lock up a bunch of the super-wealthy away from the elements of society that do manual labor that it would be a highly unstable social structure because no one would be willing to do dirty work. Billionaires would rather die than shovel shit.
I have long thought that the rich exist because we allow them to exist, that killing them would be sufficiently socially chaotic that for most people, most of the time, it just makes more sense to tend to their own business. But I’ve found more proof than I thought there was, however, that the rich and powerful – the aristocrats, who believe themselves to be better than the rest of us due to their status and power – will literally refuse to do hard, dirty jobs. It was one of the key realizations prompting me to write Atlas Stumbled.