As I quickly learned upon the publication of The Real Lincoln, the first reaction of virtually all neoconservatives to a publication with which they disagree, from the Claremontistas to National Review, The Weekly Standard, and AEI, is; 1) to lie about the actual contents of the publication, and then attack their own straw-man arguments; 2) to wage a personal smear campaign against the author; and 3) to quote each others’ lies from #1. This textbook neocon procedure was on display again recently in a February 15 Weekly Standard online "review" of (or more accurately, a hatchet job on) Tom Woods’ book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, by Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Boot’s first big lie is in the third paragraph, where he claims that The Politically Incorrect Guide "starts to slip from conventional history into a Bizarro world where every state has the right to disregard any piece of federal legislation it doesn’t like or even to secede." Professor Woods’ source of this notion, says Boot, is "Mainly the writings of the Southern pro-slavery politician John C. Calhoun."
Where to begin dissecting Boot’s lies and half-truths? First of all, Woods does not say that every state "has the right" to disregard federal legislation in the chapter in question, which is entitled, "American Government and the Principles of ’98.” The chapter is about American history, specifically, Thomas Jefferson’s response to the Alien and Sedition Acts with his (and James Madison’s) doctrine of nullification. Jefferson and Madison believed that states had the right to "nullify" federal laws that the citizens of the states believed were unconstitutional. Max Boot may not like the fact that America’s founding fathers wanted to place such limits on federal hegemony, but it is a fact of American history that Professor Woods clearly explains. Boot is being deceitful and dishonest by not even mentioning Jefferson or Madison here. Their ideas are the focal point of the whole chapter, and the reason why "The Principles of u201898" is in the title of the chapter. "Nullification" was the "Principle of ’98."
A second lie is that Woods relies "mainly" on the writings of John C. Calhoun. Neocons like Max Boot typically know absolutely nothing about Calhoun; they merely denounce him as "pro-slavery," implying that we should therefore ignore everything the man ever said. By that standard, we should also ignore everything Abraham Lincoln ever said. In his famous Cooper Union speech he denied that southern slavery should be ended because, he said, it exists. (What moral clarity). In his first inaugural address he pledged his support for a constitutional amendment that had just passed the senate that would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering in southern slavery. He thus defended slavery much more so than Calhoun ever did, doing so as the president of the United States. Max Boot is not one to let such facts get in his way.
Read Calhoun’s Disquisition on Government for yourself and see what a brilliant political philosopher he was, and what an ignoramus Max Boot is by comparison. (See Ross Lence, editor, Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun).
Like all advocates of centralized governmental power — the main source of tyranny in the world for the past century or longer — Max Boot denigrates any and all proponents of states’ rights, federalism, and what the founders called "divided sovereignty" as necessarily pro-slavery. But as Woods points out on page 33, "As historian Eugene Genovese reminds us, of the five Virginians who made the greatest intellectual contributions to the strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution — George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, John Randolph of Roanoke, St. George Tucker, and John Taylor of Caroline, only Taylor could be described as pro slavery, and even he regarded it as an inherited misfortune . . ." Tucker even proposed a plan for the elimination of slavery in Virginia in the 1790s. That Max Boot completely ignores such statements that are even highlighted and boxed in the book is further evidence of his dishonesty.
On the doctrine of nullification, which Boot hysterically denounces, Woods provides a clearly-written, scholarly account of it that relies on the writings and statements of Jefferson, Daniel Webster, Joseph Story, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton, among others. Woods quotes Hamilton, who is usually deified by neocons like Boot, as saying in Federalist #28 that "the State governments will, in all possible contingencies, afford complete security against invasions of the public liberty by the national authority." Surely Max Boot who, like other neocons, is worshipful of Hamilton, noticed the highlighted, boxed-in statement by Hamilton in support of nullification in The Politically Incorrect Guide.
This statement by Hamilton is an expression of what would become Jefferson’s doctrine of nullification. Woods also quotes Jefferson’s famous doctrine itself, from the Kentucky Resolve of 1798:
Resolved . . . That if those who administer the General Government be permitted to transgress the limits fixed by that compact, by a total disregard to the special delegations of power therein contained . . . . That the several States who formed that instrument being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of he infraction; and that a Nullification by those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under color of that instrument is the rightful remedy . . .
Madison said virtually the same thing in his Virginia Resolve of 1798, as Woods points out and which Boot completely ignores as well.
Another important historical fact that Woods documents, and which Boot ignores, is that northern states as well as southern ones made use of Jefferson’s nullification principle all throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. Woods quotes an 1859 statement by the Wisconsin legislature that said: "Resolved, That the government formed by the Constitution of the United States was not the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; but that, as in all other cases of compact among parties having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress." This is a virtual verbatim repetition of the first section of Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolve of 1798. Woods quotes the rest of the Wisconsin legislature’s announcement, declaring that the individual states, "being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its [the Constitution’s] infractions; and that a positive defiance of those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done or attempted to be done under color of that instrument, is the rightful remedy." Again, this is almost identical to the words of Jefferson and Madison some sixty years earlier.
Woods’ chapter on "The Principles of ’98” is only eleven pages long, and the brief discussion of Calhoun’s role in South Carolina’s nullification of the 1828 "Tariff of Abominations" takes up less than one page. And the tariff nullification issue of 1828 had to do with the export-dependent South’s being politically plundered by protectionist tariffs, not the issue of slavery. To Boot, this constitutes Woods’ "main" source of information on the topic of nullification, which is simply untrue. Obviously, Boot tells this particular lie, among many others in his "review," so that he can assassinate Professor Woods’ character by falsely associating him with slavery and ignoring any real discussion of the actual content of the book.
The rest of the Boot hatchet job is as bad or worse, filled with lies, half-truths, and personal smears, absurdly claiming that the libertarian Tom Woods is "sympathetic to fascists" and, even worse, that Woods is supposedly "indignant" that Bill Clinton got America involved in the war in the Balkans.
Tom Woods’ biggest "sin," however, is that his writings seem to "seethe with hatred" for "everything that neoconservativism (and modern America) stands for." Read The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, and compare it to Max Boot’s rantings, such as this one, and you will learn who is really "seething with hatred."
And let’s not ignore that fact that Boot is simply delusional when he equates "modern America" with "neoconservativism." To Boot and his neo-Comrades, so many of whom take great pride in being (supposedly) ex-Trotskyites, the world of "New York intellectuals," as they call themselves, is America. By definition, anyone who disagrees with them is therefore a traitor. In short, these people are crazy.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His latest book is How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold Story of Our Country’s History, from the Pilgrims to the Present (Crown Forum/Random House, August 2004).