Posts tagged ‘Jim Crow’

Confederate Statues, The Lost Cause School, and Stalinism

I don't have a lot to say about the whole Confederate statue thing.  Most of what I would say could probably be cut and pasted from my post on the Confederate flag.

The one thing I want to comment on is the criticism that pulling down these statues is "Stalinist", referring to Stalin's proclivity for changing history books and even airbrushing men out of photos when he turned against them.  I find this comparison ironic for the following reason:  Think back to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989.  I have two images in my mind of that time.  One is of people on top of and pulling down the Berlin Wall.  But the other is of Soviet-era statues toppling in Eastern Europe.  Pulling down the statue of Lenin or Stalin or whoever became the key public declaration that people were making a break with the past.

Public statues on public land are basically government speech.  People call it "history" but in most cases it is closer to propaganda.  I think it is totally appropriate to question it.  Now, I might have gone about the whole thing differently.  If I were a city, I would name the statues that I wanted removed, and then give private individuals and groups 6 months to pay to take it away to a private site if they wanted to keep it.  If no one cared enough to do so, we'd just demolish it.  By the way, I think this gets at the heart of why many folks like myself still have a bit of fear about the current efforts -- the folks on the Left who are doing this don't tend to differentiate between public and private.  It is very likely their perfectly reasonable criticism of public speech in public spaces will soon turn into attempts to regulate private speech in private spaces.

The Lost Cause School:   I want to provide some help for those not from the South to understand the southern side of the statue thing.  In particular, how can good people who believe themselves not to be racist support these statues?  You have to recognize that most folks of my generation in the South were raised on the lost cause school of Civil War historiography.  I went to one of the great private high schools in the South and realized later I had been steeped in Lost Cause.  All the public schools taught it.  Here is the Wikipedia summary:

The Lost Cause of the Confederacy, or simply Lost Cause, is a set of revisionist beliefs that describes the Confederate cause as a heroic one against great odds despite its defeat. The beliefs endorse the virtues of the antebellum South, viewing the American Civil War as an honorable struggle for the Southern way of life,[1] while minimizing or denying the central role of slavery. While it was not taught in the North, aspects of it did win acceptance there and helped the process of reunifying American whites.

The Lost Cause belief system synthesized numerous ideas into a coherent package. Lost Cause supporters argue that slavery was not the main cause of the Civil War, and claim that few scholars saw it as such before the 1950s.[2] In order to reach this conclusion, they often deny or minimize the writings and speeches of Confederate leaders of the time in favor of later-written revisionist documents.[3] Supporters often stressed the idea of secession as a defense against a Northern threat to their way of life and say that threat violated the states' rights guaranteed by the Union. They believed any state had the right to secede, a point strongly denied by the North. The Lost Cause portrayed the South as more profoundly Christian than the greedy North. It portrayed the slavery system as more benevolent than cruel, emphasizing that it taught Christianity and civilization. In explaining Confederate defeat, the Lost Cause said the main factor was not qualitative inferiority in leadership or fighting ability but the massive quantitative superiority of the Yankee industrial machine.

Obviously this was promoted by the white supremacists after the war, but in the 20th century many well-meaning people in the South who are not racist and by no means want to see a return of slavery or Jim Crow still retain elements of this story, particularly the vision of the Confederacy as a scrappy underdog.  But everything in these two paragraphs including the downplaying of slavery in the causes of the Civil War was being taught when I grew up.  It wasn't until a civil war course in college (from James McPherson no less, boy was I a lucky dog there) that I read source material from the time and was deprogrammed.

The comparisons of the current statue removal to Protestant reformation iconoclasm seem particularly apt to me.  You see, growing up in the South, Confederate generals were our saints.  And the word "generals" is important.  No one I knew growing up would think to revere, say, Jefferson Davis.  Only the hard-core white supremacists revered Jefferson Davis.  Real lost cause non-racist southerners revered Robert E. Lee.  He was our Jesus (see: Dukes of Hazard).  Every town in the south still has a Robert E Lee High School.  Had I not gone to private school, I would have gone to Houston's Lee High (I had a friend who went to college at Lehigh in New Jersey.  Whenever he told folks in the South he went there, they would inevitably answer "yes, but where did you go to college.")  So Lee was by far and away at the top of the pantheon.  Then you had folks like Stonewall Jackson and JEB Stuart who were probably our Peter and Paul.  Then all the rest of the generals trailing off through the equivalents of St. Bartholomew or whoever.  We even had a Judas, General James Longstreet, who for a variety of reasons was reviled by the Lost Cause school and was blamed for many of Lee's, and the South's, losses.

If you want to see the Southern generals the way much of the South sees them, watch the movie Gettysburg, which I like quite a bit (based on the book Killer Angels, I believe, also a good read).  The Southern Generals are good, talented men trying to make the best of a losing cause.  Slavery is, in this movie, irrelevant to them.   They are fighting for their beloved homes in the South, not for slavery.  The movie even has Longstreet saying something like "we should have freed the slaves and then fired on Fort Sumter."

A Simple Rule of Thumb

Here is a simple rule of thumb:  Public officials should have no expectation of privacy when performing their public functions.  Period.  Except for some really narrow exceptions, I can't think of any justification for prosecuting people filming police officers than the officer's desire to avoid accountability.

I grew up in the South and saw the tail end of Jim Crow.  This is how we are achieving the new equality -- in the future, everyone will be treated by the criminal justice system like blacks have been in the deep south.

The Libertarian Foreign Policy Problem

Outside of trade policy and climate treaties, I very seldom discuss foreign policy.  First, because it is not my first interest.  Second, because I am not an expert and do not spend the time to keep myself sufficiently informed on the issues to have useful insights.  Third, because of exactly this problem stated so well my Megan McArdle:

I periodically flirt with isolationism, or if you prefer,
"non-intervention". Like most libertarians, I'm attracted to "high
concept" political philosophy: simple rules that can be stated in a
sentence or less. No arguments about causus belli, blowback, or
ultimately unknowable political ramifications; just a simple "yes or
no" test. Did a foreign army invade the United States? For "Yes", press
one; for "No", press two, and go back to arguing about what should
replace child welfare laws in the coming anarcho-capitalist society.

Besides, all the foreigners hate having us there. Why not leave, and
see if absence makes the heart grow fonder? (I suspect that many
nations which have come, over long decades, to regard regional peace as
some sort of natural law, will get a rather nasty surprise. This might
make our influence look, in retrospect, rather appealing.)

But anyone who thinks at all seriously about libertarianism will,
fairly early on, be faced with a very high hurdle. There are a handful
of wars in which American intervention unambiguously halted gross
abuses of human liberty. World War II is one, though many end up going
around, rather than over . . . arguing that the Nazis were the direct
result of American intervention in World War I; or that it was
justified because Japan attacked us1; or that Russia and Britain would have defeated Hitler anyway2.  The American Civil War, however, is by far the highest leap; and the hardest to dodge.

In theory, every state has the right to secede, and the stated
Federal rationale for the Civil War--preserving the union--was the
vilest tyranny. In practice, chattel slavery was a barbarism even
viler.

And so we killed 20-30% of the Confederate Army, not a few of our
own, and uncounted numbers of civilians. That's not counting the
wounded, who probably outnumbered the dead. All we managed to achieve,
at this horrendous cost, was a corrupt and brutal occupation, followed
by the "freedom" of Jim Crow, sharecropping, and "separate but equal". And it was worth it.
The good guys won. We didn't do everything we wanted to, or even
everything we could have, or should have. Jim Crow was putrid. But it
was nonetheless so much better than slavery that it was worth the
horrendous cost--in my opinion, and that of almost everyone in the
world.

For me, a big part of the problem is one of information -- generally, most of the information one might find useful in deciding if X is a good war to pursue is from the government, an institution that demonstrably cannot be trusted based on past history when it makes this case.  Non-interventionism seems the right way to go, except for the
(relatively few) times it is not.  The problems is, to paraphrase the
famous dictum about advertising money, "half (or more) of our wars are
a waste -- we just don't know in advance which half."  Megan uses the
example of the Civil War, saying that that war was worth it because we
got rid of slavery.  But the war by no means began that way.  It wasn't
really until well into the war that both sides were pretty much in
agreement that the war was about ending or retaining slavery. I would argue that in advance, that war looked like an awful, terrible, horrible proposition.  The initial value proposition was "let's go to war so the Feds can have a bigger empire to run."  Only later did it become, "let's go to war to free a large part of our population."  There was a female professor, I forget her name, who made the point that the Emancipation Proclamation changed the war from a bloody waste of time to a moral positive.  But that came years into the fight.

The other problem I have is that the war is fought by, well, the government, the institution for which I have no trust.  One way of thinking about it is that every time we go to war, we put our lives and treasure and very future as a country in the hands of the Post Office.  Eeek.

Taking Krugman to the Woodshed

My friend Brink Lindsey is usually pretty measured in his writing.  So it was entertaining to see him take Paul Krugman out to the woodshed:

How can someone as intelligent and informed as Krugman
concoct an interpretation of the post-World War II era that does such
violence to the facts? How can someone so familiar with the intricate
complexities of social processes convince himself that history is a
simple matter of good guys versus bad guys? Because, for whatever
reason, he has swapped disinterested analysis and scholarship for
ideological partisanship. Here,
in a revealing choice of phrase, he paraphrases Barry Goldwater's
notorious line: "Partisanship in the defense of liberty is no vice."

To be a partisan is, by definition, to see the world partially
rather than objectively: to identify wholeheartedly with the
perspectives of one particular group and, at the extreme, to discount
all rival perspectives as symptoms of intellectual or moral corruption.
And the perspective Krugman has chosen to identify with is the
philosophically incoherent, historically contingent grab bag of
intellectual, interest group, and regional perspectives known as
postwar American liberalism.

Of course, over the period that Krugman is addressing, the contents
of that grab bag have changed fairly dramatically: from
internationalist hawkishness in World War II and the early Cold War to
a profound discomfort with American power in the '70s and '80s to a
jumble of rival views today; from cynical acquiescence in Jim Crow to
heroic embrace of the civil rights movement to the excesses of identity
group politics to a more centrist line today; from sympathy for
working-class economic hardship to hostility to working-class culture
and back again. Yet with a naive zeal that leaves even Cuomo visibly
nonplussed at several points in the interview, Krugman embraces the
shifting contents of this grab bag as the one true path of virtue.