Browsing "Future Political Conundrums"

Representing the Powers at Washington in South Carolina

South Carolina’s first reconstruction governor was former Northern General Robert K. Scott, a Pennsylvania native who accomplished a tripling of the State debt through corruption and fraudulent bonds; his legislature voted itself a full-time saloon and restaurant at taxpayer expense. Scott’s successor, former Northern army officer Daniel H. Chamberlain was determined “to make his elected position pay,” though feeble attempts were made toward reform and Republican patronage which enraged black Republicans expecting favors for votes delivered.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Representing the Powers at Washington in South Carolina

“There is ample evidence of both black domination and the exercise of controls over black leadership by the white [Republican] leadership. South Carolina was unique among the reconstructed States in that blacks constituted about 60 percent of the population. This population advantage was converted into a substantial numerical advantage in the legislature, where Negroes held a two-to-one majority in the lower house and a clear majority on joint ballot of House and Senate throughout the nine-year period of Reconstruction.

During this same period [black South Carolinians] held the office of secretary of state (from 1868 to 1877), lieutenant-governor and adjutant-general (after 1870), secretary of treasury, Speaker of the House, and president pro tem of the Senate (after 1872).

On the other hand, Negroes never held the governorship, the office of US senator, any of the eight circuit judgeships, the offices of comptroller general, attorney general, superintendent of education, or more than one of the three positions on the State supreme court.

Furthermore, there were recorded instances of black officeholders serving as mere pawns of shrewder white [Republican] colleagues. The northern-born county treasurer of Colleton County boasted to Governor Scott that he “could control every colored man’s vote in St. Paul’s Parish and St. Bartholomew Parish.” The Negro treasurer of Orangeburg County found himself in jail charged with malfeasance in office, while the white mentor who had gotten him the appointment and directed his peculations went free.

On another occasion it was alleged that the white [Republican] political boss of Colleton County engineered the removal from the county auditor’s position of a well-educated Negro political enemy, replacing him with another Negro who was illiterate. The latter was expected to be auditor in name only, while another white crony performed the duties of office.

[The] reactions of historians to [traditional images of racial relationships often betray] more emotion than analysis [and] . . . [WEB] DuBois, for example, accepted the idea of the essential powerlessness of blacks in South Carolina’s Reconstruction government in order to minimize the culpability of blacks for the corruption of that government, even though [this actually] contradicts his thesis of black labor’s control of the government.

However, the key advantage of the white Republicans probably lay in their presumed or real contacts in the North which enabled them to promise and sometimes deliver funds, patronage or protection. White Northerners often passed themselves off as representing the “powers at Washington” in order to secure the political obedience of the Negroes, according to [carpetbagger] ex-Governor [Daniel H.] Chamberlain.

Just after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, a committee of South Carolina’s Negro political leaders made a secret trip to Washington to confer with Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner about the formation of a political organization.

But many white Republicans continued to advocate efforts to attract native whites into the Republican party and the appointment of northern whites to sensitive positions. This policy reflected their lack of confidence in black officeholders . . . “There is not enough virtue and intelligence among the Blacks to conduct the government in such a way as will promote peace and prosperity” [wrote one Republican].

In other instances, white Republican officeholders urged the governor to replace with whites those black colleagues whom they considered “un-businesslike” or incompetent.”

(Black Over White, Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina during Reconstruction, Thomas Holt, University of Illinois Press, 1977, excerpts, pp. 96-104)

The Seductive Promises of Demagogues

The late M.E. Bradford understood that the centrality of freedom was the core of Southerners’ insistence on their right to govern their private and local affairs in their own way, and was the same for citizens of all other States. He held that “the only equality Americans can universally approve is accidental, a corollary of liberty or simple equality before the law with limited scope.” Bradford made his readers painfully aware of Lenin’s belief that the only way to make men equal is to treat them unequally.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Seductive Promises of Demagogues

“The wrath [Bradford] directed against Lincoln, like the wrath he directed against Julia Ward Howe, the authors of the Reconstruction amendments, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and all those who had imposed the teleological will of an instrumental government and judiciary upon an unsuspecting nation, had little to do with personal animosity.

It stemmed from his indignation against people he viewed as so intellectually blind as to be incapable of understanding the enormity they had wrought or so morally blind as not to care, provided only that they accomplished their immediate ends. Such attitudes, for Bradford, embodied the reverse – indeed the repudiation – of the obligations of stewardship and amounted to the despoiling of the children as well as the desecration of the fathers.

Bradford refused to apologize for the severity of his message – that the Northern victory had extracted a terrible cost from the country and its culture. Rejecting the cult of equality as the opiate of the intellectuals, Bradford rejected the fashionable identification of the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution, referring to “the Great Divide of the War Between the States.”

He explained: “it has been more and more the habit of our historians, jurists, and political scientists to read the Continental Enlightenment, and the Age of Revolution that was its political consequence, back into the beginnings of our national beginnings by way of an anachronistic gloss upon the Declaration of Independence.”

He constantly reminds his readers that the Constitution, not the Declaration, embodies the country’s law, which it exists to articulate and protect. Thus, he argues in an uncharacteristically optimistic vein, the “Constitution makes it difficult or even impossible for us to alter our political identity on whim or when momentarily carried away by the adjuration of demagogues.”

By the time Bradford died [in 1993], he had reason to know that the American political identity he cherished was under formidable assault, primarily at the hands of the Supreme Court justices – those supposed custodians and interpreters of the Constitution itself.

Experience and history taught Bradford, as he believed they had taught the Framers, that in politics one must conjoin the “caution of David Hume and the pessimism of Saint Paul,” especially with respect to the seductive promises of demagogues. In the time of the Framers, as in our own, he insisted, caution and pessimism should lead to a deep mistrust of the myths of equality with which demagogues love to seduce the more gullible of the citizenry, and he approvingly quoted Rufus King of Massachusetts, “the unnatural Genius of Equality [is] the arch Enemy of the moral world.”

(M.E. Bradford’s Historical Vision, EF & ED Genovese; A Defender of Southern Conservatism, M.E. Bradford and His Achievements, Clyde N. Wilson, editor, University of Missouri Press, 1999, pp. 79-82)

Obsessed with World Power and Democracy

With the Philippine islands in American hands after the Spanish War, the natives imagined their islands free of foreign rule as a gift from America. The liberator determined that the natives “were ill-suited to the concept of representative democratic government” and decided to stay until such was the norm, no matter how many Filipinos lives it cost and years it took.  It will be recalled that the war against Spain began with bellicose headlines from the newspapers of Hearst and Pulitzer.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Obsessed with World Power and Democracy

“On July 4, 1901, William Howard Taft took the oath of office as the first Governor-General of the Philippines, and control of the islands passed from the military arm of the government. Not all the problems [of converting the islands] had been solved. Philippine society remained ill-suited to the concept of representative democratic government, primarily because it is not one culture, but several.

An election in Zamboanga was decided by which Filipino shot the other candidates first.

The Filipinos in the northern islands were Tagalog Christians, those in the south were Moro’s (meaning “Mohammedan”) who had long resisted Tagalog encroachment. A tribal people, they were fiercely jealous of their semi-savage freedom. Wisely, the Spaniards had left them to their own devices; but the Americans wanted to clean up and educate everybody.

So the [American] army established a garrison at Balangiga, on Samar, in the south where Magellan had sighted the Philippines and where he was to die at the hands of natives.

On September 1, 1901, the natives from the surrounding hills of Balangiga fell on the American garrison, and in a devastating surprise littered the street with the heads, brains and intestines of the soldiery. This was the beginning of a religious war with the Moros, one that took longer to settle than the war against Aguinaldo’s insurrectos.

The fight became a struggle to win the minds and hearts of the villagers, who supplied the guerrilla bands and offered them bases and sanctuaries. What was called for [to control the Moros], [General John J.] Pershing decided, was to disarm the entire Moro Province, to confiscate or buy every rifle, pistol, campilan, bolo and krise on the islands.

It was not an original idea. General Leonard Wood, who left the Philippines in 1910 to become Chief of Staff advised Pershing: “You cannot disarm the people. It means they will bury their best arms and turn in a few poor ones, especially some who want to make a show of obedience.” Moros who surrendered their arms were victimized by those who had not . . . it is as hard to disarm a people as it is to make them give up a religious belief.

In a letter to Avery D. Andrews, Pershing put succinctly the apostolic creed to which he himself subscribed:

“It has been urged by some people at home that the Filipinos should be given their independence. Such a thing would result in anarchy. To whom should we over the government? Tagalog, Viscayan, Igorrote, Macabebe or Moro?No one can answer that any of these tribes represents the people in any sense, any more than the Sioux represents all the Indians in America. There is no national spirit, and except for the few agitators, these people do not want to try independence.  They will have to be educated up to it and to self-government as we understand it, and their education will take some time and patience. It is a grand work cut out for us from which there should be no shirking.”

The Americans stayed on, Pershing said, because “the American people being obsessed with the idea of maintaining their new position as a world power, insisted on keeping the flag flying over a territory once it was in our possession.

In the long run, the only advantage the United States or the Philippines realized from the occupation was the military mission. The archipelago was never destined to become a great way station to exploit trade with the Orient. America and the world economy were finding uses for Philippine products, especially hemp, sugar, timber and minerals.

But as the world was discovering these products, the Filipinos were discovering corruption. By 1920, Wall Street learned that the directors of the [Wall Street-capitalized Philippine National] bank had dealt out so many unsecured loans that $24 million had simply evaporated. The bank’s reserves, which should have been retained in New York, had also vanished in alarming fashion. Similarly, American rail industries had capitalized the Manila Railroad Company, which piled up astronomical losses in only eight years. By 1921, the islands were insolvent.

Democracy and equal opportunity have always been problematic for the people of this archipelago. William Howard Taft warned the American electorate in 1912 that only 3 percent of the Filipinos voted and only 5 percent read the public press; to confer democracy on such a society was to subject the great mass to the dominance of an oligarchical and exploiting minority.

“The idea that public office is a public trust,” Taft said, “has not been planted in the Filipino mind by experience . . .”

(Pipe Clay and Drill; John J. Pershing: The Classical American Soldier”, Readers Digest Press, 1977, excerpts, pp 100-153)

 

Two Views on the Destruction of Historic Monuments

 

Noted speaker and author of “Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain, Robert K. Krick:

“We live in an age riven by shrill and intemperate voices, from all perspectives and on most topics. No sane person today would embrace, endorse, or tolerate slavery.

A casual observer, readily able to convince himself that he would have behaved similarly in the 1860s, can vault to the high ground with the greatest of ease. Doing that gratifies the powerful self-righteousness strain that runs through all of us, for better or worse.

In fact, it leaps far ahead of the Federal politicians (Lincoln among them) who said emphatically that slavery was not the issue, and millions of Northern soldiers who fought, bled and died in windrows to save the Union – but were noisily offended by mid-war emancipation.

It is impossible to imagine a United States in the current atmosphere that does not include zealots eager to obliterate any culture not precisely their own, destroying monuments in the fashion of Soviets after a purge, and antiquities in the manner of ISIS.

The trend is redolent of the misery that inundated the planet during the aptly-named Dark Ages, arising from savages who believed, as a matter of religion in that instance, that anyone with opinions different than their own was not just wrong, but craven and evil, and must be brutalized into conformity.

On the other hand, a generous proportion of the country now, and always, eschews extremism, and embraces tolerance of others’ cultures and inheritances and beliefs. Such folk will always be society’s salvation.”

 

Thos. V. Strain, Jr., Commander-in-Chief, Sons of Confederate Veterans:

“. . . It is my opinion, and that of many others, that these [monument] removals are an attempt to erase history. If you take some time to read the comments on social media and on the websites of the news organizations reporting these removals, it is obvious that only a few people support the removals. What it boils down to is that the politicians are telling those that elect them that their wishes mean absolutely nothing to them.

Just this week one of these politicians that voted to remove a statue in Virginia lost in the primary for reelection, and he noted that his stance on the removal more than likely cost him the election.

In the end, what we really have, in my humble opinion, is a group of people who are following their own personal agendas and saying, “to hell with the people” and moving forward with these removals. It isn’t what we want, it is all about them.”

(Civil War Times, October 2017, excerpts, pp. 32; 37)

Exhortative Liberalism

The term “virtue signaling” is defined as “an act of affirmation of some liberal value or shibboleth, intended to establish or reaffirm the sender’s reputation as a socialized, politically correct, and tolerant person.” In the not-too-distant-past, Christian morality dominated American culture and one had no need to signal the virtue one already had in his or her heart.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Exhortative Liberalism

“Even the strongest political conservatives – people who believe in the free market and resist statism, support a strong military defense, and go to church every Sunday – participate in virtue signaling to display their generous intentions, maintain social harmony, and compensate for their illiberal opinions regarding fundamental political, economic and social issues.

Virtue signaling is one aspect of the urgent exhortative tone characteristic of modern liberal society – the “OK guys – let’s all go out today and do the ethical thing!” society.

The spirit behind exhortative liberalism is purely liberal-bourgeois, yet its pedigree traces from the civic boosterism of the conservative bourgeoisie of the 1920’s to whom Sinclair Lewis’s fictional character of the decade gave the name “Babbittry.” In fact there has always been an intimate connection between liberalism and social and intellectual vulgarity . . . Liberalism as an idea is ideally suited to the moral, aesthetic, and political vulgarity of modern commercial-democratic society.

The [Laramie, Wyoming] newspaper [the Boomerang] was founded in 1881 . . . What hard news there is at hand to report daily is buried under alerts, announcements, feature stories and photographs promoting a variety of “awarenesses,” “sensitivities,” and other liberal totems: Big Brother-Big Sister, Violence Against Women Week, Run for the Cure races, rallies to save the climate and fight discrimination against the “LGBT community,” Latina seminars, safe-sex crusades, and Special Olympics weekends.

In the Boomerang’s world, everyone “cares,” “gives back,” “supports,” and “tolerates” from morn to set of sun, and – no doubt – in his dreams as well.

It’s not “nice” to mock, let alone object to, false sentimentality, moralistic self-satisfaction, and virtue signaling, assuming even that people are aware of these things, now as natural a part of the municipal atmosphere as . . . the overflowing bars downtown on Saturday nights, and the ubiquitous message T-shirts advertising (in about equal numbers) commercial products, liberal causes and organizations, and sports teams.

(Message T-shirts are another ubiquitous message from the Exhortative Society, delivered by bipedal human billboards who imagine their fellow bipeds care a tinker’s damn what products they buy, what left-wing causes they support, or what teams the root for.)”

(The Easiness of Being Liberal, Chilton Williamson, Jr., Chronicles, December 2016, excerpts, pp. 9-10)

Russia’s Modified Capitalist Setup

In the mid-1930’s, FDR’s administration absorbed Soviet-friendly advisors and he actively courted the socialist and communist vote for election victory. FDR’s labor consultant since his governorship of New York was Sidney Hillman of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations), and who supported pro-Soviet Henry Wallace as FDR’s vice presidential pick in 1940 – which infuriated conservative Southern Democrats. Hillman created the first political action committee in 1936 which raised labor union money for FDR’s reelection.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Russia’s Modified Capitalist Setup

“In Churchill’s celebrated phrase, Russia may have been “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” but in the United States most people believed the two nations could work together without friction after the war. Fulbright was among them—and he was far from alone.

In ’43, everything Russian, from folk songs to Shostakovich’s symphonies was popular. At Madison Square Garden, Donald Nelson, the head of the War Production Board would share a platform with Paul Robeson and Corliss Lamont and tell a wildly cheering audience that the Russians “understand the meaning of a square deal and a firm agreement.”

Joseph Davies, the former ambassador to Moscow, would say that to question Stalin’s good faith was “bad Christianity, bad sportsmanship, bad sense.” Collier’s magazine, after studying the Russians at the end of that year would conclude that the Soviet Union was neither Stalinist nor Communist, but rather a “modified capitalist setup” evolving toward something resembling our own and Great Britain’s democracy.”

Life magazine in the same period, would call the Russians “one hell of a people” who “look like Americans, dress like Americans, and think like Americans.” Even Rotarian magazine was printing highly sympathetic accounts of Russia . . . And at the annual meeting of the DAR, Mrs. Tryphosa Duncan Bates Batchellor, a leading daughter, would describe Stalin as “a man who, when he sees a great mistake, admits it and corrects it.”

Indeed, as Irving Howe and Lewis Coser would conclude in a study later, for a realistic description of the Russian state “one could turn neither to the popular American press not even to the most extreme right-wing papers, but to such obscure and harassed weeklies of the anti-Stalinist left as The New Leader, The Socialist Call, and Labor Action.”

(Fulbright, The Dissenter, Johnson and Gwertzman, Doubleday & Company, 1968, excerpt, page 75)

 

Reconstruction’s Long Life in North Carolina

There were two clear-cut factions within the Republican Party in North Carolina in the early 1900s: one which supported industrial development, and the more dominant one whose primary interest was in the spoils of office with one political aim – the holding of a Federal job. As Secretary of War William H. Taft relates below, the entire Federal service in North Carolina was controlled by “a distant appointing power.” The author writes of “Revenue officials, often openly and unblushingly corrupt, almost alone had the ear of the Federal administration and dominated Federal politics in the State. The people could not forget that the Federal government had forced Negro rule on them at the point of the bayonet, nor that every Democratic victory for years had been accompanied by a threat of Federal interference in State elections.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Reconstruction’s Long Life in North Carolina

“The chief interest in State politics in 1906 centers in the fight within the Republican party for control of the organization. So bitter did the fight become that President [Theodore] Roosevelt felt called upon to take a hand. He sent his secretary of war, William H. Taft, to address a warning to the State Republican convention which met in Greensboro, July 9-10, and it was in this speech that Secretary Taft said:

“I do not wish to seem ungracious, but I must be candid. In my judgement the Republican Party in North Carolina would be much stronger as a voting party, if all the Federal officers were filled by Democrats. Of course I cannot deny that a wish to fill public office is an honorable aspiration, whether by appointment of by election, but when all hope of choice by the people is abandoned, and everything is given over to influencing a distant appointing power to choose particular men to perform official functions in a community hostile to those men, the result is not good for the men or the community . . . As long, however, as the Republican Party in the Southern States shall represent little save a factional chase for Federal offices in which business men of substance in the community have no desire to enter and in the result of which they have no interest, we may expect the present political conditions in the South to continue.” [Raleigh News & Observer, July 10, 1906]

The warning of Candidate Taft fell upon deaf ears . . . [and] Thus the Republican party in North Carolina specifically acknowledged itself to be an organization merely for the control of Federal patronage.”

(Republican Office Holders Refuse to Abdicate; North Carolina, Rebuilding an Ancient Commonwealth, 1584-1925, R.D.W. Conner, Volume II, American Historical Society, 1929, pg. 527)

 

The South’s Postwar Labor Problem

The antebellum North received the bulk of immigrants from Europe – and these immigrants avoided the South as black men were trained in various trades and dominated the labor force. The Republican Party of Lincoln was not anti-slavery – it wanted to confine blacks to the South and open the West to immigrant labor, and Republican votes. The aftermath of war saw the North’s notorious Union League organization mobilize black voters and turn them against their white neighbors for bare political purposes. Grant’s 1868 election over Horatio Seymour was due to a majority of 300,000 votes – and thanks to 500,000 recently-enfranchised Negroes.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

South’s Postwar Labor Problem

“Since the first settlement of this country the great need of the South has been men. We want settlers, honest, industrious, home-seeking immigrants, and I do not believe any country can offer inducements greater than those presented by the South. We expect hundreds of thousands in the next few years from less favored sections of the Union, but we want also high-class foreigners. The Negro in the South has been our chief reliance for hired labor, but they are yearly becoming more uncertain and unreliable and worthless.

Slavery was the greatest manual, moral and intellectual training school for a weak and depraved race that history has ever known. Before the war the Negro was the main agricultural laborer. There were four million slaves, probably half of them laborers. At the same time were engaged in agricultural labor 803,052 white laborers and 215,968 white laborers in the other occupations of the South.

The Negro in slavery was kindly treated. His great pecuniary value, rising from $1000 to $1,800 just before the war, was in itself a bond for the “best moral and material care” and he was devoted to his master. History presents no parallel to his fidelity during the Civil War, as it was necessary for the enemy actually to occupy our territory before the slaves could be persuaded to leave their masters.

Since the war the South has spent hundreds of millions upon asylums, hospitals and schools for them. The average young Negro is indisposed to labor, indolent, thievish and inclined to be insolent, and as the older heads of the race die out it seems that we must be forced to substitute other laborers for them.

The South is the Negro’s best friend. When he remains with us, observes the unwritten law of the land and is willing to labor for a living, we welcome him.”

(Annual Agricultural Resources and Opportunities of the South, J. Bryan Grimes, Farmers’ National Congress speech, 1901, pp. 15-16)

America’s Conservative Catastrophe

Ambrose Bierce defined “Conservative” in his Devil’s Dictionary as “A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others . . .” Italian’s of the medieval period gave the title of “conservator” to guardians of the law; English justices of the peace originally “were styled custodus pacis – conservators of the peace.” In the modern sense, the word implies the principles of thought and action which opposed the radicalism and political innovation of the French Revolution.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

America’s Conservative Catastrophe

“[A Tory] party in the old English sense scarcely existed in [British] America. Political debates usually occurred between two factions of Whigs, both attached to the Whig idea of liberty, but differing as to means and the relationship with the Crown. The triumph of the Patriots in the Revolution expelled from the Thirteen Colonies what little Toryism existed there, and along with it many of the moderate Whigs.

For all that, recent scholarship inclines toward the view that the American Revolution was no revolution truly, but simply a War of Independence – a revolution (in Burke’s phrase concerning the Glorious Revolution of 1688) “not made, but prevented.”

The intellectual leaders of the Americans during the troubled period of Confederation, were men, most of them, of a conservative tendency – John Adams, Gouveneur Morris, John Jay, Hamilton. Even Jefferson . . . was no frantic innovator.

Most other Southern leaders, such as Pinckney or Mason, differed more about means than about the ends of society: their view of the state was conservative – viewed that is, from a twentieth century vantage point. Even some eminent radicals of the time, notably Patrick Henry, grew steadily more conservative as responsibility settled upon them.

And the Federalist Papers, written to obtain acceptance of the Constitution, reflect the conservative concepts of moderation, balance, order and prudence – together with those conservative guarantees of prescriptive usage, arrangement of political checks, restrictions upon power, protection of private property, and restraints upon popular [democratic] impulses.

During the early years of the United States, the chief political contests many be regarded as long, acrimonious debate between two powerful conservative interests – the mercantile interests of the North, the agricultural interests of the South – confused by lesser issues and personalities.

The catastrophe of the Civil War dealt a grim blow to reflective conservatism, North or South. In the Gilded Age, little political principle of any kind could be distinguished. As the United States grew into the greatest power in the world . . . conservative concepts were discussed again . . . [though the] Great Depression and ascendancy of Franklin Roosevelt seemed to quash this renewal of conservative thought.

Until the first administration of Franklin Roosevelt, the term “liberal” had not been popular among American politicians; but Rooseveltian liberalism swept everything before it during the 1930s and 1940s. Not until the 1950s did there appear, or reappear, a strong body of conservative thought, expressed in books and periodical literature, to challenge the dominant liberalism . . .

[An] American conservative, at least as the term is employed popularly, is a person who believes strongly that the old pattern of American society ought not to be much altered. Typically, such a person holds by the Constitution, maintaining that it should be strictly interpreted; he endeavors to oppose the drift toward political centralization; he dislikes organizations on a grand scale, in government, in business and industry, in organized labor; he is a defender of private property; he resents the heavy increase of taxation and many of the “transfer payments” of the welfare state; he is unalterably opposed to the Communist ideology . . . and sighs, or perhaps shouts O tempora! O mores! at the decay of private and public morality.”

(The Essential Russell Kirk: Selected Essays; George A. Panichas, editor, ISI Books, 2007, excerpts, pp. 14-16)

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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