Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Abraham Lincoln and the Necessity of the Civil War
By Alexander Marriott

One of the more minor Presidential candidates, Ron Paul (Representative from Texas), appeared recently on Meet the Press with Tim Russert. Aside from enunciating a rather incoherent jumble of ideas about what he would do in the horribly unlikely calamity of his being elected President, Mr. Paul enunciated a political heresy (and a historical heresy), which I wish to address here.

Below is the transcribed exchange which I will be referring to throughout my comments:

MR. RUSSERT: I was intrigued by your comments about Abe Lincoln. "According to Paul, Abe Lincoln should never have gone to war; there were better ways of getting rid of slavery."

REP. PAUL: Absolutely. Six hundred thousand Americans died in a senseless civil war. No, he shouldn't have gone, gone to war. He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic. I mean, it was the--that iron, iron fist..

MR. RUSSERT: We'd still have slavery.

REP. PAUL: Oh, come on, Tim. Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world. And the way I'm advising that it should have been done is do like the British empire did. You, you buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years? I mean, the hatred and all that existed. So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. I mean, that doesn't sound too radical to me. That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach.

After this exchange, Mr. Russert went on to make Mr. Paul look foolish on numerous other, more current, issues. First of all, Mr. Paul is not the originator of this idea, nor even it's most eloquent expositor. He is, however, the one with the most prominent perch upon which to shout such ideas to a public that (given the state of education and the general historical knowledge of most people) might not know any better. I am not opposed to Mr. Paul's candidacy as such, he would be no more harmful than any of the other incompetents (on both sides) currently running for office (nor am I pining for the entrance of any third party incompetents like Mr. Bloomberg or Mr. Nader). To confront inevitable claims of partisan bias against poor little Mr. Paul, I simply have no horse in the presidential race so far and cannot say I shall have one anytime soon. If and when I do, I shall let you know who and why.

But to the "point" Mr. Paul was so eager to make in his exchange with Mr. Russert, that the Civil War was unnecessary and that Lincoln "did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic." Kudos to Mr. Paul for correctly identifying the form of government which we live under, I am almost certain that all other candidates would improperly identify the government type they are endeavoring to lead. However, this is where the kudos must stop. Mr. Paul's comments are uninformed historically, contradictory, and ultimately revealing of a greater weakness and danger which lies within the modern "Libertarian" movement.

Historically speaking, Mr. Paul is quite right in saying that the death of over 600,000 men in the Civil War was horrifically tragic. However, to say those deaths and the war in which they occurred were "unnecessary" is a quixotically ahistorical and perversely amoral observation. The parallel he attempts to make in response Mr. Russert's assertion that "We'd still have slavery," that the United States could have and should have followed the lead of Great Britain by pursuing a path of compensated emancipation (where the government pays slave owners the price of the slaves, essentially buying them, and then freeing them, though the British example was far more complex taking decades to actually eliminate slavery). The could and should aspects of this are different questions. Whether the country should have pursued such a policy is irrelevant if it could not actually pursue such a policy. So the question which needs to be answered is that of whether the United States, in March 1861 when Lincoln became president, could have pursued a policy of compensated and gradual emancipation. The answer historically speaking is not only an unequivocal "NO!!!" but a "HELL NO!!" And that answer comes not from Lincoln, who at his most radical before 1861 only ever suggested compensated gradual emancipation plus the subsidized emigration of the free blacks to colony somewhere, perhaps Africa, but from the people who attempted to destroy the government and inaugurated the war Mr. Paul excoriates as "unnecessary." In order for any emancipation scheme to peacefully have worked it would either have required the people and leadership of the Southern states to concede that slavery was wrong and needed to be done away with (which they most emphatically did not, quite the reverse, by 1861 it was not a radical opinion in the South to claim that slavery was a "positive good") or at least for them to accept the ability of the federal government to regulate the issue, even against their wishes (which they were even more emphatically against). And Lincoln and the Republicans did not even claim an ability to regulate slavery in the Southern states, merely an ability to prevent slavery from spreading into the territories. Lincoln was not even inaugurated into the presidency before the entire lower south "seceded" and Jefferson Davis was in "office" as President of the so-called "Confederate States of America." The spark with which the war began was not Lincoln marching an army into the South to restore order as certain of his predecessors would have most certainly done, but was the bombardment of a federal fort by the rebels. To have not responded at that moment with the use of force would have been to concede that the government did not have the right to govern and protect its own property, what sort of government would that have been? It would have been no government at all, and therein lies what Mr. Paul was most likely going for.

Regardless of how historically inept Mr. Paul's claims are, they are in themselves contradictory. He says: "Absolutely. Six hundred thousand Americans died in a senseless civil war. No, he shouldn't have gone, gone to war. He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic." Moving on from the baseless assertion that the Civil War was "senseless," what does Mr. Paul mean when he says that Lincoln went to war to "enhance and get rid of the original intend of the republic"? Perhaps he misspoke. Otherwise, this statement is a blatant contradiction, how could Lincoln wage war to enhance and simultaneously get rid of the original intent of the republic? But, more importantly, how could putting down a rebellion waged explicitly for the idea that slavery was a positive good and essential to the survival of liberty (if you don't wish to take my word for this please read Alexander Stephens' "cornerstone" speech, he was the Vice-President of the so-called "Confederate States of America"), be against the original intent of the republic? Does Paul not believe the country was founded on the idea that all men were created equal? Does he not believe that all men have unalienable rights, among them to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? These are what generally passes as the original intent of the republic. How does crushing a rebellion dedicated to the exact opposite ideals and ending the great contradiction of the founding (slavery) constitute an assault on the republic? Lincoln exercised extraordinary powers as Commander-in-Chief during that rebellion, but he did not do anything which either had not been done in previous emergencies or threats of rebellion or which had not been suggested as possibilities by those who thought about what would happen in the case of rebellion in the years leading up to the Civil War. It must ultimately be remembered that he faced the greatest crisis the country has ever faced and that given what he might have done and what many people begged and demanded that he should do, Lincoln acted very moderately and was remarkably restrained particularly when one considers the history of republics and civil wars. Lincoln was no Cromwell, no Caesar, no Franco.

Mr. Paul has waged a campaign for the presidency (specifically the republican party nomination) based largely on his anomalous position among his competitors in fundamental opposition to the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism more broadly, and seemingly any and all wars or war-related enterprises. His latest comments on Lincoln and the Civil War merely underline his irrational assault on war and the use of force, even in self-defense or for the protection of liberty (American or any other apparently). War is horrible and as General Sherman said, it is "hell," but he knew and Lincoln knew an obvious fact of reality that apparently Mr. Paul, along with a dangerous amount of his fellow citizens, has forgotten. There are things even more horrible than war, like the loss of life and liberty, like slavery. If we are not to at least remember favorably the necessary, I would argue heroic, examples like those set down by our founding fathers and subsequent leaders who followed them into glory, then we truly are lost. With Mr. Paul at the helm it would be a classic case of the blind leading the blind. Then we shall truly know hell.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Writers on Strike

A peculiar spectacle in Hollywood and New York, and everywhere else TV shows and motion pictures are being made, is before us. The writers are on strike. Of course when one thinks of workers on strike it usually calls up images of beefy scary looking truckers or other threatening masses of mostly men picketing outside factories and the like, daring anyone dumb enough to even attempt to break through their lines. This is not the case as mostly scrawny looking men and women, clearly of the nerdy variety, march around with bland (ironic for writers) signs and lame unionist chants. At stake? Contracts with TV and motion picture producers over royalties from DVD and other "new" media, which has grown by leaps and bounds since their last contract.

This is a very legitimate issue which any producer of intellectual property (in this case scripts, screenplays, etc.) should be properly concerned with. The problem here though, and it's a problem which exists for the entire industry, is why writers (and I mean good and exceptional writers) would ever want to tie themselves to unemployed, mediocre, or otherwise bad writers under the same contract. The advantage for the sub-par, or even par, writers is obvious. A share of revenue they would otherwise either never get or would only get on a very lucky day. The talented writers, however, have no such advantage. In fact, even a much better contract than the one they currently have is likely to be inferior to a contract their abilities and value could net them were the writing labor market a free one. This is a demonstrably true (both in economic theory and in practice) proposition, and thus puts a strike against the age-old idea that economic interest alone determines one's actions. So why do the talented ones "go along" with this (for them) waste of time and hit to their pocketbooks?

One reason is ideological. Hollywood and the acting/producing community in general has staid remarkably true to its unionist heritage while much of the rest of the economy has moved very quietly and successfully away from unions. Even the best and most talented writers take pride in their belonging to a "guild" of craftsmen, much like their medieval forbears upon which their organization is based. Of course, laws back up this activity (writers are legally able to collectively quit their jobs temporarily without any repercussions other than an obvious lack of pay) and thus add a coercive element that would otherwise be entirely lacking. And it is well known that, as a group, actors, writers, producers, directors, etc. are a very liberal group of people among whom a pro-union proclivity is a sine qua non of their culture.

Another reason is fear. Standing against ones peers on an issue like this is a scary prospect on many levels, not the least of which is the deserved reputation for violence which striking mobs of workers have gained over the years. Not only that, but if you are not confident in your moral right, as a talented individual, to not be shackled to the dead weight of your inferior colleagues, you're hardly likely to put yourself forward to suffer the abuse which would be inevitable. Also, anyone in such a community who asserted their superiority and thus their ability, desire, and right to make as much as that ability allowed them (far above their less talented fellow writers) to, would have aspersions like "selfish," "individualist," "greedy," or that horrible appellation given to any who is thought to work for themselves amidst a strike "scab," attached to their careers and reputations. Such a person would soon find themselves blacklisted by their industry and by their guild. This is ironic given the myth that Hollywood survived persecution and is anti-blacklist (they just did not like the criteria for the movie studio blacklist from the 40s and 50s).

Perhaps another reason is economics. Some successful writers, not particularly confident that their abilities will be around forever, may reason that sticking with the union contract, as opposed to being paid what they are worth as an individual writer, is the safer and, in the long-run, more profitable path. These people, while successful now, are thinking as if they were one of their more mediocre colleagues. This reasoning betrays a lack of confidence in their talent common among today's successful people in all fields of endeavor. It is actually portrayed today as a virtue to have confidence "issues" or to display humility, anything to avoid the appearance of arrogance: arrogance taken to mean a grand view of one's talents and worth and a willingness to boast about it. The actual meaning is something closer to a deliberately invalid and inaccurate view of one's talents and worth and a compulsion to boast about it. One would just be dishonest to not give an accurate appraisal of their virtues and faults, abilities and deficiencies, pros and cons; dishonest with others but also, just as important, dishonest with themselves.

So while the writers march, with signs which belie their craft and chants which demonstrate why they are not orators, and as our favorite programs go into reruns and we begin to grow frustrated and angry with the whole mess and look for people to blame we should remember some things. The producers, faced with the demand to pay all writers a minimum amount in media royalties, even to inferior writers, were correct to refuse. If the writers wish to operate as a guild and negotiate collectively, they must realize that the market price for most of their mediocre membership is going to be quite low. Among those same writers though, it is the talented, the able, the good, and the great among them whose fear, ideological wrongheadedness, or lack of confidence (or all of them working together) which has given this movement any strength at all. Were they not willing to support their inferior colleagues then their strike, their guild, and the coercive laws which support them against aggressive anti-union measures from the producers (i.e. hiring outside writers) would collapse or be on a much shakier foundation than currently buttresses them.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I have posted the latest piece of scholarly work which I am prepared to share on the sibling Blog of the Early Republic, and link to it is provided. The article, on the Duke of Wellington's various images in the early American republic, has been a long labor which I have presented at two conferences, the latest being the First Annual British Scholars Conference in Austin, Texas on the third of November.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Last Straw for Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish inventor, chemist, industrialist and when he had reached the end of his life of incredible achievement he left a legacy of philanthropy directed toward the awarding, year in and year out, of the greatest possible merit in the physical sciences, literature, and diplomacy. The Nobel Peace Prize, since its establishment after Nobel's death in 1896 (the first was awarded in 1901), has since becomes one of the pinnacles of modern human glory (even enshrined for board game players everywhere as a seminal lifetime achievement in the game of LIFE). Unfortunately, the process for choosing who wins the prizes, particularly the peace prize, has always been open to wide latitudes of opinion and standards for what constitutes sound peacemaking. Often it is awarded to whoever can steal headlines in any particular year for a peace treaty or accord, hence it was awarded to American President Theodore Roosevelt, and to heads of states and even terrorists who decided to try to make peace (or fool those desirous of peace of their good intentions) the world over. It has also occasionally been awarded to a dissident suffering under an oppressive regime who is trying to create a civil society, one that will not be prone towards aggressive war making. These were all, whether properly awarded or not, the precedents and largely accepted ways one could earn a once prestigious prize.

I use the word "once" because the most recent winner, former Vice-President Albert Gore, Jr., has "earned" the prize in a novel and problematic way. The Nobel committee awarded him the most recent Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to raise global awareness to an alleged problem which supposedly promises, if unchecked, to promote global conflict and war over resources. The alleged problem is, of course, what Gore has been crying wolf over ever since 1992 when he published his alarmist book, Earth in the Balance. Gore is being awarded a prize for advancing world peace without actually having done anything at all to advance world peace. This has been true of former winners in far different contexts, i.e. Yasser Arafat won through his own duplicitous efforts to achieve peace (some saw through him at the time), and dissidents in oppressed countries are working for internal peace and long-term international peace, but usually aren't achieving anything in the short-term.

However, Gore's "peace-making" achievement lies mainly in frightening the non-scientific community with dire predictions of worldwide doom and making absurd causal linkages between variations in global temperatures and weather phenomenon (like Hurricane Katrina which was cruelly used like a piece of propaganda in his sleazy ad campaign for An Inconvenient Truth). Actual temperature measurements, by this I mean actual day-by-day measurements of the actual temperature on earth, don't even go back two centuries which is not only a blip in human history but an infinitesimally small speck of a blip in the history of the earth. To attempt to generalize from current data and make claims, knowing full well that the earth has had numerous temperature fluctuations over its history without the involvement of any human beings (both to much much cooler than present temperatures, and to much much hotter than present) is not scientific caution, but criminally reckless scaremongering.

I say this not because I think it impossible for what Gore and his supporters assert is true to be true (though I think it is absurdly improbable) but because they are more concerned about political activism inimical to liberty than about the problems in their causal reasoning and the problems with computer modeling based on imperfect data and equally imperfect assumptions. Scientists do not shout down opponents and declare debate on questions is dead. Certainly, some issues are "put to rest" empirically or due to a preponderance of evidence, or because nothing else makes as much sense, but Gore and no other proponents of man made global warming have come anywhere near that standard of evidence. Asserting that one's opponents are either nuts or bought off by the "evil corporations" allegedly most responsible for the supposed problem is not an argument, but a pathetic combination of several logical fallacies.

So back to the related but different issue of Gore winning a Nobel Peace Prize. With this action, the Nobel Committee has merely taken a further step towards making a once sought after and prestigious prize a trapping of political orthodoxy. This is fine if that's what the committee wishes the prize to become, but do not continue to refer to it in the memory of fine man or refer to it as an award to promote a noble goal. Call it what it is, something like "The Prize awarded for being in line with a select group of Swedish leftists" because that is, unfortunately, what Alfred Nobel's legacy is becoming.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Immigration Hysteria and Confusion

A pundit on a show this afternoon has compared the act of coming to the United States illegally to the act of forging a check or robbing a bank. Such a comparison is symptomatic of the hysterical confusion which surrounds the question of immigration. It also highlights the tremendous amount of xenophobia and subtle (if not obvious) racism on the part of those so concerned about the immigration of millions of people from what is essentially a corrupt economic backwater (Mexico) to a prosperous much freer country, the United States.

A bank robber forcibly steals money which he has no right to and a check forger defrauds people by passing himself off as someone with access to money. They both operate on the principle that they have a right to the financial rewards earned by others simply because they have the ability to do so and possibly get away with it. What is an immigrant doing if they enter the country without waiting or even applying for the proper paperwork? What principle is animating them? Is it the principle of the bank robber, to steal the productive affluence of others? How can this be? Some would say that illegal immigrants from Mexico are mostly very poor and use state and federal welfare services which they technically have no “right” to since they are not citizens, and thus, are in fact acting under the same principle as the bank robber. This is a confused and muddled mess of an argument. State and Federals agencies and programs give away money pilfered through taxation largely from the most productive people in the economy in order to subsidize the poor. Should it surprise anyone that the poor, whether domestic or foreign, should be attracted to free money and services? This is not the fault of the poor per se, though they are certainly no saints, but the fault of those who think it is good policy to pay the poor for being poor and to offer them rewards which others, not the poor, have earned. As most of those bleating the loudest about this alleged problem never stop to point this out it can only be assumed that they support the principle of taking from the rich and productive in order to give to the poor and unproductive, and are thus most responsible for attracting immigrants who are coming for reasons other than to enjoy a life of free economic opportunity and free of political repression.

This brings us to another issue which is of course intertwined in this whole immigration debate, but which should be extracted and clarified. Citizenship entitles one to a whole host of things in American society, including the right to vote. Currently the easiest way to earn citizenship in our republic is simply to be born within its boundaries. For immigrants the task is much more difficult, not only are there irrational quotas restricting the numbers of people who can apply for citizenship depending on where they come from, but there are numerous steps in a process which takes years and stacks of paperwork to complete. But what is the purpose of this process? Allegedly it exists to allow the person to immerse themselves in American culture and demonstrate an overwhelming desire to become an American. These are laudable goals certainly. However, it is in no way clear how, exactly, restricting the numbers of immigrants at all, let alone by where they are immigrating from, aids the process of attracting people who are interested in embracing the American dream and the ideals of freedom, liberty and equality before the law. Also, immersion in American culture is delayed by the fact that this process adds tremendous expense to people making a tremendous move, hampers their ability to find gainful employment (finding an employer willing to sponsor them), and leaves them uncertain of their futures, particularly if they are not able to get restricted numbers of work visas and other important documents and permits. Citizenship should not be denied or delayed for those who are clearly trying to lead productive lives in the United States. For those not looking to become citizens, but merely wish to work here, they too should be embraced, not as golden geese who will lay golden tax eggs, but as productive human beings who are not leeches on anyone.

The problem as far as immigration is concerned is the influx of either outright criminals, or of those who are not interested in leading productive and independent lives. The only cure for this latter problem is to make sure ours is a society which does not indulge and reward such people. If this is to continue to be a country with a government and people that wishes to engage in such behavior then those who support that cannot and should not be surprised by the people they attract. Fortunately, a great many immigrants (like a great many born Americans) are still desirous of leading productive, independent, and fulfilling lives, and are desirous of living in the country founded on the principle that they should be able to do that in liberty and freedom to the best of their abilities.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

New Book and Preview of an Upcoming Article

Contrary to reports, rumors of my blogging demise were premature. I have put together a new book of (mainly) historical essays covering a wide range of topics. The TOC is below and if you're interested in getting a copy, a link is also provided.

I am currently working on a piece which explores the reactions to Saddam Hussein's execution and what they can tell us about the culture at large and some of the troubling notions people have about justice, among other things.

I hope everyone had a great holiday and that the new year find's you well, mentally and physically.

Alexander Marriott