Thomas Jefferson: American Fascist?

by Corey Robin on December 2, 2012

It’s Old Home Week in the American media. First there was the welcome back of Abraham Lincoln (and the brouhaha over the Spielberg film). Now Thomas Jefferson is in the news. But where it was Lincoln the emancipator we were hailing earlier in the week, it’s Jefferson the slaveholder who’s now getting all the press.

Yesterday in the New York Times, legal historian Paul Finkelman wrote a bruising attack on Jefferson titled “The Monster of Monticello.” This was a followup to some of the controversy surrounding the publication of Henry Wiencek’s new book on Jefferson, which makes Jefferson’s slaveholding central to his legacy.

Finkelman’s essay has already prompted some pushback. David Post at The Volokh Conspiracy (h/t Samir Chopra) wrote:

Jefferson, Finkelman tells us, was not a “particularly kind” slave-master; he sometimes “punished slaves by selling them away from their families and friends, a retaliation that was incomprehensibly cruel even at the time.” And he  believed that  ”blacks’ ability to reason was ‘much inferior’ to whites’ and that they were “in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.”  So what?  Really – so what?  If you want to think that he was a bad guy — or even a really bad guy, with truly grievous personal faults — you’re free to do so.  But to claim that that has something to do with Jefferson’s historical legacy is truly preposterous.


Jefferson’s real legacy, says Post, is not what he did or didn’t do to his slaves—that’s a strictly personal failing, I guess—but the glorious words he wrote in The Declaration of Independence. We hold these truths…you know the drill. (Various folks on Twitter have made similar claims to me.) Post also links to a short paper he wrote on Jefferson’s contributions to the cause of antislavery.

In that paper, Post liberally quotes from Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, “an extraordinary book” according to Post, in which Jefferson does voice some of his ambivalence over slavery. Curiously, Post never cites the lengthy and disturbing passages from Query XIV, where Jefferson offers his most considered views on the nature and status of  black people and their fate in America. And it’s clear why. It makes for chilling reading.  I’ll just cite some brief excerpts here:

The first difference which strikes us is that of colour.  Whether the black of the negro resides in the reticular membrane between the skin and scarf-skin, or in the scarf-skin itself; whether it proceeds from the colour of the blood, the colour of the bile, or from that of some other secretion, the difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us.  And is this difference of no importance?  Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races?  Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immoveable veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race?  Add to these, flowing hair, a more elegant symmetry of form, their own judgment in favour of the whites, declared by their preference of them, as uniformly as is the preference of the Oranootan for the black women over those of his own species.  The circumstance of superior beauty, is thought worthy attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man?  Besides those of colour, figure, and hair, there are other physical distinctions proving a difference of race.  They have less hair on the face and body.  They secrete less by the kidnies, and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odour.  This greater degree of transpiration renders them more tolerant of heat, and less so of cold, than the whites.  Perhaps too a difference of structure in the pulmonary apparatus, which a late ingenious experimentalist has discovered to be the principal regulator of animal heat, may have disabled them from extricating, in the act of inspiration, so much of that fluid from the outer air, or obliged them in expiration, to part with more of it.  They seem to require less sleep.  A black, after hard labour through the day, will be induced by the slightest amusements to sit up till midnight, or later, though knowing he must be out with the first dawn of the morning.  They are at least as brave, and more adventuresome.  But this may perhaps proceed from a want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present.  When present, they do not go through it with more coolness or steadiness than the whites.  They are more ardent after their female: but love seems with them to be more an eager desire, than a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation.  Their griefs are transient.  Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them.  In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection.  To this must be ascribed their disposition to sleep when abstracted from their diversions, and unemployed in labour.  An animal whose body is at rest, and who does not reflect, must be disposed to sleep of course.  Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.  It would be unfair to follow them to Africa for this investigation.



The Indians, with no advantages of this kind [as that enjoyed by black slaves in America], will often carve figures on their pipes not destitute of design and merit.  They will crayon out an animal, a plant, or a country, so as to prove the existence of a germ in their minds which only wants cultivation.  They astonish you with strokes of the most sublime oratory; such as prove their reason and sentiment strong, their imagination glowing and elevated.  But never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration; never see even an elementary trait of painting or sculpture.  In music they are more generally gifted than the whites with accurate ears for tune and time, and they have been found capable of imagining a small catch.  Whether they will be equal to the composition of a more extensive run of melody, or of complicated harmony, is yet to be proved.  Misery is often the parent of the most affecting touches in poetry.—Among the blacks is misery enough, God knows, but no poetry.  Love is the peculiar oestrum of the poet.  Their love is ardent, but it kindles the senses only, not the imagination.  Religion indeed has produced a Phyllis Whately; but it could not produce a poet.  The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism.  The heroes of the Dunciad are to her, as Hercules to the author of that poem.  Ignatius Sancho has approached nearer to merit in composition…But his imagination is wild and extravagant, escapes incessantly from every restraint of reason and taste, and, in the course of its vagaries, leaves a tract of thought as incoherent and eccentric, as is the course of a meteor through the sky.  His subjects should often have led him to a process of sober reasoning: yet we find him always substituting sentiment for demonstration.  Upon the whole, though we admit him to the first place among those of his own colour who have presented themselves to the public judgment, yet when we compare him with the writers of the race among whom he lived, and particularly with the epistolary class, in which he has taken his own stand, we are compelled to enroll him at the bottom of the column.



With the Romans, the regular method of taking the evidence of their slaves was under torture.  Here it has been thought better never to resort to their evidence.  When a master was murdered, all his slaves, in the same house, or within hearing, were condemned to death.  Here punishment falls on the guilty only, and as precise proof is required against him as against a freeman.  Yet notwithstanding these and other discouraging circumstances among the Romans, their slaves were often their rarest artists.  They excelled too in science, insomuch as to be usually employed as tutors to their master’s children.  Epictetus, Terence, and Phaedrus, were slaves.  But they were of the race of whites.  It is not their condition then, but nature, which has produced the distinction.



To our reproach it must be said, that though for a century and a half we have had under our eyes the races of black and of red men, they have never yet been viewed by us as subjects of natural history.  I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.  It is not against experience to suppose, that different species of the same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications. Will not a lover of natural history then, one who views the gradations in all the races of animals with the eye of philosophy, excuse an effort to keep those in the department of man as distinct as nature has formed them?  This unfortunate difference of colour, and perhaps of faculty, is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation of these people.  Many of their advocates, while they wish to vindicate the liberty of human nature, are anxious also to preserve its dignity and beauty.  Some of these, embarrassed by the question `What further is to be done with them?’  join themselves in opposition with those who are actuated by sordid avarice only.  Among the Romans emancipation required but one effort.  The slave, when made free, might mix with, without staining the blood of his master.  But with us a second is necessary, unknown to history.  When freed, he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.


I bring up these passages less because I’m interested in Post’s omissions and his arguments than because of the general way the debate about Jefferson has been framed thus far. The basic idea seems to be that Jefferson had some fine ideas—and terrible practices. And whatever of his legacy that’s terrible, the argument goes, is entirely caught up with, and consumed by, the institution of slavery. So once we abolish slavery, thanks in part to the words of the Declaration that Jefferson wrote, we’re in the land of the good Jefferson.

But as this passage in Notes on the State of Virginia suggests, Jefferson’s real and lasting contribution to the American experiment is not exhausted either by the Declaration or by the institution of slavery. It is as a theorist of race domination—of white supremacy, of the perdurability of race (and specifically the black race), of the ineradicable shallowness of blackness as against the textured profundity of whiteness—that he stands out. And that is a legacy that persists to this day.

Jefferson was not a liberal hypocrite, a symptom of his time. He was the avant garde of a group of American theorists who were struggling to reconcile the ideals of the Declaration with the reality of chattel slavery. His resolution of that struggle took the form of one of the most vicious doctrines of racial supremacy the world had yet seen. That is his legacy, or at least part of his legacy. He was by no means the only one to take this route, but he was one of the earliest and easily the most famous. He is the tributary of what would become an American tradition.

And as I argue in what follows, which is an excerpt from a paper on Louis Hartz that I never published (though a passage or two of it may appear in The Reactionary Mind), Jefferson’s race theory—along with that of such men as Thomas Dew, James Henry Hammond, and William Harper, who feature prominently in my discussion—points not only to the eighteenth century (he was much more than a man of his times) and not only to the categories of liberalism and republicanism, which are so familiar to US intellectual historians. It also points, albeit only in a suggestive way, to the future, to the twentieth century and European doctrines of racialized fascism.

Jefferson, I would submit, should be remembered not only as the writer of the Declaration of Independence and owner of slaves, but also as a contributor, along with his successors, to a doctrine of race war and what Hannah Arendt would later call, in another context, “race imperialism”—which would find its ultimate fulfillment a century later, and a continent away.

In the interest of legibility and flow, I’ve eliminated all the footnotes

● ● ● ● ●


Racism was tailor made to the counterrevolutionary task of combating abolition, of reconciling the Declaration of Independence with the reality of chattel slavery.  It combined ideas of equality and inequality, and fused the radical’s vision of political plasticity with the conservative’s notion of the stubbornness of history.  It proved an ideology of extraordinary and protean—extraordinary because protean—resilience, precisely because it had something for everyone, save of course for the slaves themselves.

According to Josiah Nott, races are “marked by peculiarities of structure, which have always been constant and undeviating.  Human races—as opposed to other species of animal or plant—are particularly immutable.”  From these deep and enduring differences of physical structure, moral differences, equally enduring, followed.  “Is it not a law of nature, that every permanent animal form…carries with its physical type a moral of its own, which cannot be obliterated, changed, or transferred to another, so long as the physique stands?”

More than classifying men and women into distinctive types, slavery’s racial theorists made the quite radical argument that humanity’s every attempt to rise above its physical nature was a misbegotten enterprise.  We are, they claimed, beings of the utmost and comprehensive constraint.  Our character, personality, individuality—none of these is self-fashioned or amenable to artifice.  Each is an irrevocable and irreversible given.

If the intransigence of biology was the back-story of race, it followed that there was only one race, properly understood, in America:  the black race.  According to Nott, white people reason, imagine, and create—activities of transcendence that do not jibe with the liabilities of race.  The white man “takes up the march of civilization and presses onward.”  He frees himself of his inheritance, his circumstance, history itself.  For that reason, “the Caucasian races have been the only truly progressive races of history,” which means nothing so much as that whites were not a race at all.

Among blacks, however, “one generation does not take up civilization where the last left it and carry it on as does the Caucasian—there it stands immovable; they go as far as instinct extends and no farther.”  In the words of Thomas Cobb, the black man’s “mind is never inventive or suggestive.  Improvement never enters into his imagination.  A trodden path, he will travel for years, without the idea ever suggesting itself to his brain, that a nearer and better way is present before him.”  Blacks can no more rise above their station than they can sink below it.  They are what they are, have been and will be.  As William Harper wrote, “A slave has no hope that by a course of integrity, he can materially elevate his condition in society, nor can his offence materially depress it…he has no character to establish or lose.”  Even contempt or scorn, claimed Harper, would not spur the black race to do better.

Writing long before these theories of racial difference were fully formulated, Thomas Jefferson offered a glimpse of what it means to think of blacks as a race, as the race, and whites as individuals.  Blacks are brave, he says, but this is due to “want of forethought.”  The black man is “ardent,” but this is lust, not love.  “In general,” he says, “their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection.”  In “imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.”  One can see their brute incapacity for historical transcendence and moral or political freedom in the color of their skin.  While whites sport “fine mixtures of red and white,” reflecting the diverse range of passions and sensibilities at their disposal, blacks suffer from the “eternal monotony” of blackness, that “immovable veil” that makes any subtlety or nuance, any gradation of feeling, any distinctiveness or idiosyncrasy of character and personality, impossible.

No mere contradiction or sleight of hand, this dual portrait of whites as individuals and blacks as a race was the perfect counterrevolutionary argument.  It ascribed to whites all the virtues of a ruling class—capable of action, freedom, politics itself—and to blacks all the deficits of a class to be ruled.  “This unfortunate difference of color, and perhaps of faculty, is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation of these people,” wrote Jefferson of black slaves.  Even among free blacks in the North, Thomas Dew argued, “the animal part of the man gains the victory over the moral.”  After the Civil War, Nott would write that “all the powers of the Freedmen’s Bureau, or ‘gates of hell cannot prevail against them’ [the inequalities between whites and blacks].”

But while race thinking prescribed the most vicious forms of domination, it also absorbed a mutant strain of the egalitarianism then roiling America and turned it into a justification for slavery.  “Jack Cade, the English reformer, wished all mankind to be brought to one common level,” wrote Dew.  “We believe slavery, in the United States, has accomplished this.”  By freeing whites from “menial and low offices,” slavery had eliminated “the greatest cause of distinction and separation of the ranks of society.” Anticipating the writings of W.E.B. DuBois, Edmund Morgan, and David Roediger, the slaveholders openly acknowledged that slavery made white men feel equal.  Equal and, more important, superior:  under slavery, freedom became a scarce privilege, a prized distinction that just happened to be possessed by all white men.  It thus discharged the egalitarian debts of America—not by paying them (Alexander Stephens would claim that the claim of equality in the Declaration of Independence was “fundamentally wrong”) but by democratizing feudalism.

However vigorous were these nods to a feudal—if democratized—past, the defenders of slavery remained firmly fixed upon the future.  Refusing the identity of the staid traditionalist, they preferred the title of the heretic and the scientist, that fugitive intelligence who marched to his own drummer and thereby advanced the cause of progress and civilization.  John C. Calhoun compared the criticisms he received for his positions to the “denunciation” that had fallen “upon Galileo and Bacon when they first unfolded the great discoveries which have immortalized their names.”  Like all the great modern—William Harvey, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and James Mill were also among their other models—the slaveholders were guided, or claimed to be guided, by the light of truth and reason. Just as Galileo was initially persecuted and now revered, so would the South one day be hailed for its innovations.  “May we not,” asked Stephens, “look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests?”  In 1837, Calhoun declared that the “experiment” of racialized slavery “was in progress, but had not been completed.”  The “judgment” of society, he warned, “should be postponed for another ten years,” when the experiment would presumably be concluded.

But there was another side to this embrace of the fugitive intellect: the acute sense of wounded victimhood, which sounded like nothing so much as the grievances of a revolutionary class in the making.  The master class performed that strange alchemy, so peculiar to privileged groups, by which the enjoyment of power—not just on the plantation or in the South but in national political institutions as well—is turned into the anxiety of persecution.  Calhoun was the master of this transposition, borrowing directly from the abolitionist canon to make the case that it was the slaveholder that was the true slave.  He compared the tariff to the exploitation and extraction of slavery and the federal government’s use of coercive power against the states to the “bond between master and slave—a union of exaction on one side and of unqualified obedience on the other.”  Burke made a similar move in his account of the fate of Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution: his treatment of the hounded queen resembles those stories of feminine victimhood—think of Richardson’s Pamela—that Lynn Hunt has recently argued helped give rise to the popular discourse of human rights during the eighteenth century.

The slaveholders’ sense of being besieged was not imaginary: outside of Brazil and the Caribbean, they were a lonely outpost of domination; with the abolitionists beginning to gain traction in some northern circles, they were acutely aware—Calhoun earlier than most—of the writing on the wall.  Even so, their perception of themselves as aggrieved subalterns subjugated by imperious elites reflects more than a prophetic realism.  It testifies to the curious ways in which a revolutionary idiom can infiltrate the most exalted of classes.  “We…are in a hopeless minority in our own confederated republic,” cried Harper.  “We can have no hearing before the tribunal of the civilized world.”

With their orientation to the future and acute sense of victimhood, the southern writers adopted an ethos geared less to liberalism or conservatism—ideologies arising from previous centuries of European conflict—than to fascism, the one ism of the twentieth century that could and would make a legitimate claim to novelty.  They beat the drums of race war. Like the Nazis ca. 1940, they offered deportation and extermination as final solutions to the Negro Question.  If blacks were set free, Jefferson warned, it would “produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of one race or the other.”  The only alternative was an “effort…unknown to history.  When freed, he [the slave] is to be removed beyond the mixture.”  Anticipating the writings of Robert Brassilach, the French fascist who argued that compassion meant that Jewish children should be deported from France with their parents, Dew claimed, “If our slaves are ever to be sent away in any systematic manner, humanity demands that they should be carried in families.”  If the slaves were freed, Harper concluded, “one race must be driven out by the other, or exterminated, or again enslaved.”

Like the Nazis, the defenders of slavery spoke of lebensraum.  We often forget that Hitler, in Mein Kampf, spurned Europe’s pursuit of overseas colonies, arguing instead that his countrymen should “direct [their] eyes toward the land in the East” where Germany could escape the industrial present and build an agrarian future.  In Poland and Russia, the Germans could “finally put an end to the prewar colonial and trade policy and change over to the land policy of the future” based on the slave labor of the Slavic peoples. The slaveholders spoke of expanding to the west, where they too would create an alternative modernity, an agricultural utopia that would validate their new political economy of land and forced labor.  They dreamed of vast empires, like the Roman or the Egyptian, but on the Mississippi.  (Why Memphis, after all, or Cairo, Illinois?) “In our own country, look at the lower valley of the Mississippi,” wrote Harper, “which is capable of being made a far greater Egypt.”  In “the great valley of the Mississippi” James Hammond thought he saw “the acknowledged seat of the empire of the world,” perhaps even “an empire that shall rule the world.”

Lurking beneath the South’s notions of race war and land empires was a vision of life as permanent struggle, of history as a ledger of agonistic conflict.  Not for the slaveholders the pastorals of old Europe, where time stood still or moved forward at glacial pace.  “Mutation and progress is the condition of human affairs,” wrote Harper.  Like Nietzsche and the Social Darwinists, the master class believed that social friction and political contest made for passion and greatness.  The problem with the abolitionist creed, Harper argued, was that it would create a society where “if there is little suffering, there is little high enjoyment.  The even flow of the life forbids the high excitement which is necessary for it.”  Only in struggle and domination could “the moral and intellectual faculties…be cultivated to their highest perfection.” Better the inequality of slavery, which allows for the highest cultivation of the few, than the mediocrity of equality.  Only the “inequality of condition between the front and rear ranks,” wrote Calhoun, gives “so strong an impulse to the former to maintain their position, and to the latter to press forward into their files.”  Only inequality, in other words, would guarantee “the march of progress.” Slavery, Dew concluded, would produce not only an efficient economy but also the most dynamic and expansive society the world had ever seen.

{ 302 comments }

1

Odm 12.02.12 at 4:11 am

Your link for “The Monster of Monticello” is to a different NYT article. The correct link is http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/01/opinion/the-real-thomas-jefferson.html?_r=0

2

Corey Robin 12.02.12 at 4:22 am

Thanks! I just fixed it.

3

Skeptic 12.02.12 at 4:28 am

Will check back in when all Muslim regimes until 1950 or so are viewed equally contemptously for having been slavers. Not checking my watch . . .

4

JazzBumpa 12.02.12 at 4:31 am

@3

You have just won the all time internet award for totally gratuitous non-sequitur.

Congratulations!

5

John Quiggin 12.02.12 at 4:32 am

I had a go at this topic in one my very early CT posts

http://crookedtimber.org/2003/12/20/jefferson-and-thurmond/

One thing the NYT article misses is that it was not so much that Jefferson was extraordinarily bad as that Washington, who freed his slaves in his will despite his wife’s vigorous opposition, was extraordinarily good, compared to the rest of the Southern aristocracy from which the US ruling class was mostly drawn at that time – among the Founding Fathers, most were slaveowners and only a handful of them (mostly minor figures) freed their slaves.

Still, none of that excuses Jefferson. He was among the worst kind of slaveowner in personal terms, and, apart from a few early gestures (which only add the taint of hypocrisy) he did nothing in political terms to stop slavery and much to advance it.

6

RD 12.02.12 at 5:02 am

I can certainly accept that Jefferson’s pioneering pseudo-scientific racism and his concept of slaveowners holding “a tiger by the tale” fed into later nineteenth century Southern race theorists that we can see as Fascist precursors. However, Jefferson never took the further step of those theorists in hailing slavery as a moral good. Even as he laid out the racist views quoted above in the Notes on Virginia, he “trembled for [his] country when [he] reflect[ed] that God is just.” Like Lincoln and perhaps most antislavery politicians until emancipation, Jefferson both held racist views and believed slavery a violation of human rights and the principles of the Declaration. Its also inaccurate to say he did nothing to stop slavery’s spread. As the drafter of the Northwest Ordinance’s ban on slavery in the the Ohio territory, he helped lay the foundation of the free North. Under his administration, Congress banned the importation of slaves.

7

aspergum 12.02.12 at 5:04 am

@3, wow, what an exemplary deployment of the Arab Trader Argument!

http://abagond.wordpress.com/2009/10/03/the-arab-trader-argument/

8

Castorp 12.02.12 at 5:10 am

@5

A notable exception being Alexander Hamilton, who was a member of a abolitionist society.

9

Corey Robin 12.02.12 at 5:11 am

6: I didn’t bring up some of those points because they were already made by Post, to whom I was in part responding. Seemed redundant. But where I did say he did nothing to stop slavery’s spread?

10

Anderson 12.02.12 at 5:20 am

NW Ordinance: he sure made up for that with Louisiana!

… Once I read a bit about Jefferson, I disliked him. His glibness about the Terror has unpleasant 20th-century analogs besides the ones CR mentions. One can be so clever with words as to forget they are supposed to stand for something. (Oh fine, deconstruct that last bit.)

11

maidhc 12.02.12 at 5:30 am

If you keep reading the Declaration of Independence after the first few inspiring paragraphs, you get to some of the grievances against George III, such as “he didn’t allow us to kick out the French Catholics in Quebec and steal their land” or “he signed treaties with the Indians and stopped us from slaughtering them”.

I see something similar to Jefferson in Napoleon being persuaded to reimpose slavery in Haiti. The Enlightenment had its dark side. They were a bit too inspired by those wealthy Romans sitting around discussing philosophy while slaves toiled away to support them.

As President, Jefferson bought a large tract of territory (from Napoleon, after his Haitian scheme failed) and imposed an alien system of government on it without the consent of its inhabitants, so he didn’t let the stuff he wrote in the Declaration of Independence get in his way when he had other plans.

On the other hand, it seems inaccurate to portray him as uniquely monstrous when most of his views were fairly typical of his class and time.

12

RD 12.02.12 at 6:40 am

Comment 5 suggested Jefferson did nothing to stop slavery’s spread.

13

John Quiggin 12.02.12 at 7:31 am

@RD Fair enough, I’ll restate as “little in political terms to stop slavery and much to advance it.”

14

rootless (@root_e) 12.02.12 at 8:50 am

@11

What then? Is liberty maintained only by the help of slavery? It may be so. Extremes meet. Everything that is not in the course of nature has its disadvantages, civil society most of all. There are some unhappy circumstances in which we can only keep our liberty at others’ expense, and where the citizen can be perfectly free only when the slave is most a slave. Such was the case with Sparta. As for you, modern peoples, you have no slaves, but you are slaves yourselves; you pay for their liberty with your own. It is in vain that you boast of this preference; I find in it more cowardice than humanity.

JJ Rousseau.

Would any one believe that I am Master of Slaves of my own purchase! I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them. . . .

I believe a time will come when the oppo. will be offered to abolish this lamentable Evil. Every thing we can do is to improve it, if it happens in our day, if not, let us transmit to our descendants together with our Slaves, a pity for their unhappy Lot, & an abhorrence for Slavery. If we cannot reduce this wished for Reformation to practice, let us treat the unhappy victims with lenity, & it is the furthest advance we can make toward Justice.

P. Henry.

It is not long since conditions in the mines were worse than they are
now. There are still living a few very old women who in their youth have
worked underground, with the harness round their waists, and a chain that
passed between their legs, crawling on all fours and dragging tubs of
coal. They used to go on doing this even when they were pregnant. And
even now, if coal could not be produced without pregnant women dragging
it to and fro, I fancy we should let them do it rather than deprive
ourselves of coal. But-most of the time, of course, we should prefer to
forget that they were doing it.

G Orwell.

15

ponce 12.02.12 at 8:51 am

“@RD Fair enough, I’ll restate as “little in political terms to stop slavery and much to advance it.””

Haha.

Besides that, what have the Romans ever done for us?

16

bad Jim 12.02.12 at 10:12 am

Part of what distinguishes Washington and Jefferson is that Washington was a successful businessman and could afford to free his slaves, while Jefferson, whether due to extravagance or incompetence, could not.

Washington was aware that he was a hero to the Western world, and he may have felt constrained by his public’s expectations. In contrast, in their long retirement, Jefferson and Adams commiserated with each other over having been forgotten.

17

Bruce Wilder 12.02.12 at 11:06 am

John Quiggin: “. . . the Southern aristocracy from which the US ruling class was mostly drawn at that time – among the Founding Fathers, most were slaveowners and only a handful of them (mostly minor figures) freed their slaves.”

Just to clarify, most of the Founding Fathers were not Southerners or slaveowners. If the catalogue of Founders are the signers of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, then, maybe, at most, a third may have been slaveowners. The manumission of slaves, in the Tidewater of Virginia and Maryland became fairly common, 1790-1810, creating a free black community of about ~8% of the black population.

18

Don A in Pennsyltucky 12.02.12 at 12:27 pm

It should surprise no one that a person oriented toward the scientific method would accept the scientific attitudes about race which were current during his lifetime. Everyone “knew” that slaves were inferior because they were slaves.

19

Guido Nius 12.02.12 at 1:07 pm

Does applying 20th century notions to pre-20th century people ever produce more than random chatter?

20

William Burns 12.02.12 at 1:17 pm

@Don A

But Jefferson isn’t arguing that slaves are inferior because they are slaves, he’s arguing that slaves are inferior because they are black.

“If the intransigence of biology was the back-story of race, it followed that there was only one race, properly understood, in America: the black race. “

No, there were also Natives. The tendency to see early America solely in terms of a black-white dyad is not helpful. Racism was as much an ideology of white expansion at Native expense than it was of slavery.

I will admit that I expected to see more in this post about Ezra Pound.

21

Andrew R. 12.02.12 at 1:41 pm

@19, this isn’t a matter of applying modern ethical standards to an eighteenth-century person. Jefferson’s contemporaries realized the hypocrisy as well:

“The weary statesman for repose hath fled
From halls of council to his negro’s shed,
Where blest he woos some black Aspasia’s grace,
And dreams of freedom in his slave’s embrace!”

Let’s also note that Washington realized chattel slavery was wrong, took steps to gradually free his own slaves–although he had to wait until his death to free the remaining slaves in his will–and also increasingly aligned with the Federalists later in life in at least some part because of their position on slavery.

22

Guido Nius 12.02.12 at 1:47 pm

I wasn’t talking about ethical standards but of the notion fascism. I am sure hypocrisy is a perfect notion to be applied to this case.

23

Andrew R. 12.02.12 at 1:58 pm

Except that the discussion is more about a lot of the underlying principles of fascism as they existed in ovo. It’s not a statement that Calhoun and Jefferson were fascists, but rather that their notions of a persecuted hegemon, revolutionary rhetoric, and the like would eventually find their full expression in fascism.

24

chris y 12.02.12 at 2:34 pm

19. Samuel Johnson also: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”

25

Mao Cheng Ji 12.02.12 at 3:12 pm

The excerpt in the OP sounds odd, even for the 18th century, considering who the author is. He is aware of Rome, but seems completely ignorant of any of the African cultures; Ashanti, Abyssinia, etc. And since the guy wasn’t an ignoramus, this has to be a case of tendentious political hackery; how else to explain it?

26

Dave 12.02.12 at 3:21 pm

This is all very persuasive except for the notions that Jefferson was at the avant-garde of racism, that he was a theorist of racism, and that his writing portended fascism.

27

William Timberman 12.02.12 at 3:34 pm

In the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, the developing science (or pseudo-science, as it turned out to be) of race was largely self-congratulatory. In retrospect, I suppose it’s what should have been expected of people with cannons, flintlock muskets, Jacquard looms and the like, proud of their own first attempts at a rational escape from tribalism, when first encountering these apparently impenetrable cultures with such different cognitive assumptions, and more importantly for the obscenities that came next, who lacked any discernible technologies of destruction. What were they to think? (And yet, when I see paintings of Columbus, or Cortéz, or whoever, landing on the shores of the New World, all done up in silken banners, plumed helmets and embroidered doublets, I’m always struck by how much more rationalism there was in the muskets than in the finery. The proud conquistadors were more like the natives that came to greet them, I suspect, than they were like us, all our racial theorizing since notwithstanding.)

Cultural anthropology has, or should have, long since disabused us of any notions of white cultural superiority, and science has, or should have, made it perfectly clear by now that white technological superiority is as likely as not to prove an illusion when all the negative consequences we’ve suffered since we first took advantage of it have been taken into account. Say what you want about structuralism, it was in reading Lèvi-Strauss that I first grasped just how Europeans came to understand the world so differently from other cultures, particularly non-literate ones. In the process, I also became convinced that we aren’t so different after all. One wouldn’t expect Thomas Jefferson or Jefferson Davis to have understood this in their day, but we have a right to demand, I think, that the current Republican Party grand strategists give up pretending that they don’t understand it now.

28

rootless (@root_e) 12.02.12 at 3:41 pm

@25 There is absolutely nothing odd or original in what Jefferson wrote – he followed conventional wisdom in enlightenment europe – in fact he probably read this stuff in Linnaeus.

29

Guido Nius 12.02.12 at 3:58 pm

23: OK, I can dig that. There is an underlying thing between all this revolutionary liberty that at the same time promises quick eternal solutions and delivers a type of bigotry that conserves the worst of the past. A common element is labeling any problem as somehow having to do with foreigners (or more generally with others who do not share values etc.).

Still, there is a thing like American fascism and whilst it may be of value to link it to some common underlying element present before – I also think projecting the term back in the past is a hyperbole that doesn’t really help. If only because fascism is fascism precisely despite living in a time where people cannot claim (the same level of) ignorance.

30

Main Street Muse 12.02.12 at 4:13 pm

Jefferson was a man who helped carve a new nation out of the concepts of liberty and equality. Of course he would need to look to “science” to defend human ownership.

Today, science shows that Jeffersonian DNA can be found in descendants of his slave, Sally Hemings. Not conclusively Thomas’ DNA, but modern science shows that the white blood of a Jefferson mingled with the mixed blood of a slave, who was likely the half-sister of Jefferson’s dead wife.

Jefferson’s astronomical debts meant he could not free his slaves upon his death. But Jefferson did free several slaves either in his life or via his will – all were related to Sally Hemings. In those instances, it seems the “science” that proved the inequality of the negro became subordinate to a different standard.

31

DBW 12.02.12 at 4:52 pm

The argument put forth here bears not a little resemblance to Jonah Goldberg’s infamous _Liberal Fascism_, although I’m sure Robin doesn’t want to be in the same room with Goldberg. The textual cherry picking and imputation of later doctrines to their “seeds” in earlier expressive forms is the same, and fundamentally unhistorical in its outlook. But shouldn’t we be able to read Jefferson whole, and especially to see the contradictions within his thinking in a more sophisticated way than either those who treat him hagiographically or those like Finkelman and Robin who provide only the inversion of hagiography? True, Jefferson evaded any form of leadership in pushing for abolition (I think DB Davis is good on this in _The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution_), but if we are to use Notes on the State of Virginia as a source for his racial theory, shouldn’t we also be prepared to see what he says in that same document about slavery itself? In the section on “Laws,” for instance, he proposes, along with the abolition of entail and primogeniture, the abolition of slavery. He argues against slavery, in part, for its effects on the manners of the master class, and in breeding the spirit of domination and cruelty. He, like most of his “progressive” contemporaries (before the rise of immediatist abolitionism in the 1820s and 30s), argues for ending slavery through colonization, because the races cannot be integrated, in part based on the historic wrongs that whites have done to blacks. And he asserts clearly and plainly that a just God cannot take the side of whites in the historic wrongs they have perpetrated on blacks. But “Fascist Jefferson” is as puerile and silly, although dressed up as sophisticated and critical, as “Saint Jefferson”.

32

rootless (@root_e) 12.02.12 at 4:54 pm

The Linneus classification of the races:

American: Red, choleric, erect, obstinate, merry and free; paints self with red lines; regulated by customs
European: White, sanguine, muscular, gentle, acute and inventive; covered with close vestments; governed by laws
Asian: Sallow, melancholy, stiff, severe, haughty, avaricious; covered with loose garments; governed by opinion
African: Black, phlegmatic, relaxed, crafty, indolent, negligent; anoints self with grease; governed by caprice

33

Andrew F. 12.02.12 at 5:26 pm

Two quick things.

First, Jefferson’s legacy is a contested tradition. Even to the extent it may be true that, at one point, Jefferson’s legacy was significantly composed of his racist views, that can hardly said to be the case any longer. Citations to his racist views as supportive of those views are – undoubtedly – vastly outweighed by citations to his beliefs on liberty as supportive of those beliefs. Jefferson’s backward racial views have been deprived of force by the advance of ethical standards and by science – they are as much a part of his legacy today as Newton’s views on the occult or a Bible code are a part of his.

Further, while of course he did hold horribly racist views, he also held liberal values that were the seeds of a greater freedom (though his conception of those values also became an obstacle to progressive reforms). The pro-slavery bloc did draw from the former, but Jefferson was hardly a unique or a grand proponent of those racist views. Is there any evidence that his personal racist views swayed anyone, persuaded any group, moved any political force? His legacy in that vein of backward thinking consists of his assent to the views. By contrast, his legacy with respect to the importance of liberty and with respect to the role of government in supporting that liberty, has been far more influential and important. Croly’s Hamiltonian/Jeffersonian contrast retains some explanatory power today.

Second, he advances his racist views with less certainty than implied in your article. Jefferson writes I advance it therefore as a suspicion only etc. So while Jefferson’s views left themselves open to revision upon new awareness, the slave-holding bloc that followed him held such racist beliefs as a matter of moral certainty. In today’s light, Jefferson’s speculations are obviously ignorant and repugnant; the light available to an 18th century Virginia aristocrat was likely weaker, and Jefferson, his revolting discourse notwithstanding, at least seemed somewhat aware of that.

34

Mao Cheng Ji 12.02.12 at 5:31 pm

@31, Jefferson, in the quote above, presents all that as based on his own observations, not on some European science. He then brings up Roman slaves, to preempt one, the most obvious counterargument: that cultural traits of the American blacks, American slaves, are severely affected by the institution of slavery. But he completely ignores, omits (at least in this quote) all other counter-evidence, as I mentioned. Like I said, the guy wasn’t stupid or ignorant; therefore, one has to conclude that he is being deliberately misleading. I’m open for other interpretations.

35

Robert Halford 12.02.12 at 5:32 pm

I’m no Jefferson apologist, and David Post’s point was not well-taken. Nonetheless, this discussion seems to be missing a couple of important points:

1) Until at least 1800 and the rise of the cotton economy in the United States, the predominant notion among the founders (both North and South) was that slavery was a wrong that would eventually, with the passage of time, wither away. There then would be a question of what to do about the slaves that remained and how they might be integrated (or not integrated) into the nation. Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia was published in this period and on this assumption. Jefferson’s work on the Northwest Ordinance had the same assumptions in mind. Jefferson was not so much “justifying” or opposing slavery as posing the intellectual problem of what to do upon (what was then thought to be) its inevitable decline and end.*

(2) The notion that (a) slavery was wrong but (b) black people were “naturally” socially, morally, and intellectually inferior to whites, was not the pro-slavery, maximally racist position. It was the position held by white progressives — you can see it equally in radical abolitionists like Thaddeus Stevens, or their descendants like the first Justice Harlan. White radicals believed that all had equal rights under the law (or to traditionally-defined “public” accommodations, like transportation), but only a vanishing minority of the radical minority believed that blacks were in fact intellectually, morally, and socially equal to whites. Even during radical reconstruction, the idea was that blacks were to be guaranteed legal and political equality, but the white defenders of reconstruction retained a strong belief in the natural and social inferiority of blacks. Thus, Jefferson’s positions as stated in NOTSV and quoted above, while abhorrent, were not only theoretically compatible with abolition and the granting of civil and social rights to blacks — they were in fact held by many of the most racially “progressive” whites of the nineteenth century.

3) I don’t think we want to overstate Jefferson’s personal contribution to the doctrine of scientific racism. To the extent that it was an outgrowth of post-1800 self-interest by southern slaveholders, it was more or less inevitable anyway. And even in strict intellectual history terms, Jefferson himself was not a lodestar (I don’t believe) for the scientific-racism component of the antebellum southern racist writers, although of course they aligned themselves closely with Jefferson’s states-rights doctrines and the like.

*By the end of his life, both the South and Jefferson had changed, and he was shocked by the Missouri compromise debate and willing to defend the expansion of slavery into the territories.

36

James Wimberley 12.02.12 at 5:35 pm

The OP cites Jefferson : ¨… the preference of the Oranootan for the black women over those of his own species.¨ Where did he get this stuff? There are no orangutans in Africa, and any perverted sultan or European trader who tried the experiment would have disproved the King Kong fantasy.

37

soru 12.02.12 at 5:40 pm

As a point of terminology, shouldn’t it be Nazi, rather than Fascist?

Jefferson’s style of fetishisation of racialist pseudo-science as something not merely true, but of vast moral significance was something he shared with Hitler. But not really Mussolini, or most the other leaders commonly called fascist. Wher-as the common patterns of political organisation those did share had nothing in particular in common with Jefferson; that would be reserved for later figures like Nathan Bedford Forrest.

38

JazzBumpa 12.02.12 at 5:44 pm

African: Black, phlegmatic, relaxed, crafty, indolent, negligent; anoints self with grease; governed by caprice

Hmmm. Delete “Black” and substitute “oil” for “grease” and you have something pretty close to the Rethug part of the 21st century, most particularly during the late, unlamented Shrub regime.

39

ponce 12.02.12 at 5:44 pm

@25

“how else to explain it?”

Mediocre academics can make decent money in the professional Jefferson hatin’ industry.

Finkelman has been at it for decades.

40

Greg 12.02.12 at 5:52 pm

RD said “Under his administration, Congress banned the importation of slaves”.

I am pretty sure this has more to do with people like John Quincy Adams, and not Thomas Jefferson.

41

The Iron-Tongued Devil 12.02.12 at 5:52 pm

An interesting post. Responding to the OP, early in your unpublished paper you argue that racism helped to create a kind of equality among white men — in contrast to the black, they could all be regarded as free individuals each of whom possessed a distinct character. By the last paragraph, you are arguing that racism was part of a broadly Nietzschean society in which a struggle for dominance (“social friction and political contest”) revealed (or created) nobility of individual character. So the concept of character is retained, but we’ve gone from character as a domain of equality to character as a domain of inequality. I don’t understand how that transition happened, either logically or historically.

42

rootless (@root_e) 12.02.12 at 6:09 pm

@33 Jefferson’s writings make his debt to Linaeus and Cuvier and other European race theorists pretty clear. He is writing about his observations, but it has been noted a few times that we do not observe from outer-space as an objective being, but from within the cultural and ideological structures of our social context – especially when a slave-owner is attempting to observer the characteristics of his victims and perform what he believes to be “scientific” work.

For what it’s worth, Jefferson was, perhaps surprising to some, not the advocate of a single coherent ideological scheme. Consider his (grotesque) letter to Benjamin Banneker, a black mathematician:

I thank you sincerely for your letter of the 19th instant and for the Almanac it contained. No body wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colors of men, and that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence, both in Africa & America. I can add with truth, that no body wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced for raising the condition both of their body & mind to what it ought to be, as fast as the imbecility of their present existence, and other circumstances which cannot be neglected, will admit. I have taken the liberty of sending your Almanac to Monsieur de Condorcet, Secretary of the Academy of Sciences at Paris, and member of the Philanthropic society, because I considered it as a document to which your whole colour had a right for their justification against the doubts which have been entertained of them. I am with great esteem, Sir
Your most obed’t humble serv’t.

43

cem 12.02.12 at 6:09 pm

Didn’t CR write a piece in the LRB a few years back about how political theorists use and misuse Arendt’s Origins at the expense of her other work? What does he make of her a) treatment of slavery and b) appraisal of Jefferson in On Revolution?

44

rootless (@root_e) 12.02.12 at 6:13 pm

Buffon, not Cuvier

45

Jim 12.02.12 at 7:15 pm

Fascinating discussion and article.

I am at a loss, however, to see how Jefferson is on the hook for 20th century political movements in Italy. From what I have seen (and only dimly remember), Theodore Roosevelt was a far greater influence on Mussolini than Jefferson. The major elements of fascism don’t seem to resonate well with Jefferson’s view on politics, albeit I am no expert.

46

nick s 12.02.12 at 7:45 pm

“Fascist Jefferson” is as puerile and silly, although dressed up as sophisticated and critical, as “Saint Jefferson”.

And to some degree is a consequence of the execrable sub-field of “presidential history”, which is equal parts celebrity nonsense and secular hagiography.

47

ezra abrams 12.02.12 at 7:45 pm

For those of you who don’t listen to right wing radio wackos like Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, Savage, or M Levine, I would like to say -
On the extreme right (M Levine, G Beck, etc) there is this cult (not to strong a word) of founding father worship; and the pro slavery views of Jefferson are a problem for them; people like Levine actually spend a lot of time and effort to save their FF worship cult by making the argument that Jefferson was really opposed to slavery.

So, although it may not be apparent, the original times article is a direct shot at the right wing in this country.

@35
right – slavery was dying during the post revolutionary period
The resurgence, which I think is from teh 1820s, caused a huge problem for southern intellectuals ; the response was to circle the thought wagons and excommunicate anyone or any idea that didn’t defend slavery
I think if is from this period that the picture of hte boorish, unintellectual, closed mind of the southener comes; a picture, that iwth some justification, extends to todays fundamentalists

48

ezra abrams 12.02.12 at 7:54 pm

Does anyone know, with precision, what exactly TJ mean’t by “all men are created equal..” ?
We here – I think all of us – have a similar view, but maybe the words meant’ different things to TJ (similar to the argument that the word “bear” in the 2nd amendment refers to the right of soldiers to keep their arms)

49

Bruce Wilder 12.02.12 at 8:17 pm

John Adams, in drafting the Massachusetts Constitution, in 1779, made the following, Article 1 in a declaration of rights:

All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.Within a year of the adoption of this constitution, courts began ruling that this provision abolished slavery in the state. No slaves were found in Massachusetts in the census of 1790.

I think Jefferson knew full well what his words meant, and that they conflicted with the institution of slavery, but such ideals implied a great practical inconvenience to him and to his class. Human beings are great rationalizers, great hypocrites. Let’s just marvel at that, and not imagine that they, instead, have resort only to peculiar lexicons.

50

Bruce Wilder 12.02.12 at 8:18 pm

Oops, I screwed up the blockquote. “Within a year . . .” is my voice.

51

teraz kurwa my 12.02.12 at 8:23 pm

Racism does not equal fascism. And while all fascisms were racist, racism was only central to some. On the other hand, a very strong, highly centralized state is an essential element of fascism. As is a single hierarchical mass party with bureaucratic structures paralleling that of the state. And then there is the role of a single all powerful charismatic leader. There is also the principled rejection of political and social pluralism. Finally you also need a society organized under corporatist principles. None of these are present in Jefferson’s thought, and most are antithetical to his political philosophy.

52

Platonist 12.02.12 at 8:31 pm

While there’s surely reason to be suspicious of the old arguments that separate out and save the good Jefferson from the bad Jefferson, I can’t help suspect that the counter tendency serves the same questionable purpose on a larger scale. For example, to separate out and save the good founding fathers from the bad (Washington: good!). Or to separate and save the good America (me!) from the bad (you!).

They’re too proud of their own moral courage in calling out evil as evil. But no one ever calls out evil except to whitewash something else by contrast.

53

ponce 12.02.12 at 8:32 pm

Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence:

“he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”

This part was taken out, of course.

54

Robert Halford 12.02.12 at 8:33 pm

On the origins and contemporaneous meaning of the phrase “All men are created equal” in the Declaration this is an important article. Basically, it seems to have been a shorthand for the argument that political power rested ultimately on some notion of consent. And it was recognized very early on that this shorthand could have problematic implications for slaveowners, which is why it was explicitly rejected by mid-19th century pro-slavery intellectuals like Calhoun.

And, as the article points out, it was entirely consistent to adhere both to the idea that all men were created equal in this sense — that they had the political and legal right to equal treatment under the law, to enter into contracts, to own property, and even to vote — and to hold to the idea that blacks were naturally and scientifically intellectually and morally inferior to whites. In fact, Lincoln (and even abolitionists more radical than Lincoln) seem to have held basically this view; blacks had a right to formal equality under the legal regime, but as a factual matter were naturally and inherently inferior to whites. In that sense, as I just said above, the (disgusting) pseudo-scientific sentiments expressed by Jefferson excerpted above were not inconsistent with the views of some of the most racially progressive 19th century whites, which I think helps put them into context.

55

The Raven 12.02.12 at 8:34 pm

I wonder if Jefferson complained about the appearance of blacks because he was unhappy about his attraction to a black woman?

I think also that much thinking about race prior to modern genetics and the invention of modern statistics, was influenced by human interactions with non-sapient animals where appearance can be strongly correlated with personality. Village cultures are much more uniform in appearance than metropolitan cultures, so it would have been easy to conclude that humans were like other animals in this, and culture strongly correlated with physical inheritance; that “biology was destiny.”

56

Bill Barnes 12.02.12 at 9:00 pm

In the context of recent posts here, it’s interesting to think about the differences between Jefferson and Lincoln — in many ways quite close in their abstract ideologies — Lincoln, a great admirer of Jefferson’s Declaration, arguing, in effect, that it should be read into the Constitution, regarding himself as a champion of “Jeffersonian democracy” and a dedicated enemy of its corruption under the Jacksonian Democratic Party, but in his early political life as a Whig, and on his first encounters with radical abolitionists, certainly a thorough-going racist, more or less sharing Jefferson’s combination of strong dislike for the insitution of slavery, skepticism re doing anything to end it in the foreseeable future, and taken-for-granted acceptance of white supremacy. In Jefferson’s case, all this latter stuff was strongly reinforced by his private material interests, not so with Lincoln. More importantly, Jefferson did not, during or after the Revolutionary war, experience a sustained and growing abolitionist movement relentlessly calling him on his “gap problem” (gap between avowed ideals and actual practice, or, in sociology of law, between “the law on the books and the law in action”) — quite the opposite — nor did Jefferson face a Southern white army allied with the British, leading run-away Blacks to join Washington’s Army – again quite the opposite.

57

ChrisTS 12.02.12 at 9:12 pm

@ 51:

“But no one ever calls out evil except to whitewash something else by contrast.”

This is a serious overstatement, at best. All persons are flawed; check. No one ever judges the flaws of others except to over their own; no.

58

Jeffrey Davis 12.02.12 at 10:02 pm

“Does applying 20th century notions to pre-20th century people ever produce more than random chatter?”

English men of letters of the 18th century — most notably for me, Dr. Johnson — mocked American slaveholding hypocrites. The evils of slavery were hardly invisible to the 18th century.

59

JE McKellar 12.02.12 at 10:42 pm

Three notes:
1) Jefferson is explaining his racism here in terms of humorism – he explicitly states that he’s not sure exactly why blacks have black skin, but the blackness must come from some bodily humor – black blood or black bile, and such a melancholic humor must certainly have an effect on the temperament of the individual. That idea, that skin color actually means something biologically or psychologically, makes sense according to Humorism, but would seem absurd to the more scientific biology that emerged in the 19th century, including the Spencerian Darwinism that underpinned Scientific Racism and Eugenics. Jefferson is thus more concerned about actual skin color than “racial purity”, which I think makes him very different, in a practical sense, than later racists.

2) Jefferson’s worst abuses, according to the linked essays, seem to revolve around his attempt to industrialize Monticello with a nail factory. Here he seems to be a pioneer in the company town, scientific management, and turning childhood in to a process of industrial production. So maybe his true legacy isn’t in American slavery, but in the petty tyranny of the modern American workplace and school.

3) Jefferson’s real contribution to the American slave system, though, was his mathematical realization that he (and Virgina as a whole) made more money by raising and selling slaves than off of slave labor itself. This resulted in the easy banning of slave imports, and the rise of a vibrant internal slave trade within the US, as excess slaves from older states on the east coast were sold westward to work the new lands opened up by the Louisiana Purchase. The internal slave trade drove up the price of American chattel, and the banks swooped in to provide the necessary financing. Westerners borrowed to buy slaves, and Easterners used slaves as collateral for loans. When the Westerners ran out of new land to conquer, and the bubble was just about to burst, we had a war instead. The Federal government stepped in to liquidate the South and keep the banks solvent.

That’s Jefferson’s real contribution, he figured out how to make slavery profitable without working the slaves to death, by turning people’s lives into financial instruments.

60

ponce 12.02.12 at 11:20 pm

Jefferson’s 1806 Message to Congress:

“I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally, to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country, have long been eager to proscribe. Although no law you may pass can take prohibitory effect till the first day of the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, yet the intervening period is not too long to prevent, by timely notice, expeditions which cannot be completed before that day.”

http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/detail/3495

The attacks here on Jefferson remind of the fact-free attacks Rush Limbaugh enages in against Obama and members of his administration.

Surely some of the Jefferson haters, both professional and amateur, could provide us with a link to some of their claims against him?

61

Nemo 12.02.12 at 11:21 pm

It wasn’t only Dr. Johnson who pointed out the that freedom-loving Americans were hypocrites regarding slavery. On this page you can read about the conference and subsequent correspondence between George Washington and the British commander in New York Sir Guy Carleton regarding the return of slaves when the British evacuated New York in 1783. Suffice it to say Washington doesn’t come out very well.

http://www.blackloyalist.info/evacuation-of-new-york

62

gmoke 12.02.12 at 11:40 pm

Ben Franklin was a slaveholder who later abjured the practice and, at the end of his life, founded one of the first abolitionist organizations.

I recall reading a letter Jefferson wrote about westward expansion and Native Americans. He was, regretfully, advocating addicting Indian tribes to alcohol and giving them infected blankets because, unfortunately, they stood in the way of progress. It was in the Library of America volume of Jefferson’s writings but I haven’t been able to track it down since first reading it.

63

ponce 12.02.12 at 11:43 pm

“It was in the Library of America volume of Jefferson’s writings but I haven’t been able to track it down since first reading it.”

Haha, I rest my case.

64

PGD 12.02.12 at 11:59 pm

@56 — Lincoln was an anti-slavery politician who got back into politics to prevent the spread of slavery and convince the nation to stand up to the Southern slave power, so his anti-slavery politics are clear, forceful, and consistent in a way that Jefferson’s aren’t. Lincoln constructed an anti-slavery Jefferson out of the Declaration of Independence, the Northwest Ordinance and the banning of the slave trade, and was pretty much uninterested in the theorist-of-white-domination Jefferson (doubt Lincoln ever read Notes ). Although Lincoln made plenty of racist comments his main interest in white supremacy ideology was in making the case to white supremacists (i.e. most whites at the time) that they ought to oppose slavery regardless of how they felt about which race was inferior or superior. E.g. this statement from the Lincoln/Douglas debates, representative of many statements Lincoln made:

I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which in my judgement will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality… I agree with judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects – certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man. (emphasis in original)

It is very anachronistic to emphasize the ‘racist’ Lincoln to the point of overlooking how significant and how radical it was for a leading politician to repeatedly stand up in front of thousands of whites and say in the strongest possible terms that blacks and whites were equal in their fundamental rights. And indeed the willingness to do this shows a man who by the standards of his time was not racist even if he was by ours. His ease in breaking all kinds of taboos by e.g. reciving blacks at the White House and drawing on advice from Frederick Douglas and hte like argues for that too.

@59, note 3 — if Jefferson’s secret plan was to drive up the price of slaves by banning importation while opening up a giant internal market for them in the West, then it’s strange that he wrote the Northwest Ordinance to ban slavery in all the giant territories opened up for expansion by that document.

65

PGD 12.03.12 at 12:09 am

further to @56 — but you are of course correct that the combination of abolitionist forces and events pushed Lincoln into an abolitionism he did not originally have, didn’t mean to imply otherwise. One of the parallels he consciously made between himself and Jefferson is that they were both willing to tolerate slavery as a temporary evil so long as it was put on course to ultimate abolition in the future through legal means (Lincoln felt the Founders intended to set the nation on a course to ultimate abolition but their plan was foiled by various compromises enacted in later generations).

Teraz @51 and Halford @54 — great comments.

66

Robert Halford 12.03.12 at 12:33 am

It doesn’t take anything away from Lincoln to point out the truth, which is that, while he believed in equal application of the laws to the races, he also strongly believed in biological and social inequality between the races (which is what Jefferson is arguing about in NOTSOV). That is why Lincoln could, with some accuracy, see himself as an heir to Jeffersonian ideas — and, indeed, Lincoln argued repeatedly that this is precisely what the phrase “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence actually meant. Anti-Slavery simply did not mean anti-racism.

The quote you take from the Lincoln-Douglas debates makes precisely this point — that legal equality was distinct from, and could entirely accommodate, a world in which there was not social equality between the races and blacks were inherently inferior.

It’s also important to point out that Calhoun and the theorists of the slave power felt it necessary to specifically argue against the concept of “all men are created equal” (which Calhoun explicitly rejected) on race grounds. While Jefferson himself was obviously conflicted on the issue (and I think undoubtedly a somewhat creepy hypocrite who, let’s not forget, was sleeping with someone he owned), his version of constitutional thought on the issue was very different than that which would develop in the South after 1820, and was closer to the explicit position of most of the Republican party in the mid-19th century.

As I said above, this also needs to be understood in the context of pro- and anti- slave policy in the North during Jefferson’s lifetime. On both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, abolition was considered an eventual near-inevitability before 1800 — something that was both wrong and likely to end soon. The final abolition of the slave trade (which Jefferson supported) was supposed to hasten its end, as was banning its spread into the territories (which Jefferson supported in the 18th century, before opposing efforts to ban slavery in the territories at the very end of his life). Lincoln grew up in a completely different political climate, when the cotton boom (and to a lesser extent the introduction of slave-intensive sugar plantings in Louisiana) meant that slavery looked like a resurgent, if not dominant, economic system that could expand westward, and for which slaveowners in the old southeast could provide slaves for the internal slave trade (n.b. — I disagree that Jefferson was a particularly important pioneer of that internal trade).

The battle against the “slave power” (which was Lincoln’s target as much as slavery itself) was a product of the post 1810 world. While Jefferson’s political party eventually became the party of the slave power, and his state’s rights ideas proved useful to it, Jefferson’s thoughts on slavery were not those of the antebellum southern pro-slavery justifiers.

Lincoln believed that both the polities and the ideology of the slave power was a betrayal of the foundational ideas of the Republic, particularly as those ideas were articulated by Jefferson. There was a fair amount of romanticism in that view, but it wasn’t totally wrong, either. The doctrine of civil equality before the law (while rejecting social equality) could, in fact, be easily extrapolated from broadly Jeffersonian ideals of the founding era, and were in fact taken up in the 19th century by the anti-slave power advocates, and rejected by the defenders of the slave power.

As I say, Jefferson himself on these issues was very complicated, and the David Post take is wrong and massively oversimplified. Nonetheless there’s a reason why Lincoln took up Jeffersonian ideals, and it really is anachronistic to read a belief that slavery was evil, or in equality under the law, with a belief in actual social or natural equality between the races.

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Robert Halford 12.03.12 at 12:38 am

“Polities” s/b “politics” and of course there are probably a ton of other mistakes as well. And it’s important to emphasize the different political contexts, as well — in many ways, the country had gotten much worse between 1800 and 1850, and if we give courage points for being more moral than your historic context, Lincoln’s position on slavery was surely infinitely more courageous than Jefferson’s, not to mention far more important in fact (which is why the David Post point is so ridiculous).

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ponce 12.03.12 at 12:58 am

“and I think undoubtedly a somewhat creepy hypocrite who, let’s not forget, was sleeping with someone he owned”

Alleged, but not proven.

69

rootless (@root_e) 12.03.12 at 2:07 am

What about Jefferson Airplane, American Fascist?

70

JE McKellar 12.03.12 at 2:24 am

@63: I didn’t say it was a plan, nor that it was secret, but just a part of the political economy of the time that Jefferson understood very well.

This Salon write up of Wiencek”s ‘Master of the Mountain’ demonstrates how Jefferson understood slave reproduction as the financial underpinnings of Monticello, 4% a year in his exact calculation.

As for the end of the Atlantic Slave Trade, Robin Blackburn writes in The American Crucible how the 1808 end of the Atlantic trade was both a move towards planter self-sufficiency and also increased the value of planter holdings (144). The Northwest was considered unsuitable for plantation agriculture, but Blackburn also notes that Jefferson was carrying on the Virginian political tradition of planters currying favor with the white middle-class whose support would be needed in maintaining the system of slavery and suppressing any revolt.

I admire Jefferson in many ways, and I hope for some form of Jeffersonian democracy, but underneath it all lies this notion that free men are made by assets that return 4% a year. Jefferson tied himself into knots trying to convince himself that that 4% could be gotten ethically. It would easy to fault him for the contradiction, if we weren’t so guilty of it ourselves.

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Sebastian H 12.03.12 at 2:25 am

Oh come on. I’m all for examining the hypocrisy of Jefferson and his writings. I’m all for revealing that American idols have clay feet. But you’re engaging in extreme irrational overreach when you title it “Thomas Jefferson, American Fascist?”. Traditionally you blame the editor for bad title writing, but that excuse isn’t available in blog posts.

You write:

But as this passage in Notes on the State of Virginia suggests, Jefferson’s real and lasting contribution to the American experiment is not exhausted either by the Declaration or by the institution of slavery. It is as a theorist of race domination—of white supremacy, of the perdurability of race (and specifically the black race), of the ineradicable shallowness of blackness as against the textured profundity of whiteness—that he stands out. And that is a legacy that persists to this day.

Lets show a little more intellectual rigor than that, please. Yes it appears that Jefferson read vicious European racists and adopted almost word-for-word their theories. I don’t believe you come anywhere near showing that Jefferson was particularly instrumental to spreading such theories through the academic world. I’ll admit that I’m happily not a scholar of racist ideologies. But if you are really making the claim that Jefferson stands out as a theorist of racial domination surely you can come up with lots of prominent racial theorists who explicitly trace their thought to Jefferson’s thoughts on race. Maybe some quotes from Margaret Sanger?

Actually she would be very instructive in this discussion. We can all see that the following is a crap argument right?

As her writing about the good of sterilizing the unfit and encouraging weaker races not to reproduce shows, her lasting contribution was not Planned Parenthood as advocate for mothers, but rather Planned Parenthood as mechanism for the control of undesirable races. It is as a theorist of racial domination, eugenics, and a brilliant practitioner of the methods of quietly excising undesirables from the gene pool that she stands out. And that is a legacy that persists to this day.

That passage shows all the characteristics of the original post: a sharp over-attention to a small part of her work, broad overreaching on how her arguments influenced others, and a pretty gross mischaracterization of how her influence played out in the long run.

But strangely, my obviously silly Sanger paragraph is potentially fairer than the attack on Jefferson. I haven’t seen any evidence that Jefferson has ever been considered influential on the topic of racial domination. I haven’t seen any evidence that Jefferson has ever been considered an important popularizer of racial domination theories. Sanger on the other hand really was of slight importance on the topic of eugenics (though by no means one of the big names).

Can’t we attack Jefferson for what he actually was that we don’t like? Do we really have to pretend to link him to the Nazis? Really?

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Joshua Holmes 12.03.12 at 2:37 am

Just a side note to the thread: Sally Hemings was “black” in the One Drop American sense. She had 3 English grandparents & 1 West African grandmother. She also had worked indoors her whole life. It’s no surprise that Jefferson could be attracted to a 3/4 English woman – who was also the half-sister of his deceased wife – and be repulsed by the looks of 100% African outdoor slaves.

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CC 12.03.12 at 2:40 am

Mr. [James] DOOLITTLE [R.-Wisc.] . . . A very distinguished gentleman from Vermont was first elected to Congress, I believe, about 1843. One of the well-to-do farmers in his neighborhood called upon him, the evening before he was to leave for Washington, to pay his respects. He found him in his office, and told him that he came for that purpose, and to bid him good bye.

“And now, judge,” said he, “when you get to Washington, I want to have you take hold of this negro business, and dispose of it in some way or other; have slavery abolished, and be done with it.”

“Well,” said the judge, “as the people who own these slaves, or claim to own them, have paid their money for them, and hold them as property under their State laws, would it not be just, if we abolish slavery, that some provision should be made to make them compensation?”

He hesitated, thought earnestly for a while, and, in a serious tone, replied: “Yes, I think that would be just, and I will stand my share of the taxes.” Although a very close and economical man, he was willing to bear his portion of the taxes.

“But,” said the judge, “there is one other question; when the negroes are emancipated, what shall be done with them? They are a poor people; they will have nothing; there must be some place for them to live. Do you think it would be any more than fair that we should take our share of them?”

“Well, what would be our share in the town of Woodstock?” he inquired.

The judge replied: “There are about two thousand five hundred people in Woodstock; and if you take the census and make the computation, you will find that there would be about one for every five white persons; so that here in Woodstock our share would be about five hundred.”

“What!” said he, “five hundred negroes in Woodstock! Judge, I called to pay my respects; I bid you good evening;” and he started for the door, and mounted his horse. As he was about to leave, he turned round and said: “Judge, I guess you need not do anything more about that negro business on my account.” [Laughter.]

Mr. President, perhaps I am not going too far when I say that honorable gentleman sits before me now.

Mr. [Jacob] COLLAMER [R-Vt.]. As the gentleman has called me out, I may be allowed to say that the inhabitants of the town were about three thousand, and the proportion was about one to six.

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ponce 12.03.12 at 3:07 am

Thomas Jefferson writing to David Barrow:

“The only practicable plan I could ever devise is stated under the 14th quere of the Notes on Virginia, and it is still the one most sound in my judgment. Unhappily it is a case for which both parties require long and difficult preparation. The mind of the master is to be apprised by reflection, and strengthened by the energies of conscience, against the obstacles of self interest, to an acquiescence in the rights of others; that of the slave is to be prepared by instruction and habit for self-government and for the honest pursuits of industry and social duty. Both of these courses of preparation require time, and the former must precede the latter. Some progress is sensibly made in it; yet not so much as I had hoped and expected. But it will yield in time to temperate & steady pursuit, to the enlargement of the human mind, and its advancement in science. We are not in a world ungoverned by the laws and power of a superior agent. Our efforts are in his hand, and directed by it; and he will give them their effect in his own time. Where the disease is most deeply sealed, there it will be slowest in eradication. In the Northern states it was merely superficial, & easily corrected. In the Southern it is incorporated with the whole system, and requires time, patience and perseverance in the curative process. That it may be finally effected and its progress hastened will be the last and fondest prayer of him who now salutes you with respect & consideration, Mr. Barrow.”

http://www.libraries.uc.edu/libraries/arb/exhibits/archivesmonth2009/jefferson_to_barrow.html

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CC 12.03.12 at 3:10 am

The June 1860 Minority Report from the Senate Select Committee investigating John Brown’s raid ends with the following:

So long as Congress, in its exercise of its power over the Territories, is invoked to exert it to extend, perpetuate, or protect the institution of slavery therein; so long as the policy of the government is sought to be so shaped as to aid to extend its existence or enlarge its power, in any way, beyond its present limits, so long must its moral, political, and social character and effects be unavoidably involved in congressional discussion. Hence, it is equally unavoidable that the people in all parts of the Union will discuss this subject, as they are to select those who are to represent them and their sentiments in congressional action. so long as slavery is claimed before the world as a highly benignant, elevating, and humanizing institution, and as having Divine approbation, it will receive at the hands of the moralist, civilian, and theologian the most free and unflinching discussion; nor should its vindicators wince in the combat which their claims invite. In this discussion, it is true, as in other topics of exciting debate, wide latitude and license are, at times, indulged, but it seldom or never exceeds in severity the terms of reprehension on this subject which were long since indulged by Washington, Madison, Jefferson, Mason, and, in later times, by McDowell, Faulkner, and their worthy compeers, all of Virginia, whose information and opinions, on this as well as other subjects, the people of the free States have not yet learned to disrespect. We insist, however, that there is not such matter presented in the testimony or existing in fact, as is more than intimated in the report, that even the abolitionists in the free States take courses intended, covertly, to produce forcible violations of the laws and peace of the slaveholding States, much less that any such course is to be countenanced by the body of the people in the free States. We cannot join in any report tending to promulgate such a view, as we regard it unfounded in fact and ill calculated to promote peace, confidence, or tranquility, and a departure from the legitimate purpose for which the committee was appointed.

J. COLLAMER.
J. R. DOOLITTLE.

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nick s 12.03.12 at 3:42 am

English men of letters of the 18th century — most notably for me, Dr. Johnson — mocked American slaveholding hypocrites.

Dr Johnson’s valet, Francis Barber, was a freed slave.

That idea, that skin color actually means something biologically or psychologically, makes sense according to Humorism, but would seem absurd to the more scientific biology that emerged in the 19th century

Humourism was heading towards the status of folk diagnostics in the late 1700s. The most prominent physicians of the revolutionary period studied under William Cullen in Edinburgh and subscribed to Cullen’s theories of nervous energy. They included Benjamin Rush, who in late life reconciled Jefferson and Adams; Rush was an abolitionist.

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Corey Robin 12.03.12 at 3:43 am

Sebastian 70: On the question of the influence of Jefferson’s text, the U. Penn political scientist Rogers Smith wrote what is probably the most important book of the last two decades (*Civic Ideals*) on the power and persistence of a distinctive racial ideology (“ascriptive hierarchy” he calls it) in the US — embedded not merely in discourses and popular culture but in actual policies, laws, elite proclamations, and the like. He claims that Notes was the “most prestigious” statement of black racial inferiority at the time. It was frequently and vigorously cited in the 1790s and thereafter, over the next half-century, in many of the legislative debates on any of the various questions associated with slavery and abolition. When a new generation of white supremacists came of age in the 1830s and 1840s — in response to the rise of a real abolitionist movement — his text was what they turned to as their starting point. And of course David Walker Howe, the foremost black abolitionist of his age, felt it especially important to take on Jefferson’s Notes (and the doctrine of racial inferiority) in his 1830 Appeal. This is not to say that Jefferson “created” the idea; things don’t work like that. But he was obviously a very important figure to have on one’s side, to be able to quote from, etc. And most white supremacists knew that. And followed suit.

But I think I wasn’t as clear about something in my post as I should have been. The real significance of the text is not so much its influence — although again it was considerable — but the problem it is addressing: Jefferson is really grappling with the question of emancipation. And here’s where it gets interesting — and why he is so important. Jefferson never did much for emancipation, and as time went on he did even less. But he did think slavery was wrong and he did think/fear/suspect it was going to be eliminated. So what you see going on in the text, I think, is not so much someone who’s dealing with the question of slavery and trying to justify it (as a lot of people seem to read the text) but someone who is grappling with emancipation: how in the world can we (white people) live with these black people? (Which is why everyone who wants to read those passages that are sympathetic to emancipation kind of miss the point: for Jefferson, emancipation is not the end of a problem; it’s just the beginning.

And the answer he comes to is, we can’t live with them. This wasn’t just a theoretical position; this was something he worked to enshrine in law. His contribution to the revision of the laws in Virginia — which he alludes to in the text — was to put more and more legal liabilities and restrictions on free blacks. It is the black freedman he’s most concerned about.

And the answers he comes up with — not just the elaborate theory of racial difference (and I’d really urge you to re-read what I have to say about all that; the word “racism” doesn’t quite convey what’s going on in these texts) but also the repeated insistence on deportation (and not simply “colonization”) or elimination: these are tropes and ideas that point us forward, to the twentieth century, to fascism and Nazism.

I’m not trying to take cheap shots or be sensationalistic here. I think we really have a very poor understanding of fascism and Nazism in Europe. 19th century Europe was obsessed with the Jewish Question: what the fuck are we going to do with these people now that they are not only among us but are free. (Read Wagner on Jews and German culture. ) (I realize not all fascism was obsessed with the Jews, but a lot were.) Racism and race war as answers to the problem of emancipation — that, I think, is *partially* what points us to the future with Jefferson. (I also add the stuff about land empires, on progress and inequality being intertwined, etc.) Some of this was there with Jefferson, some of it got added after him. (And all of it doesn’t quite make fascism; you need to throw some other things into the mix, which some late 19th century white supremacists in America do.)

But if all this is about for people — pro and con — is “Jefferson’s a good guy, Jefferson’s a bad guy, we’re not going to get anywhere. The reason I say he “stands out” is that he is, I think, the first to really wrestle with the problem of emancipation and the first to begin articulating ways of thinking that aren’t just about race or race difference but about ways of sorting and expelling and subjugating people who are among us but not of us. And that of course is very central to a lot of twentieth modes of fascistic politics, of ethnic cleansing and the like.

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ponce 12.03.12 at 4:12 am

“And that of course is very central to a lot of twentieth modes of fascistic politics, of ethnic cleansing and the like.”

Next up: Charles Darwin, Father of Nazism.

*Eyeroll*

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cem 12.03.12 at 4:27 am

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Sebastian H 12.03.12 at 4:31 am

“first to begin articulating ways of thinking that aren’t just about race or race difference but about ways of sorting and expelling and subjugating people who are among us but not of us. And that of course is very central to a lot of twentieth modes of fascistic politics, of ethnic cleansing and the like.”

How is this even remotely new to Jefferson? Isn’t it the entire history of Rome and a huge part of the history of Egypt under the pharaohs? Isn’t that the Jews and cannanites? Isn’t it an enormous part of BC era history? Isn’t that the entire known history of the Aztecs? Expelling and subjugating people who are among us but not of us is as old as recorded history. That can’t possibly be an innovation of Jefferson or his era.

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Julian 12.03.12 at 4:42 am

@77

Did you read the rest of the comment? CR said Jefferson’s novel contribution was to coming up with reasons to subjugate even after slavery was gone (which he anticipated happening shortly).

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Morton Baum 12.03.12 at 4:56 am

It is always good to remember what Lord Acton said in “The Study Of History”, “…I exhort you never to debase the moral currency or to lower the standard of rectitude, but to try others by the final maxim that governs your own lives, and to suffer no man and no cause to escape the undying penalty which history has the power to inflict on wrong.”

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CharleyCarp 12.03.12 at 5:06 am

You know, whitewashing Lincoln or Jefferson doesn’t benefit them. They’re dead, and everyone with a personal stake in their reputations is dead. It serves a completely different narrative purpose. No one is currently holding up either as authorities for the inferiority of particular races — regardless of what either thought or did at different times. No, their roles in the current narrative are as secular saints for equality.

And why are they being held up as secular saints for equality? To benefit them? No. It is a direct and intentional effort to make an argument for authority in favor of equality. That’s why Collamore and Doolittle invoked Jefferson in connection with the John Brown raid (awaiting moderation above), why Lincoln invoked Jefferson, and why King invoked both Jefferson and Lincoln. The point is to say to people not already on board that the people you revere were in favor of equality, the party you now follow (and the import of the scene between Steven and Coffroth in the recent movie was unmistakable) was the party of equality, the arc of history is bending inexorably towards equality, equality is self-evidently correct: what is your fucking problem?

Obviously, this narrative oversimplifies and whitewashes the roles of certain specific individuals in the past. Guess what: that’s how cultures work. In the face of this, certain people prefer to stand athwart history and yell ‘Jefferson was a fascist’ or ‘King was a communist.’ Is it really worth repeating now what was said about Jefferson and Lincoln during their lifetimes?

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ponce 12.03.12 at 5:13 am

Jonah Goldberg made a boatload of money writing “Liberal Fascism.”

Ya can’t blame the OP for trying to float “Jeffersonian Fascism.”

You can question their morals, though.

85

Donald Johnson 12.03.12 at 5:38 am

“That can’t possibly be an innovation of Jefferson or his era.”

Nobody said it was. The argument, I think, is that Jefferson provided a way for racists in early 19th century America and later to justify doing what they wanted to do and this might in turn have connections with what the 20th century fascists did. They couldn’t very well argue for slavery and mass extermination on the basis that the Aztec sun gods demanded human sacrifice. In every generation we need fresh new ideas to justify whatever rotten things we want to do.

Of course I have no idea whether Corey is right.

86

Colin Danby 12.03.12 at 5:46 am

Put a different way, Sebastian H’s ancient examples are societies with substantial and highly formalized political and legal inequality. The problem Corey R describes in #74 emerges as you move toward universal citizenship, equality before the law, a growing franchise, and so forth. It then becomes a lot harder to defend distinct statuses and sets of rights. So the link to the “Jewish Question” is highly insightful.

87

Meredith 12.03.12 at 6:02 am

Andrew R. @21 (with apologies for not yet having fully absorbed the OP, much less all the comments). Is it possibly significant that Washington spent so much time in the north, both around the locals and with northern soldiers fighting under his command? Washington slept here, there, and everywhere, it would seem. Did he learn something from his broad experience of colonial America that men like Jefferson, who lacked such experience, did not?

(And where, may I ask, stood Franklin on these questions?)

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Sebastian H 12.03.12 at 6:18 am

I guess I see manufacturing reasons to hate others and then using it to justify hurting them as pretty much a majority of the history of the world. Jefferson is one tiny example of that. Not something even remotely novel. The alleged equality side of it isn’t even remotely novel, it shows up again and again in religious wrangling over the past four thousand years. Nearly every major religion I can think of has a weird tension between the fact that it makes in group/ out group distinctions between those on the right path and others in order to justify some serious nasty crap, balanced against the possibility that some people could be on the right path and you didn’t know it, or could be brought to the right path. The racial superiority angle isn’t even new (see Judaism, the entire history of china, or a huge number of the pre European discovery Colombian civilizations). This post seems like it is looking for a tricky explanation to something as much a part of routine human activity as eating, breathing, or sex. You don’t need convoluted speculations to explain how we learn to hate people that we classify as other. You need to figure out an explanation for the lucky times we don’t.

Nazism and these writings aren’t ‘linked’ in the normal academic sense. They don’t trace on each other or learn from one another. They are manifestations of the desire to create and demonize the other–a desire which springs up again and again throughout all of recorded history so far. If we manage to break that impulse, or hell even reduce it very much, that will be a great thing.

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JW Mason 12.03.12 at 6:27 am

This is a good and important post. The connection with Arendt is on target — the whole point of her totalitarianism book is that Naziism was not some sudden break with European culture but continuous with a century of racial politics and theorizing across the ruling classes of Europe.

It seems to me there is clearly a Wittgensteinian family resemblance between Jefferson’s political thought, the antebellum US south, segregation and its justifying racial theories after the war, and fascism. And with some important elements of our political culture today, for that matter.

Maybe clearer if we insert apartheid somewhere in that series. I just happened to be reading Nadine Gordimer’s story “City Lovers”: The Austrian geologist in the story, tho happy to sleep with a Colored girl and opposed to legal enforcement of racial lines, makes a point of saying that of course there’s nothing so strange about it, in Austria (this is the 1970s) there is also a natural distinction between the people above and the people below.

The fundamental problem is this. Nationalism and democracy begin together as the principle that everyone subject to the same government has an equal claim to share in its authority. But what if you need to exclude some people? Under the old system it was no big deal, rights and privileges were all particular, some people had more, some less. But under the Enlightenment there are no more particular rights, since they originate from the sovereign and the sovereign is now just us. There’s only the absolute right to participate in self-government, which people have by virtue of being human; so the only way to deny someone that right is to deny that they are human at all. Which is why, it seems to me, Jefferson is not a hypocrite. There’s nothing inconsistent in being both the founder of American democracy and the founder of American racialism/fascism. If you believe that “all mean are created equal” and you feel entitled to keep slaves, then the only logical conclusion is that slaves are not men. This was not a necessary conclusion in a more comprehensively hierarchical society.

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JW Mason 12.03.12 at 6:30 am

(Sorry, the Gordimer bit isn’t clear. The point of the story is that the Austrian doesn’t get apartheid because he comes from an anti-democratic culture, in which social hierarchy is a matter of degrees rather than discrete categories.)

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Harold 12.03.12 at 6:46 am

You could only legally free slaves if you could guarantee they had means of support. Washington made many economies at Mt Vernon, which was quite modest compared to Monticello, and was able to do this for his slaves. His heiress wife’s slaves were not freed. Jefferson was extravagant and died deeply in debt.

As far as the OP, yawn, attacking an eminent figure is a well known tactic for generating buzz.

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Suzanne 12.03.12 at 6:46 am

As a side point to #71′s side point, Jefferson had also promised his wife not to marry again. His father-in-law, John Wayles, also took a slave concubine – he had lost several wives. He died in debt, like Jefferson, and none of his slaves were freed, not even those related to him.

“The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it….” Not the kind of thing you hear from your average American fascist.

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ponce 12.03.12 at 7:01 am

“So the link to the “Jewish Question” is highly insightful.”

Is that the one Cyrus the Great wrestled with?

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William Timberman 12.03.12 at 7:38 am

JW Mason @ 87

Precisely. The hypocrisy curled up in the heart of the American version of the Enlightenment has been there from the beginning, and, as you say, there’s a reason why Jefferson was the first and most eloquent American spokesmen not only for the values of the Enlightenment, but also for the hypocrisy that undermined them.

There’s also a reason why supposedly self-evident principles have to be defended by living men and women. Otherwise, whatever ever has been written down can be re-defined by anyone who doesn’t like what it implies. They hate us for our freedoms, says the propagandist from the pulpit of the corrupted state. No, that’s not why they hate us at all, we say, whether there’s anyone else willing to say it with us or not.

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William Timberman 12.03.12 at 7:41 am

Okay, not 87 then. 89. (And no matter what number it winds up appearing under in the end, it still wins the thread.)

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Chris Bertram 12.03.12 at 7:55 am

JW Mason’s point above is the central theme of Michael Mann’s The Dark Side of Democracy. Are the people an ethnos or a demos? German national self-determination invites the question of who is, properly speaking, a German. So it goes.

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Kevin Donoghue 12.03.12 at 1:09 pm

Meredith: “And where, may I ask, stood Franklin on these questions?”

According to Stephen Jay Gould, “Benjamin Franklin, while viewing the inferiority of blacks as purely cultural and completely remediable, nonetheless expressed his hope that America would become a domain of whites, undiluted by less pleasing colours.” (from The Mismeasure of Man, Ch 2)

For anyone interested in the case against Jefferson, Conor Cruise O’Brien’s The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution assembles a wealth of material. I’m a bit puzzled why people can’t just accept that the Declaration of Independence contains some very fine ideas (with quite a bit of whingeing) and the guy who mostly drafted it was a prize shit.

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Sasha Clarkson 12.03.12 at 2:14 pm

There is nothing worse than overstating a case for the sake of gaining attention. Like all wealthy and powerful people, Jefferson was sometimes inconsistent in word and deed. It is interesting to study the details, because of the light it casts on the man and the society he lived in. It may also be fair to point out that uncritical modern hero worship is unjustified, obscures the truth, and reflects badly on our own society.

But the Godwinesque* theme of this article is perverse (and I agree with those who have pointed out that the author does not properly distinguish between Nazism and Fascism.) It is precisely because Jefferson was/is enlightened and inspiring in some ways, that it is so painful to see the other side. Having read Mein Kampf, I’ll wager that there will never be a similar kind of debate about Hitler.

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

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Katherine 12.03.12 at 2:17 pm

You could only legally free slaves if you could guarantee they had means of support. Washington made many economies at Mt Vernon, which was quite modest compared to Monticello, and was able to do this for his slaves. His heiress wife’s slaves were not freed. Jefferson was extravagant and died deeply in debt.

I’ve seen versions of this point brought up by several people. I’m confused – is this meant as a justification? That Jefferson was spendthrift, and therefore it’s okay that he continued to own, buy and sell human beings?

Surely it’s the other way around – that Jefferson was such a selfish and hypocritical pig that he continued to spend and spend on the backs of human beings that he continued to own, buy and sell?

And yet, this is brought up and then left to stand, as if with a whiff of “well, poor man, he wasn’t great at financial management so cut him some slack.”

100

The Raven 12.03.12 at 2:39 pm

Joshua Holmes, #72: “Just a side note to the thread: Sally Hemings was “black” in the One Drop American sense. She had 3 English grandparents & 1 West African grandmother. She also had worked indoors her whole life.”

A good point. She was said to look nearly white, beautiful—whatever that meant at the time—, with straight hair.

“It’s no surprise that Jefferson could be attracted to a 3/4 English woman – who was also the half-sister of his deceased wife – and be repulsed by the looks of 100% African outdoor slaves.”

Or perhaps he was attracted and ashamed of it.

I don’t want to make too much of this—it’s a potential sidetrack, and I like the discussion I am seeing. But, reading the passage that our host cites, I am reminded of the way anti-gay Christian leaders write about gays, and that often these people turn out to be gay. The intellectual response to emotion about other people’s appearance in race relations seems to me not enough questioned, though it may just be that I am not familiar with the literature.

101

Corey Robin 12.03.12 at 2:47 pm

98: “There is nothing worse than overstating a case for the sake of gaining attention.” Let me rephrase that for you: “There are few things funnier than statements that condemn x by unwittingly performing x.”

102

rootless (@root_e) 12.03.12 at 2:59 pm

Franklin once wrote something like “It’s wonderful to be a reasoning creature because you can always make up a reason for whatever you want to do”.

103

Matt Crow 12.03.12 at 3:07 pm

@80, 85- In point of fact, Jefferson’s contributions to racial thinking were “innovative.” He took languages of natural history and the science of man to places they hadn’t been when he developed his account of race in the Notes. As Michael Mann points out, Jefferson was also capable of speaking, even if rarely and sparingly, in eliminatory terms about Native Americans should they fail to assimilate themselves into the “empire of liberty.”

Still, though, even if there is a faint family resemblance (not sure even that is helpful), I don’t see a genealogy to fascist thought or practice. There is little of the statist, the corporatist, or the charismatic in Jefferson- indeed, he could be considered (a bit a-historically) as a great critic of all three (Arendt, I would argue, saw him that way). Then again, I don’t think Sarah Palin has anything to do with Edmund Burke, so I guess I am blind to the many links that Corey Robin unearths for us to consider.

I think the more discomforting thought is that the enmeshment of Jefferson’s language with the realities of American power, at home and abroad, has a longer life in this country than it does anywhere else.

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William Timberman 12.03.12 at 3:10 pm

Chris Bertram @ 96

Defining who is and isn’t a German isn’t quite the same thing as defining who is and isn’t a human being. (Under normal circumstances, that is — Hitler and crew being beyond the limits of normal according to most testimony.) That difference appears to be CR’s justification for talking about the roots of fascism in connection with Jefferson. Jefferson may have been conflicted, but his conflicted — and eerily abstract — theorizing about race had very concrete and unpleasant consequences, as this blog post by Ta-Nehisi Coates very properly reminds us.

105

sherparick1 12.03.12 at 3:44 pm

I cannot claim to be “Jefferson scholar,” although I own quite a few collections of Mr. Jefferson’s writings. With Jefferson, I tentatively suggest the following:

1. During the height of revolutionary activity and agitation (1774-76), Jefferson adopted anti-slavery ideology as part of his justification for attacking the Royalists and Tories defense of Monarchy/Aristocracy. The latter group claimed a “blood” right to rule the “commons” and hence most “colonials.” In 1774, your birth status in society was to suppose you mark you where you fell, if you “knew your place.” However, even during this period southern patriots like Jefferson, Washington, and Patrick Henry were conscious, if somewhat embarrased, that their wealth and privilege in society depended on slavery and were outraged at British efforts to foster slave rebellions. Further, Jefferson had already appear to have a race consciousness not yet widely shared by his fellow slaveowners.

2. Despite an unwillingness to surrender his own perogatives, Jefferson was still “anti-slavery” in at least desiring the institution to eventually go away during the period from 1775 to 1785. It was during this period that Jefferson participated in writing what became the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787 which made slavery illegal in the area north of the Ohio River and south of the Great Lakes. However, I think it likely that Jefferson was alrady evisioning a “whites only society” for this new “Empire of Liberty.”

3. Jefferson’s time in France exposed him to the new “scientfic racism” then popular among many French intellectuals with whom Jefferson socialized (such as Buffon). Even Voltaire (who had died of course before Jefferson arrived, but who Jefferson considered a kind of god) made notoriously racist remarks. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_racism#Georges_Cuvier

As we note even today, when a man’s interest (in this case Jefferson’s slave owning) becomes not just selfish, but scientifically and “morally” justified by certain meme or narrative, it can prove irresistable, especially to a guilty conscious. I think that the fact that “Notes on Virginia” was written directly in response to Jefferson’s interaction with Buffon is pretty convincing on this point.

http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/96oct/obrien/obrien.htm

4. From the time of his return in 1790 to end of his life, Jefferson became ever more reactionary in his defense of slavery and southern nationalism. To the extent he still regarded slavery as evil, it was only in regard to the threat that a slave rebellion had to potentially exterminate the masters as in Haiti. This is what he meant by the “Tiger by the ears” quote. See Conor Cruise O’Brien, and see also Susan Dunn’s book: “Dominion of Memories: Jefferson, Madison, and the Decline of Virginia.”

So like Lincoln (or FDR or LBJ), Jefferson changed positions over time, but in his case, based on his own history and growing callousness, he moved from Liberal/radicalism to reaction, where Lincoln did the opposite. Although I don’t think Jefferson contributed particularly to the already dominate racialist ideologies that arose in Enlightenment Europe during the 19th centuries, that climaxed with Hitler and Nazism in 20th, I completely agree with Conor Cruise O’Brien’s assessment, made in 1996: “For Thomas Jefferson was demonstrably a racist, and a particularly aggressive and vindictive one at that.”

As a side note, Mr. Wienseck is being chastized, I think somewhate properly, for claiming he is breaking new ground. I doubt he could be any harder on Jefferson than Conor Cruise O’Brien was, but a half-generation has past so perhaps this controversy is forgotten except on the internet. http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/96oct/obrien/obrien.htm

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rootless (@root_e) 12.03.12 at 3:48 pm

What’s odd about this post and discussion is that “scientific racism” is a well known subject that has been widely described. Jefferson’s racism was run-of-the-mill European pseudo-science, embraced by Linnaeus, Bufon, Cuvier and then people like Galton. And the economic convenience of this argument for people of Jefferson’s class is also straightforward. Jefferson’s wealth depended on slavery, so he rationalized slavery into enlightenment science – in accord with near unanimity of European “scientists”. The utility of stretching for a connection to modern fascism is hard to see. Instead, this appears to be a textbook case of Marx’s observations about class interests generating ideology.

http://krebscycle.tumblr.com/post/33989273408/the-fundamental-economic-issue

107

Corey Robin 12.03.12 at 3:52 pm

For anyone who’s interested, I elaborated slightly — and I hope more clearly — on my comments at 77 here: http://coreyrobin.com/2012/12/02/jeffersons-race-obsession-is-a-response-to-emancipation-not-slavery/. The critical point for me is: whether you want to discuss fascism or not (I think it’s useful to think about, but we can agree to disagree), the critical point is to think about Jefferson’s writings about race not in the context of slavery, or as a defense of slavery, but as a premonition of emancipation. And that, to my mind, is what makes him such a modern thinker, and points him in the directions I’ve been trying to point us to.

108

ajay 12.03.12 at 3:52 pm

Would any one believe that I am Master of Slaves of my own purchase! I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them. . . .

As I noted elsewhere, it’s fascinating to try to imagine the kind of person who regarded the keeping of human beings as property as a question on which honourable men could disagree and eventually compromise for the sake of peace, but who regarded rich businessmen having to pay slightly higher taxes than they would have liked as a tyrannical atrocity which merited starting a war that killed thousands.

In other words, the Founding Fathers were men who would have reacted calmly if you’d said “Sorry I’m late, I had to whip a couple of slaves today and they kept squirming around”, but would have ostracised you if you said “Think about it, though, why shouldn’t we pay stamp duty?”

109

Bill Barnes 12.03.12 at 3:53 pm

It seems to me that neither “side” — or none of the positions — in the argument going on here is really persuasive. There’s too much telling evidence and argument on both sides – and both sides are, in their own ways, too moralistic. People like Jefferson and Lincoln who come of age in changing and conflicted times, and who are relatively open, sensitive, and thoughtful, often become quite existentially ambivalent, more or less self-consciously so, more or less able to tolerate living in such a state continuously. Resolution of such ambivalence, partial or complete, temporary or long-term, is never simply an intellectual exercise, but situational, in response to experiences and relationships. Such was true of Jefferson, and especially Lincoln. On the issue of race, Jefferson gives the appearance of a series of episodic, contradictory resolutions of ambivalence. Lincoln’s ambivalence appears to have been progressively – but never completely – resolved in an effectively pro-Black direction. As to politics, Jefferson predominant “forced education” was provided by finding himself embedded in the arousal of lower middle class democratic radicalism – of white males who were mostly racist, but for most of whom the race issue was not salient at this point in history. This particular radicalism was not proto-fascist – and neither was Jefferson — neither pushed the other toward that kind of resolution of ambivalence. But white male lower middle class radicalism has certainly turned proto-fascist in other times and places, along with ambivalent intellectuals like Jefferson.

110

sherparick1 12.03.12 at 3:55 pm

@Matt Crow, if you are stating that Corey is wrong to claim that Jefferson was an intellectual source for what became Facism and Nazism in Europe, I agree. At least as far as I can tell, Jefferson has never had much influence on European political traditions or that the “Notes on Virginia” were every widely read in 19th century France or Germany. However, as a source of the “Southern Rights” and “Neo-Confederate” ideology in American political history, for both defense’s of slavery and then, the American apartheid regime that followed until the 1960s and the reaction since, then Jefferson is very much “the” source for much that is most virulent and nasty in modern Movement Conservativism (even if he would find their Evangelical Wing, personally distasteful and superstitious).

A separate topic is why FDR and so many other liberals in the mid-20th century lionized the man and what purpose that served.

111

Robert Halford 12.03.12 at 4:04 pm

I think that 77 still misses the key point about the distinction between civil and social equality that was crucial to 18th and 19th century thought. Again, being opposed to slavery while believing in inherent black inferiority wasn’t a radical racist, pro-slavery position in 19th century America — it was the mainstream position of the Republican party and held even by Lincoln and by most abolitionists, excepting a tiny minority. So Jefferson’s racist statements in NOTSOV alone can’t condemn him as a pro-slavery ideologue.

It’s true that for all of these people — including Republicans and abolitionists — what to do with slaves once freed became a “problem.”. That’s a natural outgrowth of being simultaneously deeply racist and anti-slavery, as most anti-slavery whites were. Which is why many (including Lincoln) clung desperately to schemes like resettlement in Africa, even long after such schemes were shown to be impossible in practice. For later Republicans, the hope seemed to be that blacks wouldI either stay concentrated in the South (where they would be an issue only for the slaveowners, who were already debauched) or that they could be employed in menial positions in the North. Others envisioned a kind of ongoing Christian charity project for them.

But this wasn’t “eliminationist” racism, and neither, really, was Jefferson’s. They were attempts to square a deep “scientific” racism combined with a belief that slavery was evil and that legal equality (but, again, not social equality) should be applied to all free men.

Maybe it would help to sum up my thoughts. Jefferson’s racism was not specific to him, and that racism was compatible with the views of white nineteenth century anti-slavery leaders, including Lincoln. Jefferson’s ideal of civil equality for all men was a tool invoked by anti-slavery advocates, including Lincoln, in the 19th Century. Jefferson’s racism — which was skeptical about racial integration — was not “eliminationist,” or at least not much more so than the general sentiments of anti-slavery people of the time. It is true, of course, that Jefferson wasn’t attracted by a Christian-paternalistic view of what to do with former slaves, but other than that he was grappling with similar issues of many 18th and (especially) 19th century whites who were both anti-slavery and deeply racist.

112

rootless (@root_e) 12.03.12 at 4:06 pm

@108

I think they were much more like us than we’d want to believe – which was the point Orwell was making. I’d discuss this more, but I have to pack up the laptop I have that was made by Chinese workers, containing minerals dug with slave labor in Congo, brought to me on a boat running diesel that is destroying the biosphere itself and that was likely sold at a profit by medieval theocrats who behead women for backtalk, and drive to the coffee shop for some free trade coffee. Maybe I should get a new notebook, to give those kids in Africa some more ways of earning a living.
http://inhabitat.com/electronics-recycling-101-the-problem-with-e-waste/

113

Trader Joe 12.03.12 at 4:09 pm

Jefferson was a hypocrite and a fascist
Lincoln was a petty politicker and insincere
Washington was a lucky general but at least he cared about people

Think how much wealth, power and influence the U.S. could have had if we hadn’t been burdened with such as sorry-assed group of leaders. Why we might have been as great as…um…I don’t know, maybe Sweeden or someplace great like that.

114

NickT 12.03.12 at 4:12 pm

@SebastianH 80

“Isn’t that the entire known history of the Aztecs? “

No, not remotely. The Aztecs/Mexica tended to rule indirectly over conquered cities/polities as they built their hegemony. They certainly didn’t go in for mass-expulsion of subject or alien populations, much less theorization of inherent racial inferiority.

It would also be nice if Sebastian refrained from ignorant and unenlightening generalizations concerning the history of other cultures. Such cheap rhetorical gestures serve no purpose in this debate.

115

JW Mason 12.03.12 at 4:12 pm

JW Mason’s point above is the central theme of Michael Mann’s The Dark Side of Democracy.

Yes, that is where I got it from. Would have attributed but for some reason my mind blanked on where I’d first read it…

116

Matt Crow 12.03.12 at 4:13 pm

@Corey Robin, I think that is absolutely right- all of Jefferson’s fears, even about slavery itself, are about what the formerly enslaved would do with their liberty. In that sense, the explicitly racialized nationalism that Jefferson leaves us with has a longer life, and

@sherparick1, I think that life runs deeper in “the American mind” than just in modern movement conservatism. The most appropriate (although not the only) historical and contemporary context in which to think about Jefferson, I think, is as the ideologist of a settler society. Undoubtedly, that can be seen to fit with Arendtian, Mannian, and yes Robinian narratives that we have before us.

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Robert Halford 12.03.12 at 4:17 pm

Aggh, sorry about the formatting. And I totally agree that Jefferson (in NOTSOV) is interesting as a theorist of post-emancipation.

It’s also interesting to compare Jefferson’s thoughts on American Indians. That is an issue where his party, in Jacksonian form, really did adopt an effectively “eliminationist” racial policy — Indians were either to be removed rar away or killed. While I’m not exper at all on this, I believe that this wasn’t Jefferson’s policy even as President; he, while cerainly being a racist, favored treaties and efforts at “civilizing” the tribes and getting them to adopt white cultural ways, not forcible removal.

118

ajay 12.03.12 at 4:29 pm

Think how much wealth, power and influence the U.S. could have had if we hadn’t been burdened with such as sorry-assed group of leaders. Why we might have been as great as…um…I don’t know, maybe Sweeden or someplace great like that.

That would be a distinct improvement, yes. More equal, healthier, longer-lived, happier, more peaceful, better-loved abroad. And better at spelling.

119

JW Mason 12.03.12 at 4:39 pm

Corey’s comment @77 seems right on to me, and consistent with the Mann argument I summarized earlier. The existence of this “other people” only becomes problematic in the context of nationalism, liberalism and democracy, which are committed to the the formal identity of everyone living under the same state. You still see this today — the more freedom is understood as the right of “we the people” to govern ourselves, the more unacceptable it becomes to have any other collective identity. There was never any equivalent problem before the 18th or 19th centuries because premodern societies always had a variety of ascriptive statuses and freedom was always a matter of particular rights and privileges.

In the twentieth century, the solution to this problem (apart from fascism) has been to retreat from democracy, and try to establish the law on an autonomous basis as opposed to popular sovereignty. people on the left who oppose this trend like to quote the more antinomian parts of Jefferson’s thought, about the constitution not binding future generations, needing a revolution every few decades, and so on. But it seems to me — and I think this is part of what Corey is saying — that all that is inextricably linked to the racial stuff. Because it requires the “people” to be prior to the state, which implies some kind of organic unity.

In Rome, there was no problem with freedmen forming a distinct caste. But in the 19th century US, there was really no resting point between complete equality, and expulsion or extermination. (As we see with the increasing legal disabilities on free blacks in the decades before the Civil War.)

I know I’m in a minority on this, but I still think that Marx’s On the Jewish Question is one of the best analyses of this problem. His point is that under liberalism, the only way for the Jews to be emancipated is to cease to be Jews.

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rootless (@root_e) 12.03.12 at 4:44 pm

@118

Indeed – Swedes would never have operated sugar plantations in the Caribbean based on slave labor, participated in the slave trade, stolen land from their own native peoples and subjected them to forced labor and sterilization, sold critical war materials to Nazis or in any other way have deviated from the highest moral standards.

121

Matt Crow 12.03.12 at 4:55 pm

@ Robert Halford- on the one hand, Jefferson has nicer things to say about Native Americans in the Notes and so forth, but he was quite explicit about plotting the removal of Native title to land, which even the theory of conquest outlined by European theorists recognized, albeit in a very limited fashion. Jefferson preferred purchase, but always with the understanding that possession could ultimately be established by force if necessary, because he viewed Native modes of land-use and occupancy as insufficient to establish possession. So, even the pretty much full-fledged adoption of the Washington and Jefferson administration’s “civilization” programs, to say nothing of edicts from the Marshall court, didn’t protect the rights of the Cherokee when the chips were down.

122

Bruce Wilder 12.03.12 at 5:06 pm

I’m afraid I’m not familiar with Marx’s On the Jewish Question. It does strike me, though — just following the conversation — that the Enlightenment had a deliberate religious gambit for the liberal nation-state, and emancipation was an issue, precisely because the liberal nation-state took a very different tact from the imperial monarchy or semi-feudal aristocratic state.

One of the conceits of ancien regime France was that to be French was to be Catholic: all the true subjects of the King were, by definition, Catholic. And, similarly, in England, to be part of the body politic was to be a member in good standing of the Church of England, paying the tithe, taking oaths, etc. Isaac Newton had to be an ordained minister to be a professor, did he not?

Religious toleration under an imperial system or a feudal system came at a price, if it could be bought at all, because the established Church was a component part of the state, and the apparatus of government — the First Estate. Disestablishment was the Enlightenment answer, as embodied in the American “First Amendment” or the fierce anti-clericalism of the French Revolution.

The emancipation of Jews fit in with the emancipation of Catholics in Britian and Ireland, or the emancipation of Protestants in France. Jews in America, in the Reform movement, became just another Protestant denomination; the Orthodox, just another weird subculture with a peculiar fashion sense, like the Amish.

123

ponce 12.03.12 at 5:14 pm

@99

“And yet, this is brought up and then left to stand, as if with a whiff of “well, poor man, he wasn’t great at financial management so cut him some slack.””

Maybe not, but Thomas Jefferson was serving America almost continually from 1774 to 1809. During that time his wife and all but one of his children died in addition to his personal finances going to hell.

So maybe we should cut him some slack.

124

Katherine 12.03.12 at 5:26 pm

Was he the only harding working person in America? Was he the only one who lost his family? And how many of his slaves died in that time? How many families were torn apart? How many of his slaves even had personal finances over which to have any control?

Also, if I’m understanding you correctly, ponce, “serving America” means “serving non-slaves”.

125

ponce 12.03.12 at 5:35 pm

Despite the Fox News style disinformation aimed at TJ on this thread, he was always against slavery. Always.

126

ponce 12.03.12 at 5:35 pm

Despite the Fox News style disinformation aimed at TJ on this thread, he was always against slavery. Always.

127

ajay 12.03.12 at 5:49 pm

Maybe not, but Thomas Jefferson was serving America almost continually from 1774 to 1809. During that time his wife and all but one of his children died in addition to his personal finances going to hell.
So maybe we should cut him some slack.

I’d be happy to cut him slack, under the circumstances, for things like (for example) being bad tempered, or drinking heavily, or being subject to depression or even violent outbursts.
But keeping slaves is not just some minor personal failing of character.

120: Swedes would never have operated sugar plantations in the Caribbean based on slave labor, participated in the slave trade, stolen land from their own native peoples and subjected them to forced labor and sterilization, sold critical war materials to Nazis or in any other way have deviated from the highest moral standards.

I’m sorry to have to tell you, rootless, that I am pretty sure they did all of that. (As indeed did the US.)

128

ponce 12.03.12 at 5:58 pm

@127

Here’s what TJ wrote in an 1814 letter on that topic:

“From an early stage of our revolution other and more distant duties were assigned to me, so that from that time till my return from Europe in 1789. and I may say till I returned to reside at home in 1809. I had little opportunity of knowing the progress of public sentiment here on this subject. I had always hoped that the younger generation, receiving their early impressions after the flame of liberty had been kindled in every breast, and had become as it were the vital spirit of every American, that the generous temperament of youth, analogous to the motion of their blood, and above the suggestions of avarice, would have sympathised with oppression wherever found, and proved their love of liberty beyond their own share of it.”

“But my intercourse with them, since my return, has not been sufficient to ascertain that they had made towards this point the progress I had hoped. Your solitary but welcome voice is the first which has brought this sound to my ear; and I have considered the general silence which prevails on this subject as indicating an apathy unfavorable to every hope. Yet the hour of emancipation is advancing in the march of time. It will come; and whether brought on by the generous energy of our own minds, or by the bloody process of St. Domingo, excited and conducted by the power of our present enemy, if once stationed permanently within our country, & offering asylum & arms to the oppressed, is a leaf of our history not yet turned over.”

“As to the method by which this difficult work is to be effected, if permitted to be done by ourselves, I have seen no proposition so expedient on the whole, as that of emancipation of those born after a given day, and of their education and expatriation at a proper age. This would give time for a gradual extinction of that species of labor and substitution of another, and lessen the severity of the shock which an operation so fundamental cannot fail to produce. The idea of emancipating the whole at once, the old as well as the young, and retaining them here, is of those only who have not the guide of either knolege or experience of the subject.

129

Robert Halford 12.03.12 at 6:01 pm

Doing a bit more reading (which I probably should have done earlier) suggests that the place where you’d want to mount a case for TJ as a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger eliminationist racist, as well as the complexity of his thought about racial integration, really is with Indian policy.

130

Bruce Wilder 12.03.12 at 6:03 pm

JW Mason @ 119

The existence of this “other people” only becomes problematic in the context of nationalism, liberalism and democracy, which are committed to the the formal identity of everyone living under the same state. You still see this today — the more freedom is understood as the right of “we the people” to govern ourselves, the more unacceptable it becomes to have any other collective identity.

it requires the “people” to be prior to the state, which implies some kind of organic unity.

In the run-up to the American Civil War, Lincoln and the Republicans were opposed to Stephen Douglas and the (northern) Democrats, with the latter championing the principle of “popular sovereignty”, a euphemism for a “white man’s democracy.” Curiously, the Republican Party, in its formation, absorbed the nativist reaction to the massive European immigration, which followed the potato famine and failed revolutions, half a generation earlier, while the Democrats became the party of Catholic immigrants and most big cities.

Some kind of political solidarity blending with ideology does seem necessary to the functioning of a mass democracy, that is, to concerted action, which is not just the program of a conspiracy. The nature of the solidarity and the ideological principles that rationalize it are up for dispute.

I, personally, have a lot of trouble applying “fascism” to Jefferson, not because I am inclined to apologize for J, but because I have difficulty with “fascism” as a term for anything before the First World War, and because “fascism”, as an ideology, seems, to me, distinctively conventionalist, incoherent and anti-rational, in ways that Jefferson never was. Leaving all those considerations aside, though, I am curious about how the discussion of Jefferson’s more repellant thought gets tied particularly to “emancipation” and not to political solidarity and to modes of domination.

It is clear that Jefferson’s livelihood depends on the domination and extraction that slavery permits, and he knows this. But, it is not the economic problem that pre-occupies him in his political thought. Is he averting his eyes from his daily theft? That’s certainly part of what distorts his thinking, but it doesn’t explain much.

What Jefferson’s thought has in common with 20th century fascism is that both are trying to deal with the problems of generating a political solidarity and ideology sufficient in several dimensions to order political governance. Searching for some “organic” foundation just seems like the application of a natural heuristic.

I feel like the critique, here, though is proceeding on the hypothesis that political solidarity is not really necessary, on any basis. And, that seems curious to me.

131

Matt Crow 12.03.12 at 7:47 pm

@JW Morgan 119- Helpful comments, but it is worth noting that ‘Jefferson’s politics is racialized’ is a considerably narrowed and more limited claim than ‘Jefferson- American fascist.’ And I think that is an appropriate move.

Helpful comments, because I think they open up a clear line of contestation. This might be to take us in a more Foucauldian vein, but I just don’t think it is historically or theoretically accurate to suggest that popular sovereignty or democratic constitutionalism, antinomian or perhaps anti-foundationalist politics presumed organic unity- no one in the eighteenth century is in a position to presume any such thing about the polities in which they lived. Marx and Arendt would both back me up I think on suggesting that you have the order reversed- race, ethnicity, and nationalism as recognized in the nineteenth century were fundamentally different than previously understood forms of belonging, even in the early modern period, to say nothing of before. Jefferson’s racial thought is (and I take this to be one of the things we can take from Corey Robin’s intervention) a response to the critical uncertainty and open-ended moment introduced by the revolutionary age, or perhaps originally by the Reformation, but anyway a moment Jefferson played no small part in creating himself, but to understand that is to also understand, I think, that it was not the only possible nor was it the only actual response.

132

rootless (@root_e) 12.03.12 at 7:50 pm

@ajay
Yes. Did you know that Lapp is a racial slur?

133

Jeffrey Davis 12.03.12 at 7:55 pm

“…he was always against slavery. Always.”

Make me chaste, but not now.

134

CharleyCarp 12.03.12 at 8:19 pm

Katherine, I don’t see the point about Jefferson’s financial excesses being exculpatory, but rather explanatory. He and Washington were really different kind of men. Washington wasn’t engaging in experimentation and economy at Mount Vernon because he hoped to be able to free slaves, but because that’s the sort of thing he liked to do. He believed in efficiency and thrift as positive goods. Jefferson, on the other hand, liked to dream big. Larger than life, ultimately unrealistic experiments with his plantation. As a consequence of choices he made, he couldn’t afford mass manumission.

We can judge him, sure, for this. But to what end: the whole feet of clay thing is battling straw men, unless there’s a meaningful present-day invocation of Jefferson’s racial views to justify resisting equality. Now. And that I’m not seeing.

135

CharleyCarp 12.03.12 at 8:22 pm

That is, I’m only seeing the negative aspects of Jefferson’s racial views coming from the side that (ostensibly) favors equality. Why not spend the same energy calling forth the better angels?

136

ponce 12.03.12 at 8:42 pm

@133

“Make me chaste, but not now.”

That was how the Constitution was written, a 20 year waiting period.

Jefferson fought for and signed into law a bill that banned the importation of slaves into America the second it was Constitutional.

He always considered that the first step to outlawing slavery.

After that, after 35 years of service, I think he felt it was time for someone else to shoulder the burden of creating America.

137

Bruce Wilder 12.03.12 at 8:58 pm

To extend what Matt Crow is saying, about the critical uncertainty and open-ended moment, I think I would want to go back to what Robert Halford was insisting upon, earlier, “the distinction between civil and social equality that was crucial to 18th and 19th century thought”.

I feel on firmer ground with Lincoln than with Jefferson, but both men were politicians, first and foremost, and Jefferson was only a philosopher as an avocation; Lincoln, if he was a philosopher, a strictly private one. It seems to me that the “distinction between civil and social equality” is one of those lawyer’s tricks, a fine distinction, meant to pretend that we can hive off part of a choice into the future, in order to get to agreement, today, on some more narrowly cast choice. I don’t know (and I know the textual evidence in Lincoln’s case) that Lincoln “believed” in such a distinction as a philosophical position; I know that he acquiesced in such a distinction and denied a desire for negro equality, whenever it seemed necessary to deflect or neutralize popular pressure. In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, how pure, or heavily qualified, his endorsement of black equality was, varied with the latitude: he would have nothing to do with black social equality in Cairo, but he wasn’t as racist as all that in Chicago.

It seems to me that Jefferson is responding to what he observes of the visceral impulses that seem to him, to drive bad behavior between the races. In this, he doesn’t invent an organic prior, so much as acknowledge one, and despair of overcoming it with rationalization any time soon. He wants and hopes for progress, in rationalizing better human behavior, and it is the hoped-for progress, which justifies adopting fine distinctions between social and political equality, as a kind of rationalizing lubricant, which will move human attitudes down the slope of progress.

The whole idea of colonizing freedmen, which was so popular, in theory if not in practice, among ambivalent planters in Maryland and Virginia, and which was endorsed by Henry Clay and pushed quixotically by Lincoln, was one of those grand bargain positions, which politicians sometimes latch onto. I don’t think we should understand it as a philosophical proposition, deduced from axioms of personal conviction or experience; I think we should see it as political proposition, which no individual really believes, but which helps a group of people with conflicting ideas and interests, arrive at a political decision, quiet controversy and move on.

I know it is fashionable to scorn liberal faith in progress now, but in the 19th century, the ability to gain assent to the combination of sweeping abstract principles and niggling incremental reforms rested upon the ability of politicians to split the infinitive with propositions that bridged the gap between visceral reactions tied to mass solidarity on one basis or another, and abstract ideals, whose full realization might well be put off into a distant future, as a way of overcoming “practical” problems of vested interest in established relations.

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Wonks Anonymous 12.03.12 at 9:02 pm

When I saw the title I assumed it would be about this sort of thing:
http://www.amazon.com/Jefferson-Civil-Liberties-Darker-Side/dp/0929587111/ref=sr_1_1
How disappointing that by “fascism” CR actually meant “Nazism”.

I was going to make a point about Jefferson changing the laws in Virginia to make manumission easier, but I was unaware of him adding more restrictions on former slaves once they were free.

I’m glad others mentioned the native population. That’s where there are closer parallels to Nazism, and indeed Hitler himself cited the example of their extermination.

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Stephen 12.03.12 at 9:30 pm

maidhc@11

Looking at the Declaration of Independence, I can’t actually see the sections you mention about not being allowed to invade Canada and expel the Catholics, or attack and expel the Indians. Not that these may not have been grievances of the Americans against British rule, just that I can’t see them in the DoI.

What I do see, though, among the grievances against George III, is “He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither”.

Oh, the irony: Romney & Co aligned with George III.

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Stephen 12.03.12 at 9:35 pm

Bruce Wilder @122: actually no, Newton found a series of neat wriggle-rooms, or wormholes, in the English laws that allowed him to become a professor without ever becoming a clergyman.

Don’t know how many less astronomically distinguished others managed to imitate him, though.

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rootless (@root_e) 12.03.12 at 9:57 pm

“I feel like the critique, here, though is proceeding on the hypothesis that political solidarity is not really necessary, on any basis. And, that seems curious to me.”

[at 1960s UCB protest] “Someone started singing the old Union standby, ‘Solidarity Forever’, voices stumbled, few knew the words (this despite the fact that the song is sung to the familiar tune of the battle Hymn of the Republic) . Then someone started ‘Yellow Submarine’, and the entire roomful rollicked into it, chorus after chorus.” In a sense, this moment was probably the perfect metaphor for the fusion that would take place in the late sixties. Much like “Solidarity Forever”, the discourse of the serious radical was perhaps not for everyone; not only did it emphasize a high degree of selfless political commitment, but also a fair degree of assertiveness and expertise on a wide range of foreign and domestic issues to employ effectively. Unlike Solidarity Forever, the Yellow Submarine was easy for a larger sector of the population to access, and perhaps more importantly, much more fun. The next day a student radical ran off a leaflet, complete with a psychedelic submarine illustration, declaring the episode a case of the “growing fusion of head, hearts, and hands”, and that the Yellow Submarine was “an unexpected symbol of our trust in the future, and of our longing for a place fit for us all to live in”

I think that’s from Todd Gitlin.

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Bloix 12.03.12 at 10:21 pm

Corey Robin is a troll. Please stop feeding him.

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William Timberman 12.03.12 at 11:19 pm

Rootless @ 141

I was there. The whole idea — and it was a very conscious one — was to generate some sort of lasting solidarity between what we thought of then as the radicals of both the cultural and political struggles — an attempt to gain some clarity about what our generation as a whole stood for, or could be persuaded to stand for. Could the political universe of the Berkeley Barb and the San Francisco Oracle be welded together, and if so, what then? Could we have a real impact on the world our parents built, and were defending with such tenacity against alterations which looked to them more like desecrations? It was one of those shining moments, like the storming of the Bastille, that history has already judged and found wanting.

I may well be misinterpreting your intent, but with your comments on other threads fresh in my mind, I suspect that you would dismiss such caprices as juvenile, self-serving, neglectful of, or woefully clueless about, the real issues, etc. You might even say that we got what we deserved.

Obviously, my twenty-four year old self would disagree with such an assessment, but then so does my sixty-nine year-old self. You didn’t have to be there, or somewhere very like there, to understand how important such moments of renewal are, but one way or the other, anyone who wants to know where the impetus for change comes from should think a bit before dismissing them. I’m pretty sure BW is aiming at a more robust definition of political solidarity, the kind that you hang a whole civilization on, but as we all know, that kind of solidarity, if it comes, comes much later, and it is, of course, the transition between shining moments and mature civilizations that’re a bitch.

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rootless (@root_e) 12.04.12 at 12:13 am

I may well be misinterpreting your intent, but with your comments on other threads fresh in my mind, I suspect that you would dismiss such caprices as juvenile, self-serving, neglectful of, or woefully clueless about, the real issues, etc. You might even say that we got what we deserved.

I quote Kushner’s Lincoln, quoting Shakespeare’s Banquo

If you can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not,

is hard to do. I tend to be sympathetic to critiques of the 60s student movement and what grew out of it but I don’t dismiss it. In any case it was not just one thing, but was multiple things some more laudable than others. I’d hate to become someone who glibly dismisses the work of other people in a different time so as to fit them into some neat little ideological scheme.

This is still interesting to read:
http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/~hst306/documents/huron.html

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William Timberman 12.04.12 at 12:41 am

Another Lincoln quote, familiar to all:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

Back then we aimed at a day when no one would dare require the slaughter of innocents as proof of one’s sincerity, or one’s resolve. That day may never come, but it’s worth looking forward to nevertheless.

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CharleyCarp 12.04.12 at 2:14 am

“For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies.”

It’s the Quebec Act, coupled with the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

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CharleyCarp 12.04.12 at 2:17 am

On which subject, this isn’t bad.

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Will R. 12.04.12 at 5:28 am

There is a historical connection between pro-slavery and fascism that I think has gone unmentioned: Thomas Carlyle. His reactionary writings, unified by a general theory that “great men” led history, forcing great achievements on the mediocre commoners, such that domination by artistocrats, military men, and so forth, was a moral good.

In his notorious lecture “Some Occasional Ponderings on the Nigger Question,” Carlyle advocated that England re-enslave the black population of the West Indies, who allegedly would not work, putting the sugar producers in distress. This essay was celebrated in the southern white-supremacist press at the time: “even where they have ended it, they are now having second thoughts.

It is usually seen as obvious that there is a connection between Carlyle’s writings and modern fascism. I think the difference with him is his emphasis on “greatness”, even if violent and disruptive, rather than emphasizing tradition, order, and God, as earlier conservatives did. In this, he strikes me as resembling somewhat Thomas Jefferson, who also isdains tradition, and glorifies violence.

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Will R. 12.04.12 at 5:31 am

Correction: “Occasional Pondering”, not “Some Occasional Ponderings”.

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Bloix 12.04.12 at 6:04 am

” Jefferson’s real and lasting contribution to the American experiment … is as a theorist of race domination—of white supremacy, of the perdurability of race (and specifically the black race), of the ineradicable shallowness of blackness as against the textured profundity of whiteness—that he stands out.”

In 1769, Thomas Jefferson, then a member of the House of Burgesses, drafted a law to permit slaveholders to free their slaves.

In 1782, Governor Thomas Jefferson signed into law the act that he had drafted more than a decade before, and that had finally been enacted.

When George Washington freed his slaves, he was able to do so only because Jefferson had written and signed the law that permitted it.

In 1785, after he wrote the passage that Robin quotes, Jefferson wrote a letter to his friend the Marquis de Chastellux, with the following lines:

“And I am safe in affirming that the proofs of genius given by the Indians of North America, place them on a level with whites in the same uncultivated state… I believe the Indian, then, to be, in body and mind, equal to the white man. I have supposed the black man, in his present state, might not be so; but it would be hazardous to affirm, that, equally cultivated for a few generations, he would not become so.”

And, from Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781,including the famous and terrifying words, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just”:

“The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other… And with what execration should the statesman be loaded, who permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots, and these into enemies, destroys the morals of the one part, and the amor patriae of the other… And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever… The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest… But it is impossible to be temperate and to pursue this subject through the various considerations of policy, of morals, of history natural and civil. We must be contented to hope they will force their way into every one’s mind. I think a change already perceptible, since the origin of the present revolution. The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation, and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the consent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation.”

A hypocrite, yes; a selfish man, yes; a cruel master, very likely; a man who failed to live up to his own beliefs, undoubtedly. But forerunner of fascism, theorist of race domination? It is, as they say, to laugh.

Corey Robin is a troll. I for one am going to stop feeding him.

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John Quiggin 12.04.12 at 6:54 am

@Will R: oddly enough, I was typing a denunciation of Carlyle this very morning, but didn’t think about any link to Jefferson. It’s not as widely known as it might be that his description of economics as the “dismal science” is derived from the Nigger Question pamphlet, and particularly his polemic against JS Mill.

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Chris Brooke 12.04.12 at 8:35 am

On which, for exhaustive (but not exhausting) detail, see David M. Levy’s How The Dismal Science Got Its Name (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2001) over here [pdf].

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Rakesh 12.04.12 at 9:17 am

I doubt Jefferson should be understood as racist.

I argued a decade ago that racism is best understood as a particular kind of prejudice.

Racism is the belief in intergenerational transmission of cognitive and moral inferiority of deeply different races due to the inheritance of some unchangeable substance itself invisible to the casual glance insofar as that substance appears inside the body.

The visible body and behavior are believed to give almost always evidence of said (postulated) substance, but appearances can be misleading. The one drop or or gene or stirp cannot itself be observed; hence, genealogy is needed to overcome suspicion of race. Racism is fundamentally about the invisible, not the visible. It is a paranoid, fantastical ideology. I have yet to read Barbara and Karen Fields’ new book, but I suspect that I shall agree with much of it.

I would be surprised if Jefferson had such a biological conception of the invisible or of biology as the study of the immediately invisible. Racism, I would guess, begins to take root with Morton’s craniology, Aggasiz’s biology, Galton’s theory of inheritance and Weismann’s bifurcation of somatic and germinal cells.

It’s a theory of the deep difference of races due to the hard inheritance of unchangeable substance which in turn makes cognitive and moral inferiority of the devalued races unchangeable.

In fact the inherited substance must itself be seen as unchangeable. Darwinian gemmules can be a mechanism to pass on acquired characteristics. Racial substance cannot be changed or improved; it is inherited by progeny just as it was inherited by genitors. Inferiority is inherited and fated. Racism allows no escape; unlike Jews and Moors “blacks” could not purchase certificates of racial purity.

Racism cannot take root without Galton’s stirp theory of inheritance, a reductionist conception of genetics or Weismann’s differentiating germinal from somatic cells. Only these theories posit the inheritable, unchanging, invisible substance on which racist fantasy of deep ineradicable racial difference in moral and cognitive capacities is based.

Racism may in fact be a late 19th and 20th century doctrine. Or at the least there is a kind of racism that comes into being only in late modernity.

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faustusnotes 12.04.12 at 10:00 am

Bloix, how do you reconcile the Jefferson of that letter with the racial theorist presented in the OP? Do you claim that the public intellectual is being misrepresented by Robin? Is it that his public and private writings have a different spirit? It’s not enough to present contradictory quotes from a great man – you have to present an explanation for the conflict in the writings.

Also, Robin and others have pointed out that it’s possible to be abolitionist and racist. So Jefferson’s public acts are not a defense against his race theorizing. You need, instead, to present an argument that the interpretation of his racial theories is wrong – either he had no influence on anyone subsequently, or his writing on the nature of race is being wrongly interpreted, or that he wasn’t attempting to tackle the question of what to do after the abolition. Simply presenting quotes and a legislative record doesn’t answer that issue. So please feed the troll with a little alternative theorizing – so far we have only ponce’s snark as a defense of Jefferson, and that’s not really very useful.

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Hogan 12.04.12 at 11:42 am

Jefferson fought for and signed into law a bill that banned the importation of slaves into America the second it was Constitutional.

Thus increasing the value of the slaves he owned and bred. It was a popular measure among Virginia slaveowners. Jefferson at least made a lot more money selling slaves after 1808 than working them.

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soru 12.04.12 at 12:34 pm

A short narrative history of the last two hundred years, ignoring imperialism and perhaps some other stuff:

USA: slavery bad but impossible to abolish, so invent racism
Confederacy: racism good, slavery good, so start war
KKK; slavery good but impossible to restore, so invent fascism
Nazis: racism good, fascism good, so start war
USA: Nazis bad, so racism bad

So to the extent the first and last ‘USA’s are counted as the same, there is going to be a contradiction. This is why most sensible countries either don’t tie up their identity in global politics, or change their identity every few hundred years.

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Bloix 12.04.12 at 2:34 pm

“Bloix, how do you reconcile the Jefferson of that letter with the racial theorist presented in the OP?”

The racial theory presented in Notes on the State of Virginia was bog-standard 18th and 19th C American conventional wisdom. Benjamin Franklin, president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, believed, like Jefferson, that white people and Indians were equal in all important respects, but that black people were inferiors. Abraham Lincoln, as we all know, believed for most of his life that free whites and free blacks could not peacefully co-exist. It’s extradordinarily rare to find a genuine believer in racial equality; and those who did believe it did so, not out of their personal experience, or scientific investigation, but out of a profound religious belief of the sort that virtually all readers here would deny.

The idea that these absolutely conventional beliefs single Jefferson out as a monster who is personally a forefunner of fascism is a howler of “liberal fascism” proportions.

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rootless (@root_e) 12.04.12 at 2:34 pm

The bitter irony of the slave-owning home of liberty is best expressed in Frederick Douglas’s 4th of July speech. But to paint Jefferson’s hypocritical actions and run-of-the-mill “scientific” racism as his fundamental legacy is to propose a dim filing system as key to knowledge – “hey I can put him in this folder. Case closed. ” Such an effort, however, does fit into the celebrity villain/hero view of history that seems popular in some circles and also has the happy effect of closing off discussion of our own moral ambiguities. The net effect is to reinforce the ideological construct that politics is a process of sneering at politicians for failing to live up to the moral standards of inactivists.

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Jeffrey Davis 12.04.12 at 2:38 pm

re:156

“The idea that these absolutely conventional beliefs single Jefferson out as a monster “

I don’t think Jefferson should be “singled out” as a monster, but that only means that he had company.

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faustusnotes 12.04.12 at 2:41 pm

Bloix, did Lincoln advocate about slaves that “When freed, he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.”? The argument you’re giving isn’t contradicting Robin. The OP’s argument, reinforced in comments, is that this writing of Jefferson’s is preparing the ground for a racialist response to abolition. Quoting him in support of abolition isn’t an answer to that point, and it’s clear that this part – about excluding freed slaves – was not commonly held by his peers. There are plenty of quotes making that clear here. So can you reconcile that statement of Jefferson’s with the letter you quote? Was he a public segregationist/exterminationist, but a private egalitarian? What’s your argument?

Incidentally, while hypocrisy in public life is a given, the example quoted here – of being an unusually cruel slave master, and potentially shagging your slave(s) – is a pretty extreme example and I think it does bear on how one interprets a man’s legacy. There’s only so much hypocrisy that can be borne before one begins to doubt the utterances of the hypocrite. I would have thought that the reports presented here are clear evidence that Jefferson was on the wrong side of that line…

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faustusnotes 12.04.12 at 2:45 pm

rootless, there’s a difference between “the moral standards of inactivists” and being a cruel slave master who shags his slaves. I would have thought one can sneer at the sneerers, in general, while accepting that some particular forms of behavior are beyond the pale. You wouldn’t take seriously the protestations of a vegetarian who wears new fur coats; we now look askance on Jimmy Savile’s charity work, it’s lost some of its value now we know he was shagging his charges. Perhaps Jefferson fits into that framework?

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ponce 12.04.12 at 3:12 pm

@154

“Thus increasing the value of the slaves he owned and bred. It was a popular measure among Virginia slaveowners. Jefferson at least made a lot more money selling slaves after 1808 than working them.”

Jefferson died in poverty.

The second part of his plan was to set a date after which children born to slaves would be free.

That also would have increased the value of his “holdings,” but would have also ended slavery.

Too bad he couldn’t get it passed.

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rootless (@root_e) 12.04.12 at 3:20 pm

faustusnotes:
Even at the time, as Patrick Henry admits and as comes from Jefferson’s “tremble for my country” line, the moral chasm between enlightenment ideology and slavery was obvious. Does that make the principles of the Declaration of Independence less powerful? Does it invalidate Jefferson’s observations of the wealth inequality of pre-revolution France? Are these now just pre-cursors of Fascist ideology? Does Dr. Johnson’s crisp condemnation of the hypocritical American freedom ideologists fail because we know he was a loutish sexist? Does FDR’s illegal and cruel imprisonment of Japanese-Americans make it reasonable to sum up his legacy as the prison-state? Does Ghandi lose all credibility because we know he treated his wife with great cruelty? If some sage were to write a brilliant essay on freedom from a coffee shop in Brooklyn, would his or her observations be refuted by noting that outside the cops were shoving children up against the wall and subjecting them to humiliation and abuse, or by pointing out the conditions of the workers who manufactured his or her Ipad?

The problem here is not exposing Jefferson’s hypocritical stance or his pseudo-science in the service of racism – in fact these are well known, except maybe to sleazeballs like Meachum. The problem is the attempt to reduce Jefferson to nothing more than a WWF bad guy – that is to award modern observers the roles of spectators and judges whose own moral ambiguities are not at issue, and to reduce politics to spectacle.

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Josh G. 12.04.12 at 3:28 pm

While Jefferson certainly deserves to be criticized for his failure to free his slaves, it seems rather unfair to paint him as a precursor of “fascism” for parroting views which were then relatively common. Jefferson didn’t invent racist pseudoscience, though it was a product of the Enlightenment, a desperate attempt to justify slavery. In previous eras, everyone took for granted that some people had the right to rule over others, but once you accepted the Rights of Man, the only way to justify slavery was to claim that the slaves were somehow less than truly human.

It seems to me that if you’re looking for the roots of Nazi racial anti-Semitism in particular, you’d have to go further back than the Enlightenment, to the early modern era. It was Spain during the age of exploration that invented the heresy of “limpieza de sangre” (pure blood), and held that those with Jewish or Muslim ancestry (even if they were currently practicing Christians) were somehow tainted. This was a sinister new step beyond traditional Christian anti-Judaism; in prior eras, a Jew who converted to Christianity was a Christian, plain and simple. Ferdinand and Isabella did not allow this route of escape, and neither did Hitler. There is a straight line to be drawn between the Spanish expulsions of 1492 and the gas chambers of 1941-45.

I do think that Jefferson’s views may have contributed to 19th-century European colonialism, which relied on many of the same hypocrisies (Enlightenment at home, tyranny and the sword for darker-skinned natives). And while the Nazi preoccupation with Jews was largely due to European historical factors, Hitler did specifically cite American Manifest Destiny as a justification for his attempted conquest of Russia. (He envisioned the Volga River, for instance, as “Germany’s Mississippi.”)

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Uncle Kvetch 12.04.12 at 3:48 pm

Does that make the principles of the Declaration of Independence less powerful? Does it invalidate Jefferson’s observations of the wealth inequality of pre-revolution France?

Has anyone on this thread suggested that it does?

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Bloix 12.04.12 at 3:58 pm

“Bloix, did Lincoln advocate about slaves that “When freed, he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.”?”

In his speech against the Dred Scott decision at Springfield in 1857, Lincoln said that of course white and black people are created equal, and he gave an explanation of the meaning of the Declaration that every school child deserves to be taught. He said that its authors “set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.”

And yet in the same speech, he professed a horror of “amalgamation,” proposed “colonization” – forced deportation – as a remedy, and proclaimed the superiority of the white race:

“There is a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white people, to the idea of an indiscriminate amalgamation of the white and black races; and Judge Douglas evidently is basing his chief hope, upon the chances of being able to appropriate the benefit of this disgust to himself… Now I protest against that counterfeit logic which concludes that, because I do not want a black woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. I need not have her for either, I can just leave her alone. In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others…

“Judge Douglas is especially horrified at the thought of the mixing blood by the white and black races: agreed for once-a thousand times agreed. … A separation of the races is the only perfect preventive of amalgamation but as an immediate separation is impossible the next best thing is to keep them apart where they are not already together….

“Such separation, if ever effected at all, must be effected by colonization… The enterprise is a difficult one; but “when there is a will there is a way;” and what colonization needs most is a hearty will. Will springs from the two elements of moral sense and self-interest. Let us be brought to believe it is morally right, and, at the same time, favorable to, or, at least, not against, our interest, to transfer the African to his native clime, and we shall find a way to do it, however great the task may be…”

Lincoln travelled a long, hard road before he freed himself of the illusion that separation was desirable and practicable. Jefferson, like the overwhelming majority of white Americans, never did so. That doesn’t remotely make Jefferson a proto-fascist or a “theorist of race domination.”

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JW Mason 12.04.12 at 4:00 pm

did Lincoln advocate about slaves that “When freed, he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.”?

The interesting thing is that Lincoln did advocate exactly this, until the late 1850s. It was only under the pressure of events (importantly including the actions of the slaves themselves during the Civil War, as discussed on the previous threads) that blacks could be part of civic life on the same terms as whites.

The issue with Jefferson with or Lincoln or whoever isn’t the “opinions” they held in a static way, but the dynamic way they responded to events in the world and the development of ideas, and the kind of political movements they became vehicles for. Under the extreme pressures of war and mass flight of slaves, Lincoln became the vehicle for the (tragically short-lived) merger of opposition to slavery with a much more comprehensive egalitarian vision. This isn’t because he had the idea of that merger already, before the war — he certainly didn’t — but there were other political configurations that he might have become a focal point for, and yet he found his way to this one.

Jefferson on the other hand went the other way – as Corey (I think) has pointed out, his commitment to fixed biological races actually came rather late in his intellectual development. It’s silly to say, “oh you can’t hold TJ responsible for believing what everyone believed at the time,” since he himself didn’t believe it when he was younger.

The point is that starting from similar places, both Jefferson and Lincoln were faced with acute contradictions in their political ideas, under concrete conditions in which those contradictions could not be papered over. Jefferson preserved his commitment to radical democracy by tipping all the way over to racialism. Lincoln resolved the same contradiction in the opposite direction, by accepting full citizenship for blacks. Of course this isn’t just about the two individuals — most importantly, slaves and ex-slaves were able to assert their humanity much more effectively in the conditions of the Civil War. But it’s not not about them, either.

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JonBooth 12.04.12 at 4:24 pm

I think it’s important to ask what do we mean by Jefferson’s legacy? The guy was president for eight years and presided over the largest single expansion of US territory. This seems, in practical terms to trump anything else he did. But the actual content:

First the Declaration. Post is obviously full of shit. While the declaration was used, rhetorically, by some abolitionists (starting with the Missouri crisis) it hardly deserves credit for giving them the ideas that slaves had rights and should be free. People managed to figure this out on their own all the time. This is doubly true because of the major intellectual shift in abolition from Enlightenment natural rights thought in the late 18th century and the mainly religious abolitionism of the 1830s-60s. Garrison and others hated the Declaration and especially the Constitution, they were aiming to uproot them and destroy slavery. More broadly, as François Furstenberg shows in “Beyond Freedom and Slavery” the Declaration and slavery did not need to be reconciled, since a major strand of American ideology held that whites deserved freedom because they resisted, and blacks consented to slavery by not resisting (of course actual resistance was ignored or minimized, but that’s a separate issue)

In my opinion Jefferson’s most important racial contribution was his treatment of Haiti (and Haiti, I think, had a major effect on Jefferson, and made him shut up about the blood of tyrants). It was Jefferson’s administration that almost helped Napoleon take the island back, and which cut off all trade in 1806. Jefferson was clearly terrified by what the “cannibals” in Haiti were doing, and saw their resistance not as honorable and rational, but merely as savage.

Despite this, and Jefferson’s general dickishness and hypocrisy, It’s hard to claim Jefferson founded white supremacy in any meaningful way. Forty years ago, Edmund Morgan showed how racism (or Race in Joel Olson’s formulation) developed out of slavery by governmental design in colonial Virginia a hundred years before Jefferson prattled on about how black people smell bad. White supremacy and slavery had numerous European and American defenders before and after the Notes. White supremacy would have been just fine without Jefferson. Furthermore, though his ideas of racial “Science” did prefigure the rise of scientific racism that you discuss, they weren’t particularly influential on that generation of scientific racists, as George Frederickson shows in Black Image in the White Mind.

Jefferson’s Notes was influential, however, in his ideas about gradual emancipation and colonization, which you allude to but do not quote at any length. I guess some people would say that he comes off slightly better in this part—OMG EMANCIPATION—but that’s bullshit. However, if we’re discussing his influence on the future of American slavery this section was very important.

Jefferson can certainly be blamed, in part, for the American Thermidor. The Federalists of the 1790s it in motion and the “Jeffersonian revolution” did nothing to stop it, especially because of Jefferson’s growing conservatism after the Haitian Revolution.

Finally, The scientific racists of the 1850s and later did not resurrect Jefferson, they had a number of influences, from mainstream science at the time, to 18th century racists, to European imperial theorists.

169

rootless (@root_e) 12.04.12 at 4:47 pm

Has anyone on this thread suggested that it does?

Jefferson was not a liberal hypocrite, a symptom of his time. He was the avant garde of a group of American theorists who were struggling to reconcile the ideals of the Declaration with the reality of chattel slavery. His resolution of that struggle took the form of one of the most vicious doctrines of racial supremacy the world had yet seen. That is his legacy, or at least part of his legacy. He was by no means the only one to take this route, but he was one of the earliest and easily the most famous. He is the tributary of what would become an American tradition.

170

Kevin Donoghue 12.04.12 at 5:05 pm

Bloix: “Benjamin Franklin, president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, believed, like Jefferson, that white people and Indians were equal in all important respects, but that black people were inferiors.”

Franklin thought black people less beautiful, but is there any reason to suppose he thought them inferior in any other respect? I mean in any way that couldn’t be remedied by better education etc. I quoted Gould above; absent evidence to the contrary, I’m assuming he knew his Franklin.

171

Mao Cheng Ji 12.04.12 at 5:09 pm

Politician has to be a hypocrite, or else they will be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, in no time. Which is, sort of, a concept opposite to fascism, where a visionary, completely 100% sincere and honest fuhrer leads the nation to the place that only he can see.

172

Uncle Kvetch 12.04.12 at 5:15 pm

rootless (@root_e), I really shouldn’t have to point this out:

That is his legacy, or at least part of his legacy.

173

CharleyCarp 12.04.12 at 5:16 pm

Thinking about Sally Hemings, I wonder just how much of a difference it should really make to us that he owned her. The relationship of a 18th century planter to his wife wasn’t exactly ownership — and certainly wasn’t ownership in the same sense — but it wasn’t any sort of partnership of equals we experience 21st century either.

174

CharleyCarp 12.04.12 at 5:18 pm

170 — Only if people are determined to make it so.

175

Harold 12.04.12 at 5:24 pm

It was believed that there existed an immemorial and hierarchical “great chain of being” in which each species had is assigned place. Mixing was widely believed to produce an inferior, adulterated being, a “half breed” or “mongrel” (a derogatory term), neither one thing or the other and hence inferior to both parents. This outlook held pretty much until the widespread acceptance of the mechanisms of genetics in the twentieth century, though there have always been imaginative and generous spirits who argued against this view. It informs Faulkner’s treatment of miscegenation.

See
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_chain_of_being#The_Great_Chain_in_natural science

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=5u3HZjTpkTgC&dq=Lovejoy+%22The+Great+Chain+of+Being%22&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

176

ponce 12.04.12 at 5:29 pm

@171

By coincidence, I was just reading that of all Jefferson’s slaves, Sally Hemings and her family were spared having to participate in the harvest, the hardest job at Monticello.

177

JW Mason 12.04.12 at 5:38 pm

Thinking about Sally Hemings, I wonder just how much of a difference it should really make to us that he owned her. The relationship of a 18th century planter to his wife wasn’t exactly ownership — and certainly wasn’t ownership in the same sense — but it wasn’t any sort of partnership of equals we experience 21st century either.

As you reread these sentences, CharlieCarp, do you feel a deepening sense of shame, disgust and self-loathing? Because you really should.

178

Kevin Donoghue 12.04.12 at 5:40 pm

Lucia Stanton:

One of Monticello’s white house joiners deplored the cruelty of Gabriel Lilly, overseer there from 1801 to 1805. Lilly whipped Critta Hemings’s seventeen-year-old son James three times in one day, when he was too ill to “raise his hand to his Head”. Yet Jefferson considered it impossible to find “a man who fulfils my purposes better than Lilly and would have kept him longer had he not demanded a doubling of his salary.”

Give it up folks. The man could write uplifting prose to be sure, but he was a jerk.

179

Peter Erwin 12.04.12 at 6:37 pm

According to Stephen Jay Gould, “Benjamin Franklin, while viewing the inferiority of blacks as purely cultural and completely remediable, nonetheless expressed his hope that America would become a domain of whites, undiluted by less pleasing colours.” (from The Mismeasure of Man, Ch 2)

The latter is clearly based on Franklin’s 1751 pamphlet “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc.”, which is mostly a curious discussion of a kind of proto-economics and sociology. It ends with an anti-immigrant rant directed against Germans in Pennsylvania (possibly motivated by the fact that German Pennsylvanians had recently joined with Quakers in voting against policies Franklin favored), and then in the final paragraph seques into a (to our ears) really quite bizarre discussion of who is and isn’t “white” (the French, Russians, Swedes, and all Germans except the Saxons[*] are “swarthy”, you see…).

The fact that Franklin justifies the idea of excluding non-whites from America on the following grounds: “… while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People?” suggests to me that he may not have been all that deeply and passionately committed to the idea. He ends by admitting, “But perhaps I am partial to the Compexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.”

[*] My guess is that this careful exception of the Saxons was designed to avoid any possible accusation of lese-majeste.

Franklin thought black people less beautiful, but is there any reason to suppose he thought them inferior in any other respect? I mean in any way that couldn’t be remedied by better education etc.

I don’t really think so. In 1763, Franklin wrote to a friend after visiting a “Negro school”:

I was on the whole much pleas’d, and from what I then saw, have conceiv’d a higher Opinion of the natural Capacities of the black Race, than I had ever before entertained. Their Apprehension seems as quick, their Memory as strong, and their Docility in every Respect equal to that of white Children. You will wonder perhaps that I should ever doubt it, and I will not undertake to justify all my Prejudices, nor to account for them.

180

JW Mason 12.04.12 at 6:59 pm

n 1763, Franklin wrote to a friend after visiting a “Negro school”:
I was on the whole much pleas’d, and from what I then saw, have conceiv’d a higher Opinion of the natural Capacities of the black Race, than I had ever before entertained. Their Apprehension seems as quick, their Memory as strong, and their Docility in every Respect equal to that of white Children. You will wonder perhaps that I should ever doubt it, and I will not undertake to justify all my Prejudices, nor to account for them.

I predict that this will diminish the chorus of “Oh, but EVERYONE was racist then, you can’t blame Jefferson” not one bit.

181

Anderson 12.04.12 at 7:00 pm

Yah, Gould was cherry-picking; Franklin’s thought on the subject developed a good bit after 1751. Let’s spare him the “American Fascist” tag.

182

Walt 12.04.12 at 7:20 pm

178: This is the standard that Lot proposed to God. If we can find five non-racists in colonial America, then we can conclude that racism was not widespread.

183

NickT 12.04.12 at 7:41 pm

If the best defense Bloix can offer of Jefferson is that “everyone else was doing it” plus a few snippets here and there, I would suggest that it is time for counsel to start re-thinking his refusal of the plea bargain. An apology for calling Corey Robin a troll would also seem in order.

184

CharleyCarp 12.04.12 at 7:48 pm

Am I disgusted and ashamed that the past of my species, of my race, of my country, of my culture, of my gender, of my family, sucked? Yes, but I am not marinating in it. The past is what it is. It’s the future that matters.

185

Kevin Donoghue 12.04.12 at 8:03 pm

Peter Erwin, thanks.

186

etv13 12.04.12 at 8:05 pm

NickT@181: I don’t take Bloix to be defending Jefferson against the claim that he was a racist jerk, just against the claim that he was a proto-fascist whose “legacy” had anything much to do with the rise of the Nazis.

187

Main Street Muse 12.04.12 at 8:52 pm

“If the intransigence of biology was the back-story of race, it followed that there was only one race, properly understood, in America: the black race.”

I find this interesting, this focus on “one race – the black race.” What is this great white group of individuals? How does the historian who believes in this reconcile the Russian serf – who, at the time of Jefferson, was as enslaved as the blacks? How does the historian reconcile the terrible ethnic divisions of Europe? The Russian pogroms to rid the countryside of Jews – well in advance of the Final Solution initiated by the Nazis? The English view of the Irish prior to the partition?

But perhaps, being from Chicago, though lately moved south of the Mason-Dixon line, I come at this topic differently. Here’s the great Mike Royko, on the racism of the new world (seen in Chicago, in the 20th century, though by no means isolated to Chicago):

“With their tote bags, the immigrants brought along all of their old prejudices, and immediately picked up some new ones. An Irishman who came here hating only the Englishmen and Irish Protestants soon hated Poles, Italians and blacks. A Pole who was free arrived hating only Jews and Russians, but soon learned to hate the Irish, the Italians, and the blacks.”

Corey says, “Writing long before these theories of racial difference were fully formulated, Thomas Jefferson offered a glimpse of what it means to think of blacks as a race, as the race, and whites as individuals.”

This glimpse of “whites as individuals” is a glimpse of history through a strange filter. Whites have never been a unified “race” – the white “race” is really a group of ethnic tribes riddled with division and hatred. To ignore that is a puzzling choice.

Jefferson fascinates not because he’s the precursor to fascism – but because he’s the first true modern American – a man who believed in liberty (but only for those like him), a man who lived far beyond his means (he died $100,000 in debt, and thus his heirs could not afford to free his slaves), a man who wrote the great and noble words of the Declaration of Independence, but whose reality of equality and freedom included the ownership of slaves. And he was a powerful man who was accused in the media of a rather provocative sexual tryst with “Dusky Sally.” A modern man indeed.

188

ponce 12.04.12 at 9:07 pm

@185

“a man who believed in liberty (but only for those like him), “

Wrong:

“I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally, to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country, have long been eager to proscribe.”

http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/jeffmes6.asp

189

Will R. 12.04.12 at 9:07 pm

@John Quiggin

Ha. I was going to mention the “dismal science” connection, but didn’t since this is not an econ blog. Strangely, I got into an internet argument some time back with a Marxist who thought Carlyle really did have something worthwhile to say about economists in that pamphlet. When I read both, I was surprised both by how baldly despicable Carlyle’s argument was, and how much I agreed with Mill. Both are online:

http://cruel.org/econthought/texts/carlyle/negroquest.html

190

SusanC 12.04.12 at 9:50 pm

I’m a little perplexed by this line of argument.

OK, Jefferson was a racist and the Nazis were racist, but there’s also a whole lot of European racism before, between and after them. It seems less a connecting factor than a common background that influenced just about every European or American political project.

In other respects, the Nazis seem very unlike Jefferson.

Unless… there’s something distinctively new in Jefferson’s brand of racism that we see resurfacing in the Nazis. The way that science is co-opted comes to mind.

P.S. That male orang-utans are attracted to human females is reasonably well documented, e.g. by primate researcher Birute Galdikas and a more recent documentary with Julia Roberts. Whether they actually *prefer* humans, I have no idea. (Interesting that Jefferson doesn’t say that orang-utans like white women best of all, which would seem to be where his line of thought is leading).

191

rootless (@root_e) 12.04.12 at 10:43 pm

@178
“I predict that this will diminish the chorus of “Oh, but EVERYONE was racist then, you can’t blame Jefferson” not one bit. ”

There is little justification or excusing of Jefferson that I have seen, just lack of enthusiasm for the Liberal Fascism Legacy Line. In any case, Franklin’s letter here is not much different from Jefferson’s letter to Banneker which has been oddly ignored by the LFLL proponents.

192

Bruce Wilder 12.04.12 at 11:53 pm

I do think that there some unintentional Manichean-ism, which arises from imagining, maybe, a symmetry of ideas between conservatives and progressives, in what are, after all, political struggles turning as much as an emerging awareness of interest, as ideology or philosophy.

When we don’t know much, we tend to project trendlines back through time past, and overlook the dynamic cycles and broad contests over moral awareness. It is easy to mistake a politician’s search for a formula for a “Grand Bargain” as a personal, philosophical evolution.

I don’t know what the point was, of JW Mason’s admonition to CharleyCarp over the observation that women in the 18th or early 19th century were legally and politically dominated, even outside the institution of slavery. I don’t think that it is coincidental that Garrison’s re-invention of abolition, circa 1830, gave birth to the long struggle for women’s rights.

I find it difficult to see a genetic relationship between Jefferson’s ideas about how the rich man and his camel might fit through the eye of the needle of an eventual end of the evil of slavery, and the ideologies of 20th century fascism.

I do see a reluctance, even in my own thoroughly progressive, liberal idealistic self, to fully acknowledge the active, if not entirely positive, role of conservatives in enacting major, historic reforms. Jefferson, in many ways, was a conservative; Lincoln was a conservative.

There may be interesting issues, concerning how moral character relates to the political uses of ideology and accommodation of interest. I don’t feel like we’ve uncovered them.

The reality of politics is a dynamics of push-pull, action and reaction, giving rise to cycles and slow motion, which slow motion is not, itself, desirable or inevitable, but becomes the process. Idealism, even radical idealism, is useful, but it doesn’t act or react alone, and it’s the reaction that produces results. Even the inert elements have their effect in political chemistry.

It seems to me that there are at least three species of ideology. One is the hopeful, idealist sort, that arises from disinterested analysis and good will. (My team!) And, I don’t know, maybe, there’s a reactionary and defensive rationalization of whatever evil is being done or is being exposed by the idealists. (Fascist bastards!) And, then, there’s the “Grand Bargain” politicians trying to push the Rich Man and his Damn Camel through Jesus’ Eye of a Needle, in order to move the state and its polity forward. (Lincoln, Jefferson)

[I thought Nietzsche's point about Kant was that Kant was a cowardly politician, laboring in the building of his system, to thread his own agnosticism (well, really atheism, but Kant couldn't be that honest even with himself) through the eye of a needle of reactionary and conventional, Christian piety.]

It is one of the ironies of political history, I suppose, that things only seem to get done, for good and all, when conservatives do them. The great millennial Revolution never comes, but the Counter-Revolution does, over and over.

193

rootless (@root_e) 12.05.12 at 1:56 am

It seems to me that there are at least three species of ideology. One is the hopeful, idealist sort, that arises from disinterested analysis and good will. (My team!)

Not an unusual theory.

194

SusanC 12.05.12 at 11:01 am

This seems to hint at, not Jefferson the proto-Nazi, but Jefferson the Sadean pervert.

We have Jefferson ill-treating his slaves, even by the standards of the time. We have the children with Sally Hemmings (probably). We have Jefferson extoling the superior beauty of white women in a not entirely convincing fashion, and then succumbing to a fantasy about orang-utans.

Those of us familiar with the works of Donatien Alphonse François de Sade can easily fill in the dots: e.g. that Jefferson was sexually aroused by whipping slaves, had a fetishistic attaction to African-American girls etc. If Jefferson was a character in one of de Sade’s books, he’d probably also like being sodomized by African-American guys and actually have done the scene with orang-utan rather than just fantasizing about it … no historical evidence for this though, as far as I am aware.

In Madness and Civilisation, Michel Foucault has “Sadism is not a name finally given to a practise as old as Eros; it is a massive cultural fact which appeared precisely at the end of the eighteenth century…” Jefferson fits right in here.
======

The other point of comparison would be the character of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness:

It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: ‘Exterminate all the brutes!’ The curious part was that he had apparently forgotten all about that valuable postscriptum, because, later on, when he in a sense came to himself, he repeatedly entreated me to take good care of ‘my pamphlet’ (he called it), as it was sure to have in the future a good influence upon his career.

And from right to left along the lighted shore moved a wild and gorgeous apparition of a woman.

“She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments. She carried her head high; her hair was done in the shape of a helmet; she had brass leggings to the knee, brass wire gauntlets to the elbow, a crimson spot on her tawny cheek, innumerable necklaces of glass beads on her neck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witch-men, that hung about her, glittered and trembled at every step.

.. which seems to capture the other side of the Jeffersonian imagination.

195

JW Mason 12.05.12 at 2:16 pm

In any case, Franklin’s letter here is not much different from Jefferson’s letter to Banneker which has been oddly ignored by the LFLL proponents.

You’ve got it backward. The fact that Jefferson did not believe in blacks’ absolute biological inferiority when he was younger, make his later racialism *worse*. It proves that his racism was not just a product of the times, but a position he deliberately adopted even though alternative, no-racialist views were available to him. It supports the fascism link, rather than undermining it.

196

JW Mason 12.05.12 at 2:26 pm

I don’t know what the point was, of JW Mason’s admonition to CharleyCarp over the observation that women in the 18th or early 19th century were legally and politically dominated, even outside the institution of slavery.

The point is that if you can’t see the fundamental difference between the situation of wives in the 18th century and of slaves, you are either being willfully obtuse or lack basic moral sense. It reminds me of Fogel and Engerman’s line in Time on the Cross, that slaves being sold away from home was not so bad because it usually happened “at an age when it would have been normal for them to have left the family.”

197

faustusnotes 12.05.12 at 2:41 pm

So this guy who is seen as a huge influence on the development of modern American political thought, a keystone in the arch of American democracy, the guy who wrote the declaration of independence and whose views on liberty are still revered by a large number of Americans – his writings on race had no influence beyond his time? He must be a unique public thinker indeed, that he could have a huge influence on the development of political thought as it regards the purpose and function of democracy, but his opinions and writings on the other central issue defining America’s development – race relations and slavery – were irrelevant.

I don’t think it’s usually the case that a single writer is seen as being the sole originator of a strand of thought, such as scientific racism. Of course there are others at the same time who are saying the same things. But some people have more influence than others, and their commendation of certain points of view may carry weight. Consider, for example, a man who wrote the constitution for a new and thriving nation that had just defeated a major colonial power, and was setting up a system of government that his peers considered unique and revolutionary. Such a man might be considered to add weight and influence to the ideas he promoted. Even if some two-bit French philosopher had been peddling the same twaddle for years to little effect.

The task remains for Jefferson’s defenders to reconcile his conflicting positions. Otherwise, we have in our hands a grubby speech advocating deportation en masse, or worse. Why should we not think him a racial theorist, and why not an influential one?

198

JW Mason 12.05.12 at 2:53 pm

faustusnotes-

Yes, exactly. Nobody has a problem with the idea that “Jeffersonian democracy” was a live concept through the 20th century. So why not “Jeffersonian racism”? And might there not be some relationship between his specific ideas about democracy and his specific ideas about race?

199

Bloix 12.05.12 at 3:05 pm

#192- stop arguing with CharleyCarp and take it up with John Stuart Mill:

“The law of servitude in marriage is a monstrous contradiction to all the principles of the modern world, and to all the experience through which those principles have been slowly and painfully worked out. It is the sole case, now that negro slavery has been abolished, in which a human being in the plenitude of every faculty is delivered up to the tender mercies of another human being, in the hope forsooth that this other will use the power solely for the good of the person subjected to it. Marriage is the only actual bondage known to our law. There remain no legal slaves, except the mistress of every house.”

J.S. Mill, “The Subjection of Women,” 1869

200

ponce 12.05.12 at 3:05 pm

@193

“The task remains for Jefferson’s defenders to reconcile his conflicting positions.”

But we’re not defending what Jefferson wrote.

We’re defending the lies and bad faith readings of the people who have an interest in tearing Jefferson down.

I thought I’d come across every kind of wingnut there is on the interenet over the past 10+ years, but this thread has introduced me to the Jefferson hating wingnut, a fairly typical example of the species.

201

faustusnotes 12.05.12 at 3:16 pm

You’re defending “lies and bad faith readings” by presenting other things Jefferson wrote or said. That isn’t an argument. Others have pointed out that there is a temporal order to his writing. I have asked if there is a public/private distinction to his writing, which has not been answered. Several have tried to claim he couldn’t possibly have been influential (after all, he only wrote the declaration of independence, and got regularly invoked by Lincoln). So if you are “defending the lies and bad faith readings” then you need to explain what role the different texts play, how they fit together, why yours contradict theirs, etc. I don’t see this happening. All I see is “my letter beats your book excerpt.”

That’s not a defense.

202

christian_h 12.05.12 at 3:46 pm

JW (194): Precisely. My guess is the outraged reaction to pointing out and analysing the intellectual tradition Jefferson’s racism feeds into is precisely based in an unacknowledged awareness of how much at the root of our social and political system this racism really is – how much Jeffersonian democracy and Jeffersonian racism are inextricably linked. Since the dominant ideological thought in the U.S. relies on the illusion that the two can be separated – in fact, always have been separated in an ideal fashion (as in treating the founders like some kind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Jekyll of “all men are created equal” vs. the Hyde of “how do we rid ourselves of free black people”) – this awareness must never become acknowledged, else we might have to draw inconvenient conclusions about how to relate to this system.

203

Kaveh 12.05.12 at 3:52 pm

JW Mason @194 Well at risk of pedantry, there is one big difference: hasn’t ‘Jeffersonian democracy’ been a prominent American myth for a long time, which is not the case with “Jeffersonian racism”?

The amount of argument over this is puzzling to me, certainly it’s plausible that Jefferson’s belief in biological race was influential, but it’s not a done deal without more direct evidence from what later people said about Jefferson’s legacy. Is there any evidence of his words being marshalled to support the pro-slavery side? Probably beyond the scope of a blog conversation and a research project in its own right, but it’s hard to see how people can take such strong positions w/o at least an attempt to look for such evidence…

204

Trader Joe 12.05.12 at 4:22 pm

@193

Hasn’t history already reconciled the conflicting positions for us?

Jeffersonian democracy and related guiding principals continue to thrive in numerous nations/states around the world.

Jeffersonian racism/fascism (as expounded) no longer exists in any place where the democracy exists and precious few places outside of democracies.

Reconciling or “defending” a theory which ceases to have merit is about as useful as defending Ptolemy’s view of the universe. Plainly he was wrong and the world has moved on, it doesn’t discount his other contributions to astronomy and mathematics.

Being wrong about one thing doesn’t preclude insight about others whether it be philosophical, political or moral. A legacy is the sum of all parts and I think both defenders and opponents agree Jefferson has both debits and credits on his balance sheet.

205

JW Mason 12.05.12 at 4:26 pm

Kaveh-

I think Corey’s comment @77 does a good job answering your question.

206

JanieM 12.05.12 at 4:28 pm

What Kaveh said, in all respects. This has been one of the weirdest threads I’ve ever seen at CT. I find myself semi-agreeing with people who are usually at the top of my “ignore if I’m short of time” list, and being bemused at best and disappointed at worst in the contributions of people whose comments I usually just want to follow with “What X said.”

Leaving the meta aside, however, here’s a sample bit, one of many such, from Maine statutes in approximately the 1820s (the notes on my photocopies aren’t as careful as they should be):

…when a feme sole shall jointly with one or more persons, be appointed executrix, or administratrix, and after such appointment shall, during the life of the other co-executor or co-administrator, marry, such marriage shall not make the baron an executor or co-administrator in her right; but shall operate as an extinguishment or determination of such woman’s power and authority. And the other executor or executors, administrator or administrators, may proceed to discharge the trust reposed in them in the sme way and manner as if such woman were dead.

[feme sole = ummarried woman; baron = husband]

******

Also, what the whole sad story of Jefferson’s attitudes about race keeps making think is: look inside. What am I doing, what are we all doing, right now, that will make people in a couple hundred years shake their heads in wonderment that we could have been, for all our good qualities, such blindered and destructive shits. I think the answer to that is quite likely to be, on a more specific and (can I even say this?) minor level: look at factory farming, just for one example; or: look at how we’ve depleted the land that must sustain us; and on a more global level: climate change. The house is about to burn down, we know it, and here we are arguing about Thomas Jefferson…..

207

Chris Crawford 12.05.12 at 4:40 pm

I think we’re suffering from hagiolatry. Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln, Adams, and all the others were human beings, with flaws like any of us. Why should we expect otherwise? Sure, he had his flaws; who cares? What’s important are the ideas, and they should be completely divorced in our minds from their promulgators. If Sarah Palin were to enunciate a worthy idea, should we not take it seriously despite its ragamuffin source?

Yes, this approach is too intellectually austere for the great mass of people. We build memorials to Jefferson, Lincoln, and Washington and we teach our children to idolize these “great men”. It’s a useful shorthand, I suppose, for instilling a quick-and-dirty appreciation of the important ideas they should understand. But is it any different than the grand spectacle of religious ritual that the Catholic Church has used so masterfully to command the loyalty the simple-minded?

A more interesting question, I think, is whether our democracy can mature enough to dispense with hagiolatry. Can we educate our citizens well enough that they embrace the important ideas of liberal democracy instead of their promulgators? Could you imagine a day when we erect a memorial to freedom of speech, or a monument to equal rights for all citizens? I myself am pessimistic that such a day will ever arrive.

But is it not shameful that we, the supposed intelligentsia, succumb to the same idle gossip and fan wars that so dominate the popular press?

208

Corey Robin 12.05.12 at 4:41 pm

199: “Is there any evidence of his words being marshalled to support the pro-slavery side?” At 77, I mentioned Rogers Smith’s book, and said that it has a fair number of examples of precisely how his racist argument was used by the pro-slavery side. And if you follow Smith’s footnotes, you’ll find even more.

And really, everyone, can we get past this silly “tear down Jefferson” vs. “defend Jefferson” construct? It’s almost beneath comment that grown-ups would talk like his.

As for the idiotic Jonah Goldberg comparison: It’s unclear to me how many of you have even read the book, but if you have, you know that his agenda is presentist and partisan. Goldberg has zero interest in what fascism was about, how it came about, etc.; he wants to attack liberalism, and more important, contemporary liberals. That’s his sole goal.

I on the other hand do have a genuine interest in fascism and how it connects with questions of race, race war, settler colonialism, and some of the elements various folks have brought up here. My interest comes in part from my engagement with Hannah Arendt’s work, in part from my own reading and writing and teaching about these various issues, and in part from my desire to de-exceptionalize America — to try and do what Louis Hartz did more than a half-century ago: to see America in relation to Europe (though I come to much different conclusions from him.)

I guess if you take your contemporary political bearings — pro or con — from the writings of Thomas Jefferson, you might see what I’ve written as a partisan attack on you, on the order of Jonah Goldberg. But since I don’t take my bearings from Jefferson, it’s hard for me to see what I’ve written as in any way a political intervention in contemporary debates (and this is coming from someone who makes many such interventions).

In terms of why I didn’t talk about Jefferson’s democratic contributions and the like. There’s a lot I could say about that — including the fact that I don’t get the sense anyone’s interested in the substance of those issues; they just want me to prove my ideological bona fides, that I’m a member of the American nation in good standing — but let me just quote H.L.A. Hart instead: what is the point of writing “a book [or a blog post] from which one learns what other books contain?”

209

ponce 12.05.12 at 5:28 pm

@204

You title a post “Thomas Jefferson: American Fascist?” and then are shocked that people defend Jefferson?

Really?

210

bianca steele 12.05.12 at 5:32 pm

I didn’t know Jefferson had written that blacks were biologically inferior to whites. I did know that he had written on other topics regarding race, specifically arguing that humans and other animals didn’t degenerate in the Western Hemisphere compared to how they’d flourished in the Eastern. And I’d known that there was a split between people who thought interbreeding weakened a genetic strain and those who believed it strengthened it. And I’d known that many abolitionists did not envision the possibility of integrating freed blacks into American society–though it had already been done–to some extent–in the North.

I do distrust attacks on Jefferson. He did support property restrictions for voting rights. On the other hand, he supported a relatively broad franchise, compared to others who were in favor of property restrictions. And he remained with the party that generally supported a broader franchise. I tend to assume most attacks on Jefferson, therefore, are coming from the right. And (except in this case, where I know a lot about the source) attacks from the right in terms of “fascism” to be disingenuous concern trolling.

211

bianca steele 12.05.12 at 5:34 pm

Not that the OP is an attack from the right–the parentheses should be moved–but that otherwise I would assume a similar attack was.

212

bob mcmanus 12.05.12 at 5:38 pm

I on the other hand do have a genuine interest in fascism and how it connects with questions of race, race war, settler colonialism, and some of the elements various folks have brought up here…and in part from my desire to de-exceptionalize America

An interesting and very ambitious project. I too believe America influenced Europe (and Japan) in the 19th and early 20th more than is generally accepted. I might strongly recommend a look at Toqueville and his evolution/devolution in reference to Democracy through his writings on Algeria and his rationalizing of ethnic difference. Same with JS Mill (and other Victorian Brits) and India.

What I have found, for instance in the case of Japan, is that the imperialism or other economic and political purposes actually precede and are justified by a subsequent invented ethnocentrism. JS Mill became more racist and paternalist after India became difficult. IOW, racism was just a simple effluent and consequent of primitive accumulation. They wanted their stuff, so they called then less-human.

And probably as connectable to rationalist process liberalism, in the sense that nations/rights/privileges are founded in boundaries and exclusions (see Friedrich List) as to any kind of authoritarianism. Caesar had less need to justify conquest.

And so it is a long long way to Hitler from Jefferson, and doesn’t pass through Nietzsche at all. But good luck. I guess.

213

Harold 12.05.12 at 5:42 pm

Sometimes people on the “left” do the work of the right.

214

Anderson 12.05.12 at 5:51 pm

Sometimes people on the “left” do the work of the right.

Ah, so CR is “objectively pro-right”? Woe unto you, comrade Robin!

215

Corey Robin 12.05.12 at 5:53 pm

205: Really.

216

bob mcmanus 12.05.12 at 6:08 pm

The Japanese did not carry Zarathustra. They had On Liberty, List, and Henry C Carey in hand as they moved on Formosa, Korea, and Manchuria.

And I thought this was the state of scholarship on imperialism and racism after the last century, that imperialism and racism are outgrowths of bourgeois liberal capitalism. Meritocracy writ large.

The attempt to connect it to aristocratic struggles is astounding. You will make academic history.

217

Kaveh 12.05.12 at 6:13 pm

@201 & 204, Thx, and in that case the debate in the last couple dozen comments is even more puzzling, because 77 establishes the relevance of Jefferson’s text and sets out the historical stakes very clearly.

218

Chris Crawford 12.05.12 at 6:18 pm

209: Why must we frame all issues in terms of left/right polarization? On a wide variety of completely independent political positions, we see ridiculously high correlations between the position taken and the political preference of the individual. Why must all liberals detest nuclear power and all conservatives embrace it? Why must climate change be a leftist cause? Why must everybody align themselves with a particular party rather than judge each issue independently?

219

christian_h 12.05.12 at 6:22 pm

I do not get this argument that says on the one hand, Jefferson had these great “ideas” about democracy and then on the other he had some bad “attitudes” because he was “a flawed human being”. No, he had ideas regarding democracy and related ideas regarding race. In particular the racist writings Corey cites are informed by a concern that an intrusion of freed slaves into (white) democracy will wreck it. I for one would argue that Western liberal democracy has throughout its history been reliant on racism of some form or another (whether the biologist exclusionary type displayed by Jefferson or the paternalistic culturalist one of JS Mill) in order to reconcile its ideals of itself with the oppressive reality it has constructed, whether at home or abroad.

220

Corey Robin 12.05.12 at 6:25 pm

213: “Thx, and in that case the debate in the last couple dozen comments is even more puzzling, because 77 establishes the relevance of Jefferson’s text and sets out the historical stakes very clearly.” Oh dear sweet Kaveh: you think that people actually read what the people they’re arguing with say?

221

ragweed 12.05.12 at 6:43 pm

One question that I think may be relevant to this discussion – to what extent did the defenders of Jim Crow in say 1900-1970 draw on Jefferson’s writing on race? Doing some cursory searches in the New York times, I can find references to several segregationist speaches and pamphlets that reference Jefferson’s views on race – but they usually also reference Lincoln, and appear to be more of the scattergun method of historical argument – grab any quote from any prominant historical figure that vaguely supports the issue. However that’s just a tiny scratch at the surface – I would be interested to know how widely used Jefferson’s views were.

What has always seemed clear to me, is that Jeffersonian democracy is at the very least harmonious with settler-colonialism, if not built upon the very foundation of it. The notion of democracy as defended by the landed farmer assumes the need to take more land for the nation to grow. It really is not a long road from there to the Trail of Tears.

222

ponce 12.05.12 at 6:50 pm

@216

We read it.

You left out some some very key points, though.

The main reason Jefferson thought that blacks and whites couldn’t live together had nothing to do with “racism.”

He thought that blacks would rightly be too bitter about slavery to live peacefully with whites after emancipation.

223

rootless (@root_e) 12.05.12 at 6:51 pm

@191

You’ve got it backward. The fact that Jefferson did not believe in blacks’ absolute biological inferiority when he was younger, make his later racialism *worse*. It proves that his racism was not just a product of the times, but a position he deliberately adopted even though alternative, no-racialist views were available to him. It supports the fascism link, rather than undermining it.

Notes on the State of Virginia was published in 1781 and revised in 1785
Jefferson’s letter to Banneker was in 1791.

Even if the chronology were otherwise, the theory that it would support “the fascism link” is odd. Self serving theories about the inferiority of slaves are of very ancient origin. In fact, there is a fascinating discussion of some of these in Graeber’s Debt, a book that contrary to the book reports we have seen on this forum, has more than two chapters.

Fascism is generally understood to be something associated with industrial states and although there have been no historical shortage of racist and otherwise repellent theories to justify despotism, jumbling them all together seems a project lacking in virtue.

224

Harold 12.05.12 at 6:57 pm

How about Aristotle as the father of fascism? Or Plato?

225

Substance McGravitas 12.05.12 at 7:02 pm

Jefferson’s letter to Banneker was in 1791.

It doesn’t strike you that the letter is Jefferson being a contradictory blowhard again? “Cheque’s in the mail.” Maybe this link will work:

http://books.google.com/books?id=fWIFAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA476&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

226

Suzanne 12.05.12 at 7:20 pm

@ 185:
“Jefferson fascinates not because he’s the precursor to fascism – but because he’s the first true modern American – a man who believed in liberty (but only for those like him), a man who lived far beyond his means (he died $100,000 in debt, and thus his heirs could not afford to free his slaves), “

There were quite a few “modern Americans” among the founders, if dying in debt constitutes modernity. Jefferson has his singular hypocrisies, but he could certainly envision liberty for those beyond his class.

227

ragweed 12.05.12 at 7:51 pm

I do distrust attacks on Jefferson. He did support property restrictions for voting rights. On the other hand, he supported a relatively broad franchise, compared to others who were in favor of property restrictions. And he remained with the party that generally supported a broader franchise.

Which touches on one of the more troubling paradoxes in US political history. Jumping forward a few years we have Jacksonian democracy, which was simultaneously one of the most ardent movements in support of expanded franchise, and at the same time blatently white supremacist.

228

rootless (@root_e) 12.05.12 at 8:04 pm

It doesn’t strike you that the letter is Jefferson being a contradictory blowhard again?

Well, of course. He’s being an ass. The man was a slave-owner, for God’s sake. I consider that inexcusable and criminal. The letter itself is grotesque: “gee if I’m not standing on your face, you seem to function better, what a surprise”. It was, however, written after Notes – making the neat progression towards fascism-in-whigs theory look stupid.

This is not so hard: it is possible to consider Jefferson a despicable person for being a slave-owner and bad-faith rationalizer of his own criminal behavior without signing up for some similarly crackpot variant of Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. People have done serious work on the whole theory of “scientific racism”, on the dehumanization involved in slavery in general, on European racism in specific, and so on. There is a fascinating discussion of dehumanization/slavery/ and the western notion of property law in Graeber’s book.

My objection to Robin’s argument is not a defense of Jefferson’s personal morality.

229

rootless (@root_e) 12.05.12 at 8:08 pm

@193

“The task remains for Jefferson’s defenders to reconcile his conflicting positions”

Actually,the task is for those with a grand schema of Jeffersonian-fascism to show why Jefferson’s vacillating and often incoherent remarks on race should be considered to be the foundations of fascist ideology.

230

Substance McGravitas 12.05.12 at 8:17 pm

It was, however, written after Notes – making the neat progression towards fascism-in-whigs theory look stupid.

And after that, a letter to someone not-black saying maybe someone was doing Banneker’s work for him. I’m not making the pro or con argument for fascism, I’m saying I don’t think the Banneker letter means anything at all and I don’t understand why an argument would turn on it.

231

Corey Robin 12.05.12 at 8:57 pm

224: “My objection to Robin’s argument”: You’re funny!

232

Corey Robin 12.05.12 at 9:00 pm

226: Give a man a fish you feed him for a day. Give him a Google search engine…and he discovers a letter to Benjamin Banneker!

233

DBW 12.05.12 at 10:00 pm

CR: “I guess if you take your contemporary political bearings — pro or con — from the writings of Thomas Jefferson, you might see what I’ve written as a partisan attack on you, on the order of Jonah Goldberg. But since I don’t take my bearings from Jefferson, it’s hard for me to see what I’ve written as in any way a political intervention in contemporary debates (and this is coming from someone who makes many such interventions).”

I have no interest in either “defending” or “attacking” Jefferson, but in understanding his thought, its origins and its consequences. But your method is not a legitimately historical one which might lead to such an understanding, which leads many of the commentators here to see your post and its follow-up in 77 as “a political intervention in contemporary debates.”–and a bad one at that. That is, you start with twentieth-century fascism and read its origins back into homologous ideas you can find in Jefferson’s writings, while ignoring or diminishing all of the larger context of both Jefferson’s thought and the scientific racism of Enlightenment thought. It’s the collapse of difference between eighteenth- and twentieth-century thought that renders the claims here presentist. Instead of just citing Smith on the influence of Jefferson’s NOTSOV on pro-slavery thought, for instance, it might be of some value to see the ambivalence of the whole body of proslavery thought with regard to scientific racism, particularly where such racism conflicted with Biblical accounts, which were one of the principle sources of proslavery ideology. But you seem to have no interest in contextualization in historical terms, only in drawing connections between some fragment of the past and some later ideology. On another note: the question of the relationship between Jefferson’s ideas about human equality and his ideas about racial difference doesn’t lead us inevitably to a charge of contradiction, as some seem to assume. As a number of commentators have suggested, these are not only compatible ideas, but bear the mark of a common Enlightenment attitude: a willingness to redefine both “human nature” and “human difference” by applying the tools of reason and empirical observation. It is only because our contemporary ideas of equality have a richer content than the formalistic equality of rights that eighteenth-century thinkers invoked that we find a contradiction. What next: Kant as precursor to Hitler? Or perhaps the Koran and Islamo-Fascism?

234

Corey Robin 12.05.12 at 10:16 pm

229: I think you’re conflating two very different things. It’s true that I’m not doing much “contextualization in historical terms” here, at least not as you’ve defined those terms. But to leap to the conclusion that I am therefore being “presentist” — and not just presentist but presentist in a partisan fashion — is unwarranted.

235

bianca steele 12.05.12 at 10:56 pm

@223
The word “paradox” is overused, I think, and a lot more needs to be said about this. What if Jackson’s party had lost? Would it be morally preferable to have a society where only white people are rich but only rich people are privileged (have civil rights)? Would the result have been better if slavery had been abolished before the property requirement? I never understand whether the paradox is supposed to be that even people pushing for reform, 200 years ago, didn’t envision how much reform would occur, or whether it’s supposed to be that people who want everyone to have civil rights are always racist fascists because “that’s reality.”

236

rootless (@root_e) 12.05.12 at 11:15 pm

@230
“And after that, a letter to someone not-black saying maybe someone was doing Banneker’s work for him. I’m not making the pro or con argument for fascism, I’m saying I don’t think the Banneker letter means anything at all and I don’t understand why an argument would turn on it.”

The Banneker letter shows that the effort to find a consistent proto-fascist racial ideology in Jefferson’s writings needs some work that is more convincing than selective presentation of the record (you know, the presentation that is lacking what google search shows in 10 minutes). But to me it is less of a problem for the original thesis than the racist sentiments in Linnaeus and Buffon. The alternative hypothesis, that Jefferson’s racism is basic European racism plus very convenient planter rationalization, compounded with the pseudo-science of his time is much simpler, matches more of the evidence, and doesn’t rely on anachronism.

237

ponce 12.05.12 at 11:43 pm

@234

“But to leap to the conclusion that I am therefore being “presentist” — and not just presentist but presentist in a partisan fashion — is unwarranted.”

It’s the similarity of your post to the shrill wingnut “historians” that desperately cast about for a controversial book idea that will make them a few bucks that is disturbing.

Where, for instance, is any proof to back up your claim that Jefferson advocated a race war to solve the problem of slavery?

Where, for i

238

rootless (@root_e) 12.05.12 at 11:48 pm

239

Harold 12.06.12 at 12:44 am

“John W. Burgess, who would help found the discipline of American political science at Columbia, wrote in 1884 that ‘the creation of Teutonic political genius stamps the Teutonic nations as the political nations par excellence, and authorizes them, in the economy of the world, to assume the leadership in the establishment and administration of states.’ In The Winning of the West (1889), Burgess’s student at Columbia, Theodore Roosevelt, described the world domination of ‘the English speaking peoples’ as irresistible impulse that acted in ‘obedience to the instincts working half blindly within their breasts,’ and in so doing ‘wrought out the destinies of a continental nation.’” — Gerald Graff, Professing Literature: an Institutional History (1987).

Clearly, the American discipline of political science is based on racialist assumptions, since the founder of its key principles. John W. Burgess (from Tennessee and a member of the Dunning school of reconstruction), was a white supremacist. Therefore, American political scientists are all Fascists. QED.

240

Corey Robin 12.06.12 at 1:35 am

237: “Where, for instance, is any proof to back up your claim that Jefferson advocated a race war to solve the problem of slavery?”

As the OP and my subsequent comments make clear, race war is not an answer to the problem of slavery; it’s an answer to the problem of emancipation. So you’re wrong about that.

But on the question of “advocacy,” you have a point, and I should have been clearer.

Here is what I said in my OP:

“Jefferson, I would submit, should be remembered not only as the writer of the Declaration of Independence and owner of slaves, but also as a contributor, along with his successors, to a doctrine of race war…”

“They beat the drums of race war. Like the Nazis ca. 1940, they offered deportation and extermination as final solutions to the Negro Question. If blacks were set free, Jefferson warned, it would ‘produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of one race or the other.’ The only alternative was an ‘effort…unknown to history. When freed, he [the slave] is to be removed beyond the mixture.’ Anticipating the writings of Robert Brassilach, the French fascist who argued that compassion meant that Jewish children should be deported from France with their parents, Dew claimed, If our slaves are ever to be sent away in any systematic manner, humanity demands that they should be carried in families.’ If the slaves were freed, Harper concluded, ‘one race must be driven out by the other, or exterminated, or again enslaved.’”

“Lurking beneath the South’s notions of race war….”

The language I’m using here is ambiguous (and not deliberately so; I just wasn’t being careful enough.) Some of the language I use here describes the race war position as advocacy, and some of the language suggests something more like “vision” or “imagination” — i.e., it’s not that Jefferson is pushing for something, he’s just imagining a future.

Were I to rewrite this, particularly with respect to Jefferson, I’d err on the side of vision/imagination (his successors, like Harper, fall more on the advocacy side). He certainly had a vision of race war (again, not as an answer to slavery but to emancipation). But it’s true that “advocate” is too strong.

That said, as David Brion Davis pointed out years ago, it was during this time that “Jefferson began experimenting with the locutions which for the rest of his life would characterize his response” to questions about the fate of the slaves. That is, beginning in the 1780s, Jefferson often spoke about slavery and emancipation in a way that merged description and prescription, and blurred the distinction between a fatalistic sigh and political advocacy. As Davis notes, this is quite out of keeping with how Jefferson generally spoke political questions. So one has to be careful how one assesses his language there. Again, were I to rewrite this post, I’d pay more attention to that.

By the way, I had forgotten this, but Davis also points out a letter Jefferson wrote to Joel Barlow, in which he says to Barlow that in the Notes on the State of Virginia, he expressed his doubts about black capacity in as “soft” and “hesitating” and “tender” a manner as he could. About which Davis tartly observes, “one can only wonder what his uninhibited doubts would have been.”

241

faustusnotes 12.06.12 at 1:43 am

Trader Joe:

Jeffersonian racism/fascism (as expounded) no longer exists in any place where the democracy exists and precious few places outside of democracies.

That’s because fascism went to war with a state it couldn’t beat, and the ideology was wiped off the face of the earth by the soldiers of the Soviet union. Nothing to do with the enduring power of Jefferson’s ideas.

Bob McManus, I find it extremely hard to believe that the Japanese were followers of Mill in world war 2. In fact I’m willing to bet you a groat that his work was banned during the war. The book the Japanese soldier actually carried to his death was If you read only this, you will win (in Japanese, kore dake yomeba katsu, I think) which was a racist screed extolling the virtues of superior Japanese over inferior foreigners. A Japanese wartime propaganda picture shows western individualism as dandruff being brushed from a Japanese woman’s hair – I don’t get the impression Mill’s ideas were held in high esteem here.

Furthermore, I get the impression that Japanese translations of Mill incorporated confucian and Buddhist ideas, because even his admirers were uncomfortable with the implications of utilitarianism and individual liberty for Japanese social order. If you want to get an idea of how pre-war intellectuals thought about western concepts of individual liberty, I suggest you read I am a cat by Natsume Soseki (wagahai ha neko). This book shows us two important things: 1) that Japanese intellectuals before the war saw western individualism as a threat to the Japanese social order and 2) that the average housecat knows more about Japanese political philosophy than you do.

Although I find DBW’s alternative representation of Jefferson interesting, I’m still stuck by the claim that his racist thoughts would have no legacy. If you look at the history of US legal structures of racism, you get this: Jefferson advocated ending slavery, and subsequently slavery was ended; Jefferson advocated replacing it with segregation (as per the OP), and the last legal racism in the USA to be repealed was … segregation. 200 years after Jefferson.

Isn’t that evidence that his racial thinking held some influence?

242

Corey Robin 12.06.12 at 1:45 am

Re my last comment: In the interests of perspective — and, I’ll admit, tweaking the tender sensibilities of some folks here — we should remember that when it came to race war and extermination, Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Rosenberg, and others often tacked back and forth between these registers of unhappy prediction and positive prescription, fatalistic sigh and political advocacy. I’d have to do more research, but I suspect you find that kind of slippage rather frequently other comparable situations and circumstances.

243

Main Street Muse 12.06.12 at 1:55 am

“Jefferson, I would submit, should be remembered not only as the writer of the Declaration of Independence and owner of slaves, but also as a contributor, along with his successors, to a doctrine of race war…”

To Corey, what white leader of Europe did not also engage race wars? European history is littered with the detritus of racism. Quite bloody. Quite violent. Going back for centuries.

Is it less of a race war when it is a Russian lord who wants to own serfs – because both “races” are white?

Are racism and fascism the same? I did not think so, but please do elaborate.

244

Corey Robin 12.06.12 at 1:58 am

243: I’ve dealt with every single one of these issues and questions in the OP and the comments.

245

ponce 12.06.12 at 2:19 am

@240

“About which Davis tartly observes, “one can only wonder what his uninhibited doubts would have been”

Thomas Jefferson in 1809:

“Be assured that no person living wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a complete refutation of the doubts I have myself entertained and expressed on the grade of understanding allotted to them by nature, and to find that in this respect they are on a par with ourselves.”

http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/thomas-jefferson/letters-of-thomas-jefferson/jefl191.php

246

Harold 12.06.12 at 2:21 am

No fair using google, Ponce.

247

bob mcmanus 12.06.12 at 2:22 am

Bob McManus, I find it extremely hard to believe that the Japanese were followers of Mill in world war 2.

Nah, Meiji mostly. By WW II Japanese philosophers were into Heidegger and the existentialists. Watsuji Tetsuro, Nishida, etc Kyoto School. There was a smidgen of Nietzsche and Kierkeggaard study but it was disreputable. No they are neither comfortable with individualism or collectivism that isn’t small group.

But the 30s doesn’t interest me as much the period when Japan was moving from the Closed Shogunate to the more liberal industrial and imperialist state of say 1880-1925 and the ideologies that led to the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. By the 30s they were committed and Iiki Kiti was used as a justification of frenzy. But whatever racism there was in even Iiki was anti-white and the conquest of Asia was justified under a paternalistic liberalism, a protection of the more backward nations like China and Korea from the Imperialist West. until they could develop.

Americans having been trying to project their own racism back into Japan for around a century.

You got your understanding of Japan from I am a Cat? I am not impressed.

248

js. 12.06.12 at 2:30 am

So… people seem quite upset at the suggestion that Jefferson may have espoused ideas that prefigure certain unpalatable 20th century ideologies. I though was somewhat struck by the following comment of Trader Joe’s (204):

Jeffersonian democracy and related guiding principals continue to thrive in numerous nations/states around the world.

Is this at all true? It strikes me as not true. What is true is that popular representation in some form or other is more or less well accepted in most parts of the world. But surely this is a far cry from Jeffersonian democracy? I’d have thought the latter meant something quite specific—freeholders, some form of agrarianism, and all that. (People who more about TJ than I do: feel free to correct me.)

Now I suppose one way to go here would be the following. Oh look: Jeffersonian ideas on democracy—not influential at all! Even less reason to think then that his ideas on race, slavery, emancipation need have been at all influential. Quad erat etc.

And again, this strikes me as implausible. What’s a hell of a lot more plausible is that people continued to appeal to Jeffersonian ideas of democracy, and that these ideas continued to inform the development of democratic forms of governance even as these forms took on definite shapes that didn’t necessarily correspond all that closely to what Jefferson was on about. Why, then, would it be so strange if Jefferson’s ideas on race etc. continued to inform (decidedly more unseemly) political and ideological developments, that, once they reached their full crowning glory, would obviously only bear a partial resemblance to the ideas originally espoused by Jefferson? (And I’d have thought that CR has presented considerable—even if, in this thread, not decisive—evidence that such informing was going on.)

249

Corey Robin 12.06.12 at 2:31 am

245 and 246: You two read that statement as vitiating?

250

ponce 12.06.12 at 2:34 am

@249

I think it proves Jefferson had an open mind and was willing to admit his mistakes.

251

Corey Robin 12.06.12 at 2:44 am

Like most academics, I think Google can be an immensely useful tool. It’s especially useful if you have some prior sense of the lay of the land. It’s less useful if you’re just reacting to something that makes you feel jittery and jumpy and/or are looking for a gotcha or a quick fix — hmm, how can I learn myself so that I can affect some expertise on Linnaeus and “scientific racism in the 18th century” in the next ten minutes — to make it all go away.

252

Bloix 12.06.12 at 2:45 am

#240-
I really shouldn’t do this – it’s like picking at a scab. It hurts and it doesn’t do any good.

Robin’s sole citation in his original post is from Notes on the State of Virginia – a book that has been famous since it was written in 1781 and has been parsed and interpreted continuously since then.

There is nothing about race war in the passage Robin quotes at length. Not a word or a hint. But there is a concern about race war in the previous sentences, which he quotes later, and then out of context.

Jefferson introduces the topic of slavery by noting that there had a proposal to amend the laws of Virginia to do a large number of things, including

“To emancipate all slaves born after passing the act.”

The law, which he favored, would direct that “they should continue with their parents to a certain age, then be brought up, at the public expence, to tillage, arts or sciences, according to their geniusses, till the females should be eighteen, and the males twenty-one years of age, when they should be colonized to such place as the circumstances of the time should render most proper, sending them out with arms, implements of houshold and of the handicraft arts, feeds, pairs of the useful domestic animals, &c. to declare them a free and independant people, and extend to them our alliance and protection, till they shall have acquired strength.”

Robin does not mention Jefferson’s proposed law. He calls the plan for public financing of education, colonization, and support as equivalent to the Nazi “final solution.” Seriously, that’s what he says. Use your finder button and see. He competely suppresses the actual plan of emancipation and education that Jefferson supported and likened it to extermination camps. Read it for yourself.

Jefferson’s plan was hopelessly utopian, but it and plans like it had broad support, and even reached the point of the actual colonization of Liberia. They were not plans for endless race war.

Why, Jefferson asked himself, not let the slaves stay as free men? “Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.”

So if the slaves were freed there might be war, due equally to white prejudice and black (legitimate) resentment. Yet he still favors their freedom. Does Robin really argue that this is a fascist conception of race war? Yes, he does.

And there is another discussion of race war in the same book, which is just as famous, and which I quoted at 150. Because of its length, I did not quote in full – if you go to the original you’ll see that he is even more condemnatory of the effects of slavery on masters and slaves alike than in my excerpt.

After describing the evils of slavery Jefferson imagines a future conflict between slaves and masters, and says about it,

“The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.”

If ever there is a race war, then, the masters will justly lose. But, he hopes, slavery will not necessarily result in war; perhaps masters will agree to emancipation without it:

“The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation, and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the consent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation.”

“Rather than their extirpation.” Pretty stark, isn’t it: the choices he sees are (1) emancipation with the consent of the masters, or (2) extermination of the masters.

And if the masters are exterminated, well then, that will be God’s justice.

Voluntary emancipation was perhaps a reasonable belief in 1781. The cotton gin had not been invented and the South was not entirely an export-based plantation economy. And in spite of his fears, Jefferson as governor (as I pointed out above, but hey, if Robin can ignore me once, why not let him ignore me twice) made acts of emancipation possible in 1782 – the year after his book that according to Robin espouses race war – by signing the law that allowed masters to free their slaves, thus paving the way for the development of a class of free blacks.

Forty years later, in 1820, Jefferson was still writing of the evils of slavery and the need for gradual emancipation and expatriation, and he had progressed no further in imagining a way that it could be accomplished: “we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go: justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”

And he turned out to be correct: There was no way for gradual emancipation to be accomplished. There was only slavery or war. But this is nothing at all like the doctrine of race war that Robin, in his fevered imaginings untethered from any words or deeds of the historical Jefferson, invents and attributes to the Monster of Monticello.

What you see in Jefferson are these beliefs:
1) whites (and Indians) are superior to blacks;
2) racial marriage and integration generally are unworkable and bad for society;
3) slavery is evil and amaging to slaves and to masters;
4) eventually emancipation will be necessary;
5) emancipation without separation will probably lead to war;
5) there appears to be no practicable way to eliminate slavery now, but
6) perhaps a way will be found in the future.

These are a set of beliefs held by a person who never could reconcile his own personal stake in the slave system and his own political and ethical beliefs, and eventually gave up trying. They are not the beliefs of a malevolent theorist of race war.

It’s worth noting, by the way, the powerful bracketing of Jefferson’s “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just” and Lincoln’s “so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”” The war for emancipation that Jefferson foresaw did come, although not in the way he foresaw it.

253

bob mcmanus 12.06.12 at 2:47 am

What interests me about Japan is that Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa has a lot of options after they deposed the Shogun. They chose a liberal constitutional democracy, a very difficult choice, such as it was such as it ever is, because they thought liberal democracy was the optimal model for industrialization and eventual imperialism. They were right for fifty years until it decayed into fascism and madness. Inevitably?

We surely know who their models were. But we didn’t learn much from their mistake.

254

Corey Robin 12.06.12 at 2:53 am

249: In 1781, Jefferson says, I’m kinda thinking blacks are, you know, sorta unequal by nature. In 1809, he says, I really wish — in fact, no one wishes more than I — to be proven wrong on this question; I so badly want someone to show me that they’re our equals. But, gee whiz, here we are, 28 years later, and…where’s that refutation I’ve been waiting for?

Not really much of an admission there. But again to understand how his rhetoric worked on this issue, you really should read David Brion Davis. I know he’s not Google, but he is pretty much the most important scholar of anti-slavery thought in the last half-century. In fact, he kind of invented the field.

255

rootless (@root_e) 12.06.12 at 2:58 am

Like most academics, I think Google can be an immensely useful tool. It’s especially useful if you have some prior sense of the lay of the land. It’s less useful if you’re just reacting to something that makes you feel jittery and jumpy and/or are looking for a gotcha or a quick fix — hmm, how can I learn myself so that I can affect some expertise on Linnaeus and “scientific racism in the 18th century” in the next ten minutes — to make it all go away.

Dear God. This is one for the archives.

256

faustusnotes 12.06.12 at 3:03 am

Bob at 216:

The Japanese did not carry Zarathustra. They had On Liberty, List, and Henry C Carey in hand as they moved on Formosa, Korea, and Manchuria.

Bob at the beginning of 247:

Nah, Meiji mostly. By WW II Japanese philosophers were into Heidegger and the existentialists. Watsuji Tetsuro, Nishida, etc Kyoto School.

Bob at the middle of 247:

whatever racism there was in even Iiki was anti-white and the conquest of Asia was justified under a paternalistic liberalism,

so they were marching under Mill; then they weren’t; then they were. All in the space of two comments.

I don’t think anyone in the Japanese establishment took the liberation of Asia and the anti-colonial project seriously. It was just a cover for their own imperial goals. They had a whole racial scheme with different nationalities serving different productive roles, some of them little more than slaves. They even wrote a massive white paper documenting their plans for the future of Asia, and liberal development they were not.

I guess you would sneer at anyone attempting to learn anything about Japan by reading Japanese authors, wouldn’t you?

257

bob mcmanus 12.06.12 at 3:07 am

See I kinda think Robin is absolutely on the right track in looking toward America for the roots of fascism. But he wants to connect it to conservatism and reaction, and so looks too much to slavery and Dixie. Which got smashed mid-19th. The Britisj were running into all sorts of headaches in India and Africa in the late 19th.

The Germans and Japanese had a much more successful model of settler colonialism and genocide to examine and emulate. America didn’t have any trouble in their west anymore. And they were a mercantilist republic.

Nanjing and Treblinka were born at Wounded Knee.

258

js. 12.06.12 at 3:09 am

Bloix @252:

I’m pretty sure that your comment supports CR’s thesis (though I’ll let him decide for himself). After all, the point is supposed to be that Jefferson is grappling with the problems of emancipation after all. Thing is, I’m still not even a hundred percent convinced (given what I work on—at least sometimes—anachronistic readings are a serious occupational hazard, so I’m very wary of this sort of thing) but the evidence for CR’s reading is undeniable, and what you’re quoting seems to be part of the evidence!

259

Kaveh 12.06.12 at 3:14 am

I don’t see what his views on race being inconsistent has to do with whether his ‘more racist’ statements influenced later racist discourse. If the point is to judge what was deep down in Jefferson’s soul, then sure…

260

ponce 12.06.12 at 3:33 am

@254

That seems like a bad faith reading of Jefferson’s letter.

He’s saying the slaves of Virginia make a poor sample to judge all blacks by.

In a later letter about that very letter Jefferson wrote:

“His (Gregoire’s) credulity has made him gather up every story he could find of men of color, (without distinguishing whether black, or of what degree of mixture,) however slight the mention, or light the authority on which they are quoted. The whole do not amount, in point of evidence, to what we know ourselves of Banneker. We know he had spherical trigonometry enough to make almanacs, but not without the suspicion of aid from Ellicot, who was his neighbor and friend, and never missed an opportunity of puffing him. I have a long letter from Banneker, which shows him to have had a mind of very common stature indeed. As to Bishop Gregoire, I wrote him, as you have done, a very soft answer. It was impossible for doubt to have been more tenderly or hesitatingly expressed than that was in the Notes of Virginia, and nothing was or is farther from my intentions, than to enlist myself as the champion of a fixed opinion, where I have only expressed a doubt. St. Domingo will, in time, throw light on the question.

http://bobarnebeck.com/ellicott.html

Again we see Jefferson was very open-minded, which seems to me to be the very opposite of how a racist…or a fascist, thinks.

261

Harold 12.06.12 at 3:38 am

I should have said, “Don’t cheat by using google, reading books, referring to dates, facts, or people’s actual words”. That is playing “gotcha,” a privilege not allowable to plebs.

262

Corey Robin 12.06.12 at 3:46 am

252: In addition to what js says at 258, let me add two things. First, the amendment you’re talking about, which Jefferson mentions in Notes and in his autobiography — here’s why I didn’t talk about it. That amendment was never submitted to the Virginia legislature — Jefferson in his autobiography claims it was “kept back” for fear of public backlash — and as William Cohen and other historians have pointed out, aside from Jefferson’s own testimony, we have no evidence that there ever was such an amendment. So it doesn’t quite have the status you seem to think it has.

Second, in keeping with the point I’ve been making about Jefferson’s main concern being emancipation, he was actually centrally involved in revising the slave code of Virginia around 1776 or so. This was the height of the revolutionary moment, at a time when most historians agree that Jefferson was most seized by his anti-slavery convictions. What did he do? Not only did he not liberalize the slave code in any way — that’s neither here nor there for my argument — but he actively sought to impose much greater restrictions on free blacks in Virginia. Including prohibition of free blacks from coming into the state, forced expulsion of free blacks from the state, expulsion of white women having children with blacks, with the children to be put beyond the pale of the law (and so re-enslaved or killed), and so on. So draconian were these provisions that even the Virginia legislature rejected them. And these proposals, I would argue, rather than the one he describes in States — and again for which we have little evidence of its existence — are actually quite in keeping with how he describes removing blacks “beyond the mixture.” And if you want a little more set-up for that quote, which I didn’t provide, here’s what he says just before it: “Among the Romans emancipation required but one effort. The slave, when made free, might mix with, without staining the blood of his master. But with us a second is necessary, unknown to history. When freed, he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.” Racial purity requires it.

Again, this is what makes him such an interesting, and as I said “prefigurative,” character. He himself thought his thinking about such things were in the avant garde; remember, he describes his plan for removing blacks “beyond the mixture” as an “effort…unknown to history.”

263

faustusnotes 12.06.12 at 3:51 am

bob, what are you doing at 257? Just two comments earlier you were claiming that Nanjing was part of a project of “paternalistic liberalism,” now you’re comparing it with Treblinka. Is it your opinion that the German program in Eastern Europe was another example of “paternalistic liberalism”? Or are you claiming that the conquest of America was? Or are you arguing that a paternalistic liberal anti-colonial project (for so you seem to think the Japanese depicted their “achievements” in Asia) could be inspired by a straight out genocidal conquest, such as happened in the USA?

Not only are you bouncing all over hte place here, but your understanding of Japanese politics seems to be very idiosyncratic. The Meiji era leaders wanted modernization as a response to the sudden fright of gunboat diplomacy, and the imperialism came later. They also didn’t select liberal democracy as their project. There was nothing liberal about it, and the liberalism of the European worldview was rejected by their thinkers. It’s very strange that you would think a nation that had just been forced at gunpoint to emerge from 300 years of isolation would suddenly decide to set about an 80 year long imperial project, before they’d even laid a single inch of railway line. And stranger still that they would decide to do this under a liberal democratic banner when there were plenty of Imperial examples they could have chosen, and their head of state was an Emperor. What are you thinking???

In your model, you seem to think that the Japanese adopted a liberal democratic framework (in which almost everyone was excluded from voting!) while being simultaneously highly suspicious of western liberalism, with the explicit intention of creating an empire, then marched that empire straight into hell under the banner of JS Mill. All inspired by the very illiberal example of the Battle of Wounded Knee.

It’s a great story, but it doesn’t make any sense.

264

Corey Robin 12.06.12 at 3:52 am

261: Harold, my apologies. It wasn’t you I had in mind when I made that statement re Google, as its addressee seems to realize all too well.

265

Corey Robin 12.06.12 at 4:01 am

Anyway, we’re getting diminishing returns here, and I’m becoming even snarkier than usual (not even rootless deserves this condescension, though he does do his darnedest to earn it!). So I’m going to retire from the field.

266

rootless (@root_e) 12.06.12 at 4:04 am

@261
to be fair, google/facts/reading and stuff is best left to the experts and not messed with by us unlarned folks. We tend to be too jittery for profound knowledge. Jonah Goldberg told me this too.

267

Main Street Muse 12.06.12 at 4:10 am

Corey @244, as you note elsewhere, your language is ambiguous. Perhaps that is why I still do not understand how Jefferson is THE thread that leads us to Hitler.

“Like the Nazis, the defenders of slavery spoke of lebensraum. We often forget that Hitler, in Mein Kampf, spurned Europe’s pursuit of overseas colonies, arguing instead that his countrymen should “direct [their] eyes toward the land in the East” where Germany could escape the industrial present and build an agrarian future. “

I’ve been to many different countries in this world – on several different continents. It is quite remarkable to see how the racial hatreds of white Europeans have transformed the globe – in ways that have led to the destruction of any number of native populations. As an example, England’s deportation of “criminals” (many of whom were Catholic) to “the fatal shore” of Australia.

And also the English destruction of its close neighbor, Ireland. When Cromwell forced Irish Catholics to move west of the Shannon River (“to hell or Connaught”), “it was the greatest act of ethnic cleansing in the British Isles since the Norman Conquest.” (http://ind.pn/VxRGHV)

How is Cromwell’s destruction of Irish Catholics less fascist than Jefferson’s views of blacks? How is Jefferson not immersed in that slipstream of racism that held white Europeans to be superior to all other races. How is he worse?

268

Harold 12.06.12 at 4:21 am

Clearly, Jefferson led straight to Hitler and Rousseau to Stalin. Case closed.

269

bob mcmanus 12.06.12 at 4:45 am

263:You are babbling. JS Mill was popular in Japan as I said, in early Meiji. You really can’t discuss the 30s, after the military had taken over, in the same light as even the 20s of Hara.

a) Five Charter Oath of 1868 points 1, 2 & 3: Establishment of deliberative assemblies;Involvement of all classes in carrying out state affairs;
The revocation of sumptuary laws and class restrictions on employment. Followed by a decent Constitution in 1889. Who actually ruled Japan was of course very complicated (clue:It wasn’t the Emperor), but who actually rules is always complicated.
Peter Peterson?

b) Saigo Takamori instigated the Satsuma Rebellion in 1873 over the delay in invading Korea. There was no question as to whether Korea would be attacked, just a matter of when. Japan imposed a treaty on Korea in 1876, and sent troops to Korea in 1882. Japan had had no territorial ambitions for over 250 years, since Toyotomi was humiliated. Suddenly they did. Yes, the Imperialism started with the restoration.

So much for your expertise.

So representative government and imperialism were directly connected, in fact and ideology, at the very beginning. The Japanese understood what a modern nation.

And that is the important point, that fascism comes out of bourgeois capitalist liberalism, as a populist movement in response to perceived failure, not aristocratic reaction.

270

DBW 12.06.12 at 4:55 am

CR: “But again to understand how his rhetoric worked on this issue, you really should read David Brion Davis. I know he’s not Google, but he is pretty much the most important scholar of anti-slavery thought in the last half-century. In fact, he kind of invented the field.”

Wow. Waiting for Woody Allen to pull Davis out so he can tell Robin, “You know nothing of my work.” Really, if you’re going to go to Davis on this (which you really should), you’re not going to get any support whatsoever for the claims made in this post. I am certain that Davis would thoroughly reject the reading of Jefferson and his “influence” here.

271

Corey Robin 12.06.12 at 5:27 am

270: Oh, you don’t need Woody for that! Just read Davis himself (which I assume from your tone you have): “We should remember that various forms of proto-racism and even genocidal racism are not necessarily linked with slavery. For example, the Nazis’ elaborate program to exterminate all Jews seemed to have nothing to do with slavery….” He’d be the last person to agree with me on my overall thesis! I assumed, though, that my “to understand how his rhetoric worked on this issue” was enough to signal what it was that I thought Davis was useful for: explaining how Jefferson often blurred the distinction between description and prescription. That, after all, is argument of his that I cited at 240. Had I know you or anyone would have assumed me to be saying that Davis agrees with my overall argument, I would have taken the necessary prophylactic measures. My apologies if there was any confusion on that score. There really shouldn’t have been.

But now I’ve already violated my decision to retire from this discussion. Just didn’t want to clarify the confusion. But I promise I won’t interrupt the conversation again. Carry on, lads!

272

Corey Robin 12.06.12 at 5:28 am

Oops, that should have read “Just wanted to clarify the confusion.”

273

faustusnotes 12.06.12 at 5:48 am

Bob, if the bourgeouis liberalism and the invasion of Korea happened at the same time as the restoration, how can the imperialism have come from the liberalism?

Your theory is a mess.

274

QS 12.06.12 at 5:50 am

@24

Domenico Losurdo wrote a book, recently translated into English, Liberalism: A Counter-History that delves into precisely the connection between liberalism and slavery. Good read.

http://www.amazon.com/Liberalism-A-Counter-History-Domenico-Losurdo/dp/1844676935/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354772961&sr=8-1-fkmr1&keywords=dominic+losurdo

275

Matthew Cooper 12.06.12 at 6:08 am

I have a reply here, in which I mostly agree with Mr Robin (as I very often do) but disagree with him on a few key points:

http://existentialmusingsofmatt.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-matter-of-monticello.html

276

ponce 12.06.12 at 6:17 am

@265

Spooky,

I have seen Jonah Golberg flee many similar losing internet arguments with the same *burp* cry!

277

Salient 12.06.12 at 7:19 am

Corey, I really appreciated your writing here and @your blog (comments #77, #240, #262 were immensely helpful reorientations, mostly just because the original title here was really disorienting). But WTF was this:

Oh dear sweet Kaveh: you think that people actually read what the people they’re arguing with say?

…it’s kind of disheartening to know that’s what you expect and will be expecting from people you argue with. Eesh. Early on I kept hoping for your response to teraz kurwa my‘s concerns, and #77 was really the first explicit signal that by Thomas Jefferson, American Fascist? you didn’t even mean to say that Jefferson was a Fascist, or even that an analogue to fascism held political force in Jefferson’s time. A narrower title more like Did Thomas Jefferson’s fear of emancipation inform/presage Fascism? would’ve saved a lot of pointless confusion and hostility.

This sorta happened on that other thread, too. If your schtick is to make a provocatively crazy opening salvo that you later dismiss/negate/refine beyond recognition, then yeah, a lot of “the people you’re arguing with” don’t bother to read you closely enough to pick up on your negations and shifts. Nobody wants to juggle every statement they process with “I can’t really trust that this assertion is genuine, or that it carries any weight; he might take this back ten paragraphs from now, replace it with something more reasonable and nuanced, and then mock my reading comprehension skills ’cause I didn’t notice and process his implicit unstated abandonment of what he wrote five minutes ago.” But whatever. I do get that Jefferson’s writing has a tenuous and suggestive connection to centuries-later fascist stratification by race; thanks for writing about it.

278

Mao Cheng Ji 12.06.12 at 9:49 am

Bourgeois democracy requires, well, bourgeoisie being a majority of the voting public; overwhelming majority, preferably. That’s the whole point of ‘Jeffersonian democracy’. The proles, who are always ugly and lazy and stupid, need to be contained somehow. Jailed, or imported as illegal immigrants who can’t vote and can easily be deported if become troublesome. This, I think, is the crux of the issue here. The race angle is secondary, and coincidental.

279

Watson Ladd 12.06.12 at 1:11 pm

Mao, there is no proletariat in the 1700′s. The crisis of Bourgeois democracy is a result of industrialization meaning not everyone is a burger anymore.

QS: There is an interview with Domenico Losurdo here conducted by my comrades. There is also a transcript. People interested in his ideas but without the book should check it out.

280

Trader Joe 12.06.12 at 1:15 pm

js @248
A fair point and an interesting argument twist…there’s no doubt a good 275+ posts in debating what a “Jeffersonian democracy” might be and whether any can actually be found in nature rather than just in laboratories and philosophical/political science texts.

The point, on which I’d say we agree, is that it would be an odd thing for ideas postulated by an influential 18th century commentator not to morph and evolve into something rather different by the time they were examined in a 20th century context. Indeed if they didn’t morph it could actually be regarded as proof of their irrelevance.

Both the kernels of “good” as per his democracy principals and the kernels of “bad” as per his race comments are similarly subject to alteration, amendment and reinterpretation.

Did Jefferson father modern facism? If one looks at long chains of reasoning he may have contributed some links in the chain – whether he’d agree with the latter links just because he espoused some of the former is a reduction that in my view isn’t in evidence….

I’m skeptical that Jefferson would embrace the facism implied in the title even if one were to point out to him the similarities to his reasoning in the Virginia code and elsewhere. His capacity to compartmentalize his reasoning even where it opposes his own reasoning in other areas is hardly limited to slavery or democracy as his tenure as President makes clear (banking, Louisiana purchase etc.).

Certainly an amusing debate with a tremendous range of erudite view points – quite in keeping with what Crooked Timber is all about.

281

JanieM 12.06.12 at 2:12 pm

And really, everyone, can we get past this silly “tear down Jefferson” vs. “defend Jefferson” construct? It’s almost beneath comment that grown-ups would talk like his.

That comment from CR just about clinched it for me, but I appreciate Salient, as usual, for expressing something I wouldn’t have had the patience to tease out so carefully, much less so calmly.

The whole thing comes off as a big “gotcha.” In various directions.

282

Anderson 12.06.12 at 3:08 pm

276: so the phenomenon of the provocative, hyperbolic title is alien to you? Or just not to be tolerated in polite company?

The post itself was quite measured and specific. But it was rather long, so perhaps people jumped straight into comments after reading the title.

As I think Walter Kaufmann said, Hitler’s reading of Nietzsche probably never got beyond the titles of the books. I think CR can reasonably expect closer attention than that.

283

Main Street Muse 12.06.12 at 3:24 pm

““Among the Romans emancipation required but one effort. The slave, when made free, might mix with, without staining the blood of his master. But with us a second is necessary, unknown to history. When freed, he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.””

Jefferson truly is a man of many contradictions, one being a man not beyond the reach of “mixture.” Nor was his father-in-law.

284

DBW 12.06.12 at 3:47 pm

Just so we’re clear on this, then: the scholar whom CR calls the most important scholar of anti-slavery thought in the past half century can be “usefully” invoked when it suits his rhetorical purposes, but dismissed without argument when he doesn’t. If Davis would be “the last person” to agree with the argument put forth here, why not engage why that might be? There seems to be something of the same method at work when dealing with scholarship as with primary texts: pick what you like, ignore the rest.

285

Jerry Vinokurov 12.06.12 at 3:53 pm

Harold,

How about Aristotle as the father of fascism? Or Plato?

The latter is actually part of the thesis of Karl Popper’s The Open Society And Its Enemies.

286

Mao Cheng Ji 12.06.12 at 3:58 pm

“Mao, there is no proletariat in the 1700′s. “

You’re right. Settler-colonialist democracy, at that time. Still, the same deal applies: democracy, yes, but with a purpose, to serve only one, specific class/category. If you suddenly add a whole bunch of members of a different (in socioeconomic terms) category, the mechanism might stall, or start producing undesirable, or even highly dangerous results. See also Madison’s concerns about the dreaded “leveling spirit”.

287

Harold 12.06.12 at 4:18 pm

Right, Jerry Vinokurov, and Popper considered Rousseau a Platonist and therefore a totalitarian — in spirit, of course.

288

Harold 12.06.12 at 4:30 pm

Didn’t Jean-Francois Lyotard and Michel Foucault maintain that liberal humanism is merely a pretext for colonialism, imperialism, prisons, and world domination of those, whom, like Caliban, its adherents consider less than human? Been there, done that. Jefferson as Fascist is so last year.

289

djw 12.06.12 at 5:25 pm

#77 was really the first explicit signal that by Thomas Jefferson, American Fascist? you didn’t even mean to say that Jefferson was a Fascist, or even that an analogue to fascism held political force in Jefferson’s time. A narrower title more like Did Thomas Jefferson’s fear of emancipation inform/presage Fascism? would’ve saved a lot of pointless confusion and hostility.

All that struck me as perfectly obvious in the original post. As for a provocative title: isn’t that something of an internet tradition? Anyway, I was really struck by how (over)sensitive people evidently are on the subject of Jefferson’s reputation. There are considerable elements of Jefferson’s political thought I find quite attractive, but that, if anything, makes me more interested in the kind of project Corey’s engaged in here: I’m unlikely to take the kind of angle he does because of my own pro-Jefferson tendencies.

290

Josh G. 12.06.12 at 5:36 pm

Trying to trace the intellectual antecedents of fascism is a tricky task, because fascism as an ideology was largely defined by explicitly rejecting the very idea of intellectualism itself. As Mussolini put it: “The democrats of Il Mondo want to know our program? It is to break the bones of the democrats of Il Mondo.” Or as Hitler put it in his Sportspalast speech in February 1933, Germany under the Nazis would be ruled “not according to theories hatched by some alien brain, but according to the eternal laws valid for all time.” And what were these “laws”? In the next paragraph he described them as “our own flesh and blood and willpower and in our soil.” Fascism was always about gut feeling, blood and soil, not about intellectual theories.

Of course, the fascists were influenced by previous generations of theorists even if they refused to admit this to themselves and others. But because of fascism’s anti-intellectual bent, this influence was largely indirect, and took place via crude popularizations. For instance, Hitler claimed American Manifest Destiny as an inspiration for his attempted conquest of eastern Europe, but his knowledge of the American Old West did not come from any actual historian or theorist – instead it came from the works of novelist Karl May. There is no evidence that Hitler or any other leading Nazis were even aware of Jefferson’s racist writings; they might have been inspired by more prominent theorists of “scientific racism” such as Gobineau, Chamberlain, and Grant, but even these would usually only have been known second-hand, through knock-off racist and anti-Semitic pamphlets that have been long forgotten to history.

So Jefferson’s direct influence on 20th-century European fascists is probably near nil, but the herrenvolk democracy he helped to create in the American South clearly did have an influential effect on Hitler, not to mention countless other bigots both at home and abroad up to the present day.

291

bianca steele 12.06.12 at 5:49 pm

Apart from the Jefferson question, which I guess if you think it’s silly to need “native” precursors for a nation’s political thought, or you weren’t crazy about that whole liberal-consensus trumpeting of Jefferson a few decades back, or it doesn’t bother you much that the last “Founder” standing is Alexander Hamilton–I’m surprised to see fascism reduced to petty-bourgeois democracy or something like it. Though maybe only because the whole “you know the Nazis said something very similar? hm, hm” thing got old for me a long time ago. But where’s the futurism? Where’s the quasi-Roman civil religion, the banners and the massive architecture? Where’s the promotion of manufacturing and industry so they can be yoked to the progress of the state?

292

Soullite 12.06.12 at 5:53 pm

Well, when you have an anti-civil ‘liberties’ (actually, rights) that liberals love, you have to tear down the founder most associated with those liberties.

See also: The endless attacks on FDR’s legacy during the first time (if you have a pro-banker president liberals love, you have to tear down the President most associated with anti-banker sentiment).

I suspect that this will become a common theme.

293

Harold 12.06.12 at 6:31 pm

It would of course be wrong to say that the OP is taken from the “Art of Bullshit” playbook. But in a deeper sense perhaps it is.

294

Jerry Vinokurov 12.06.12 at 9:00 pm

Right, Jerry Vinokurov, and Popper considered Rousseau a Platonist and therefore a totalitarian — in spirit, of course.

My only point is that the practice of tracing the origins of some modern trend to historical antecedents isn’t exactly revolutionary. Obviously Plato wasn’t literally a fascist, and neither was Thomas Jefferson. It doesn’t mean that there’s no merit in working out the threads of influence stretching from one place to the next, which is what I take Corey (and Popper) to be doing.

295

novakant 12.06.12 at 9:54 pm

There are an estimated 27 million slaves today and that’s just the tip of the iceberg of unimaginably inhumane working conditions worldwide and we with our gadgets, lattes and clothes are all profiting from this despicable system. So yes, who needs fascism, when you can have the same thing in a shinier package called liberalism?

296

Main Street Muse 12.06.12 at 10:00 pm

“So yes, who needs fascism, when you can have the same thing in a shinier package called liberalism?”

I think the system is called capitalism. And it is indeed shiny.

297

Harold 12.06.12 at 10:42 pm

In Tristes Tropiques Claude Lévi-Strauss hypothesized that because of the similarities between ancient civilizations, “In the formation of cities and empires, that is, the integration of a political system of a considerable number of individuals and their hierarchization in casts and classes” that writing was invented for the purpose of enslaving men:

… that is the typical evolution that is present from Egypt to China, when writing emerges: it appears to favor the exploitation of men, before their enlightenment. [...] If my hypothesis were correct, then it is necessary to admit that the primary function of written communication is that of facilitating slavery. The employing of writing for disinterested ends, with the view of extracting from it intellectual and aesthetic satisfactions is a secondary result, if it is not reduced, in the majority of cases, as a means of reinforcing, justifying, or dissimulating the other function.

298

PGD 12.06.12 at 10:57 pm

From an intellectual history perspective it is kind of nuts to call Jefferson a fascist or label him as a precursor of fascism. The problem isn’t simply that there is no direct line of intellectual connection, but that Jefferson was a significant *anti-fascist* — the rejection of democracy and legislative rule among the free population is just as essential to fascism as racism, perhaps even more so. And Jefferson was of course an important champion of democracy among the white population, and had a lasting and powerful effect on democratic ideology and constitutional governance that is absolutely antithetical to fascism.

What makes sense is to connect Jefferson not fascism but to apartheid, e.g. South Africa, the post Civil War south, and to some extent Israel. Those nations face the issue of running a democracy with a large class of non-citizens considered inferior for racial reasons. And I don’t think there is any equation of apartheid with fascism. Apartheid states are oppressive but not fascist, they often pride themselves on democracy, respect for judicial rights of the dominant group, etc. The difference is real and has consequences. South Africa pulled off a peaceful transition to majority rule that is in many ways historically unprecedented. Anyone want to guess how that would have gone if Hitler and his cronies had been in charge? And Israel is, again, oppressive but not eliminationist. The democratic and rights-respecting elements have an influence and create pressures for change that are real even when nations have adopted racist ideologies and stipped persons under their sovereignty of rights. You can see this same tension in Jefferson’s thought even though he was quite racist.

Also, Bruce Wilder’s comment @137 deserves rereading as a statement of the basic difference between a politician and a theorist. It means something that Jefferson as a politician made some progressive moves on the emancipation issue, which was the actual pressing political issue, while the issue of co-existence post-empancipation was much more distant (except, as Corey points out, in the case of freedmen).

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PGD 12.06.12 at 10:58 pm

should have been — ‘any easy equation of apartheid with fascism’. There are elements that both share in common but democratic apartheid states are different from fascist states.

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rootless (@root_e) 12.07.12 at 1:23 am

@298
Ideology is very malleable as is language. The South African Mine Workers union in the 1920s had a slogan something like “white workers of the world unite”.
The French aristocrats resisting Necker’s attempt to make them pay taxes spoke of despotism and infringement on liberty in language similar to what English Chartists used and American Tea Partiers, both original and farcial.

As @233 notes finding intellectual relationships from phrasing is not necessarily a productive exercise.

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Harold 12.07.12 at 3:35 am

What you see here is Jefferson as a man of the Enlightenment (which believed that men were everywhere and in all times alike) deploring, after the usual manner of the Enlightenment writings in which he was steeped, that we do not yet have a “Science of Man”: “To our reproach it must be said, that though for a century and a half we have had under our eyes the races of black and of red men, they have never yet been viewed by us as subjects of natural history.” (cf Rousseau’s Second Discourse:“The whole world is covered with nations of which we know only the names, yet we dabble in judging the human race! Let us suppose a Montesquieu, a Buffon, a Diderot, a d’Alembert, a Condillac, or men of that stamp traveling in order to inform their compatriots by observing and describing . . . we ourselves would see a new world come from their pens, and we would thus come to learn our own.”
And in the next breath Jefferson voices what he calls a “suspicion”, though he hopes (sincerely or not) it won’t be the case, that such a science might reveal that all men might not be equal (which would certainly be convenient for slaveowners like himself). After all, for Jefferson African slaves were certainly “the other”, and didn’t appear to conform to Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s influential 18th c. standard of idealized beauty as epitomized by the long flowing hair of the Apollo Belvedere. Nor had they written classical poetry (cf. Saul Bellow, “When Africans write Tolstoy, I will read it). Also, they didn’t go in for courtly love, plus other reasons drawn from folklore and prejudice.

CR calls our attention to the fact that Josiah Nott (1804-73), a scientific racist from Alabama, who posited separate and unequal origins for the races in a very un-Enlightenment manner, liked to invoke the authority of Jefferson’s Notes From Virginia to give legitimacy to his racist theories. The unstated implication is that Nott’s primary inspiration came from Jefferson (who died when Nott was 22) and that perhaps Jefferson was responsible for Nott’s spurious “Science of Man “.

The hoped-for “Science of Man” of the Enlightenment did assume a perverted shape when it emerged during the nineteenth century (mostly after the end of the US Civil War). Why it did and why those ethnographers who spoke up for equality and human rights were marginalized or silenced are very interesting questions but probably don’t have too much to do with Jefferson.

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Harold 12.07.12 at 8:34 pm

In raising the question of whether Jefferson was an important antecedent of scientific racism (I assume that is what the OP means by “fascism”), you have to wonder with whom he would have aligned himself in the Science of Man — Nott, Gobbineau, Louis Agazis, Ernst Haeckel, and many more; or with Darwin and Wallace? Would he have agreed with Franz Boas’s contention that anthropologists have a duty to speak out on social questions, advocate for the people they study, and avoid lying and deception in their work, no matter how flawed their personal character might have been?
Whose side would he have taken in the 1962 dispute debate among physical anthropologists over Carleton Putnam’s segregationist screed, “Race and Reason”, when it was defended by Putnam’s cousin, Carleton Coon, then President of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. (The racist Coon, a former secret agent and advocate of clandestine assassination involved in Operation Torch in North Africa in WW2 , has been mentioned as a possible model for agent 007, “licensed to kill” and also Indiana Jones.)

The answer depends on how high an estimation you have of Jefferson’s intellect.

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