Four score and seven hours ago, I had some interesting things to say.
And, as many as the number of hours that have passed I had points to make on the subject of the Sobran-Jaffa (and, uh, Kemp) debate. But, as I suspected, as I survey this weekend's postings, 96.6% of these points have been made.
Alack! Childhood admonitions regarding my procrastination bubble to the surface.
Nevertheless, I did indeed just return from a trip, and am about to depart for another, and I had to complete my taxes, and there's a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Really!
But enough of my excuses.
It would be very difficult to add to the erudition of the past three and some days. Truly, I celebrate that these points are made so freely, responsibly, and eloquently — which reminds me of a recent incident.
Not long ago when visiting a friend of mine and his family living in the far reaches of The Empire, we were discussing the history of tyranny and the like, so naturally Abraham Lincoln entered the conversation.
Well it so happens that, some time prior, his wife had entered into a “discussion” with a female member of her church we'll call her The Church Lady. Now of course, since my friend and his family attend A Good Christian Church, The Church Lady was in agreement with all points of The Received Text of The Civil War.
To boot, it turns out that the father of The Church Lady was an historian. But despite the fact that The Court Historians print history like The Court Economists print legal tender, it sounded as though my friend’s wife more than held her own, and felt pretty fired up about it.
She said that The Church Lady seemed ready to Lay on Hands to heal her errant Sister in The Lord. She said, “I'm just fortunate to have a Southern Boy for a husband!”
Well, of course she is, but I immediately had the following thought: She should also be thanking Lew Rockwell.
I probably first heard something other than The Received Text from Mel Bradford, then Pat Buchanan, and later in the pages of Chronicles, but it's difficult to even begin to assess the impact of a web site like LewRockwell.com.
I have passed along many, many articles from LewRockwell.com (a great many of those regarding the "Civil War") to my friend (and others), at least some of which I know in turn were passed along to his wife. It was very satisfying to see the results of this work.
In addition, LewRockwell.com has become quite a reference volume. There's a whole lot one can learn by clicking on that button: "Search lewrockwell.com." This Very Average Reader uses it as a resource quite often.
Now, I will make the very difficult attempt to not rehearse what others have already said about this most immediate debate.
First, I would like to respond to Jaffa's ad hominem attacks on Sobran.
Ad hominem attacks, generally, and charges of racism, specifically, seem to be the favorite of Straussians, Neocons, and other Leftists. And oh please help me they're always the same. Here's Jaffa playing the race card:
The head and front of Sobran's indictment of Lincoln is that he "launched a bloody war against the South, violating the Constitution he'd sworn to uphold." This is the kind of wild and mindless assertion that those of us in this business associate with unreconstructed Confederates, and old line politicians of the Jim Crow South.
Oh dear — unreconstructed Confederates and old line politicians of the Jim Crow South — we all know what that means!
I particularly like "unreconstructed Confederates." I would, in fact, take that as a badge of honor. But Jaffa shouldn't fret — our re-education camps (The Public School System) are far more successful than even Pol Pot could have dreamed. If only he'd had a little more patience and a little more time.
But this from Jaffa I found incredibly ironic,
To understand [colonization] however requires some historical imagination — putting oneself in the place of someone in an earlier age — something Sobran seems unable to do.
Someone as I, who has never met Harry Jaffa or Joe Sobran, can only attempt to know them by what they say and write (notwithstanding the necromancers and diviners that discern the unspoken thoughts of those long since passed).
Here's a Jaffa quote from Sobran's 20 April 2001 column: "Never, perhaps, since the drama that began in Bethlehem, had someone risen from so low an estate to play so high a role in deciding the fate of mankind." And another: "And Never since Socrates has philosophy so certainly descended from the heavens into the affairs of mortal men."
This goes well beyond hyperbole. Are these the words of a responsible historian?
On the other hand, we have Joe Sobran. What has always struck me about Sobran is his even-handedness, his abundant honesty and fairness, and his ability to capture the many facets of any human being. His descriptions never appear flat — and they always seem to ring true.
Sobran's 18 July 2001 column on Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone With The Wind is a good example. Sobran calls it "The Great American Novel," but says "Gone With The Wind is anything but a glamorization of the Confederacy; just the opposite."
Even more revealing is Sobran's 29 June 2001 column:
In my recent columns and speeches on Abraham Lincoln, I've several times repeated the story that in 1861, shortly after taking office, Lincoln issued an order for the arrest of Chief Justice Roger Taney. If true, it's one of the most high-handed acts of any American president.
Now, to my chagrin, this story has been called in question. Mr. Joseph Eros of New York City has done some intense research, and he finds it very dubious.
Now there's an honest historian for you! (Sadly, this should not be that remarkable.)
Anyone that has read Sobran's work could not help but be impressed at his ability to "[put himself] in the place of someone in an earlier age." And, I might add, it's impossible to do if one is an ideologue.
Now, David Dieteman and others know vastly more than I about contracts and rights, but This Humble Reader has a few things to add. Jaffa writes:
Consider: marriage is a voluntary agreement, or contract, between a man and a woman. Prior to the marriage, each is free to contract alliances with other parties. After marriage, they are entitled to no such freedom. To say that a partner in marriage can end the union, and co-habit with another partner, is in effect to deny that there ever was a marriage at all … Under the law of contracts, obligations freely undertaken can never be disavowed unilaterally.
This is a terribly odd argument. Isn't he making our argument for us? That is to say, all contracts are contingent upon both parties adhering to the contract, aren't they? Isn't that the point, that the government of the United States, among other things, imposed absurdly disproportionate taxes upon the South? From The Declaration of Independence:
… That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government …
That seems pretty clear, doesn't it?
Even The Lord God Almighty enters into contracts in like manner:
If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit … But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant: I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it … [Lev. 26:3-4,14-16]
Well, you get the idea.
And of course, even the Mosaic Law allowed for the dissolution of marriage — would He allow the dissolution of the most critical form of human government, but not lesser forms (which radiate outward from man and wife)?
It appears that the Straussians still believe that The Declaration of Independence is The Founding Document of United States Government. (You might even say that Lincoln was a Straussian before being a Straussian was cool.)
But I'll play along. Regarding rights and equality, Jaffa states that
Lincoln … believed that all men are created equal, and that because of this, the just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed … In nothing was greater perfection to be sought than in having the American people understand that the rights for whose vindication they fought in the American Revolution were rights they shared with all men everywhere — that there were no "inferior races."
It is so profoundly obvious that Jefferson was not speaking to some kind of genetic equality, but to English Rights under The Law.
If Jaffa had only read down a little further in The Declaration of Independence:
[The King] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
Does this sound consistent with the egalitarian blather of Jaffa?
And oh yes, it was Merciless Yankee Savages "whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."
Was there ever a person with less revolutionary spirit than Edmund Burke? Yet, he abhorred The Revolution in France, but sympathized with United States independence. Why? On the basis of English Rights under The Law.
Is it credible that the colonies had a legal and moral right to secede from a state that had evolved for millennia, but not a confederation of states whose constitution had existed for only three-quarters of a century?
One final point: Jaffa took great exception that Sobran accused Lincoln of "violating the Constitution he'd sworn to uphold." Of course, this can be taken in the context of the North or the South.
In the North, Lincoln suspended habeus corpus, instituted the draft (followed by draft riots), jailed tens of thousands of dissenters without due process (including the mayor of Baltimore, a Maryland congressman, various editors, etc.), centralized the bank, instituted the income tax, etc. (Thanks to Karen De Coster, et al., for much in this list.)
And those were the people he liked.
In The First War of Humanitarian Intervention, he gave the modern world the gift of Total War, targeting (murdering and starving) civilians, including women and children. This is considered a war crime in the context of the modern nation-state. (Read "small nation-states only.")
Then there was Reconstruction …
Before closing, I feel I must say a few kind words for Jack Kemp, since no one else has had anything to say about him at all.
Indeed, even though the original debate (in this most recent branch) was ostensibly between Kemp and Sobran, I do believe he was quoted not even once during this entire exchange. Even Professor Jaffa only mentions Poor Jack in the first paragraph, then lists his own books, over and over and over …
But to be fair, Kemp shares a lot with The Great Emancipator. I remember someone once saying that Kemp knew a lot about race relations. After all, the speaker shared with us, "Jack has taken showers with more black men than most of us have shaken hands with."
(I believe Jack belonged to some kind of athletics club.)
This was about the same time that Kemp was telling us all about Free Enterprise Zones. I didn't attend any rallies, but I can only imagine the enraptured faces of the welfare bums as he shared his Vision of The Future.
Perhaps he is sitting peacefully at home. I wish him well and hope he's having many Great Thoughts.
August 7, 2001