At the Risk of Ticking Off Some of My Fellow Right-Wingers…

…check out this quote from Abraham Lincoln, which encapsulates a tendency among libertarian/paleocon circles that I’ve always found off base:

What is the particular sacredness of a State? I speak not of that position which is given to a State in and by the Constitution of the United States, for that all of us agree to—we abide by; but that position assumed, that a State can carry with it out of the Union that which it holds in sacredness by virtue of its connection with the Union. I am speaking of that assumed right of a State, as a primary principle, that the Constitution should rule all that is less than itself, and ruin all that is bigger than itself. But, I ask, wherein does consist that right? If a State, in one instance, and a county in another, should be equal in extent of territory, and equal in the number of people, wherein is that State any better than the county? Can a change of name change the right? By what principle of original right is it that one-fiftieth or one-ninetieth of a great nation, by calling themselves a State, have the right to break up and ruin that nation as a matter of original principle? Now, I ask the question—I am not deciding anything—and with the request that you will think somewhat upon that subject and decide for yourselves, if you choose, when you get ready,—where is the mysterious, original right, from principle, for a certain district of country with inhabitants, by merely being called a State, to play tyrant over all its own citizens, and deny the authority of everything greater than itself.

Thoughts on Secession, Part 2

In Part 1, I responded to Robert Stacy McCain’s claim that secession is an important recourse against an overreaching federal government, and that states as meaningful entities basically cease to exist without it. Today we turn to the other part of McCain’s defense of secession.

Citing the Declaration of Independence’s language describing the newly-independent colonies as “Free and Independent States,” plural, McCain claims the Union was merely “a military alliance for mutual self-defense, since “[t]here could be no separate peace — the King and Parliament could not hope to enter into negotiations with Rhode Island or North Carolina, seeking a treaty that would break the alliance”; and observes that the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, similarly recognizes the ex-colonies as “free sovereign and independent states.” He then recounts the debate over ratifying the Constitution:

This ratification was conducted in each state by a special convention, and the debate was quite intense. Patrick Henry, among others, was in the anti-Federalist faction, warning that the Constitution granted too much power to the national government. It was to allay these concerns that the Bill of Rights was adopted immediately after ratification. Among those amendments, the 10th gave especial protection to the states, limiting the government to those powers delegated by the Constitution, and reserving the balance to the several states.

Now, we must pay careful attention to a key point about the Constitution, namely Article 7:

“The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.”

Which is to say that as many as four of the original states might have, by refusing to ratify the Constitution, exempted themselves from that government.

The Anti-Federalists’ fears about the Constitution giving the feds too much power are just as immaterial to the nature of the Union as revolution’s dependence on the fortunes of war was in Part 1. The concept of America as a single, indivisible nation is hardly incompatible or inconsistent with belief in, or concern for, separating and protecting state prerogatives against federal authority within that nation. And I’m not sure how the fact that the states could have chosen not to become part of the new government proves that they could have withdrawn after it was formed.

Did the Union really begin as merely a temporary alliance of ultimately independent entities? Lincoln didn’t think so:

[W]e find the proposition that in legal contemplation the Union is perpetual confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was “to form a more perfect Union.”

But if destruction of the Union by one or by a part only of the States be lawfully possible, the Union is less perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of perpetuity.

And:

Our States have neither more, nor less power, than that reserved to them, in the Union, by the Constitution—no one of them ever having been a State out of the Union. The original ones passed into the Union even before they cast off their British colonial dependence; and the new ones each came into the Union directly from a condition of dependence, excepting Texas. And even Texas, in its temporary independence, was never designated a State. The new ones only took the designation of States, on coming into the Union, while that name was first adopted for the old ones, in, and by, the Declaration of Independence. Therein the “United Colonies’’ were declared to be “Free and Independent States’’; but, even then, the object plainly was not to declare their independence of one another, or of the Union; but directly the contrary, as their mutual pledge, and their mutual action, before, at the time, and afterwards, abundantly show. The express plighting of faith, by each and all of the original thirteen, in the Articles of Confederation, two years later, that the Union shall be perpetual, is most conclusive.

Having never been States, either in substance, or in name, outside of the Union, whence this magical omnipotence of “State rights,’’ asserting a claim of power to lawfully destroy the Union itself? Much is said about the “sovereignty’’ of the States; but the word, even, is not in the national Constitution; nor, as is believed, in any of the State constitutions. What is a “sovereignty,’’ in the political sense of the term? Would it be far wrong to define it “A political community, without a political superior’’? Tested by this, no one of our States, except Texas, ever was a sovereignty. And even Texas gave up the character on coming into the Union; by which act, she acknowledged the Constitution of the United States, and the laws and treaties of the United States made in pursuance of the Constitution, to be, for her, the supreme law of the land.

The States have their status IN the Union, and they have no other legal status. If they break from this, they can only do so against law, and by revolution. The Union, and not themselves separately, procured their independence, and their liberty. By conquest, or purchase, the Union gave each of them, whatever of independence, and liberty, it has. The Union is older than any of the States; and, in fact, it created them as States. Originally, some dependent colonies made the Union; and, in turn, the Union threw off their old dependence, for them, and made them States, such as they are. Not one of them ever had a State constitution, independent of the Union. Of course, it is not forgotten that all the new States framed their constitutions, before they entered the Union; nevertheless, dependent upon, and preparatory to, coming into the Union.

Makes sense to me, but something tells me most secession defenders won’t accept the sixteenth President as the last word on the subject. So let’s see what the Founding Fathers had to say about the nature of the American Union:

George Washington:

[A]s this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment, that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion, that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of american, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes […]

With such powerful and obvious motives to Union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those, who in any quarter may endeavour to weaken its bands […]

To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a Government for the whole is indispensable. No alliances, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions, which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a Constitution of Government better calculated than your former for an intimate Union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This Government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true Liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish Government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established Government.

James Madison:

The essential difference between a free Government and Governments not free, is that the former is founded in compact, the parties to which are mutually and equally bound by it. Neither of them therefore can have a greater right to break off from the bargain, than the other or others have to hold them to it. And certainly there is nothing in the Virginia resolutions of — 98, adverse to this principle, which is that of common sense and common justice. The fallacy which draws a different conclusion from them lies in confounding a single party, with the parties to the Constitutional compact of the United States. The latter having made the compact may do what they will with it. The former as one only of the parties, owes fidelity to it, till released by consent, or absolved by an intolerable abuse of the power created. In the Virginia Resolutions and Report the plural number, States, is in every instance used where reference is made to the authority which presided over the Government. As I am now known to have drawn those documents, I may say as I do with a distinct recollection, that the distinction was intentional. It was in fact required by the course of reasoning employed on the occasion. The Kentucky resolutions being less guarded have been more easily perverted. The pretext for the liberty taken with those of Virginia is the word respective, prefixed to the “rights” &c to be secured within the States. Could the abuse of the expression have been foreseen or suspected, the form of it would doubtless have been varied. But what can be more consistent with common sense, than that all having the same rights &c. should unite in contending for the security of them to each.

It is remarkable how closely the nullifiers who make the name of Mr Jefferson the pedestal for their colossal heresy, shut their eyes and lips, whenever his authority is ever so clearly and emphatically against them. You have noticed what he says in his letters to Monroe & Carrington Pages 43 & 203, vol 2, with respect to the powers of the old Congress to coerce delinquent States, and his reasons for preferring for the purpose a naval to a military force, and moreover that it was not necessary to find a right to coerce in the Federal Articles, that being inherent in the nature of a compact. It is high time that the claim to secede at will should be put down by the public opinion, and I shall be glad to see the task commenced by one who understands the subject.

John Jay:

Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people-a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.

This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.

Similar sentiments have hitherto prevailed among all orders and denominations of men among us. To all general purposes we have uniformly been one people; each individual citizen everywhere enjoying the same national rights, privileges, and protection. As a nation we have made peace and war; as a nation we have vanquished our common enemies; as a nation we have formed alliances, and made treaties, and entered into various compacts and conventions with foreign states.

A strong sense of the value and blessings of union induced the people, at a very early period, to institute a federal government to preserve and perpetuate it.

Alexander Hamilton:

A man must be far gone in Utopian speculations who can seriously doubt that if these States should either be wholly disunited, or only united in partial confederacies, the subdivisions into which they might be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other. To presume a want of motives for such contests as an argument against their existence would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious. To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent unconnected sovereignties situated in the same neighborhood would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages […]

An intelligent writer expresses himself on this subject to this effect: “NEIGHBOURING NATIONS. (says he) are naturally ENEMIES of each other, unless their common weakness forces them to league in a CONFEDERATE REPUBLIC, and their constitution prevents the differences that neighborhood occasions, extinguishing that secret jealousy which disposes all states to aggrandize themselves at the expense of their neighbors.” This passage, at the same time points out the EVIL and suggests the REMEDY.

Admittedly, Thomas Jefferson’s record here is mixed—he did condemn the danger and counsel against the wisdom of secession:

I can scarcely contemplate a more incalculable evil than the breaking of the union into two or more parts […] a separation of the Union, the most dreadful of all calamities […]

[W]ho can say what would be the evils of a scission, and when & where they would end? Better keep together as we are, hawl off from Europe as soon as we can, & from all attachments to any portions of it. And if we feel their power just sufficiently to hoop us together, it will be the happiest situation in which we can exist. If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, & then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are the stake.

But he also spoke more sympathetically of secession elsewhere:

If any State in the Union will declare that it prefers separation with the first alternative, to a continuance in union without it, I have no hesitation in saying “let us separate.” I would rather the States should withdraw which are for unlimited commerce and war, and confederate with those alone which are for peace and agriculture […]

Whether we remain in one confederacy, or form into Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that the Constitution makes “the laws of the United States […] the supreme law of the land,” with not only federal, but also state, lawmakers and judges bound to support the Constitution, and as I’ve pointed out before, the Constitution places quite a few restrictions on the states, making them far from “sovereign” or “independent.”

Considering the failings of secessionist rationale, the judgment of the Father of Our Country and the authors of the Federalist, and the implications of the Constitution itself, secession ends up looking a lot less like a valuable principle rooted in the American Founding, and more like a intellectual false lead that conservatives would do well to leave in the past, alongside the bloody conflict it spawned and the peculiar institution it was deployed to support.

Thoughts on Secession, Part 1

On Monday, Hillsdale College history professor Dr. Paul Rahe (disclosure: I’ve heard him speak several times, but am not one of his students) marked the 150th anniversary of South Carolina’s vote to secede from the union by penning an op-ed in which he argues against the legitimacy of secession:

The legitimacy of secession has been debated ever since. In my view, secession was unlawful. There is provision in the United States constitution for ratification and for the admission of new states into the Union. There is no provision for secession.

It is true, of course, that – in ratifying the Constitution – Virginia specified “that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression.” But this unilateral assertion on Virginia’s part is not and could not be an assertion of a legal right under the Constitution – which, even if viewed as a contract, recognizes no such right. Rather, it is a reassertion of the natural rights that underpin the right to revolution asserted in the Declaration of Independence, and it applies to the people of the United States and not to the state of Virginia or even the people of the state of Virginia as such.

Robert Stacy McCain objects to Rahe’s analysis, seeing in it disastrous implications:

Of course, this theory effectively abolishes the states, rendering them nothing but administrative jurisdictions of the unitary and all-powerful national government — the negation of federalism […]

Did these states, by ratifying the Constitution, thereby permanently forfeit their independence?  Is there nothing the federal government could do — no act of the president or Congress, no decision of the Supreme Court — that would justify any state in saying, “OK, you’ve gone too far now”?

It would seem that Paul Rauh answers that question in the negative, that he denies that the states have retained any shred of their original independence, that no state has any just recourse if its citizens should feel that the federal government has overstepped its rightful bounds.

The states are therefore no longer states in any meaningful sense, and we no longer in fact have a federal system of government, but rather one vast unified empire of 300 million subjects, with whatever vestiges of the “states” remain being subject to obliteration so soon as it suits a majority in Congress (or the Supreme Court) to do so.

Ideas have consequences, as Richard Weaver once famously observed, and so it is with the idea of the indissoluble union. (Evidently, it’s like La Cosa Nostra — once you join, there’s no quitting.) What we now have is a national government without any effective limit to its power, except so far as regular elections may have any limiting effect. But if this also fails and the advocates of an all-powerful national government should obtain a permanent majority, what remedy can there be under Rahe’s theory?

First, the notion of states as “nothing but administrative jurisdictions of the unitary and all-powerful national government” simply has no basis in Rahe’s words. To deny secession’s legitimacy is hardly to deny that the federal government’s powers are strictly limited, or that the states have rights and responsibilities in which the feds must not meddle. (Rahe did, for what it’s worth, write a book on the subject.)

Second, there are obvious recourses to injurious federal actions: the regular elections McCain references, the constitutional amendment process, and prior to the 17th Amendment’s passage, the Senate also countered federal encroachment into the states. There’s also the judiciary, though admittedly that won’t be of much use to limited, constitutional government until we get serious about reining in judicial activism. (And all of the above is, of course, subject to the quality of those in office, but that’s unavoidable with any form of government.) I wouldn’t be so quick to discount the value of any of those means, and in the block quote at the top of McCain’s post, Rahe does give the states a “just recourse” when all else fails: the natural right of revolution. As the Declaration of Independence puts it:

[W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness […] when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The standard pro-secession objection here is that a) revolution is extra-legal, meaning the government from which a state is separating has no legal obligation to let the state go; and b) revolution is a right possessed by individuals, not states. McCain seems to think that the American Revolution’s “dependen[ce] on the fortunes of war” is sufficient to invalidate the right of revolution. But so what? In principle, whether something is easy has no bearing on whether it’s true, and in practice, the prospects of the South’s “right” to secession were every bit as “dependent on the fortunes of war” as the War for Independence.

Granted, I can see where the other side is coming from, in that secession could theoretically be easier than revolution, and thus might be a more potent threat to an overreaching federal government. But secession’s supporters are overlooking a very big downside, which Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address makes clear. First, there are the logical problems inherent to the concept:

Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination […] If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it—break it, so to speak—but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?

More importantly for our current purposes:

If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the Government must cease. There is no other alternative, for continuing the Government is acquiescence on one side or the other. If a minority in such case will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which in turn will divide and ruin them, for a minority of their own will secede from them whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy a year or two hence arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it? All who cherish disunion sentiments are now being educated to the exact temper of doing this.

Is there such perfect identity of interests among the States to compose a new union as to produce harmony only and prevent renewed secession?

Plainly the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible. The rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left […]

Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences, is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.

By the frame of the Government under which we live this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief, and have with equal wisdom provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals. While the people retain their virtue and vigilance no Administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can very seriously injure the Government in the short space of four years.

While voters and states might rightly despise any given government action, as long as the political process remains open to them, their only just recourse lies within that process. To do otherwise is, in effect, to proclaim that one may pick and choose which laws to follow and which to ignore, a reversion to minority rule by which the few can dictate virtually anything to the many.  Indeed, if a state can legally break away from the nation, then what’s to keep a city from breaking away from a state, or an individual from a city?

At the end of the day, good government is ultimately dependent upon enough of the people eventually coming to their senses to set things right. This remedy is always uncertain, and often slow and unsatisfying, so it’s understandable that people would seek out some extra insurance for when the will of the people lets them down. But while it’s not inconceivable that secession could function as that insurance in some cases, nor is it clear that secession would be any more viable than revolution, and the logic of secession could actually do much more harm than good, by undermining the respect for the rule of law which is essential to good government.

Ultimately, though, as McCain says:

The fundamental question is, “Who ratified the Constitution, and what sort of union was created by that ratification?” And the answers to those questions are not, nor can they be, a matter of mere opinion. There are historical facts to be considered, and which Rahe glosses over.

McCain glosses over some of those historical facts, too. Those facts will be the subject of Part 2.

Scott’s At It Again

Scott Feldstein says that”Being for slavery during the Civil War was a conservative position.” I shed a little light on his historical illiteracy after that comment, to which – surprise! – I got a lazy response that doesn’t even try to mount a meaningful defense of his false characterization of both history and American conservatism.

I guess we shouldn’t expect any better from the guy who thinks you should be able to kill a human being with a heartbeat, a fully-formed brain, and the capacity to feel pain “for any reason at all.”

(For more on the Civil War, click here.)

Is the Fourteenth Amendment Illegitimate?

One of NewsReal’s regular commenters, the Inquisitor, seems to think so:

…the 14th Amendment is not the law of the land as it “… was never constitutionally proposed to the states by Congress and never constitutionally ratified by the states.”

I must admit I’ve never heard this one before, but it smells like more of the same old neo-Confederate revisionism that libertarians and paleoconservatives just can’t get enough of.  And sure enough, Inquisitor cites Kevin Gutzman’s Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution as his source.  I haven’t read Gutzman, but PIG series is known for being pretty hit & miss when it comes to American history and constitutional theory.

Against my better judgment about how to productively use my time, I decided to see what I could find about this startling constitutional revelation.  I found an article by Gene Healy at the dubious LewRockwell.com, entitled “The Squalid Fourteenth Amendment.”  That should do it.

As the legally reconstituted Southern states were busy ratifying the anti-slavery Thirteenth Amendment, the Republican-dominated Congress refused to seat Southern representatives and Senators. This allowed the remaining, rump Congress to propose the Fourteenth Amendment, consistent with Article V’s requirement of a 2/3 majority for sending a proposed amendment to the states. Never mind that Congress also clearly violated that Article’s provision that “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.”

The Constitution also says that “No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation,” and that “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress…enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or engage in War, unless actually invaded.”  Oh, so now the rebels should get the protection of the Constitution they tried to withdraw from? You try to break apart the country in the name of “the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man,” and you have no right to expect to be welcomed back into the Union immediately.

Though the Northern states ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, it was decisively rejected by the Southern and border states, failing to secure the 3/4 of the states necessary for ratification under Article V. The Radical Republicans responded with the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which virtually expelled the Southern states from the Union and placed them under martial law. To end military rule, the Southern states were required to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment. As one Republican described the situation: “the people of the South have rejected the constitutional amendment and therefore we will march upon them and force them to adopt it at the point of the bayonet.”

President Andrew Johnson saw the Reconstruction Act as “absolute despotism,” a “bill of attainder against 9,000,000 people.” […] The rump Republican Congress overrode Johnson’s veto and enacted statutes that shrank both the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction and the Court itself – just in case the judicial branch got any funny ideas of its own about constitutionalism. Jackboot on its neck, the South ratified, but not before New Jersey and Ohio, aghast at Republican tyranny, rescinded their previous ratifications of the mendment. Even with the fictional consent of the Southern states, the republicans needed New Jersey and Ohio to put the amendment over the top. No matter; by joint resolution, Congress declared the amendment valid. Thus it – you’ll excuse the phrasing– “passed into law.”

The Constitution requires “three fourths of the several states” to ratify amendments.  In 1868, the Union had 37 states, requiring 28 states to ratify the 14th Amendment.  By 1868, it had thirty ratifications, meaning that New Jersey and Ohio’s withdrawals would bring the number down to…28.  (And for what it’s worth, since then, every state which originally rejected the 14th Amendment has reversed its decision.)

Once again, paleo-libertarians appear to fare little better with American history than the Left.

Lincoln Derangement Syndrome

Somebody named JD Longstreet is very, very upset that Southerners and Southern history are not given the respect they deserve in the media, schools and commentary class (hat tip to Ol’ Broad).  Given the Left’s infernal obsession with casting conservative views and traditional American values as racist, I would be inclined to sympathize with him…except for the fact that his post rapidly devolves into an unhinged, duplicitous tirade that is guilty of the very historical revisionism Longstreet claims to oppose.

Because I apparently didn’t have enough better to occupy my time with tonight, I decided to conduct a closer examination of this post.  Click on through to check out my findings – if you dare: Continue reading

What We Can Learn from Tocqueville & Lincoln

The following is a modified & abridged version of a paper I recently wrote after a week-long seminar here at Hillsdale College, regarding the wisdom of Alexis de Tocqueville & Abraham Lincoln.  Both men though deeply about human equality, individual liberty, and what it took to maintain a democratic society.  I think both are essential to a substantive, fully-formed political philosophy, especially today.

*          *          *

Having lost his grandparents to the bloody French Revolution, Alexis de Tocqueville knew all too well how volatile the passions of a people intoxicated by newfound equality could be, and as a student of human nature, he knew that belief in freedom, the essence of which is independence from control, and passion for equality, which can manifest as a desire to level the conditions of all, could easily come into conflict.  In the United States, equality of conditions reigned, but curiously, America seemed largely unscathed by democracy’s dark side.

In America, Tocqueville found several political and cultural influences that kept Americans agreeable to one another and obedient to their government.  The French thinker noted that the United States government had strong governmental centralization (the necessary authority of the national government to decide national affairs), but almost no administrative centralization (federal influence over the affairs of states or individuals), yielding an effective government whose proper prerogatives were respected because it generally did not give the people cause for concern about their personal freedom.  Tocqueville thought increased administrative centralization would be the biggest threat to liberty in democratic societies, leading to a “soft despotism” under which the federal government assumed ever-increasing control over the people’s lives in the name of providing for them.

On the cultural side, Tocqueville hailed several “habits of liberty”—Christianity, which turns man’s attention to his responsibilities towards others; civic associations, which teach men to know one another and to better govern; marriage, which calms man and counters excessive individualism; newspapers, which also promote social cooperation; and the doctrine of “self-interest well-understood,” or the understanding that it is in the best interest of every man to respect the rights of his neighbors, that his own rights will be respected.

Abraham Lincoln rose to prominence as tension over slavery reached its breaking point, with numerous southern states threatening to secede from the union to preserve the “peculiar institution,” and secessionists such as Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens dismissing “the assumption of the equality of races,” on which the American Founders based government, as “fundamentally wrong.”  In contrast, Lincoln hailed the Declaration’s principles as “the definitions and axioms of liberty,” which inspired all of his political thoughts.  For Lincoln, liberty and equality were simple: liberty was the right to govern one’s self, and equality meant that all have an equal claim to the Declaration’s promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” regardless of race.  Lincoln believed that the Declaration established timeless, unchanging moral principles, as evidenced by his observation that declaring human equality had no practical use in the revolutionaries’ struggle against Great Britain, but could eventually be used to free slaves, as it would remain true in the future.  To Lincoln, slavery was an obscenity; he noted wryly that nobody who called it a good would think it good enough for themselves, and confessed that “whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”

Despite this impulse, however, Lincoln refused to support or enact any emancipation efforts that failed to pass constitutional scrutiny.  Though he loved liberty, he also loved “reverence for the laws,” which he saw as the nation’s “political religion.”  Slavery was unjust, but ignoring the Constitution whenever it suited one’s political desires, however noble, would be dangerous, for it would undermine the legitimacy of constitutional government and endanger everyone’s liberty.  It was this belief in the rule of law that led Lincoln to wage the Civil War to preserve the Union.  Lincoln understood that America’s peaceful democratic system had established ballots as “the rightful and peaceful successors to bullets” in the transfer of political power, and secession—the idea that any state dissatisfied with democracy’s results could simply ignore them and forcibly resist their enforcement—threatened to undo that great advance, and, if carried to its logical conclusion, would lead to anarchy.

Today, America is governed by an ever-expanding federal government, proactive in every level of society; and progressive ideology, which views the Declaration of Independence as outdated and the Constitution as a “living” document to be reinterpreted by each generation, is very much in vogue.  Tocqueville’s fears about soft despotism and Lincoln’s fears that Americans could forget her founding creed have both come true.  But we need not lose hope: Americans longing to learn the principles liberty needs, and how to restore them, have all the tools they need in the wisdom of our forefathers; we just need a renewed focus on educating our countrymen in their timelessness.

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Further resources on Lincoln & Tocqueville:

Abraham Lincoln Online—has many of Lincoln’s writings & speeches

Vindicating Lincoln: Defending the Politics of America’s Greatest President by Thomas Krannawitter (review here)

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville (full text available online here)

History Repeats Itself

Consider the following passage:

Those on the Religious Right, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind — from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-choice fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the embryo is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the born man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just — but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails.

Sounds like your typical pro-abortion hyperbole, right? Demonize the opponents as fanatics and claim the mantle of reason for yourself. Right out of the playbook.

Well, it is, but the interesting thing is which playbook. Y’see, these words were spoken many years ago by Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America, in his famous
Cornerstone Speech. Of course, he was talking about Northerners, the Negro, and the white man where I substituted in the terms of today’s debate, but it’s remarkable to note that his spiritual successors are using the same tired, discredited arguments to justify their dominance of their chosen inferior class.

(Incidentally, the speech is also interesting in that Stephens’ rhetoric pretty clearly refutes the idea that the Founding Fathers, and the Constitution they produced, viewed slavery as a decent societal norm. Well worth a read.)

Is Iraq a Civil War?

Somebody at the Corner (sorry, I don’t recall who) directed my attention to a thoughtful piece by Sergeant David A. Patten of the Third Infantry Division in Baghdad, who explores whether or not the violence in Iraq constitutes a “civil war.” You should take the time to read the rest, but here’s his conclusion:

There is no dispute about the dire situation in Iraq. Insurgents, militias, terrorists, and death squads are killing civilians at an alarming rate. Security forces are unreliable, and the Iraqi government is not meeting the needs of the people. Iraq is in a worse state than U.S. policymakers expected it would be three years ago.

However, it does not follow that Iraq is in a civil war. While the government is weak, there is no political force presenting it with a serious challenge. Iraq is, indeed, an unstable nation, but there is little danger of regime change, the ultimate purpose of a civil war. The armed groups most likely to participate in an eventual civil war lack both the capacity and the will to enter into such a conflict in earnest at the present time.

This does not mean that violence will decline; quite the contrary, as the referendum on the future status of the disputed city of Kirkuk nears, violence may increase. Nor does the central government appear able to consolidate power in the short term. Its inability to provide security and basic services will lead local officials, including unelected leaders of religious factions, to assume more power. But, in the long term, the central government will survive and take on a more significant role in keeping Iraq unified. For U.S. and coalition policymakers, assisting Iraq’s transition to democracy will require patience, diplomacy, and ingenuity.

However, unfounded concerns over a civil war erupting could prompt an overreaction from U.S. policymakers. Should they conclude that Iraq is in a civil war—even if they base their determination on political expediency and no clear criteria—the most likely response would be a demand for withdrawal. A premature withdrawal of coalition forces could motivate the Sunni Arab insurgency to unify behind a political program; Sunni Arab civilians would likely lose any remaining confidence in the security forces, and many more would flee their homes. The Jaysh al-Mahdi undeterred would expand its influence and become the government’s rival for the people’s loyalty. Premature withdrawal could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating the conditions for a civil war that do not currently exist.