July 06, 2006

Rant Control

By Callimachus

I'm grateful to Mark Kurlansky for busting loose and saying what a lot of people think, but are too intimidated to say. That doesn't mean he's not grossly wrong about every sentence he writes in this Fourth of July fireworks assault on the Founders.

Kurlansky is the author of food-themed history books (*Salt," "Cod") which may or may not be good history; I've never read them. Based on this column, though, I don't think I'd rely on him to teach me much about America's past. Put on your Fisking hats and let's go inside:

SOMEONE HAS TO SAY IT or we are never going to get out of this rut: I am sick and tired of the founding fathers and all their intents.
There's some sort of pleasure, I suppose, in watching an annoying house mouse start banging its nose on the trigger plate of an unbaited mousetrap. Not that a mouse ever was that stupid. But it's what I thought of when reading this.
The real American question of our times is how our country in a little over 200 years sank from the great hope to the most backward democracy in the West.
But already he's tripping over his argument, which is the opposite of what he says here: The point of his piece is to assert that the country's foundation was the work of an oligarchy of backwards, racist, sexist, militaristic genocide-approving hypocrites. And that the achievements we revere them for deserve no praise.

Rather than being a "great hope," a beacon to follow, Kurlansky writes, the deeds and words of 1776 ought to be scorned as a mistake we tack away from as rapidly as possible.

The whole piece veers schizophrenically between an attempt to be scathing in denouncing the worthless Founders and an attempt to be scathing in denouncing modern America for not being true to their vision. He wants to hurl rotten tomatoes at that marble statue of Thomas Jefferson and beat you over the head with it at the same time.
The U.S. offers the worst healthcare program, one of the worst public school systems and the worst benefits for workers. The margin between rich and poor has been growing precipitously while it has been decreasing in Europe. Among the great democracies, we use military might less cautiously, show less respect for international law and are the stumbling block in international environmental cooperation. Few informed people look to the United States anymore for progressive ideas.
A predictable litany, and yes, these are real and serious problems for America. But they are societal problems. Kurlansky elides a mass of political experience to connect them to the work of declaring independence from Britain and writing the Constitution. His implication is not only that these are the government's problems to solve, but that 18th century Americans should have perceived the world through the eyes of a 21st century statist liberal. It's a common enough error, but its frequency doesn't make it less hubristic, infantile, and historically foolish.

To treat it in detail: If you could resurrect the Founders and show them modern America, they would not be appalled that we had "one of the worst public school systems" in the world. Most of them would be appalled that a nationwide, government-run, federally controlled and mandated education system existed at all.

That the government had any business regulating the gap between rich and poor also would strike them as outlandish. It's not that they relished poverty, or thought it was God's judgment on the wicked, or any such thing. But the idea that the government should stage-manage the national economy with equality of outcome as a goal wouldn't have occurred even to a Hamilton.

I do agree, however, that they would be appalled by the way the American military is ordered around the world and involved in foreign wars. But before they got to that, they'd be appalled by the very idea of a paid, professional standing American army.
We ought to do something. Instead, we keep worrying about the vision of a bunch of sexist, slave-owning 18th century white men in wigs and breeches. Even in the 18th century, the founding fathers were not the most enlightened thinkers available. They were the ones whose ideas prevailed.
That's the kind of dismissive jaw-jaw you expect from a smart junior high school student, not a historian. But Kurlansky does us the favor of nominating a contemporary American he evidently considers a more "enlightened thinker" than the Founders in the pantheon:
Those who favored independence but were not in favor of war are not called founding fathers. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania — with whom John Adams bitterly fought in the Constitutional Congress of 1776 because Dickinson did not believe it was necessary to engage in bloody warfare in order to achieve independence — is not a founding father.
Wait a minute. That's not the history. That's "1776 The Musical." For dramatic reason, the musical needed a villain. The lyricists picked on good, honest John Dickinson, who simply was too conservative to support the Revolution. Kurlansky seems to have learned his history from the movies. Perhaps he hummed "He Plays the Violin" to himself as he typed this screed.

Merely provoking the irrascible John Adams hardly was a distinguishing mark for a politician, and "because Dickinson did not believe it was necessary to engage in bloody warfare in order to achieve independence" grossly misstates the man's position, making him look like a Cindy Sheehan pacifist.

Now, I like John Dickinson; I graduated from the college named in his honor by his friend Benjamin Rush. But let me assure you (and Kurlansky) that he was every inch the "sexist, slave-owning 18th century white man in wigs and breeches" that the rest of them were.

Perhaps moreso. Dickinson, like most of the rest, was proud of the liberal constitutional heritage of England and felt he was upholding it in protesting the Crown and Parliament policies of the 1760s and '70s. He never gave up hope of reconciliation with the Mother Country, which is why he did not support the Declaration. He was a centrist, true to his principles, and he paid for it by seeing his property attacked by mobs of both loyalists and revolutionaries.

But he was no pacifist, and willingly fought for independence. He was appointed a brigadier general in the Pennsylvania militia and led 10,000 soldiers into New Jersey to throw back an anticipated British thrust toward Philadelphia from Staten Island. His political unpopularity drove him from a leadership position in the army, but even though he was one of the wealthiest men in the colonies he served as a private with the Kent County, Delaware, militia during the Philadelphia campaign in 1777.

It was Dickinson, after all, who wrote the famous conclusion that Americans were resolved to die freemen rather than live slaves.

As for real, not rhetorical, slaves, Dickinson owned more of them than anyone else in Delaware. And, like Washington and other Founders, he thought the institution inconsistent with liberty and eventually found a way to set his slaves free.

Not so different after all.
You could speak out against slavery and still be a founding father, as long as you did not insist on its abolition, as many did who aren't in the pantheon.
But Kurlansky names no one in 1776 who "insisted" on this. Because no one did. The very idea of an "abolitionist," much less an immediatist abolitionist, hadn't come into existence. Once again, he's unfairly projecting the present into the past.
The Constitution produced by the founding fathers lacked the enlightenment of some of the colonial charters of several generations earlier, most notably the laws of Pennsylvania that barred slavery, refused to raise militias and insisted on fair-minded treaties with Indians. Benjamin Franklin despised these "Quaker laws" of his colony and even published a pamphlet denouncing the Pennsylvania Assembly for not sending young men to fight the French and Indians.
Which Pennsylvania was that? I'm not aware of another one, but this description sounds nothing like the one I live in and have studied.

True Penn's Charter of Libertie contained many provisions that would please a modern secular liberal American such as myself. Penn was tolerant of other religions and treated Indians well, all of which were marks of distinction. But these things grew not out of a modern secular liberal conscience, but rather from the purely religious roots of the Quaker colony. So embrace them if you wish, but they come in a package with some of the most restrictive blue laws in American history including a ban on card-playing and all theater.

Pennsylvania colony never "barred slavery." It tried to halt the import of slaves, several times, as did many other colonies, out of racist fears of the baleful moral influence of Africans and out of economic fears of slavery driving out white labor. But the colony hardly was more fair-minded than the others on this matter.

William Penn himself owned slaves and used them to work his estate, Pennsbury. He wrote that he preferred them to white indentured servants, "for then a man has them while they live." By 1693, Africans were so numerous in the colony's capital that the Philadelphia Council complained of "the tumultuous gatherings of the Negroes in the town of Philadelphia." Prominent Philadelphia Quaker families like the Carpenters, Dickinsons, Norrises, and Claypooles brought slaves to the colony. By 1700, one in 10 Philadelphians owned slaves. Slaves were used in the manufacturing sector, notably the iron works, and in shipbuilding.

Not only was colonial Pennsylvania a slave-owning society, but the lives of free blacks in the colony were controlled by law. The restrictions had begun almost with the colony itself. After 1700, when Pennsylvania was not yet 20 years old, blacks, free or slave, were tried in special courts, without the benefit of a jury. For a people who later protested against the fugitive slave laws, Pennsylvanians, when they had slaves themselves as property, used the full power of the law to protect them. "An Act for the better Regulation of Negroes" passed in the 1725-26 session, set especially high penalties for free blacks who harbored runaway slaves or received property stolen from masters. The penalties in such cases were potentially much higher than those applied to whites, and if the considerable fines that might accrue could not be paid, the justices had the power to order a free black person put into servitude.

Under other provisions of the 1725-26 act, free negroes who married whites were to be sold into slavery for life; for mere fornication or adultery involving blacks and whites, the penalty for the black person was to be sold as a servant for seven years. Whites in such cases faced different or lighter punishment. The law effectively blocked marriage between the races in Pennsylvania.

Throughout Pennsylvania colony, the children of free blacks, without exception, were bound out by the local justices of the peace until age 24 (if male) or 21 (if female). All in all, the "free" blacks of colonial Pennsylvania led severely circumscribed lives; they had no control even over their own family arrangements, and they could be put back into servitude for "laziness" or petty crimes, at the mercy of the local authorities.

Quakers felt uneasy about slavery; in part because they had doubts about the propriety of owning another person, but also because they feared it was a luxury that marked them as worldly, and in part because they feared Africans would be a bad influence on their families. Pennsylvania Mennonites had expressed concerns about slavery since the 17th century, but it was only in 1758 that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends made buying or selling a slave a bar to leadership in the Quaker meetings. In 1774 it became cause for disowning. Moral arguments were advanced against slave-owning. But the main motive for the Society's shift against slavery seems to have been an internal clash of values between the few wealthy Quakers who owned the slaves and the many poor ones who did not.
To be honest, the U.S. was never as good as it was supposed to be. Perhaps no nation is. Henry David Thoreau wrote of nations, "The historian strives in vain to make them memorable." Even in the first few decades, most Europeans who came to see the great new experiment were disappointed. Writer after writer, from British novelist Charles Dickens to the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville, arrived to discover less than they imagined. Tocqueville observed of American character: "They unceasingly harass you to extort praise and if you resist their entreaties, they fall to praising themselves." Fanny Trollope, the English writer, made a similar observation in 1832: "A slight word indicative of doubt, that any thing, or every thing, in that country is not the very best in the world, produces an effect which must be seen and felt to be understood." I have no doubt the response to this article will show an America still unwilling to be criticized. But it is difficult for a society that accepts no criticism to progress.
Enlisting de Tocqueville on the side of the America-bashers is false enough. Worse still is pretending the British literati crossed the Atlantic as open-minded observers, not as calculating writers bent on dredging up the most miserable specimens of American degradation, the better to sell their subsequent horror-story books about the experience. But the audacity of invoking the shrilly vituperative Fanny Trollope as a reliable observer of American life is beyond absurd. And sillier still is Kurlansky's claim that, "if you don't like what I say, that proves I'm right." It's the sort of schoolyard excuse for an argument that's become depressingly common on the left, which not so long ago used to be able to sneer at the conservatives as "the stupid party." What's next? "Nyah-nyah; you're it I quit touch black."
Slavery was the most celebrated flaw of the founding fathers, but they also set the stage for the genocide of about 10 million American Indians and did not even entirely reject colonialism. They believed that it was wrong to tax colonists who did not have representation in the legislature, but the tax, not the lack of representation, was the grievance. They were affluent men of property, and they hated paying taxes. Ironically, they repeatedly used words like "enslavement" and "slavery" to criticize taxes while at the same time accepting real slavery.
Old Beard-Hacker Marxist interpretations dredged up from the dustbins of history-writing. The "genocide" began again in earnest under Andrew Jackson's presidency, which made the most radical departure from the system set up by the Founders and was the most "democratic" to date. The guilt for the genocide lies with we the people, not they the Founders.
The founding fathers were all men of the establishment who wanted what Robespierre sneeringly called, when his own French Revolution was accused of excess, "a revolution without a revolution." John Steinbeck noted that the American Revolution was different from that of France's or Russia's because the so-called revolutionaries "did not want a new form of government; they wanted the same kind, only run by themselves."
More Marxist boilerplate, but the invocation of Robespierre as a more approved type of a revolutionary is terribly illuminating of the mind at work.
Yet it is only with anti-establishment thinkers that a society progresses. The reason that there is always more disillusionment with Democrats than Republicans is that Democrats raise the expectation of being anti-establishment when, in reality, both parties are committed to maintaining the status quo and the "intent of the founding fathers."
And it is only when following anti-establishment thinkers that a functioning society quickly goes to hell. The passage about disillusionment with Democrats looks sound to me, though.
But the founding fathers, unlike the Americans of today, understood their own shortcomings. Thomas Jefferson warned against a slavish worship of their work, which he referred to as "sanctimonious reverence" for the Constitution. Jefferson believed in the ability of humans to grow wiser, of humankind to make progress, and he believed that the Constitution should be rewritten in every generation. "Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind," Jefferson wrote in 1816. "As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstance, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."
The quote comes from a letter to Samuel Kercheval, supporting efforts to rewrite Virginia's state constitution to eliminate woefully unfair voting rules that restricted power to a Chesapeake aristocracy that was increasingly the minority in the state.

Somebody please tell Kurlansky that, in spite of what he thinks, Jefferson was not referring to the U.S. Constitution here. Though I don't doubt Jefferson would approve modifications in the form of government to suit changes in times and the nation. So would they all. It was part of their genius and part of why they are rightly revered down to the present day.

Jefferson's correspondence with Kercheval touched on other matters, too. Such as justifying national policies that Kurlansky deplores, and criticizing the Quakers, whom Kurlansky reveres. Jefferson wrote:
Our efforts to preserve peace, our measures as to the Indians, as to slavery, as to religious freedom, were all in consonance with [the Quakers'] professions. Yet I never expected we should get a vote from them, and in this I was neither deceived nor disappointed. There is no riddle in this, to those who do not suffer themselves to be duped by the professions of religious sectaries. The theory of American Quakerism is a very obvious one. The mother society is in England. Its members are English by birth and residence, devoted to their own country, as good citizens ought to be. The Quakers of these States are colonies or filiations from the mother society, to whom that society sends its yearly lessons. On these the filiated societies model their opinions, their conduct, their passions and attachments. A Quaker is, essentially, an Englishman, in whatever part of the earth he is born or lives.
Back to Kurlansky:
It is surprising that these words are not more often quoted in Washington because they are literally carved in stone — on a wall of the Jefferson Memorial to be exact.
And so the gear-jamming schizophrenic article turns, at last, into a paean to the revolutionary foresight of the Founders, after having dismissed them as silk stockings full of shit. But not before packing all the loopiness of that into one tight sentence:
So let us stop worshiping the founding fathers and allow our minds to progress and try to build a nation of great new ideas. That is, after all, the intent of the founding fathers.
Let us forget what they wanted us to do, and live as though they had never lived and rule as though they had never ruled, because that is what they wanted us to do.

Now, give your head a few minutes to stop spinning. Then realize that the shame of it is, Kurlansky can have much of what he wants in modern America without jettisoning the Founders. They were learned political theorists, but they also were practical men. They dealt with America as they found it, not as a nation of angels or apes. They built a constitution meant to govern that America, but with provisions to grow and change -- and they knew it would. It was another of Jefferson's dictums, as a president, to be progressive but to do no more good than the country can bear all at once.

Kurlansky, if he can get over his need to order the world -- past, present, and future -- exactly as it suits him, might learn something from reading what Jefferson wrote about the rule of the people. What Kurlansky wants is what we've been doing all along: using the fluid qualities of the Constitution to run a continuous, but evolving, nation.

That Kurlansky doesn't like where we've turned out is probably less a testimony to his ambivalent feelings about the Founders. More likely, I think, is that he, like Fanny Trollope, simply detests the majority of Americans.

Kurlansky might even learn to appreciate the discovery of one of his own essay's inappropriately dragooned anti-Americans, de Tocqueville, who wrote: "I have never been more struck by the good sense and the practical judgment of the Americans than in the manner in which they elude the numberless difficulties resulting from their Federal Constitution."

Posted by Callimachus at July 6, 2006 06:22 PM
Comments

Hi

Fantastic post. Couldn't agree more.

There used to be an indirect literary insult, that one wrote like a trollope, meaning in all senses a literary slut.

Perhaps that slur can be resurrected in our "modern" times.

John

Posted by: John F. Opie at July 7, 2006 02:24 AM

The whole piece veers schizophrenically between an attempt to be scathing in denouncing the worthless Founders and an attempt to be scathing in denouncing modern America for not being true to their vision.

A fair description, IMO.

One of the major failings of the modern educational system is a lack of understanding of our own history. If we knew more about the matter, people who wrote this sort of thing would be laughed at by everyone.

Posted by: rosignol at July 7, 2006 04:20 AM

Absolutely superb demolition job. As an Englishman with a degree in American History (there must only be about 5 of us), many things in this post resonated with me. Kurlanskys lack of scholarly integrity; his inability to make coherent and logical arguments and his habit of always coming to the wrong conclusions after perusing the evidence- these seem to be hallmarks of the left in both the US and Britain. 30 years of socialist education in Britain has done for us. Whats gone wrong in the US?

Posted by: Andrew Lale at July 7, 2006 05:17 AM

In a nutshell, teacher's unions and school funding largely based on taxes on local property.

Posted by: rosignol at July 7, 2006 06:57 AM

Leftists like to cite the "Constitution" and "the Founding Fathers" when they need them to criticize things like the Patriot Act, NSA surveillance, Guantanamo, et al. But later, off the record, they let their hair down and tell us how they REALLY feel about the Founding Fathers and their Constitution. Everytime I hear a Lefty cite the Constitution, I quickly remind him that it's an outdated rag written by "white male racist sexist slaveowning landowners." lol!

Posted by: Carlos at July 7, 2006 07:46 AM

I've read Kurlansky's "Salt," and it manages to be quite fascinating for such a boring-sounding topic. Too bad he couldn't employ the same scholarly discipline here.

Posted by: Thom at July 7, 2006 07:46 AM

To expand on rosignol. Also, history is a very insular group over here. There's a party line essentially. There's one for inside your department, and one for the group at large. Stray from it and it's goodbye to your grade, your position, your reputation, or whatever.

Hence why when I was a TA I'd advise undergrads to "play the game, write what they want, get your grade".

What's gone wrong is group think at large, and historians who basically write for other historians. Kurlansky would write this basically believing that it would be read by people who would just nod their heads. If you disagree, you "don't get it" and thus uneducated/stupid/etc. And like most largely internal looking things historians often end up turning out a)crap [in both research quality and writing quality] and b)useless things.

It's very typical of history today. With some small exceptions. One of a few reasons why I'm probably quitting the game with my MA.

Posted by: Spade at July 7, 2006 07:59 AM

rosignol I would also add lack a parental guidance to your unions and funding.

Posted by: RipRip at July 7, 2006 08:08 AM

It's all very well to blame unions and such, but the real problem is the left's emphasis on "originality" and breaking with tradition simply for the sake of breaking with tradition. I think Kurlansky's trying to get noticed and stick out, so to do that he has to stake out an "edgy", "non-mainstream" position. This is a disease that effects too many left-wing thinkers these days.

Posted by: Vanya_6724 at July 7, 2006 08:27 AM

I don't consider myself a historian. I study the philosophies of historical figures, but thats for an understaing of philosophy, not just history. However, I think Callimachus did a great job of pointing out the historical and philosophical failures of this article. Our nation has become something hardly recoginizable if you examine the original ideas and philosophies. A standing military, federal funding for schools, Federal laws on abortion, federal drug laws, the DEA, FDA, CIA, FBI, DHS, FEMA and ATF... all of these are far outside the original intent of the federal government. However, in this age, we're apparently stuck with this mishmash of good and bad ideas. I can only hope that idiots like Kurlansky don't gain more popularity.

If the liberals really want a different country than the one our Constitution, they should hold a revolution. If they win... they'll have a chance to make it on their own. Of course, since most liberals seem to have an aversion to guns, I think they'll have a bit of trouble ;-)

At least they will when they come to convert me. Muahahahahahaha

Posted by: Ratatosk at July 7, 2006 09:49 AM

Tosk, is that really you???

Posted by: Carlos at July 7, 2006 10:09 AM

Yes Carlos, it is... why do you ask?

Posted by: Ratatosk at July 7, 2006 10:16 AM

Because you sounded unusually reasonable in that post. There's hope for you yet.

;-)

Posted by: Carlos at July 7, 2006 10:21 AM

Now Carlos,

What in that post is different than anything I usually write? Just because I've never been Pro-Bush, doesn't mean I'm pro-liberal, dang it!

;-)

I think I've pretty consistantly stated that the federal government should be very small, focused on interstate commerce and national defense (and protecting the constitutional rights of individuals, if States exceed their position). Beyond that I tend to hold with the views of ther Guns N' Dope party:

Guns for people that like guns,
no Guns for people that don't like guns.
Dope for people that like dope,
no dope for people that don't like dope.

Like what you like,
Enjoy what you enjoy
and don't take crap from anyone.

;-)

Posted by: Ratatosk at July 7, 2006 10:34 AM

Callimachus, even though you are not the editor-in-chief of a newspaper, you ought to be. This is just the latest of many great things you've written ... why do you continue to toil away in that apparently awful working environment?

Posted by: Gene at July 7, 2006 11:29 AM

One quibble: Jefferson is not talking about the Constitution only, but I think he intended his remarks to apply to it: "Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it, and labored with it."

Posted by: bgates at July 7, 2006 12:24 PM

Jefferson ...he believed that the Constitution should be rewritten in every generation.

That's what the amendment process is for-- so that the Constitution can be rewritten. But Liberals like Kurlansky would prefer take the shortcut and instead have their activist judges do the rewriting (more like re-imagining). You want to rewrite the Constitution? Then do it the right way. But poor Liberals can't ever get the majorities they need to ammend the Constitution. THAT'S their problem-- their inability to sway the populace, not the Constitution, nor our archaic views on the Founding Fathers.

Posted by: Carlos at July 7, 2006 01:03 PM

Yes, Bgates, I agree that it's fair to assume Jefferson had the national constitution in mind when he wrote that.

And I suspect the Founders (at least the three who wrote the "Federalist" articles) would be surprised that we hadn't made more changes in their blueprint by this time, though the nature of what we have changed might make them cringe.

De Tocqueville, as usual, got to the point. We didn't have to change the blueprint much because we discovered ways to work around it. "We" in this case being the people, but also the federal government, especially the executive, which is not entirely comforting.

But I'm also willing to bet Kurlansky never read the Jefferson correspondence, and simply cherry-picked that well-known quote off a Web site or something, which is what spurred me to put it into context.

Posted by: Callimachus at July 7, 2006 01:21 PM

Damn Callimachus, I like the way you think! ;-) I couldn't agree more with you comment.

Posted by: Ratatosk at July 7, 2006 01:39 PM

Well, Callimachus, a job well done and welcome from one and all of Mr. Michael J. Totten's website. As for a mostly lurker attitude you have most certainly riled the bile and I applaud you. I have not seen, on any other blog, excepting of course my favorite BellmontClub, such thoughful discourse. You, my man, are a wonderful antogoniste.
KARENSKY

Posted by: karensky at July 7, 2006 05:25 PM

Superb work, Callimachus.

I read SALT, too, and enjoyed it. It's quite good in a "Connections" kind of way.

I usually don't read history articles past any favorable mention of Robespierre or Rousseau or their ilk. Life's too short and all that.

Mssr. de Tocqueville was touring America to investigate penal conditions, wasn't he? I read most of "On America" in fits and starts last year and the impression that I got was that Mssr. deT was fascinated by the American quality of individual persistence in pursuit of objectives and the nature of the government it had produced.

He was struck by the quality more than he was inclined to judge it; he acknowledged its abscence in Europe.

"Guns, Germs, and Steel" was readable, too, but too pat when the conclusions were presented. Writing off democracies as "kleptocracies" seemed very weak, too. It came across as a multiculturalist/relativist keelson in the old academic boat, I guess.

My simplisme history exercise is to take the existence of the United States of America out of the timeline, and with it the French revolution and then to imagine "what if?'.

I don't have the mental horsepower nor the diligence to do real scholarly ruminating but the picture I end up with is a British Empire that never has a Dickens or a Kipling, or a royal family beyond 1900.

Too many wars. Too much wealth, and a world where the imbalance between populations of wogs and colonial overseers ends up using the worst products of the Industrial Revolution with pretty reckless abandon.

We are a nation that disdains empire. We expanded to the next line on the map (well, there's Hawaii and Alaska, granted) until we hit water and then mostly stopped. Our one adventure in transoceanic empire building became nation building exercises in Cuba and the Philippines even before the enlistees in tha war with Spain were comepletely demobilized. Our divestment didn't come from high-minded state decisions but from the unwillingness of the population to support statists who were...

We turned our back on spoils after WW1, which I regard as the most moral act (after Voting Rights) of our government in the last century.

We aren't perfect, but then again the silk-stocking guys started out - explicitly - from that understanding and hammered out the best compromise they could come out with.

I help build things. The proof of the design is always results, and I haven't seen any Leftist argument for a rebuild that holds up under a close check of the plan they bring.

Even combat engineers, who love to blow shit up, know that building is always much harder than destroying.

Screw Mr. Rousseau, and all his fans.

Posted by: TmjUtah at July 7, 2006 07:58 PM

The big problem with the Left is an “all or nothing” sort of extremism. In their unending search for Unreal Perfection, they reject the flaws of everything real.

Humans “sin” -- and the Renaissance project, “perfecting” man, leads inevitably towards totalitarian non-acceptance of any disagreement with the current PC “perfection”.

No surprise that Kurlansky fails to mention much in the way of big ideas -- better health care is about the closest. [That one’s pretty easy, require everybody to have health insurance, and have a health insurance card that employers and police can easily check. Then the complaint will be more honest -- irresponsible high-risk people, as well as low income folk, want lower premiums, and want to make the rich & responsible folk pay for their health benefits.]

Imagining how the Founders might feel about the USA, as compared to Russia, China, Great Britain, or France -- I’m pretty sure they’d be satisfied that the USA is far and away the most admirable, overall. They’d certainly be appalled at the lack of self-defense the UN calls for in Darfur, and the genocides allowed in Rwanda, Srebrenica, and the Killing Fields of Cambodia. I don’t think they’d be so surprised at the Culture Wars about abortion, gays, and religion in public.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at July 8, 2006 03:57 AM

When one begins talking about Rousseau one ought mention the anti-Rousseau par excellence: the Marquis de Sade. Whereas Rousseau assumed the perfectability of Man, Sade took for granted and accepted the worst, the most base parts of our nature.

Sade assumed hypocrisy at every turn. Rousseau himself, in his confessions, admitted he could not achieve sexual satisfaction without being whipped.

Rousseau was Robespierre's god, and from Robespierre's "incorruptability" and righteousness comes Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro and Pol Pot. Sartre and Foucault, with Foucault's intense love of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Intellectually the Cold War was never won. Robespierre's Republic of Virtue looms out there as Politically Correct monitoring of thought-crime.

Posted by: Todd Grimson at July 8, 2006 02:32 PM

Thats true, the Cold War was never won. The fall of the Soviet Union was a great victory, but the tactics of America's enemies have changed.

They are following Hitler's path to power. Hugo Chavez tried to launch a Coup against his government, and just like Hitler, he found out the easiest way to seize power is by using Democracy against itself.

The only difference is that he seized power in Latin America not Europe. He does not find the same appeasement policies from the regional powerhouse, the US, that Hitler faced with England and France.

So that has kept him bottled in, but Socialists throughout the region have found that Democracy is an easier path to power. Fortunately, they have had to water down their agenda in order to compete. So the battle between Totalitarianism and Democracy is being won by hair. Socialists are able to seize power, but their policies are being crippled by the concessions that they have to make to Democracy.

Only Chavez has been able to have his way thanks to his country's oil wealth. He needs the money too much to cut off the flow to his "arch" enemy, the US.

Its another Socialist concession to Capitalism that highlights just how out of touch with reality anti-Capitalist rhetoric is (think China and Vietnam).

Posted by: Freedom Now at July 8, 2006 03:58 PM

Indeed, an excellent post (and a wicked good fisking!).

One brief comment about terrible, awful capitalistic America and its sordid origins: as Jack Paar once said, immigration is the sincerest form of flattery. Throughout American history, the waves of immigration have come here. And in spite of slavery, of Indian wars and civil wars and wars overseas, in spite of the domestic conditions Mr. Kurlansky deplores, they keep coming.

Now -- have there ever been any massive waves of Americans emigrating back to Europe, or to Cuba, or anywhere else? No, there haven't... and why do you suppose that is?

Hmm, maybe it's not so bad here after all. Or maybe it's worthwhile, now and then, to stop comparing America to the utopias in our heads, and compare America instead to the actual alternatives in the world today. For all her faults -- and what country was ever without faults? -- America is still a damn fine place to live, for an extremely broad cross-section of humanity.

respectfully,
Daniel in Brookline

Posted by: Daniel in Brookline at July 8, 2006 07:26 PM

Wonderful fisking of horrible tripe from Kurlansky.

Happened to be at the Memphis Redbird minor league game in Memphis, July 4th; 100 new citizens sworn in at the end of the game, from 42 separate countries, all clustered at home plate, followed by a fireworks show from center field.

The 100 people included folks from Iran...and a number of other repressive nations...Yes, they keep coming, as did my father and grandparents and countless others, to this hotbed of racism, economic inequality and oppression.

On the other hand, my grandfather had his father murdered in front of him in Russia, my dad was in a concentration camp and his parents were gassed in Auschwitz...but I could sit in a beautiful ballpark with 18,000 other souls, have an assortment of snacks to buy if I wanted, tacky souvenirs and...a feeling of freedom.

Tears welled up when the new citizens took their oath.

The night before, we watched a grand and long fireworks display over the Mississippi...free to watch for the entire town of depressed, repressed and oppressed invididuals. What a bunch of tripe the Leftists and revisionists bring to the table.

Posted by: Maurice at July 8, 2006 08:44 PM
Don't make the mistake of thinking Kurlansky is a real historian. I recently bought Cod for Mrs. Jackson's birthday, which she read and disliked, and which I've skimmed. First, Kurlansky is just a guy who worked some fishing boats, then turned to writing for newspapers. He's also (to me) a typical New Yorker: he seethes with hate for any part of the US outside of Manhattan. Callimachus questions his knowledge of Pennsylvania; I question his understanding of New England in Cod, which is one long hate letter to the northeast.

But Kurlansky's main problem is his ADD; he jumps around so much that any sense of historical theme is lost -- all you get are scattershot glimpses into the past, like a music video produced by the History Channel. It's sacrificed to his political agenda, which centers around distaste for everyone and everything (Cod ends with him criticizing whale hunting and whale watching -- WTF?) Kurlansky is not a historian -- he's a guy with a sandwich board on a street corner who fancies himself a real writer.

Posted by: Jackson at July 9, 2006 08:11 AM

Enjoyed wallowing in the wisely welded words by Callimachus, Ratatosk and you too aux clever crafter of words.

I would not waste the time to read Kurlansky and thanks Jackson for saving me the time and bother of a wasted skan. TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at July 14, 2006 11:00 PM

"The whole piece veers schizophrenically between an attempt to be scathing in denouncing the worthless Founders and an attempt to be scathing in denouncing modern America for not being true to their vision."

No, actually, it isn't. Kurlansky never denounced modern America for not being true to the vision of the founders. He simply did not. If there is any schizophrenia here, it is that of Callimachus for hallucinating things in Kurlanski's work that simply were not there.

The closest Kurlansky comes is in citing Jefferson's advice to change laws and institutions with the progress of the human mind. But this is simply reductio ad absurdum--if you believe that you should follow the Founding Fathers, and one of the Founding Fathers said NOT to follow them, then it is you who are caught in the paradox, not the man who never wanted to follow them in the first place.

I respect Callimachus's scholarship, but this misreading of Kurlansky colors this entire post--the historical evidence cited always debunks what Callimachus THINKS Kurlansky wrote, not what Kurlansky actually wrote.

And if anything, it is those who most revere the Founding Fathers who tend to hold their present-day neighbors in greatest contempt.

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