Will, at Dispatches, has a post-Presidents Day post in which, amongst other things, he links, critically, to my Terrapin Times piece on Roger B. Taney. He packs quite a pit into a brief paragraph, so I’ll post it in its entirety and respond as appropriate.

I’m baffled by the rise of anti-Lincoln sentiment on some quarters of the Right. Freeing the slaves ought to count for something. Moreover, letting the South go and hoping for the best (voluntary manumission, perhaps?) seems like wishful thinking. I’d also argue that Jim Crow would have been a lot more durable had the South gained independence. Patrick Deneen’s assessment is a bit more balanced.

First, I’m not sure why this baffles Will. Criticism of Lincoln from the Right is nothing new; granted, unfortunately, a fair amount of it comes from certain neo-Confederate paleoconservative/paleolibertarian corners where racism, I suspect, seethes just below the surface, awaiting the day when Jim Crow laws can be revived, perhaps “for the good of” Blacks. However, such denouncements come from conservatives unpossessed of such virulent tendencies. (I like to think that I belong to this latter category.) For instance, long ago (by blogosphere standards), Larison offered this:

Serious conservatives of old (and some still around today) frequently disparaged Father Abraham and rejected the politics that he represented; to the extent that the GOP really was always the Party of Lincoln, conservatives are hard-pressed to ever find a real place in it, since our tradition via the Agrarians and Bradford ties us to the Antifederalists, Jeffersonian Republicans, Southern Democrats and Populists.  At each stage of our history, the revolutionary forces of consolidation wanted to transform and do violence to the settled order of American life and sought to damage the constitutional order as well.  At each stage serious conservatives opposed them and their works . . . .

. . .  if “Lincoln Republican” means anything it refers to the post-1865 Republican stranglehold imposed on the country by the post-War arrangements of power . . . .

It was only ten years ago that Bob Dole lectured us about how the GOP was the Party of Lincoln and anybody who didn’t like it could get out right now.  I got the hint when I was still just 17 and never joined the Party of Corporations, Corruption and Consolidation.  Weaver’s argument from definition notwithstanding, Lincoln was certainly no conservative or, if he was a conservative, I would not want to have anything to do with such a conservatism. [Emphasis in the original. – NPO]

Moreover, of course this antipathy toward Lincoln is emerging perhaps more openly now, as we’ve marked his bicentennial. Such anniversaries are frequently the points at which we curmudgeons escape from our cellars long enough to inject politically incorrect vitriol into staid discussion. Pro-Lincoln agitprop (along with pro-Darwin commentary and anti-Darwin screeds) have dominated the media of late; that dissidents would keep opinions to themselves is neither to be expected nor desired.

Of course freeing the slaves ought to count for something; as far as I know, none of us expressing our disapproval of the Great Emancipator have denied that this was a good thing. I fully challenge the notion that ending slavery was Lincoln’s principal intention — if, initially, an intention at all (I’ll not pretend to know what motives drove him from deepest within.) —; preserving the Union, for better or for worse, I think, is what he sought to do. That the Emancipation Proclamation immediately freed slaves only in states over which Washington had no de facto authority — and in those parts of the Confederacy over which the Union had regained control (a fact seemingly lost to too many critics of Lincoln) — suggests an unwillingness, or ambivalence, at least at first, respecting the issue.

I certainly agree that expecting to see the end of slavery, at least any time soon, by way of “letting the South go and hoping for the best (voluntary manumission, perhaps?)” is wishful thinking. I certainly had no intention of making such a suggestion when I noted that Taney manumitted his own slaves. I make mention of that only to suggest (specifically to my primary audience; more on that below) that, dreadful and mistaken as his Dred Scott opinion was, Taney was not a complete beast.

Slavery is unequivocally immoral, a particularly sad stain on this nation’s sad history. However, I’m not at all convinced that the liberation of Black slaves into a Southern society in which de jure discrimination and, notwithstanding the Fourteenth Amendment, de facto inequality reigned and into Northern cities where the absence of slavery and the chimera of tolerance did little to meliorate the fact that Blacks often remained second- (perhaps third-)class citizens justifies the deaths of more than six hundred thousand Americans, more deaths than every other war, Revolution through Vietnam, combined.

How could we have ended slavery otherwise? I don’t pretend to know. Perhaps, as Will suggests, had the South been left to its own devices, Jim Crow would have been a lot more durable. On the other hand, that a South not embittered by bloodshed, conquest and Reconstruction, Sherman’s rape of Georgia, and the quashing of the important Constitutional question of secession (More below.) and states’ rights, could have gradually ended slavery and slowly developed, more organically, healthier race relations is not, I submit, impossible. I may reveal naïvety by expressing such an opinion, but, left with few options, I’m willing to entertain it.

Ultimately, for me, the question of slavery is almost irrelevant to my personal assessment of the sixteenth president. Rather, his willful violation of the Constitution (the fundamental point of my Taney piece), nationalism/centralism, refusal to negotiate with the secessionists over the legal transfer of Fort Sumter (and other forts) to the Confederacy (which could have precluded the attack that incited the War Between the States), and being beholden to corporate interests inform my judgment. That emancipation resulted from his war wins him a few points, but that it was such a bloody, dubious war that brought forth this result suffices to negate much of the gain here.

The Taney piece to which Will responded will be on the front page of the forthcoming issue of The Terrapin Times. The fact is that I’m running a beleaguered-from-the-get-go right-of-centre paper on a heavily liberal/apathetic campus; running a piece like this is something I’m doing because a) Provocation draws attention and b) Notwithstanding the great flaw of Taney’s, I believe that people ought to realize the important of Taney qua judge in Ex parte Merryman whose opinion was most recently reaffirmed in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Had I written a piece about Lincoln, I, doubtless, should have dedicated more of the piece to criticizing him, but I also should have offered at least a small bone to the vastly more numerous pro-Lincoln crowd.

On the question of secession, I hold firmly no opinion. Unwilling to say that the States definitely possess the right to secede, I’m even more loath to submit that they lack such a right. Doubtless, whatever the Constitution says, I suspect that many States’ leaders failed to realize the Hamiltonian machinations at work to guarantee that, regardless of what they all believed, whatever right to re-establish autonomy would slip into the mists of history courtesy of the centralizing tendencies of Madison’s document.


The Maryland Corner: “Redeeming Roger Taney”

(from the forthcoming issue of The Terrapin Times, the first installment of our new feature, dedicated to important political figures, past and present, on the Right from Maryland, tentatively called The Maryland Corner)

Americans have a way of spinning history to bolster our national mythology. JFK’s foreign policy was nightmarish — to speak nothing of his personal life —, yet we extol him. FDR attempted to pack the Supreme Court, interned Japanese-Americans in numbers that dwarf the count of unfortunate souls at Guantánamo, and eagerly collaborated with the murderous Stalin, but idolizing him as the conqueror of the Depression and scourge of the Axis powers is much more palatable than embracing the truth. 

Then there is Abraham Lincoln. Ignoring that he needlessly sanctioned the bloodiest war in American history and put the kibosh on the important question of whether states, sovereign when they entered into the great experiment in liberty, could secede and reassert their autonomy, we revere the sixteenth president as a great liberator, the savior of the Union. We relegate Maryland native and Lincoln antagonist Chief Justice Roger B. Taney to the deepest pits of Hell for his opinion in Dred Scott v. Sanford.

Yet, ironically, as we begin at least four years under our first Black president, a man esteemed as the new Lincoln, we ought to look for inspiration to no less a man than the estimable author of that loathsome Dred Scott decision.

Roger Brooke Taney, of Calvert County, was hardly perfect; he was, however, more complex than many would care to admit. His opining that Blacks were “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race,” and thus ineligible for citizenship, is detestable. Nevertheless, he had personal qualms with the “peculiar institution,” and manumitted his own slaves. A dual-federalist, he stood firmly between ardent states’ rights champions and the advocates of centralization, proud of his Southern heritage and a lover of Maryland, but a loyal American who sought the preservation of the Union. 

Most important today, as our government continues to expropriate powers at the cost of our God-given liberties, Taney stood up to Lincoln’s antipathetic attitude toward the Constitution. After the mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland, to the president’s consternation, proclaimed that they would permit no more Union troops to transfer through their respective jurisdictions, Lincoln instructed General Scott to suspend the writ of habeas corpus within the area of the military line. 

Obeying the governor’s orders, Lt. John Merryman, of the Baltimore County Horse Guards, burned bridges to prevent additional Pennsylvania soldiers from entering Maryland; not long thereafter, he was arrested on charges of treason. Numerous Maryland legislators soon found themselves incarcerated for no obvious reason. 

Enter Roger Taney. Presiding over the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Maryland, Taney, in Ex parte Merryman, reaffirmed that the president lacks authority to suspend the writ of habeas corpus — a power expressly delegated to Congress in Article I of the Constitution. A defiant Lincoln persisted, widening the scope of the territory wherein the writ was held in abeyance. Employing arguments frightfully comparable to — but exceedingly more eloquent than — those to which we have grown accustomed in this tumultuous decade, Lincoln asked rhetorically of Congress, “Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?” Orwellian reverence for the rule of law at its finest.

Taney’s comprehension of liberty was incomplete, perhaps unforgivably so. That President Obama intends to try to suspend the writ of habeas corpus is dubious. However, given Obama’s vision for expanding government’s role in the economy, embrace of the Pax Americana ideology, and, more relevant, support for the USA PATRIOT Act and the FISA “compromise,” one is right to fear for his liberty. If we look beyond his imperfections, in Roger Taney we see a Marylander of whom we should be proud and whose spirited defense of the Constitution we should aspire to mimic. 

The future of the past II

Okay, so I’ve provide quite a lot of highlights; highly relevant highlights, though for sure. I feel as if, having regurgitated so much for my readers, I ought to offer a least a few thoughts of mine own. So here I go:

I certainly agree with Daniel McCarthy that we need to work on building infrastructure, but before that can occur, I believe that we need, at least broadly (even paleoconservatism, is, of course, a coalition), to agree, as Mr Dougherty notes, on what the mission and values of our ideology are. On economics, are we Chester-Bellocian Distributists? (I consider myself to be one.) Closely related agrarians or ordoliberals? (I really need to read the Agrarians, as I have Wendell Berry; Röpke is on my bookshelf, awaiting his turn.) Or do we embrace Buchananite protectionism? Need conflict arise between the two? The most extreme (by present-day standards) wish of the Distributist and, particularly, the Agrarian, videlicet, the return to a truly agrarian society, is, barring the not-so-likely catastrophe, little more than just a dream. A more appropriate, wide-spread distribution of property (and of ownership in other senses) and the return of the family farm, rather than agri-business (and a return to the land by many), though perhaps improbable without a long fight, a fight more than worth the while. Perchance, then, middle-ground between the essential autarky of the more traditionalist perspectives and trade-based economic nationalism of Buchanan ought to be our general home on economic policies. How we’ll — if we should so like — maintain any sort of alliance with the paleolibertarians — or even self-styled paleocons less averse to classical liberal policy (After all, as I contended above, we are a coalition!), then, poses another problem. Whether we should care, of course, is worthy of consideration: From the practical standpoint, the answer, of course, is that we should; moreover, they do share many opinions with us. However, I don’t believe that real, cultural conservatism can be achieved without concomitant dedication to an economic system focused on the local and the particular.

If we successfully agree on where we stand economically (With perhaps a few minor exceptions, I believe that paleos hold sufficiently similar views on immigration, war and interventionism, social issues, and Federalism and States’ Rights issues.), we then can successfully begin to build the infrastructure, working from the starting points provided by TAC and Chronicles and The Rockford Institute.

I’ll defer to Mr McCarthy’s forthcoming article here: I’m not sure where to begin this immense long-term project. I have one thought though: We need to desert the G.O.P.

As I read the many opinions offered in the thread, I couldn’t help thinking about The Free State Project. Ought we paleos to adopt a similar plan, attempting to relocate en masse to a smaller state where we might be able to gain political control? I realize that the Libertarians failed at this in New Hampshire, and that it may be an inherently flawed plan. Furthermore, we seek to rebuild our country (our countries, as some may prefer to suggest — though we can hope to rebuild the nation simultaneously), rather than one or two states. However, we need a starting point, and one state or another might be appropriate. Which, I do not know.

Jim and his respondents have provided quite a bit for us to contemplate. I hope that I’ve offered something relevant to the discussion.

More on Kosovo

The regions of the conservative blogosphere that I frequent have made much ado about the declaration of independence in Pristina Sunday. James at Postmodern Conservative, as I, supports the move; Daniel Larison of and Pat Buchanan, writing on the Chronicles blog, stand opposed.

I’ve made a case, weak as it be, in favor Kosovar secession previously. Having encountered in the combox of Larison’s blog refutations to my assertions from him and other readers, I thought that perhaps I might briefly, and not too deeply (I love Wikipedia, but will not bet the farm on it, so to speak.), brush up on my history of Kosovo.

In my first post, I expressed my sympathy for the Serbs, in and out of Kosovo, who look to Kosovo as a homeland. The history, however, of the Serbs, as with most modern nationalities/ethnic groups, far from indefinite, is quite traceable: Slavs (“true” Slavs and those indigenous peoples whom they encountered and with whom they intermarried) split into, roughly delineated, Eastern, Western, and Southern Slavs. Each, then, further split up, and further interbred, leading to our Russians, Czechs, Serbs, et cetera.

Long before the Slavic peoples descended upon the Balkans, Thracians, Illyrians (who, I must note, are considered to be the likely predecessors, linguistically and culturally, if not ethnically, as well, of the later-Islamicized Albanian people), and others (both Indo-European-speaking, as were the aforementioned peoples, and indigenous earlier Europeans) inhabited the area. Kosovo, then called Dardania, was home to the Illyrian Dardani.

In time, as Germanic barbarians routed the continent and Slavs finally migrated to the peninsula, present-day Kosovo became a center for preserving this culture and heritage. Only in the twelfth century, after Slavicized Bulgars and Byzantines had dominated the are, came the Serbian people to conquer Kosovo.

History is often more complex than the victors (in this case, the Serbs) make it out to be. The Serbian cultural concerns are not without merit; nor, perhaps, are the political fears of the Serbian minority within the newly established republic’s boundaries. However, ultimately, Kosovo, is an Illyrian — an Albanian — land, and, I believe, ought to be ruled as such.

Best wishes to the Kosovars

Later today, Kosovar leaders likely will declare independence for the “poor, mostly Muslim but feverishly pro-Western” state tucked in a southwestern part of the former Yugoslavia, opposition from Moscow, Belgrade, and the Kosovo Serb minority notwithstanding.

The complaint of Serbs, on both sides of the Serbia-Kosovo border, is not without merit: The tiny province contains numerous monuments sacred to the Serbs and is considered to be “the heart of their ancestral homeland.” Russian opposition, however, I cannot so easily suffer. Neo-Soviet imperialists fear a “dangerous precedent for secessionist groups worldwide.”

And what, I ask, is so bad about that? Have not a people, culturally, ethnically, or otherwise differently constituted from their sovereigns, and fully desiring self-rule, the right to have just that? Is this not particularly so in Neo-Soviet Russia, where hundreds of ethnic groups, victims of the conquests of the tsars and Communists, enjoy only dependent government of their own, local authority submissive to the Kremlin? Colonialism occurs next door just as easily as five thousand miles away, and though not all fruits of such endeavors are unworthy of praise, mankind ought by now wholly to have recognized the general unsavoriness of such foreign policy (though at times, so things seem, the current administration of the United States and those who “advise” and otherwise manipulate it have no cognizance of such truths) and to urge its cessation, whether in Chechnya, Scotland (as some Scots, Mr Connery amongst them, so seek), or Kosovo.

The Vermont people might be on to something, too, though Vermont-born Orestes Brownson has left me questioning my heretofore held belief that States might possess Constitutionally the right to secede.