Bake the Cake…?! Property & Discrimination

“It’s a violation of religious freedom!”

“How dare you discriminate against gay people; that’s a violation of their civil rights!”

So which is it? Is forcing the cake baker to bake a cake for a gay wedding a violation of their religious rights? Or is refusing to serve a gay couple a violation of their civil rights? Which is the real issue?

Neither.

I’m speaking, of course, of the recent case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a class action suit challenging business discrimination of services for gay events (or gay people more generally).

Let me break this down as concisely as I can in a series of points that will, I hope, give a clear picture of what the real issue is here, and the implications.

  1. First, is this a religious liberties issue? Yes and no. The first amendment of the Constitution contains five major protections: speech, religion, press, assembly and petition. Regarding religion, there are two clauses. The first states that government may not infringe on the “free exercise of religion,” and the second bars the government from “establishing” a religion. So it is my contention that the first amendment alone is not enough to argue this case. The real argument carries far more leverage. The 9th amendment alone does a better job.

 

  1. Is this a civil rights issue? Well, again, I will refrain from answering this directly; stick with me to the end as I make my case. Still, what would be the constitutional argument for this position? The argument for this would be premised on the 14th Amendment, an often misinterpreted amendment that protects peoples’ rights to the “equal protection of the laws.” This has been the Amendment used to argue for an end to discrimination based on race, gender, et cetera. The ACLU will certainly disagree, but I find it hard to make the connection between ensuring that all people are treated equally under the law (ie, the law cannot make different provisions for different classes of people) and give the government the power to force an individual to serve another individual against their wishes.

 

  1. So if the real issue isn’t either of these, what is the real issue? This is an issue of property rights. Who owns you and your labor? A Facebook critic and debater claimed that, while I own my own labor, the government can force me to use that labor equally for those they believe I should serve, effectively preventing me from discriminating. But if I can be forced to use my labor to serve someone I choose not to—for whatever reason—is that not, in so far as it goes—government owning my labor?

 

  1. Or you can look at it another way. To force a person to sell their labor to another is to say that the customer owns the labor of the other. Do you really own your own labor? To the extent that someone must use their time, resources and labor to serve you, is that not a violation of their property—themselves and their labor? In most places, we’d call that servitude.

 

  1. If someone says they refuse to serve balding red-heads, I may be upset and offended. But I am not entitled to their labor. On what moral basis can my demand that they serve me overrule their right to their own time, labor and resources? They may be foolish, petty and even morally stunted, but that does not give me title to force them to serve me or quit work altogether.

 

  1. But what about the argument: “You’re not forced to offer that labor; you can go out of business instead.” Yes, this is a frequently-used argument, though it’s put in more humanitarian terms: “We only ask [demand] that if you choose to sell your labor, you sell it equally to everyone [who we chose].” Okay, okay, so I put in my interpretation. Well, isn’t it re-assuring that our labor is only owned by the government (or the person being served) if we choose to … work? Catch the sarcasm.

 

  1. And the other argument. “It’s only servitude if it’s uncompensated. The cake-baker would still have been compensated, so it’s not actually servitude if we tell him how to use his labor and resources.” So we can choose to work or not. If we choose to work, we are forced to use our resources and labor to serve whoever the government says we should. But not to worry; we’ll get paid for it. Argument settled, they say. Really?

 

  1. “But discrimination is terrible! We must use the power of the state to end it!” Well, discrimination can be terrible. It can be morally reprehensible. It can be immature. It can be rather benign and inconsequential. And many times, it can be quite prudent. Not serve someone because of the pigment in their skin? Not serve someone because you’re supporting a lifestyle you believe is immoral? Not serve someone because you think they’re dangerous? Not serve someone because you don’t like them? The rationale for discrimination can run from idiotic to prudent, to a mere question of moral belief.

 

  1. We all discriminate all the time. Discrimination has become a deeply negative word due to its historical association with racial discrimination. But discrimination is simply freedom of association: there are people we would rather associate with and there are those we don’t. As I said, unfortunately, some people have foolish and morally decrepit rational for their choices of association. Sometimes its quite prudent (I won’t employ a child molester to babysit). Sometimes, it’s a question of moral belief, such as the case with the cake baker refusing to use their time, money and labor to make a cake for a gay wedding.

 

  1. Exchanging your goods and services with others (ie, starting a business) does not suddenly remove your property rights and give control over your labor to the government or society at large. This point addressed again a bit later.

 

  1. Consider my response to a Facebook debater who spouted many of these arguments I’ve discussed: “Are you okay with the logical extension of that argument? On that line of reasoning, anyone who exchanges goods or services with anyone else may no longer choose who to exchange those goods or services with… I presume here that you wouldn’t make exceptions [in order to remain consistent]. For example, you must also offer your services to pedophiles, Nazis, child porn marketers, et cetera, according to your argument, if the government saw fit. Either that or quit offering goods or services to anyone. … My point is that it doesn’t really matter what the reasoning is for discrimination. If you force someone to offer their (even compensated) labor to someone they disagree with, you have to equalize it everywhere and to EVERYONE. Unless, of course, using the power of the state to force people to offer their services to people they would rather not is really just subjective and based on whoever the state (and their constituents) want to.” I later reiterated my question: “So, you’re okay with the government forcing you to sell your labor to Nazis, pedophiles, people who sell child porn (so long as you’re not assisting them in something illegal, as you said), et cetera, fill-in-the-blank? You never and would never discriminate for any reason, and if you did, you’d be okay with the government using force to stop you?” He never answered.

 

  1. I was finally able to get my debater to cede something: After claiming multiple times that we do own our labor, but not offering for a justification on why we could be forced to use that labor against our wishes, he finally admitted that we really don’t own our labor 100% because we are in “contract” with society, and thereby have already agreed to give up full power over our labor because of this. In his words, “entering that contract [offering services for sale] does give the government some say in how you distribute and sell your labor. “ What I couldn’t get from him was how, in fact, we agree to any such “contract” simply by exchanging goods or services with others.

 

  1. Besides, do we really want to equip the government with the subjective power of determining who has a right to your time, labor and resources?

 

  1. If you haven’t, yet, there are two other key posts you have to read related to this: “Negative v. Positive Rights” and “The Tale of the Slave.”

 

  1. A couple of closing points. First, it is the trademark of progressivism to use the power of the state to force whatever change on society that its adherents see fit. This was true during the French Revolution, during which Robespierre and others thought anyone who did not actively (even beyond passively) support “the civil state” were guilty of treason and ought to face capital punishment. It is still seen today when Progressives destroy property in their attempt to silence speech that they do not like. Or try to create “safe spaces” on college campuses where “offensive” things cannot be said.

 

  1. On that last point and as my final point, that is why arguing a case like Masterpiece on religion alone is insufficient. If your religious views do not align with the vision of progressivism, there is no moral or religious argument that can satisfy. But when it is understood correctly that the real issue is the violation of property rights (which is the basis of religious liberty, anyway), then the argument in favor of refusing the gay couple the services of the cake-maker are property bolstered and understood.

Thumbnail photo credit goes to bustle.com. 

 

The Tale of the Slave

At what point are you no longer a slave?

Admittedly, I have not read Robert Nozick. But the following is an adaptation of a portion of his 1974 book titled, Anarchy, State and Utopia. I have here no further commentary to offer, but simply wish to relay a series of scenarios which, if nothing else, are a teacher’s delightful avenue to thoughtful provocation for those who overcome any aversion to the thistle-strewn road of challenging questions.

Nozick begins with, “Consider the following sequence of cases, which we shall call the tale of the slave, and imagine that it is about you.” He proceeds, and I summarize:

  1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal master’s whims. He often is cruelly beaten, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.
  2. The master is kindlier and beats the slave only for stated infractions of his rules. He gives the slave some free time.
  3. The master has a group of slaves, and he decides how things are to be allocated among them on cordial grounds, taking into account their needs, merit and so on.
  4. The master allows his slaves four days on their own and requires them to work only three days a week on his land. The rest of the time is their own.
  5. The master allows his slave to go work in the city or wherever they want for wages. He only requires them to send back 3/7ths of their wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if there is some emergency on his land, or he can raise the amount required of them. He also retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return (ie, mountain climbing, smoking, et cetera).
  6. The master allows all of his 10,000 slaves to vote, except you, and the joint decision is made by all of them. There is open discussion, and so forth, among them, and they have the power to determine to what uses to put whatever percentage of your (and their) earnings they decide to take; what activities legitimately may be forbidden to you, and so on.
  7. Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into the discussion of the 10,000 to try and persuade them to adopt various policies and to treat you and themselves in a certain way. They then go off to vote to decide upon policies covering the vast range of their powers.
  8. In appreciation of your useful contributions to discussion, the 10,000 allow you to vote if they are deadlocked (5,000 for and 5,000 against). This is has never happened, yet.
  9. They throw your vote in with theirs. If they are exactly tied, your vote carries the issue. Otherwise, it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.

Nozick concludes with the deeply provocative question:

“Which transition from case one to case nine made it no longer the tale of a slave?”

What are your thoughts? Comment below, or head over to the LCKeagy Facebook page.

Catalonia & Secession

As the Catalan pursuit of independence crisis heats up and edges ever closer toward significant violence in that pursuit, it seems a prime time to share some thoughts on secession.

To premise, I have a strong patriotic streak for both my countries–the United States and Peru. And so that may premise (and hopefully alleviate opposition to) what many people might find radical. Not that I care primarily about alleviating strong opposition; I expect to come across plenty of it in this and other posts.

But nevertheless, here are five key points I want to point out in the discussion of Catalan secession/independence. As usual, I am not here on a soap box, but rather hope to provoke thought.

First, the notion that we are one nation, rather than a collection of nations, wasn’t the original vision of the United States held by the Founders (with perhaps a few exceptions), and yet I don’t think anyone would accuse them of lack of patriotism. It’s just that their patriotism lie first with their country (state) (or perhaps even moreso with their local communities) and then with the federal union of their states, and last of all with Great Britain, even though nearly 1/3rd of all Americans were still quite patriotic to Great Britain and opposed secession. (That means fewer Americans were for secession from GB, and yet even more–apparently–prepared to fight, die and kill to gain it, than those in Catalonia.)

Second, true and historical conservatism emphasizes the natural, organic and (traditionally, as it were) Biblical concepts of loyalty and relationship. Whereas political boundaries are fundamentally arbitrary (from a human standpoint), as the case in Spain points out (the Catalans don’t even speak Spanish as their primary language), the true and valuable relationship and groups and bonds have nothing to do with political boundaries. The Father of Conservatism and English politician, Edmund Burke (who I discuss here), supported the American Revolution because he believed they were fighting to preserve their political, legal and economic traditions of localism and self-government. If California seceded, my relationship with people in California (where most of my extended family lives) remains unchanged (it may take a few more steps to visit them, but then, should we have a one-world government so I can more easily visit my family members who live all over the world?) For myself, per Philippians 4, I am a citizen of heaven, loyal first to the Lord (at least, that is my striving), then my family, my local church, my associations (ie, the school where I teach), and the global church. Only after those come my town, state, and country. That’s a large part of what it meant originally to be conservative. True, meaningful and genuine relationship does not change based on where we draw a political boundary.

Third, large centralized states are the antithesis to liberty. Take the one-world government example. The more distant the seat of power and the larger the jurisdiction, the less important an impact the local regions and the people in them hold. Hitler hated states rights, and writes openly so in Mein Kampf, because he understood that he could not achieve his agenda if he did not have absolute and total control. Germany had been a federation of sovereign nations until unification in 1870-1, but even then the German states still had numerous elements of sovereignty that Hitler sought to dissolve entirely. Consider the contrast between the words of British Politician Lord Acton and German Nazi Leader Adolph Hitler.

“I saw in States’ rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will…. ” – Lord Acton

Nearly 60 years later, Hitler would write:

“[The Nazis] would totally eliminate states’ rights altogether: Since for us the state as such is only a form, but the essential is its content, the nation, the people, it is clear that everything else must be subordinated to its sovereign interests.” – Adolph Hitler

In addition to the last point, smaller political jurisdictions are more prone to facilitate liberty for the same reason Hitler hated them. Don’t like the system here? Move over there. That’s obviously easier said than done (though the smaller the units, the easier it is), but it’s certainly easier than escaping the oppression of a distant government, such as the Tibetans in China.

Fourth, there is no need for a change in political boundaries to have a long-term negative effect on economics, so long as people can trade freely across political lines. You see this clearly in the European Union, the Pacific Free Trade Zone, et cetera. If Catalonia secedes, for example, there would be no natural reason (though there could be artificial ones) that they couldn’t continue to trade with Spain and the rest of Europe, in or out of the EU. The same goes, in theory, for Great Britain with regard to Brexit, though the EU may impose various tariffs as a way to “punish” them. There will be temporary economic decisions to be made that might unsettle the waters for a bit, but is that enough justification to force a people–against their will–to remain within a certain political boundary? The same argument could be made of the American Revolutionaries, who openly declared they would go to war for what the Catalan people have so far tried to achieve through peaceful referendum (the violence there a tragic result, but not intent, yet). If California seceded and no artificial barriers were imposed, resources would flow across the border just as before and we would still get much of our produce from California, just like we do from Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, et cetera.

Fifth, where do we place the burden of proof? One social media comment raised an interesting point: our perspective tends to change when we consider our own country.  This person made the point that it’s easy to sympathize with the Catalan people, but reject any such notions shared by our neighbors. “I favor Catalan independence, but heaven forbid Texan independence.” But how do we justify he discrepancy? If the U.N. suddenly becomes more powerful and declares all countries involved to be the U.N. Nation, for example, does the burden of proof suddenly fall on the U.S. to demonstrate overwhelmingly why it has a right to secede? Do you assume that the central government always has a right to maintain the peoples within its borders unless they can either fight for or 100% prove “why” they should be independent? Is there any objective measure that can be used to say, “this group has the right to secede and this group doesn’t”? Where do you draw the line? On economic grounds? On grounds of patriotism? At what point does the larger political unit no longer get to subordinate the smaller to its control? Can we both favor Kurdish secession because of the oppression they have experienced under the Iraqi Arabs and at the same time oppose Catalan secession, or Californian secession, because we don’t think they have a good enough reason? Or is any form of disallowing political secession a form of oppression?


Thumbnail photo credit: bbc.com

Alcohol, Drugs, Guns, Violence and… the Real Issue?

Alcoholism is blamed for violence.

Ban alcohol. They tried that.

Drugs are blamed for violence.

Ban drugs. They tried that.

Guns are blamed for violence.

Ban guns. They’re trying that.

As for that last point, yes, I am a firm supporter of the 2nd Amendment in its originalist intent: that weapons are one of the best defense against tyranny. Over 100 million people were murdered by their own governments in the 20th century. How many of those governments might have been far more hesitant to take such action had their populations been armed?

But no, this is not a post to go over why an armed population is so important. This is also not a post to discuss the well-argued case that banning guns is an ineffective way to reduce violence. Cars and knives have been perfectly effective weapons in Europe.

This post calls attention to what is often forgotten, ignored or otherwise not generally considered. And like all those calls for action I started with, I, too, have a call for action. A much different one. One that gets to the heart of the issue.

Journalist Johann Hari spent years studying the global war on drugs in countries all over the world. In an interview he did with Tom Woods, he noted a significant conclusion of his research. It was one of those conclusions that is both so obvious and so apparent that you wonder why it strikes you with such profundity.

The real issue with violence or malicious behavior of the sort that causes events like the tragic Las Vegas shooting is not alcohol, drugs or guns.

Studies have revealed that about 10% of alcohol users use to abuse and the violence that tends to come with that. (According to a study done by Professor David Nutt and published in British The Lancet, alcohol was rated as the most harmful drug.) Interestingly, the statistic for drug abuse is about the same: 10%. So what makes about 90% of users to use these drugs in a way that we don’t typically consider “abuse” and the other 10% to do so?

Now, before I go on, I am also not using this post to push my opinion on drug laws. These are but a few of many destructive things in this world, and what we choose to try and legislate against or not is not my purpose here.

So what is the most common factor causing about 10% of users to use into abuse and violence?

As study after study has shown (and logic should lead us to even without statistical analysis), the answer is: a lack of meaningful relationships. Isolation. A lack of love and care by and for those around them. Or trauma without loving support to help them through.

The issue isn’t the thing that is abused. The issue is broken relationships.*

Logic follows that line of reasoning to anything else with which people can cause harm, such as guns or other weapons.

So this is a call to action. Want to really concentrate your efforts in a meaningful way? Love, care for and cherish those who are vulnerable. Those who are isolated. Those who are hurting and broken. Those without friends. Those who face prejudice. Be a friend to those nobody else will. A mentor to those who are shunned. Those who have no meaningful relationships in their lives.

Don’t tell me you really care while you spend your time calling your representative, lobbying them to sign anti-gun regulation, or to pour more money into drug-bust squads, until you start addressing the real issue that causes the violence. No larger police force, more prison cells, more stringent gun regulations or prohibition campaigns will solve the issue. As a friend recently posted, “People, not programs, change people.”

To the Church and fellow Christians: there is no excuse for acting in any fashion other than Christ did to the individual who fits the descriptions above. Be the Samaritan who was willing to credit all expenses of the dying man on the side of the road to his own account. Only Christ can change people’s hearts, but His love through you can often change their minds and through that access their hearts.

Remember when I said this wouldn’t be a soap-box blog? Well, I did say “usually.”

Recognize the real issue. Legislation and police action may be able to change the source and tool of abuse and violence, but it cannot bring meaningful change to the real issue. That is up to individuals — you and I — loving and caring for and treating with dignity … other individuals.


*And because there is always that person who makes entirely illogical conclusions and delights in flimsy assumptions, no, I don’t think this absolves anyone of the responsibility of their actions. Each individual is entirely responsible for their actions and should be held accountable as necessary. But as “love covers a multitude of sins,” so love can act against the inclinations of abuse and violence far better than any law prohibiting it.

Also, I’m not delusional with expectations that if we just “love” enough, all our problems will go away. Attacks that claim I am that naive will likely come. I’m just saying that we understand the real problem, then we can better concentrate on what really matters. 

For those who raise the argument that much violence is committed by those who more committed to ideology than suffering isolation (for example, those inclined to violence in the KKK, Neo-Nazi groups, Antifa, Neo-Communists, the radical ideologies of Islam, et cetera), I will cede that it is probably true for some. Still, even for many driven by ideology, many often arrive at those conclusions because of the comradery and sense of “belonging” they find–even if superficially–within those groups that they felt lacking prior. This is often true for gang members, as well.

I’ve discussed individual responsibility here

I’ve discussed the fallacy and foolishness of collectivist thinking here.

Thumbnail photo credit goes to mashable.com.

A Logical System of Justice?

My 10th grade class, which studies the historical narrative from circa 1600 to 1865 with a focus on Western Civilization (Europe and the Americas), has been spending some time studying the history of Anglo-British law as it developed through the Middle Ages and up through the Glorious Revolution, forming much of what was called English Common Law. I’ve already discussed some of this history briefly in an earlier post.

And in the course of our learning, I teach them that the U.S. judicial system of not based on a system of reparation. (And to note, it was not entirely so in Great Britain, either, as time went on. British royalty increasingly was quite prone to assume that they were the source of law, and the highest levels of the English judicial system were originally appointed by the king and carried his mandate. And when many of the colonists rebelled in 1765-1783, many were doing so on the basis that the English authorities were abandoning their traditional principles. And if you subscribe to my email, my upcoming email begins with an example of a jury trial condemning an English Catholic to death for refusing to admit that the king was the head of the church.)

Understandably, they are surprised. Nobody has presented law in this way before, and it seems so straight-forward to them.

I’ve been teaching them about the difference between negativism and positivism. Negativism (from which are derived negative rights, as I discuss in this post) is the idea that law comes before and outside of government. The opposite is positivism, which says law comes from government … if it is legislated to be wrong (or right), then it is wrong (or right). Negativism says it is wrong to steal, regardless of what the government says. Positivism says it is wrong to steal because the government says it is wrong.

The implication? In the development of English law through the Middle Ages onward, most law, accordingly, was developed through litigation (the legal process) instead of legislation (the law-making process) as negativism was the presumption. If someone was robbed, they could be provided compensation even without a law saying that stealing was wrong. And the guilty party was forced to pay reparations.

And this is where my students can see something obvious. If negativism is the presumption, then the person wronged has to be compensated. If I steal my neighbor’s truck, then I owe him…a truck. That’s called reparation. If I sell that truck and then don’t have money for a new one, then I make reparation by working until my wages have fully compensated my neighbor.

Seems like a logical approach to justice, right? Even the judicial system of the Mosaic Law given to the Hebrews as they left Egypt was built almost entirely on reparations. The person harmed was to be repaid by the guilty party.

That’s not what we have in the United States.

In the United States legal code, the government is essentially always the party that is wronged. It is the government that receives “reparation”.

If I am guilty of extortion, the U.S. system of justice requires that I pay the government a fine and spend time in prison, based on its own assessment of the crime, rather than the extent of the harm. And that money doesn’t go to my neighbor. It goes to the government. The law doesn’t require reparation to the party harmed (who will usually only get compensated if they had the right insurance), as assumed by negativism. Rather, it  treats the government like the harmed party, based on an assumption of positivism.

And yes, there are exceptions. People can file suit for reparation of damages. Unfortunately, this is inaccessible for most people given how high legal and lawyer fees are. But why are fees so high? Because the convoluted system of laws that requires an army of lawyers and their aids to navigate through.

The U.S. legal system as it is today is based on positivism. The laws are not based on negativism, based on natural rights outside of government. If the government wants to take one person’s property and give it to another because thinks the second person would make “better” use of it, then they can. The Supreme Court said so in Kelo v. City of New London (2005).

The main question I want to be drawn from this is: where do laws come from? Do you believe in negativism, which assumes a standard of right and wrong outside of government? Or do you believe in positivism, which says the government is the standard of right and wrong? And what are the implications for the system of justice?

Something to think about.

The History of Conservatism, Liberalism & Libertarianism (Part 6 – Conservatism, Liberalism & Nationalism in Mainland Europe)

Unlike Great Britain or the United States, mainland European countries faced an array of unique issues, giving the ideas of conservatism and liberalism their own unique colors and political ramifications, similar in some ways to that of the island just off their northwest coast or the fledgling thirteen states across the Atlantic, but also very different in many other ways.

But first, make sure you’re caught up:

We’ll come back to both the United States and Great Britain in the upcoming posts, but a neglected Europe certainly deserves a bit of our attention. This is especially true because of the unique way that movements there will ultimately have global impact.

What Was Going on in Europe?

Sadly, many of our teachers overlooked (or breezed through) European politics from the French Revolution to World War I. So a solid historical review of the narrative seems in order.

As Medieval Europe ebbed into the early modern period, many nations across Europe experienced a great deal of centralization of power. Certainly this was true of France, Spain and England, major players on the world stage for centuries. Germany and Italy would take longer to unify, and those people groups of modern Eastern Europe were, by and large, under the control of various other powers, such as Russia, Austria or the Ottoman Turks.

In England, as we’ve already explored, the autocratic power of the monarch had long since been whittled away as constitutionalism – the idea that a system of law supersedes the king and government – became more secure. Quite the opposite in France. Various measures used by the Cardinal Richelieu in the early 1600s help to launch King Louis XIV, nicknamed the “Sun King,” into a position of absolute power, a position envied by King Charles I in England (who was executed by Parliament in 1649, as discussed in part 3).

Maximilien Robespierre (1754-1793)

Two kings later in France, young King Louis XVI faced the guillotine as the line of monarchs was (temporarily) ended during the French Revolution, which began in 1789. It is important to note that the French Revolution did, in fact, have roots in Enlightenment thought, at least parts of it. What started as both a manifestation of the aggrieved (and some nearly starving) poor and middle class of Paris and the more liberal rhetoric of lawyers like Maximilien Robespierre (who at first called for free press and free speech and other liberal goals) soon became an all-out bloodbath. The atrocities of the French Revolution and the thousands murdered cannot be attributed simply to a sort of “mob-mentality,” though certainly the terror it induced was a self-feeding fire. But there was a deeper worldview behind the revolution that sought the entire remaking of society and even of human nature.1 What that remaking was to be fell to the interpretation of whoever was in power. Even Robespierre soon abandoned his liberal beginnings and called for an all-out slaughter of anyone who did not show ready and active support of the “new society” that the French Revolutionaries sought to create. In place of a subject whose existence was to meet the demands of the king was now a citoyen (citizen) whose existence was to promote the “virtue” of the new civic society. Individual dignity or independence had little or no place in either system.

I dedicate more description to the French Revolution, as this will be important to understand both now and when we get to Progressivism.

In the wake of the revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte was able to work his way to the top (as consul) after military campaigns in Italy and Egypt. He would eventually declare himself emperor of the French Empire that he would rapidly expand across Europe, nearly reaching Moscow in 1812 before suffering a serious defeat in his trans-European conquests.

The Congress of Vienna by August Friedrich Andreas

Napoleon’s dominance would radically change Europe, and when European leaders met in 1814 at what has become called the Congress of Vienna, they would seek to undo much of his changes. But there was only so much they could do. Napoleon’s codes of law had replaced many of the old legal codes handed down from medieval Europe, land arrangements within the many Germanic kingdoms (there were around 300) had been rearranged, and dynasties had been overturned.

The Congress of Vienna was more of a series of informal meetings between diplomats and leaders of the five major powers of Europe than it was a formal assembly. The powers? Great Britain, France, Prussia, Austria and Russia. During these meetings, these leaders embraced distinctly conservative goals: the restoration of old monarchies overthrown by Napoleon, the return to old borders (with some changes), and the restoration of the old order in other various respects. To be sure, there were innovations, such as agreements to open up rivers for universal use, but by and large, the Vienna meetings were notably conservative.

And this takes us to our topical discussion.

Europe after the Congress of Vienna, 1815 (Photo credit to Britannica.com)

Conservatism in Mainland Europe

Stick with me for a moment as we revisit England. Recall that Edmund Burke (discussed in part 3), Whig and the Father of Modern Conservatism, had aptly predicted the terrors of the French Revolution. His fear of and resistance to any such radical revolutions sparking like events in England was the predictable result of his conservative views.

In mainland Europe, conservative was defined in part by the desire to “conserve” the old order and avoid such drastic revolutions. The difference here was, however, that in England, constitutionalism and natural law traditions had been foundational in England for so long that retention and expansion of these concepts was fundamentally a part of British conservatism. In mainland Europe, conservatives were primarily concerned with the retention of the monarchical dynasties and the church structure and authority. Both of these institutions, they believed, were divinely sanctified by God.

Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821)

Joseph de Maistre from Piedmont-Sardinia (a kingdom in the north part of what is today Italy), a key continental conservative thinker, saw the French Revolution as God’s judgment for their embrace of Enlightenment ideas. As more of an anti-Enlightenment ideologue, Maistre argued that because governments and the church are both divinely ordained, neither can nor need be justified through rationalization or logic; people must be submissive and not question either. On a practical level, he and many other conservatives called for the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in France—the family of the executed King Louis XVI.

This conservative bent dominated the Congress of Vienna, as I already mentioned. Austrian foreign minister Klemens von Metternich, a major diplomatic player until 18482, also played a pivotal role in the restoration of old dynasties. In addition to the restoration of the Bourbon family to the throne of France, he and the diplomats in Vienna ensured that the Hapsburgs remained on the throne of Austria, and that France remained a major player in the European theater, despite war between Austria and France virtually from 1792 to 1814.

Klemens von Metternich (1773-1859)

This latter point was fundamental to conservatism, as well, because it helped maintain order and stability. Conservatives would do what they could to ensure balance between the five major powers of Europe in hopes of avowing conflict and the potential revolutions that could be sparked in such conflicts. To this end, they also established multiple alliances, such as the “Holy Alliance” between Austria, Prussia and Russia, or the Quadruple Alliance between those three and Great Britain (and later France).3 At times, alliance members would provide financial and military support to suppress uprisings within member countries’ borders.

Liberalism & Nationalism in Mainland Europe

Liberals in Europe would, like mainland conservatives to their English counterparts, share some traits and be distinct in others. By and large, the liberals of mainland Europe supported movements and even revolutions that held within them the promise of greater individual liberty, freer range of motion in commerce, greater freedom of religion, more limited government (and expanded democracy), et cetera. All ideas espoused by the liberal social, political and economic theorists discussed in part 4. In the German kingdoms, as discussions ramped up about drawing the 30 member states (the 300 prior to the Congress of Vienna consolidated them into about 30) into a closer union,  liberals were pushing for a German constitution that would guarantee these principles. Likewise, in France, where political leadership changed semi-frequently, liberals pushed for more power in their representatives (as opposed to the king or emperor, when they had one) and stronger guarantees of individual rights.

But notable here is that many liberals began to latch on to notions of nationalism. Nationalism can mean many different things in many different contexts, but there are two of pertinence in this discussion. The first is a sort of tribalism—an active support or favoring of those among one’s cultural, racial and/or language-based heritage.  A second sort of nationalism was based not on tangible differences, but based on an invented nation-state. For example, the inhabitants across the Italian boot spoke numerous languages and shared little by way of a common culture. The Piedmontese were different than the Milanese who were different than the Sicilians. But a nationalist in this context, as was a very prolific Giuseppe Mazzini, promoted “Italian Nationalism”—that is, that people should embrace the national identity of “Italian” (something that had not existed prior) rather than Milanese or Venetian. Even in France, where numerous languages can be found across the nation, was the sense that everyone ought to think of themselves as “French” first, and whatever their local culture and language is second.

Many liberals promoted both types of nationalism.

In addition to the nationalism already mentioned, in Germany, liberals would actively promote union on college campuses.4

Why? A modern observer would probably be quick to warn that the centralizing nature of nationalism—especially of the invented kind—would risk more vast abuses of power. That is, the exact opposite of what they sought. But without the benefit of hindsight, such changes offered the opportunity for new constitutions favorable to their goals.

Frédéric Bastiat

Claude Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)

We should certainly mention one other key liberal figure in the continental tradition: Frédéric Bastiat. While Bastiat was not known for major innovations, his writings helped to popularize economic liberalism: the advocacy for private property, free markets and limited government. An astute observer of trends in his native France, Bastiat understood the growing demand for popular redistribution of wealth and property as the ideas of socialism were becoming more popular. One of his most-well-known books, The Law (full text linked), exposed this reality by claiming that when the majority used the power of the state to acquire and redistribute wealth and property, this was sanctioned theft, or what Bastiat called “legal plunder.” Furthermore, he argued, free market voluntary exchange between individuals was the best way to preserve economic harmony. Among other works was Bastiat’s What is Seen and What is Not Seenin which he makes the point that for any government intervention, it is important to understand and look for the consequences–what is foregone in the implementation of some policy. This would form a cornerstone of works by later economists like Henry Hazlitt and Thomas Sowell.5  Today, many libertarians see Bastiat’s writings as essential readings in classical liberalism and libertarianism.

1848: Year of Revolution 

I will not comment on this extensively, but it must be mentioned that 1848 was a profound year in Europe. Of the major powers, France, Austria and Prussia, along with most other smaller nations, experienced revolution (or attempted revolution). Who led these? Interestingly enough, they were often two-fold. Liberals orchestrated movements to seek their own goals, often pushing for national unification (as in Italy and Germany) en route to those goals. But another major movement mentioned above had also taken root in the early 1800s in mainland Europe: socialism, rooted deeply in the writings of people like Karl Marx. Many of these socialists also had their agendas behind many of the 1848 revolutions. Although the title of this series indicates its emphasis on conservatism, liberalism and libertarianism, socialism (in its many facets) would have perhaps more widespread impact in the 20th century than any other ideology during that century (until the 1980s). So we’ll most certainly have more to say about that in the future and in this series.

1848 would prove a turning point in European history. Though most revolutions failed, the second half of the 19th century would see major shifts in ideological alliances. Nationalism would be taken up by many conservatives. Socialism would be taken up by many who called themselves liberals.

And the world would feel the consequences.

 


1 This  idea that human nature can be “reformed” or even returned to a state of natural goodness, was, indeed, a part of many of the Enlightenment writers, as the full scope of the Enlightenment covered a great many areas of thought. For example, Enlightenment writer Jean Jacques Rousseau actually rejected many of the rationalistic Enlightenment ideas, embracing a more “emotion-driven” understanding of humanity and society. He would inspire both the leaders of the French Revolution and many in the Romantic movement of the early 1800s (which, ironically, appealed to many conservatives!).

2 Some historians call 1814-1848 the “Age of Metternich” in Western Europe. He would go on to coordinate major diplomatic events in the German Confederacy and Europe more broadly.

3 Those who remember their history well can probably see the beginning of a series of fateful alliance systems that will contribute to World War I. Participants in various alliances, however, would change over the course of the century.

4 In in 1848, the Frankfurt Parliament would propose a plan for a unified Germany, but this would ultimately fail. This plan, had it been enacted, would have unified Germany under a very liberal constitution. When Germany was finally unified in the 1860s, it was done so under Otto von Bismarck, who was far from a Lockean liberal.

I recommend books by both Hazlitt and Sowell on the Recommended Books page

The Civil War… Slavery or States’ Rights? (Answer: Both)

Was the Civil War about slavery or states’ rights? And are supporters of states’ rights, by extension, supporters of slavery?

I recently responded to a Facebook debate over these very questions (I know, I know…I should avoid that sort of thing…but in my defense, I did ask for permission to enter the discussion and was approved), and what I intended for a succinct reply quickly grew into the following more essay-like response. So instead of constantly re-inventing the wheel, I figured it would make a good blog post (I have slightly expanded it here).

First, to suggest that it was EITHER slavery OR states’ rights is far oversimplified. It was clearly both. But real history doesn’t fit on bumper stickers.

To clear one important point up , many southerners were genuinely concerned about the future of slavery in the south, and hence the language in their declarations of secession that testify to that. There is clearly no moral defense of this concern; it should rightly be condemned. However–and this is a key reminder–at the outset of the war1, and indeed even through most of the war, the end or continuation of slavery was not in immediate question or the immediate cause of the war. Lincoln did not start the war with any intent to end slavery in the south. In fact, he had earlier supported a Constitutional amendment that would have specifically protected slavery where it existed. The decision for the emancipation of southern slaves was a strategic move to destabilize the southern economy and encourage southern slaves to have a vested interest in a Northern victory.2 I comment on Lincoln’s views of slavery in the footnotes.It also exempted states like Kentucky and Missouri (where secession was still in debate throughout the early part of the war) and allowed them to retain their slaves if they remained in the Union.

With that being said, saying that the Civil War was about either slavery or states’ rights is like saying the American Revolution was about either taxes or self-government. It’s clearly both. To risk redundancy, saying that the war was really about slavery and not really about states’ rights would be to say that the American Revolution is about self-government and not about unjust taxation. (I’m not drawing a moral equivalency–for crying out loud!–just observing the facts as they stand.)

Let’s start with states’ rights, the legal and immediate question of the war. In 2017, we can’t really understand the states’ rights arguments in the way they were viewed in early American history because we live in a day and age of increasingly centralized power. Local self-government had much of its roots in the Middle Ages, which then endured very importantly in England itself, and many of the American conservatives throughout the colonial period had enjoyed self-government for so long that it was considered, to them, to be part of the unwritten, but very real British Constitution.

The southerners were very much in this vein of belief that power ought to be distributed between multiple sources, in line with the Jeffersonian position (and most of the Constitutional Framers). The modern central state that we have today was not the federal government of the U.S. founders, and as southerners saw it becoming more and more powerful, cesetion was their recourse as negotiations broke down.

This was not something they made up. Multiple states only ratified the Constitution itself on the promise by Constitutional supporters that it did not bring an end to state sovereignty. The states were the primary political unit (like the countries in the UN), and the federal government was formed by the states for pragmatic purposes, mostly related to foreign affairs. During its ratification process, Virginia ratification delegates deliberately said they would only ratify if they retained their right to secede if the federal government went beyond the limited powers granted in the Constitution. Rhode Island and New York maintained similar provisions. When the southern states seceded, the reality that the U.S. was becoming a centralized modern state was on the forefront of many peoples’ minds both in the north and south.

Robert E. Lee wrote, “I yet believe that the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, not only are essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of free government. I consider it as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”4

Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were both against slavery on moral grounds. Lee called slavery a “moral and political evil.”5

The question of secession (and states’ rights more generally) had a more vigorous northern tradition than southern. In fact, New England states had been the first to seriously consider withdrawal from the Union during the War of 1812 due to what they considered unfair federal tariff laws and a federally-imposed embargo. As one of many examples, the Connecticut legislature proclaimed in 1812, “It must not be forgotten, that the state of Connecticut is a free sovereign and independent state; that the United States are a confederacy of states; that we are a confederated and not a consolidated republic.”6 The Massachusetts governor, MA Supreme Court and legislature all concurred and issued a similar statement. New England secession was openly debated at the Hartford Convention of 1814-1815. Later, after the Fugitive Slave Law of the 1850s required active state participation in the rounding up of slaves who had escaped to the north, multiple northern states actively nullified the law—instructing their police forces to ignore it, and several passed “personal liberty laws” for this very purpose.

As for the soldiers in the war, most war memoirs and letters show that soldiers, by and large, were first and foremost concerned with self-government and the self-determination of each political society to decide its own course, as the Founders had been in 1776.

The question of states’ rights and secession was pushed to the point of crisis because of the question of the expansion of slavery. With newly acquired territory from Mexico in 1848, and a population balance in the north putting far more northerners into the federal government than southerners, attempts to compromise on decisions about whether or not newly created states would be permitted to have slavery or not frequently broke down, and those that went through were fraught with controversy. Voting fraud during the vote on statehood in Kansas led to bloodshed there as early as 1854. (There were only 2 slaves in Kansas at the time!)

Also, the abolitionist movement in the North was very small, but very loud. Led by people like William Lloyd Garrison, a small number of passionate abolitionists were very active. Of course, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, had profound effect on northerners, drawing many into the abolitionist viewpoint. With that, free-soil parties, like the Republican Party, were formed on the basis of preventing the expansion of slavery into newly created states. (It is important to note that many northerners were opposed to the expansion of slavery because they thought it would crowd out work opportunities for northern laborers moving west.)

Nevertheless, southern concerns that an increasingly powerful federal government filled with more and more abolitionists who might seek to end slavery were real. There is no illusion about the fact that many southerners were very intent on ensuring the institution continue. (As a side note, only 25% of southerners owned slaves. The aristocratic structure of southern society ensured that it was these people who held the vast influence over southern policy.) With people like Jackson and Lee as exceptions, many certainly had their personal financial investments anchored in slavery, and even George Washington had not been able to overcome his financial dependence on the enslavement of humans (while he lived; he bequeathed them freedom after his wife’s death), despite his disdain for the institution as a whole (I commented on this briefly in my previous post, as well.)

So clearly it’s not an ‘either-or’ question. When the war broke out, Lincoln nor his generals were fighting to end slavery; that wasn’t in the question with regard to immediate causes of the war, though many southerners were concerned about the trend in powerful central government that might limit or seek to end the institution.

Real history doesn’t fit onto bumper stickers.

And more than anything, it is so important to understand (and accept) that people who argue that the war was fought for states’ rights are not supporting slavery and may, in fact, be supporting the very traditional and conservative principle of self-government. They can both argue that point and argue that southern slave-holders were profoundly hypocritical in their views on liberty and condemn slavery as the despicable institution that it is; there is no dissonance with that position. To explain or endorse the states’ rights cause of southern secession is not even a defense of the Confederacy, let alone to support slavery or even ‘white nationalism’. Likewise, we shouldn’t ignore the slavery issue and its broad cultural acceptance at that time, nor be insensitive or uncharitable to those who bring attention of this reality to the forefront. But let’s not pretend that the evil of slavery is still being supported by the vast majority of those who see the argument made by Robert E. Lee, as quoted above.

I ask for charity both ways. A rarity, to be sure.

As in all things, condemn what is evil and immoral and praise what is good and virtuous, rather than picking teams and calling names. Let’s be charitable, understanding, and honest.


Some will argue that Lincoln did not start the war because the south fired the first shots at Ft. Sumter, which in fact they did. However, most historians agree, on account of Lincoln’s discussions with his Cabinet, that he very much intended to provoke them, even after the Confederacy government had offered to pay for the land occupied by federal bases, including Ft. Sumter. 

In August of 1863, Lincoln wrote his friend, attorney and federal agent James Conkling, “I issued the proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union. .. I thought that in your struggle for the Union, to whatever extent the negroes should cease helping the enemy, to that extent it weakened the enemy in his resistance to you.” 

Lincoln was opposed to slavery as an institution. He wrote, “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is.” But he also argued that the “physical difference” between blacks and whites prevented them from ever being able to live together, and argued clearly that whites ought to have the superior position. He supported a plan to encourage blacks to move to Liberia. He later on did appear to have been glad of the opportunity to free slaves as a consequence of the war on moral grounds, but even after the emancipation declaration, he would still contend that he would have sought war to preserve the Union with or without the end of slavery. 

4Quoted in 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask ©2007, Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Ph.D, page 76.

Ibid.

6 Ibid, page 31.

 

The History of Conservatism, Liberalism & Libertarianism (Part 5 – Conservatism, Liberalism & the Founding of the United States)

One central question can premise this part:

Given that core components of both conservatism and liberalism were influential among the early American Founders, how can we accurately categorize them?

While I’ll leave that to my readers to decide, I think the answer will become rather clear: you can’t. That case is made immediately clear in the debate between some historians as to whether or not Thomas Jefferson was essentially a liberal or a conservative. In the vein of the first argument, Jefferson was hugely influenced by John Locke, continuously promoted civil liberties, and ultimately promoted blatantly liberal policies such as the separation of church and state, a wider democratic base, et cetera. Other historians argue that Jefferson was actually a conservative. In their line of reasoning, Jefferson supported republican principles going back as far as the Roman Republic and was pro-agrarian (a traditional vocation). By the time of Jefferson’s prolific support of all these various principles and ideals, many of his ideas were already widely accepted and promoted by many in the 13 colonies of the U.S. So did that make them conservative…or liberal?

I’ll give you the history; you can decide the answer. Here are the previous parts, if you are just now joining me:

A Review of Colonial Foundations

I want to start this section off with a quick historical comparison of some of the colonies, loosely categorized for our purposes. This will help inform the impact that these founding influences had on the later framers of the United States during the Revolutionary Era and serve as a helpful reminder more generally.

Virginia & the Aristocratic Colonies: The first colony, established in 1607, grew into an agrarian colony (mainly on tobacco) based on the aristocratic hierarchy of England. Their colonial assembly, the House of Burgesses, was made up of members chosen by the various land-holders of Virginia. Until the Revolutionary Era, Virginia looked much like the mother country, with an officially state-established and state-sponsored Anglican Church. Founders such as George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson would all herald from the aristocratic society of Virginia. Maryland and Carolina (and later Georgia) would follow a very similar structure. (And we should note that Thomas Jefferson was able to produce and get a measure passed in 1786 that ended the government-sponsored church in Virginia.)

Massachusetts & Puritan New England: Though preceded by Plymouth Colony (established 1620), Massachusetts Bay Colony (established 1630) would ultimately become the dominant New England Colony. We’re all familiar with the narrative: led by John Winthrop, thousands of Puritans migrated to Massachusetts in the 1630s to escape the restrictive religious/political environment of Anglican England. There are far too many misconceptions about Massachusetts to expound on here, but for now it is suffice to say that the Puritans were very clear about their goal of a Puritan society in which the church was state, and the state was the church.  Their decentralized system of governance left politics extremely local and based in the church in each community. Members in each church were the voting members in their community. The Puritans did not intend for any separation of church and state, and quickly images of Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter emerge to condemn them. Another debate for another time, to be sure, but we have to remember Winthrop was also clear in the voluntary nature of living in Massachusetts. When Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson digressed from the basics of Puritanism, they were asked to leave.

Roger Williams

Puritan Dissenters & Rhode Island:  Roger Williams himself decided to establish his own colony in 1636 at Providence (Rhode Island), established on the idea of separation of church and state. In his essay, The Bloody Tenet of Persecution for the Cause of Conscience, Williams argued against the Puritan church and state unification on the argument that enforced religion was no true religion at all, and the political sword could never effectively create or maintain the true church or the true spiritual life of a believer. (Interested readers are encouraged to read his essay and the response by Puritan Minister John Cotton of Massachusetts, The Bloody Tenet Washed and Made White in the Blood of the Lamb.)

The Middle Colonies: New York (established as New Amsterdam by the Dutch in 1624), Pennsylvania and New Jersey were rather distinct from the other colonies in the propensity of their settlers to take advantage of the somewhat greater economic opportunity. Established as a trading colony by the Dutch and later taken by the British, New York boasted of significant diversity, as well as a great number of people loyal to the British crown during the American Revolution. Pennsylvania and New Jersey, gifted to the Quaker William Penn (and established 1681), were afforded extensive economic freedom. Quakers, while known for being distinctly devout, were also very much committed to economic, political and religious freedom.1 Overall, it is not surprising that New York and Philadelphia grew into the two most prosperous cities in the colonies.2

British Colonial Political Culture

It is important to note that during the 17th and 18th centuries, the British people were among some of the most free in the world in comparative terms. The natural law traditions of Great Britain were an element of pride and specific importance to those in Great Britain and her North American colonies. Much of the conflict arising in the early days of the series of crises leading up to the Revolution cited violations of the colonial “rights as Englishmen.” More specifically, according to Dr. Jason Jewell, many colonists, regardless of their colony of origin, saw themselves as heirs of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (discussed in parts 1 & 3) and of the Whiggism that followed (discussed in parts 3 & 4).3

Although a fading part of the current narrative as it is told, most colonists read and were immersed in the Bible on a regular basis, and beliefs in people as both inherently sinful and made in the image of God were common. Additionally, most of the more educated colonists (and a great many of the aristocratic planter-class of the southern colonies) were well-read in the writings of Ancient Greece and the Roman Republic. Political thinking was no doubt influenced by Cicero and Cato the Younger’s advocacy of “civic virtue” and republicanism. Republicanism, in the Roman sense, was deliberately opposed to absolutism and was premised on the idea that those with a vested interest in the political society of a country should be actively involved in the affairs of the political society.

Newspapers of the day displayed these cultural influences with constant Biblical and Roman references. The symbolism of Republican Rome was perhaps most popularly notable with the title given George Washington: “The American Cincinnatus”4. In addition, it was common for newspaper columns to be authored by someone taking a Roman name as an alias. The Federalist Papers were published under the pseudonym Publius, for example.

A key feature of this appeal to Roman republicanism was the conservatism of these Romans. Fundamental to Cicero and Cato the Younger was a desire to retain traditions and the norms of the ancestors. The conservative Romans who found their influence in American periodicals often bemoaned the loss of their traditional society and culture under the influence of the Roman emperors.

Likewise, despite modern critiques that blur the importance of the Bible in colonial society, this very importance was itself precisely conservative. We see this from New England, where the “puritan ethic” described the general adherence to a life of hard work and strong Biblical ethics, to Georgia, where even the aristocratic elites were well-versed in Scripture. Prayer and Scripture, whether with devout or nominal devotion, were a regular part of private and political life throughout the colonies. (And do not criticize me for any lack of critique with regard to issues of hypocrisy, inconsistency or slavery; that is not the purpose of this series. I merely wish to highlight historical realities that help us understand the progression of the ideas in its title.)

And note one omission from the narrative that is not by accident. Many critics today accuse the conservatism of the Founding generation to be inherently tied to the preservation of slavery. Clearly, that is not the case in any uniform sense. Yes, a distinct conservative thread would emerge in the defense of the slave-based plantation system in the south insofar as they wanted to conserve that lifestyle, but it was not applicable in a more broad sense during the founding days of the United States. (I have included a small digression related to this issue in the footnotes.5 )

The Revolutionary Crisis

Philadelphia, c. 1776

A full discussion of the series of events leading up to the Revolutionary War won’t fit in this post(!).6 Most of us are familiar from our school days with the tax crises. After the French & Indian War, a heavily indebted British government began a series of taxing measures in the colonies to help pay off war debt, as well as to help cover the costs of the British troops stationed in the colonies. Long story short, early problems caused by the taxes led to repeal of some of the taxes, but a Parliament itself divided over policy (Whigs vs. Tories) ended up instating further taxes (some of which were also repealed, and some of which were kept). Eventually, with increased resistance on the part of the colonists and increased determination to secure authority over them by Parliament, a snowball effect of events led to an acute crisis in Massachusetts. A meeting of colonial delegates (ambassadors) was called and the First Continental Congress was formed. It would be the second Continental Congress that would issue the Declaration of Independence two years later.

What was the real issue? Did the resisters oppose taxation on principle? No, not particularly. The real issue was the belief in local government. It was common belief that only the local legislative assembly had the authority to tax its constituents (we’re all familiar with the cry, “no taxation without representation.”)

This principle of localism was very conservative, drawing largely on the localism and traditions of the Middle Ages. As Tom Woods writes,

“Medieval Europe…was a radically decentralized society that featured a multiplicity of jurisdictions. … The Catholic Church, giving voice to the rich tradition of Christian social thought, recommends the principle of subsidiarity… The ideas of federalism and states’ rights, in short, hold a central and honored place within the Western tradition.”7

Finally, it should also be obvious by now the effect that liberalism had in the colonies. We are all familiar with John Locke’s influence on Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. As many colonists saw it, their traditional rights as Englishmen were being violated and their traditional societal values were being challenged. All this culminated into justification for rhetorical and active resistance and ultimate rebellion against the British.

American colonists themselves split as the crisis unfolded. Many remained loyalists and gained themselves the title Tories (recall the Tory origins in England). According to Dr. Jewell, an estimated 20-30% of the colonial population supported continued union with England and the king. Though many did not support British tax policy, they nevertheless were not willing to sever ties to a country that had a better track-record than most of protecting their natural rights, as they saw it.

Of course, the Patriots won the day in bringing full rebellion to pass. Radicals such as Thomas Paine (especially in his booklets such as Common Sense) helped push American colonists into supporting independence.

Post-Revolution Politics

I once again apologize for my lack of historical exposition. It is my full intention to expound fully in the future. For now, I intend to summarize the points that help tell the conservative/liberal story.

With the decision to fight for independence, the citizens of the 13 independent states began a process of attempting the creation of a new political system. In the wake of the declaration, they created the Articles of Confederation to form a continual Congress of delegates from the sovereign states.

I do want to explain the importance of the all-too-often overlooked Articles of Confederation, ratified as the Revolutionary War began. See the footnotes for more information on that document8, but for now, a few points. First, the Articles of Confederation were particularly deliberate in protecting the full sovereignty of each of its member states, much as the nations of the United Nations maintain their sovereignty today. As we’ve already seen, this was a conservative position. Likewise, the Articles were conservative in their guard against democracy, as was the later Constitution (though, with the implementation of the House of Representatives, to a lesser extent). Like the conservative Tories in England (though generally emphasizing different reasons), the Founders, as historians have aptly pointed out, were not supporters of direct democracy, understanding its tendency for the tyranny of the majority.9

In 1787, delegates met once again in Philadelphia to discuss changes to (or more specifically, by the design of James Madison, a full replacement of) the Articles. The Constitution emerged from its debates.

Thomas Jefferson

Passage of the Constitution not a foregone conclusion (something I think we don’t get taught today!), vigorous debate broke out in many states over its merits and demerits. Ultimately, these factions would become known as the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, respectively. The Federalists were proponents of ratification and the consolidated powers given the new federal government not given under the Articles. In opposition, the Anti-Federalists were concerned about losses to state sovereignty that could be brought about by the Constitution. Appeasing their concerns, the Federalists promised a Bill of Rights, the most important of which to the Anti-Federalists was the 10th Amendment. According to historians Kevin Gutzman, Brion McClanahan and many others, the promise of the 10th Amendment was pivotal in getting several key states to ratify the Constitution, including Virginia. The 10th Amendment was put in place to protect state sovereignty, and the conservative principle that promoted localism.

John Adams

 

Thomas Jefferson (though not in the states during the ratification debates), taking the helm of the arguments against increases in the scope of the federal government’s power, is most remembered for his continued push for the separation of church and state, civil liberties, and generally more limited government. The Constitution passed despite his concerns with the document, but he later went on to demand that the federal government must be bound down by the “chains of the Constitution.” Today, many traditional conservatives, as well as libertarians, look back at Thomas Jefferson for inspiration.

John Adams, who very much could be considered a conservative in his era, was the president who signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts, violating the First Amendment and punishing those who publicly spoke poorly of Adams or the government. This was done, incidentally, about the same time that Tory William Pitt the Younger signed the British Sedition Act into law (discussed in part 3). Jefferson and Madison, in reply, authored the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, calling state “nullification” of the laws the “rightful remedy.”

So, how do we classify the Founders and their ideas? Once again, it becomes clear that categorization is not so clear. (And clearly, a complete analysis would discuss individuals and not such a generalized approach. My goal has been summary.) Nevertheless, understanding how they fit into (or didn’t) the ideas during their day will help to clarify the progression of conservative and liberal thought heading toward the current day.

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1 Quakers were, notably, some of the most passionate abolitionists well into the 1840s and 50s. They got their name from the way their services would include quiet worship time during which members were known to quiver or quake as part of their worship experience.

2 Some might attribute that claim to southern cities such as Charleston, but the wealth of Charleston was created by the land and slave-holding aristocrats and brought back into the cities. New York and Philadelphia were filled with far more entrepreneurial-generated wealth created from the unique opportunities of economic freedom.

3 Jason Jewell is the Humanities Chair at Faulkner University and blogs at The Western Tradition. His lecture series on related topics is a key source of my series. You can subscribe to Liberty Classroom for a special discount by subscribing to LCKeagy.com. Already subscribed? Send me an email or message at the LCKeagy.com Facebook page for the coupon codes.

4 Cincinnatus was a Roman farmer who, in the time of need, led Rome to victory against invasion, after which he returned to his farm, declining an opportunity to use his power and loyalty as an avenue to dictatorship. Washington, likewise, returned to Mount Vernon after becoming the hero of the Revolutionary War, despite concerns (and some proposals) that he would become an American King.

Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington were all slave-owners, and all admitted to a distaste of slavery in general, but were unwilling to alter their lifestyles so radically as to honor their distaste. Some who expect perfection of humanity do not think these two ideas can go hand in hand, but human nature is more complicated than these people will admit. George Washington was willing to ensure all his slaves were free upon his and his wife’s death and wrote regularly of his opposition to the institution, but, knowing that freeing his slaves would lead him into bankruptcy, was not willing to catapult himself into poverty. It was a conflict of desires, and his personal desire to avoid bankruptcy and a radical change of lifestyle for which he was not prepared won out over his desire to see slaves freed. Sure, there is plenty of critique to be made here, but that is not the place for this series.

6 I am currently working on writing a summary of these events, but my time dedicated to it has been rather limited. Subscribe to know right away when that one is finished and posted!

33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask, ©2007, Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Ph.D, page 25.

8 I am going to be embarrassed to post this, but I did a video discussion about it for my students, which you can find here. There is nothing professional about the videography or style, and it is my first video lecture I have done! The Articles are far more important in understanding the American founding than they are almost ever given credit for. Instead, we’re always stuck with the “did they succeed, or did they fail?” discussion…and we miss the whole point.

9 John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton make this point very clear later on in the Federalist Papers.


 

Do You Aspire for Political Power?

I was recently having a conversation with someone who explained to me her interest in politics. Her ultimate goal she said: to become president. She was quite convinced of it, too.  A self-described “control freak,” she had a plan for moving up the political ladder and ultimately emerging in that prized executive position.

Now, I pledge to never disparage anyone with the terribly powerful weapon and tool of my metaphorical pen, and that is not my purpose here. But the interaction struck me and I had to hold my tongue politely in the setting that did not allow for further discussion of the matter. Still, I managed one bit of cordially-delivered advice.

The advice? That politicians are the only people with the legal authority to use force, violence and the threat of each, and the reality of that ought to be sobering.

And as I said, I spoke with lighthearted understatement that somewhat masked the formidable reminder. I will not mince my words here.

Do you aspire for political power?

Please remember the same.

This is not a treatise on political power and its proper role or extent. It is merely a warning.

Saint Augustine theorized that those in power are by and large those who are already inclined to such an abuse of that power, as those not so inclined are most often found in the more docile of vocations. This, of course, is quite counter to the general perspective we are taught of government officials from our youngest days: that those bearing our team label are sacrificial benefactors out for our own good. (You already know how I feel about “team politics” from my post, “I Am Not Partisan”.)

Sure, in response to some of your protests, there are politicians who are not naturally those already inclined to seek the position for its own sake. But am I really that far out on a limb to suggest that these are by far the exception rather than the norm? Saint Augustine and many others would not think so. When the Hebrews demanded a king, the Lord told Samuel to warn them of the ways the kings would turn the people into his very slaves.1 If the vocation of painting draws those who naturally tend to be artistic, then why are we so ready to proclaim that the vocation of power must be a great a sacrifice born by those in its pursuit for the greater good of those they have power over? Does it not likewise tend to draw those who are naturally “control freaks”?

In one of the first posts of this project (“What is the State?”), I made the assertion that the state is a monopoly on force.

Do you aspire for political power? Do you aspire to be a member of this prestigious monopoly with the power to hold the metaphorical gun of legal force?

There is an old adage that we all knew from a young age: “power corrupts.” And when we learned about the kings of France, we added, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And there may be some truth here in a colloquial sense, as some who seek political office often find their benevolent aspirations twisted cruelly into an activity of self-advancement. But perhaps it is a far more accurate reality that power draws out the natural corruption of human nature and gives it far more dangerous an impact than the more benign professions.

Again, this is not a treatise on the role or legitimacy of power. It is, to sound like a broken record, a caution. A warning.

Indeed, I am not altogether opposed to a pragmatic pursuit of political position (and on this, there will be divided opinion among my readers), so long as all such pursuits are used for the advancement of liberty, anchored in the most unshakable of moral caliber. Such pursuit and integrity is a rare find among the political class.

We have come so far from God’s warning to the Hebrews that a king would “draft your sons,” force some to “plow in his fields and harvest his crops,” “take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials,” and “take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest.”2 Indeed, we have come to revere the very power that God told Samuel was a rejection of His sovereignty.3

This is the power to tax. The power to wage war. The power to wield the only legal metaphorical gun and the power to use it.

And for those who want to add, “the power to build up or to destroy,” do not be misled. The power of government cannot build up. It cannot create. It can only feed on the productivity and creativity of others. All true conservatives have understood that truth and beauty can never be the product of force. As the great conservative Edmund Burke (who I discuss here) wrote,

“In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing, the Thing itself is the Abuse!”4

And the great 20th Century writer, conservative and libertarian-leaning J.R.R. Tolkien, expressing his views in The Lord of the Rings, expresses his views in Gandalf’s reply to Frodo’s suggestion that he take the Ring (which in a later letter, Tolkien says symbolizes power itself):

“No! With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly! Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused.”5

Do you aspire for this power?

Then be sobered by the reality of this danger and proceed with humility, integrity and a deep and abiding fear of what the weapon and tool in your hands really means.


1 1 Samuel 8

2 Ibid, verses 11-15

3 Ibid, verse 7.

4 This comes from one of his early essays, though it was repeated as a motto throughout much of Burke’s political life. Numerous commentaries can be found on it with a simple Google search.

5 The Lord of the Rings, page 60. A very interesting and thorough look at Tolkien’s views on power as expressed through The Lord of the Rings can be found here.

Book Review: The Problem with Socialism

The book begins by citing a 2015 study showing that “43% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 had a ‘favorable’ opinion of socialism and that they have a higher opinion of socialism than they do of capitalism.1 It immediately cites another study in 2016 that “found that 69% of voters under the age of thirty expressed a ‘willingness to vote for a socialist president of the United States.’”2

Economics professor Thomas DiLorenzo saw this as a challenge.

In his beautifully short and information-packed book, The Problem with Socialism, DiLorenzo strikes at the heart of the major elements and issues with socialism. As he aptly states in his introduction, “In order to have a ‘favorable’ view of socialism one must have either forgotten what the entire world learned about socialism from the late nineteenth century on, or have never learned anything about it in the first place.”3

He is correct.

And he knows how to cater it to millennials, many of whom seem to be trending in a Bernie Sanders direction. Well, okay, let’s be honest. The best way to do that might be flashy short video clips. But for a book, DiLorenzo keeps his chapters snappy and thorough; most can be read in 20 minutes or less. I read virtually the entire book in a weekend—quite a feat for a slow reader with a toddler, newborn and two jobs.

What does DiLorenzo cover? Everything from the fundamental economic problems of socialism to how forced egalitarianism conflicts with human nature, to how Scandinavian socialism isn’t what it’s made out to be, to the problems of minimum wage, welfare, state-sponsored education and more. As he writes, this book is meant to be a “primer on socialism (and capitalism) for some; a historical reminder for others; and a handy sourcebook on all the problems of socialism and how it threatens a free society.”4 And he does it all in an easy-to-read way, without the total-silence-needed-for-concentration burden of heavy economic analysis. This book is written for the layperson.

For anyone looking for this sort of easy, quick but comprehensive examination of all the major issues of socialism, I cannot more highly recommend this book. I agree with Thomas Woods, and others who contend that every high school student ought to read this book before heading off to college, but even for those of us beyond that point and immersed in busy lives, DiLorenzo helps us avoid the ignorance that seems to be increasing around us on the topic of socialism. The fact of the matter is, this isn’t just something that you can just take or leave. The more these realities are forgotten by voters and their elected officials, the more it truly will affect our lives. Treat yourself to an excellent source of understanding.

And for my fellow nerds, enjoy a lecture given by Professor DiLorenzo based on this book:


1 DiLorenzo, Thomas, The Problem with Socialism, page 1.

2 Ibid, 2.

3 Ibid, 4.

4 Ibid, 12