Reflecting on the recent protests in Washington DC against government in general and President Obama in particular, I was struck by the prominence of the old revolutionary flag with the snake and the ‘don’t tread on me’ motto. I expect that the protesters know nothing about astrology and precious little about history but their identification with a symbol the American Revolution is telling in that Pluto was in Capricorn during the the events leading up to the beginning of the Revolution.
I thought it would be interesting to look at what Pluto brought the last time round. That transit occurred between 1762 – 1778 and without any doubt the most world changing event that took place during that period was the American Revolution. It was significant not only because it created a new nation but it also changed forever the way politics was practiced and highlighted the idea that every individual had intrinsic worth. We may take democratic process and human rights for granted but at that time these were extremely radical ideas.
The emergence of Capitalism
When Pluto entered Capricorn in 1762, western Europe was enjoying great prosperity due to industrial advances and the trade that stemmed from it. Trade was what it was all about. It was the centre of public and political life. Britain was expanding as much as possible into ever more trade outlets. India was being taken over by the East India Company by commerce if possible and by war if necessary. James Cook opened up Australia and New Zealand and the American colonies were thriving with a population of 3,ooo,ooo. Britain’s attitude to her colonies was that they were an exploitable resource whose sole purpose was to provide raw materials on one hand and a captive market for manufactured goods on the other. The stock market was founded in 1773 and the idea that lending money at interest was a road to high profits for very little effort took hold. During this period Capitalism pretty much assumed its modern form.
1776, a significant year for America, also saw the publication of two important books: Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, a work still influential with fiscal conservatives, and Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The British in the process of building their own economic empire were obsessed with Rome and questioned how something so big and powerful could fail. No doubt they could relate. Gibbon’s conclusion was that what he called ‘immoderate greatness’ and a lack of civic virtue were to blame. In short, corruption.
There was a dark side to this prosperity, however. It was paid for in no end of human misery. The slave trade was flourishing and not many questioned that there might be something wrong with making a profit from it. The working poor also had a pretty thin time of it. At the same time ideals of the Enlightenment with its vision of the dignity of the common man, reason, justice and tolerance were being advanced. These high-minded ideas were good topics for salon conversations but had little relevance to real life which for many people was pretty brutal. The American Revolution would change all that.
The Plutonian effect
The Pluto in Capricorn effect is that of the irresistible force meets the immovable object. A heavy handed exercise of power and the resulting oppression leads to revolt. And this is what happened with the American colonies. Exploitative taxes, unequal trade rules and lack of political representation aggrieved the colonists for years before hostilities finally broke out. The hated Tea Act in 1773 which compelled the colonists to pay taxes on tea imports (They had been accustomed to smuggled, duty-free tea.) lead to the Boston Tea Party. In retaliation the British closed Boston Harbour. And so it went. The Americans made some effort to find an acceptable compromise but King George was intransigent. From our perspective the King’s was stubborn and foolish but at that time the principle at stake was that a ruler had the right to treat his subjects in any way he saw fit and that fairness was something they had no right to demand. Giving in was not an option.
The American victory had a huge knock-on effect. Rebellion against the established order was nothing new but getting away with it, was. The French were encouraged by that example to mount their own revolution and succeeded, ending for ever the idea of absolute monarchy. Another Pluto casualty was the notion that social inequality was divinely ordained.
Then and now
There are echoes from this last transit in the current one. Pluto in Capricorn saw Capitalism arrive as the dominant economic model. This time round Capitalism is in crisis. Then, economic exploitation by governments brought revolution. Today, we have yet to see what economic exploitation by the equally powerful corporations will bring. Will it be a revolution by people or a revolution by Gaia having reached the limit of what she can bear? Then, the contradiction between the rapacious pursuit of profit and the high ideals of the Enlightenment. Today, the contradiction between the rapacious pursuit of profit and the ideals of social justice and environmental healing. Pluto will be conjunct its place in the American chart in 2022 and will leave Capricorn in 2024. Whatever it brings, we can be sure that our governmental and economic institutions will be no longer be the same.