Browsing "Equality"

Revolutionary Jacobins: French and American

“In 1793, the Jacobins, surfing the wave of Parisian mob violence, intimidated their less resolute colleagues into eliminating both the principle of monarchy and the existence of its politically superfluous incarnation, Louis XVI. Not content with killing a living king, and pronouncing a death sentence in absentia on all princes of the blood who had escaped with their lives, the revolutionaries were determined to rewrite the past by abolishing the enduring symbols of the French nation. Walter Scott, in his Life of Napoleon Bonaparte observes:

“The name of king being pronounced detestable, all the remembrances of royalty were to be destroyed . . . the royal sepulchers . . . were not only defaced on the outside, but utterly broken down, the bodies exposed, the bones dispersed . . .”

Notre Dame’s “gallery of Judean kings” [was] destroyed (the mob supposedly mistook the 28 statues for portraits of French kings).

The revolutionaries wanted to make the past, even more than the future, a tabula rasa on which they can scrawl their puerile obscenities. Even the calendar had to be reinvented. The Jacobins . . . took only a few months before adopting a system that was as “rational” (i.e., inhuman) as it was stupid . . . All over Paris and throughout France, the churches’ precious art treasures were vandalized, and gold and silver communion vessels were stolen and used in mock ceremonies that travestied the Mass.

We must always remind ourselves that the entirely sordid activities of the French Republicans were the fulfillment of the Enlightenment project, whose objects were freedom of thought (that is, the freedom to be a servile follower of the Encyclopedists), social and political equality (the destruction of all authority), and a society based solely upon reason (the destruction of Christian civilization).

And what of Americans, so eager to escape the shackles of their history that they, too, have rewritten both calendar and curriculum?

America, where Martin Luther King, Jr. and his civil-rights “revolution” takes precedent in the calendar over Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and even Lincoln; where Christian symbols are removed from schools and public squares and “Happy Holidays” has replaced “Merry Christmas”. . . where some State legislatures have removed the fine old flag under which brave Americans from the South fought in what they and many non-Southern Americans regarded as the noble cause of constitutional liberty . . .”

What can be said of this America, if not that, over the course of 150 years, we have gradually achieved the revolution which Rousseau imagined and for which Jacobins and Marxists fought and slaughtered?

The way back – if there is to be a way back – will not begin with a counter-revolution that will commemorate its own set of uprisings, heroes, and martyrs but with a quiet determination to restore the Christian calendar in our own lives; to display Christian symbols in our homes, shops and offices; and to teach our children and friends the stories and traditions that the Jacobins have done their best to destroy.”

(Living the Jacobin Dream, Thomas Fleming, Chronicles, March 2003, excerpts pp. 10-11 – www.chroniclesmagazine.org)

“Freed” Slaves for Lincoln’s Army

After Northern troops occupied northeastern North Carolina in mid-summer 1862, is was estimated that over 7500 “contrabands” were within their lines, and this would grow after 1863. According to author William C. Harriss (In the Country of the Enemy, pp. 12-13), “These refugees of slavery provided the troops with inexpensive delicacies, such as cakes and pies, labor, and services. Several hundred blacks were hired, if not conscripted, to build fortifications at New Bern and other coastal points. Though New England soldiers generally approved of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, many held anti-black sentiments. One Maine soldier . . . “could not bear” the sight of blacks. Such men did not hesitate to exploit black refugees, forcing them to work as servants for little compensation.”

“Freed” Slaves for Lincoln’s Army

“In issuing his Emancipation Proclamation as an incitement for race war, Lincoln was continuing his policy of violating both the Constitution and international law. Food and medicine had already been declared contraband. Later, Lincoln issued “Instructions for the Government of the Armies of the United States in the Field,” (General Orders, No. 100, 1863), authorizing starvation and bombardment of Southern women and children.

Since the Emancipation Proclamation was “a practical war measure,” its enforcement was determined by whether it advanced Lincoln’s war effort. As a consequence, when Lincoln’s Army arrived, “freed” Southern slaves often found themselves re-enslaved under the fiction of a one- year work contract. They could suffer a loss of pay or rations for acts of laziness, disobedience or insolence, and had to obtain a pass to leave the plantation.

Provost marshals ensured that they displayed “faithful service, respectful deportment, correct discipline and perfect subordination. Other “freed” slaves found themselves forced to build fortifications for Lincoln’s Army or were violently conscripted.

In a May 1862 report, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase was advised that: “The Negroes were sad . . . Sometimes whole plantations, learning what was going on, ran off to the woods for refuge . . . This mode of [enlistment by] violent seizure is repugnant.”

As late as February 7, 1865, Lincoln wrote to Lieutenant Colonel Glenn, operating in Kentucky: “Complaint is made to me that you are forcing Negroes into the military service, and even torturing them.”

(Lincoln and the Death of the Old Republic, Joseph E. Fallon, Chronicles, August 2002, excerpts pg. 44 – www.chroniclesmagazine.org)

Broadening the Base of Democracy

Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville observed that the democratic revolution in America was an irresistible one, and that to attempt to stop it “would be to resist the will of God.” The elevation of Andrew Jackson to the presidency in 1829 pushed the democratic revolution forward – in the North the friction became one between the commercial-financial aristocracy and the working men, and in the South the planters and the yeoman farmers. Against simple majority rule and “the tyranny of king numbers” stood John C. Calhoun and Abel P. Upshur in the South, as well as James Kent, Joseph Story and Orestes Brownson of the North.

Broadening the Base of Democracy

“To what extent was aristocracy weakened and democracy strengthened by the work of the [State constitutional] conventions of the 1830s? In the first place, property qualifications for voting were abolished . . . except Virginia, North Carolina, [New Jersey and Rhode Island], and with Louisiana [Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Ohio] still requiring the payment of taxes. The last of the religious restrictions were also abolished.

In still another way these changes broadened the base of democracy. For the first time the people had been consulted as to the revision and amendment of their constitutions. The conventions were called directly or indirectly by action of the people. The revised constitutions were in turn submitted back to them for ratification or rejection.

In one matter there was a definite reactionary movement. This was the issue of Negro suffrage. Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania took the ballot from the Negro. And New York in 1821 limited Negro suffrage by requiring that he possess a freehold valued at two-hundred fifty dollars over and above all indebtedness. Hence only five of the Northern States granted equal suffrage to Negroes.

Whether or not Jefferson, Mason, and other Revolutionary proponents of natural rights philosophy intended to include Negroes in the statement that “all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights” is a debatable question; but in actual practice the American people had decided by their constitutional provisions that Negroes were not included in the political people.”

(Democracy in the Old South, Fletcher M. Green; The Journal of Southern History, Volume XII, Number 1, February 1946, excerpts pp. 15-16)

A Northern General’s View of Negro Suffrage

As the Republican party completed its thorough bludgeoning of the South in early 1865, the realization of postwar politics and establishing Republican hegemony over the country for a long period became a primary consideration. With the South eventually returning to national politics, the question of Negro suffrage and ensuring they would always vote Republican became paramount. But there were also those in the Republican party who favored separation of the races, like Major-General Jacob D. Cox, who led a division under Sherman at Atlanta, and under Schofield at Fort Fisher – the latter where he observed Northern white and black troops interacting.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

A Northern General’s View of Negro Suffrage

“Jacob D. Cox entered the Reconstruction debate in his role as the Republican candidate for the governor of Ohio. On the surface, the question of federal policy toward the freedmen was of little relevance to the Ohio gubernatorial campaign, since that office had no jurisdiction over the question.

However, in 1865 no politician, at whatever level he operated, could ignore Reconstruction. Federal officeholders would use the State campaigns of 1865 to gauge public opinion on this issue. Moreover, the Ohio Unionist party reflected the divisions of the national party over the question of Negro suffrage; antislavery men from the Western Reserve advocated it, southern Ohio Unionists opposed it, and the majority of the party’s 1865 convention delegates wished to take no immediate position.

Although the party platform ignored the question, many members, especially the anti-slavery Republicans, insisted that Cox define his position concerning the status of the freedmen.

Cox announced his plan reluctantly . . . [and] Disagreeing with the call for immediate Negro suffrage coming from Western Reserve Republicans, the candidate claimed that declarations by State parties and nominees would be premature and would make more difficult President [Andrew] Johnson’s task.

Decisive pressure came, however, from the seat of Ohio antislavery sentiment and Cox’s alma mater, Oberlin College. [Cox’s reply was the eight-page] Oberlin Letter — an antislavery call for the separation of blacks and whites. Knowing that his more radical friends would accuse him of racism, Cox began by asserting his commitment to certain principles held by antislavery men.

“The public faith is pledged to every person of color in the rebel states, to secure to them and to their posterity forever, a complete and veritable freedom. The system of slavery must be abolished and prohibited by paramount and irreversible law. Throughout the rebel states there must be, in the words of Webster “impressed upon the soil itself an inability to bear up any but free men.” The systems of the states must be truly republican.”

To Cox, however, “the effect of the war has not been simply to “embitter” their [the two races] relations, but to develop a rooted antagonism which makes their permanent fusion into one political community an absolute impossibility.” The granting of equal political rights to freedmen would only hasten the onset of a race war.

This would occur, Cox argued, because the unique historical position of black Americans, coupled with their distinct physical appearance, made amalgamation impossible. Southern whites, unwilling to operate on a basis of equality with blacks, would combine to keep them powerless, either by law . . . or through violence. Recognizing the incongruity between the democratic promise of America and his restricted position, the black man would resist. In the ensuing contest, he could not win.

Cox’s contact with white Northern soldiers convinced him that white troops would side with white Southerners and the Northern population would acquiesce in the eventual extinction of the colored minority. America’s republican institutions had met in Southern racial antagonism an insurmountable obstacle.

Claiming a commitment to the freedom and prosperity of the freedmen, but believing racial divisions incurable, Cox advocated separation.”

(The Cox Plan of Reconstruction: A Case Study in Ideology and Race Relations. Wilbert H. Ahern, Civil War History, A Journal of the Middle Period, John T. Hubbell, editor, Kent State University Press, Vol. XVI, No. IV, December 1970, excerpts pp. 294-296)

 

Another Casualty of the War

It is written that “despite the changes which the catastrophe of 1865 made inevitable, the distinctive culture of the region was never destroyed.” Both races had to return to living together in the same land, but social relations deteriorated with the political machinations of the carpetbaggers and the Republican Party’s Union League. For simple political opportunism and lasting hegemony over the defeated South, the latter taught the black man to hate his lifelong white neighbor and vote for the Northern party which impoverished the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Another Casualty of the War

“Since the Civil War, there has been a decline in what the ante-bellum traveler Frederick Law Olmsted called “the close habitation and association between black and white.” Immediately after the war the two races separated in churches, and for the cultural give and take of the plantation was substituted a dual school system which sealed off the children of one race from another.

Gradually it became impossible for a white person to teach in a Negro school without losing caste. When the courts forced the attendance of Negroes in white schools, no genuine interracial fraternity developed. No longer did the two races have what William Faulkner calls “the same parties: the identical music from identical instruments, crude fiddles and guitars, now in the big house with candles and silk dresses and champagne, now in the dirt-floored cabins with smoking pine knots and calico and water sweetened with molasses.”

The whites have been able to implement a growing aversion to intimate contact with the blacks through the use of labor-saving devices and through the spread of progressive notions concerning the dignity of labor. Despite Supreme Court decisions, immutable social custom makes for increased residential segregation, especially in the newer sections of the cities.

One of the most persistent beliefs about the South is that the Negro is in a constant state of revolt against the social pattern of the section. Despite a vast literature to the contrary, the facts of history refute this assumption.

As a slave the black man never attempted general insurrection and did not run away often. “The slaves,” says a historian of the Confederacy, Robert Cotterill, “supported the Confederacy (albeit somewhat involuntarily).” It is now proved that outside compulsions rather than inner ambitions prompted the political insubordinations of Reconstruction. Their artificial character is proved by the fact that they were not accompanied by much social insubordinations and by the fact that they disappeared as soon as the outside compulsions were removed.

Indicative of the willingness of the rank and file blacks to accept the status quo are the words of a conservative demagogue who knew the Negro well. “If the election of the governor of South Carolina were left “entirely to the Negro vote,” declared Cole L. Blease in 1913, “I would receive without trouble 75 to 90 percent.”

(The Everlasting South, Francis Butler Simkins, LSU Press, 1963, excerpts pp. 48-49)

The Un-Progressive South

By 1850, the American South had had enough of Northern agitation regarding the slavery in their midst and saw abolitionists as unreasoned, ideological fanatics who could produce no practical or peaceful means to do away with that residue of British colonialism. The former slave States of New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island emancipated their slaves earlier, and the South wished for time to do the same.  The passage below is excerpted from the Fall 2017 newsletter of the acclaimed Abbeville Institute, see: www.abbevilleinstitute.org.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Un-Progressive South

“The union of classical and Christian culture gave Southerners an immunity – even before the War – to the modern virus of progressive ideology which had seized the North by the 1830s.

Criticism of Northern society by the likes of Robert Dabney, William Gilmore Simms and Edgar Allen Poe brought into stark relief the difference between the classical Aristotelian understanding of rational criticism favored by the South and the hubristic ideological critiques of Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman.

Lincoln made the ideological style of politics popular with the Gettysburg Address, where he defines America not as a historic federation of States, each cultivating, in its own terms, political and legal institutions inherited from Europe (and especially from Britain), but as a polity with a mission to shape society in accord with an abstract “idea” of equality.

By the 1950s, the ideological style of politics had become so popular that Richard Hofstadter could say approvingly, “it has been our fate not to have an ideology, but to be one.” Rather than see as a pathological condition of the intellect, it is celebrated as a great achievement and as an instance of American “Exceptionalism.”

As Al Gore and countless other pundits have put it, America is a country that constantly “reinvents itself.” Arthur Schlesinger defined American identity in this way: “The American character is bottomed upon the profound conviction that nothing in the world is beyond its power to accomplish.” And the “conservative” Ronald Reagan was fond of repeating Thomas Paine’s remark that we have it in our power to begin the world anew.

Southerners know we have no such power, and should resist the temptation to use it if we had it. The Yankee critic responds that Southerners have an intolerably relaxed tolerance of evil. But Southerners do not have a high tolerance for evil. Rather, they recognize the reality of original sin. They know how hard it is to eradicate sin from their own conduct much less reconstruct society as a whole with all the unintended consequences that generates.

Balanced “reform” is one thing, but belief in “progress” whether of the liberal or Marxist kind, is not only the pursuit of an ever-receding goal of “equality,” it is also a self-imposed innocence that protects the progressive from having to recognize his failures and the destruction caused by beginning the world anew or event totally rebuilding a part of it. Anti-slavery agitation in the antebellum North was almost entirely ideological and sentimental.

Nowhere in this agitation do we find an acknowledgement that the slaves were brought over by the North and that Northern wealth as of 1860 was founded on the slave trade and on servicing slave economies for over two centuries.

Morality demanded a national program to emancipate slaves, compensate slave holders and integrate slaves into American (including Northern) society. Northern anti-slavery agitators were not within a million miles of supporting such a proposal. What they demanded was immediate and uncompensated emancipation.”

(Abbeville, the Newsletter of the Abbeville Institute, Fall 2017, excerpt pp. 4-6)

The North Must Fall Under the Same Rule

Once the American States in the South were subdued and martial law instituted, the occupation forces wreaked havoc among the slowly-adjusting population, both white and black. At an 1866 Fourth of July observance in Atlanta, a resident wrote that “the occasion was observed only by the black population. They had a grand procession [though] a lot of drunken Yankee soldiers . . . attacked them, and there was a general row. No one was killed, but more than twenty shots were fired, and many were injured. There is a bitter feeling between the Negroes and the Yankees . . .”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

North Must Fall Under the Same Rule

“On April 30, 1865, news was received in Georgia through a dispatch from General (Joseph E.] Johnston to Governor [Joseph] Brown that hostilities against the United States had ceased. From Savannah and Macon as centers, military occupation was extended over the whole State during April, May and June.

Frequent broils occurred between soldiers and citizens, between Negroes and white soldiers and citizens and between white people and [US] colored troops. Garrisons where colored troops were established were centers for disturbance. And Negro soldiers everywhere, had a bad influence on the freedmen of the neighborhood, encouraging them in idleness and arousing in them a feeling of distrust or hostility to their white employers.

Discontent among the Federal soldiers themselves did not make matters more comfortable. White volunteers were restive, thought they ought to be immediately mustered out, and regular soldiers did not get along with colored troops.

General [Ulysses S.] Grant, after his tour of inspection in the South, reported to President [Andrew] Johnson, December 18, 1865, that the presence of black troops, lately slaves, demoralized labor by their advice and by furnishing resorts for freedmen for miles around, whereas white troops generally excited no opposition. Negro troops had to be kept in large enough numbers for their own defense.

Conditions were represented thus by a distinguished Georgian [N.G. Foster] in a letter to General Sherman on May 10:

“ . . . Almost daily our houses are entered and pilfered, and we meet at every turn the air or derision and defiance. Many of the farms were left overcrowded with helpless women and children, with a few old men. Now the [US] commander’s cavalry squads, stationed at various points in the country, permit the Negroes to take the plough stock from the farmer and swarm into their camps, and lounge about, abandoning all labor – Surely, whatever may be the final destiny of this people, they ought to be required to make a support – And the Negro girls for miles and miles are gathered to the [Federal] camps and debauched.

It is surely is not the wish of those persons who aim at an equality of colors to begin the experiment with a whole race of whores . . .

I have not conversed with a [Southern] soldier who had returned, that does not express a prefect willingness to abide the issue. They say they made the fight and were overpowered, and they submit. Nothing will again disturb the people but a sense of injustice . . . [but] No people who descended from Revolutionary fathers can be kept tamely in a state of subjugation. And if it becomes necessary to establish a military despotism [in the] South, any man with half an idea must see that the North must eventually fall under the same rule.”

(Reconstruction in Georgia, Economic, Social, Political, 1865-1872, C. Mildred Thompson, Columbia University, 1915, excerpts, pp. 132; 136-139)

“All the Land Belongs to the Yankees Now”

The South laid down their arms with the understanding that political union with the North would be restored, albeit against their will, but their rights in that political union would be as they were before hostilities commenced. This was not to be — punishment and retribution for seeking independence followed the shooting war – the second phase of the war would continue to 1877 and beyond.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“All the Land Belongs to the Yankees Now”

“Gloom and depression gripped Richmond after the surrender. Thieves, murderers and pickpockets swarmed in the streets. The prevailing feeling of despair was intensified when suspicions were expressed in certain Northern quarters that Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders were somehow responsible for Lincoln’s death. This was, of course, absurd, but Northern radicals were looking for an excuse to punish the South to the limit.

Orders were accordingly issued forbidding as many as three former Confederates to stand on any Richmond street corner, lest they engage in further “conspiracies.” No Confederate insignia could be worn, with the result that a former soldier who had only his battered Confederate coat had to cut off the buttons or cover them with cloth. Many citizens talked of emigrating to Canada, Europe or Latin America.

Negroes were flooding into Richmond and other cities from the country districts. An estimated fifteen thousand came to the former Confederate capital, doubling its black population. Many of these newcomers believed vaguely that they would be cared for indefinitely by “Marse Linkum” or his agents.

As one of Emma Mordecai’s former slaves put it: “All de land belongs to de Yankees now, and dey gwine to divide it out ‘mong the colored people . . .” Another ex-slave was heard to say: “Dis what you call freedom! Can’t get no wuck, and got ter feed and clothe yo’sef.”

It was often easier for blacks to get work than whites. Ex-slaves were known to bring their impoverished former masters or mistresses Federal greenbacks and food from the US Commissary. It was clear that there were strong ties of affection between onetime slaves and their erstwhile owners.

Schoolteachers came down from the North to instruct blacks. Those in charge of these activities were idealistic in the extreme, but too frequently were lacking in understanding. Among those in dire need of help were the returning Confederate soldiers who had been confined in Northern prisons. These haggard, weak and often ill men, clad in hardly more than rags, staggered into town after somehow making their slow and tortuous way back to the South.

Fighting between Federal soldiers and Negroes occurred frequently in Richmond. Two soldiers shot a black through the head, leaving him for dead near the old Fair Grounds after robbing him of two watches and five dollars, according to the Dispatch.

The Virginia press was almost unanimous in opposition to Negro suffrage. The Richmond Times, said, for example: The former masters of the Negroes in Virginia have no feeling of unkindness toward them, and they will give them all the encouragement they deserve, but they will not permit them to exercise the right of suffrage, nor will they treat them as anything but “free Negroes.” They are laborers who are to be paid for their services . . . but vote they shall not.”

(Richmond: The Story of a City, Virginius Dabney, Doubleday & Company, 1976, excerpts, pp. 199-202)

 

Jun 3, 2017 - Black Soldiers, Equality, Historical Accuracy, Race and the South, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on Black Ship’s Carpenter Edward Walsh

Black Ship’s Carpenter Edward Walsh

While many black men served in support roles in the Confederate military during the war, recognized authority Nelson Winbush placed black combatants in Southern units at 50 to 90 thousand — Winbush was the grandson of Louis N. Nelson, a black Confederate cavalryman who fought with Nathan Bedford Forrest. Also, Dr. Edward Smith, Dean of American Studies at American University, estimated that by February 1865, at least 1150 black men had served in the CS Navy – about 20 percent of this branch of service.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Black Ship’s Carpenter Edward Walsh

“One noteworthy crewmember of Wilmington blockade runners was black ship’s carpenter Edward Walsh from St. Georges, Bermuda. He signed on the runner Eugenie in August 1863, then the Flora, and next on the Index, the latter forcing the blockader USS Peterhoff to run aground off Wilmington, its guns then recovered and installed in nearby Fort Fisher.

Once on the runner Elsie in August 1864, Walsh’s success ran out as the ship was sunk by the USS Niphon and he was captured and sent to a Baltimore prison. When released from captivity, he went north to Halifax, Nova Scotia and signed on the runner Constance, which was making a run to Charleston where it struck a wreck and was sunk. Walsh then joined the crew of the runner Annie heading for Wilmington, where the ship ran into the middle of the blockading fleet’s fire and was forced to surrender.

Taken as a prisoner aboard the USS Niphon, the captain recognized Walsh from the Elsie capture and remarked, “Carpenter, you can’t say this is the first I have had you.” “No sir,” Walsh replied, “but it’s the last time. This business is getting too hot for comfort.”

(Rogues & Runners, Bermuda and the American Civil War, Catherine L. Diechmann, 2003, Bermuda National Trust, excerpts, pp. 50-52)

Wilson Lacked Burke’s Prudence

Woodrow Wilson’s liberal arguments for a European peace after the First World War came “not from prudence, not from principle as [Edmund] Burke had described principle, but from abstraction; and the states upon which he bestowed his blessing collapsed in less than two decades, because they were constructed in defiance of history, of real interests, and of the hard facts of power.” Hitler rose from the ashes of that war and Wilson’s ideal design for Europe.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Wilson Lacked Edmund Burke’s Prudence

“Wilson did what he could to establish a better order among nations. His principles were confused, the times moved too fast for him (particularly in the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian system), and he proved far too thoroughly convinced of his own wisdom, too unyielding, to achieve anything which might endure.

Yet the errors into which he fell were not the errors of conservative policy; they were the errors of liberalism; they were the sort of errors which Gladstone made in diplomacy. The climate of 1918 and 1919 was liberal, and it is hard to say who might have done better in Wilson’s place. His failure was the failure of the nation’s political imagination in those years, a normative failure.

Certain liberal abstractions concerning the nature of political order and the nature of man lay behind Wilson’s doctrine of self-determination, behind his assumption that leagues of nations and paper constitutions and treaties might of themselves bring peace and contentment, behind his insistence upon fitting the map of Europe into his ideal design.

He had learned much from the Federalists and Burke; but he had not learned prudence, which Burke considered the highest virtue in a statesman. That aspect of Burke’s thought which defends prescription and prejudice, which perceives how dangerous it is to disturb anything that is at rest, which is prepared to tolerate an old evil lest the cure prove worse than the disease, he understood imperfectly.

Burke . . . never would have thought of approving a doctrinaire and wholesale shifting of boundaries, a vast abolition of governments and substitution of new ones, an overthrow of historical and natural groupings in favor of simple language-affinity. Burke would have perceived at once the consequence of abolishing the power which held together the heart of Europe and checked German and Russian ambition, the Austrian system.

To the conservative of Burke’s school, the world is at best a tolerable place, kept in order chiefly through respect for custom and precedent. It may be patched and pruned here and there; but the nature of man remains flawed, ambition always aspires to domination, and states are kept at peace only by a balancing of power, a recognition of the traditions of civility, and a concern for real interests. Parchment and declarations of the rights of man cannot restrain private or national concupiscence.

To the liberal, on the other hand, the world is infinitely improvable, and so is man himself; experiment and emancipation will lead to peace; and what ought to be, shall be. So Wilson thought and acted through the War and the making of the Peace.

The idea that power may be checked only by countervailing power always has been distasteful to the liberal. Wilson’s concept of self-determination, his championship of the League, and much of the rest of his program reflected that distaste. A vague confidence in Progress, Equality and the People overcame the cautionary precepts of Burke and the Federalists.

“You are a Liberal,” the Duke of Omnium says to Phineas Finn, in one of Trollope’s parliamentary novels, “because you know that it is not all as it ought to be; and because you would still march on to some nearer approach to equality; though the thing itself is so great, so glorious, so god-like, — nay, so absolutely divine, — that you have been disgusted by the very promise of it, because its perfection is unattainable.”

Trollope knew his Liberals. This yearning to march on toward some future universal condition of democracy and equality got the better of Wilson, when authority was his. Despite his earlier declarations that the American Republic – though a model for other states – could not be transplanted, he called upon America to make the world safe for democracy; and this same liberal universalism marked his arguments in the shaping of the evanescent Peace.”

(The Essential Russell Kirk: Selected Essays; George A. Panichas, editor, ISI Books, 2007, excerpts, pp. 507-509)

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