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Treason in Defense of Abolitionism?

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wlg-sm

Richard Kreitner brings up the odd 1857 abolitionist convention in Worcester threatening secession as an avenue to asking tough questions of modern voters about the rhetoric of extremism running through American society. I hesitate to suggest this story has too much value for us today. First, the headline vastly overstates it. Even in 1857, hard core abolitionists like Garrison and Phillips were basically freaks that most people in the North still eschewed. William Lloyd Garrison had no political power to help move Massachusetts toward secession from the Slave Power. Second, it’s pushing the historical analogy envelope really far to create meaningful connections between this and Bernie or Bust rhetoric.

It is however worth remembering two points related to this. First, it’s remarkable just how shaky the entire existence of the nation was in the late 1850s and that the 1860-61 secession of the South was hardly the only moment where this was a serious consideration in the decade prior. Second, American political rhetoric and extremism is now more heated than it has been since the Civil War and that’s pretty scary. This is hardly the only time since then that radicalism has influenced American politics, as any student of American communism knows well. But those communists were actually pretty good Democratic Party voters in the Popular Front era, and we know that third parties never lead to anything in the United States. Never since the Civil War has the idea of even living under the regime of the other party been so distasteful on either side and certainly not since the Civil War has one party simply seen the other as inherently illegitimate to the point of creating a Constitutional crisis in order to stop opposition rule.

Not sure how we get through this. But I hope it happens with less violence than the last time.

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  • Rob in CT

    One of the reasons I think our current situation is a distant echo rather that a repeat is this: Bleeding Kansas. There’s no equivalent today.

    The other parallels are strong, and I do worry that if current trends continue we’ll ultimately have some kind of serious crisis we can’t resolve without bloodshed, dissolution or a bit ‘o both.

    • delazeur

      If and when there is a modern equivalent to Bleeding Kansas, it will look like Timothy McVeigh or Ammon Bundy. Perhaps the only good thing that can be said about the modern police state is that it appears to do a decent job of preventing those sorts of people from committing serious terrorism. Fingers crossed that continues to be true.

      • CP

        Modern comfort made possible by the welfare state and a century of progress is the main thing I still count on to prevent another civil war; the average American simply has too much of a stake in this society to watch it torn apart by war. But then you factor in the craziness of a number of our citizens and their willingness to tear the safety net to shreds…

        • delazeur

          People are pretty good at ignoring abstract threats to their livelihoods in the interest of immediate gains. Climate deniers are a good example. More directly related to this thread, I wonder how many Southern secessionists anticipated that their experiment might include the usual costs of war: poor harvests, homes and businesses destroyed, trade interrupted, etc. The typical Southerner didn’t have a welfare state to lose, but their leaders were certainly putting a lot on the line.

          • John F

            Everything I’ve read pretty strongly indicates that they really did not know that things would remotely turn out the way they did:

            1. The North wouldn’t fight, they’d lack both the will and the cohesiveness.

            2. Even if the North fought they wouldn’t fight well enough- early Southern military victories fed into this- but aside from high profile victories by the Army of Northern Virginia, the South was actually losing most campaigns from the get go.

            3. The South thought they’d get foreign support, partly it was because they overvalued how important cotton was economically, also the fact that Southern aristocrats who traveled got along swell with European aristocrats, blinded them to the fact that popular opinion in the countries that mattered was very much against them.

            4. Finally, they’d been drinking their own koolaid and bouncing around inside their own echo chamber for so long they really had no clue how many people in the rest of the country had simply had it up to here with them. They’d been hating the rest of the country for so long they simply didn’t really notice that it was going to be returned sevenfold

            • so-in-so

              Number 4 sounds too familiar…

              • tsam

                Yeah–4 needs a re-do.

            • los

              drinking their own koolaid and bouncing around inside their own echo chamber
              inbred thinking.
              the emperor’s new clothes.
              also, gerrymandered elections.
              living off slavery.
              only little people pay taxes.

            • Rob in CT

              Excellent list. That’s my impression too.

  • ThrottleJockey

    Second, American political rhetoric and extremism is now more heated than it has been since the Civil War and that’s pretty scary.

    You think the rhetoric and agitation is more extreme than in the 60s? “Segregation forever”…Church bombings…university bombings…university shootings…assassinations…multiple nationwide riots?

    • Or the red scare? I mean, McCarthy?

      Are there people who measure the rhetorical temperature of political discourse? That would be very cool.

      • Are there people who measure the rhetorical temperature of political discourse?

        Joe de Rivera, a former (and considerably older) colleague of mine, mostly retired now, did some work on measuring “emotional climate” in different countries with different political situations, with an eye on applications to “action research” and “peace studies”. (Peace-wise, he put his money where his mouth was, arranging from the 1960s onwards to have his salary kept low enough that he paid no Federal income taxes, with what would otherwise have gone towards his salary supporting the university’s Peace Studies program.) Certainly measuring the “rhetorical temperature of political discourse” would not be an alien concept to him; but I know no specifics.

        • Google scholar turns up a ton of his work. Useful and interesting…my sincere thanks.

    • Nick never Nick

      Or the 1930s, when Roosevelt was reviled as a class traitor, and he drastically expanded the reach of the federal government?

    • CP

      It’s not the rhetoric so much as how mainstream it is.

      Yes, there were a lot of people in the 1930s denouncing FDR in the same way they’re now denouncing Obama and Clinton – and in those days, they were getting the shit beat out of them in election after election by numbers unthinkable today (and mind you, not even all Republicans were that way). Yes, there were a lot of people in the 1960s screaming “segregation now, segregation forever!” – also getting soundly thumped electorally and in the political system. Even McCarthy was ultimately brought down by his own party.

  • Sebastian_h

    “Never since the Civil War has the idea of even living under the regime of the other party been so distasteful on either side and certainly not since the Civil War has one party simply seen the other as inherently illegitimate to the point of creating a Constitutional crisis in order to stop opposition rule.

    Not sure how we get through this. But I hope it happens with less violence than the last time.”

    Agreed.

    There is a vindictiveness in disagreement that we haven’t seen on such a large scale in a long time.

    There is a dehumanization of the other side that we haven’t seen on such a large scale in a long time

    There is an extreme self sorting that we haven’t seen on such a large scale in a long time.

    There is a hubristic and self righteous absolutism on both sides that I recognize from aspects of my evangelical upbringing and it isn’t good.

    There is an ongoing dynamic of demonization that I find scary. It is like watching a shaky marriage explode in your face while both people intentionally push the buttons of the other.

    • Nick never Nick

      Well, it’s like watching a shaky marriage explode when one partner demands respect and autonomy, and the other partner responds with threats of violence, refusal to listen, hiding the checkbook, alienating the children, and stashing assets.

    • rea

      Both sides do it! Just like both sides did it in 1861!

    • Michael Cain

      From a purely practical view, if the North had elected to secede, the South probably wouldn’t have complained. Certainly not to the point of invading in an attempt to preserve the Union. If enough states agree to a partition, the fact that there’s no exit clause in the Constitution is immaterial.

      • so-in-so

        And the whole west would have become Bleeding Kansas writ large, because the CSA would have needed to expand slavery (which had become it’s own profit center). Also, maybe, major warfare outside the U.S. if the CSA tried to re-institute the slave trade against the wishes of the remaining U.S, Britain and France.

        • los

          Was cotton viable west of east Texas?
          I don’t think large scale irrigation was ready in 1860.

          I also wonder if the southern oligarchy would have perceived and not tolerated northern secession as way to evade fugitive slave laws.

          • so-in-so

            Slave worked factories were becoming a thing in 1860, and farming other than cotton can be worked by slave labor.

    • delazeur

      There is an ongoing dynamic of demonization that I find scary. It is like watching a shaky marriage explode in your face while both people intentionally push the buttons of the other.

      Sure, but there are clear right and wrong sides here. One side does not recognize anyone other than straight, white, cis men as deserving of the full suite of civil rights. Debates over fiscal policy pale in comparison to that.

      • CP

        One side does not recognize anyone other than straight, white, cis men as deserving of the full suite of civil rights.

        More generally, one side is trying to fuck the other (and in fact has made that the foundation of its politics), and the other, despite much whining to the contrary, isn’t.

        Gay people are not demanding that conservatives be forbidden from marrying, nor that they have the right not to serve them.

        Women who want abortions are not demanding that women who don’t want them be forced to have them – or equivalent stringent regulations in re male reproductive health.

        American Muslims are not demanding that American Christians be forbidden from entering the country, or profiled in airports, or somehow made responsible for stopping every crime committed by one of their own.

        Nonwhite inner city residents in blue states are not demanding that rural mostly-white areas have their government services slashed, cut and privatized, while demanding that their own remain intact.

        Black people don’t build entire campaigns around their obsession with drug consumption, gun violence, broken families, et al in rural white communities and how that proves that rural whites are immoral and must be set right.

        Unions are not demanding that corporations be abolished altogether.

        I could go on.

        • los

          sticky this
          :-)

        • BartletForGallifrey

          This, as the kids say.

    • Origami Isopod

      The important thing here is, you’ve found a way to feel superior to both sides.

  • LeeEsq

    There does seem to be a growing trend among many people to treat nearly every political or policy decision as an epic Manichean battle of good vs. evil in many places or at least a very tribal us vs. them. If you see your side as being completely in the right and other side as so evil and wrong that they are actively dangerous for society than the only moral choice is to use extreme rhetoric or even oppose them to the death, consequences be damned.

    I don’t know if there is any real solution to the above problem. You can’t really reduce the importance of politics in life and there is never going to be a true consensus. Sometimes, the other side really is evil like with the American South and slavery and during living memory, Jim Crow and segregation or people opposed to LGBT rights in the present. Sometimes determining who is in the right and wrong is extraordinarily difficult but no compromise position is really possible.

    • so-in-so

      Yeah, “Lock her up”, “Let him die” and frequent references to the 2nd amendment and watering the tree of liberty and re-litigating the Civil War kinda point toward outright evil, no?

      • The Dark God of Time

        Remind me again, what side tends to turn to violence, opposing federal marshalls with firearms, beating up people in the name of their candidate?

        Of course, both sides do it, because saying some Trump supporters are racists is using extreme rhetoriic.

        • los

          2010s left suffers from a few rock throwing ‘anarchists’.

          but leaders?
          I don’t think 2010s left has the equivalent of Larry Pratt, Nugent, Walsh Freedom, Michael ‘Savage Weiner’…

  • What I think this discussion demonstrates is how difficult it is to step out of current circumstances and look at historical context in an objective manner. Things are certainly disagreeable right now, but as ThrottleJockey states above, we’ve been through worse, and not all that long ago.

    That being said, it is incumbent on Hillary to make the establishment more egalitarian. Anti-establishment fervor has seemingly brought down the Republican Party (at least on the national level), but saner heads managed to prevail this time around on the Democratic side. Right now, it’s establishment vs. anti-establishment. If it ever becomes anti-establishment vs. anti-establishment in our politics, things will get much uglier than they are now.

    • rea

      it is incumbent on Hillary to make the establishment more egalitarian. Anti-establishment fervor has seemingly brought down the Republican Party

      This is a very strange picture of what is occurring. Trump and his followers are anti-establishment only to the extent that the establishment has embraced egalitarianism. Trump’s appeal is to those who demand tolerance for intolerance, whose religion is offended by other people not following their rules, who don’t think much of blacks, Hispanics, Gays, non-Christians (with “Christianity” being narrowly defined to exclude many people who think they are Christian.

      • los

        Operationally, Trump has stolen more than half of the cantankerous/irritated rabble[1] from the upper upper Kochacracy. (“There’s the treason, fraternity traitor!”)

        I see Trump as a middle Kochacrat who has butted into line far ahead of “his rightful place”. Only in this manner is Trump nouveau anti-establishment.

        Flyover Blue-Collar, humble I feel your pain (peasants), Man Of The People, The Donald Trump’s gold-plated collar (“Thanks, Obama Giuliani”)

        __________
        1. habitually detonatable, histrionically deplorable before Deplorable was politically correct…

    • los

      Right now, it’s establishment vs. anti-establishment.
      I see post-Carter rethug establishment losing grip of their Useful Crazies.

      compared to:
      Wasn’t the “civil” war a war between southern slavery establishment vs northern/midwest more or less abolition-representing establishment?

      Except John Brown…

  • Captain Tau

    If Garrison had led a successful movement to get the democratically elected representatives of northern states to secede, it would not (and should not) be considered treason. Why, then, is the secession of the CSA—which would have been entirely peaceful if Lincoln hadn’t decided invading and occupying it was the best policy response—referred to pejoratively as “treason” on this blog?

    Attempting to declare one’s independence from a sovereign is not the same thing as attempting to overthrow/destroy one’s sovereign. The CSA was not looking to invade and occupy Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Illinois the way the USA was looking to invade and occupy South Carolina, Virginia and Alabama.

    It is really quite astounding how jingoistic some liberals and leftists are about the American Civil War. I would conjecture that they tend to view white southerners as the racist/politically conservative “other”, which makes them susceptible to the kind of silly militarist tropes and propaganda that they would reject in other contexts (e.g. against Muslims.)

    • rea

      You seem to have forgotten who opened fire, Sir.

      • Rob in CT

        White supremacists don’t care about historical facts, silly.

        So it doesn’t matter that armed insurrectionists took over several federal facilities, including bombarding Fort Sumter before Lincoln called for volunteers to put down the rebellion. All of that was “entirely peaceful.”

        You know, just like slavery.

      • Captain Tau

        Oh, right, I forgot. The CSA “shot first” at Fort Sumter, just like Mexico “shot first” in the Thornton Affair, and Spain “shot first” with the sinking of the USS Maine, and North Vietnam “shot first” at the USS Maddox, etc.

        In all these cases, the US government obviously decided to go to war before the first shots were fired, prevented the issues at hand from reaching a solution short of war and made decisions about the deployment of US forces with the aim of provoking a confrontation that could be spun into a rally around the flag propaganda moment.

        In the specific case of the American Civil War, if the Lincoln administration hadn’t decided it was worth going to war to prevent the secession of the CSA, it would have been easy to reach a diplomatic agreement about the relatively trivial issue of federal property and military garrisons in the CSA.

        • Rob in CT

          Cry little white supremacist, cry! Weep bitter tears for the CSA.

          • Captain Tau

            Thanks for providing me with more evidence of my point in the original comment! Instead of recognizing the possibility (and in fact reality) that my opposition to the war is based on doubts about whether it was a cost-effective way to accomplish its stated ends, you assume that it is because I sympathize with/am indifferent to the crimes of the regime it was fought against.

            “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists”

            • so-in-so

              ‘Cause “cost effectiveness” is the most important point in looking at the enslavement of 3 million people and an absolutely intransigent opposition to their emancipation. Thank YOU for clarifying your moral position.

              • Captain Tau

                I swear, this guy isn’t a sock puppet I’m using to prove my point about liberals adopting conservative/militarist tropes when it comes to the American Civil War!

                • so-in-so

                  You don’t need a sock puppet, you do just fine all on your own.

              • Rob in CT

                4 million, I believe, by 1860.

                Also, it’s probably worth noting that slavery was a real thing, whereas WMDs in Iraq and the terrible national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime was not.

            • Rob in CT

              Why, it’s almost like you’ve forgotten you’ve posted your “race realist” garbage here before.

              You’re not fooling anyone.

        • cleek

          if the Lincoln administration hadn’t decided it was worth going to war to prevent the secession of the CSA

          seven states had officially seceded months before Ft Sumter.

          • los

            months

            Sure, but all they had was pigeons and yelling towards the neighbor’s hut.
            Nowadays we have LTE networks.
            /s

        • nick m

          Weren’t the citizens of the US in the seceding states – slave and free – entitled to the protection of their government against insurrectionists who sought to take away their rights? That’s core government activity, in my view — law enforcement.

    • Rob in CT

      Awwww, still sad that treason in defense of slavery didn’t work out?

    • Nick never Nick

      I think the difference is that liberals and leftists recognize that a country that accepts slavery, especially the American manner of slavery, doesn’t deserve to exist. There can’t be any question of ‘patriotism’ under a regime like that — and so we naturally look quite differently on someone who wants to secede in order to prevent slavery, from someone who wants to secede in order to preserve slavery as a way of life forever.

      • Captain Tau

        I think the difference is that liberals and leftists recognize that a country that accepts slavery, especially the American manner of slavery, doesn’t deserve to exist. There can’t be any question of ‘patriotism’ under a regime like that — and so we naturally look quite differently on someone who wants to secede in order to prevent slavery, from someone who wants to secede in order to preserve slavery as a way of life forever.

        I appreciate that you’re emphasizing that your objection to the CSA’s secession is its desire to protect slavery by doing so, not the fact of secession itself. However, I find this interesting because normally progressives are skeptical of wars like Gulf War II based on the idea that we need to invade and occupy a foreign country in order to better organize their society for them. Rather than the costly and often ineffective method of war, non-violent methods are often better at securing lasting change. In the case of the American Civil War, for example, if what the Lincoln administration really, really cared about was ending slavery, it could have let the CSA secede, but then imposed harsh economic sanctions conditional on slavery, generously funded a government underground railroad project, etc. At least, it could have tried doing that, perhaps, before going to war.

        And I want to emphasize that your objection to the secession of the CSA was not the Lincoln administration’s objection. Lincoln would have been fine with the continued enslavement of millions of human beings as long as they pledged their allegiance to a government in Washington, D.C. instead of Richmond, as shown by his letter to Horace Greeley, the Corwin Amendment, etc. (And it’s not like he would have randomly invaded Cuba or Brazil to end slavery there.)

        • Rob in CT

          It wasn’t a foreign country. It was a part of this country whose preferred candidate lost an election.

          Rebellion was treason. Same as in 1776 (and some secessionists made that comparison). But it failed, which makes you very sad.

          it could have let the CSA secede, but then imposed harsh economic sanctions conditional on slavery, generously funded a government underground railroad project, etc. At least, it could have tried doing that, perhaps, before going to war.

          LOL, that leads straight to war anyway, and has the “benefit” of conceding the constitutional point over secession first.

          Lincoln was indeed primarily interested in preserving the Union. He spoke eloquently about this – I can’t improve on his words. If any time you lose an election you can just decide to blow up the country, the country is screwed.

          The fact is that the leadership of the Old South contained a lot of stupid assholes. They could’ve stayed in the Union and fought a rearguard action in congress that would’ve kept slavery around for decades (at least). But noooo-ho. Not good enough! They were willing to start a war to take a shot at creating a republic with slavery enshrined as something nearly sacred.

          Welp, they lost. Cry some more about it.

          • so-in-so

            Now they have found new ways to blow up the country when they lose. Obstruction, threats to defund or default… with the added benefit that THEY aren’t likely to die as a result.

            • Rob in CT

              This group is arguably smarter than their 1860 equivalents. Amazing, right?

              • so-in-so

                Maybe smarter, less brave and/or with the Southern Gentleman’s weird sense of ‘honor’.

                • Origami Isopod

                  I don’t think the courage component is markedly different. I was reading up on Preston Brooks just now. He was fine with beating an unarmed man nearly to death, but he backed out of two duels that Anson Burlingame, who was an expert marksman, challenged him to.

                • so-in-so

                  Happily, Brooks seems to have died a painful death not long after. I recall many supporters had sads because he didn’t live to receive the custom made canes they’d commissioned to replace the one he broke in beating Sumner.

                • Rob in CT

                  Preston Brooks was a fucking coward. He really was a miserable shit of a human being. He’s a perfect illustration of all that was fucked up about Old South honor culture.

                  Defending one’s honor didn’t mean demonstrating integrity through one’s actions. It meant using violence against people who insulted you (in this particular instance, by pointing out that your entire society was based on something evil).

          • Captain Tau

            It wasn’t a foreign country. It was a part of this country whose preferred candidate lost an election.

            “It wasn’t a foreign country, it was just a part of the country whose representatives overwhelmingly sought self-determination.” I mean, really, would you use this logic in any other context?

            Rebellion was treason. Same as in 1776 (and some secessionists made that comparison). But it failed, which makes you very sad.

            So you… agree with me that “treason” is irrelevant to your analysis of the CSA, then?

            And again with the “you’re with us or you’re against us” logic. I’m not “very sad” that the CSA was prevented from seceding; I’m indeed very sad that hundreds of thousands of Americans died in an unnecessary war.

            LOL, that leads straight to war anyway, and has the “benefit” of conceding the constitutional point over secession first.

            I think the constitutional point about secession is really quite irrelevant; I don’t think any other part of the United States would have wanted to secede, and I don’t think it would necessarily have produced some material harm if they had.

            As far as fighting a war anyway, I seriously doubt that the CSA would be able to muster the political will to fight an offensive war against the USA, and even if it did it would be a defensive (and thus much easier to win and less costly) war on the part of the USA.

            Lincoln was indeed primarily interested in preserving the Union. He spoke eloquently about this – I can’t improve on his words. If any time you lose an election you can just decide to blow up the country, the country is screwed.

            Why should we care about “preserving the union”? Why does it matter if the geographical area of the US is divided into one or two or five political entities?

            The fact is that the leadership of the Old South contained a lot of stupid assholes. They could’ve stayed in the Union and fought a rearguard action in congress that would’ve kept slavery around for decades (at least). But noooo-ho. Not good enough! They were willing to start a war to take a shot at creating a republic with slavery enshrined as something nearly sacred.

            I fully agree!

            Welp, they lost. Cry some more about it.

            See above.

            • (((Malaclypse)))

              “It wasn’t a foreign country, it was just a part of the country whose representatives overwhelmingly sought self-determination.”

              It is almost cute how you think the CSA could in any way be considered a “representative” democracy practicing “self-determination.” That is a profound lack of self-awareness.

        • Nick never Nick

          I’m not an expert, you might be right. Just don’t take my argument and ascribe it to other people — I’m not a patriot, I was born in America, lived in Iceland, Thailand, Belgium, and Micronesia, and emigrated to Canada, but that is just myself, most liberals and leftists are patriots too. I think small countries can work well, and I don’t love the United States or Americans more than other parts or peoples of the world. I think that the Civil War was a moral war because it ended slavery, but I don’t care one way or the other about the abstract issue of whether the United States can only grow, or whether some subset of it can split off.

          I think that your argument that slavery could have been stopped by letting the CSA secede is naive and disingenuous. Once it was a separate country, Abolitionists could have been more easily ignored, and business interests would have wanted to make money, and no one would have wanted to go to war for abstract moral reasons. Many people from the North fought to preserve their country, that wouldn’t have been an option in your scenario.

        • delazeur

          However, I find this interesting because normally progressives are skeptical of wars like Gulf War II based on the idea that we need to invade and occupy a foreign country in order to better organize their society for them.

          Plenty of progressives support the idea of foreign wars for humanitarian purposes (see, e.g., criticism from the left of Clinton’s refusal to become involved in Rwanda). The objection to the 2003 invasion of Iraq is that the humanitarian argument was very, very transparently an argument of convenience and not in any way the real reason we went to war. Further, it became obvious very quickly that U.S. activities in Iraq were more focused on using the country as a socioeconomic laboratory than on ending any injustices there.

          • Further, it became obvious very quickly that U.S. activities in Iraq were more focused on using the country as a socioeconomic laboratory than on ending any injustices there.

            Only for a very degraded concept of laboratories and what goes on (or is supposed to go on) there, when they are being used for science rather than as props in horror movies. Bush’s War Party had and has no interest in “experiments” as means to learning anything. When Krugman and others use the phrase “natural experiments” to describe, e.g., their own comparisons of the socioeconomics of Kansas with those economies of otherwise similar states that are not ruled by Brownbeck and his crazies, they are putting themselves—not Brownbeck et al.—in the role of scientists.

            • delazeur

              Yeah, I was struggling for a good term. “Playground” or “sandbox” would probably be more accurate, but still don’t feel quite right.

      • Jon_H11

        I think this is an important point. The evil of the South was that was a society based on a much more extreme, institutionalized version of white supremacy (slavery) than the North had (which was really still abhorrent) .

        Lincoln and the North were unquestionably in the extreme moral right (at least relatively). Politically/legally its a much more opaque and subjective issue.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        This is frankly pure bullshit. Leftists did not think the USSR should not exist during the 1930s and 1940s when it practiced slavery on a massive scale. Instead they supported that regime whole heartedly and held it up as a model for transforming the US and the rest of the world.

        • Nick never Nick

          If by ‘supported’ you mean ‘in a deficit of reliable information in which large amounts of propaganda were produced by both sides, leftists argued that the Soviet Union was doing some good things’, yes, you’re right.

          You’ll probably have noticed that Communism as a political force in America was largely destroyed when people understood what was going on — that’s because it lost its moral authority.

          • J. Otto Pohl

            During the 1930s and 1940s when state slavery existed on a large scale in the USSR the CPUSA and a large number of break offs from it that considered it to be a “deformed workers’ state” but a workers’ state nonetheless did not believe that the “socialist motherland” should cease to exist. During the 1930s and 1940s there isn’t any other left in the US. Instead they fervently supported the regime and desired to install the system elsewhere. The Trots might claim that new revolutions wouldn’t be corrupted like the “deformed workers’ state” of the USSR. But, they never got anywhere. The successful revolutions during this time in Albainia, Yugoslavia, and China largely emulated the Stalinist model in their initial years.

            • so-in-so

              “State slavery” is not the same as chattel slavery, and is effectively practiced in the good old U.S.of A. today in our glorious judicial-industrial complex. Yes, communists in the U.S. mistakenly supported Stalin in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

              Who was it that the anti-Communists supported in the 1930’s? I wonder…

              • J. Otto Pohl

                This is the weakest defense of the Gulag I have ever seen.

                • so-in-so

                  Yah, had I been trying to defend the Gulag…

                • Nick never Nick

                  Comrade, your defense of the gulag is insufficiently inspiring. Please report back to Tomsk immediately.

            • Nick never Nick

              There is a much better, more recent comparison — South Africa. Why contort this argument to force your bete noir of Stalin-supporting liberals into it? South Africa practiced apartheid, which is like Sunday School sing-along compared to American-style slavery. Liberals opposed the South African state, conservatives supported the South African state.

              There are many reasons that Soviet-style oppression may not have been condemned by liberals and leftists (though it was — see, for example, Orwell). One is that people are most concerned with their own politics, not those of other countries (which is why we condemn sexism here, and not in Saudi Arabia). Two is that within America, many liberals and leftists were opposed to the forces that opposed the Soviet Union. Three is that everyone’s understanding of what the Soviet Union was was limited, abstract, perfunctory, and academic (since those opinions had no effect upon the USSR’s system). Four is that many of the institutions of Soviet oppression had existed as well under the Czarist system. Five is that Hitler was perceived as the primary enemy, with Stalin being an ally against him.

              Finally, the influence of the USSR on American politics was completely destroyed when the truth of it got out. That’s because Americans generally don’t accept the moral legitimacy of slavery.

              • so-in-so

                Some Unionists (particularly the German ’48s) were, in fact, Marxists. Otto denounces the whole Union as proto-Stalinist in 3…2…

              • J. Otto Pohl

                You claimed leftists belived that states that practiced slavery did not deserve to exist. That is a lie. Their record regarding the USSR under Stalin is evidence of that.

                • Nick never Nick

                  My good man, when making an argument, it is usually a wise plan to choose examples other than your idée fixe — otherwise, you risk forcing every discussion into a framework that doesn’t fit. For example, ‘leftists’ and ‘liberals’ opposed American slavery for decades, but that opposition built over time. It was affected by factors such as politics, court decisions, and literary events. Same with opposition to South African apartheid; same with opposition to the North Korean slave camps of today. We of the ‘left’ do not support them, but if you’d buttonholed someone in 1990 and asked them their opinion of the North Korean state, who knows what it might have been?

                  Sure, there was a period of time when the ‘left’ (which you won’t define) might have been insufficiently condemnatory of the USSR. Maybe that’s because they didn’t have info that they trusted; maybe it’s because Hitler was the greater threat; maybe it’s because what you’re talking about is the sort of abstract denunciation nutcases are always requiring of Western Muslims. I don’t know, I am only an unfrozen caveman lawyer.

                  But what I do know is that as the facts about the USSR became widely known, support for the USSR collapsed on the left. That, to me, is evidence that ‘leftists’ and ‘liberals’ do care about issues of human rights, and don’t support countries that violate them on the scale of the USSR, or the CSA.

                • ColBatGuano

                  Because leftists only supported the USSR because it practiced slavery? Is that your illogical argument?

            • The Dark God of Time

              In the interim I had ceased to think of myself as a Communist. The Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 was understandable; the Western betrayal of Czechoslovakia was a clear signal to Stalin that if Hitler turned against Russia (as he repeatedly announced that he would in his book Mein Kampf), the West would not raise a finger to help. But the brutal annexation of the Baltic states and still more the aggressive war against Finland were harder to accept. I was appalled, too, by the show-trials of the Old Bolsheviks, Bukharin and the rest; I read the verbatim accounts of their so-called confessions, published by Moscow in English and available at left-wing bookshops in London. I was appalled. These tales of recruitment by the British Secret Service in the first days of the Revolution and a lifetime of espionage and sabotage were beyond belief; they could only be the product of fear and perhaps the experience of torture. And I was sickened too by reports, later confirmed, that our General Kleber, whose coolness under fire at University City had taught us all how to face danger, had been recalled to Russia and executed. Loyalty to the ideals for which my friends had died in Spain was undermined by the grim realities which I could no longer ignore. When I came to the United States I joined no party, and though remaining a resolute defender of the cause of freedom in Spain, refrained from political activity.

              http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/scw/knox.htm

              There isn’t other left in America.

              Keep plucking that chicken, Grand Duke Otto.

            • efgoldman

              During the 1930s and 1940s when state slavery existed on a large scale in the USSR the CPUSA and a large number of break offs from it that considered it to be a “deformed workers’ state” but a workers’ state nonetheless

              Tell us, Jotto, even in the midst of a terrible depression, when did the US or any state vote in any election for a CPUSA or even a socialist candidate?

        • cleek

          “Leftists” needs a specific definition here.

          • Domino

            Given J Otto’s past, I imagine a couple of people who had very little influence, and even lesser amounts of power, are suitable to represent every single person on the left side of the political spectrum.

          • rea

            It’s a peculiar notion of “leftist” that for the 30s and 40s seems to be limited to actual communists. New Dealers don’t count..

    • Bruce B.

      I notice you never mention the word “slavery”. Unfortunately for you, the Confederates did.

      • Scott P.

        Even beyond that, as many Unionists pointed out at the time: if we look at, say South Carolina, its independence from the King had been won through the shedding of Northern blood, Northern money had been spent on improving its ports and infrastructure, and had benefited from being part of a continental system of shared commerce, finances and defense paid for by the North. It was therefore as much the property of a citizen of Massachusetts as of a citizen of South Carolina, and could not be lawfully taken out of the Union without a consent of those who resided there.

    • Murc

      If Garrison had led a successful movement to get the democratically elected representatives of northern states to secede, it would not (and should not) be considered treason.

      Yes. It absolutely would. Just as the Revolution was. This country was founded in a mass act of treason.

      Why, then, is the secession of the CSA—which would have been entirely peaceful if Lincoln hadn’t decided invading and occupying it was the best policy response—referred to pejoratively as “treason” on this blog?

      Lincoln did not invade and occupy anything. He put down a criminal conspiracy that had illegally seized US territory. You can only invade and occupy other countries.

      Attempting to declare one’s independence from a sovereign is not the same thing as attempting to overthrow/destroy one’s sovereign.

      Those are two different things that are still acts of treason.

      The CSA was not looking to invade and occupy Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Illinois the way the USA was looking to invade and occupy South Carolina, Virginia and Alabama.

      South Carolina, Virginia, and Alabama were part of the USA. A country cannot invade and occupy itself.

      It is really quite astounding how jingoistic some liberals and leftists are about the American Civil War.

      Gosh! We have a poor opinion of the criminals and moral degenerates who decided to launch a mass act of treason for no better reason than they wanted to continue to assert that it was possible to own human beings, and to rape, murder, and mistreat them as they saw fit. And to support this viewpoint, they armed themselves and engaged in mass acts of violence.

      There are many good reasons to commit treason. The one the Confederates had? Was a terrible one.

      I would conjecture that they tend to view white southerners as the racist/politically conservative “other”,

      This isn’t what “other” means in this context. You are using the word improperly. We can only be said to be othering conservatives if we’re denying their basic humanity and rights and asserting they deserve to be held to different standards. We do not do this.

    • Jay B

      The CSA was not looking to invade and occupy Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Illinois the way the USA was looking to invade and occupy South Carolina, Virginia and Alabama.

      To be fair, you guys were holding people hostage without rights, agency or humanity. Plus, it was treason even if you just want to hand wave it away.

      And they never would, but If say, a large group of Muslims decided to declare Dearborn a sharia-state of Greater ISIS, murder the City Council, start bombing Detroit and begin enslaving the Christians, atheists and Jews located within the city limits, I’m pretty sure people here and elsewhere would correctly call it treasonous and would support a state action against them. Since the South did, in fact, consider slavery to be more important than union and their stated desire to leave the US was slavery AND they started the war to begin with, well, fuck that treason.

      • rea

        And you know, it is not as if the Confederacy did not “invade” Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and, oh yes, Indiana, Ohio, and Vermont

    • L2P

      If Garrison had led a successful movement to get the democratically elected representatives of northern states to secede, it would not (and should not) be considered treason.

      Who the hell says that? Of course that’s treason. The only reason you have so much trouble with that question is that treason AGAINST slavery is pretty easy to defend. Garrison is clearly acting in a just manner, given all those slaves and stuff. Same as the American colonists in 1776, treasoning against Britain for the right to vote and so on, had an OK reason to do it.

      But treason in defense of slavery? No thanks.

      • Rob in CT

        Bingo.

        Of course if Northern states had seceded (wasn’t there an earlier effort?) it would’ve been the same, from a constitutional perspective, as what happened in 1860-61. The moral calculus, on the other hand…

        • Colin Day

          The Hartford Convention in 1814, in opposition to the War of 1812.

      • Captain Tau

        Again, this is in fact demonstrating my point: “treason” has no inherent moral value, and thus it’s (at the very least) redundant of you/the LGM bloggers and commentariat to accuse the CSA of treason when you obviously have no principled opposition to treason.

        • ColBatGuano

          That turd is well polished.

        • delazeur

          Not that arguing with you is going to accomplish anything, but LGMers use the phrase “treason in defense of slavery” to describe the CSA, which you might notice is materially different than simply “treason.”

        • (((Hogan)))

          We think of it as “calling things by their right names.”

    • delazeur

      It is really quite astounding how jingoistic some liberals and leftists are about the American Civil War. I would conjecture that they tend to view white southerners as the racist/politically conservative “other”,

      Almost as though leftists have read what the secessionists wrote about why they seceded and taken them at their word.

      • liberalrob

        And what their ideological progeny have written and spoken in modern times.

    • Colin Day

      Waging war against the United States is treason, at least if you believe the Constitution.

    • liberalrob

      If Garrison had led a successful movement to get the democratically elected representatives of northern states to secede, it would not (and should not) be considered treason.

      Of course it would be considered treason. It’s right there in Article III of the Constitution, which all the states agreed to when they became states:

      “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

      If the CSA had succeeded in stymieing the USA’s attempt to put down their rebellion and been recognized as separate country, then accusations of treason would be moot. But they lost, their states remained subject to the Constitution, and therefore the act of “levying war against the United States” was treasonous. It would be the same if any state seceded, for whatever reason. If the United States refused to recognize their secession and they fought to preserve it and lost, that would be levying war against the United States. It’s not all that difficult.

      What you really object to is the “pejorative” use of the term as a denouncement of those who seek to return to the authoritarian, aristocratic antebellum social order (itself a ridiculous fantasy construct that those people refuse to recognize would not be a world they would enjoy living in, even absent slavery). Nobody likes being called a fellow-traveler of traitors.

    • Chetsky

      Why are you here? Put your white sheet back on and go haunt RedState or wherever you came from and leave decent people in peace.

      • BartletForGallifrey

        You must have missed the memo–RedState is basically liberal propaganda to people like Tau.

        Stormfront, perhaps.

    • los

      white southerners as the racist/politically conservative “other”, which makes them susceptible to the kind of silly militarist tropes and propaganda that they would reject in other contexts (e.g. against Muslims.)
      ??, considering that it is Cons (and ‘triangulating’ Democrats) who habitually arm “The Moderates” – Muslim or otherwise.

      Is Rios Montt a Muslim?

  • Nick never Nick

    I think the biggest change in my lifetime has been the polarization of voters along ‘willfully stupid’ and ‘not willfully stupid’ lines. This wasn’t the case in the 1970s or 1980s — say what you will about the Republican party of that time, it had serious leaders and serious voters who advocated for policies that they thought would be effective. I’m not convinced that is the case anymore — the Republican party now is made up of marks and sharps, though there is more than one scam going on at any one time. I think that politics functions best as a debate between intelligent factions, and I think that the division of the electorate into morons and non-morons is going to have serious implications.

    • Bruce B.

      Yes. Willfully stupid, and willfully cruel – my 86-year-old mother comments that the goons and their bosses who made so many lives wretched during her childhood were callous and oblivious. The conservative movement has fed a much more calculated, knowing cruelty, with a fair amount of deliberately passing up their own gain for the sake of making others suffer more.

    • LeeEsq

      Same with Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. These were people that thought deeply about what they believed in and what would make society better. It aligned with what many people wanted at the time.

      • The Dark God of Time

        The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

      • (((Hogan)))

        What Thatcher thought would make society better was denying it existed.

  • Bruce Vail

    William Lloyd Garrison and some of the other abolitionists wanted to split up the Union in 1857. It’s still a good idea.

    • Murc

      It really isn’t.

      I understand the temptation to just lop off the South like a gangrenous limb and let them go their own way, but there are millions of people down there who don’t deserve what would be inflicted on them.

      • Michael Cain

        Me, I’m betting that the partition will be east-west, split down the center of a depopulated Great Plains, for assorted reasons.

        • Colin Day

          I suspect that the West Coast has more in common with the Northeast than it does to much of the West.

          • Michael Cain

            I suspect that’s already less true than most people think, and will be even less true in 25-30 years, which is soon as you could expect a physical partition idea to actually get discussed.

            Winning politics in the West is about winning in the suburbs. And as my friend the anthropologist says, “All western suburbs are more like each other than they are like anything east of the Mississippi.” YMMV, of course.

            • ColBatGuano

              A lot folks in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and LA would disagree.

              • Sebastian_h

                It can’t be denied that rich people often win.

              • Michael Cain

                The comparison he’s making isn’t between San Francisco (850K people) and Boston (650K) and Denver (660K). It’s between the seven million people around the Bay but not in SF, and the four million around Boston, and the two million around Denver. His assertion is that those parts of California and Colorado “feel” much more like each other than either of them feels like the area around Boston. I claim this is not unexpected, as all of the western suburbs have spent the last 40 years dealing with explosive growth. An historian acquaintance describes it as “All western states with more than a million people are where California was sometime in the last 50 years, all headed down the same path.”

            • so-in-so
      • Bruce Vail

        I’ve got relatives I like in the South. I’ll invite them all to move into my garage.

        • so-in-so

          “Build a wall!!!!”

      • CP

        I understand the temptation to just lop off the South like a gangrenous limb and let them go their own way

        This impulse always reminds me of the people who take one look at a high-crime inner-city neighborhood and say “oh, fuck it, it’s not worth policing. If there are so many criminals in there, let them kill each other. Yes, I suppose there are some good people there, but it’s their own damn fault for not moving.”

        • so-in-so

          Right, and with Gerrymandering the people who want a “blue state” could well exceed 50%, just concentrated in the wrong areas.

  • Bruce Vail

    Murc has it right.

    There is nothing wrong with disloyalty to the Government per se. It’s the reasons that are important.

    • so-in-so

      “Disloyalty” on the level of civil disobedience, sure.

      Trying to break up the country is a minimum “sedition”.

      Washington, Franklin, Adams et. al. stood a very real risk of drawing and quartering had the revolution failed and they been captured.

      • liberalrob

        Almost a 100% certainty.

    • sonamib

      The point is that “disloyalty to the Government” is a big fucking deal. If people are doing that, they better be doing that for extremely good reasons. It’s hard to show more commitment to evil than taking extreme measures to defend slavery.

      • liberalrob

        And they had better win.

        “Come at the King, you best not miss.”

        • Precisely. The only legitimate state is one that will wage total war against armed rebellion. A state unable to fight back against rebels is no longer a state. As a result, the decision to commit insurrection is one that must be made with the understanding that the options are victory or death.

          Which is why democracy is a good thing. It permits some degree of public strife against authority without the outbreak of organized violence.

          • sonamib

            And if they want to be admired for their ideals despite their doomed-to-fail rebellion, those ideals had better be, you know, admirable.

            • CP

              Yep.

              This is something that occurs to me whenever the debate over Confederate nostalgia comes up. There’s something to be said for the idea of reminding people that the people in authority aren’t always right and that the winning side isn’t always the wrong one, etc etc.

              The Confederacy just happens to be the single worst cause in all of U.S. history with which to make that point.

              The fucking Whiskey Rebellion would be a better cause to romanticize.

            • so-in-so

              But the neo-Confederates just shovel faster

  • HenryW

    What follows may be obvious, but I thought some sort of response to the neo-confederates on this site is necessary.

    Opposing secession to keep the slave states in the Union was right, even though it required a costly and bloody war; defending secession in the defense of slavery was and is wrong. But that was not the basis on which the war was started, at least not overtly. Lincoln could not have (and perhaps would not have if he could) made the decision to go to war in 1861 turn on slavery vs. freedom because he did not have the political support he needed to wage that war.

    Instead it was fought to preserve the Union. Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address makes the case for maintaining the Union in perpetuity in lawyerlike terms. And he was right when he made his case on that narrower ground as well.

    Secession was an attack on the principle of democratic self-rule. The South had effectively controlled national politics for years, despite having fewer citizens than the North, thanks to its power to keep abolitionism at bay through the party politics of that era and the antidemocratic makeup of the Senate. When it finally lost the Presidency to an opponent of slavery (but not an abolitionist) it chose to revolt rather than accept the results.

    Does this sound familiar?

    Secession would likewise have been wrong if Abolitionists such as Garrison had actually tried it in 1857, rather than merely making empty threats. While the political system may have appeared to be deformed beyond redemption (and did in fact require a war and then a second Reconstruction 100 years later to begin the work of uprooting the institutions of white supremacy) secession was the worst possible response to that problem. Anti-slavery secession was a form of militant defeatism that would have only strengthened the Slave Power, which would have continued trading with the North, while cementing its power in the South and West. Abolitionist secessionism (and the equally feather-brained “go in peace” movement led by Greeley during the worst days of the War) did not challenge the Southern opposition to democracy, but rewarded it.

    I recommend reading Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address for his thoughts on the subject. It is amazing that Trump and his supporters have made these basic questions of fealty to democratic norms relevant again.

    • CP

      Yeah, the dynamic of “left” and right in the U.S. in which the left offers to meet the right halfway, the right tells it to fuck itself, demands everything, and flips over the table if it doesn’t get it, and this is considered normal, has a long history in this country.

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