Libertarianism, the Confederacy, and Historical Memory (Updated Again)

by Corey Robin on July 19, 2013

In the last few days libertarians have been debating the neo-Confederate sympathies of some in their movement. I don’t to wade into the discussion. Several voices in that tribe—including Jacob Levy, Jonathan Adler, and Ilya Somin—have been doing an excellent job. (This John Stuart Mill essay, which Somin cites, was an especially welcome reminder to me.)

But this post by Randy Barnett caught my eye.

I should preface this by saying that I think Barnett is one of the most interesting and thoughtful libertarians around. I’d happily read him on just about anything. He’s a forceful writer, who eschews jargon and actually seems to care about his readers. He’s also the architect of the nearly successful legal challenge to Obamacare, so we’re not talking about some academic outlier who gets trotted out, Potemkin-style, to serve as the kinder, gentler face of the movement.

What’s fascinating about his post is this:

I wish to add a few additional considerations that I have become aware of over the past several years as I have researched and written about “abolitionist constitutionalism” and the career of Salmon P. Chase.


What follows is a series of observations about the centrality of slavery and abolition to the origins of the Republican Party and the Confederacy and to the Civil War. Barnett, for example, says:

 

The Republican party was formed as the anti-slavery successor to the Liberty and Free Soil Parties.  It was the election of the presidential candidate of this party with its anti-slavery platform that precipitated the South’s initiation of force against federal troops and facilities — not a dispute over tariffs.  Slavery was deeply involved in both the formation of the Republican party, which supplanted the Whigs due to this issue, its election of a President on its second try, and the Southern reaction to this election, which directly precipitated the Civil War.


What’s striking about this set of observations is that with some minor exceptions it has been pretty much the historiographical consensus for decades. Indeed, I learned much of it in high school and in my sophomore year at college.  Yet Barnett, by his own admission, has only discovered it in recent years.

Let me be clear: I have no desire to impugn Barnett’s intelligence or learning, or to do that annoying academic thing of mocking someone for coming so late to the party. To the contrary: it’s because I have respect for Barnett that I am surprised. We’re not talking here about libertarianism’s Praetorian Guard. Barnett is a major scholar, who’s actually been thinking and writing about abolitionism and its constitutional vision for some time.

That a libertarian of such acuity and learning, of such range and appetite, would have come to these truths only recently and after intensive personal research tells you something about the sauce in which he and his brethren have been marinating all these years. In which the most delectable ingredient (don’t even try the rancid stuff) tastes something like this: “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Civil War was an unjust war on both sides.”

Never mind the formal and informal declarations of sympathy for the Confederacy that libertarians are currently debating. Barnett is grappling with a deeper kind of knowledge, or anti-knowledge, on the free-market right: the kind that Renan spoke of when he said that every nation is founded upon a forgetting. That forgetting—that deep historical error which held that the Civil War was a fight over tariffs or some other nonsense—lay for many years at the core of not only southern but also northern identity. It was not just the furniture of Jim Crow; it was the archive of American nationalism, the common sense of a country that was all too willing to deny basic rights, including voting rights, to African Americans. It was that forgetting that revisionist historians like Kenneth Stampp and C. Vann Woodward, with the Civil Rights Movement at their back, felt it necessary to take aim at. More than a half-century ago.

That Barnett—who’s been prodding libertarians on this issue for some time—has only recently gotten the news tells you much about his movement’s morning prayer, the sense of reality it brings to the table. The problem here isn’t merely that some, perhaps many, libertarians are overt fans of the Confederacy; it’s what the movement’s been reading in its afterglow, long after the light went out.

Update (11:45 am)

I’ve been contacted by several friends and colleagues of Barnett, who’ve made it clear that there is a misunderstanding on my part about what Barnett knew and when. (See also Jacob Levy’s comments in the thread.) I was going to update this post to reflect that information, but Barnett and I have since been in email contact and he tells me he’ll be blogging on this later today. Rather than jump the gun, I’m going to wait.

Update (4: 30 pm)

So after some emailing back and forth throughout the day, Barnett has a clarifying post up that explains what he meant and how I misunderstood him.

Like Robin, I have been well aware of the consensus on these views since high school and college.  The point of my opening sentence, however, was to note that I have been studying this period seriously over the past several years as part of my research on the “constitutional abolitionists” and the career of Salmon P. Chase, and what followed was informed by that study and was not just repeating the conventional wisdom off the top of my head.  And, although my interest in abolitionist constitutionalism dates back to a lecture on Lysander Spooner’s theory of constitutional interpretation that I gave at McGeorge in 1996, my appreciation of these issues and their subtleties has been greatly enriched by my intensive reading of both secondary and primary sources in recent years as I broadened my focus well beyond Spooner.


The sentence that misled Robin was badly enough written to be misconstrued by him because it was written before the 6 bullet points that followed, which touched upon more than the role abolitionist constitutionalism played in the formation of the Republican party and the fear it engendered in the South, and because the misreading I now see is possible simply did not occur to me.


So that makes perfect sense. My apologies for the misreading.

Let me add two points. First, to Jacob’s point in the comments. I haven’t read everything by Barnett, but I’ve read a fair amount (hence my admiration!) So I was fairly familiar with his background and interest in Spooner. I tried to telegraph that, however unsuccessfully, in two places in my OP: “who’s actually been thinking and writing about abolitionism and its constitutional vision for some time” and “who’s been prodding libertarians on this issue for some time.” That said, Brad DeLong is right to point out in the comments that that anarcho-abolitionist view doesn’t necessarily take us very far from some of the underlying historical assumptions of the neo-Confederate position. To wit: the “it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Civil War was an unjust war on both sides” claim, and all the associated historical baggage around it, that I cited in the OP.

Which leads to my second point. Whether or not I got Barnett wrong on the meaning of that sentence—and clearly I did—the larger question his post raised for me was about the historical common sense of the libertarian movement and its organic intellectuals. My impression—and it is just a impression, so take it for what it’s worth—is that the historical view of the Civil War (not the normative position in favor or against, but the analysis of the two sides) that I was challenging is not that marginal in the libertarian firmament. Part of why Levy et al’s posts are so important is not simply that they argue against a pro-Confederacy reading of US history but that they actually supply badly needed historical facts and awareness to the movement. Facts alone seldom change minds, but they are important. To the extent that I got Barnett’s back story wrong, my post adds nothing to what Jacob and others have written. But to the extent that the historical common sense I’m pointing to is held by more in the libertarian movement than the overt or covert sympathizers with the Confederacy—which was my real concern here—I think the post still stands.

By way of comparison: The left has its own version of this historical common sense: the dismissive wave of the Republicans as simply the party of Northern capitalism, and the Civil War as the radiating wave of that motive force, as if that were the beginning and end of the story. (This is not to say, of course, that the Republicans were not the party of Northern capitalism; it’s just to point out that that claim, like the party itself, contains multitudes, including radical abolition, and that those multitudes would eventually come to blows over just what that promise of abolition actually meant.) The difference on the left, I think, is that we have scholars like Eric Foner who’ve long parried that simplistic view and that the revisionism that began in the fifties has become as much a part of the historical common sense of the left as the older alternative view. If not more so.

But, again, this is impressionistic. I live in Brooklyn, after all.

 

 

{ 199 comments }

1

carbon dated 07.19.13 at 1:11 pm

Maybe you’re reading a little too deeply into the phrase “over the last several years” ?

Not necessarily “recent”, no?

2

Passing By 07.19.13 at 1:19 pm

You may be reading too much into Prof. Barnet’s phrasing. When I originally saw his post, I took him to be saying to a perhaps-skeptical reader … Look, I’m not just regurgitating pap from some left-wing ideologue; I’ve gone to the source materials, and they’re compelling.
In my experience with libertarians (and other right-wingers), that’s an important point. Many will deprecate mainstream academics as ideological axe-grinders.

3

Corey Robin 07.19.13 at 1:20 pm

Dunno. The dictionary definition says more than 2 or 3 but not many. So let’s say 5? Given that the revisionist account is now pushing 60, I’d say qualifies as recent.

4

CJColucci 07.19.13 at 1:23 pm

Interesting catch. When I read Barnett’s piece, I found it annoying because it was, to a great extent, a restatement of the obvious. I simply missed that he said he had only recently become aware of it. I knew that there is a substantial alternative history out there, which holds, among other things, that Martin Van Buren was one of our greatest Presidents precisely because he did almost nothing, that Lincoln was a tyant (which, to the extent the charge has merit, I first learned from left-leaning mainstream historians — and, no, that’s not redundant), and that Randolph of Roanoake and Calhoun were the Law and the Prophets. I hadn’t thought to connect this with Barnett, but, on reflection, it’s not entirely surprising despite his scholarship.
He is a legal scholar, a gig I know a bit about. When lawyers stray from applying their not-very-impressive intellectual toolbox to unpretentious questions of legal doctrine and reach for grander theoretical objects, they tend to make a hash of it. The phrase “law office history” has been a slur forever for a reason. (I’ve engaged in it myself in the interests of my clients, but I wouldn’t try to pass it off as serious scholarship.) I know enough about Barnett to know that he had come to his more-or-less current intellectual posture well before he started mucking around in the actual history relevant to his more recently developing interests. It is, therefore, not all that surprising, in retrospect, that he only recently learned what we rightly treat as obvious now.

5

Jacob T. Levy 07.19.13 at 1:30 pm

I can understand your mistake here, but it’s a mistake. Randy started out in the Lysander Spooner camp (and he was a longtime champion of Spooner’s philosophical as well as historical importance). That abolitionist anarchism has a hard time treating the Union or the Republican Party as morally serious about slavery, but *not* in the confederatista “Lincoln was a racist too, so there” kind of way.

It’s not that he spent time in the “maybe slavery mattered, maybe it didn’t” cloud of ignorance. It’s that he started studying abolitionist-Republicans and Reconstructionist Republicans as well as the abolitionist-anarchists for whom I think he had a lot more initial sympathy, and started to respect the Republican Party’s initial stance as being a genuinely antislavery one rather than only being culpable compromises. This also, by the way, has helped to generate his very serious treatment of the Reconstruction Amendments. 2004 is the latest date one could pick here, as these arguments start to appear in Restoring the Lost Constitution.

6

Jacob T. Levy 07.19.13 at 1:34 pm

And, I don’t know about you, but I find that my casual descriptions of time shift as I age. I recently read a book by a 75+ year old world-famous social scientist who made a comment about “recent literature” or “recent debates”– footnoting a bunch of stuff the most recent of which was 1991.

And when I say “I recently read,” I mean “I read five years ago.” This stuff happens.

7

Main Street Muse 07.19.13 at 1:42 pm

I guess I am not surprised that a reasonable, intelligent academic would come to these conclusions in the “last few years.”

And that makes me sad.

I cannot believe we live in a nation where high-profile conservatives and libertarians align themselves with a long-defeated government devoted to the idea that “our men can own slaves.”

In my gloom, I sometimes wonder if Lincoln was wrong in his efforts to preserve the union.

8

Corey Robin 07.19.13 at 1:43 pm

Thanks, Jacob. I’m going to do an update to this in a bit (got an interesting personal email that I’d also like to include, just waiting to hear back from the individual in question) and will include your corrective and a response.

9

Antoine 07.19.13 at 2:23 pm

Let me be clear: I have no desire to impugn Barnett’s intelligence or learning, or to do that annoying academic thing of mocking someone for coming so late to the party. To the contrary: it’s because I have respect for Barnett that I am surprised.

This seems disingenuous to me . In any case , the whole process of arriving at some general truth about a community of thought (vaguely defined at that) based on some epistemological forensic investigation of a single individual , what he believes now, what he may have believed, and wrapping the whole thing in some exclamatory statement , seems quite dubious to me .

Arguments of type
wow_he_really_thought_that ( randy, “bush is a moron”)
should really be avoided
– not an reasoned argument about whether bush in fact is a moron (in fact the phrasing is a a way to posit the statement and remove it from critical examination )
– it makes dubious representations about what the randy believes
– it makes dubious representations about what randy may have believed in the past
– and it extends this whole hazy half-baked mess of phony conclusions to an entire group of people , over a long period of time

Not very serious

10

rea 07.19.13 at 2:26 pm

One can quite udnerstand how Barnett would be slow to figure thsi out–the sources are so obscure, e. g.:

http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres31.html

“I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. * * *
” One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.”

11

Pub Editor 07.19.13 at 2:46 pm

CJColucci @ 4: “When I read Barnett’s piece, I found it annoying because it was, to a great extent, a restatement of the obvious.”

George Orwell, in 1939: “we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

12

bob mcmanus 07.19.13 at 2:47 pm

Having followed and read the linked posts and their long comment threads:

1) Libertarians sure like to argue

2) Lysander Spooner looks very interesting

3) The John Stuart Mill was terrific

4) I continue to believe that the overemphasis on slavery as the only, necessary, and sufficient cause of the Civil War, at the expense of “states rights” as an additional and important cause works very much to the detriment and disadvantage of the left. Questions and disputes are left open that should have settled 150 years ago, giving grounds for the Roberts and Scalias to justify the Shelby decision and local limitations on abortion (Casey).

The Civil War was (also) about States Rights and Sovereignty. The bad guys lost.

There are no damn States Rights.

This should be the position of Democrats and the “Left,” and the fact that it isn’t, that Democrats continue to defend States Rights and Federalism directly or indirectly with the monocausal explanations of the CV is part of the reason I think Liberals are much closer to Libertarians than they care to admit.

13

Anderson 07.19.13 at 2:48 pm

there is a substantial alternative history out there, which holds, among other things, that … Randolph of Roanoake and Calhoun were the Law and the Prophets

Since Calhoun seems to be a guiding spirit in Shelby County v. Holder, the alternative is going mainstream.

Robin’s gracious words about Barnett do him credit, but as I am not a respected academic, I can say that Barnett’s lobbying in Sebelius helped make crazy the new normal. Which is definitely an achievement.

14

Anarcissie 07.19.13 at 2:50 pm

@7 — Slavery is a remarkable issue. Most of the great philosophical minds of Western Civ seem to have at least condoned it, if not thought of it as a positive good: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Augustine, Aquinas, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, to name but a few. Even cranks like Diogenes and Jesus seem to have accepted its inevitability. Then, suddenly, in the 19th century, people began turning against it in large numbers, and today it’s an abomination (except when it isn’t, etc.) Across human history, that’s only a moment ago, and the usual suspects I named above are still widely respected. Maybe the conservatives are just being, well, conservative about this fad of abolitionism.

15

Bob 07.19.13 at 3:48 pm

Main Street Muse expresses the same ignorance of the libertarians in question, no offense. Go read the confederate constitution: it’s a perfect description of the US government today.

16

Mao Cheng Ji 07.19.13 at 3:59 pm

“There are no damn States Rights. This should be the position of Democrats and the “Left,” “

I don’t think it works like that. The side that controls the federal government will play it down, and the other side will appeal to it. That’s the natural way, and that’s the only way. You can’t expect liberals to denounce state violations of the ‘defense of marriage’ act or some such just because it’s a federal law.

17

Shelley 07.19.13 at 4:14 pm

Hmm. Does he care about all his readers, or just about the ones rich enough not to need federal college loans?

18

Rich Puchalsky 07.19.13 at 4:18 pm

I’ve been wholly unsuccessful at getting people here to think about how they think, but since this misunderstanding if there was one focussed on Lysander Spooner I’ll start there. As political systems approach failure some cranks become, in a sense, more and more right. I’m using “crank” here in its use as a sort of outsider thinker. Other cranks remain just as wrong as they always were. But as the system fails, those that are right and those that are wrong approach each other more closely than ever before.

For example, the U.S. system is going through a serious breakdown in law and order — authoritarianism is running rampant so long as it’s directed at less-powerful people. Obama had a chance to turn the U.S. away from the path that Bush pioneered, but he chose instead to ratify it. You can be a crank and point this out, against the received wisdom of the moderate left that LGM locally exemplifies. But of course your crankdom blends in with all of the people saying that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim, and from the viewpoint of someone at a distance is more or less indistinguishable.

I think that the chances of any poster here being able to understand Lysander Spooner are more or less negligible. But their self-image is that of people who can understand anyone’s thought, not as those of people who are limited by their background and training as they more or less assume that everyone else is. It will be interesting to see what kind of hash they make of this.

19

ajay 07.19.13 at 4:23 pm

Then, suddenly, in the 19th century, people began turning against it in large numbers, and today it’s an abomination

A bit earlier than that. Sommersett’s Case was 1775, and the abolition movement was gaining ground throughout the 1700s. And there were plenty of mediaeval abolitions…
“We order and command all and each of the faithful… that they restore to their earlier liberty all and each person of either sex who were once residents of said Canary Islands, and made captives since the time of their capture, and who have been made subject to slavery. These people are to be totally and perpetually free, and are to be let go without the exaction or reception of money. If this is not done when the fifteen days have passed, they incur the sentence of excommunication…” that was a papal bull in 1435.

20

ezra abrams 07.19.13 at 4:38 pm

why does anyone bother with libertarians ?
I find the whole idea of libertarianism, or at least what I think I know about it in the current day, to be so silly it is not worth thinking about.

Often, intelligent people go down blind alleys, sometimes for years.

At best, it is something that bright undergraduates (thinking of the movie Metropolitan) do for a year or two as they grow up.

21

Brad DeLong 07.19.13 at 4:50 pm

Jacob Levy writes: “I can understand your mistake here, but it’s a mistake. Randy started out in the Lysander Spooner camp (and he was a longtime champion of Spooner’s philosophical as well as historical importance). That abolitionist anarchism has a hard time treating the Union or the Republican Party as morally serious about slavery, but *not* in the confederatista “Lincoln was a racist too, so there” kind of way.”

Rather, the Lysander Spooner camp in which Randy Barnett started is the “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis–in fact, David is preferable because he at least is not a hypocrite” camp.

It asserts a different kind of moral equivalance between Lincoln and Davis from the confederatistas, but it does assert a moral equivalence between them. Lysander Spooner is the #slatepitch of the 1850s.

Lysander Spooner, writing before the election of 1860: “We entreat all… give no vote or support to those public men [Republicans], who give their rant, declamation, and pretended moral sentiments to liberty, and, at the same time, give over to slavery the constitution of the country, and their oaths to support it. These men are practically the best supporters of slavery there now are in the country…. They have power to deceive honest men as to their rights and duties under the constitution…. And this power they are exerting to their utmost for the security of slavery. The open [Democratic] friends of slavery have nearly or quite lost all power of this kind…. Should any one of the factions, into which they are divided, succeed in filling the executive department of the government, that acquisition will give them no real power in the country. Their possession of that department, therefore, is not a thing to be dreaded. Better, far better, that the presidency should be in the hands of an open, but powerless enemy of liberty, than in those of a powerful, but false, perjured, and traitorous friend. We, therefore, entreat that all, who give their votes at all, at the ensuing election, will give them unequivocally for freedom…. The great object is to procure the defeat of the Republicans.”

22

ezra abrams 07.19.13 at 5:11 pm

@13, 17,
uh, this
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolition_of_slavery_timeline
suggests that slavery was thought to be a bad idea for quite some time before the abolitionists; the Cartwright case of 1569 seems relevant (although of course serfs bound to the soil continued at least through the revolutions of 1848)

quoting wiki
1500–1700

1537: Pope Paul III forbids slavery of the indigenous peoples of the Americas as well as of any other new population that would be discovered, indicating their right to freedom and property. However, only Catholic countries apply it, and state that they cannot possibly enforce what happens in the distant colonies (Sublimus Dei).

1542: Spain enacted the first European law abolishing colonial slavery in 1542, but was forced to weaken these laws by 1545.
1569: An English court case involving Cartwright, who had brought a slave from Russia, ruled that English law could not recognise slavery.
1588: The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth abolishes slavery[10]
1595: A law is passed in Portugal banning the selling and buying of Chinese slaves.[11]
1590: Toyotomi Hideyoshi bans slavery in Japan.[12] But it continued as a punishment for criminals.
19 February 1624: The King of Portugal forbids the enslavement of Chinese of either sex.[13][14]
1652: Slavery abolished in Providence Plantations.
1683: The Spanish crown abolishes slavery of indigenous prisoners of war in Chile. Non prisoner of war indigenous slavery was already illegal.[15]

1701: The Lord Chief Justice rules that a slave became free as soon as he arrived in England.[16]

23

LFC 07.19.13 at 5:29 pm

Re the OP’s ref to Renan: When Renan said that nations are founded on forgetting as well as remembering, and instanced the St Bartholomew Day Massacre as an example, I’m not at all sure (without taking the time to refresh my acquaintance with the relevant passage) he meant to say that that forgetting was a “deep historical error”; rather, didn’t he mean that it was necessary, in effect, to agree to bury some painful parts of the past? Now, he might have been right or wrong, but I thought that’s what he meant. Whereas Corey, in the OP, writes:

Barnett is grappling with a deeper kind of knowledge, or anti-knowledge, on the free-market right: the kind that Renan spoke of when he said that every nation is founded upon a forgetting. That forgetting—that deep historical error which held that the Civil War was a fight over tariffs or some other nonsense—lay for many years at the core of not only southern but also northern identity.

I would see this less as a forgetting than as a deliberate misinterpretation. Perhaps that is drawing too fine a distinction. But Renan’s forgetting, or such was my impression, has to do more with pretending that an event never happened, whereas what Corey describes has to do with pretending that the causes of an event were other than than what they actually were.

24

Jacob McM 07.19.13 at 5:44 pm

There were definitely people who condemned slavery wholesale at an early date, St. Patrick and St. Gregory of Nyssa being perhaps among the most prominent.

25

Bruce Wilder 07.19.13 at 5:46 pm

bob mcmanus: I continue to believe that the overemphasis on slavery as the only, necessary, and sufficient cause of the Civil War, at the expense of “states rights” as an additional and important cause works very much to the detriment and disadvantage of the left.

I am very much with bob on this. The dispute over tariffs was a vitally important proxy issue, deliberately created by Calhoun circa 1830, but very revealing about the constitutional fault lines, which led to conflict.

“Slavery caused the Civil War” is a defensible summary, but unpacking it into how the dispute over slavery became a constitutional crisis, arbitrated by a contest of arms, involves deep issues of constitutional politics and law — in which Barnett, of course, is deeply and professionally interested. The professional expertise requires an elaborate application of intelligence that can mask the viciousness and fundamental stupidity of the motivating ideology.

What Rich Puchalsky @ 16 said about the breakdown of constitutional order in our own time, and how that breakdown colors our ability to understand, by projection I suppose, the disputes of the past, seems remarkably insightful.

Barnett is not a political philosopher; he is a lawyer and ideologue, who is committed to, and vitally interested in, subverting the (small-c) constitution of the United States. That perspective is going to allow him to pick up a lot of subtle detail in the history, which most of us would scarcely notice.

26

LFC 07.19.13 at 5:51 pm

Another point re Renan, admittedly a bit off-topic:
About 5 years ago a commenter on my blog insightfully pointed out that Renan’s remarks are sometimes read as a critique of nationalism (e.g., acc. to this commenter, by B. Anderson in the closing pages of the revised version of ‘Imagined Communities’), whereas in fact Renan, writing in the wake of the German annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, was making a nationalist argument. In other words, to say that the nation is socially constructed is not necessarily to be critical of nationalism (as this commenter put it). Renan was a nationalist, like prob. the great majority of historians in the late 19th cent.

27

bob mcmanus 07.19.13 at 5:52 pm

RP 16.last:Me too. It could be fun.

Lysander Spooner

19: Objectively pro-slavery! But really, according to platforms and speeches in 1860, it looked more likely than slavery would survive the Lincoln election.

Spooner conspired with John Brown to start a slave insurrection, and tried to break Brown out of jail.

28

Jacob McM 07.19.13 at 5:57 pm

Ernest Renan was an interesting and very very contradictory figure. To the extent that most Anglophones still remember him at all, it’s as the author of “The Life of Jesus” and “What is a Nation?” and they’ve probably only read the latter. But he was a lot more reactionary than his liberal reputation would have one believe, particularly in works like “La Réforme intellectuelle et morale” which, if read today, sounds proto-fascist with its support for a quasi-Prussian feudal state. And indeed Mussolini does quote Renan’s negative opinion on democracy in The Doctrine of Fascism.

His racialism likewise experienced a revival under the Vichy regime. Alfred Fabre-Luce’s “Anthologie de la Nouvelle Europe” is a fascinating document if you can find it at your library and want to understand what informed people took as the ideological underpinnings of the New Order. Not only does Renan get his own section under the “Bio-Politics” chapter, but he is invoked again by the editor to introduce the section on…Hitler.

29

blavag 07.19.13 at 5:57 pm

Ah so many interesting questions–so few electrons..
More important than who read what and when is the revival of the Confederate project as a veiled but serious political program of that portion of the oligarchy opposed to the centralizing federalism of the New Deal and on. That alternative political program, oligarchic independence from countervailing federal power, is pretty much Calhounist. The reason for the opposition was that a strong federal government undermines the control of a population through control of money and resources that made Southern style oligarchic fiefdoms –and all that went with that–possible. Molly Ivins warned us about this some time ago.

30

LFC 07.19.13 at 6:00 pm

Jacob McM @26
interesting

31

Jacob T. Levy 07.19.13 at 6:05 pm

blavag @26:

You might want to read Ira Katznelson’s last two books.

32

Bruce Wilder 07.19.13 at 6:29 pm

A: suddenly, in the 19th century, people began turning against [slavery]

Wow. Really?

ezra abrams did a pretty good job of showing that moral insight into the evils of slavery was hardly a 19th century novelty.

There was always a struggle going on, between philosophic idealisms and a practical and economic interest in the fruits of domination and, therefore, the various institutions of domination.

What was novel in the 19th century antebellum U.S. was not moral disapproval of slavery, but, rather, an ideology that loudly asserted “Slavery is Good!”. The motivation, of course, was the economic interest in cotton, a key commodity of the industrial revolution.

There was a remarkable struggle of thesis and antithesis going on, as the Southern plantation owners sought to build ideological, political and legal defenses of their peculiar institution, even while a religiously inspired movement of individual conscience and social justice took up the egalitarian promises of the American Revolution, and more practically oriented politicians sought a rhetoric celebrating the individualism of the emerging money economy of entrepreneurship and wages, amid the rapid development of a continent during an accelerating industrial revolution.

33

Anderson 07.19.13 at 6:45 pm

Until a few years ago, torture would’ve been a good example of another practice universally accepted and then universally renounced.

“When all was over, Tor­ture and Can­ni­bal­ism were the only two expe­di­ents that the civilized, sci­en­tific, Chris­t­ian States had been able to deny them­selves: and these were of doubt­ful util­ity.” – Churchill, The World Crisis

34

Tom Bach 07.19.13 at 7:07 pm

What was novel in the 19th century antebellum U.S. was not moral disapproval of slavery, but, rather, an ideology that loudly asserted “Slavery is Good!”.

This is inaccurate. From, at least, Aristotle on slavery as institution was defended as natural and, consequently, good. The ever-growing ranks of folks decrying slavery are what made abolition possible and what made the 19th century different, which is not to say that opponents of slavery suddenly appeared in the 19th century; rather, the point is the the argument became powerful instead of a voice crying in the wilderness. Last time I read David Brion Davis the cause for the increase of anti-slavery voices is a matter of fierce debate.

35

Tom Bach 07.19.13 at 7:08 pm

the first sentence is Bruce Wilder’s.

36

Corey Robin 07.19.13 at 7:52 pm

LFC at 23: I think Renan actually does use the word error; I also don’t have the text handy, and can’t find a full version of it on the web in English. But that’s my recollection (or my forgetfulness!) When it comes to the Civil War, I think mistaking or forgetting the causes can be as fateful as forgetting the occurrence of the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre.

37

Bruce Wilder 07.19.13 at 7:55 pm

bob mcmanus: according to platforms and speeches in 1860, it looked more likely tha[t] slavery would survive the Lincoln election.

Huh!? “more likely” to whom? Obviously, quite a few Southerners were panicked over the prospect that slavery would not survive, and found little comfort in Republican assurances that “eventual extinction” would remain a long ways off.

If your point is that Lincoln’s was a typical conservative hypocrisy with no revolutionary intent, and that the American Civil War started in a kind of pre-emptive reactionary’s counter-revolution, then, of course, but you cannot make sense of the feelings of urgent necessity that drove that attempt at counter-revolution, if you don’t acknowledge how real, albeit vague and indefinite, the looming revolution must have seemed.

38

Stephen 07.19.13 at 7:57 pm

Jacob McM@24

St Patrick, at one time a British slave in Ireland, had perhaps an unusual perspective on the evils of slavery.

39

Stephen 07.19.13 at 8:03 pm

CR @36: don’t know Renan at all well. Did he in fact forget the occurrence of La Barthelemey?

40

Corey Robin 07.19.13 at 8:16 pm

I haven’t read it yet but James Oakes’s latest book makes a strong case, apparently, that the southerners were quite right to fear the abolitionist program once Lincoln was elected, that abolition was central to the Republican Party and the Lincoln presidency from the get-go, and that the administration did all that it could, within constraints, to start hemming it in with the goal of its ultimate extinction. Again, I haven’t read the book, but apparently he has much evidence and I think it got a fairly decent review in the NYRB. And Barnett’s work, as he says in his post, which focuses on legal and constitutional arguments of the abolitionists and the Republicans, also justifies a version of this argument, albeit a milder version.

41

Jacob McM 07.19.13 at 8:30 pm

How do people here feel about Domenico Losurdo’s Liberalism: A Counter-History? Some excerpts:

Calhoun declared slavery to be ‘a positive good’ that civilization could not possibly renounce. Calhoun repeatedly denounced intolerance and the crusading spirit, not in order to challenge the enslavement of the blacks or the ruthless hunting down of fugitive slaves, but exclusively to brand abolitionists as ‘blind fanatics” who ‘consider themselves under the most sacred obligation to use every effort to destroy’ slavery, a form of property legitimized and guaranteed by the Constitution. Blacks were not among the minorities defended with such vigour and legal erudition. In fact, in their case, tolerance and the spirit of compromise seem to turn into their opposite : if fanaticism actually succeeded in its mad project of abolishing slavery, what would follow would be ‘the extirpation of one or the other race […] blacks could only survive on condition of being slaves.

So is Calhoun a liberal? No doubts on this score were harboured by Lord Acton, a prominent figure in liberalism in the second half of the nineteenth century, an advisor and friend of William Gladstone, one of the major figures in nineteenth-century England. In Acton’s view, Calhoun was a champion of the cause of the struggle against any form of absolutism, including ‘democratic absolutism’ ; the arguments he employed were ‘the very perfection of political truth’ . In short, we are dealing with one of the major authors and great minds in the liberal tradition and pantheon.

Albeit in less emphatic language, the question has been answered in the affirmative by those who in our time celebrate Calhoun as ‘a strong individualist’, as a champion of the ‘defense of minority rights against the abuse of an overbearing majority’, or as a theorist of the sense of limits and the self-limitation that should characterize the majority. In no doubt is one US publishing house, committed to republishing in a neo-liberal key ‘Liberty Classics’, among which the eminent statesman and ideologue of the slaveholding South features prominently.

Adam Smith constructed an argument and expressed a position that warrants being cited at some length. Slavery could be more easily abolished under a ‘despotic government’ than a ‘free government’, with its representative bodies exclusively reserved in practice for white property-owners. In such circumstances, the condition of the black slaves was desperate: ‘every law is made by their masters, who will never pass any thing prejudicial to themselves’ . Hence ‘ [t]he freedom of the free was the cause of the great oppression of the slaves . . . And as they are the most numerous part of mankind, no human person will wish for liberty in a country where this institution is established.’ Can an author who, in at least one concrete instance, expressed his preference for ‘despotic government’ be regarded as liberal? Or, differently put, is Smith more liberal or are Locke and Calhoun, who, along with slavery, defended the representative bodies condemned by Smith as the prop, in a slaveholding society, of an infamous institution contrary to any sense of humanity?

The first country to embark on the liberal road is one that exhibited an especially tenacious attachment to the institution of slavery. It appears that colonists of Dutch origin offered the most determined resistance to the first abolitionist measures, those introduced in the northern United States during the Revolution and in its wake. As regards Holland itself, in the States-General formally declared that the slave trade was essential to the development of the colonies’ prosperity and commerce. Still in this period, clearly distinguishing itself from Britain, Holland recognized the right of slave-owners to transport and deposit their human chattels in the mother country before returning to the colonies. Finally, it is to be noted that Holland only abolished slavery in its colonies in 1863, when the secessionist and slaveholding Confederacy of the southern United States was going down to defeat.

[Jean] Bodin also rejected Aristotle’s thesis, adopted and even radicalized by Grotius, that some individuals and peoples are naturally slaves. As proof of this, universal diffusion, temporal and spatial, of the institution of slavery was often cited. But (objected the French author) no less universally diffused were slave revolts :

“As for the argument that slavery could not have been so enduring if it had been contrary to nature, I would answer that the principle holds good for natural agents whose property it is to obey of necessity the unchanging laws of God. But man, being given the choice between good and evil, inclines for the most part to do that which is forbidden and chooses the evil, defying the laws of God and of nature. So much is such a one under the domination of his corrupt imagination, that he takes his own will for the law. There is no sort of impiety or wickedness which in this way has not come to be accounted virtuous and good.”

While it had long seemed obvious and been generally accepted, and still continued to be, the institution of slavery pertained not to nature but to history-more precisely, to a deplorable and execrable chapter of history, which must rapidly be closed once and for all. It made no sense to try to justify it on the basis of right of war (as did Grotius) : ‘ [W]hat charity is there in sparing captives in order to derive some profit or pleasure from them as if they were cattle?” In short, Grotius and Bodin were contemporaries. While the former was an expression of liberal Holland, the latter was a theorist of absolute monarchy. But it was he — not Grotius — who questioned the absolute power wielded by the master over his slaves.

Bodin traced a brief history of slavery in the world or, more precisely, the West (and the geographical area dominated by it) . Certainly, the institution had been vital in Greco-Roman antiquity. As late as the American Civil War, the theorists and defenders of the southern cause appealed to the example and model of that splendid civilization in order to condemn abolitionism. By contrast, Bodin drew a rather realistic picture of classical antiquity. It was based on the enslavement of a number of human beings that was Significantly greater than the number of free citizens. Consequently, it lived under the constant menace of slave revolts and, in order to solve the problem, did not hesitate to resort to the most barbaric measures, as proved by the massacre of 30,000 helots in Sparta ‘in a Single night’ . Subsequently, as a result also of the influence of Christianity, things seemed to change : ‘Europe was freed of slavery after about 1250′ , but ‘we see it today newly restored’ . Following colonial expansion, it was ‘in the process of being renewed throughout the world’ . There had been a massive restoration of slavery, and already Portugal ‘derives from it veritable herds as of beasts’ .

Hence, far from being affected by vulgar historicism’s attempts at repression, the paradox that characterizes the American Revolution and early liberalism in general not only survives, but proves even more marked. We are in the presence of a political movement counter to the trend of authors who, centuries earlier, had pronounced an unequivocal condemnation of the institution of slavery. While Locke, champion of the struggle against absolute monarchy, justified the white master’s absolute power over the black slave, a theorist of monarchical absolutism — Bodin — condemned such power.

To understand the radical character of the paradox we are examining, let us return to Bodin. He primarily attributed the return of slavery in the world to the ‘greed of merchants’ , and then added: ‘If the princes do not set things in good order, it will soon be full of slaves.’ Not only was slavery not a residue of the past and backwardness, but the remedy for it was to be sought not in the new political and social forces (liberal in orientation), but, on the contrary, in monarchical power. Thus argued Bodin, but thus likewise argued Smith two centuries later. On the other hand, in recommending the conversion of beggars into slaves, Fletcher polemicized against the Church, which he rebuked for having promoted the abolition of slavery in classical antiquity and for opposing its reintroduction in the modern world, thus encouraging the sloth and dissipation of vagrants. In this case, too, the institution of slavery was felt to be in contradiction not with the new social and political forces, but with a power that was pre-modern in origin.

The Virginian property-owners who prevented the baptism of slaves in the late seventeenth century, so as not to spoil the spirit of submission and to avoid the emergence of a sense of pride in them because they belonged to the same religious community as the masters, provoked complaints from Church and Crown alike. Once again, we see that it was the forces of the ancien regime which acted to check and contain the novelty represented by racial slavery.

42

stubydoo 07.19.13 at 8:36 pm

A long time ago I read something where some humorous writer (maybe Dave Barry?) explained how in high school he learned that the Civil War was about slavery, then in college he learned that no, it was actually about all that other stuff, then in graduate school he learned that actually it really was about slavery after all.

It is puzzling how enduring that revisionist stuff about the civil war is. I’ve run into some people who believe it despite having little sympathy for (or even exposure to) the neo-confederacy movement.

Any rudimentary familiarity with the evidence will demonstrate that, if the war was not about slavery, then, at the very least, the politicians of the time were being very noisy about the unimportant stuff while being pretty quiet about the important stuff. But then what is the evidence that one uses to determine the relative importance of one cause or another? It’s as if the very existence of any other point of disagreement between the states whatsoever constitutes proof that the war wasn’t really about slavery!!! You could have a lot of fun playing such cheap revisionist games with literally any war.

43

chris 07.19.13 at 8:38 pm

Until a few years ago, torture would’ve been a good example of another practice universally accepted and then universally renounced.

Which seems to cast a certain doubt on the idea that the moral arc of the universe has a preferred direction of bending, as opposed to just being some sort of drunkard’s walk. Although, of course, that quote did come from a minister, so maybe it was a profession of faith rather than an empirical observation.

44

Shelby 07.19.13 at 8:42 pm

45

Bruce Wilder 07.19.13 at 8:47 pm

Tom Bach @ 34

I don’t think we should be drawing straight lines on graph paper three millenia back to Aristotle, and thinking that is history.

The late 18th century Whiggish Anglo-American consensus was that slavery was morally wrong in principle, though perhaps something of a regrettable practical necessity, and the ideology of the American Revolution embraced a political ideal of equality in personal liberty, which clearly conflicted with the institution of slavery. So, moral disapproval of slavery was not a 19th century innovation. And, the doctrine that slavery was a positive good, aggressively pushed by apologists for slavery after 1825 or so, was a strong contrast to the standard 18th century trope of regrettable practical necessity.

Did the “slavery is good” apologists take hints from Aristotle’s natural law schtick? Sure, but I’m pretty sure Aristotle’s patent on the slavery concept had run out — there’s no continuous institution of slavery or cultural category and apology running from Aristotle’s classical Greece to British North America or the US of A. Whole institutional schemes of domination and involuntary servitude had died and been invented and died again several times in the interim. American plantation slavery was invented in the 17th century, even as institutions of manorial domination and servitude were fading away.

46

bob mcmanus 07.19.13 at 9:07 pm

37, 38: I accept the correction. I was too immediately influenced by the Wiki article on Spooner, and trying to understand it, and my sympathies with John Brown.

47

Corey Robin 07.19.13 at 9:08 pm

Barnett’s post, as Shelby above points out, is now up. I urge folks to read it. And my response to his post is in the update. A simple misunderstanding has been clarified, but now the real questions begin.

48

bob mcmanus 07.19.13 at 9:26 pm

Corwin Amendment is the kind of thing that has confused me today about the intentions and politics of the Republicans in 1859-1861.

“I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service….holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

Lincoln, 1st Inaugural

49

Katherine 07.19.13 at 9:34 pm

St Patrick, at one time a British slave in Ireland, had perhaps an unusual perspective on the evils of slavery.

Apart from the other slaves, that us. I imagine quite a few of them over the years haven’t thought much of slavery, but as the subjects rather than the perpetrators, I guess their view doesn’t count.

50

Corey Robin 07.19.13 at 9:34 pm

Quick answer: Lincoln’s position was that the federal government couldn’t abolish slavery in the states but that it could stop its spread into the territories. Ultimately, the argument goes, Lincoln and the Republicans thought that if you could stop its spread into the territories, and stop having the federal government prop it up in the states, and DC, you’d essentially surround it with a dynamic economy built on free labor and thereby slowly strangle it. The southern position was the inverse, seeking to extend slavery not only into the territories but also into the Caribbean and Central America. I believe Oakes, whose book I mention above, has far more details about not only this fundamental issue but a great many others, showing how the Republicans came up with a comprehensive strategy to destroy slavery upon the election of Lincoln.

51

Scott Lemieux 07.19.13 at 9:47 pm

Lincoln’s position was always consistent — he never believed that slavery could be abolished by the federal government in existing states (a meaningless concession in any case, since there was no chance Congress would pass such legislation, and in a context where it was possible this limitation should be abandoned.) His argument was that slavery would die if it was not allowed to expand — an argument that the confederates evidently agreed with.

52

Scott Lemieux 07.19.13 at 9:47 pm

Obviously didn’t see that Corey had beaten me to it!

53

Bruce Wilder 07.19.13 at 10:06 pm

Jacob McM @ 41: Domenico Losurdo

Kind of amusing. Though how the Most Catholic Lord Acton becomes a defining exemplar of liberalism must remain something of a mystery; perhaps, we should recall Voltaire’s correspondence with Catherine the Great or the crusade of the Parlement of Paris against the alleged despotism of Louis XVI, as well.

Treating polemicists as if they are disinterested Euclids, their principles moral axioms, and their arguments, deductive proofs, seems likely to lead to no end of mischief and confusion, should they ever embrace and redefine some term, or concede some ephemeral shibboleth, in the hopes of hooking and persuading the prejudiced.

54

Main Street Muse 07.19.13 at 10:08 pm

The American debate over the morality of slavery is older than the nation itself. Even the slaveholder who wrote the Declaration of Independence was conflicted about this issue. From Jefferson’s :

“In the very first session held under the republican government, the assembly passed a law for the perpetual prohibition of the importation of slaves. This will in some measure stop the increase of this great political and moral evil, while the minds of our citizens may be ripening for a complete emancipation of human nature.” (more TJ slavery quotes here: http://bit.ly/1dKyvyz)

Until I recently moved from the Midwest to south of the Mason-Dixon line, I had no idea we are still fighting the good fight of the Civil War (AKA War of Northern Aggression.) But apparently it’s quite a hot war amongst academics as well.

What this hearty debate clouds is the fact that today we have two political parties – Libertarian and Republican – devoted to the idea that attracting racists is the way to win elections. As a nation, it seems we’ve forgotten more than we’ve learned…

55

Harold 07.19.13 at 10:12 pm

As a mass movement, abolitionism was a novelty, made possible by the rise of the reading public and particularly through the writings of Rousseau and Diderot through the French encyclopedia and the Abbe Raynal’s very popular Histoire des deux Indes (really largely written by Diderot). But of course enlightened people had decried it throughout the ages.

At least one scholar (Paul Vernière) traces Rousseau’s concept of inalienable human rights to an unacknowledged debt to Spinoza, a chapter of whose work on Ethics is called “Of Human Bondage” and (interestingly, for Corey Robin) who is cited as a precursor by both Renan and Nieztsche. According to wikipedia the latter wrote in a postcard to a friend:

I am utterly amazed, utterly enchanted! I have a precursor, and what a precursor! I hardly knew Spinoza: that I should have turned to him just now, was inspired by “instinct.” Not only is his overtendency like mine—namely to make all knowledge the most powerful affect — but in five main points of his doctrine I recognize myself; this most unusual and loneliest thinker is closest to me precisely in these matters: he denies the freedom of the will, teleology, the moral world-order, the unegoistic, and evil. Even though the divergencies are admittedly tremendous, they are due more to the difference in time, culture, and science. In summa: my lonesomeness, which, as on very high mountains, often made it hard for me to breathe and make my blood rush out, is now at least a twosomeness. Strange!

56

Anderson 07.19.13 at 10:24 pm

I’ve seen the Nietzsche quote about Spinoza before, but I don’t grasp Spinoza well enough to understand how he could be a source for “inalienable human rights.” Presumably that’s in the Tractatus, whereas N. was rejoicing over the Ethics?

57

Rich Puchalsky 07.19.13 at 10:31 pm

And here it comes, as predicted:

“That said, Brad DeLong is right to point out in the comments that that anarcho-abolitionist view doesn’t necessarily take us very far from some of the underlying historical assumptions of the neo-Confederate position. To wit: the “it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Civil War was an unjust war on both sides” claim, and all the associated historical baggage around it, that I cited in the OP.”

Spooner not only thought that a guerrilla war against the South was justified, he tried to help start one. To gloss anarcho-abolitionist views as in some ways not too far from the historical assumptions of the neo-Confederate is pretty much perfect. It’s exactly like the people who currently make no distinction between people who oppose the current-day Democrats from the right or from the left or really from any non-conventional-wisdom position. You have to be objectively for one or other of the parties, just as you had to be either objectively pro-Saddam or not. Bush’s crew really did write the rhetoric of our time.

58

Harold 07.19.13 at 10:34 pm

59

Anderson 07.19.13 at 10:38 pm

You have to be objectively for one or other of the parties

The best is the enemy of the good. Condemning the Republicans as equivalent to the Democrats because they were not so advanced as Spooner was fine as ideology; it was stupid as politics.

And as you note, consistent with the impression gleaned on the other thread, Spooner’s purity meant he found it necessary to resort to force, which is the expected result when argument and compromise are heathenish.

60

Chris Mealy 07.19.13 at 10:45 pm

Expanding slavery to the west was absolutely necessary for slave power because tobacco and cotton farming had completely destroyed their soils. The land furthest east was ruined first, and the planters that remained were mainly in the business of exporting people.

61

Rich Puchalsky 07.19.13 at 10:49 pm

I’m not writing a pro-Spooner tract, or saying that it was a good idea to support John Brown. But this is supposed to be a discussion about historical memory, and the people involved can’t distinguish anarcho-abolitionism from neo-Confederacy in any important way.

62

GiT 07.19.13 at 10:51 pm

WEB Du Bois thought John Brown could have pulled it off:

http://archive.org/details/johnbrown00dubo

63

bob mcmanus 07.19.13 at 10:53 pm

Spooner’s purity meant he found it necessary to resort to force, which is the expected result when argument and compromise are heathenish.

But not state force, which makes him intolerable to me. But argument and compromise with the likes of the slavers is what is heathenish.

Well then, Lincoln took at least as an expansive view of State Sovereignty as the Slavers. Then Lincoln be damned.

Perhaps I have a spiritual ally in Charles Sumner, praise be his name, and his allies, and I think whatever protections of the right for the sovereign states to massively abuse US citizens that Lincoln and the Slavers believed was necessary (and their descendants in our current political parties sustain) was put profoundly to question by the 14th amendment. As in, none.

I will do my own unique gloss on the Privileges and Immunities Clause here and say Obama has the right, nay the duty, to send a few divisions down here to Texas and open up 50 Planned Parenthood abortion clinics.

Because I sure am not seeing a plan or even an effective discourse from Democrats that will bring back an effective Texan right to choose. Ever.

64

Corey Robin 07.19.13 at 10:59 pm

Rich: What part of “SOME of the underlying historical assumptions” do you not understand?

65

Rich Puchalsky 07.19.13 at 11:06 pm

I understand that you think that “let’s start a guerrilla war against the slaveholders” doesn’t take us very far from “it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Civil War was an unjust war on both sides”. I haven’t seen a better recent illustration of the logic by which e.g. pacifists were held to be pro-Saddam. Followed, angrily, by “Of course there are differences between them!” when someone points out what you’re saying.

66

LFC 07.19.13 at 11:25 pm

C. Robin @36
I appreciate the response. I’ve located, but have not yet had time to read, a pdf (in English) of the Renan (link below). Also to Stephen @39: I believe it’s not a matter of literal forgetting, but of a collective agreement to ‘bracket,’ in this case, the Massacre.

http://historycourses.weebly.com/uploads/8/0/0/5/8005631/renan_what_is_a_nation.pdf

Btw, I would note that the prefatory editor’s note to this version, which is apparently from an anthology of some kind, fails to point out that Renan, while criticizing the ‘primordial’ view of nations, was himself a nationalist (see my comment @26).

67

Jacob McM 07.19.13 at 11:27 pm

Inalienable human rights follow logically from the Christian teachings that man is made in the image of God and that every person possesses a unique soul. It’s not hard to find precursors for the idea prior to the 18th century.

68

William Timberman 07.19.13 at 11:32 pm

I think that the Mill essay has the correct answer to those Bruce Wilder would probably call the lesser evilists, and their attempts to tar with the extremist brush all who see significant similarities between the policies of Barack Obama and George Bush, and who think that those similarities were a grave enough cause for concern to argue with Obama supporters about the virtue of supporting his re-election under any and all circumstances.

The longer the war goes on, says Mill, the more extreme will be the demand of Northerners, i.e., that slavery be abolished even in the states where it exists, whether a valid constitutional ground can be found for doing so or not. This, he says, is something we ought to welcome. Spooner may have been an extremist, but Mill arguably was not, and neither are those who argue that something more than reluctant acquiescence to the current direction of the Democratic Party is going to be necessary to arrest the present drift of the country to the right.

69

Bruce Wilder 07.19.13 at 11:49 pm

In a slight demur to Corey’s explanation @ 50, it really wasn’t that the Republicans were thought to be committed to a specific and concrete abolitionist program, as a general sense that the South was losing its hegemonic control of the Federal government, a hegemony which had rested on several pillars, all of which appeared to be crumbling.

Most Presidents had been Southerners, and the last two Democrats — Pierce and Buchanan — were northerners, whose strong southern sympathies were their principal qualifications for nomination. Half of the States had been slave States, until the admission of California in 1850 (and California agreeably elected one anti-slavery and one pro-slavery Senator to keep the balance), but the admission of Minnesota as a free state paired with slave state Kansas, which had become free state Kansas, had finally and fatally tipped the balance there. The Supreme Court had had a southern majority, because of the custom of choosing one Justice from each of 9 circuits, 5 of which were drawn across the South; the passionate Republican rejection of Taney’s Dred Scot decision made clear no effective Southern veto would persist there for long. Southerners walked out of the Democratic Convention, when northerners would nominate no one other than Lincoln’s Illinois rival, Stephen Douglas, who had championed the right of Kansas to choose to become a free state.

That the industrializing North (and its Greater New England expanding across the Great Lakes) would outstrip the South (and the Greater Charleston of the cotton plantation Deep South) in population and economic development was long anticipated. Calhoun had anticipated the loss of Southern hegemony, and prepared for it, with his doctrine of States’ Rights, with its claim of an Ace-in-the-hole, unilateral state secession. It turned out to form a fatal hand of Aces and Eights.

If the prospects were a bit vague, and uncertain of operation, the immediate past was, nevertheless an absolutely clear prologue.

70

LFC 07.19.13 at 11:54 pm

From ‘What is a Nation?':

The essence of a nation is that all individuals have many things in common and also that they have forgotten many things. No French citizen knows whether he is a Burgundian, an Alan, a Taifale, or a Visigoth, yet every French citizen has to have forgotten the massacre of Saint Bartholomew, or the massacres that took place in the Midi in the thirteenth century.

Corey is right that Renan used the phrase “historical error”:

Forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical studies often constitutes a danger for [the principle of] nationality. Indeed, historical enquiry brings to light deeds of violence which took place at the origin of all political formations, even of those whose consequences have been altogether beneficial.

71

Bruce Wilder 07.20.13 at 12:01 am

The popularity of the Republican Party, and its ability to elect a President by a constitutional majority in the electoral college, did not rest on a simple and abstract philosophical opposition to slavery, though that is how Lincoln framed it rhetorically. It rested on a sense that the “Slavepower” (as the southern interest was subtly named in the North) in Congress was blocking the most popular measures for western development: opening the West to settlement and the admission of new States, free homesteading, land-grant colleges and subsidies for a transcontinental railroad. In his rivalry with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln and Douglas agreed with the desirability of these measures, as did the vast majority of Americans, across the country (including, theoretically, in the South). But, Douglas had been rolled in the past by the Slavepower over Kansas and Dred Scot, and Lincoln, by narrowing the issues to one — opposition to the expansion of slavery on principle — could bring the focus down to whether Douglas could be trusted to resist his fellow Democrats at the South. Douglas could argue that he alone, as a Democrat, could bring the Democratic South along, right up until the Southerners walked out of the convention, where he was to be nominated.

The “moral wrong of slavery” which Lincoln affirmed, without endorsing any definite and “radical” measure of abolition, made Lincoln a more credible champion of western development, against the supposed opposition of the Slavepower, than Douglas.

Between Lincoln and the Southerners, as well as between Lincoln and the radical abolitionists, it was a constitutional issue. Lincoln would argue the constitutional issues, over and over, from Cooper Union onward, redefining the small-c constitution in the process.

72

Witt 07.20.13 at 12:09 am

Further to Ezra and Bruce’s points, I urge anyone who has not read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s many posts on American slavery and the Civil War to do so. For example:

The fact is that the Civil War didn’t represent a failure of 19th-century Americans, but that the American slave society — which was itself war — represented a failure of humanity.

As each incremental argument is added together, Coates makes a compelling case that:

1. Slavery itself was a 400-year state of war against African Americans

2. American slavery was in certain respects particularly horrific, compared to at least some prior versions of slavery in other places and times.

73

Mark Field 07.20.13 at 12:13 am

I’ve seen the Nietzsche quote about Spinoza before, but I don’t grasp Spinoza well enough to understand how he could be a source for “inalienable human rights.” Presumably that’s in the Tractatus, whereas N. was rejoicing over the Ethics?

For a discussion of Spinoza and inalienable rights, see Jonathan Israel: http://www.amazon.com/Radical-Enlightenment-Philosophy-Modernity-ebook/dp/B0071YOVIK/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1374279101&sr=1-4&keywords=jonathan+israel

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Bruce Wilder 07.20.13 at 12:21 am

Karl Marx, The American Question in England, October 1861

The war has not been undertaken with a view to put down Slavery, and the United States authorities themselves have taken the greatest pains to protest against any such idea. But then, it ought to be remembered that it was not the North, but the South, which undertook this war; the former acting only on the defense. If it be true that the North, after long hesitations, and an exhibition of forbearance unknown in the annals of European history, drew at last the sword, not for crushing Slavery, but for saving the Union, the South, on its part, inaugurated the war by loudly proclaiming “the peculiar institution” as the only and main end of the rebellion. It confessed to fight for the liberty of enslaving other people, a liberty which, despite the Northern protests, it asserted to be put in danger by the victory of the Republican party and the election of Mr. Lincoln to the Presidential chair. The Confederate Congress boasted that its new-fangled constitution, as distinguished from the Constitution of the Washingtons, Jeffersons, and Adams’s, had recognized for the first time Slavery as a thing good in itself, a bulwark of civilization, and a divine institution. If the North professed to fight but for the Union, the South gloried in rebellion for the supremacy of Slavery. If Anti-Slavery and idealistic England felt not attracted by the profession of the North, how came it to pass that it was not violently repulsed by the cynical confessions of the South?

The Saturday Review helps itself out of this ugly dilemma by disbelieving the declarations of the seceders themselves. It sees deeper than this, and discovers “that Slavery had very little to do with Secession;” the declarations of Jeff. Davis and company to the contrary being mere “conventionalisms” with “about as much meaning as the conventionalisms about violated altars and desecrated hearths, which always occur in such proclamations.”

75

Tom Bach 07.20.13 at 12:48 am

Bruce
Your point, as I understood it, was that what made the 19th century different was a full throated defense of slavery. My point was and is that all slave societies actually defended slavery as a natural good. The issue was and is who is a human. The Greeks called, if I remember correctly, slaves human footed animals. The Iberians who enslaved indigenous peoples of the new world used to read them something in Spanish that offered them the option of conversion or enslavement, obviously as the native couldn’t understand what was said led to enslavement. Lisbon was in the 16th centuries largest slave market. The decision of whites to deny black humanity wasn’t new and the defense of slavery wasn’t new. What was new and interesting was the decision of whites, how ever so defined, to insist on the common humanity of all man footed beasts and to make it stick . This isn’t graph paper but, as per David Brion Davis, who last i checked was something of an expert on the subject, but rather a history of the long term development of slavery as institution in the new and old worlds.
And, for what it is worth, I am actually a professionally trained historian and I find your grasp of history kind of a joke.

76

Brad DeLong 07.20.13 at 1:06 am

Ah. From my point of view, Spooner’s logic, and Puchalsky’s, is that of the Third Period of the Comintern in Germany: that there are fascists and social fascists, and the important thing is to defeat the social fascists–who call themselves Socialists and Social Democrats–and help the unhypocritical fascists–who call themselves National Socialists–into power so that people will understand that the only alternative to the Comintern is fascism.

Similarly, Spooner believed that the most important thing in 1860 was to defeat the Republicans because only the Republican defeat would trigger the uprising of an army of John Browns.

And when I read Puchalsky I can’t help but feel that he is unhappy whenever the Democrats win anything–because then things become complicated.

As Leon Trotsky once said apropos of such political movements: “Everybody has a right to be stupid, but comrades Puchalsky and Spooner abuse the privilege.”

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Bruce Wilder 07.20.13 at 1:14 am

Tom Bach: “all slave societies actually defended slavery as a natural good”

Did you read the Declaration of Independence?

78

Tom Bach 07.20.13 at 1:17 am

And just to be clear about the silliness of you historical claims. On an earlier thread you wrote that Germans went step by step into nazism.
This simply isn’t true. Hitler was appointed by Hindeburg even as his party’s votes declined. As part of the deal the SA became part of the police which allowed them to kill, arrest, beat up and etc their opponents and, on the eve of the enabling act arrest 80, I think it was, communist delegates, in order to pass the enabling act after an unfree and unfair election.

79

Rich Puchalsky 07.20.13 at 1:17 am

Spooner’s logic isn’t my logic. If I had to pick someone of the time to sort-of share my logic, it’d probably be the Garrisonites. But since you’ve felt free to call me stupid, I should mention that calling Spooner either a concern troll or someone making a #slatepitch is mightily stupid. Concern trolls are actually trying to sabotage the people who they are giving advice to — they don’t attempt to support guerrilla wars for those causes. And people don’t make ritually contrarian gestures for attention that involve doing the quite radical things that Spooner did; he was an actual contrarian. You can of course condemn him for being an unpractical radical, but instead you’ve chosen to do so in a register that’s both false and designed to cast him as being like one of the people de jour that you oppose.

80

Tom Bach 07.20.13 at 1:27 am

Bruce:
Re the Declaration does it condemn slavery? Last time I read it it didn’t.

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Bruce Wilder 07.20.13 at 1:27 am

Brad DeLong @ 76

That comment contains several shades of crazy.

82

Bruce Wilder 07.20.13 at 1:38 am

does it condemn slavery?

Some people might think that whole “all men are created equal” business implies something of the sort.

83

Tom Bach 07.20.13 at 1:41 am

Bruce:
if we leave aside the fact that blacks were not men; you might have a point. Gee golly.

84

Tom Bach 07.20.13 at 1:47 am

I mean come Bruce the folks that wrote the declaration and the constitution were perfectly okay with slavery and perfectly okay with making black men and women sub humans. It is almost as if the USA had to have a war to make blacks human and then spend years or decades to extend to blacks the basic civil liberties that all whites, how so ever defined, enjoyed.

85

john c. halasz 07.20.13 at 1:53 am

@84:

Undoubtedly Jefferson had a sinuous gift for hypocrisy, but still, there’s this:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2h33.html

86

politicalfootball 07.20.13 at 2:33 am

74: Bruce, I hadn’t seen that before. Has anyone done a history of the whole “Civil War wasn’t about slavery” thing? It hadn’t dawned on me that it was politically useful in some quarters to spread that falsehood right from the start. I’d be curious to see the Saturday Review piece that Karl mentions.

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Bruce Wilder 07.20.13 at 2:46 am

Tom Bach @ 84 the folks that wrote the declaration and the constitution were perfectly okay with slavery and perfectly okay with making black men and women sub humans.

Perhaps some were. On the record, the consensus, even among slave owners, was the attitude exemplified by slave owner, Charles Carroll, “Why keep alive the question of slavery? It is admitted by all to be a great evil”.

Quite a few of the Founders were actively opposed to slavery on principle, or supportive of schemes of gradual abolition, curtailment of the slave trade, colonization, manumission, etc. Benjamin Franklin founded an antislavery society. John Adams copied the Declaration’s words into the Massachusetts’ Constitution of 1780, which a court subsequently held, abolished slavery in that state. The Constitution contains a provision, permitting Congress to abolish the international slave trade. The Northwest Ordinance, organizing the territory north of the Ohio, prohibited slavery. In Maryland and Virginia, manumission on the master’s death became customary, and in the years after the Revolution, several states, which did not adopt immediate abolition, undertook measures of gradual abolition.

The past is different, never uniform, neither constant nor progressive. I have no doubt that people have returned again and again to arguments from nature for all kinds of artifactual social arrangements, but neither the arguments nor the arrangements are the same from time to time, and your blithe assertions about all all slave societies are indefensible on their face.

In any case, I think this is as far as I wish to go in this increasingly off-topic direction.

88

Brad DeLong 07.20.13 at 3:08 am

Rich Puchalsky: “Spooner’s logic isn’t my logic. If I had to pick someone of the time to sort-of share my logic, it’d probably be the Garrisonites. But since you’ve felt free to call me stupid, I should mention that calling Spooner either a concern troll or someone making a #slatepitch is mightily stupid.”

Huh?

Saying in October 1860 that job #1 is to make sure that the Republican Party loses so that an Army of John Browns will then arise to fight a guerrilla war to abolish slavery in the south–that is a classic #slatepitch; that is the #slatepitch of all #slatepitches…

What would you call it?

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Rich Puchalsky 07.20.13 at 4:17 am

A #slatepitch is knee-jerk contrarianism to gain attention, generally done in a facile way that you don’t think that the author really believes. I’d call Spooner’s piece honest radicalism, with all of the problems that that implies. Not every contravention of received wisdom or even real wisdom is a #slatepitch.

And you seem to have misrepresented it. You seem to be reading the text from here. You stopped quoting before the end, here’s the rest:

The great object is to procure the defeat of the Republicans. If defeated on the sixth of November, the faction itself will be extinct on the seventh. Those of its members who intend to support slavery, will then go over openly into its ranks; while those who intend to support liberty, will come unmistakably to her side. She will then know her friends from her foes. And thenceforth the issue will be distinctly made up, whether this be, or be not, a free country for all? And this one issue will hold its place before the country, until it shall be decided in favor of freedom.

Why do you think that Spooner thinks that the Republican Party would be dead on the 7th? Not because John Browns will rise up. From a brief reading, although I’ve hardly studied it, I see that he thinks that the Republican Party is divided in half:

Duplicity and deceit seem to be regarded by them as their only available capital. This results from the fact that the faction consists of two wings, one favorable to liberty, the other to slavery neither of them alone strong enough for success ; and neither of them honest enough to submit to present defeat for their principles. how to keep these two wings together until they shall have succeeded in clutching the spoils and power of office, is the great problem with the managers.

And that the wings will split if the party is defeated, as the end of his piece says. Was this a good plan, politically? Probably not. Was it an expectation for hordes of John Browns? No.

90

bad Jim 07.20.13 at 5:12 am

From Jefferson’s original draft, an epitome of the homage vice pays to virtue:

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.

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bad Jim 07.20.13 at 5:36 am

Note also that George Washington freed his slaves in his will (pending his wife’s death, if I recall aright). Jefferson didn’t follow his example, though he died so indebted he might not have been able to. Madison likewise thought slavery a blot on the country’s reputation.

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js. 07.20.13 at 5:43 am

A bit OT, but I recoiled slightly at the use of Renan in CR’s post, and I think LFC at 23/26 (or thereabouts) is exactly right. And I don’t think that the gravity of the “event” that’s “forgotten”* is supposed to nearly as important as its role as a foundational myth.

*Only because it’s not a forgetting of an event in any obvious sense—so much as the construction of a memory. (And yes, heavily relying on B. Anderson here.)

93

Hidari 07.20.13 at 11:04 am

I know that David Graeber is much beloved, indeed, worshipped, at CT, but in “Debt” he points out that slavery has been abolished (or ‘abolished’) many times in human history. For example, in the 3rd Century AD, almost all ‘progressive’ ‘liberal’ European intellectuals believed in slavery. By the 7th century AD, almost none of them did, and slavery had more or less died out in mainland Europe. I know crude progressive Marxism is out of fashion, and deservedly so, but it is worth pointing out that feudalism, (or ‘feudalism’), bad as it was, was still better than what came before it.

According to Wikipedia, FWIW, the first legal attempt to ban slavery was in the 3rd century BC.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolition_of_slavery_timeline

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Eli Rabett 07.20.13 at 11:55 am

Having made a pact thirty years ago with the racist devil to gain power, the libertarian right now must find some excuse for continuing to sleep with its partner.

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Anarcissie 07.20.13 at 1:53 pm

It is amusing to see, over the centuries, how many slavemasters bewailed the burden under which they so unwillingly labored — how bitter it was for them to apply lash and chain to the images of God, when relief and liberation were staring them in the face.

But how often slavery has been abolished — that is not amusing, but ominous.

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PatrickinIowa 07.20.13 at 2:45 pm

I’m not a historian, and this may be off topic, but a question arises: Did anyone say anything analogous to this:

“Duplicity and deceit seem to be regarded by them as their only available capital. This results from the fact that the faction consists of two wings, one favorable to liberty, the other to slavery neither of them alone strong enough for success ; and neither of them honest enough to submit to present defeat for their principles. how to keep these two wings together until they shall have succeeded in clutching the spoils and power of office, is the great problem with the managers.”

about the Democratic party in the early sixties?

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Anderson 07.20.13 at 3:00 pm

73: thanks, Mark!

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Anderson 07.20.13 at 3:01 pm

58 – I read threads backwards sometimes. Thanks!

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Bruce Wilder 07.20.13 at 4:13 pm

I really admired what Rich Puchalsky @ 18 said, in relation to Lysander Spooner and how CT commenters might treat him: “As political systems approach failure some cranks become, in a sense, more and more right. . . . “

I wasn’t sanguine about Rich’s prospective expression of contempt: “I think that the chances of any poster here being able to understand Lysander Spooner are more or less negligible.” Just seemed a little arrogant and mean, but . . . whatever.

Then Brad DeLong, alleged Berkeley historian, came along, jumped in the mud puddle, splashed a bit, sat down and began to bathe. Wow. The lesser evilism of 2012 projected backward on Lincoln was curious, but “the #slatepitch of the 1850s” was so completely over the top as to astonish.

For Brad’s timely performance alone, I think the thread must be awarded to Rich, though I note that Rich was patiently analytical, despite Brad’s provocations — so bonus points.

Job well done, thesis proven. I stand in awe.

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William Timberman 07.20.13 at 4:42 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 99

Yes, I agree — well done indeed. Especially this, @ 79:

You can of course condemn him for being an unpractical radical, but instead you’ve chosen to do so in a register that’s both false and designed to cast him as being like one of the people de jour that you oppose.

Condemning the passions of the long dead is child’s play, and because it’s so easy, we’ve all done it on occasions. Not so painless, though, to go about hawking scurrilous analogies between them and living adversaries who can — and will — fight back.

101

Brad DeLong 07.20.13 at 5:34 pm

What do you think Abraham Lincoln thought of Lysander Spooner’s calls for Republican defeat in 1860 as the most important task for the anti-slavery movement? What do you think Jefferson Davis thought of Lysander Spooner’s calls for Lincoln’s defeat in 1860 as the most important task of the anti-slavery movement?

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Bruce Wilder 07.20.13 at 5:46 pm

And, then there was accusing Puchalsky of being the equivalent of a commie-supporting-Hitler — a four-point bank shot of an historical analogy so deranged as to make me suspect Rich had bribed a Berkeley barista to slip something in among the 500 mg of caffeine in Brad’s Venti-plus triple-espresso.

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Bruce Wilder 07.20.13 at 5:50 pm

I had really hoped that by waiting till today to congratulate Rich, Brad might have been gone. No such luck.

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geo 07.20.13 at 6:26 pm

@101: What would Abraham Lincoln think of DLC Democrats who, despite Gore’s refusal to debate Nader or to countenance vote-swapping in safe states, despite the efforts of state Democratic parties to keep the Greens off the ballot, despite a Gore campaign so lukewarm and incompetent that it couldn’t carry the candidate’s home state, and despite Gore’s gutless refusal to demand a proper recount or to criticize a transparently corrupt Supreme Court decision, continually and viciously complained that it was Nader who elected Bush and who never (to this day) have said a mumbling word about the anti-democratic absurdities of the Electoral College or first-past-the-post?

After all, we Nader voters have been remarkably forbearing about the fact that so many people who should have known better — and who in fact did know that the great democratic reformer was infinitely worthier of being elected president than the smug, spoiled, arrogant rich boy without an original thought in his head — nevertheless voted for Gore and the two-party system.

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Barry 07.20.13 at 8:43 pm

“…. despite Gore’s refusal to debate Nader or to countenance vote-swapping in safe states, …”

I can’t recall Nader asking for that – perhaps you could help me here?

Nader publicly and repeatedly stated that he saw no difference between the two parties, and that he wanted the Democrats defeated. He repeatedly acted according to this, and succeeded (with a little help from a Florida voter purge and SCROTUS).

His words and actions were very well aligned; I’ll judge him on that.

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politicalfootball 07.20.13 at 8:58 pm

We are able to admire Spooner’s principles as long as he is ineffectual.

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politicalfootball 07.20.13 at 9:08 pm

despite a Gore campaign so lukewarm and incompetent that it couldn’t carry the candidate’s home state,

I think what liberal Democrats fail to understand about Nader – and Nader supporters often fail to understand about liberal Democrats – is that we aren’t on the same side. A hypothetical Al Gore who is able to take Tennessee – and one who is forced to take Tennessee to win the election – is a considerably worse candidate than the one we had, as these things are judged by liberal Democrats.

(Similarly, a Romney who could take Massachusetts would have been a less bad candidate.)

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geo 07.20.13 at 9:45 pm

Barry: Nader didn’t propose vote-swapping. Several Gore supporters did, independently. Nader, when asked, was lukewarm about the idea; but the Gore campaign, who alone had the resources to organize and publicize such a solution, wasn’t interested. In fact, Nader could have shouted himself hoarse in support of the idea, but only if the Gore campaign had gotten behind it did it have any chance. But the Democratic Party wasn’t interested in a third party achieving 5 percent of the vote, hence public funding.

I’ve heard, of course, that Nader said there was no difference between the parties, but not that he said it “repeatedly” or that he “wanted the Democrats defeated.” Are you sure about this?

pf: I’m not suggesting that Gore should have demagogued in Tennessee in order to win more of the redneck vote, but just that his defeat there suggests a large degree of complacency and incompetence in his campaign. (I believe I’m among a multitude suggesting this.) As for liberal Democrats and Nader supporters not being on the same side: it’s only on the assumption that we are on the same side that it makes any sense to criticize Nader voters for stubbornness or shortsightedness in not settling for a Gore victory. If they really thought Gore and Bush were equivalent, then then they could hardly have been criticized for “throwing their vote away.”

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geo 07.20.13 at 9:48 pm

PS: Barry and pf, what do you think of the Electoral College and first-past-the-post?

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Rich Puchalsky 07.20.13 at 11:46 pm

Thanks, Bruce, William. It does seem like spiking the football after the play, but I’ll answer Brad again:

What do you think Abraham Lincoln thought of Lysander Spooner’s calls for Republican defeat in 1860 as the most important task for the anti-slavery movement? What do you think Jefferson Davis thought of Lysander Spooner’s calls for Lincoln’s defeat in 1860 as the most important task of the anti-slavery movement?

As far as I know, neither Lincoln nor Davis addressed Spooner or his ideas directly. I’m not going to engage in historical mind-reading. (Although Davis did write that the people who encouraged the John Brown-led attack should be treated, amusingly enough, as criminals who conspired in a rebellion against the constitutional government of a state.)

But what must Lincoln have thought of other people who refused to vote for him? Who, indeed, condemned voting entirely? Who called the Constitution a pact with hell? Who in 1859 called the Republicans “a timeserving, a temporizing, a cowardly party”? Why, one of their leaders even wrote in June 1860 that what would happen would be “the election of a new administration pledged to the support of slavery in our Southern States, and this equally, whether success be to the Democrats or the Republicans.”

That kind of false equivalence between the parties is worse than anything. Those radicals deprived Lincoln of much-needed electoral support. Yes, without the abolitionists, it would have been much easier for Lincoln to handle the conflict over slavery. Let’s all come together and agree that it would have been better if they’d never existed.

Actually, I’ll call one of them out by name: Frederick Douglass–

all those who believe that it is the first business of the American people, acting in their collective and national capacity through the forms of the National Government, to abolish and forever put away from among them the stupendous abomination of slavery; who believe . . . that he who stands by pure anti-slavery principle most firmly in this day of accommodation and truckling, bearing aloft the unsullied banner of pure Abolitionism, best serves the cause of the slave . . . will not ask us why we helped make these nominations, and why anti-slavery men, regardless of ridicule and protest, are asked to vote for them. For all such men as are herein described see plainly enough that to vote consistently, they must vote for just such men as have been nominated. Ten thousand votes for GERRIT SMITH at this juncture would do more, in our judgment, for the ultimate abolition of slavery in this country, than two million for ABRAHAM LINCOLN, or any other man who stands pledged before the world against all interference with slavery in the slave States, who is not pledged to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, or anywhere else the system exists, and who is not opposed to making the free States a hunting ground for men under the Fugitive Slave Law. . . . Let Abolitionists, regardless of the outside pressure, regardless of smiles or frowns, mindful only of the true and right, vote in the coming election for the only men now in the field who believe in the complete manhood of the negro, the unconstitutionality and illegality of slavery, and are pledged to the immediate and unconditional abolition of slavery.

So, Frederick Douglass must have been a concern troll, or a #slatepitcher. He must have been, as a commenter on DeLong’s blog felicitously put it, the Nader of the 1850s. He must have supported Davis. Those are the truths from the self-proclaimed guardians of our historical memory.

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bob mcmanus 07.21.13 at 12:17 am

Thanks Rich, I went looking for what Douglass though of Lincoln, but couldn’t find it.

I did read that Douglass said Spooner’s insurrections “wouldn’t work” but I still have had much fun spinning alternate histories where a thousand John Browns and a thousand Nat Turners, provided arms and logistics from a post-Secession Lincoln government or private sources, create a South free of, wait, free from whites. The images are beautiful.

But before success, probably Lincoln would have sent troops down to make the sure the slaves didn’t deprive citizens of their property, violate the Constitution, or foster social disorder.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.21.13 at 12:33 am

bob m, Frederick Douglass’ opinion of Lincoln did change later, as the abolitionists’ opinions of him generally did as the war went on, especially after the Emancipation Proclamation. But in 1860 no one had foreknowledge of what would happen, especially since he kept insisting that he wouldn’t do what he later did. If, as William writes in #100 that condemning the passions of the long dead is child’s play, condemning their lack of foreknowledge is something worse.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.21.13 at 12:38 am

Oh, and also note that in 1864 Douglass had a meeting with Lincoln of which Douglass wrote in his autobiography:

I was the more impressed by his benevolent consideration because he before said, in answer to the peace clamor, that his object was to save the Union, and to do so with or without slavery. What he said on this day showed a deeper moral conviction against slavery than I had even seen before in anything spoken or written by him. I listened with the deepest interest and profoundest satisfaction, and, at his suggestion, agreed to undertake the organizing of a band of scouts, composed of colored men, whose business should be somewhat after the original plan of John Brown, to go into the rebel states, beyond the lines of our armies, and carry the news of emancipation, and urge the slaves to come within our boundaries.

So John Brown’s original plan was more or less carried out, as part of war policy.

114

politicalfootball 07.21.13 at 12:45 am

it’s only on the assumption that we are on the same side that it makes any sense to criticize Nader voters for stubbornness or shortsightedness in not settling for a Gore victory.

Bingo. As I say, Democrats frequently misunderstand this (many Naderites do, too) and Dems really need to start treating Naderites more like Republicans or (as you propose) as impersonal, entrenched forces like the Electoral College or first-past-the-post. Naderites aren’t misguided, for heaven’s sake. Assuming they didn’t know what they were doing in 2000 (which seems like a ridiculous thing to assume) they do now.

The whole point of Naderism is to say that compromises are unacceptable to achieve a national coalition. The point of the Democratic Party is to do what is necessary to be a national coalition. Ns and Ds can’t be expected to get along any better than Rs and Ds, because their objectives are different and mutually exclusive.

115

stubydoo 07.21.13 at 12:59 am

This whole thing about candidates losing their home state isn’t really on topic, but I can’t resist…

In the leadup to the 2000 election, a reporter asked George Bush what he thought about the fact that Gore was on track to lose his home state, and Bush corrected the reporter by pointing out that Gore was actually doing just fine in the District of Columbia

(as that is where Gore had actually grown up, see).
(there was never much discussion of the states where Bush really had grown up, but he did attend prep school, college and graduate school in states that Gore won, and also had his youthful drunk driving arrest incident near the family compound in another state that Gore won).

But yes, talking about failure of a candidate to win a “home state” which also happens to be ideologically hostile ground for his party is a bit silly. Still though I have to give a shout out to the all time champ of the category – the 2012 candidate who not only lost the state where he served as governor, but also lost the other state where he grew up while his father was serving as governor. Big props to Mitt!

116

geo 07.21.13 at 1:11 am

pf: So that’s the point of the Democratic Party — to do whatever is necessary to win national elections? And to forswear ever addressing “entrenched, impersonal” absurdities like the Electoral College and first-past-the-post?

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geo 07.21.13 at 1:20 am

stubydoo: Yes, I suppose it is a bit silly to blame a candidate for losing his home state. I’m sorry I brought it up. He did run a pretty poor campaign, though.

118

Doctor Bob 07.21.13 at 1:35 am

I was kept out of school for one year (1947) because of rheumatic fever. I read a lot including all three volumes of Lee’s Lieutenants and many other Civil War books. I attended segregated schools until I went to an Ivy League college, whereupon many of my ideas slowly began to change.
I draw attention to Alexander Stephens’ famous Cornerstone speech, given in Savannah in March 1861 before the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter. Stephens was the Vice President of the Confederacy, a wealthy Georgia landowner who served in Congress from 1843-1859, initially as a Whig, then as a Democrat. He choose not to seek re-election in 1858. He urged against secession during the prolonged Georgia State convention held in Milledgeville, then capital of Georgia, on and off from January through March, 1861. The convention had ratified a new constitution but had not officially adjourned at the time of his cornerstone speech, which was aimed at Georgians. It wasn’t reported in Northern newspapers. He didn’t think that secession was necessary and disliked the idea of a war that could get out hand. He supported secession if the North curtailed the Fugitive Slave Act or the rights of slave-owners but he thought that the Republicans had limited support in the North and would need decades to significantly curtail slavery, during which time political opposition could grow. Once the die was cast, he signed the secession agreement, was elected to the Confederate Congress and became Vice President in February 1861.

He spoke in Savannah of a great and glorious revolution, that seven states had now seceded from the Union and that more would follow. He began by denouncing internal improvements, harking back to the pivotal 1828 Presidential election where Andrew Jackson defeated John Quincy Adams who championed internal publicly financed improvements, and moved on to slavery, saying “This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution”. He gave a full-throated defense of slavery, which was the cornerstone of the revolution and of the Confederacy. Stephens gave two similar speeches in Georgia in March 1861, first at Atlanta and the second on March 21st in Savannah. The second speech was reprinted in full in the Savannah Republican. No record of the Atlanta speech survives.

Stephens was often publicly critical of Jefferson Davis during the war. He spent five months in prison after the war and returned to Georgia where he was elected to the US Senate but could not serve because Georgia wasn’t readmitted to the Union until 1870. Stephens became a loud proponent of states rights and economic oppression theories of the war’s origin from 1866 on, and always insisted that he had opposed the war, that he had been misquoted and that the war had been unjust to most Northerners and Southerners. Documents leave no doubt that he favored firing on Fort Sumter. He wanted to wait until the Confederacy could build up its army and supplies. Stephens was Governor of Georgia at the time of his death in 1883.

After the Civil War, a Southern insurgency arose, vaguely analogous to the Iraq insurgency that followed the US invasion in 2003. Lincoln was dead and Congress had no stomach for controlling the insurgency or enforcing laws to insure the rights of the former slaves. The insurgency and the tepid Federal response helped promote grand ideas of the lost cause, exaggerating the numbers of slaves loyal to their masters (a few slaves moved voluntarily to Brazil with their masters after the war) the glory of rural Southern life, etc. Many in the North found it difficult to believe in “Negro equality”. Stephens and Jefferson were slick with words. Libertarians can always find excuses for the war, just as they will always find reasons to oppose taxation.

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politicalfootball 07.21.13 at 1:37 am

116: Political parties have multiple objectives, but successful ones (for certain values of “successful”) place a high priority on winning power. Nader never aimed to be successful in those terms, and that’s a key – and really intractable – difference between Nader supporters and Democrats. It puts the two groups on different sides of most electoral-related conflicts.

And no, I didn’t mean to suggest that Democrats shouldn’t address the Electoral College and first-past-the-post, any more than I was suggesting that they shouldn’t address Naderites or Republicans. I was just suggesting that the terms of that dialogue with the Nader folks should change to be more along the lines of the dialogue between Democrats and Republicans. I don’t accept your premise that Democrats have been indifferent to the Electoral College – pretty much all of the impetus for change in that area is coming from Democrats.

120

LFC 07.21.13 at 2:51 am

RP @100
Abolitionism was an interesting, non-monolithic movement. Your introduction of it into the discussion reminded me that I posted this in September of last year, about one aspect of Delbanco’s The Abolitionist Imagination:
http://howlatpluto.blogspot.com/2012/09/fort-sumter-and-tonkin-gulf.html

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LFC 07.21.13 at 2:53 am

sorry, I meant RP @110

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Brad DeLong 07.21.13 at 3:28 am

Frederick Douglass in 1876 was considerably smarter than he had been back in 1860:

>Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was… the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men…. ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people…. To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the states where it existed Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed guarantees of the United States Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the slave states. He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the Government….

>[Y]ou, my white fellow-citizens… were the objects of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude. You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity. To you it especially belongs to sound his praises, to preserve and perpetuate his memory, to multiply his statues, to hang his pictures high upon your walls, and commend his example, for to you he was a great and glorious friend and benefactor….

>But… despise not the humble offering we this day unveil… for while Abraham Lincoln saved for you a country, he delivered us from a bondage…. The name of Abraham Lincoln was near and dear to our hearts in the darkest and most perilous hours of the Republic…. When he tarried long in the mountain; when he strangely told us that we were the cause of the war; when he still more strangely told us that we were to leave the land in which we were born; when he refused to employ our arms in defense of the Union; when, after accepting our services as colored soldiers, he refused to retaliate our murder and torture as colored prisoners; when he told us he would save the Union if he could with slavery; when he revoked the Proclamation of Emancipation of General Fremont; when he refused to remove the popular commander of the Army of the Potomac, in the days of its inaction and defeat, who was more zealous in his efforts to protect slavery than to suppress rebellion; when we saw all this, and more, we were at times grieved, stunned, and greatly bewildered; but our hearts believed while they ached and bled. Nor was this, even at that time, a blind and unreasoning superstition. Despite the mist and haze that surrounded him; despite the tumult, the hurry, and confusion of the hour, we were able to take a comprehensive view of Abraham Lincoln, and to make reasonable allowance for the circumstances of his position….

>[I]t mattered little to us, when we fully knew him, whether he was swift or slow in his movements; it was enough for us that Abraham Lincoln was at the head of a great movement, and was in living and earnest sympathy with that movement, which, in the nature of things, must go on until slavery should be utterly and forever abolished in the United States. When, therefore, it shall be asked what we have to do with the memory of Abraham Lincoln, or what Abraham Lincoln had to do with us, the answer is ready, full, and complete. Though he loved Caesar less than Rome, though the Union was more to him than our freedom or our future, under his wise and beneficent rule we saw ourselves gradually lifted from the depths of slavery to the heights of liberty and manhood… we saw two hundred thousand of our dark and dusky people responding to the call of Abraham Lincoln, and with muskets on their shoulders, and eagles on their buttons, timing their high footsteps to liberty and union under the national flag….

>Can any colored man, or any white man friendly to the freedom of all men, ever forget the night which followed the first day of January, 1863, when the world was to see if Abraham Lincoln would prove to be as good as his word? I shall never forget that memorable night, when in a distant city I waited and watched at a public meeting, with three thousand others not less anxious than myself, for the word of deliverance… the emancipation proclamation….

>I have said that President Lincoln was a white man, and shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the colored race…. His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and, second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined…

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Rich Puchalsky 07.21.13 at 3:38 am

LFC, almost all radical movements are non-monolithic. But I didn’t introduce abolitionism into the discussion, really — as soon as Spooner became the topic, people like Corey and Brad might have been tipped off that the phrase anarcho-abolitionist actually means something. Instead, a grotesque flattening occurred, in which history was misrepresented in order to serve present-day rhetorical aims badly. But in terms of the movement being non-monolithic, Spooner served the important purpose of giving Douglass a justification to break from Garrison’s anti-Constitutionalism, which freed up Douglass to play more of an inside game than the outside game that Garrison stuck to. I don’t for a minute agree with Spooner’s method of Constitutional interpretation, which holds that the 3/5ths compromise wasn’t really about slaves because the word “slaves” doesn’t appear in the document and because documents unlike people can’t have hidden motives. But I see no sign that the people criticizing Barnett have the least idea what it means when he says he’s influenced by Spooner, or that they are aware of what Spooner did for Douglass, or really that they know anything at all about supposed similarities between Spooner attacking the Union side of the war and neo-Confederates saying that both sides were unjust.

More generally, I don’t see any sign that the people arguing in this way really understand radical movements or radicals at all. You can be, as I think that Bruce Wilder is (sorry if I misrepresent him) a New Deal influenced liberal and still have an appreciation as he does for what radicals do and what use they are to non-radical movements. But when they have to ask why radicals aren’t voting for a mainstream party, why they keep insisting on impossible things, why they can’t just have the advanced political understanding of high school bromides that they do, how they can possibly be serious about the crazy things they believe rather than being trolls or having hidden motives to boost the other side — it’s not showing political sophistication. Anything but.

Without crazy abolitionists like Spooner, no movement. Without the movement, Lincoln has nothing to be great about. If they’d all buckled down and voted for Lincoln rather than denouncing him, they’d have done the cause of freeing the slaves actual harm. Some people don’t understand this yesterday or today or any time. Frederick Douglass wrote something about thunder and agitation and struggle but it’s a meaningless mishmash of words to people who don’t understand, so I won’t bother quoting it.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.21.13 at 4:33 am

“Frederick Douglass in 1876 was considerably smarter than he had been back in 1860″

Yes, it was that he was smarter. There was nothing that happened in between 1860 and 1876 that might have changed his opinion; there was no different context in 1876 that might have motivated him to write differently. He’d simply made an error in 1860 that he later corrected. Similarly, we should all emulate the Douglass of 1876 rather than the Douglass of 1860, since after all the major conflicts of our lives have already been won.

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bad Jim 07.21.13 at 4:44 am

As tepid as Lincoln was, his mere election caused the south to secede, which eventually achieved a result the radicals wanted. If the other side is evil enough, you can be pretty lousy yourself and yet work great good.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.21.13 at 4:57 am

Yep, bad Jim, which the abolitionists were fully aware of as it was happening:

Here’s Garrison, from December 1860:

Never has the truth of the ancient proverb, “Whom the gods intend to destroy, they first make mad,” been more signally illustrated than in the present condition of the Southern slaveholders. They are insane from their fears, their guilty forebodings, their lust of power and rule, their hatred of free institutions, their consciousness of merited judgments; so that they may be properly classed with the inmates of a lunatic asylum. Their dread of Mr. Lincoln, of his administration, of the Republican party, demonstrates their insanity. In vain does Mr. Lincoln tell them, “I do not now, nor ever did, stand in favor of the unconditional repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law”—”I do not now, nor ever did, stand pledged against the admission of any more Slave States into the Union”—”I do not stand pledged to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia”—”I do not stand pledged to the prohibition of the slave trade between the different States”—they rave just as fiercely as though he were another John Brown, armed for Southern invasion and universal emancipation! In vain does the Republican party present but one point of antagonism to slavery—to wit, no more territorial expansion—and exhibit the utmost cautiousness not to give offence in any other direction—and make itself hoarse in uttering professions of loyalty to the Constitution and the Union—still, they protest that its designs are infernal, and for them there is “sleep no more”!

Of course they should have had perfect foresight and known that this was going to happen, and have supported Lincoln. Except that if they had supported Lincoln, the number of votes that Lincoln would have gained would probably have been less than those that he would have lost from the stigma of the abolitionists supporting him. So if they’d had perfect foresight, they should have done pretty much exactly as they did.

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js. 07.21.13 at 5:12 am

BDL @122:

But doesn’t Rich’s 113 pretty much cover this? Also, the weird thing about “FD was smarter in [etc.]” is that it elides how Lincoln’s position and rhetoric itself changed over the course of the war (or his campaign and presidency, say). This is exactly the kind of thing that the quoted bit in Rich’s 113 shows; it’s also something that Eric Foner, e.g., stresses over much of his work.

(And re the “#slatepitch” comment that kinda sorta started all this, I’ll set a quite low bar and ask for a link to one, umm, let’s say Andrew Cockburn article published by Slate. [Tho if they managed to publish some bullshit by him on climate change in the last couple of years of his life it doesn’t count, sorry.])

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chris 07.21.13 at 5:13 am

I don’t accept your premise that Democrats have been indifferent to the Electoral College – pretty much all of the impetus for change in that area is coming from Democrats.

Well, almost all the impetus *within the two-party system* for change in that area is coming from Democrats.

Since actual change will have to be made within the political system that already exists (or by violently overthrowing it, but I hope nobody is advocating that — whatever the flaws of the EC, they can hardly be worth killing thousands to millions of people to rectify), having some impetus within the political system for reform is important, but it isn’t the only kind of impetus for reform that exists or can exist.

Still, the idea that the parties are indistinguishable on this point is just about as stupid as the idea that they are indistinguishable on almost any other point. Differences between the parties are obvious unless you’re really, really determined not to see them.

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Bruce Baugh 07.21.13 at 5:42 am

As always, there’s a difference between Lysander Spooner the actual person and Lysander Spooner the source of some quotes many libertarians love and use as justification in argument. We don’t find a lot of libertarians out actually supporting liberation movements – there are even fewer such people than there are Radley Balkos, as nearly as I know. On the other hand, we find quite a few libertarians talking about how the police power as such is innately morally worse than robbery, going on about the moral advantages of the Mafia and Triads over the Environmental Protection Agency, and of course happily playing the “no difference” card and doing their little bit to get Bush elected. Spooner the guy prepared to back John Brown has shrunk to Spooner the guy you quote while pushing the latest sovereign citizen scam.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.21.13 at 5:43 am

By the way, Garrison was a nut-job pacifist as well as a crazy terrorist supporter of John Brown. I’m kind of disappointed that no one has yet pointed that out. Doesn’t that contradiction invalidate everything that he wrote? He must have never addressed it. Why can’t we have radicals that are more respectable, and that just believe in sensible things?

(Tom Bach, in all seriousness you might want to read the linked piece. It goes through how the abolitionist movement found inspiration in many of the founding sentiments that you seem to think didn’t imply that kind of interpretation. Obviously not everyone was so inspired, but the people who actually made the movement were.)

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GiT 07.21.13 at 7:55 am

@Bob in post 111

You might like to give Terry Bisson’s “Fire on the Mountain” a quick read. It’s a short novel based on the idea that John Brown was successful, set as “Nova Africa” is about to send its first mission to mars in 1959…

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Brad DeLong 07.21.13 at 1:44 pm

Re: js “The weird thing about ‘FD was smarter in [etc.]’ is that it elides how Lincoln’s position and rhetoric itself changed…”

I really don’t see that: I see Lincoln as working consistently throughout his career for the ultimate extinction of slavery–subject only to (a) not being the one to start a Civil War over it, and (b) not losing a Civil War over it. The Lincoln of 1858 whom Spooner scorned as a pro-slavery shill had the same goals as the Lincoln of 1863 who signed the Emancipation Proclamation:

“‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect theUnionto be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new – North as well as South….

“[…]

“Two years ago the Republicans of the nation mustered over thirteen hundred thousand strong. We did this under the single impulse of resistance to a common danger, with every external circumstance against us. Of strange, discordant, and even, hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through, under the constant hot fire of a disciplined, proud, and pampered enemy. Did we brave all then, to falter now? – now – when that same enemy is wavering, dissevered and belligerent?

“The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail – if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise councils may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but, sooner or later the victory is sure to come.”

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Rich Puchalsky 07.21.13 at 2:49 pm

“I really don’t see that: I see Lincoln as working consistently throughout his career “

I’ll review the thread for a moment. I’ve shown that what you presented as Spooner’s being “a piece of work” in 1860 was actually common to most of the abolitionists of the time. Spooner was more vociferous than most, but others like Douglass did more to actually oppose Lincoln electorally. So you don’t like the abolitionists of 1860, and think they’re stupid. You’re quite happy to generalize your criticism of Spooner to a criticism of Douglass for essentially the same reasons — the escaped slave turned orator and activist was, according to you, too stupid at the time to see that the white politician was on his side from the first.

I can imagine the post that Corey Robin would write from that, had it appeared on a libertarian blog. ‘I don’t mean to be condescending, but you seem to have forgotten high school level truths about the Civil War. It was about slavery. Abolitionists, you see, opposed slavery.’ I’m not even going to go into what later historical assumptions your calling Douglass not smart in 1860 is like.

I don’t agree with what libertarians have done to Spooner. As Bruce Baugh writes in #129, I don’t recognize the Spooner who was a member of the socialist First International in their writings either. But the original post was about a dispute between two parties that were each eager to misremember and misrepresent history in favor of present-day rhetoric — present-day rhetoric that is turned, in both of your ways, against the same kind of people who make the changes that you profess to admire as long as they are safely in the past.

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Katherine 07.21.13 at 2:49 pm

George Washington freed his slaves in his will… Jefferson didn’t follow his example

Not only that, he failed to honour the wishes of a friend, Kościuszko, who left his money in his will to be spent on freeing and educating black American slaves, including Jefferson’s slaves. Jefferson left the money unspent.

Excuses made for him regarding how indebted he was sour somewhat when that fact is thrown into the mix.

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William Timberman 07.21.13 at 2:52 pm

It seems to me that the correct historical judgment here is that the South was right about Lincoln in 1860, Frederick Douglass was wrong, and Spooner was playing with fire to no good end. As Rich Puchalsky says, though, the dynamics of the time required all three to be present with their hopes, their fears, and their abhorrences intact, not to mention their relative willingness to speak openly, or to play their cards closer to their vests. More importantly, their foresight, or lack of it, had nothing to do with stupidity, and to take credit today for Lincoln’s political acumen, while decrying Spooner’s lack of it, is much too easy, and worse, it falsifies the political processes at work at the time to our own advantage.

As for the real impetus behind this debate, I have no real idea whether Obama is another Lincoln, or an imitation created by a mixture of hubris and good public relations, but as Douglass didn’t know Lincoln personally in 1860, I don’t know Obama now, and unlike Douglass, I’m not going to be invited in for a chat. What I do know, though, is that to say that the left should just shut up, realize that the time is not now, and grin and bear it is at best self-serving, and at worst a pretension to an understanding that no one can legitimately claim.

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LFC 07.21.13 at 3:02 pm

R. Puchalsky @123
I didn’t introduce abolitionism into the discussion, really

I agree, you didn’t introduce it, it came up w/ Spooner.

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Brad DeLong 07.21.13 at 3:48 pm

135: William Timberman: “Spooner was playing with fire to no good end.”

Yes, definitely.

But: William Timberman: “[Spooner’s] foresight, or lack of it, had nothing to do with stupidity…”

Seems to me that if I were looking for one-word labels for “playing with fire to no good end”, I would inevitably come up with “stupidity” and “#slatepitch”…

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Rich Puchalsky 07.21.13 at 4:00 pm

“It seems to me that the correct historical judgment here is that the South was right about Lincoln in 1860, Frederick Douglass was wrong, and Spooner was playing with fire to no good end. “

Historical judgements with the benefit of hindsight are a lot different from saying that people are stupid, yes. But note that if the South was right about Lincoln, it was to a large extent a self-fulfilling prophecy. They were right about Lincoln because they reacted to a long-term threat to slavery in a way that forced him to respond — if they hadn’t seceded, a future politician might have just reversed his policy about the spread of slavery to the territories. Also note that there was an important reason why Lincoln took pains to emphasize that he wasn’t an abolitionist — he had to win areas where it would have negatively outweighed whatever it brought him. Spooner’s analysis of the Republican party as being composed of two wings wasn’t wrong. The idea that abolitionists should have written “Lincoln is great, let’s all go vote for him” is suitable for condemning the abolitionists, but might have sunk Lincoln if they’d done it.

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politicalfootball 07.21.13 at 4:21 pm

The idea that abolitionists should have written “Lincoln is great, let’s all go vote for him” is suitable for condemning the abolitionists, but might have sunk Lincoln if they’d done it.

This mischaracterization seems pretty necessary to your argument, but surely you see that nobody is saying this.

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William Timberman 07.21.13 at 4:35 pm

Rich Puchalsky @ 138

Yes, judgment after the fact is exactly that. Mill’s point that the deeper into a conflict you go, the more your options are constrained — or focused, if you prefer — is something that is often rather willfully overlooked. So yes, the Lincoln of the Emancipation Proclamation was in part created by the South’s intransigence, and its willingness to embark, despite its inherent disadvantages, on a war of attrition with the North.

My complaint about Brad DeLong’s take is that he always seems to me to be too eager to call people stupid, which, given how smart he obviously is, seems to me to be uncharitable, to say the least, especially as he himself has so recently been the victim of a historical process that ran away from his best efforts at prediction, and then more or less stuck out its tongue at them.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.21.13 at 5:27 pm

pf: “This mischaracterization seems pretty necessary to your argument, but surely you see that nobody is saying this.”

I knew that I should have given up on this thread once I’d won it. You’re asking me to slog through showing you that Brad is really writing what he’s writing?

That’s boring, and I’m not going to do it. I’ll just keep quoting what he actually writes. Here: “Seems to me that if I were looking for one-word labels for “playing with fire to no good end”, I would inevitably come up with “stupidity” and “#slatepitch”…”

And it all keeps coming back to what I wrote at the start. All good radicals play with fire to no good end. It’s what they do. If you characterize it as stupidity, you’re casting all radicalism as stupidity. It means that not just that Spooner was stupid — he was obscure, and some libertarians like him, so there’s no necessity of historical accuracy or fairness there from our guardians of history — it equally means that Garrison was stupid, and Douglass, and everyone else who stupidly demanded more than they possibly could get, and disarranged safe and reasonable politics.

It’s as if someone once wrote something about wanting rain without thunder and lightning, wanting the ocean without the roar of its waters. Something that I won’t quote in this thread because the people who most deserve to hear it will never hear it. People want fire, but they always want it to be directed to good ends. They want a mysterious non-spreading fire that never has the ability to burn anyone. They want the end of slavery, but never someone ready to condemn the Republican Party as being composed of half those for liberty, half those for slavery. Who then was supposed to have started the movement in the first place?

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MPAVictoria 07.21.13 at 6:52 pm

“I knew that I should have given up on this thread once I’d won it.”
Declare victory and leave…..
Not a bad strategy but it comes off as a tad pompous when you put it in writing.

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geo 07.21.13 at 7:30 pm

MPAV@142: I don’t think he meant it like that. If he’d said: “… once I’d been declared the winner of it” — which I suspect is what he meant — the humorous intent would have been clearer.

Brad@137: Doesn’t it depend on whether “to no good end” means “foolishly” (ie, with no prospect of success, immediate or eventual) or just “unsuccessfully”? If the latter, then “stupidly” is indeed a bit tendentious.

WT@140: Which did you mean? And what is the “historical process” currently thumbing its nose at Brad’s predictions?

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Lee A. Arnold 07.21.13 at 7:42 pm

Let’s take it to the streets, people! But no one has bothered to note a fascinating new addition to the U.S. history of race, and maybe one of the most important turns since the Civil Rights Act and the killing of King.

I refer to Obama’s “impromptu” remarks at the press pool of last Friday. In which he made a conservative move.

In the remarks, Obama hugged the black activists yet sided with the majority of the U.S. population, and pointed out that there will be no legislation forthcoming. ( I will quote from the remarks in a separate comment.) Comedian and tribal elder Bill Cosby and basketball player Charles Barkley immediately came forward and said the acquittal was not racial. This, the day before already-planned nationwide protests, coming after some of the protests earlier in the week had turned violent. As far as I can tell, the weekend’s protests are nonviolent.

Obama’s performance reminds me of Lincoln’s preference to preserve the Union, without a fight to end slavery. Lincoln was an officer elected to uphold the Constitution, and he accepted the position. So is Obama like Lincoln? Unequivocally yes.

What will be the left/right reactions to Obama’s speech? The left will likely hate it and the right will likely hate it. For the left, too meliorist; for the right, an incitement to local violence. What each side would prefer, apparently, is either a bloody fight, or else, to avoid a bloody fight by a quick vote after which the other side shuts up or magically transforms into one’s own way of thinking by some sort of religious (or else “evolutionary” or “emotional”) conversion.

We are in a situation where whites owned blacks as slaves, and after that, whites continued to follow them around, and then blacks responded with indignity, and then whites responded with more indignity. Then a new killing, and acquittal by a reasonable doubt. Now a mostly peaceful protest.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.21.13 at 7:43 pm

OBAMA SAID THE TRIAL WAS CONDUCTED FAIRLY:

“The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner.  The prosecution and the defense made their arguments.  The juries were properly instructed that in a case such as this reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict.  And once the jury has spoken, that’s how our system works.”

THEN OBAMA WENT ON, TO ADDRESS FEELINGS:

“I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences [i.e., the experience many black people have had of being followed] inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.  And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.  The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws.  And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.”

THEN OBAMA SAID THAT BLACKS ALREADY KNOW THAT THEIR YOUNG ARE DISPROPORTIONATELY CRIMINAL:

“…this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence.  It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. … so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. …I think the African American community is also not naïve in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.  So folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys.  But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it and that context is being denied.”

THEN OBAMA SAID THE JUSTICE DEPT. IS UNLIKELY TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT THIS CASE:

“I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here.  Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government, the criminal code.  And law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.”

THEN OBAMA MENTIONED A BUNCH OF THINGS WHERE WE “COULD POTENTIALLY FOCUS” AT “STATE AND LOCAL LEVELS”,  e.g. law enforcement training to reduce mistrust; examine “stand your ground” laws to see if they encourage use of firearms; help black kids.

THEN OBAMA SAID WE WON’T DO ANYTHING LEGISLATIVELY ABOUT IT:

“I’m not naïve about the prospects of some grand, new federal program.  I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as President, I’ve got some convening power, and there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front.  And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes, and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed — I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation.  And we’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.”

YET AFTER THAT, OBAMA SAID THAT HE ISN’T EVEN GOING TO DO MUCH JAWBONING ABOUT IT:

“There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race.  I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations.  They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.  On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s the possibility that people are a little bit more honest…”

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Lee A. Arnold 07.21.13 at 8:06 pm

A heartfelt and remarkably deft performance. And Obamacare kills me. It looks like it will lower premiums (a medical trial lawyer just told me that sometimes insurers were getting 40% of the premiums) and, after the prices for standard coverages are equalized in the Walrasian way by market competition, everybody is going to sit around the dinner table, and say to each other: Look at that! It is all the same, so why in hell are we still paying the insurers a guaranteed 20% for a simple accounting function, when Medicare overhead is only 2%? Duh?? Boom! Next election: single payer… Thus the libertarians can stick it up their ass, because further marketization sometimes can INCREASE transaction costs, and this extra loss can sometimes be avoided instead by a centralizing institution… Obama gets elected, walks in the front door of the White House and they hand him a plate of shit equal to $1 trillion a year in lost GDP, with all the national economists walking around in a ideological daze, and the Wall Street moneybags whining about imminent doom. Yet he manages to learn enough, on the job, to at least stabilize the economic situation. A lot remains to do, but still: Obama may go down in history as a great president.

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William Timberman 07.21.13 at 8:19 pm

geo # 143

I was referring to BD’s support for the Great Moderation, and his apparent belief prior to the Great Surprise of 2007 that the major problems of political as well as macroeconomic stabilization had been solved. To his credit, he’s come to terms with that misjudgment, which he was by no means alone in making, and has done so very publicly at that, even though there was no clamor for him to do so. Nevertheless, I still find it hard to excuse him his contempt for the Left in general, his impatience with political processes which violate his behavioral norms, or his willingness to wave away the many casualties of the so-called American Century which have driven so many to rebel against the neoliberal consensus.

It’s tempting to think of yourself as wise when you’ve nothing much personally at stake, and even more tempting to grant yourself the right to sit in judgment on the aspirations of others. The truly wise, it seems to me, would resist the temptation.

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geo 07.21.13 at 9:04 pm

It’s tempting to think of yourself as wise when you’ve nothing much personally at stake
Irresistibly!

and even more tempting to grant yourself the right to sit in judgment on the aspirations of others
Overpoweringly!

The truly wise, it seems to me, would resist the temptation.
You ask too much!

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Rich Puchalsky 07.21.13 at 9:04 pm

“MPAV@142: I don’t think he meant it like that. If he’d said: “… once I’d been declared the winner of it” — which I suspect is what he meant — the humorous intent would have been clearer.”

Yes, intended as a joke. Though really, I used to have a self-set rule that once one person understood what I meant, that was good enough. Since Bruce evidently understood I probably should have just stopped. William too, so that’s double the usual right there.

“Brad@137: Doesn’t it depend on whether “to no good end” means “foolishly” (ie, with no prospect of success, immediate or eventual) or just “unsuccessfully”? If the latter, then “stupidly” is indeed a bit tendentious.”

From my point of view, it doesn’t really matter what sense of “to no good end” is meant. Foolishly, unsuccessfully, counterproductively, impossibly…. to take Garrison as an example, someone doesn’t set out to do something that almost everyone scorns, and that may quite possibly get them lynched, and still have the same laudable caution and small-c conservative judgement as we expect of most people. Here’s the first thing Garrison wrote in his newspaper:

On this subject I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest; I will not equivocate; I will not retreat a single inch; and I will be heard.

So let’s look back and tsk-tsk and say that he really should have taken only courses of action of the sort that would be approved of by an academic blogger.

Or here, the end of his speech linked above on John Brown and the principles or nonresistance:

We have a natural right, therefore, to seek the abolition of slavery throughout the globe. It is our special duty to make Massachusetts free soil, so that the moment the fugitive slave stands upon it, he shall take his place in the ranks of the free. God commands us to “hide the outcast, and bewray not him that wandereth.” I say, LET THE WILL OF GOD BE DONE! That is “the head and front” of my “fanaticism”! That is the extent of my “infidelity”! That comprehends all of my “treason”! THE WILL OF GOD BE DONE! (Great applause.)

Who do you want as the leader of the abolitionist movement? Someone who can say, in full fervor and sincerity, “the will of God be done!” Or rather, not who do you want, but who becomes the leader of that movement, because no other will do it?

Then why, afterwards, do you bring up this person’s historical memory and say that they were stupid not to trust Mr. Lincoln right away? That by speaking of the equivalence of the parties, they weren’t doing their cost / benefit analysis correctly?

After it’s respectable to oppose slavery, then people can conveniently forget what it took to oppose slavery, and ask why the historical abolitionists couldn’t be respectable. But if you approve of the end of slavery — really approve, not just mouth a pious meaningless statement — then you approve of Spooner. You approve of his angry, useless letter saying that no one should vote for the Republicans, and that America would be better off if the Democrats won. Because you can’t have one without the other.

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john c. halasz 07.21.13 at 10:09 pm

“A heartfelt and remarkably deft performance”- Yeah, we’ve seen this act before. “Deft” actually means evasive, non-committal and determined to leave the status quo intact. Only someone who privileges internal fantasy over external reality in politic affairs could mistake the “outcome” as “progressive”.

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b9n10nt 07.21.13 at 10:48 pm

Lee @ 145 and to reinforce JCH @ 150:

Lee you missed one:

THEN OBAMA SAID THAT RACE RELATIONS ARE IMPROVING AS THE YOUNGER GENERATIONS REPLACE THE OLD:

…But when I talk to Melia an Sasha and listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are -they’re better than we are- on these issues. An that’s true in every community I’ve visited across the country.

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politicalfootball 07.21.13 at 11:09 pm

If the latter, then “stupidly” is indeed a bit tendentious.

I can get behind this. Serious people trying to grapple with an enormous, and enormously difficult problem, are entitled to a little more respect.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.21.13 at 11:17 pm

john c. halasz #150; ” ‘Deft’ actually means evasive, non-committal and determined to leave the status quo intact.”

Yes but with concision and panache. You have to specify what was evaded and determined, however, to make this anything really worth responding to.

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Jim Henley 07.21.13 at 11:51 pm

One factor nobody has mentioned so far is that orthodox libertarianism is genuinely, passionately antiwar. The general case against war is excellent, and the ex ante case against almost any conceivable war is as good. But there are two inconvenient use cases: the American Civil War and the war against Hitler. Each of these wars ended the greatest abomination of their day. Just plain did. You can cavil about whether either did this accidentally or on purpose or accidentally on purpose. But the destruction of race-based chattel slavery and the genocidal conqueror-state as a model were great boons to humanity.

So naturally everyone trying to sell you on the war of the moment cloaks themselves in the finery of either or both of the wars that worked out really well for the humanist project out of all the times that was tried. And the truest and most honorable argument against them – again – just about every time they try to sell us a new war, is, “Seriously, what are the odds?” But war and rumors of war stir the passions and “It is so unlikely that you are correct that this war is the essential next step in the humanist project that we should presume you are wrong”…doesn’t stir the passions much at all. I tell you probability makes the lottery a stupid play, but your uncle hit the number once and paid off his car.

It would be damned convenient for war opponents if those two wars turned out to kind of suck after all. Well, all wars suck for the people fighting them and the people around the fighting. I mean it would be convenient if these wars also turned out to be irredeemable. The problem is, in respect to how these two wars worked out, you’d be working from a bad fact set. And in the American context, the people most willing to go there – and it’s the same people for each war – have some really awful priors. So you end up, and I am speaking from memory here, making excuses for awful people at best and throwing in with them at worst. I like to think I mostly did the former.

(I also remember, in my days as an antiwar libertarian blogging against the evil and stupid idea that the US should conquer Iraq, being very tempted by “evidence” that what happened at Racak was not a massacre, and that at Halabja it was the Iranians who really used poison gas. A libertarian friend walked me through his own studies on massacres, and how an actual battle doesn’t have such a high ratio of dead to wounded as Racak had: massacres do. I forget who set me straight on Halabja. But the real problem with Halabja vice the arguments hawks made in 2002 was that the terrain was uniquely suited to sustained gas bombardment and it showed precisely nothing about the dangers of “weapons of mass destruction” in terrorist hands.)

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Rich Puchalsky 07.22.13 at 12:15 am

We recently had a go-around on CT about being anti-war, and whether the idea that war is bad had any actual content, the way most people said it, in the sense that they’d actually be against any particular war. There were the usual bits about how if you were willing to say that the number of justifiable wars was greater than zero, you really couldn’t say anything, even though N=2 (American Civil War, WW II) out of however many wars there have been. Luckily people gave of a list of which other wars they thought were wise and / or justified and / or generally had to be done, and one of them was the Falklands. I plan on bringing up the Falklands every time from now on.

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Jim Henley 07.22.13 at 12:27 am

IIRC someone got a new winter coat and shoes for the wife out of it, so sure.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.22.13 at 2:10 am

b9n10nt #151 –Thank you I did miss that.

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JW Mason 07.22.13 at 4:24 am

Rich Puchalsky’s comments on this thread have been really magnificent.

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Barry 07.22.13 at 12:49 pm

Jim Henley 07.21.13 at 11:51 pm

” One factor nobody has mentioned so far is that orthodox libertarianism is genuinely, passionately antiwar. The general case against war is excellent, and the ex ante case against almost any conceivable war is as good. But there are two inconvenient use cases: the American Civil War and the war against Hitler. Each of these wars ended the greatest abomination of their day. Just plain did. You can cavil about whether either did this accidentally or on purpose or accidentally on purpose. But the destruction of race-based chattel slavery and the genocidal conqueror-state as a model were great boons to humanity.”

The problem is that by this definition (which I accept, and also accept Jim’s sound judgement), the number of actual libertarians shrinks by a *huge* factor. This is a problem for a real libertarianism in the USA, because it’s been hijacked by a very selectively ‘anti-government’ right-wing movement.

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William Berry 07.22.13 at 1:02 pm

Awesome thread. This is why I come to CT. A slap-dash OP by a CTer I generally agree with, which, largely by virtue of its very slap-dashedness, triggers a strong discussion that features a brutal smack-down of both the neo-confederate and CW views (WRT slavery and abolitionism).

Rich, with yeoman work by Bruce W and William T, definitely nailed it.

I was a history major decades ago, and am a dedicated amateur to this day, having read perhaps dozens of books about the Civil War; but, still know relatively little about abolitionism. Had heard of Spooner, e.g., only tangentially. This is a defect I intend to correct. Any recommendations for the best books (from the left/radical POV) on abolition?

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Trader Joe 07.22.13 at 1:06 pm

@158
I echo JW’s praise.

Spooner pops up from time to time in serveral different contexts but I’ve never troubled to learn all the ins and outs other than his basic abolitionist stance. Now I feel like I have at least some context (though far from a full education).

Thanks to all who added

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William Berry 07.22.13 at 1:12 pm

Well, damn’, hope it’s fair use; I am cutting and pasting the whole thread into an iPad Pages page for future reference. Thnx.

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Anarcissie 07.22.13 at 1:15 pm

@158 — Agreed.

In regard to orthodox libertarians being pacifistic, that seems to depend on the orthodox libertarian. There are certainly some. In recent Net-slumming tours, I have noticed a considerable effort by shills and trolls to set libertarians and proggies against one another using wedge issues, lest their common interests in opposing war, imperialism, and plutocracy perhaps combine. One wonders if the effort is volunteered or paid for.

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William Berry 07.22.13 at 1:32 pm

We should temper our enthusiasm for libertarians’ anti-war sentiments. (Ron and Rand) Paulish libertarians are more concerned about the power of the state to make war (or to do anything, really) than they are about the justice of war or about its victims.

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politicalfootball 07.22.13 at 1:33 pm

I thought Smiley’s objection to Obama’s speech was a helpful thing, as is Lee A’s above. And I say this despite generally having liked Obama’s speech a lot, and the fact that I sympathize with the position that Obama in.

But if we were to say that Obama’s dithering made him the equivalent of a Republican, I’d have to disagree there.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.22.13 at 2:21 pm

I liked Obama’s speech, I sympathize with the position he is in, I think he did a good thing, I think it helps give black elders a more unified rhetoric to talk about this, I think he may have headed-off more violence, and I think the reaction to it provides a contemporary illustration of the historical discussion in the rest of this thread. Although becoming more like Lincoln is not, these days, becoming more like a Republican.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.22.13 at 3:20 pm

The reason I insulted libertarians on Obamacare is because it is another issue where they have gotten it wrong, yet stick to their position religiously, causing the harm of others. Western liberalism is great, but going beyond that to suppose that markets always bring more freedom, along the lines of neoliberalism, is a mistake, apparently coming directly out of Hayek’s misappropriation of “spontaneous order” to be a god-principle. (This godlike misappropriation is also pointed out in Mirowski’s new book, wherein by the way he quotes from Quiggin’s Zombie Economics and Corey’s The Reactionary Mind). Among many blue-collar environmentalists like me of course, libertarianism always sounded wrong. After 30 years of deregulation and market reforms leading to increasing inequality and no diminution in the need for a welfare state or environmental repair, you would think the game is over. Leftist do not appear to be ready to do anything about it, however, so perhaps not.

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Corey Robin 07.22.13 at 3:41 pm

I was offline for a good part of the weekend so didn’t have a chance to see all this discussion.

Just for clarification: when I said “that anarcho-abolitionist view doesn’t necessarily take us very far from some of the underlying historical assumptions of the neo-Confederate position,” I was referring less to Spooner’s views, about which I don’t know much, than to the use that is made of the anarcho-abolitionist tendency among contemporary libertarians. Hence the “to wit” and quote that follows, which if anyone bothered to follow the link contains, additionally, statements like this: “When libertarians on one side point out that the Union centralised power, violated civil liberties, committed vicious war crimes, was hypocritical on secession, ignored avenues for peaceful emancipation, and cared more about tariffs and nationalism than about ending slavery, I agree and applaud.” And this: “antislavery sentiment was at best peripheral to the North’s reasons for resisting secession.” And this: “to their joint discredit, both Union and Confederacy waged war against the principle of free association.” This is not to say that the writer endorses the southern position or slavery; he doesn’t. It’s to say no more and no less than what I said in my OP: that he subscribes to the some of the same historical suppositions as the neo-Confederate.

I was not criticizing Spooner for being a reckless Naderite utopian (anyone who knows my work knows that I’ve spent a great deal of time criticizing those who assume that posture of know-it-all contempt toward radicals, third parties, etc. I get into fights with liberals all the time precisely over this issue.) I was criticizing contemporary libertarians who subscribe to a historical mythology about the alleged non-presence of abolition in the formation of the Republican Party and the alleged non-presence of slavery as a cause of the Civil War, and who use that mythology to take a-pox-on-both-your-houses view of the conflict. Not with an eye to reenacting a hypothetical guerrilla war to end slavery but to denounce the war that actually did.

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AcademicLurker 07.22.13 at 3:54 pm

You know, I find that if you just drop the idea that “ad hominem” is necessarily a fallacy and adopt the rule that libertarians are always wrong, even when what they are saying might be right when said by someone else:

a) you will pretty much invariably arrive at the correct conclusion

and

b) you will save yourself a lot of pointless nit picking in arriving there

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Brad DeLong 07.22.13 at 4:18 pm

Re; Puchalsky: 141: “And it all keeps coming back to what I wrote at the start. All good radicals play with fire to no good end. It’s what they do. If you characterize it as stupidity, you’re casting all radicalism as stupidity.”

I would say not–I would say that good radicals play with fire to good ends, and stupid radicals play with fire to no good end. And I would say–contra Spooner–that the election of Stephen Douglas to the presidency in 1860 would in all likelihood have been a most grave setback for the anti-slavery cause in America.

A good deal of the energy that Lincoln and company were able to mobilize in 1859-60 came from the northern fear that Roger B. Taney and company were going not just to turn all territories into slave territories but all states into slave states. With Douglas and company in the presidency, that fear ebbs. With Douglas and company in the presidency, there are no secession conventions and no Fort Sumter. I really do not see how you get to a good place without Lincoln’s election in 1860.

And my confidence is reinforced by the fact that the elder and hopefully wiser Frederick Douglass agrees with me. That is very good company to be in…

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Lee A. Arnold 07.22.13 at 4:39 pm

Douglass is indelible. Nowadays I think everybody can agree to being sideswiped by the neoliberal putsch, the question is what to do about it.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.22.13 at 5:11 pm

“Just for clarification: when I said “that anarcho-abolitionist view doesn’t necessarily take us very far from some of the underlying historical assumptions of the neo-Confederate position,” I was referring less to Spooner’s views, about which I don’t know much, than to the use that is made of the anarcho-abolitionist tendency among contemporary libertarians.”

Perhaps not knowing much about Spooner’s views was a reason not to compare them to neo-Confederacy?

First of all, there isn’t to my knowledge an “anarcho-abolitionist tendency”. I’d be happy to find out more about people who were both actual anarchists and actual abolitionists, but as far as I know, there were no Spoonerites or Spooner followers. He wrote a book which was widely influential within the abolitionist movement, almost none of whom were anarchists, and the major effect of which was to paradoxically turn abolitionists from non-participation to participation in electoral politics and from outsider to insider politics more generally. But if someone is talking about anarcho-abolitionism, as far as I know, they’re really talking about Spooner.

Perhaps I should be glad that not knowing much about Spooner means that we didn’t have to go through _No Treason_. That was written after the Civil War, after which anarcho-abolitionism as such had lost a lot of whatever meaning it had. It’s an anarchist tract, and, as should not be surprising, denies the legitimacy of the government. Here’s a classic example of what you probably think you were referring to:

The pretense that the “abolition of slavery” was either a motive or justification for the war, is a fraud of the same character with that of “maintaining the national honor.” Who, but such usurpers, robbers, and murderers as they, ever established slavery? Or what government, except one resting upon the sword, like the one we now have, was ever capable of maintaining slavery? And why did these men abolish slavery? Not from any love of liberty in general — not as an act of justice to the black man himself, but only “as a war measure,” and because they wanted his assistance, and that of his friends, in carrying on the war they had undertaken for maintaining and intensifying that political, commercial, and industrial slavery, to which they have subjected the great body of the people, both black and white. And yet these imposters now cry out that they have abolished the chattel slavery of the black man — although that was not the motive of the war — as if they thought they could thereby conceal, atone for, or justify that other slavery which they were fighting to perpetuate, and to render more rigorous and inexorable than it ever was before. There was no difference of principle — but only of degree — between the slavery they boast they have abolished, and the slavery they were fighting to preserve; for all restraints upon men’s natural liberty, not necessary for the simple maintenance of justice, are of the nature of slavery, and differ from each other only in degree.

Saying that this “doesn’t necessarily take us very far from some of the underlying historical assumptions of the neo-Confederate position” is exactly what I described above as a flattening of all opposition into a single register. I’m not agreeing with Spooner, but if you really think that his underlying assumptions are not very far from those of neo-Confederacy, then the pacifists during the Iraq War really were pro-Saddam after all.

Did, later on, some neo-Confederates fasten on Spooner? Yes, certainly. And you agreed with them out of ignorance. Rather than say “Wait a minute, Spooner wasn’t neo-Confederate at all, stop misusing his legacy” you said “Brad DeLong is right to point out in the comments that that anarcho-abolitionist view doesn’t necessarily take us very far from some of the underlying historical assumptions of the neo-Confederate position.” Here’s what Brad Delong wrote in the comments at that time:

Rather, the Lysander Spooner camp in which Randy Barnett started is the “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis–in fact, David is preferable because he at least is not a hypocrite” camp.

It asserts a different kind of moral equivalance between Lincoln and Davis from the confederatistas, but it does assert a moral equivalence between them. Lysander Spooner is the #slatepitch of the 1850s.

Lysander Spooner, writing before the election of 1860 […]

That’s not a reference to _No Treason_ — the text that the influence on libertarianism mostly goes through, and the one, if any, that neo-Confederates pick and choose from. It’s before the election of 1860. And it’s squarely an attack on Spooner as being a reckless Naderite utopian who didn’t think there was any difference between Lincoln and Davis. If you do get into fights with liberals all the time over this issue, you didn’t this time.

Spooner was a crank, who earned his crown of victory and contributed materially towards the actual abolition of chattel slavery, even if mostly through routes that he might not have anticipated. As systems fail, some cranks get more and more right, in a sense. Our historical memory is, indeed, very important.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.22.13 at 5:54 pm

Rich, I don’t understand. Doesn’t the neo-Confederacy take the Civil War as an imposition upon the Southern states’ rights by a more centralized government, and therefore an imposition upon their freedoms? Spooner’s objection, that “freeing the slaves” was a diversion to impose essentially (I will hazard it) neoliberalism (“political, commercial, and industrial slavery, to which they have subjected the great body of the people, both black and white”), is not that far from the rhyme scheme, is it?

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politicalfootball 07.22.13 at 5:58 pm

And my confidence is reinforced by the fact that the elder and hopefully wiser Frederick Douglass agrees with me.

Whether Douglass agrees with you depends on what you’re saying. Rich reads you as calling folks like Spooner and Douglass stupid and slatepitchers because, well, that’s what you say. But look at what Douglass actually says about the movement of which he was a part:

Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined…

Douglass is hardly mocking the “genuine abolition ground” here, nor is he calling his younger self “stupid.” The extraordinary urgency he and Spooner felt ought not be ridiculed or dismissed, and Douglass doesn’t do so. You do.

There’s a genuinely interesting disagreement between you and Rich here, I think, but we haven’t been able to talk much about it because you’ve staked out a piece of ground that’s indefensible.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.22.13 at 6:33 pm

Lee A. Arnold: “Doesn’t the neo-Confederacy take the Civil War as an imposition upon the Southern states’ rights by a more centralized government, and therefore an imposition upon their freedoms? Spooner’s objection, that “freeing the slaves” was a diversion to impose essentially (I will hazard it) neoliberalism (“political, commercial, and industrial slavery, to which they have subjected the great body of the people, both black and white”), is not that far from the rhyme scheme, is it?”

If you worked for the better part of two decades to actually free slaves, then writing that “freeing the slaves” was a diversion takes on a very different quality than when a neo-Confederate says something superficially similar later.

From the neo-Confederate, it’s concern trolling — it says “Don’t be concerned with my racism, that’s not what’s important. Isn’t it much more important for you to be concerned with abstract economic issues instead, especially those that go along with the denial that the Federal government has the power to do anything?”

From Spooner, it’s actual concern, linked to actual anarchism, not “state’s rights”. A quick look through _No Treason_ doesn’t see any mentions of more centralized government, or of state’s rights. There is none of the neo-Confederate idea that the states had magical rights which the Federal government didn’t; there are just individuals who choose or don’t choose whether to enter into social contracts.

Here, I’ll quote Mike Huben, who I think I saw commenting here recently. From his non-Libertarian FAQ:

28. Have you read “No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority”?

“No Treason” is a lengthy rant that doesn’t take longer than the first paragraph to begin its egregious errors.

For example, in the first paragraph: “It [The Constitution] purports, at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years ago.” Thus he focuses his attention on the Preamble, and evidently ignores Article VII, which says EXACTLY who contracted for the Constitution:

“The ratification of the conventions of nine States shall be sufficient for the establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the same. Done in Convention, by the unanimous consent of the States present, the seventeenth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the twelfth. In Witness whereof, we have hereunto subscribed our names.”
[signatories FOR STATES omitted.]

He’s wrong on this simple matter of fact: the constitution says who contracted with whom. But then he goes on to make a big deal about the people of that era being dead, as if contracts between organizations lapse when their office holders depart.

The rest of his “analysis” is equally shoddy, and consists largely of calling government a collection of thieves and murderers at least 75 times. David Friedman, in “The Machinery of Freedom”, says Spooner “attacks the contract theory of government like a lawyer arguing a case”: but REAL presentations of cases have to cope with counterarguments, and can’t depend so heavily on invalid presumptions which are easily shot full of holes.

This kind of thing is why Garrison, who was a lot more polite about confronting actual Spooner than Huben has to be later about people who are just misusing Spooner’s work, wrote “We admit Mr. Spooner’s reasoning to be ingenious – perhaps, as an effort in logic, unanswerable” but rejected its conclusions.

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Corey Robin 07.22.13 at 6:45 pm

“But if you really think that his underlying assumptions are not very far from those of neo-Confederacy.” As I’ve made clear, I don’t. You wish to pursue an argument with me, construed entirely on your own terms, because it suits your purposes, which is I guess to revisit the role of radicalism in American history (and perhaps to re-litigate the run-up to the Iraq War). That’s fine, but it’s not an argument with me. So it’s not a particularly efficient use of my time or yours to continue it. I’ll leave you to tussle with whomever it is you really do wish to argue with, since I’m sure you (and not coincidentally I) will find much more direct and immediate satisfaction that way.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.22.13 at 6:59 pm

I understand that states’ rights is different from individual rights, but I also understand that libertarians prefer less hierarchical governmental structures (say: state, as opposed to federal) in pursuit thereof. Which is why some of libertarianism has been so comportable in neo-Confederate locales. Concern trolling (“Don’t be concerned with my racism, that’s not what’s important”) is surely the description of, say, Rand Paul’s campaign lieutenant Jack Hunter, who is now hoping to delete many of his comments from the web and memory, — and, it is just now being reported, resigned from Paul’s staff last night… But there are lots of people, particularly young people, who think it’s okay to hang the confederate flag in southern statehouses today, and they may not always be racist: it is because they are young and don’t like the Washington-Wall Street axis. Individually they may not be racists, though they are automatically tapping into a deeper history which they do not know. So then other people (“northerners”, “blacks”) take offense, and this spurs more similar behavior, why? Because there is nothing for p.r. like Controversy, and everyone only gets 15 minutes of fame anyway.

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b9n10nt 07.22.13 at 7:10 pm

Lee @ 166: “I liked Obama’s speech”

Haven’t we been thoroughly conditioned for low expectations?

Besides being too tepid in his denunciation of Stand Your Ground and gun rights, here was an opportunity to tie Stand Your Ground injustice to economic injustice: Obama could have said, “We must remember that too often your legal rights are only as robust as your economic means to defend them. In criminal law cases across the country, innocent African Americans are pressured to plea bargain themselves into prison by overworked and underprepared public defenders.”

Here was an opportunity to tie the injustice of racial profiling to resurgent racism: “Let us not forget that African Americans are not only aware of their unique vulnerability before the law, but African Americans see this taking place in a context in which historically oppressive societies seek to silence their political voice through redistricting and needlessly restrictive voting laws.”

Here was an opportunity to brace the country to stand up to the unrepentent South. Rather than ending with a message of inevitable progress that sidelines progressive activists, he could have ended: “We are reminded that there is so much work to be done: in the realms of criminal law, political representation, and indeed economic justice.”

Instead, his speech was a gift to center-right America, another offering at the alter of the Median Voter.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.22.13 at 7:23 pm

I am conditioned with far lower expectations.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.22.13 at 7:25 pm

Consider how the left is so bereft of any heft.

181

b9n10nt 07.22.13 at 7:25 pm

Yeah, a Republican president would’ve, on behalf of the nation, apologized to the Zimmerman family.

182

Bruce Wilder 07.22.13 at 7:29 pm

Corey Robin: “As I’ve made clear . . .”

I would think it obvious that you did not make yourself all that clear, even if most of us are aware of, and respect, your intellectual commitments.

What troubled me about the OP, and still troubles me in your follow-up, is the failure to come to grips with the nature of the Civil War as a constitutional crisis. The war, itself, was not an abolitionist crusade, but a response to a constitutional crisis, which ended in violent insurrection and an attempt to erect a rival to the Federal government.

Libertarians are fascinated with the constitutional crisis aspect, because libertarianism of certain stripes revolves around fantasies of constitutionalism. Barnett, in particular, belongs to a constitutionalist strain of libertarian thinking. (And, he’s reading Spooner, as a theorist of constitutionalism, not as an anarcho-abolishnist, whatever that might be.)

Historical memory comes into it, not because anyone “forgets” slavery — in fact, slavery is what everyone remembers, even when they remember nothing else about the Civil War — but because so many people forget the constitutional crisis. The “it wasn’t about slavery, it was about States’ Rights” and similar maneuvers, is leveraging that forgetfulness about the particulars of the constitutional crisis. That rhetorical maneuver only works, if you know something about the constitutional crisis — even if what you know about the constitutional issues is wrong or woefully incomplete — and your interlocutor knows much less.

The failure of historical memory — ironically represented with particular vividness by an academic historian in comments, who projects strongly from the details of one particular viewpoint on the recent dynamics of Presidential politics — is a failure to remember the Constitution, and the faultlines built into it, by the failure to resolve contradictions over the meaning of the consent of the governed in a Republic, failures, which were heightened in a Republic, which countenanced slavery.

As that constitutional system began to fail and come apart in the 1850s, as Rich has so eloquently pointed out, it can be difficult to distinguish the cranks from the reliable mainstream establishment, and the cranks, like babes and drunks, can become unexpected founts of truth.

Rich took us on a remarkable journey from what was, as another commenter termed it, a slapdash original post. I thank him for it.

Still, regarding historical memory, the OP had it exactly backward: no one forgets slavery; it’s the constitutional crisis, which, like a dream, tends to slip away from collective, wakeful recollection, only to reenter consciousness from unexpected directions.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.22.13 at 8:20 pm

Bruce: “Libertarians are fascinated with the constitutional crisis aspect, because libertarianism of certain stripes revolves around fantasies of constitutionalism. Barnett, in particular, belongs to a constitutionalist strain of libertarian thinking. (And, he’s reading Spooner, as a theorist of constitutionalism, not as an anarcho-abolishnist, whatever that might be.)”

Yes. This is why, although Corey Robin says that my argument wasn’t an argument with him, it really was, even before he agreed with Brad’s comment. The original post has him not really being sure what Barnett is saying but being sure that it has to do with a “forgetting—that deep historical error which held that the Civil War was a fight over tariffs or some other nonsense”. But Barnett was influenced not by a forgetting, but by a tract written only 5 years after the end of the Civil War by a participant in those events. The forgetting was in the other direction.

Corey Robin doesn’t want to argue about it, so I’ll stop there. Thanks to the various people who liked my comments, but of course I was largely cribbing from Douglass. The bit about “People want fire, but they always want it to be directed to good ends. They want a mysterious non-spreading fire that never has the ability to burn anyone” would be a wonderful metaphor if only I’d invented it.

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Anderson 07.22.13 at 8:30 pm

“We must remember that too often your legal rights are only as robust as your economic means to defend them. In criminal law cases across the country, innocent African Americans are pressured to plea bargain themselves into prison by overworked and underprepared public defenders.”

Yes, he also should’ve worked in something about housing discrimination, excessively long lines to vote, and the superstructure-base distinction.

The notion that America will work hard to pass the exam if only the Lecturer-in-Chief makes sure to cover all the necessary topics is … strange.

185

Lee A. Arnold 07.22.13 at 8:50 pm

In California, it sounds like the legal system is becoming effectively two-tier on strictly economic lines, and if you are in the bottom tier no matter what race, court dates and geographic venue may be distant, perhaps impossibly distant. In this case, cutting government spending directly impacts availability of Constitutionally-guaranteed remedy. Yet another reason why the entire population is finally likely to overthrow neoliberalism. There are less transaction costs in having a well-funded state.

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LFC 07.22.13 at 9:05 pm

Bruce Wilder @182
The failure of historical memory — ironically represented with particular vividness by an academic historian in comments, who projects strongly from the details of one particular viewpoint on the recent dynamics of Presidential politics

It’s maybe a small point, but you’ve made the same mistake twice in this thread: Brad DeLong is not “an academic historian”; he’s a professor of economics with a strong interest in economic history (and, obviously, in history generally). You are of course entirely free to disagree with DeLong, but I think you might have taken the trouble to place him in the right academic dept. A small point, I admit — so much so that DeLong didn’t bother to correct you himself.

I didn’t take a position on the substance of the DeLong/Puchalsky dispute mostly b.c I don’t feel I know enough about the circumstances of 1860 or about Spooner. I do think radical abolitionists like Garrison played a significant role in bringing slavery to the forefront of public debate in the North, even if Garrison’s own views on nonresistance and voting were not ones I probably wd have found congenial had I been living then.

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Rmj 07.22.13 at 9:18 pm

The notion that America will work hard to pass the exam if only the Lecturer-in-Chief makes sure to cover all the necessary topics is … strange.

Gotta blame somebody.

Things are ever so much easier that way.

188

Bruce Baugh 07.22.13 at 9:19 pm

William Berry made a significant point up there about #164: the stock libertarian position is in favor of letters of marque and reprisal, and the Pauls have no problems with firms like Blackwater/Xe/Academi doing their thing. (It’s been a while since I last checked, but I think both have specifically said good things about Prince and his company.) Obviously it’s not universal – Jim was never in favor of licensing out atrocities as opposed to not committing them at all, and neither was I. But Machinery of Freedom-esque private law schemes make it really hard to carve out space for crimes against humanity regardless of perpetrators.

It’s of course true that whatever hold the notion had after World War II has been entirely dissipated, not to say actively stomped down, in the US and elsewhere, and that there’s no prospect of restoring it anytime soon that I can see. But this is a failing that I don’t think is best addressed by tossing out the notion or by blithely assuming that targeted individuals and groups could just haul Academi hit squads to the local court.

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LFC 07.22.13 at 9:29 pm

It’s of course true that whatever hold the notion [of crimes against humanity] had after World War II has been entirely dissipated, not to say actively stomped down, in the US and elsewhere, and that there’s no prospect of restoring it anytime soon that I can see.

Bit of an overstatement, to say the least. The indictments on which Mladic and Karadzic (misspelled,sorry) are currently on trial I think incl. crimes vs humanity among the counts. Plus there’s the Intl Criminal Ct which many countries, though not the US of course, joined. It’s true there are others who probably should face charges of some sort who won’t, and we know who they are.

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Bruce Baugh 07.22.13 at 9:44 pm

LFC: I think that it’s when it’s purely at the pleasure of a small subset of winners, it’s not a principle any more than looting and pillaging are. It’s just a thing winners gets to do.

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Corey Robin 07.22.13 at 10:01 pm

Bruce Wilder at 182: I’m going to take one more stab at this.

Here’s my understanding of how this whole debate has gone down. I wrote a post, based on a sentence that Barnett himself concedes was inartfully written (and that multiple people, including Barnett’s friends and allies, have admitted was prone to the interpretation I gave it), claiming that Barnett’s coming to knowledge NOT about the constitutional crisis of the Civil War or abolitionist constitutionalism but about the dimensions of slavery and abolition and the Republican Party I have stressed here, came rather late in life. Again, I want to stress that no one closely connected to this discussion (Barnett, his colleagues, friends, etc.) disputes that my interpretation was illegitimate based on the plain language of Barnett’s post. Not merely the sentence I cite but also at least five of the six historical claims that follow.

When Barnett and his friends and colleagues pointed out to me that he indeed was aware of these claims before his own language suggested he was, I corrected the post.

While that back and forth with Barnett was transpiring Jacob Levy said in the comments thread that Barnett was not coming from a neo-Confederate position, which I had never accused him of (and indeed I emphasized twice in the OP that he was not coming from that position but from the opposite position), but from a position inspired by the “abolitionist anarchism” of the “Spooner camp.” (Levy’s words, not mine.)

In my update, I responded to Jacob by saying that that claim — that Barnett was coming from a different position from the neo-Confederate camp, the one inspired by Spooner — didn’t “take us very far from SOME OF THE UNDERLYING HISTORICAL ASSUMPTIONS of the neo-Confederate position. To wit: the ‘it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Civil War was an unjust war on both sides’ claim, and all the associated historical baggage around it, that I cited in the OP.” (my emphasis)

In other words, one could easily derive inspiration from the Spooner position while still remaining committed to the position that slavery played little role in the genesis of the Republican Party and little role in the Civil War: the very view I was contesting in the OP and was saying was rather common on the libertarian right. The point was not to flatten opposition; it was to say that being on the other side of an argument wouldn’t necessarily dislodge the historical amnesia about the Republican Party and Civil War I was describing. I then cited an important contemporary anarcho-libertarian, for whom Lysander Spooner has been quite important, making precisely these arguments from amnesia. Not, as I said in the comments above, in the service of a hypothetical guerrilla war that ended slavery but merely against the actual war that did. And not in the service of an alternative abolitionist constitutionalism but in the service of a pox-on-both-your-houses position regarding the Civil War. Again, I gave you an actual example: not of an outlier but of someone who’s fairly important in this camp.

Now, nothing in these points says anything like what some here want to make them say: that Spooner was wrong, that cranks are not necessary to radical change, etc. They say what they say: that someone in today’s libertarian world could easily operate in certain circles — not neo-Confederate circles but an anarcho-abolitionist circle (that seems actually to be a fine phrase for the contemporary sensibility I’m describing) — and easily hold onto certain historical presuppositions about the Republican Party and the Civil War that I don’t believe to be true.

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b9n10nt 07.22.13 at 10:05 pm

Anderson @ 184:

“The notion that America will work hard to pass the exam if only the Lecturer-in-Chief makes sure to cover all the necessary topics is … strange.”

Do speeches matter a lot? No. Do speeches matter at all? Yes. Do speeches that bring fresh attention to social injustices matter more than ones that simply reinforce hegemonic concepts (about the fairness of the legal process, about the inevitable march of progress in race relations)? Yes.

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Corey Robin 07.22.13 at 10:12 pm

Sorry, “no one closely connected to this discussion…disputes that my interpretation was ILLEGITIMATE based on the plain language of Barnett’s post” should have read “no one closely connected to this discussion…disputes that my interpretation was LEGITIMATE based on the plain language of Barnett’s post.” Again, emphasis added, and my apologies for the mistake.

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Anderson 07.22.13 at 10:22 pm

” matter more than ones that simply reinforce hegemonic concepts (about the fairness of the legal process, about the inevitable march of progress in race relations)?”

You did not, I gather, actually listen to or read his remarks. They’re on the internet.

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Bruce Wilder 07.22.13 at 10:33 pm

LFC @ 186

Point taken.

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b9n10nt 07.23.13 at 12:03 am

@ 194

yeah, I read them.

I argue that Obama’s emphasis was on a rosy scenario. I gather you were, as was Lee, satisfied by his remarks. Are you also satisfied by the Democratic Party’s general efforts on behalf of legal, economic, and political equality for black America?

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js. 07.23.13 at 1:53 am

@b9n10nt:

I’m not unsympathetic to the kind of complaint you’re raising, but given that Obama is who he is (let’s say, someone who could become the US president), the speech was actually quite good. These remarks by Coates, while brief, are I think very much on point.

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b9n10nt 07.23.13 at 2:37 am

Thanks js. “Political courage” (Coates) is going too far, but what do I know?

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Anderson 07.23.13 at 2:58 am

“yeah, I read them.”

Then I don’t know why you misreported them.

“Are you also satisfied by the Democratic Party’s general efforts on behalf of legal, economic, and political equality for black America?”

There are efforts?

(Leaving aside whatever “economic equality” means … regardless, it ain’t happening soon. See the news today on which areas have the least upward mobility; the old Black Belt in the South lights up like Vegas.)

I just don’t think presidents accomplish much by speeches. Tho I’m actually a bit surprised by the relatively mild reaction to this one from the usual wing nuts.)

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