Tyler Cowen on Civil War "revisionism"

December 31, 2009

Here is his post.  I am not exactly sure – from the post – how Professor Cowen defines revisionism.  It appears that he would call anyone a revisionist if that person believes that Southern's were believers in states' rights.  Further, it appears he is calling people revisionists for believing that any  southerners supported states' rights.

This is an odd claim for an economist to make.  Surely some southerners supported states' rights, no?  Not even one?  The fact that things ultimately didn't work out for states' rights in the south after years of war is hardly evidence to the contrary.  Can't people be wrong?

I would suggest that the statement "no Northerners were fighting to free the slaves" is just as historically accurate as the statement "no Southerners were fighting for states' rights."  (Actually if push came to shove, I'd prefer to argue that there were more southerners fighting for what they believed to be states' rights than there were northerners fighting for 100% emancipation.)

The problem with Professor Cowen's statement is that the current mainstream understanding of the Civil War is yesterday's revisionist understanding.  Today, we are taught (I was taught in college 8 years ago, for example) a very one-sided version of the war.

To get a better understanding of the original mainstream view, may I suggest this work.  It's by this dude, whose pro-North credentials are way better than Professor Cowen's or mine, since he actually fought for the North in the war.  Mr Adams (our author) spends a lot of time arguing that Virginia went to war for different reasons than South Carolina, for example.  This distinction is lost on today's mainstream historians, and apparently Professor Cowen.  As I summarized Mr Adams argument:

Then Adams tries to make a distinction between Virginia's decision to secede and other Cotton States' decisions to secede.  The latter states seceded when Lincoln won the election.  Virginia did not.  Virginia believed in secession (as did everyone who ratified the Constitution, according to Mr Adams).  Virginia was willing to let the other states peacefully secede, but did not wish to secede with them.  Only after the US government tried to re-supply Sumter, an act of war against a sovereign state (i.e. South Carolina), according to the logic of Virginia and the original understanding of the Constitution, did Virginia rebel.  According to Virginia, the North had effectively changed the Constitution at that point and Virginia seceded to defend the original Constitution.  Mr Adams understands this argument but sees it as hopeless[ly] outdated and out-of-touch.  Nevertheless, he sees it as [logically] consistent.

This, more nuanced view, is almost certainly more accurate than Professor Cowen's more modern revisionism of this older and more accurate view.  As one more piece of evidence for this claim, I'd point out that Professor Cowen's view is more Manichean than the dude's who actually fought in the war against the south!  I find this odd and I am still looking for an explanation as to how mainstream understanding can get worse over time even though obvious evidence to the contrary is available for free at the click of a button.

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Review of "Radical Son" by David Horowitz

December 30, 2009

I emailed Mencius Moldbug a few months ago and asked him to recommend books on the Sixties.  He recommended this book and Dreams Die Hard by David Harris.  It's hard to find good history on the Sixties, so I was grateful for the recommendation (though Mr Moldbug did note the difficultly).

I was going to wait and review the two books together, but I have a surprising amount to say about this book, so I'm going to write a stand-alone review.

David Horowitz was raised by openly Communist parents.  They even lived in a area with other Communists.  They described themselves as progressives (which I will generally try to do), but it's important to remember that they were actively preparing for the Communist revolution.  His parents were of the "Old Left" generation.

The Old Left fell apart when Stalin's crimes were revealed by Khrushchev.  The lost its cohesiveness and disintegrated.  Horowitz was a major player in the founding of the New Left.  For Horowitz the whole purpose of the New Left was to distance itself from the barbarity and crimes of Stalin.  As a member of the New Left he would not be forced to account for the crimes of previous progressives (though they still called themselves progressives).

Horowitz went to Berkeley, published Ramparts and published other progressive works with Peter Collier.  He also fell in with the Black Panthers and particularly with Huey Newton.  Soon, his political transformation.  As he tells it in the book, the transformation was essentially a realization that the New Left was no different than the Old Left.  If there was one turning point for Horowitz, it came when the Panthers killed his friend (and Panther member) Betty Van Porter (Horowitz's much later telling of the story can be found here).  Just as the Old Left protected horrible crimes, so was the New Left:

In creating a protective shield around the Panthers, we [i.e. the New Left] had repeated a figure of the progressive past.  Trotsky had described the Communist parties of the world as frontier guards for the Soviet Union.  Their function was to explain away Stalin's crimes, put obstacles in the path of those who resisted his policies, and discredit witnesses who testified against him.  The New Left had formed a similar frontier guard around the Panthers and their crimes.

Horowitz had sworn never to fall prey to the same fate as his parents – spend his political energies (for him and his parents, this was equivalent to their lives) justifying the actions of criminals.  Horowitz had watched this process crush his parents.  Now, he was repeating it. 

There are other examples beyond the Panthers.  For example, Horowitz watched as one young, New Left, woman went on TV to defend "Castro's policy of incarcerating homosexuals who had contracted AIDS." New Lefters worked to betray the Nixon/Kissinger peace plan in Vietnam.  The predictable result was the Khmer Rouge, whose killings dwarfed those of the Vietnam War to which the New Left was so opposed.  He also watched as the New Left defending ridiculous policies that puts gays at risk of contracting HIV and AIDS.

After his conversion, he became an outspoken conservative.  Much of his energies are directed at reforming the university system.  As he notes, "the American Historical Association was run by Marxists, as was the professional literature association . . ."  Anyone not drunk on Kool-Aid will recognize that this has profound effects on our historical understanding and Mr Horowitz's heart is in the right place.  I'm not sure if his time on the New Left helped him to truly understand why the Left has been so successful on a long time scale and why the Right has been a miserable failure.

Horowitz speaks of Conservatives as more open, which he applauds:

This as dramatized for me during the congressional hearings into the Iran-Contra affair when William Safire, the conservative columnist, wrote a piece in which he called for the jailing of its central figure, Oliver North.  It was at a moment when North was at the height of his popularity on the right, their champion under attack on a critical battleground of the Cold War.  It occurred to me that no one on the left could have assaulted a similar icon of the radical movement the war Safire had, without being condemned as a renegade and then drummed out of its ranks.

Of course this seems virtuous, but will such a disorganized, contradictory movement ever be able to defeat such a disciplined, tightly-controlled one?  I think not – at least not on a long enough time-frame.  These tactics for fighting the Left have failed.  I hoped that someone with experience with the Left would have better insights about countering progressivism.  Alas, Mr Horowitz doesn't have any new solutions to offer.  It pains me to suggest that he went from being a useful idiot for the Panthers to being a useful idiot for progressives (in the sense that he makes the perfect enemy, i.e. one without a chance to succeed).

This was a good story of one man's realization that he had been crazy.  But it doesn't explain the mass-scale craziness.  This dude still gets paid by a university to teach people how to educate kids.  This woman teaches law(!!!) (her comments on the murders of Charles Manson's crew: "Dig it! First they killed those pigs and then they put a fork in pig Tate's belly. Wild!").  Wild indeed.  You'll forgive me for not digging it.  I am still searching for an explanation as to how such a person could go so mainstream.  What causes mass, prolonged hysteria?


Democracy

December 29, 2009

This is an interesting post on the topic of advancing libertarianism in the US.  I take this view as the mainstream, libertarian strategy for success (i.e. making the US more libertarian).  In short, the strategy boils down to: teach libertarian ideas to people.  (Presumably, this will begin to work at some point in the future, even though it has been consistently failing for decades, but I digress.)  Here's the essence of the strategy:

In a society where the government does not artificially force the private economy into failure, the government cannot possibly do better for you than you can do for yourself. Giving the government more power, and more control, is NEVER in your best interest, or in the interest of society.

I see two objections.

1) This view assumes quite a bit that HBDers will be unwilling to grant.  Isn't possible that a giant class of people (perhaps this class will largely overlap with a couple of races) will consistently be losers in a purely free economy?  Since IQs are heritable and normally distributed and highly correlated with success, the answer to this question is almost certainly "yes."  Isn't it also possible that voting together, consistently could reap such a group very meaningful rewards that may provide them with higher benefits at lower costs than hard work in a free society?  I think the answer is "yes" again.  In other words, our libertarian is granting that democratic governments act as vote buyers, if we combine this fact with what we know about the distribution of IQ, it's seems entirely plausible that some people could be getting more from government than they would get in a free society.

2) Our author does not question the legitimacy of democracy.  He grants that we have government-by-vote-buying and sees no problem with that.  Any libertarian victory under such a system of government would be temporary, at best (if it's even possible).  If the system is too broken to fix, no victory for an honest policy is possible.


The decline and fall of the American Empire

December 29, 2009

Science edition:

Berkeley High School is considering a controversial proposal to eliminate science labs and the five science teachers who teach them to free up more resources to help struggling students.

Apparently too many of the kids interested in science are white.

In other news, the people of Berkeley High are also demanding that we import more foreigners since there aren't enough US students who are good at the hard sciences.


Review of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson

December 23, 2009

This was an above average mystery.  It has some nice throwbacks to the classics of the genre and some interesting new twists.  I enjoyed the setting.

Many of the reviews (and Wikipedia) note the author's consistent comments on violence against women, shoddy journalism, immoral corporations and lingering Nazism.  Most of these themes would have turned me off – as if modern, popular literature isn't full enough of these cliche ideas.  What mainstream author doesn't feel comfortable standing up to Nazism and violence against women (way to take a stand!).

These themes were undoubtedly present, but they didn't get in the way of a good story and an interesting character (the girl).  I found her character fascinating.  I should also note that her worldview is highly conservative – bracingly so at times.  I'll grant that she is portrayed as odd but at times it feels like the author is suggesting that everyone should view things her way, instead of the other way around.

The story ends anti-climatically – the last few characters on the corporate scandal were a waste.  But I can forgive that for the rest of the book.


Wow

December 23, 2009

Check out the comments to this story before CBS wises up and takes them down (HT: Lawrence Auster).


Atheism and moral behavior

December 22, 2009

Mr Auster is posting on atheism's absence of a basis for moral behavior.  As an atheist, I'd like to point out that Mr Auster is correct.  We have no basis for grounding moral behavior.  No atheist or philosopher has solved this problem.  Still, in turn, Mr Auster should admit that this is not an argument for the existence of God.  I'd be the first to admit that I have no desire to live in a society that is not religious.  Let's put all our cards on the table.

I fall back on Kipling, as it's the best I've got:

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!