Rightist PC police

The [Confederate] flag is a symbol my great grandfather fought under and in defense of. I am for flying it anywhere anybody wants to fly it. I do know perfectly well what pain it causes my black friends, but I think that pain is not necessary if they would read the confederate constitution and knew what the confederacy really stood for. This country has two grievous sins on its hands. One of them is slavery – whether we’ll ever be cured of it, I don’t know. The other one is emancipation – they told 4 million people, you’re free, hit the road, and they drifted back into a form of peonage that in some ways is worse than slavery. These things have got to be understood before they’re condemned. They’re condemned on the face of it because they take that flag to represent what those yahoos represent as – in their protest against civil rights things. But the people who knew what that flag really stood for should have stopped those yahoos from using it as a symbol of what they stood for. But we didn’t – and now you had this problem of the confederate flag being identified as sort of a roughneck thing, which it is not. . . .

I don’t object to any individual hiding from history, but I do object to their hiding history from me. And that’s what seems to me to be going on here. There are a lot of terrible things that happened in American history, but we don’t wipe ’em out of the history books; we don’t destroy their symbols; we don’t forget they ever happened; we don’t resent anybody bringing it up. The confederate flag has been placed in that position that’s unique with an American symbol. I’ve never known one to be so despised.

Shelby Foote

That’s one of my favorite quotes on the Civil War.

The Civil War is one of the most complicated events in American history and yet if you voice any opinion that is not incredibly simplistic on the subject, you’re considered unfit for civil discussion. This state of affairs was not always the case.

For example, in the Civil War, 600,000 Americans died and the South’s economy was destroyed for the better part of 100 years. On the other hand, slaves were turned into sharecroppers and Federal government became sovereign over state governments. Are the latter developments worth the former costs? I think not, even though the holding of such an opinion is unacceptable.

Ilya Somin wants to make sure that you stick to the simplistic story.

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15 Responses to Rightist PC police

  1. Red says:

    The “Ilya Somin wants to make sure that you stick to the simplistic story.” link is not working.

  2. Obsidian says:

    Hi Foseti,
    What would you have preferred to have been done back in the Civil War era? Let’s pretend that you’re Lincoln. What is your plan?

    O.

    • Foseti says:

      Virtually all other civilized countries managed to end slavery without killing large fractions of their population. The process of abolition in the US was the unusual one in that it was so bloody and destructive. I’d suggest ending slavery in the same way that everyone else did.

      Also – as I’m trying to make crystal clear – the Civil War didn’t really end slavery. The actual effects of the Civil War were the creation of sharecropping and the supremacy of the Federal government. Doing nothing would have been vastly preferable once you grasp that these were the only actual outcomes of the war.

      • Obsidian says:

        Foseti,
        You so realize that American Slavery was unique in the history of the world, right? It was even referred to as the Peculiar Institution. Moreover, exactly HOW did slavery end elsewhere around the world? Please explain?

        And yes, ending slavery, by force, WAS indeed a huge change – American citizens were no longer in bondage, literally, could unify their families and marry, press their claim for their civil rights, and so forth. None of these things they could do as slaves. As for sharecropping, that was far more preferable to slavery, where you earned nothing no matter how hard you worked. It sounds like you seem to have been cool with slavery persisting in the USA longer than it actually did.

        O.

      • Foseti says:

        I was taught American History by a hardcore lefty – the sort of guy who’s still half-protesting the Vietnam War to this day. We were taught that slavery actually ended in 1960s following the Civil Right Movement. I think that narrative is a bit stretched, but it’s also pretty hard to argue that 10 years after the Civil War (for example) blacks in the South were “free” as you seem to be suggesting. Reconstruction was a hideously ugly process – its easy to argue that it made the “freed” blacks worse.

        American slavery was unique among slaves population in the New World slavery, in that American slaves were treated much better. In fact they were the only population of slaves that reproduced. A good book on the subject (again by a hardcore lefty) is this one: https://foseti.wordpress.com/2008/12/21/review-of-roll-jordan-roll-by-eugene-genovese/

        Wikipedia has some decent background on abolition movements in other countries (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolitionism). Pay particular attention to the British version. They abolished slavery before the US and without killing a large fraction of their population.

      • Obsidian says:

        Good morning Foseti,
        Replies below:

        F: I was taught American History by a hardcore lefty – the sort of guy who’s still half-protesting the Vietnam War to this day. We were taught that slavery actually ended in 1960s following the Civil Right Movement. I think that narrative is a bit stretched, but it’s also pretty hard to argue that 10 years after the Civil War (for example) blacks in the South were “free” as you seem to be suggesting. Reconstruction was a hideously ugly process – its easy to argue that it made the “freed” blacks worse.

        O: Actually, life for African Americans was better in the years following the Civil War in the late 19th and early 20th centuries than they were in the middle of the 20th century, and this is easily documented. For one thing, African Americans not only could vote, but could also seek public office; to date, there has never been a higher proportition of Black elected officals at the federal level, since Reconstruction. That happened, as a direct result of ending Slavery, by any means necessary.

        F: American slavery was unique among slaves population in the New World slavery, in that American slaves were treated much better. In fact they were the only population of slaves that reproduced. A good book on the subject (again by a hardcore lefty) is this one: https://foseti.wordpress.com/2008/12/21/review-of-roll-jordan-roll-by-eugene-genovese/

        O: They were the only population of slaves that reproduced because that is what their masters preferred. Slavery in America was not only for life, but it meant that any children you had were also slaves – for life. African slaves for bred much in the same manner dogs or livestock were bread. Utterly inhumane, no matter how you slice it. I don’t think anyone could honestly argue that African slaves in America were treated so very well in light of these and many, many other facts.

        F: Wikipedia has some decent background on abolition movements in other countries (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolitionism). Pay particular attention to the British version. They abolished slavery before the US and without killing a large fraction of their population.

        O: Yes, I am quite familiar with the actions of the UK’s Wilburforce, there is an HBCU named in his honor, if you didn’t already know. Having said that, it is also important to note that African slavery never played a large cultural, political or economic role in British life. In other words, they could afford to be so very highbrow about the whole thing – they didn’t have anywhere near as much skin in the game as White folks here in America did.

        Let’s try this again – are you cool with African Americans remaining enslaved longer than they were already, in order to bring about a kind of resolution you thought was more in line with the rest of the world?

        Yes, or no – I need you to answer this question, straight up, Foseti.

        Holla back

        O.

      • Foseti says:

        Obsidian, your understanding of slavery in the US is basically completely opposite Genovese’s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Genovese). Why do you think he is wrong?

      • josh says:

        Believe it or not slaves earned something. Not only did they receive greater in-kind payment than sharecroppers, (such as what amounted to a pension when they could no longer work and disability insurance) but it was typical that a slave would be given his own plot of land to farm. Many slaves owned livestock, many had a trade, some even loaned money to their owners with interest. Some used their earnings to purchase their freedom; many didn’t, not wishing to give up the security of being provided for in old age. You honestly seem to know very little about actual historical American slavery. Do you get your history from TV mini-series or children’s books?

  3. josh says:

    If you could only go back as far as Lincoln, you let the sovereign states secede. It was their legal right.

  4. dearieme says:

    I was astonished lately to learn that one of the great liberal (British sense) political thinkers was sympathetic to the Confederacy. Lord Acton thought its constitution superior to the Union’s. He must presumably have weighed that up against the illiberal nature of slavery.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dalberg-Acton,_1st_Baron_Acton

  5. RS says:

    > It sounds like you seem to have been cool with slavery persisting in the USA longer than it actually did.

    Nothing wrong with saying it’s better to have another hour, day, or year of slavery than to have 600,000 shot dead. So it has to be a question of degree.

    I think your point about families being split up is a good point.

  6. Jeff Singer says:

    Foseti,

    First of all, since I think this might be my first comment here, let me say you are doing an outstanding job. I’m a free-trader of sorts myself (I make an exception for people — no open borders for me), your recent arguments against free trade are thoughtful and well-argued.

    As for the Civil War, while I absolutely adore Mr. Foote and think his three volume history was instrumental in igniting in me a deeper of military history and appreciation for the mad skilz (as the kids these days like to say) of the Southern generals (thank God Stonewall’s men accidentally killed him), I think he is off in that quote. Specifically, what exactly does he admire in the confederate constitution (which was very similar to the U.S. constitution but did more to explicitly protect slavery, especially in the territories)? What did the confederacy really stand for? For a guy who attacks us free-traders for being all about economics, it is kind of funny that you would defend slavery for its economic benefits — don’t you see the problem with slavery outside of economics?

    Anyway, I’m afraid your reply to Obsidian is weak as the South was only going to give up slavery with a fight as all the great Congressional debates and southern men of letters made clear in the 40s and 50s.

    P.S. I’m going to put Roll Jordan Roll on my reading list — everyone who is anyone says Genovese (and his wife) are the historians to read on the South.

    • Foseti says:

      First, thanks for commenting. I enjoy your writing as well.

      I don’t mean to defend slavery for its economic benefits. It was an odious institution – though the institution was less odious in the US than it was in most other new world countries. I’m trying to draw on Foote’s larger point, which was that Reconstruction was a tragedy. If we take the South’s actions to mean that they were solely defending slavery, that’s fine. However, a similar analysis of the North’s actions would suggest that they were fighting to crush the South – not to end slavery.

      I’d also suggesting reading this quick speech from Charles Francis Adams (https://foseti.wordpress.com/2009/07/20/review-of-shall-cromwell-have-a-statue-by-charles-francis-adams/). Adams (from the Adamses and who fought for the Union) has a more nuanced – and ultimately pro-southern – view than virtually anyone alive today. Isn’t this sort of weird?

  7. Jeff Singer says:

    I noticed my previous post, written in haste, is missing a couple of words.

    I meant to say in the first paragraph, “BUT your recent arguments…”

    And in the second paragraph, I meant to say “deeper LOVE of military history…”

    That’s all for now.

    Keep up the outstanding work,

    – A fellow bureaucrat (municipal version)

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