How Moral Revolutions Happen (They Had A Nightmare)

by John Holbo on August 29, 2013

In a recent post I remarked that MLK is a figure well worth stealing. And NR obliges me with the first sentence of their anniversary editorial. “The civil-rights revolution, like the American revolution, was in a crucial sense conservative.” They do admit a few paragraphs on that, “Too many conservatives and libertarians, including the editors of this magazine, missed all of this at the time.” And then manage to wreck it all again with the next sentence: “They worried about the effects of the civil-rights movement on federalism and limited government. Those principles weren’t wrong, exactly; they were tragically misapplied, given the moral and historical context.” No look into the question of how such a misapplication transpired, since that would not produce gratifying results. After all, if we are talking about what actually worried people, then plainly federalism and limited government were more pretext than motive. The tragedy is that so many people wanted to do the wrong thing, for bad reasons. But they couldn’t say ‘Boo justice!’ So they said stuff about … federalism. There is obviously no point to conservative’s revisiting how they got things wrong without bothering to consider how they got things wrong. But let’s be positive about it. “It is a mark of the success of King’s movement that almost all Americans can now see its necessity.” Yay justice!

I’m sitting down to read Kwame Anthony Appiah’s book, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen [amazon]. I’m planning to agree with it, but the framing is odd.

And so I began to examine a number of moral revolutions, looking to see what could be learned from them. I noticed almost immediately that the disparate cases I looked at — the collapse of the duel, the abandonment of footbinding, the end of Atlantic slavery — had some unexpected features in common. One was that arguments against each of these practices were well known and clearly made a good deal before they came to an end. Not only were the arguments already there, they were made in terms that we — in other cultures or other times — can recognize and understand. Whatever happened when these immoral practices ceased, it wasn’t, so it seemed to me, that people were bowled over by new moral arguments. Dueling was always murderous and irrational; footbinding was always painfully crippling; slavery was always an assault on the humanity of the slave.

This was a surprise about what had not happened. The second — and, for me, much more surprising — observation was about what had: in each of these transitions, something that was naturally called “honor” played a central role. This led to the inquiry whose results are gathered in this book. It is, of course, hardly astounding that dueling had to do with honor; nor even that the end of dueling came with new ideas about honor. But it is striking, to my mind, that ideas about national honor and the honor of workingmen far removed from the plantations of the New World figured so largely in the ending of footbinding and of modern slavery, respectively.

Isn’t the importance of honor obvious? But never mind: I confidently expect Appiah’s book to provide proof of the obvious, serving the incidental but salutary and worthwhile purpose of embroidering it with heretofore unknown (to me!) facts that point to perhaps under-appreciated conceptual twists.

I just finished another book that was surprisingly rich on this score: The Ideology of Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Antebellum South, 1830—1860 [amazon].

Here’s what surprised me: the only writer in this group I had read before was George Fitzhugh, who turns out to be unrepresentative. (The editor of this volume says he was popular and influential , but most of these other writers tried to distance themselves from him, because he was not respectable and argued for stuff like expanding the disenfranchise – I guess you would call it – to include poor whites.) Slavery must be defended because the Pope is a socialist! (Yes!) Fitzhugh would have made a good blogger and lit up Twitter.

I thought the whole book would be like that: the rhetorical equivalent of Preston Brooks versus Charles Sumner. Paranoid-style jingo triumphalism plus loopy-cranky pseudo-scientific stuff plus fight-or-flight bursts of logic, concluding in abortive, daft neo-Feudal utopias that evaporate back into conservative stubbornness.

But most of these writers are barely polemical. The tone is concessive, gentleman-scholarly, mild, punctuated by patronizing sighs and arched eyebrows, to add some tone. Of course slavery is … unfortunate; but you can’t expect this old world to be perfect so we must make the best of it together. Does anyone have a plausible, practical plan for abolishing slavery, starting tomorrow? No. So what are we talking about? Just a bunch of Northerners who won’t be personally called on to do anything so painful. Yet they expect Southerners to give up most of their wealth, and destroy the value of their land in the process? Is that plausible? Abolitionism is so wrong not because slavery is so right – it isn’t! – but because utopianism must always fail. Indeed, it must always cause suffering, by the law of unintended consequences. Better to respect existing property rights, even though we know that if you look far enough in the past, there will always be ugliness at the root. It is the wonder of human institutions that beauty may flourish even from ugliness! (It is only utopians who do not appreciate this!)

I’m not surprised to meet these arguments. Fitzhugh makes them, too. And they are completely obvious. But I’m surprised by how all of these authors, except Fitzhugh, make only these arguments. They are a pack of George F. Wills with only one joker – one Southern Avenger – in the deck. I pick George F. Will because he seems a good example of someone who works primarily by trying to suck up all the oxygen, preemptively, by projecting an air of etablishment wisdom. You narrow the range of respectable positions and then puff yourself to fill that space, exclusively. Just the right balance of seeming to appreciate life, as it is, and world-weariness. Ever will it be so! In order to pull that off, you have to be pretty boring, lest you open the door to odd ideas and intemperate modes of expression. The thing about Fitzhugh is that he is an unapologetic moral revisionist. A future-bound moral revolutionist! If they’d had talking-head shows back then, most of these guys would have been the guy who was a regular, for 25 years. Fitzhugh would have been the guy who kept getting kicked off, like Pat Buchanan, but then rehired because you gotta love a guy who speaks his mind!

(Am I hinting that George F. Will is secretly especially bad about race stuff? No! I’m just looking for the best example of a conservative establishmentarian figure. What is established is variable. The manner in which the establishment is upheld is a characteristic type.)

There’s nary a whiff of explicit anti-black animus – not even from Fitzhugh (who is, as I mentioned, in favor of expanding slavery to include white people.) There’s white supremacy. There’s utter stereotyping. But it’s all in the whites are good parents-blacks are good children mold. There’s no ‘those people!’ scolding. This makes sense because you can’t simultaneously draw blacks into the happy family circle of actually existing benevolent Patriarchy and exclude them as Other. You can’t tell people you hate your children because they are uncontrollable little alien menaces, by nature, and offer that as a reason not to remove them from your custody. (I’m not talking logic. I’m talking rhetoric.) This is interesting because if you ask people what ‘racism’ means, a keyword in the response is sure to be ‘hate’. Racism is about hating the Other, right? It’s good to remind ourselves how a regime based on explicit racism could be, as well, a regime not based on explicit race hate – at least on its public, racist face. The Nazi analogy confuses us here, probably. I think there is a corollary point to be made about how racist rhetoric becomes more explicitly hateful in the Reconstruction period, obviously because the rhetorical pressure against that falls away with emancipation. (Fitzhugh is an example. He goes from arguing that slavery is not about race, before the war – which made him a weirdo – to being obsessively anti-black.) Obviously all this is a matter of degree and distinction. There are the things you say in public, when trying to project an air of moderate reasonableness to undercut political enemies, by casting them as extremist. The things you say in public, among your political allies, to stiffen their spines. And on down the line to the thing you think but never say. (I am sure someone is going to be eager to point out, in comments, that people don’t always speak truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So I just want to reassure: I got the memo.)

Related point: I hadn’t anticipated how the wretchedness of the state of European (especially British) industrial civilization in, say, 1840, is a powerful argument for anyone wielding conservative moral complacency like a flaming sword. (Here is where the most polemical bits of these writings come in.) Once we’ve admitted life is always wretched for a lot of people – and God is cool with that – are we so sure adding slavery to the list of human miseries is worse than English kids worked to death in factories and mines? I hadn’t thought about how hindsight affects this view: we see slavery as doomed so we add that insult – you all died for a dead-end! – to the ghastly pile of injuries. Industrialization, we now know, was at least going to raise a lot of boats. The poor in England were about as badly off as they had ever been, or ever would be. (Though the future is a long time! We’ll see what the 22nd Century may yet bring!) Here’s a quote from an 1842 Parliamentary report [UPDATE: I’m quoting this from one of these proslavery writers. I didn’t go find it myself.]:

Collieries.—“I wish to call the attention of the Board to the pits about Brampton. The seams are so thin that several of them have only two feet headway to all the working. They are worked altogether by boys from eight to twelve years of age, on all-fours, with a dog belt and chain. The passages being neither ironed nor wooded, and often an inch or two thick with mud. In Mr. Barnes’ pit these poor boys have to drag the barrows with one hundred weight of coal or slack sixty times a day sixty yards, and the empty barrows back, without once straightening their backs, unless they choose to stand under the shaft, and run the risk of having their heads broken by a falling coal.”—Report on Mines, 1842, p. 71. “In Shropshire the seams are no more than eighteen or twenty inches.”—Ibid., p.67. “At the Booth pit,” says Mr. Scriven, “I walked, rode, and crept eighteen hundred yards to one of the nearest faces.”—Ibid. “Chokedamp, firedamp, wild fire, sulphur, and water, at all times menace instant death to the laborers in these mines.” “Robert North, aged 16: Went into the pit at seven years of age, to fill up skips. I drew about twelve months. When I drew by the girdle and chain my skin was broken, and the blood ran down. I durst not say anything. If we said anything, the butty, and the reeve, who works under him, would take a stick and beat us.”—Ibid. “The usual punishment for theft is to place the culprit’s head between the legs of one of the biggest boys, and each boy in the pit—sometimes there are twenty—inflicts twelve lashes on the back and rump with a cat.”—Ibid. “Instances occur in which children are taken into these mines to work as early as four years of age, sometimes at five, not unfrequently at six and seven, while from eight to nine is the ordinary age at which these employments commence.”—Ibid. “The wages paid at these mines is from two dollars fifty cents to seven dollars fifty cents per month for laborers, according to age and ability, and out of this they must support themselves. They work twelve hours a day.”-Ibid.

And on and on. Was it obvious in 1840 that the future of industrialism wasn’t 1840 conditions, or worse, forever?

Fitzhugh is the firebrand prophet of the neo-Feudal future, with the South its Shining City on A Hill. Eventually everyone will have to admit laissez faire means industrialism and industrialism is a ratchet of ever-intensifying wretchedness for the ‘free’. Ergo, we need slavery, with its reciprocal privileges and duties – however unequal – to ameliorate the very worst conditions. These other writers don’t say it, because they are allergic to moral revisionism, but they seem to feel just a touch of it. Slavery is regrettably inevitable, but Southern Civilization is on the grow! King Cotton! The South is getting rich, rich rich! Probably the lives of the descendants of our slaves will be a bit better, so their suffering – should they have one of those few cruel masters (mostly Northerners who have married Southern heiresses!) – is not for naught! No one is promising that, in the future, slaves will live as well as masters do now. But the carrot of modest, steady, upward trends is dangling out there. Why can’t these abolitionists see how much more plausible marginal raising of all boats is than some hare-brained scheme for raising money for boats to found a colony in Liberia?

(Be it noted: I’m not saying I’m surprised pro-slavery writers defend themselves by relative comparisons of fond ideals of Southern slave life with the worst industrial nightmares. That’s obvious. The bit I missed was how the future looked in 1840. How natural it is to project straight-line trends at odds with the line we – who know the Civil War is going to happen – see.)

Exception to the moral complacency point: these writers stand very firm when they seize the Biblical high ground, which they all do. This is perfectly predictable, not just because the Bible does indeed offer some highly supportive bits but because even a George F. Will-type needs moments of rhetorical firmness. (You can’t be effectively complacent, without sometimes seeming the very opposite of that.) But this produces very strange turns. Slavery is a horror, yes, but God says it’s ok, even “in its most revolting form.” so if you say slavery needs to be abolished, because it’s a horror, you are holding yourself to a higher moral standard than God, which is surely some kind of Satanic pride on top of all the utopian dangers. “And when men, professing to be holy men, and who are by numbers so regarded, declare those things to be sinful which our Creator has expressly authorized and instituted, they do more to destroy his authority among mankind than the most wicked can effect, by proclaiming that to be innocent which he has forbidden.” (I’m using this one next time I teach Euthyphro. Divine Command Theory buffs, this is one for the record books!)

Bonus: if you want to abolish slavery, consistency demands you admit that genocide against Native Americans, just to take their land, was morally impermissible! Put that in your Yankee pipe and smoke it! I’ll file that in the ‘one man’s modus ponens …’ pile.

Morally complacent arguments look like worldly wisdom, so long as the world doesn’t change. Then it looks like the craziest White Queen logic: morality yesterday and morality tomorrow but never morality today! (I know, I know. I wasn’t expecting to buy the pro-slavery arguments, when I picked up the book. But since I knew it was crazy, I expected more yelling.) George Fitzhugh: “When a public opinion is formed on a state of existing facts, and of anticipated results, and an entire change of facts and anticipations takes place, public opinion itself must also change.” Only he has a different change in mind. “Fifty years ago all Christendom believed that if the negroes were emancipated, they would become more moral, intelligent, and industrious. The experiment of emancipation has been tried in every form, and on the large as well as the small scale.” Haiti is a mess. Ergo the future is neo-Feudal. Funny how the world changes. It’s very important that anything like the Civil War is unthinkable, in practice. War might come, but no one is contemplating Total War. There are all these calculations of costs that obviously no one is going to be willing to pay. And that was very reasonable thinking, really. (Who thought the white South would voluntarily impoverish itself in the process of morally abasing itself?) Only both sides ended up paying a lot more than anyone had dreamed of suggesting might be necessary, either way.

I’m not going to bother guessing how this relates to Appiah’s discussion of slavery before I’ve read it. But it’s perfectly obvious that the evolution of Southern attitudes towards slavery are dictated by a powerful sense of honor. There needs to be a sudden change of noble steeds, mid-stream, when slavery is abolished. Fitzhugh has a great quote from Edmund Burke (Corey Robin, I hope you know this one!)

In Virginia and the Carolinas they have a vast multitude of slaves. Where this is the case in any part of the world, those who are free are by far the most proud and jealous of their freedom. Freedom is to them not only an enjoyment, but a kind of rank and privilege. Not seeing then that freedom, as in countries where it is a common blessing, and as broad and general as the air, may be united with much abject toil, with great misery, with all the exterior of servitude, liberty looks among them as something more noble and liberal. I do not mean to commend the superior morality of this sentiment, which has at least as much pride as virtue in it; but I cannot alter the nature of man. The fact is so; and those people of the Southern colonies are much more strongly, and with a more stubborn spirit attached to liberty, than those to the Northward. Such were all the ancient commonwealths; such were our Gothic ancestry; such, in our days, were the Poles; and such will be all masters of slaves who are not slaves themselves. In such a people, haughtiness of domination combines with the spirit of freedom, fortifies it, and renders it invisible.

The great bit about the quote is that I’m not totally sure whether Burke is saying (or thinking) that haughtiness of dominion combined with a spirit of freedom makes the former invisible or the latter. I think he is saying the latter. It is non-obvious that Southerners love freedom, because they are slave-owners, so we think of them as being anti-freedom. We don’t see how being anti-freedom for some is, in effect, the spirit of freedom for others. But it would be equally true (whether Burke meant it or not) to flip the thought. Southerners see themselves as powerfully pro-freedom, so they literally can’t see that they are really not ‘liberal’, since they are feudal through and through. They are not freedom-loving so much as obsessed with rank and privilege. Freedom is loved as a badge of superior caste privilege. If you love medals, and you are wearing a medal that says ‘free’, you think you love freedom. But really you love medals. Fitzhugh is pro-feudal and explicitly anti-freedom, so he thinks we need to think Burke’s thought through to its logical conclusion. (This is why his fellow pro-slavery writers regard him as unsound.) Fitzhugh has these funny flights of consistent logic, between grouses about socialism and avowals of the spirit of true conservatism and proposals to enslave some white folks, for consistency’s sake, and to do a spot of work around the place.

Of course it’s funny to say that both thoughts are true. Haughtiness of dominion combined with the spirit of freedom hides both values – each behind the other. And yet it’s sort of true. They take turns, depending on the occasion.

But Fitzhugh’s logic always fails him at the very last step (one step past the point where, as he likes to point out, the logic of these other pro-slavery writers gives out). He himself regards it as contemptible to live for anything but honor. This becomes totally clear in his post-war writings. He muses about how unreasonable it is for the conquerors to expect welcome in the South, because that would look like fawning, unmanly conduct. You can’t expect a man to like being under another man’s heel, hence you can’t expect him to act as if he does! Furthermore, no Southern white man can be – or at least should be – bribed into willingness to live with blacks on equal terms. Mere material advantage, even if it can be had, is no argument here. All the broadly consequentialist arguments for neo-Feudalism are now nowhere to be seen. Consequentialist arguments for equality are regarded as foolish, but (if that weren’t the case) contemptible. The feudalism does not really rest on any calculation about the future course of industrial civilization. It’s honor all the way down. Honor no longer requires slavery, however. Because if it did, there would be no honor. Since there is no slavery, and no prospect of its restoration – but we must have honor! The Lost Cause is all well and good, but it’s no good to look like a total loser. You need some honorable value you can attain and, with a bit of confabulatory ingenuity, maintain that you have always already maintained. Plain old white supremacy is now the only game in town for Fitzhugh, but it’s only the only game after slavery is abolished. That’s ironic! And the Lost Cause won the culture war for another century! That’s ironic! Projecting this timonocentric spiral of moral irony down to this day: the civil rights struggle will be a good thing to conservatives on the day that the check of justice can be cashed only at the First National Bank of Conservative Values – the decrepit bank of Civil Rights Struggle down the street having gone satisfyingly bankrupt in the meantime. As the NR editors say: “Where he spoke of a “bank of justice,” they just trade in grievances.”

And of course it’s not as though I, liberal squish, am immune to the complaint that I’m a squish who would, yet, like to be a noble person. (As Louis CK says, I have my ‘believies’ that I’m better than everyone else, just like everyone else.) No one but a Utopian is immune to the charge that they are settling for second best. And if you settle for second best in part out of complacency – you can’t ask people to be saints and heroes! – well, you sacrifice some honor. How not?

I like to quote Chesterton, as you know:

Let me explain a little: Certain things are bad so far as they go, such as pain, and no one, not even a lunatic, calls a toothache good in itself; but a knife which cuts clumsily and with difficulty is called a bad knife, which it certainly is not. It is only not so good as other knives to which men have grown accustomed. A knife is never bad except on such rare occasions as that in which it is neatly and scientifically planted in the middle of one’s back. The coarsest and bluntest knife which ever broke a pencil into pieces instead of sharpening it is a good thing in so far as it is a knife. It would have appeared a miracle in the Stone Age. What we call a bad knife is a good knife not good enough for us; what we call a bad hat is a good hat not good enough for us; what we call bad cookery is good cookery not good enough for us; what we call a bad civilisation is a good civilisation not good enough for us. We choose to call the great mass of the history of mankind bad, not because it is bad, but because we are better. This is palpably an unfair principle. Ivory may not be so white as snow, but the whole Arctic continent does not make ivory black.

Was Southern slave civilization ‘bad’ versus ‘not good enough’? Or ‘now we are better’? It was a neat – if pseudo-scientific in its race theorizing – knife in the backs of certain people. Chesterton would say: glass was half full. No civilization is without its unjust victims. It wasn’t bad – bad, just bad for African-Americans. But the problem isn’t the socially perfectionist delusions of utopia, as Chesterton would say (because he loves to hear himself talk about it.) It’s the personally perfectionist delusions of honor. People don’t want to be honorable only in the sense that in the past there were even less honorable people. (Which there were!)

Let’s turn back to Appiah (even though I haven’t read him yet!) This discovery-that-honor-is-important frame of his is a dramatic device in a book that aims to be semi-popular. (Was Descartes ever really shocked by sudden realization of the power of the Dream Argument as he seems, on the page?) It’s less exciting to say: we all know humans are always totally caught up with anxieties about honor and status, the second they stop starving to death. They’re touchy as hell about it! So however moral revolutions work, you can be sure it’s going to be substantially a matter of people ensuring they stay on the right side of all that. Revolutions will be a matter of the old stuff looking dishonorable AND people seeing some new source of honor, so they can switch horses midstream while pretending the horse they rode in on is the same one they rode out on. (Switching horses in a raging river is hard. Switching stories, mid-tale? Not hard. Especially if everything is freaking falling apart around you!)

Or is it a dramatic device? Appiah emphasizes that philosophers are stubborn about this, so the obvious needs to be not just stated but demonstrated. The source of the block would be this. Normatively, honor oughtn’t to play such a key role. So we shouldn’t regard it as crucial in practice. So all the wisdom of Plato and Rousseau and Hegel and Nietzsche and on and on about the crucial role that ideas of honor play goes by the wayside. Do you think academic philosophers who write on ethics are really so blockheaded about this? (I’m not sure.)

Maybe the reason his colleagues kept telling Appiah honor doesn’t – or shouldn’t – matter is that it is an inegalitarian value, and they’re a bunch of Harvard boutique liberals! It’s hard to be egalitarian and admit that an inegalitarian impulse makes the moral world go round, in practice, always. (It’s easier for egalitarians to want equality, after all. They get to wear it as a badge of achievement. My believies!) Whatever equality we get is going to have to arise out of a process that seems to run contrary to that. That seems true.

{ 107 comments }

1

Z 08.29.13 at 9:02 am

Revolutions will be a matter of the old stuff looking dishonorable AND people seeing some new source of honor, so they can switch horses midstream while pretending the horse they rode in on is the same one they rode out on.

This is highly reminiscing of Bourdieu’s analysis of revolutions (moral or otherwise) as outcomes of the struggle to (re-)define the value of symbolic capital. In book format, I guess you can read about the case of Flaubert and Manet (Les règles de l’art) but I seem to remember he studied Luther in one of his article. The closest example I can think of of a moral revolution thus analyzed by him would be the feminist revolution in La domination masculine, with a particularly important part on honor, of course. Also very interesting (especially I guess from your more philosophical point of view) is the epistemological revolution he locates around the XVIIth century in which honor in the feudal sense was replaced by legalistic and scientific modes of argumentation in the upper classes. He writes eloquently about the incredible violence of the process (one we are generally completely oblivious of; hindsight and all the rest…) and offers the highly interesting suggestion that the works of Pascal (or in a lighter way, Molière) be read in this light.

Anyway, highly enjoyable post, as usual.

2

Z 08.29.13 at 9:10 am

Whatever equality we get is going to have to arise out of a process that seems to run contrary to that

I’m not sure what that is supposed to refer to (my English being passable at best), but isn’t the usual way out of the conundrum the slogan “Universalizing the access to universalizing modes of thinking”? Or more concretely: if it is indeed true that the personal flourishing of every individual is a valuable goal and that hierarchical impulses are making the world go round (two believes I hold, FWIW), then it follows that our moral duty is to build institutions in which hierarchical impulses get to be expressed in a way promoting the flourishing of every individual.

Sorry for the double comment, I guess, though with a post that long, what else could you expect?

3

John Quiggin 08.29.13 at 9:32 am

Burke at his worst.

Give me Dr Johnson, any day “How is that the greatest yelps for liberty are heard from the drivers of Negroes?”

4

Belle Waring 08.29.13 at 9:34 am

Appiah emphasizes that philosophers are stubborn about this, so the obvious needs to be not just stated but demonstrated. The source of the block would be this. Normatively, honor oughtn’t to play such a key role. So we shouldn’t regard it as crucial in practice. So all the wisdom of Plato and Rousseau and Hegel and Nietzsche and on and on about the crucial role that ideas of honor play goes by the wayside.

I assume, rather, that Appiah regards philosophers as the sort of people who imagine that if you can demonstrate moral truths to someone, or show that you have justified true beliefs which he does not, you may well change his mind. And that in actual fact the means by which peoples’ minds are generally changed about matters of serious moral importance are (perhaps hand-me-down, and simplified) compelling arguments about matters of serious moral importance. I say “peoples'” because he is talking about moral revolutions that overturn the existing social order. So if he is surprising anyone he means to be surprising a philosopher-Lutheran with an account of how the Protestant Reformation arose, not in any sense from the theses nailed to the door, but from other social forces, chief among which was a concern about the honor of the nation or people or group involved. And then the theses get tacked on as a post hoc justification, or perhaps they are an expression of the World Spirit working itself out through its single-minded focus on honor, or whatever. Appiah would be saying to philosophers inclined to attribute this massive social revolution to Luther’s theological beliefs, and who mined all his writing for the most compelling, scathing criticisms of the existing Catholic Church, “you guys are just totally reading the wrong thing, in a way that is typically peculiar to philosophers.” The Protestant Reformation isn’t necessarily a good example here, as I don’t know if it fits his schema, but I don’t see how foot-binding would either, so I suppose I’m interested to find out.

5

bill benzon 08.29.13 at 9:36 am

“This makes sense because you can’t simultaneously draw blacks into the happy family circle of actually existing benevolent Patriarchy and exclude them as Other. “

Nice.

6

Chris Bertram 08.29.13 at 9:38 am

Can’t seem to find the 1842 report of the Mines and Collieries Commissioners online, though reports in Hansard indicate that MPs and Peers were shocked by the contents. Unlikely, though, that the commissioners expressed the wages paid in dollars.

7

John Holbo 08.29.13 at 9:43 am

“Whatever equality we get is going to have to arise out of a process that seems to run contrary to that”

I guess I just meant: people will mostly only be induced to moral improvement by considerations about honor. Yet the impulse to honor is anti-egalitarian. Honor is a jealous virtue. So moral revolutions in favor of egalitarianism are a bit odd, by nature. This isn’t exactly a paradox, but it’s not exactly a comfortable state of affairs.

This is not to deny the existence of unusual people. But moral revolutions are what happens when most people change their minds.

“Burke at his worst.”

You mean the quote? I don’t agree. I don’t see anything in the quote except plausible moral psychology. He’s literally just answering Dr. Johnson’s question – it’s a good question. And the answer is the correct one, right?

It’s not a pro-slavery quote and Burke was not pro-slavery. But in a sense the whole post is about Burke at his worst insofar as all of these proslavery writers, except Fitzhugh, are Burkeans, in practice.

8

John Holbo 08.29.13 at 9:49 am

Chris, I updated the post to indicate – what wasn’t clear – that I was quoting one of these proslavery writers, quoting the report. The piece I was quoting from is Thomas Roderick Dew, “The Abolition of Negro Slavery” 1832. You can probably google it. It makes sense that he would have converted the amounts into dollars, for his audience, although it’s sloppy quoting.

9

John Quiggin 08.29.13 at 10:24 am

It seems to me that Burke is giving an unconscious reductio ad absurdam of his own notion of freedom as the product of specific national traditions in opposition to the revolutionary idea of universal rights. Effectively, on this account, Big Brother was right to say “Freedom is Slavery” (though the reasoning is a bit different)

Johnson isn’t asking a question, he’s making the reductio explicit.

10

Z 08.29.13 at 10:31 am

I agree with John Holbo, and thus disagree with John Quiggin, about Burke’s quote. Indeed, it seems to me to express in a slightly more psychological or sociological way the remark of Tocqueville that the most aristocratic state (Maryland) was also the most democratic in its institutions or to prefigure van den Berghe’s concept of Herrenvolk democracy. So I think the quote is broadly analytically correct, though it is hard (to me, at least) to fathom which moral judgment it carries, if any.

So moral revolutions in favor of egalitarianism are a bit odd, by nature. This isn’t exactly a paradox, but it’s not exactly a comfortable state of affairs

So I did understand correctly, and then I agree that this state of affair is not comfortable, but it is also far from hopeless, given virtuous institutions (compare: the universal propagation of knowledge is selfless, by nature, yet research and academia are in a large part driven by jealous and egoistical impulses towards status and self-gratification; not really a problem, given the largely virtuous institutions organizing them).

11

John Holbo 08.29.13 at 10:33 am

“It seems to me that Burke is giving an unconscious reductio ad absurdam of his own notion of freedom as the product of specific national traditions in opposition to the revolutionary idea of universal rights.”

Have to think about this. Probably I should find out the context and check it. It seems to me that Burke is, in effect, saying this that the Southerners have a particular ‘positive’ conception of liberty, as we would say now. It isn’t wrong to call this ‘liberty’. It’s true that these gentlemen were free from work and free to order other people around and so forth. But Burke is saying that’s not the only sense of ‘liberty’. But, rereading, it’s a bit ironic that he describes them as ‘liberal’, by which he obviously means the archaic sense of the word: lordly. In a position to be a patron, rather than a client. Open-handed.

12

William Burns 08.29.13 at 10:37 am

Do these people show any awareness that King Cotton, the South’s shining city, was actually dependent on the British Industrial Revolution, with all the exploitation of nominally free workers that that involved?

13

Kevin Donoghue 08.29.13 at 10:38 am

The main point Burke is making is quite simply that London won’t find it easy to impose its will on Georgia and the Carolinas:

Three thousand miles of ocean lie between you and them. No contrivance can prevent the effect of this distance in weakening government. Seas roll, and months pass, between the order and the execution; and the want of a speedy explanation of a single point is enough to defeat a whole system.

http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch1s2.html

14

Kevin Donoghue 08.29.13 at 10:40 am

I might add, it’s funny to see John Quiggin so critical of a powerful antiwar speech.

15

John Quiggin 08.29.13 at 10:49 am

@13 is certainly a good reason for not going to war, no matter what terrible things are happening on the other side of the ocean. And the conclusion is still valid in 2013, even if technology has changed.

16

Phil 08.29.13 at 10:59 am

Not a comment, just some marginalia:

a regime based on explicit racism could be, as well, a regime not based on explicit race hate – at least on its public, racist face. The Nazi analogy confuses us here, probably.

I’ve never studied the CSA, but it seems to me that any Nazi analogy would be way off beam. Hitler’s own preferred analogy for the conquest of the East was the expropriation of the native Americans, with elimination being the goal. He envisaged keeping some of the natives around as slave labour, but only for a generation or two – the sturdy Eastern pioneers of the future would hew their own wood and draw their own water, and like it.

Was it obvious in 1840 that the future of industrialism wasn’t 1840 conditions, or worse, forever?

The irony is that the eventual humanisation of industry wasn’t brought about by the owners of industry but by forces which they and their allies opposed and denounced. As late as 1867, Carlyle was still denouncing demands for an eight-hour day as “clutchings at money without just work done” (I’ll give a longer quote below, it’s quite something). If the mine owners had been left alone – by government and by the early trade unions – it would have been 1840 for a lot longer. And when the advocates of slavery looked across the Atlantic for “their people”, they didn’t see union agitators or do-gooding MPs – they saw the owners, albeit owners of resources and workplaces rather than people. So the “mote and beam” argument had a certain rough validity in class terms – here’s how we look after our people! – even if it did necessitate comparing the best of “ours” with the worst of “yours”.

It also, clearly, necessitated sidestepping the whole thing about the non-fungibility of liberty, what with it being fundamental to human dignity and there only being one human race, am I not a man and a brother and so forth. But then… I’m not sure this is right (except perhaps for Fitzhugh):

Freedom is loved as a badge of superior caste privilege. If you love medals, and you are wearing a medal that says ‘free’, you think you love freedom. But really you love medals.

Wouldn’t a simpler but equally powerful explanation be that they both loved freedom and believed that only Whites were capable of it? Difficult to test how important the belief in innate racial inequality was – given that even John Stuart Mill believed in a hierarchy of nations, we won’t find many (White!) mid-Victorians talking about natural equality. But there are gradations, and it’d be interesting to pick these guys’ brains about just how steeply they thought the divinely-ordained racial hierarchy tapered. Did they believe in polygenesis, for instance – the idea, advanced by Louis Agassiz (1807-73), that different human races had actually arisen separately?

One final, tangential note:

You narrow the range of respectable positions and then puff yourself to fill that space, exclusively. Just the right balance of seeming to appreciate life, as it is, and world-weariness. Ever will it be so! … What is established is variable. The manner in which the establishment is upheld is a characteristic type.

I don’t think I’ve heard this kind of conservative argument in years – I think it may have been a casualty of Thatcherism. We hear that you can’t do X because of talking-point Y (“the deficit! austerity!”) or bugbear Z (“people’s genuine concerns about immigration/crime/welfare!”), and quite often we hear awful courtly stuff about how a politician contemplating doing X has misjudged the mood and is heading for embarrassment. What we never seem to hear, any more, is that you can’t do X because that would involve, well, change, and how would you even start to go about it? I wouldn’t go so far as to say I miss this kind of argument – it was irritating as hell – but its absence nowadays is striking.

17

Phil 08.29.13 at 11:08 am

Some marginalia! First coffee of the day, what can I say.

Here’s that Carlyle quote. The first couple of references are worth looking up. The “four eights” were “eight hours’ work, eight hours’ play, eight hours’ sleep and eight shillings a day”, the first and last obviously being key.

Cheap and Nasty is not found on shop-counters alone; but goes down to the centre, or indeed springs from it. Overend-Gurney Bankruptcies, Chatham-and-Dover Railway Financierings, Railway “Promoters” generally … Sheffield Sawgrinders and Assassination Company; “Four-eights,” and workman’s Pisgah Song: all these are diabolic short-cuts towards wages; clutchings at money without just work done ; all these are Cheap and Nasty in another form. The glory of a workman, still more of a master-workman, That he does his work well, ought to be his most precious possession; like “the honour of a soldier,” dearer to him than life. That is the ideal of the matter : lying, alas, how far away from us at present!

18

ajay 08.29.13 at 11:11 am

I would be very interested to read what he has to say about footbinding, because IIRC footbinding wasn’t universal in China; specifically, the Manchu, the ruling elite group under the Qing, didn’t bind their feet. So there’s a class element there that maybe didn’t exist for duelling.

19

John Holbo 08.29.13 at 12:05 pm

“Do these people show any awareness that King Cotton, the South’s shining city, was actually dependent on the British Industrial Revolution, with all the exploitation of nominally free workers that that involved?”

Yes, they see that. Fitzhugh vaguely imagines that the best hope for Europe is the revival of feudalism, in some industrial form. If the workers were re-enslaved into some kind of neo-serfish condition and the capitalists set themselves up as lords, with the reciprocity that implies, things would be better off. What they don’t see is that King Cotton is himself already a raging capitalist by 1840 or so. But I can sort of forgive them for that – sort of. I think that is a fairly recent scholarly conclusion, and there was argument about it for decades. It is very ideologically important to them that they are holding the line against that. It’s a point of pride that they ‘overpay’ their slaves, relative to northern workers. They would have insisted that King Cotton wasn’t a capitalist no matter what. But I think it actually wasn’t obvious how things were going.

Fitzhugh has rather crude labor value theory of economics. Profit on capital is by definition labor exploitation. All exchanges are zero-sum. If I come away exceedingly happy from our exchange, I must have ripped you off. This makes his swipes at Adam Smith rather boring since he really seems to be missing what is supposed to be the point. If land is worth more in the North, where the labor is free, the only possible conclusion is that Northern landowners are ripping off free laborers more than Southerners are ripping off their slaves.

So Fitzhugh sounds sometimes like a naive Marxian (I don’t say Marxist), at the same time that he denounces socialism in raging terms, and trumpets his solid, conservative credentials. But this isn’t too surprising or puzzling really. It’s a bit funny to see a labor theory of value coming from someone who doesn’t value labor. Freedom means freedom from it. Ah well.

Fun fact, Ajay. Wikipedia says of Fitzhugh: “Of the writers in his library, Fitzhugh’s beliefs were most heavily influenced by Thomas Carlyle, whom he read frequently and referenced in many of his works.” But maybe you quoted him because you noticed that.

20

John Holbo 08.29.13 at 12:07 pm

Sorry, not Ajay. Phil.

21

John Holbo 08.29.13 at 12:09 pm

“You narrow the range of respectable positions and then puff yourself to fill that space, exclusively. Just the right balance of seeming to appreciate life, as it is, and world-weariness. Ever will it be so! … What is established is variable. The manner in which the establishment is upheld is a characteristic type.

I don’t think I’ve heard this kind of conservative argument in years – I think it may have been a casualty of Thatcherism.”

I think so, too. It’s not a casualty of Thatcherism in the US. But it’s interesting that I have to mention an old school guy like Will. I don’t think they are making new George F. Will’s. You can’t do it in the age of Twitter.

22

Peter T 08.29.13 at 12:14 pm

“Sheffield Sawgrinders and Assassination Company”. Those would be the dry-grinders who died at average age 35 until their union forced employers to ventilate the workplaces? No doubt the unlucky ones laid down their lives gladly for the honour of the work.

23

bill benzon 08.29.13 at 12:28 pm

“So moral revolutions in favor of egalitarianism are a bit odd, by nature.”

Really? By nature?

Both David Bohm Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior) and Alan Fiske (http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/anthro/faculty/fiske/relmodov.htm) have argued that human nature has a strong egalitarian component, but that’s not all that’s there by nature. There’s also an authoritarian component. And as far as I can tell, there’s nothing that adjudicates between the two. That is, to borrow a metaphor from Plato, it’s not like we’ve got an authoritarian horse and an egalitarian horse pulling the chariot, with a charioteer to lord it over them.

I’ve got a post where I talk about the tension between the two:

http://new-savanna.blogspot.com/2011/03/hierarchy-and-equality-essential.html

24

John Holbo 08.29.13 at 12:31 pm

“Johnson isn’t asking a question, he’s making the reductio explicit.”

Let me just complete my response to John Q. I quite agree that Johnson is making a perfectly fine reductio, but it’s still worthwhile to ask: what makes this hypocrisy possible? What strange twist of concepts? Because it isn’t right that the people who are hypocrites in this way are just bald-faced liars. To them the inconsistency makes a higher sense. How is that even possible?

25

Phil 08.29.13 at 12:37 pm

Fitzhugh vaguely imagines that the best hope for Europe is the revival of feudalism, in some industrial form. If the workers were re-enslaved into some kind of neo-serfish condition and the capitalists set themselves up as lords, with the reciprocity that implies, things would be better off.

Pure Carlyle (and no, I didn’t know Fitzhugh was a fan). Also barmy, but there you go.

26

John Holbo 08.29.13 at 12:39 pm

Bill B, I don’t deny that egalitarianism is natural, in some sense. I would be willing to assert the converse of what I said just as readily. Moral revolutions against egalitarianism are a bit odd. Every tyrant knows better, in his heart. At 3 AM. For just a second.

Even Fitzhugh has his egalitarian moments. He’s a communitarian, in his feudal way, so it comes naturally: “There certainly is in the human heart, under all circumstances, a love for all mankind, and a yearning desire to equalize human conditions. We are all philanthropists by force of nature, for we are social beings, tied to each other by invisible chords of sympathy. Nature, which makes us members or limbs of the being society, and affects us pleasantly or painfully, as any of those members or limbs, however distant from us, are affected, would teach us how to promote the well being of each and all, if we would but attend to her lessons. The slaveholder feels quite as sensibly the vibrations of the nervous system of humanitarian sympathy which makes society one being, as the abolitionist, the socialist, or the christian. They are all in pursuit of one object—the good of the whole—feeling that the good of each is indissolubly connected with the good of all.”

But then they lost the Civil War and he stopped even talking the philanthropic talk!

27

John Holbo 08.29.13 at 12:41 pm

“Fitzhugh vaguely imagines that the best hope for Europe is the revival of feudalism”

To his (small) credit, he doesn’t go so far as to plan this out. But he does go so far to suggest that soon the South, with slavery, will seem a moral beacon to a suffering industrial world.

28

John Holbo 08.29.13 at 12:42 pm

I should also mention, for the curious: his Wikipedia page contains lots of links to online sources for reading Fitzhugh, if you care to follow up. Obviously all that is public domain.

29

pedant 08.29.13 at 12:48 pm

Just to expand a thought that is at least implicit in your analysis of George Willl’s brand of conservative rhetoric:

After the conservative has denounced utopianism, he then proceeds to argue that anyone who wants any change, no matter how small, is really a covert utopian. There are no incrementalists or ameliorists to his left: his opponents’ moderation is a sham, to be exposed as utopianism!

Over on LGM Bounderby from Hard Times made an appearance recently. He’s a good example of the specimen. If the “hands” ask for an extra tuppence a month in wages, then they are *really* asking for turtle soup from a golden spoon.

Conservatives don’t believe in radical change; but they refuse to believe that their opponents believe in gradual change; so all change is ruled out.

In the case of MLK and the National Review readers of that age, this went as follows: he says he dreams of a future in which little white kids hold hands with little black kids, but what he is *really* calling for is universal miscegenation and the genocide of the white race. What a genocidal monster that MLK is! And under that cunning veneer of patient incrementalism! Why, shooting him now is only reasonable self-defense!

30

William Timberman 08.29.13 at 1:00 pm

The defenders of the status quo are tenacious always, and they do tend to say very similar things. Burke was sensitive about his advantages — just as Corey Robin has said — and therefore an eternal enemy of leveling, His fustian was more subtle and sinuous than George Will’s is today, but their subtlety, or lack of it, isn’t the essential fact about either of them.

Interesting to compare the slaveholder’s take on the England of the 1840s with that of Marx — the difference, I think, between sophistry and genuine moral outrage. The essential benevolence of slavery deserved to be debunked and tossed into history’s dustbin.

Today, in the same sonorous tones, we’re told to thank capitalism for solving capitalism’s ills — all the boats lifted, and Carnegie libraries built — and never mind those who perished in the process. Socialism was an abomination without real justification, kiddies, just like the French revolution. Events like the Homestead steel strike, or the Haymarket affair must therefore be put down to the tragic misunderstandings of those without the benefit of a genteel education. Like us.

31

John Holbo 08.29.13 at 1:04 pm

“his opponents’ moderation is a sham, to be exposed as utopianism!”

This is certainly the mode. But abolitionism really was immoderate and utopian, in the that it envisioned a radical goal, and it was quite unclear what political path could possibly reach that goal. I mean, in a sense, it’s easy: Abe Lincoln did it with the swipe of a pen. But, then again, not. George F. Will complaining about Obamacare as radicalism is blowing smoke. Proslavery writers saying abolitionists are radicals are speaking truth.

32

reason 08.29.13 at 1:06 pm

I need to improve my knowledge of economic history. How did we really get from a world where it wasn’t obvious that being a slave in Americas was worse than being working class in the UK, to where we are now. I don’t believe the technology drove the demand for labour story – that world of the 1840s isn’t obviously a world changing for the better (just think of the health and education futures of the child workers), and creating value is not the same as capturing it.

I wonder did mass warfare play a part (reducing the supply of labour), or was it legislation and class warfare (unionism). Once the working class starts to get better off, then the process can feed on itself (as money and opportunity circulates in industrial towns). But how did it start? (P.S. That is what worries me about today . A society – or sub-society – in which everybody is getting poorer – will tend to continue to get poorer, a society in which everybody is getting richer will tend to get richer – multipliers are not just universal, they are local as well. The price mechanism may consist of negative feedback, but there are also positive feedbacks.)

33

Aulus Gellius 08.29.13 at 1:13 pm

I can’t remember where, but Hume, somewhere or other, has sort of the backwards version of Burke’s argument. That is, free citizens are nastier to their slaves than subjects of an absolute ruler, because they need to constantly reassert their distinctively free status. I can’t remember if he talks about American slavery at all, though; I know he contrasts slavery in Rome before and after Augustus, claiming that it was crueller before.

34

bill benzon 08.29.13 at 1:29 pm

@John Holbo, #26. Fair enough.

Let me clarify just a bit. I DO think we’ve got those innate dispositions toward both egalitarian and authoritarian behavior. But I don’t think our moral behavior can be reduced to those dispositions any more than playing chess can be reduced to a knowledge of rules of the game. To play the game you have to know the rules, but that’s only the starting point. There’s much to be learned beyond that. And I figure we build various mental structures out of and over those innate “modules” of moral disposition. Just what gets built and how effective it is, that’s going to vary from group to group.

35

FredR 08.29.13 at 1:31 pm

‘Here’s what surprised me: the only writer in this group I had read before was George Fitzhugh, who turns out to be unrepresentative.’

As I guess this discussion demonstrates, Fitzhugh, despite being unrepresentative, was just the most interesting pro-South intellectual around. I wonder if this introduces distortions. For instance, Genovese’s book ‘The World the Slaveholders Made” spends a great deal of time on Fitzhugh, despite the fact that his writings might not actually tell you that much about how slaveholders actually thought.

36

bianca steele 08.29.13 at 1:31 pm

After the conservative has denounced utopianism, he then proceeds to argue that anyone who wants any change, no matter how small, is really a covert utopian.

But on the other hand, he wants to declare this the best of all possible worlds. It’s not enough to say “it is what it is,” it has to be good and for good reasons, and the reasons have to exist for good reasons too. He can’t just say, “damn, this is a bad knife, it won’t keep its edge,” it has to actually be a good knife. (That part seemed weird to me, like he felt it would be cruel to say, “this is a bad tailor,” so by analogy, it’s wrong to say “this is a bad knife.”) So it’s wrong to be utopian but it’s also wrong to be dystopian, to deny you’re living in utopia.

Also, there are plenty of respectable theologies that allow for, “this here-and-now is most definitely not the best of all possible worlds,” and I find it really difficult to grasp the contrary.

37

Z 08.29.13 at 1:33 pm

How did we really get from a world where it wasn’t obvious that being a slave in Americas was worse than being working class in the UK, to where we are now?

Unions, mass strikes, the socialist movement, the very real threat of a workers revolution utterly destroying the establishment and-ironically-mass warfare, but not in the sense you imagine: children toiling 18 hours a day at age 6 make poor soldiers at age 20, as the French discovered in 1870. Hence, the first laws passed in France towards ensuring mandatory education, a relatively safe childhood and decent working conditions for children were passed with the explicit intent of ensuring that future conscripts would be in good health, strong and educated enough so that they can follow orders.

38

Tadhgin 08.29.13 at 1:39 pm

@33 … I don’t know about Hume, but Adam Smith considers this in some detail in the Wealth of Nations when comparing British Slavery and French slavery in the Carribeann, clearly considering the British to treat their slaves worse.

39

G 08.29.13 at 1:53 pm

Has anybody referenced David Brion Davis? The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823 talks a lot about how the pro-slavery side referenced industrial horrors in their apologies. Anything by him is fantastic, IMHO (there are two other volumes just on philosophical attitudes towards slavery).

40

Phil 08.29.13 at 2:05 pm

Z – AIUI something similar happened in the UK after the Boer War, a few decades later. Not that this was a mass war in the sense of 1914-18.

Sometimes the 19th century seems like a very different world. I’ve just discovered (I should really have known all along) that the 1847 Factory Act imposed a maximum ten-hour day for women and children. There were hard times at the mill all right.

41

ezra abrams 08.29.13 at 2:16 pm

I have a question about people’s views of Federalism
Although today, to liberals, it seems incredible that one could invoke federalism as a reason to vote against, say, the 64 civil rights bill, in fact Federalism has a long history in our country, and 1964 was a long time ago, and people who were in their 40s and 50 in 1960 formed their opinions in the pre WWII era..a really long time ago

iirc, in adam’s history of the admin of Jefferson and Madison (Lib America ed) in the Jefferson admin – or maybe earlier – there was a question if Congress should appropriate money for an Army in the absence of a delcared war; many felt, at that time, around 1800, that to spend money for an army, without a declared war, was to Increase the Power of the Federal Gov’t, thus destroying freedom, liberty,etc etc…

I’m not saying that Federalism is a valid excuse against civil rights; what I am asking, is it possible for people – say B Goldwater – to be truly pro civil rights and pro states rights at the same time, even tho today, to us, this position looks morally bankrupt.

42

pedant 08.29.13 at 2:17 pm

That Chesterton quote, on the other hand, is just absurd. Not even absurd in his normal, conservative, Chestertonian way: it is simply incoherent, or stipulative at best.

He’s pretending that the range of attributes from perfectly good to perfectly bad is marked “perfectly good…not quite as good…a little less good…still less good…”, and so on, down to the very end, i.e. the perfectly bad, at which, for the first and only time, the word “bad” legitimately applies. Prior to that, nothing was “a bit bad”, “more bad”, or anything of the sort–it was just gradations of “good”.

Maybe someone could construct a language in which analogues of “good” and “bad” worked this way. But it is manifestly not how English has ever worked. Things can be more or less bad. When one knife is less good than another at cutting things, it is also worse at cutting things. It is not simply a less good knife; in so far as it does badly what good knives do well, it is a bad knife. And this has been part of the semantics of “bad” since, oh, the 14th century or so.

Then he compounds his absurdity by pretending that “bad” is only applicable in moral cases, not in cases of functional assessment (his knife-in-the-back case). But this is simply to pretend that an ambiguous word is not ambiguous. “Bad” has both moral and functional applications, as “good” does. We can stipulatively restrict “bad” to its moral sense, but then honesty would require us to restrict “good” in the same way, and say that knives are only “good” when they are slaying villains or performing surgery on innocents or the like.

So he has misrepresented the scalar metric space of good and bad. And then he has played sophistry with common ambiguities.

People keep telling me that Chesterton is important. But if he submitted this in an undergraduate paper, he would get marks that are less good. Much less good.

43

ezra abrams 08.29.13 at 2:18 pm

Reason @ 32
I think the economist Fogel, died recently, noted that if you asked , did the industrial revolution improve the lives of average people in Britian, and you used measures like life expectancy or health, the answer was NO until the *1890s*

44

ezra abrams 08.29.13 at 2:23 pm

What is the difference between the Southern Gentlemen who defended slavery, and liberals who buy cheap supermarket produce produced by near slave labor ?

45

Barry 08.29.13 at 2:23 pm

ezra abrams: “I’m not saying that Federalism is a valid excuse against civil rights; what I am asking, is it possible for people – say B Goldwater – to be truly pro civil rights and pro states rights at the same time, even tho today, to us, this position looks morally bankrupt.”

That’s testable, by somebody who knows history – how often did Goldwater vote *against things he liked and wanted*, due to ‘states’ rights’?

The proof of somebody’s alleged morality and principles is sticking with them when they are painful.

46

Random Lurker 08.29.13 at 2:29 pm

@pedant 42

Chesterton uses the word “bad” in the sense of “positively damaging”.
For example if I give you as a present a blunt knife, you are not worse off (though you are worse off with respect of the hypotetical world were I gave you a better knife); however if I give you “a knife in the back” you are certainly worse off.
It isn’t true that Chesterton is misrepresenting the scalar metric space of good and bad: if I stab you in the back with a blunt knife it is less bad (from your vantage point) than if I stab you in the back with a “good” one.

47

reason 08.29.13 at 2:30 pm

Ezra @43
Thanks, but it wasn’t quite the question I asked. I really want to know when it started getting better and why (and the 1890s was from memory marked by a severe depression).

48

pedant 08.29.13 at 2:35 pm

Random Lurker @ 46–

when you say that “Chesterton uses the word “bad” in the sense of “positively damaging”,” you are offering a rival account of the artificial stipulation that he is guilty of.

Perhaps your rival account is more accurate, in being closer to the content of his artificial stipulation. But you are still agreeing that he is engaged in artificial stipulation.

“…a knife which cuts clumsily and with difficulty is called a bad knife, which it certainly is not.”

This has been a false statement as long as the word “bad” has been lexicalized in English.

49

Belle Waring 08.29.13 at 2:36 pm

ezra abrams-with regard to Goldwater: NO. People long ago used Federalism as reason to defend slavery against abolition or even curtailment of the spread of slavery to the West; people in the recent past, like Ron Paul, used Federalism as a thin cloth to cover anti-civil-rights views rooted in vile, racist, anti-black prejudice, and there in the sweet spot Barry Goldwater used Federalism as a thin cloth to cover anti-civil-rights views rooted in–oh, wait, you already heard this part. No, they weren’t sincere, no, not once, not ever. No, there are no libertarians who denounce Lincoln as a tyrant, and perhaps the worst president ever, because he suspended the writ of habeas corpus and pitched the nation into a catastrophic war over principles the States should have been freer to work out amongst themselves, who are not also racially prejudiced against black people! No, noooooo, no sir. Not one. So where I’m going with this is, about the Goldwater thing, hells no.

50

reason 08.29.13 at 2:43 pm

With a quick google – all I could find was this:

http://www.globelicsacademy.org/2011_pdf/Haapala%20-%20Modernisation%20of%20Finland.pdf

It seems fairly superficial, but ends with the rather ironic conclusion:

“In many ways the Finnish experience could be followed. It requires:
– Severe social problems must be solved.
– Social power based on legislation and democracy is needed for that.
– Individual rights and equality must be supported.
– There must be investments in science and broad education.
– Individuals must feel the society to be fair.
– Similar patterns of thinking which encouraged people to change their lives may be repeated.”

Sounds like exactly what is NOT happening in the US at the moment.

51

reason 08.29.13 at 2:48 pm

P.S. The turning point seems to be the 1860s.

52

pedant 08.29.13 at 2:49 pm

Belle @49–

agreed. The utter dishonesty of the ante-bellum “Federalists” was revealed by their indifference to states’ rights when those states did not want to return fugitive slaves. As soon as any northern states obstructed the “Federalists'” substantive aims (i.e. white supremacy), the “Federalists” didn’t give a damn about states rights anymore, and revealed thereby that they never had.

The utter dishonesty of today’s crop can be seen, e.g., in their attitude towards state-level restrictions on gun proliferation. As soon as any state deviates from the NRA’s insane and anachronistic reading of the 2A, or even deviates from the maximalist interpretation thereof, today’s “Federalists” are very happy to trample all over those states rights.

No one gives a damn about states rights. It is always and only a rhetorical cover for other motives. White supremacism the most common among them.

53

William Timberman 08.29.13 at 3:01 pm

belle @ 49, pedant @ 51

Amen. Not once, not ever, and not even now. No way. If growing up in Dixie taught me nothing else, it taught me about hypocrisy. Rand Paul may fool Michiganders — time will tell — but he’ll never fool anyone who’s experienced the real thing.

54

Barry 08.29.13 at 3:07 pm

ezra abrams 08.29.13 at 2:23 pm

” What is the difference between the Southern Gentlemen who defended slavery, and liberals who buy cheap supermarket produce produced by near slave labor ?”

Slavery would be a good start.

This leads up into an important point – first, the comparison by slaveowners of slavery to industrial work were extremely dishonest. The whole point of slavery is that people are *bound* by force to labor; if they were not, they’d leave, or successfully demand to work for higher wages and better conditions. That’s what the whips, shackles, chains, slave laws and slave patrols were for. Note – those slave patrols were *not* for preventing poor whites coming down south from teh North to get better jobs.

Frederick Douglass once commented that nobody had applied for his old ‘job’ as a slave :)

Second, the modern defenders of slavery are dishonest also because none of them support the changes in the legal, social and economic systems over the past century and a half which has made labor better off. If they had their way, ‘free labor’ would be as miserable (and unfree) as profitable.

55

matt 08.29.13 at 4:01 pm

“Yet the impulse to honor is anti-egalitarian. Honor is a jealous virtue.”

Essentially, or only in its rude, undeveloped form? You could see all of Kant’s ethics as an attempt to rationalize, develop, and enlighten our love of honor– showing what we were *really* after at Troy or in all those duels was the reciprocal dignity available to members of a universal community of rational agents. And once you get on that wavelength, you see that duels and enslaving are actually dishonorable.

56

Jeffrey Davis 08.29.13 at 4:03 pm

It looks to me that Chesterton was just echoing the Catholic idea that Evil was not the opposite of Good.

57

rea 08.29.13 at 4:07 pm

Do these people show any awareness that King Cotton, the South’s shining city, was actually dependent on the British Industrial Revolution, with all the exploitation of nominally free workers that that involved?

They calculated the realtionship a bit differently. They thought the major European powers–the UK in particular–were dependant on them for cotton, and that they would win a war with the North because the economic realities would force the European powers to intervene on their side.

58

PatrickinIowa 08.29.13 at 4:10 pm

I’m old, and I was a child of a National Review reader of that age. I paid attention and these are my impressions. I don’t know if someone has done something more quantified.

In response to pedant at #29: “In the case of MLK and the National Review readers of that age, this went as follows: he says he dreams of a future in which little white kids hold hands with little black kids, but what he is *really* calling for is universal miscegenation and the genocide of the white race.”

To the National Review reader or Goldwaterite in 1964, little white kids holding hands with little black kids was already excessively utopian. They believed and said that segregation came out of a natural human desire for kind to sort with kind. They wrote in a “oh, it’s so sad, but that’ how people are, and they aren’t perfectible” tone, but after a couple of belts of bourbon, and no black folks in the room, their visceral dislike of black people surfaced soon enough.

Which also also responds to Ezra at 41. The ratio of “federalist” to “racist” arguments increased as overt racism became more dishonorable. But the racism was always primary, and obviously so, unless you had been trained not to see it.

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PatrickinIowa 08.29.13 at 4:14 pm

Oh, and by the way, lots of liberals of the time felt the identical visceral dislike–is the best word “bigotry”? We shouldn’t let them off the hook. There were many good reasons Martin Luther King Jr. was scrupulously non-partisan in his speaking and writing.

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Harold 08.29.13 at 4:39 pm

The career of the Percy family is an interesting sideline on all of this — as devastatingly recounted in Barry’s book, Rising Tide (not to mention William Percy’s own Lanterns of the Levee). Mark Twain also remarked about how in so many things, the mores of the eighteenth century persisted in the South long after they were abandoned everywhere else. Still, you would think that the code of personal honor would have precluded the shabby dishonesty inherent in the doctrine of white supremacy to say nothing of the base terroristic methods used against black and white to enforce it. It was revulsion against this that appears to have motivated Alabama-born Virginia Foster Durr, the white employer, civil rights activist, and sponsor of Rosa Parks. According to wikipedia, Durr ran for the U.S. Senate from Virginia on the Progressive ticket in 1948, at which time she said, “I believe in equal rights for all citizens and I believe the tax money that is now going for war and armaments and the militarization of our country could be better used to give everyone in the United States a secure standard of living.”

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Barry 08.29.13 at 4:54 pm

Harold: “Still, you would think that the code of personal honor would have precluded the shabby dishonesty inherent in the doctrine of white supremacy to say nothing of the base terroristic methods used against black and white to enforce it. “

I think that you have a romantic view of the nature of a ‘personal honor’ society.

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mpowell 08.29.13 at 5:01 pm

A very interesting post and reflection on what contemporary attitudes towards slavery and industrial civilization might have looked like in 1840. Although had slavery persisted until 1880, say, real wage growth in the UK would have much more substantially undermined the view described here.

Regarding your last point, there are sort of two types of egalitarians. There are those who are, at least, philosphically committed to equality in as many respects as possible and also those who have a more circumscribed view of what an ideal amount of equality would entail. For the latter, there is less conflict between their ideals and the likely social means of achieving them. I do believe that the latter are a larger portion of the left-leaning voting public, but that is just my opinion.

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Barry 08.29.13 at 5:21 pm

mpowell: “A very interesting post and reflection on what contemporary attitudes towards slavery and industrial civilization might have looked like in 1840. Although had slavery persisted until 1880, say, real wage growth in the UK would have much more substantially undermined the view described here.”

Why? There’d still be those who profited from it. Do you think that these people were actually conducting a ‘what’s best for the peon’ analysis?

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Harold 08.29.13 at 5:52 pm

@61 — The career of the Percys showed it to have been a very thin veneer — is what I think I said.

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Rob in CT 08.29.13 at 6:00 pm

I do think the “oh, how about how you (we) treat the Indians?” comeback has some merit. Like shouting “wage slave!” it was an attempt at misdirection, but I think it hits closer to the mark.

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Ellis Goldberg 08.29.13 at 6:02 pm

Leaving aside Time on the Cross and the entire debate about cliometrics and the rest, Fogel spent quite a bit of time in Without Consent or Contract making the point that up through the 1840s the commodities an American slave could command and those to an English factory worker were about the same. This was his argument for why the abolition of slavery was a moral necessity rather than the outcome of an objective economic process. I’m a little surprised this aspect of his work isn’t better known.

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Barry 08.29.13 at 7:16 pm

“Fogel spent quite a bit of time in Without Consent or Contract making the point that up through the 1840s the commodities an American slave could command and those to an English factory worker were about the same. “

The proper comparison is between US slave and US freemen, because the US had a massive abundance of natural resources, so that free US salaries were much higher than in most of Europe. Which is why US slaves had to be, you know – slaves, bound labor.

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Jacob H. 08.29.13 at 8:20 pm

As John remarked a few weeks ago, it is a Triumph of History that (even!) the National Review has to honor Martin Luther King and admit, however grudgingly, that it was in the wrong Way Back When.

It’s interesting to me that we haven’t succeeded in creating any kind of universally-held mythology about the environmental movement in the same way as we have about the civil rights movement. The conservatives could still pretend that a carbon tax would strangle us with Stalin’s ghost or that mountaintop-removal mining is groovy, but at least we would all concur that smog episodes that kill thousands of people in a day or rivers that catch on fire are unAmerican, and the *real anti-environmentalists* are the ones trying to stop Keystone. If you get what I mean.

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John Quiggin 08.29.13 at 9:20 pm

On “federalism”, long experience has shown that no-one cares enough about this issue to accept, on nationalist or federalist process grounds, a policy outcome they really dislike.

Southerners loved Dred Scott, the Fugitive Slave Act and other national interventions that overrode the policy preferences of Northern states. Fast forward to Bush vs Gore, and it’s the same story.

Equally true in Australia.

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Meredith 08.29.13 at 9:59 pm

From the Publishers Weekly review at Amazon: “Codes of honor surrounding dueling, Chinese foot binding, the Atlantic slave trade, and the ongoing practice of honor killing in contemporary Pakistan are all examined to reveal the various dimensions of honor as it relates to notions of respect, shame, and dignity. Appiah argues for a distinction between honor and morality that underpins how and why abhorrent practices so often continue despite their criminalization.”

The “how it relates to notions of respect, shame, and dignity” caught my eye, since these are words I automatically associate with honor and which lend to honor its complexity and potential. (Okay, I spend a lot of time with the Iliad.) I look forward to reading Appiah’s book. One thing about honor: it involves a notion of social relations as constructive of self — it’s anything but libertarian, even as it insists on a notion of a unique and precious “self” that each of us experiences. I am put in mind of that classic phase psychologists recognize in development (a pre-adolescent age — 9? 10?), the first time a child begins to realize big-time, “Oh, there are other people besides me, each with his or her own sense of themselves as a person like the sense I have (am developing) of myself as a person.” It’s amazing the lengths groups can go to ensure that its members limit the range of application of that realization.

To add to the reading list developing here, I recommend Charles Dew’s Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. If you want excellent evidence not just of slavery as the cause of the war but of the racism that enabled those “honorable men” to justify slavery to themselves, Dew’s book is a must.

Loved this post. Will do a lot more thinking about it and comments, including the George Will-connected analysis. I have a feeling there are ongoing versions of George Will (besides George Will), but we’re not recognizing them because they don’t sit in exactly the same chairs.

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steven johnson 08.29.13 at 10:13 pm

Re “Federalism,” two quibbles.

First, the Federalist Party did not advocate States’ Rights “Federalism,” which was invented by the Master of the Mountain in opposition to the Federalists.

Second, Jefferson’s ideas of Federalism nevertheless allowed the federal government authority to control all economic intercourse with foreign powers. The astonishing incompetence required to leave a nation armed with little other than the Embargo Act seems to have been interpreted as naivete, sort of charming in its dainty way. The depredations of the Northern Aggression on the other hand were plainly lusty pursuit of economic rapine.

The refusal to accept anti-slavery petitions and the censorship of federal mails in the South were also pointed expressions of the disdain for the Constitution when it suited the slavers. Originalism and strict construction are just as important tools in the racists’ arsenal, right down to the Supremes of today, are they not?

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Main Street Muse 08.30.13 at 12:10 am

1) The history of the world is littered with the rubble from those imbued with “the haughtiness of domination combine[d] with the spirit of freedom…” What was rendered invisible were the victims of such beliefs – those forced to support those haughty dominators.

As far as the National Review of 50 yrs ago – “They worried about the effects of the civil-rights movement on federalism and limited government.” How pathetic. Government and law were used to prop up lynching, voter suppression, “separate but equal” segregation. Ask Emmitt Till about the “limited government” we needed to uphold back in the 1950s.

How many conservatives were on the mall celebrating the 50th anniversary of MLK’s speech? According to WaPo, none. http://wapo.st/1a3flHZ

The more things change, etc. and so on….

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gordon 08.30.13 at 12:52 am

At some point comes a shuddering realisation that you’re not talking about racism any more, you’re talking about class warfare. As a non-American observer, it seems to me that M.L.King had that realisation at some point (one could argue about exactly when), and was beginning to forge links between the poor of the white and black races when he was assassinated. Maybe that was why he had to go.

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j.eel 08.30.13 at 1:06 am

Prior to burning through the comments, I just want to throw a link to George Boyer’s “The Historical Background of the Communist Manifesto”:
http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/articles/520/

There’s a reason you get revolutionary communism out of the 1840s and out of Manchester. Factory life was never pleasant, but in that decade you saw mass unemployment and wage declines on a scale you didn’t in other decades of the industrial revolution, and Manchester was viewed as uniquely hellish. But yeah it had never occurred to me that the conditions processing cotton would have served as grist for the rhetorical mill of the people who owned the people that picked it.

Also, I’m surprised by the lack of feudal utopia stuff; I’ve never studdied the Civil War formally but I’ve read through a few course packs from friends and remember arguments in favour of feudalism being pretty heavily represented. Were those less common/influential than they were taught here in Canada?

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Mao Cheng Ji 08.30.13 at 1:22 am

I agree with JQ 69 that ‘federalism’ from the politician’s mouth is most likely nothing but an attempt to de-legitimize his/her opponent’s policy.

Nevertheless, ‘federalism’ (as opposed to unitarism) is also a concept. You can have a preference for its degree/strength, regardless of how politicians use the word.

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LFC 08.30.13 at 1:57 am

I read most of the OP, stopped at the Chesterton quote, partly b.c I can take only so much of JH’s style at one time.

Perhaps someone has already pointed this out upthread, but in 1840 quite a lot (I would guess) of Northerners were still small farmers and artisans, not factory workers. So the rhetorical defense of slavery sometimes included attacks on farmers and ‘mechanics’ (“small-fisted farmers,” “greasy mechanics,” as quoted by McPherson in a passage from his Battle Cry of Freedom that I reproduced in a post I wrote in May 2011, “The Dignity of Labor”). And these attacks and others were answered by the North’s extolling “free labor.” Btw, if I were writing that post today I would prob. note that Fitzhugh was sort of an odd man out among slavery’s defenders, as J. Holbo (echoing D. Faust) says in the OP.

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ralph 08.30.13 at 4:05 am

How one could have this precise discussion without bringing in American Slavery American Freedom by Edmund Morgan is beyond me.

I feel like no one looked. It’s just a brilliant book about precisely the issue of the cultural relationship of this at-first-crazy contradiction in beliefs and experiences in the slave ideology center of Virginia. Now, it does not discuss the issue of precisely WHY the moral revolution occurred; but given the discussion, I would be amiss to not reference it.

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bad Jim 08.30.13 at 4:06 am

In 1869, the Agricultural, Mining, and Mechanical Arts College became the University of California, in Berkeley. So at least by then, at least in California, these pursuits were not only respectable but considered worthy of state sponsorship.

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ralph 08.30.13 at 4:08 am

This is perhaps a quickly-reachable review of Morgan.

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bad Jim 08.30.13 at 6:02 am

The distinction between racism and race hatred is an innovation not universally acknowledged, as demonstrated by the common locution “I’m not a racist, but…”. As far as I can tell, people in general are not at all shy about generalizing about other ethnic groups, and reserve the epithet “racist” for extreme cases.

Older notions of honor, as for example those occasioning duels, are no longer respectable in developed countries; racism, while pervasive, is universally disavowed, and sexism, though nearly instinctive, is slowly shedding legitimacy.

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maidhc 08.30.13 at 8:24 am

I sometimes wonder whether the whole Southern system of honor and duelling goes together with lynching as part of a disdain for a formal legal system to resolve disputes. A formal legal system set up on principles based on the US Constitution is really a framework of Enlightenment-based rational thinking. But rational thinking applied to the question of slavery would have a difficult time justifying it. So instead Southerners rejected the concept in favor of honor.

Here I mean lynching as applied to suspected criminals who could possibly be white, rather than the lynchings of blacks in the post-Reconstruction era, which were really acts of terrorism.

Mark Twain said the problem with the South was that everyone read too much Walter Scott, and he satirizes this in Huckleberry Finn. It’s a joke, but underneath there’s a real point.

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Jeffrey Davis 08.30.13 at 1:52 pm

Thank you to ralph for the link to Edmund Morgan’s book.

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mpowell 08.30.13 at 3:18 pm

Barry @ 63: I’m saying that if you look at wage growth in the UK, it really started taking off around mid century. You could still make the argument that industrial capitalism was not that much better for workers in 1880, but you would have much less support from the data. Less child labor than in 1840, substantially better real wages and a very large positive derivative in the quality of a laborer’s life.

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Harold 08.30.13 at 4:04 pm

The “Southern” system of dueling was prevalent all over Europe until it began to be outlawed in the nineteenth century, beginning in England. If you read Smollet’s Humphrey Clinker (1771), there is an incident in which Squire Bramble and his party spend the night with the lord of a manor in Scotland and in the morning Bramble wants to challenge his host to a duel because the host had retired too early from the supper table, thereby violating the laws of hospitality — which demand a period of entertaining conversation and conviviality after dinner. (I am reminded of my Texan uncle, who in the 1950s went into the back yard and started shooting off his rifle, when his sister-in-law and her new yankee husband, who were visiting from New York, announced there were refusing his hospitality and preferred to stay in a nearby hotel, rather than in his home.)

Outrageous and summary physical punishment was also routinely visited on the lower classes by the upper all over eighteenth-century Europe. Not only slaves but also servants and apprentices (who were often teenagers or even children) had no rights were subject to corporal punishment by their supervisors. Flogging of sailors was only abolished in 1855 after the publication of Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast (1840) and Herman Melville’s White Jacket (1850).

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js. 08.30.13 at 8:56 pm

Haven’t read all the comments, but that Chesterton quote is absurd!. GK needs to brush up on his Aristotle some. Who in their right mind uses “bad”, as an attributive, in that manner anyway? (Sorry, bit OT there, and perhaps already answered in comments.)

Anyway, good stuff. I’m not sure I’m totally convinced about the “honor”, stuff—not even sure how you’re using the term—but should probably look through comments first.

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js. 08.30.13 at 9:27 pm

Ah. See now that pedant had this well covered @42.

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Hector_St_Clare 08.30.13 at 9:36 pm

Of course, egalitarianism and authoritarianism aren’t incompatible. Look at the communist countries, for example.

In reality, barring the hippy-dippy anarchist utopia, if you want egalitarianism, you need men with guns ready to ensure that no one takes more than their fair share. Otherwise, the egalitarianism turns out to be fleeting.

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John Holbo 08.31.13 at 12:31 am

“Of course, egalitarianism and authoritarianism aren’t incompatible.”

Of course egalitarianism and authoritarianism ARE incompatible, presumptively. (It sort of depends, but pretty much those two are going to pull apart.) But no one was actually talking about that, so why are you bringing it up? Are you equating honor-based social orders with authoritarianism?

“Haven’t read all the comments, but that Chesterton quote is absurd!. GK needs to brush up on his Aristotle some. Who in their right mind uses “bad”, as an attributive, in that manner anyway? (Sorry, bit OT there, and perhaps already answered in comments.)”

It’s interesting that people are so bothered by the Chesterton. Mostly the critiques seem to be of the form ‘this isn’t how the word ‘bad’ is used in English’. But since Chesterton himself is obviously saying ‘the way the word ‘bad’ is used should be changed, since it causes confusion,’ I don’t see that this works.

Put the point this way: acclimatized to Singapore, my daughters both use ‘cold’, outside, in ways that strike me as rather hilarious. They aren’t misusing language. But I keep wanting to say, ‘little dude, it isn’t cold out.’ The problem comes in with the next step. It’s not as though there is some clear, absolute standard. Is the freezing point ‘cold’? Once you go absolute about it, these comparatives – very human terms – aren’t of any technical use. Chesterton is suggesting a new use for ‘bad knife’ according to which no actual knives are ‘bad’ – or on which the only bad knife is a non-knive? A balloon is a bad knife, but every knife is a good knife? (I can see the absurdity here. Maybe this is what you all see, too. If so, fine.) What Chesterton is telling these idealists – those who say what they are experiencing is ‘bad’ – is that they need to get out into a greater diversity of conditions. Go to the Midwest in winter, then tell me what’s ‘cold’! Go back to caveman days, then tell me what’s ‘uncivilized’. This is a very neat trick. It seems stern and demanding! Get out there are really find out what life is really like in the real world! (Don’t just stay instead and turn the thermostat way up, kid) But really it’s the softest bigotry of low expectations. You cut someone in line at Starbucks. ‘Asshole!’ ‘No, I’m a great guy, because I’m not rolling corpses down the side of an Aztec ziggurat! Compared to that, cutting the line at Starbucks is nothing!’ (That would actually be a funny comedy bit.)

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John Holbo 08.31.13 at 12:35 am

The Morgan book does look like exactly what I’m looking for, thanks for that.

Someone else recommended David Brion Davis, upthread. I haven’t read the book mentioned, but “Inhuman Bondage” is sitting here on my desk. I’ve read bits of it and it seems very good.

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William Burns 08.31.13 at 12:43 am

Chesterton’s aphorisms have a tendency to sound good at first hearing, then fall apart when you actually start applying them to the real world.

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Harold 08.31.13 at 1:16 am

People always quote Mark Twain on Sir Walter Scott, but Scott was even more read in the North, Emerson even quoted him at in his abolitionist speeches, saying that Scott would have delighted to trace John Brown’s career. And that true chivalry was not a matter of birth but consisted in a willingness to assist the weak and unfortunate. All gentlemen, he contended would admire John Brown: “I do not mean by “gentlemen,” people of scented hair and perfumed handkerchiefs, but men of gentle blood and generosity, ‘fulfilled with all nobleness,’ who, like the Cid, give the outcast leper a share of their bed ; like the dying Sidney, pass the cup of cold water to the dying soldier who needs it more. For what is the oath of gentle blood and knighthood ? What but to protect the weak and lowly against the strong oppressor?” (‘Fulfilled with nobleness’ was how Scott described Saladin (I believe), in The Talisman, “.. heathen as he is, I have never known knight more fulfilled of nobleness, or to whose good faith we may so peremptorily intrust ourselves.” — Sir Walter Scott, The Talisman (1825). Scott apparently lifted the phrase from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

***

The problem in the South was not that they read too much Walter Scott, but that they didn’t read much of anything at all. It was all a veneer, as I said. And they drank a lot.

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chris 08.31.13 at 1:21 am

Of course, egalitarianism and authoritarianism aren’t incompatible. Look at the communist countries, for example.

If you mean the dictatorships that pretended to be communist, one of the big tells that they weren’t really egalitarian was the fact that the people in power commanded many more resources than anyone else. Another was that if you pointed out that this was incompatible with true communist principles, someone would come crush your skull with a hammer, or something similar.

*Fake* egalitarianism isn’t incompatible with authoritarianism, but real egalitarianism is. Because the dictator, by virtue of his position, isn’t one of the people.

if you want egalitarianism, you need men with guns ready to ensure that no one takes more than their fair share.

Sure, but that doesn’t need to be any more authoritarian than the men with guns ready to ensure that no one takes property that legally belongs to someone else, or uses it without permission, etc. It *could* be, but it doesn’t *have* to be. Taxes aren’t inherently authoritarian (except in comparison to some idealized utopias, I guess) and neither are wage and working condition laws, and you can do a lot of egalitarianism with just those, as some countries are already demonstrating.

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js. 08.31.13 at 6:32 am

It’s interesting that people are so bothered by the Chesterton. Mostly the critiques seem to be of the form ‘this isn’t how the word ‘bad’ is used in English’.

No, the problem is that he doesn’t seem to get how attributive adjectives work. And it’s not a linguistic problem; it’s a conceptual one. If this sort of usage worked, we’d never be able to call someone sick, e.g., because they’re only ever “less healthy” (unless they’re dead!).

Ok, I went with a rather hard example there, tho it makes the point better. Easier to see is that you could never call anyone short, vs. less tall (unless they’re a microbe?), or any knife dull (just less sharp obviously).

Or he’s saying that “bad” just shouldn’t have an attributive use at all, which is even more bizarre, and he also doesn’t seem to be presenting any argument of that sort.

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js. 08.31.13 at 6:41 am

A balloon is a bad knife, but every knife is a good knife? (I can see the absurdity here. Maybe this is what you all see, too. If so, fine.)

This is not a way of suggesting how the use of “bad” should be changed, in any comprehensible sense. It’s suggesting that we entirely retire the concept of a “bad X“.

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pedant 08.31.13 at 12:53 pm

Furthermore, JH, Chesterton is not “obviously” making proposals for how to change the language, he is obviously claiming to describe current use:

“Let me explain a little:… a knife which cuts clumsily and with difficulty is called a bad knife, which it certainly is not.”

It is not a bad knife. That’s his claim.

That is not how one says “let me propose a new way of using words,” unless perhaps in some earlier paragraph GKC had already said “I propose to use descriptive assertions about current usage as though they are proposals for future norms–starting now!”

He is making a claim about what “bad knife” does mean, currently, and his claim is false.

Furthermore, I already canvassed the possibility that he was being “stipulative”, or discussing how someone “could construct a language,” so I don’t see how your objection works.

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John Holbo 08.31.13 at 1:09 pm

I take it that when he says ‘a knife which cuts clumsily and with difficulty is called a bad knife’ he is saying that such things are, standardly, called ‘bad knives’. That is, he is acknowledging that it is standard usage to call them ‘bad knives’. He is recommending that we not.

I agree with js. that he is, hereby, verging on retiring the concept ‘bad x’ entirely, which seems a bridge too far. Or rather, I suppose there would be things which are good kinds of things – including tools – which would be non-bad by definitions; and bad things – including pain – which would be bad by definition. (So, even though we do say ‘bad pain’, strictly that’s redundant. All pains are bad pains.) Then there would presumably be some things that are neither good nor bad by definition, to which the attribute ‘bad’ could, if occasion merited, be sensibly attached.

Obviously the point for post purposes is a bit orthogonal to such terminological innovations, such as they may be.

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pedant 08.31.13 at 1:33 pm

“Obviously the point for post purposes is a bit orthogonal to such terminological innovations, such as they may be.”

Would it be rude to ask, very meekly, what role the GKC quote was playing in the OP in any case?

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John Holbo 08.31.13 at 1:53 pm

“Would it be rude to ask, very meekly, what role the GKC quote was playing in the OP in any case?”

Well, I wasn’t proposing to revise the English language. (I don’t think GKC is either. Not seriously.) The point was that Chesterton’s move has a certain rhetorical appeal, as excuses for bad social arrangements go. It seems to be a vigorous, ‘you should get out more and see more of the world, so you appreciate the range of conditions – caveman days were tough!’ kind of move. But really it’s the bigotry of low expectations. And it doesn’t work as a dismissal of utopianism, which GKC wants it to be, because it collides with the demand for honor, which can’t just be bigotry of low expectations. Something like that.

I think we really do get tangled up in this sort of ‘it’s not a bad knife!’ thinking, so I think GKC is not just some oddball here. The glory that was Rome. The brilliance that was Greece. The grace and beauty that was the South. Bastards owned slaves! It’s a little hard to know how to ‘rate’ big chunks of past civilization, one good aspect against a bad aspect. Do we grade them on a curve because it was long ago and, anyway, in another country? Do we give them points for originality that balance the points we have to knock off for slavery?

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pedant 08.31.13 at 2:20 pm

thanks!

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John Holbo 08.31.13 at 2:54 pm

Well, just between you, me and the internet: I got to the end of the post, by which point I was tired. I thought to myself: how do I tie this thing off? I had an instinct that the Chesterton thing sort of made my point. And then people pestered me in comments and I had to reconstruct the roots of my instinct, post hoc. (Pro tip! That’s how we do it!) Thankfully, I don’t think my choice of Chesterton proved utterly nonsensical, on mature reflection. Which is not to say that I’d do it all again if I had the chance.

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pedant 08.31.13 at 4:30 pm

Perhaps the shorter version would be to say that Chesterton, like most conservatives, is a Yorkshireman.

To be precise, one of the Four Yorkshiremen of the Apocalypse.

“Call that Famine? More like a *feast*, I’d say! Luxury! We had to divvy that up twelve ways and make it last until Christmas–and our Dad took eleven of the shares to keep up his strength for beating us!”

“Plague–ha! Nothing but belly-aching and malingerers, all. I had buboes like that once, growing out of me armpits, and the doctor said I’d never looked healthier. We used to *pray* for a nice case of Ebola, just to make a change!”

(I never meant to say that Yorkshiremen are generally conservatives. I meant to say that conservatives are generally Yorkshiremen. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.)

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bianca steele 08.31.13 at 4:42 pm

The more I think about it, the more it sounds like he’s proposing that a bad knife is a knife used by a bad person. Therefore, a bad tank would be a tank used by Hitler’s army, I guess, and a bad cook would be a cook in Hitler’s army.

Well, I wasn’t proposing to revise the English language. (I don’t think GKC is either. Not seriously.)

I don’t know, it sounds a lot like grammar peeving to me. The folks at Language Log have a name for it, but I’m going to need a third cup of coffee to remember it.

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John Holbo 09.01.13 at 12:53 am

“I don’t know, it sounds a lot like grammar peeving to me.”

I think in order for it to be grammar peeving you have to be peeved at grammar. You have to be proscribing or prescribing usage you approve/disapprove.

Once more, then: what GKC is saying is that a certain way of talking is misleading. Compare: calling empty oil drums or cans ’empty’ might be called misleading. Because, while lacking liquid contents they are still potentially full of fumes. The ’empty’ might invite an explosion. This isn’t to say that it’s wrong, or incorrect to call them ’empty’. That’s not the point. The point is that explosions are to be avoided.

http://education.qld.gov.au/health/pdfs/healthsafety/drum-explosions-school-safety-alert.pdf

Suppose that safety hazard warning had a big headline ‘REMEMBER: EMPTY DRUMS MAY NOT BE EMPTY’. Would that be grammar peeving? I don’t think so.

What’s the moral analog of an unfortunate explosion, according to GKC? He is raging against utopianism and a kind of pessimism. An attitude according to which everything exhibits a kind of omni-suckage. If you measure everything against an ideal, then you will slap a ‘bad’ on everything real. Bad society. Bad people. Bad way to spend our time. Bad knife. Bad world. Bad reality. GKC thinks that’s a mistake. Everything ‘bad’ in this sense is not really bad. It’s quite good, probably!

This is problematic, not because it’s grammar peevery but because it naturally tips over too far onto the sunny side. It’s just a pile of Get Out Of Jail Free cards. At least I’m not a caveman, beating his cavewife with a club!

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John Holbo 09.01.13 at 12:54 am

This is not to defend GKC, except on the narrow charge of grammar peevery.

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js. 09.01.13 at 1:27 am

Holbo,

Your 98 is quite helpful. Thanks. GKC’s argument, as I think rightly read in 96, is still an unmitigated disaster, and not just because of its political implications. If it worked, you’d never be able to describe functional deficiencies. Ever! Not only would there be no bad knives, there’d, again, also be no dull knives, or blunt knives, or badly-weighted knives, etc. And that’s just for the knives. Obviously, the argument generalizes.

Ok. I’ll stop harping about this side issue now.

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Odin 09.02.13 at 3:43 am

“They worried about the effects of the civil-rights movement on federalism and limited government. ” – NR 8/28/18

It’s more likely they agreed with the founder of NR that the “advanced race” should be running things.

“. . . the central question that emerges… is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.” – William F. Buckley, National Review, 1957

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reason 09.04.13 at 8:16 am

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