Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Angina Monologue 17

June 28th, 2015 by Vader

The other day I installed a cloak hook near the entrance of the domicile I share with His Majesty.

My cloaks can be heavy, and I also thought it might be prudent to be sure the hook could support the weight of His Majesty’s winter jacket, so I took some time to install the hook securely. I located the stud (much easier with the Force than with a stud locater, by the way) and made sure the hook was screwed firmly through the drywall into the stud. I figured it would easily hold a couple of cloaks and winter jackets.

I stood back to admire my work (funny; don’t you always do that when you finish any handyman project?) and just then His Majesty came storming through the door in a frightfully sour mood. He glanced at me, glanced at the hook, and without a moment’s hesitation he grabbed the hook and tried to swing from it. That was too much weight, of course; there was a loud crack and the hook came out of the wall, doing serious damage to the stud and drywall. In fact, since this is a load-bearing wall, the damage to the stud could wind up being a significant problem.

My jaw hit the floor, or would have, if the vocorder wasn’t in the way.

It turns out His Majesty has been thinking about original sin.

Oh, not the kind that Christians concern themselves about. The original sin of the United States: chattel slavery.

While I am disinclined to take religion seriously, since it takes the focus off the one thing whose existence I can be certain of and attribute importance to — myself  — I find religion a rich source of useful  metaphors. One of these is the notion of original sin: That Man was created in the image of the divine, but soon willfully took into his nature something of the diabolical. And so, in spite of all of Man’s best intentions and efforts, that diabolical seed continually sprouts anew and bears dark fruit.

I was aware that His Majesty knew something about Christianity, but that last part sounds like he has been reading The Silmarillion.

Does it surprise you that I am a avid reader of Tolkien? I consider Morgoth an important role model. In Tolkien’s universe, he was the first of all created beings to understand the importance of acting from his own lights to create his own reality. His story is a great tragedy.

But it seems to me that this metaphor of original sin applies awfully well to the United States. Such a grand, noble, humanistic experiment — yet fatally flawed, from its very roots, by the regrettable reality of chattel slavery.

It is difficult to catch the full nuances of this in writing. In particularly, one has to have seen the sneer on His Majesty’s face when he uttered the first part of that second sentence to really appreciate it.

I am not, of course, the first to use the metaphor of original sin for chattel slavery in the United States. A Google search reveals so many hits that I cannot be bothered to look at them all and see if any of them claim to be the first. (I wouldn’t believe them anyway.) Whatever its origin, the metaphor is so apt that everyone is stealing it.

One may wonder what I have to add to the metaphor. Well, I’m an evil Sith Lord, not a bleeding-heart liberal like most using the analogy, so I can’t be bothered exploring the metaphor as an argument for something as petty as reparations or the forced reeducation of Republicans. Instead, what interests me is the way this original sin distorted, and is now on the verge of destroying, the Founder’s original vision for America.

His Majesty is a contrarian. Anyone else would say that the abolishment of slavery in the 19th century was a renewal of the American vision.

No one would say that who has seriously and honestly studied the history of Reconstruction. Which is why someone like myself needs to set the record straight.

The Founders were concerned above all else with instituting a government for the United States that would preserve ordered liberty. Note that both “ordered” and “liberty” are part of that formula. They had seen British America flourish and prosper, only to have the King and Parliament come to view the colonies as a fat cow to be milked for taxes.

Of course, King and Parliament had expended considerable blood and treasure fighting the French and Indian Wars that allowed the colonies to flourish in peace, and it seems quite understandable to me that King and Parliament felt that some return was due on their investment. One wonders how things might have gone, if only the Americans had been granted a seat or two in Parliament. It goes to show that even reasonable government policies can result in disaster if there is a sufficient lack of statesmanship in how the measures are applied.

Regardless, the Americans liked the peace and order their old government had provided, but did not care for the admittedly heavy and intrusive taxation that followed nor the heavy hand with which this was enforced. So there was some unpleasantness, after which the Americans had their own country. Or countries. It was originally the thirteen united States of America, not the United States of America.

That didn’t work out so well, with a central “government” whose fecklessness would not repeated until 1945 and in a different context. (It astonishes me, actually, that anyone could be so ignorant of the lessons of history that they would take a system that failed to unite thirteen states sharing a common language, cultural roots, legal tradition, and physical proximity, and think it would do any better for hundreds of states lacking all these things. But then we’re talking about humans here.)

I think His Majesty overstates the resemblance between the Articles of Confederation and the Charter of the United Nations.

It’s not the technicalities. It’s the mind-set.

So the Founders set out to establish a system that would secure the (dubious) blessings of liberty and (illusion of) domestic tranquility and promote a few other odds and ends.  They had already discovered that kings were not much on securing liberty, so they needed a system without a king. Nor (and this still seems to surprise a lot of Americans) were they very keen on democracy, which was not much on securing either liberty or domestic tranquility. So they chose a republic, quite consciously modeled on the Roman republic.

Except that the Roman Republic failed after just a few hundred years. Most other experiments in republican government had collapsed even sooner. And the greater the democratic elements in the system, the sooner it seemed to collapse.

So the Founders put hard limits on two aspects of their new central government: (1) They limited it to few and enumerated powers. The broad police powers needed for an orderly society were left with the states. (2) They limited its purely democratic element to a House of Representatives whose members were elected to very short terms, and let the States determine the qualifications for the voters who would elect these representatives.

The Founders gave the House the power of the purse, on the theory that how much taxes were raised and spent was one of the few questions on which the democratic masses could be counted on to vote in the general interest. They hadn’t conceived of progressive taxation, obviously. I have never made that serious a mistake. All other special powers — to direct foreign relations, to approve government appointments, to try cases of impeachment — resided with a Senate that was supposed to supply adult supervision.

Incidentally, the other serious mistake was a last-minute decision to leave out of the Constitution a grant of power to Congress to remove a President for mere “maladministration”, that is, because they didn’t like how he was running things. An imperial Presidency was almost inevitable after that.

But not quite. Nor was today’s idiocracy the result of structural failings. It was the result of slavery.

I really hope this isn’t going somewhere racist.

Not to worry, Lord Vader. I am quite certain the outcome would have been the same if the slaves had been Chinese or Ashkenazi Jews. Race, understood to mean genetics, has nothing to do with it. It is the mere fact of slavery, and the struggle to abolish it, that is salient.

The system set up by the Founders relied on interested voters and an elite steeped in civic virtue. There had to be an aristocracy with a strong sense of noblesse oblige. This aristocracy came largely from the South, which held the balance of power in the government until the eve of the Civil War.  The interested voters came, interestingly enough, mostly from the North, with its significantly higher literacy rate and lower requirements of land ownership to vote, compared with the South. The system was not perfect: the North very nearly seceded when the South dragged the country into the War of 1812, and again when the South dragged the country into the Mexican-American War. But it held together until the Civil War.

You’re going to tell me that the Civil War sowed the seeds for the country’s destruction. That’s neither a new nor a very credible thought.

But almost no one analyzes it right. Southern apologists insist that the war was really about state’s rights. Northerners insist that it was about slavery. In fact, both are right. The war was about trying to hold up slavery on the hook of states’ rights, and discovering that it could not possibly bear the weight.

I think someone at National Review Online used that metaphor, though I haven’t been able to find the link.

“Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery.  — S. Palpatine”

The tragedy for the United States is that states’ rights, understood to mean a truly federal system, is an excellent idea. It was a good hook, properly installed. But no hook was strong enough to bear the leaden weight of chattel slavery. And the attempt to make it so serve wrecked a pillar of the house.

But the damage from the Civil War wasn’t just limited to the shattering of the doctrine of states’ rights. The damage was compounded by Reconstruction.

The Civil War left the South as a conquered and occupied country. Its residents felt very little sense of remorse for their rebellion. Or, at least, they admitted to very little sense of remorse for their rebellion. Fighting to keep some men enslaved while others are free is pretty odious, but the mythology of the Lost Cause allowed Southerners to believe that slavery was a side issue.

Whereas Palpatine’s government kept everyone equally enslaved.

You watch your mouth, or you’ll be floating home. There was slavery in the Outer Rim when I came to power. There was no slavery by the time I was obligated to go into retirement.

I think my son had more to with that than you.

Revolutionaries saving the legitimate government the trouble of exterminating slaveholding slugs. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Regardless, the Southerners built an entire mythology around the notion that the war was not about slavery, which only reveals their guilty conscience. This mythology was a great hindrance to Reconstruction. (Incidentally, it is a myth that the victors write the history books; it is the losers that have the stronger incentive to do so. The history of the Peloponnesian Wars was not written by a Spartan.)

The Northern solution was brutally blunt. The Constitution was amended to end slavery, without any recognition that this would destroy what was left of the economy of the South unless measures were taken for a genuine Reconstruction. Or else the authors of the Reconstruction amendments didn’t care if they destroyed the economy of the South. They were, after all, on the side of the angels.

Cynicism that deep is pretty ugly.

Oh, Lord Vader. You know perfectly well where I’m coming from. The South was as clumsy as it was stupid to hold on to slavery for so long. Naturally the North wanted the South to pay the entire costs of the ending of slavery. But the South was bankrupt. When you’re bankrupt in a civilized jurisdiction, the law recognizes that some costs are sunk, uses what assets you have left to pay off some portion of your creditors as fairly as possible, then lets you start over. The North ought to have regarded the South as bankrupt and unable to pay all the costs of ending slavery. But that was avoided as energetically as possible.

But all this — the moral damage to the South from clinging to slavery; the shattering of the doctrine of states’ rights through its misuse to support the weight of slavery; the Civil War itself; even the costs of ending slavery — were nothing compared with the damage done by the remaining Reconstruction amendments.

I am having trouble seeing the problem with:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

His Majesty sneered.

By itself, the 13th Amendment was a perfectly fine way to acknowledge the outcome of the war and cement the fruits of victory for the North.

And, to anticipate your next rejoinder, the 15 Amendment was a perfectly fine way to establish in law the ultimate end of emancipation:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

With the understanding, of course, that not everyone need be a citizen (though none can be slaves) and that there are other valid reasons for denying the right to vote than race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Flaming idiocy is one. (Though since this is evidently not a qualification for being the president of the Senate, I can see some  practical difficulties with depriving idiots of the right to vote. Though, come to think of it, denying the vote to everyone would still be consistent with the text of the Fifteenth Amendment.)

The problem is not with starting at Point A and planning to arrive at Point B. The problem is with how you get from A to B. Without precise political calculations we could fly right through a star, or bounce too close to a supernova and that’d end your trip real quick, wouldn’t it. And it is the Fourteenth Amendment, which tried to plot the course from the Thirteenth Amendment to the Fifteenth Amendment, that bounced too close to a supernova.

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Compare this with the pith and clarity of the previous and succeeding amendment, and you will begin to appreciate the problem. This amendment talked too much without saying enough.

Leaving aside Section 5, which is legal boilerplate: What’s good is redundant, and what’s not redundant is not good. Section 3 basically says that traitors are ineligible for office. I have no problem with this, having practiced it assiduously in my own administration. But this is redundant; conviction for treason already created that disability, inasmuch as conviction for treason in the 19th Century normally entailed dancing Danny Deever. Having your spinal cord severed with a yank by a well-oiled rope disables you with an admirable finality.

One must conclude that Section 3 was a way to disenfranchise without all the fuss of a treason trial, which should have made it immediately suspect. And of arrogating to Congress the power of pardon for such cases, which the Congress of the time was apparently reluctant to leave with Mr. Johnson.

Section 4 starts off with a tautology: The U.S. obligation to pay its debts constitutes an obligation to pay its debts. It’s the second part that makes the mischief. Sure, the U.S. should not have been obligated to pay Confederate war bonds. But did anyone actually think the U.S. had an obligation to pay Confederate war bonds? Do we have an obligation to pay the bondholders of Greece? Or, for that matter, to honor the currency of ISIS? But this section does not just relieve the U.S. of an obligation it never had. It made it essentially illegal for any of the formerly Confederate states to relieve slaveholders of any of the costs of emancipation, or even to relieve non-slaveholding citizens of any of the costs of the war. This might not have mattered so much, if the North had had the magnanimity of George C. Marshall (who, I note, was a Virginian.) But Northern magnanimity died with Mr. Lincoln.

Section 2 puts tremendous pressure on a state to be as free as possible with the franchise. That this is a good thing is almost universally believed in the modern United States. I am not so strong in my faith in pure democracy, and I anticipate that the “in any way abridged” language will foil any future attempt at reforms aimed at voter fraud. More to the point, this section heavily penalizes such elementary voter requirements as being able to read the morning paper, or being serious enough about voting to pay a small tax. To be sure, the amendment against poll taxes is not usually counted as a Reconstruction amendment, but it might as well be.

Section 1 is the real mischief. It makes birthright citizenship a matter of law. This immediately rules out any of a number of compromises that might be struck over the question of immigration. Once they stay here long enough to have a baby here, they’re anchored here.

Now, don’t get me wrong. America is mostly a state of mind, not a place. It could have happened anywhere. Say, Australia. (Come to think of it, Australia probably has more natural affinity with the U.S. than any other country.) It follows that a substantial fraction of immigrants were always American, but just were born in the wrong place.

That’s astonishingly sentimental.

Only if you consider being an American an admirable thing.

As I said, many immigrants ought to be welcomed with open arms by American-thinking Americans. That includes a good fraction of those coming across the border illegally.

The problem is sorting the immigrants out. There are some who definitely do not belong here. Fifteen minutes at the border is a lousy way to separate one from the other.

Yes, I know, we have naturalization procedures to do that. But the problem isn’t the immigrants themselves; it’s the anchor babies. And that mischievous Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment rules out any reasonable compromise solution to that problem.

The rest of the section is meaningless twaddle. “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” None of these privileges or immunities are defined; that is practically an invitation for courts to drift from acceptable and necessary judicial review to unacceptable and tyrannical political review. Due process of law; all that means is you get your day in court, but it, too, has become an excuse for courts to replace judicial review with political review, through the oxymoron of substantive due process. Equal protection of the law: Taken literally, as courts have been inclined to do lately, it leads to the view that the law cannot make distinctions based on behavior, even if it is antisocial behavior.

The whole of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment was an invitation to a shift away from rule of law to rule by courts. This is an invitation the courts have not failed to take up. They are now thoroughly politicized. The notion of law as a logical system, with fundamental principles from which further rules are derived as a mathematician derives theorems from axioms, is now clearly and most sincerely dead — except perhaps in the minds of three justices on the Supreme Court who will presently retire.

But absent such protections, how was the North to protect the rights of recently emancipated slaves?

And how well did that work out during Reconstruction, Lord Vader?

The beauty of original sin is that there is no escaping it. Remember how the American officer in Vietnam is constantly quoted on how he had to destroy the village to save it? We had to destroy the United States in order to free it from slavery.

The U.S. could not continue with the slow poison of slavery. It could not get rid of the poison without bleeding itself to death. Why do you think they are called bleeding-heart liberals? The poison had to be purged. But the artery remains open.

There was no escape for the United States, my young apprentice.

I think His Majesty likes calling me his young apprentice, because calling me his middle-aged apprentice would make him elderly. He hates being elderly.

I’ve looked over the cracked stud. I don’t think that’s something I’m going to be able to repair myself. I need to find a skilled carpenter.

Yesterday I picnicked in a river valley in the nearby mountains. It’s National Forest land and I’ve noticed it’s almost always crowded on weekends. I find it heartening that Anglos and Hispanics, the two most numerous ethnic demographics in this area, seem to mingle fairly freely. We are not so divided as we sometimes think.

I was trying to get across the creek, which is actually rather deep and swift in this valley. (Why did the Sith cross the river? – To get to the other side.) I noticed that one family seemed to have found a way across. I called across the river and asked the mother and father how to cross; they looked at me blankly for a moment, then shrugged. It was the children that answered, because they were the ones that spoke English.

It was a beautiful family. I think the idea of gay marriage as a fundamental right would simply bewilder them. I would give fair odds that the parents were Americans who happened to be born on the wrong side of the border. I have a friend who works for the police in a nearby city. He insists that it’s not the illegal immigrants who cause problems, but their kids born here who get caught up in gangs. He’s a cynic: He says that the problem is not that the immigrants fail to assimilate, but that their kids assimilate only too well.

We have a broken stud in a load-bearing wall, and I don’t know how to fix it. So I’m awaiting the arrival of a skilled Carpenter.

 

Comments (9)
Filed under: Deseret Review | Tags: , , , ,
June 28th, 2015 15:29:12
9 comments

MC
June 28, 2015

“Southern apologists insist that the war was really about state’s rights. Northerners insist that it was about slavery.”

You also get a non-trivial number of left-wing historians who more or less adopt the Southern position, because to acknowledge that the war was about slavery would require them to concede that the US government has not always taken the most oppressive and racist position possible in every conflict. I even had a history textbook in fifth or sixth grade that said that Lincoln didn’t care whether slavery existed or not, he just thought that the whole country should be either slave or free. The evidence for that assertion must have been edited out for length.

You see a similar sort of collusion between right and left-wing historians on the American Revolution. Neither the Right nor Left want to believe that the Founding Fathers were the long-haired hippies of their time (myself included), so both sides take pains to emphasize the more conservative and hierarchical aspects of the Revolution. Which is why Gordon Wood felt compelled to write this:
http://www.amazon.com/Radicalism-American-Revolution-Gordon-Wood/dp/0679736883


Bruce Charlton
June 28, 2015

I find it hard to understand what might have been the real rationale for the American Revolution – certainly, it seems to have made little difference to the lives of the people: the USA and Canada ended-up about as similar as any two countries on the planet!


MC
June 29, 2015

Given the population disparities and mutual isolation from Europe, Canada was always going to end up dragged into the American cultural orbit. The question is whether America/Canada would have ended up as a much different place had the U.S. stayed in the British fold, which I think is not easily answered.

As for the “real rationale,” I’m inclined to take the Founders at their word. But it’s also true that when you have a generation of men of the talent of Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, etc., they’re going to end up running some country one way or another. It’s just a pity from the British standpoint that they weren’t given a much greater role in the governing of the Empire.


Vader
June 29, 2015

We did give Churchill to the Empire. Kind of.


G.
June 29, 2015

“It turns out His Majesty has been thinking about original sin.”

This is where I broke into unmanly giggles. I kept reading; the giggles soon stopped,

Why is it that it takes a grumpy old immigrant Imperial-American to have some level of insight into American history? To take just one example: I’ve read voraciously on the Civil War and its aftermath. No one, not one, has ever suggested the idea, obvious in retrospect, that some sort of post-war financial settlement would have helped the South integrate. Our elites are worthless, the whole lot of them.


Bruce Charlton
June 29, 2015

@MC – I wasn’t really talking about modern convergence, but about the 19th century after the Revolution, and then Canada’s victory after the attempted US invasion in the (forgotten/ never-mentioned) war of 1812.

Was 19th century Canada really less ‘free’, in any meaningful personal sense, than the USA?

It could even be argued that for long stretches freedom was more real for a higher proportion of the population in Canada than in the USA (I’m thinking of the Indians and Blacks).

I’m very much an Americanophile, as you no doubt already know; but I do think a whole lot of nonsense is talked about the American Revolution, and its supposed necessity!


MC
June 29, 2015

“We did give Churchill to the Empire. Kind of.”

We also gave Eamon de Valera to the Irish, which I guess makes it a wash.


Bookslinger
June 29, 2015

BC, a new book out by malcolm Gaskill, How the British Became Ameicans. Interview with author at http://johnbatchelorshow.com/podcasts?page=2
June 22, 2015. 3 parts.

His bottom line, as the emperor said, it was about money.


G.
July 1, 2015

*Was 19th century Canada really less ‘free’, in any meaningful personal sense, than the USA?*

Probably not. But Britain’s treatment of Canada was deeply shaped by the American Revolution and America’s continued grasping presence just to the south.

*It could even be argued that for long stretches freedom was more real for a higher proportion of the population in Canada than in the USA (I’m thinking of the Indians and Blacks). *

It could certainly be argued with a great deal of justice, though its only fair to point out that (1) Canada didn’t have an appreciable number of Blacks, it was the original Whitopia, and (2) the better treatment of Indians and Blacks wasn’t the rebels’ cause in the first place. Arguing that it should have been is a little modern for my tastes.

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