The Party of Hobson
In the 17th century, Thomas Hobson owned a livery stable in England. Afraid that his customers would always choose the best horses and wear those out, he would give a choice to take the horse in the stall nearest the door or to not take one at all.¹ Today we characterize this as a “take it or leave it” philosophy, an illusion of a free choice. The Conservatives that rule the Republican Party, following the example of Tom DeLay in Texas, have mastered the technique by gerrymandering Congressional districts. The 19th century British philosopher, John Stuart Mill, wrote of this, "When the individuals composing the majority would no longer be reduced to Hobson's choice, of either voting for the person brought forward by their local leaders, or not voting at all." ² This “I’ll make him an offer that he can’t refuse” mentality appears to be the motivation behind Conservative efforts to limit options for women. It often seems that the ultimate social goal of attacking abortion, birth control, equal pay and a myriad of other women’s issues, is to reinstate a misogynistic hegemony over women. As noted by Mill almost 150 years ago, "Those who attempt to force women into marriage by closing all other doors against them, lay themselves open to a similar retort. If they mean what they say, their opinion must evidently be, that men do not render the married condition so desirable to women, as to induce them to accept it for its own recommendations. It is not a sign of one's thinking the boon one offers very attractive, when one allows only Hobson's choice, 'that or none'....” ³ In world affairs, the Conservative reaction to threats follows a predictable pattern. We are offered Hobson’s choice between the drum beat for military action, closing borders, putting “them” in prison etc. or doing nothing, suffering defeat. This perpetual fear reflex works well on the rabid, low-information base. We must offer clear choices, real choices between our positions and the “My way or the highway” attitude of our opponents. We must not be dissuaded from voting by false Hobson’s choices that seem discouraging. We must affirm that this is not the end, nor the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning of the resurgence of progressive action.
²Mill, John Stuart (1861). Considerations on Representative Government (1 ed.). London: Parker, Son, & Bourn. p. 145.
³Mill, John Stuart (1869). The Subjection of Women (1869 first ed.). London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer. pp. 51–2.
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