“This is Abraham Lincoln’s axe. Its handle has been replaced three times and the head has been replaced four times. This is Abraham Lincoln’s axe.” – Modern version of Theseus’s Paradox
Theseus’s Paradox raises the question of whether an object which has had all its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object. The paradox is most notably recorded by Plutarch in Life of Theseus from the late 1st century. Plutarch asked whether a ship which was restored by replacing each and every one of its wooden parts, remained the same ship.
Using this paradox, it is possible to analyze the Republican Party. A common Republican talking point is that the Republican Party is “the party of Abraham Lincoln”. Lincoln was president in the 1860s, but is the party still the same party?
It is true the party has the same name, but it is different in many ways.
The Republican Party was a liberal party in its early days. It promoted high tariffs on trade goods with a strong stance on manufacturing. This kind of progressive attitude lasted until the presidency of progressive Republican Theodore Roosevelt. During that time they regulated the economy, busted up monopolies, created conservationist policies and made strides to further civil rights.
Compare the early Republicans to the Republicans of today. Modern Republicans have taken a far right turn, and are no longer the party of Lincoln. Today’s Republicans favor free trade, no economic regulation and outsource jobs, and are pro-business. They’ve worked to suppress the vote of minorities, and work to cut conservationist policies.
The same truth applies to the Democrats. The Democrats sometimes call their party “the party of Jefferson”, but in no way do they embody Jefferson’s ideals. Jefferson expressed a dislike and distrust for banks and bankers, yet banking institutions give large sums of money to Democratic candidates. He stood for a small federal government, but the Democrats advocate for increasing the government role in day to day life.
The Democratic and Republican Parties are not the parties of Jefferson and Lincoln. Their components have been replaced again and again until they morphed into something else.