On Mr. Lincoln

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English: Picture of the Abraham Lincoln statue...

English: Picture of the Abraham Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial. Italiano: La statua di Lincoln al Lincoln Memorial. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is always risky busy to attack an American god, and Abraham Lincoln is, de facto, an American god with his own temple in Washington, D.C. No doubt, slavery was wrong and played a major role in leading to the War Between the States. It was not the only or major factor–quotations can be taken out of context from Southerners during and before the war, but reading them in context reveals that the right to succession was the more important issue, as it was to Lincoln himself–his task, he believed during most of his presidency, was to “save the Union.”

H. L. Mencken was among those who recognized Mr. Lincoln’s true legacy–that of dictatorially forcing states back into the United States using brutal military force. Mr. Lincoln refused to honor any peace initiative other than a complete surrender of the Confederate States to the authority of the federal government. If people complain about a mammoth state today, they should look to Mr. Lincoln’s legacy.

Abraham Lincoln may have lived in the 19th century, but in many respects he remained a man of the eighteenth century French Enlightenment. He was a revolutionary in the sense of the French, not the American, revolution. He accepted the deism of the Enlightenment, though he used religious language for his own political purposes. He believed in the “proposition that all men are created equal,” abstract language which should remind people of Rousseau’s “general will.” Such Rousseauian language has been used by tyrants from his time to the current time. Recent evidence also suggest that Mr. Lincoln was influenced by German Marxists who had immigrated to the United States.

Beginning in 1862, Mr. Lincoln decided on a policy of “total war,” modern warfare in the sense that he supported attacks on civilians. While Robert E. Lee ordered his soldiers not to mistreat civilians, Mr. Lincoln’s generals, such as William T. Sherman and Phil Sheridan, brutalized the Southern population, much to the delight of liberals today. Later, Mr. Sherman and Mr. Sheridan would use the same brutal tactics in their genocide of the Native American population in the American West.

Mr. Lincoln also suspended Habeus Corpus, violating a Supreme Court ruling in doing so, and thousands of people were imprisoned–newspaper editors who criticized the conduct of the war, ministers who opposed the war, anyone who even hinted of opposing the massive power of Mr. Lincoln in any way.

Regarding slavery, Mr. Lincoln was willing to allow it 1863, when he figured that if he emancipated slaves in the South, he could foment rebellion. His Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the Confederate States; slaves in the Union states remained slaves until the passage of the 13th Amendment in December 1865. Even General U. S. Grant owned slaves. Mr. Lincoln hoped to send African slaves in their descendants to South America (mainly) and also to Africa.

600,000 men died in the War between the States–around 250,000 from battle deaths and the rest from disease. The brutal military government of the captured Southern States caused misery after the War–Lincoln’s own postwar generous policy toward the South was as much a political move looking forward to the 1868 election as it was due to any genuine conviction. The same can be said for his successor, Andrew Johnson, who was brutal as a military governor of Tennessee, but then backed down after he supported Lincoln’s postwar policies.

The modern centralized state that was Lincoln’s legacy survived because of several Supreme Court rulings in the 1870s that limited the federal government’s power, but which reared its head with World War I, the witch hunts of the post World War I period, the welfare state, and the dictatorial presidency of FDR in World War II. Presidents today appropriate to themselves, often with the help of a complacent Congress, more power, so that soon the president of the U.S. will have as much legal power in peacetime as Lincoln had in wartime.

“What about the freeing of the slaves,” a liberal bird chirps. Yes, it is good that slavery ended–owning another human being is a violation of human dignity and is morally wrong. The North enjoyed enslaving its factory workers in their own way after the War between the States–so there is hypocrisy present. With the advent of the machine economy, slaves would have no longer been necessary for the kind of agricultural production used in the antebellum South. It is likely that slaves would have been emancipated by the 1870s, though an apartheid system most likely would have been set up. Since that is what happened anyway, what was really gained under than the destruction of 600,000 lives, mass poverty and starvation in the South, and states that no longer were able to affirm their rights without federal pressure and/or federal troops being sent to the states. Evil practices are best contained in small units–if a state does something immoral, that can be stopped through public activism and grass roots movements. But if the all-powerful federal government does something immoral, there is no recourse, thanks to Mr. Lincoln. He won. He’s god in the history books and in the American educational system. The Abbeville Institute is trying to present a more balanced scholarly approach to the period of the War between the States, but that effort is ignored or viciously attacked by other “academics,” even though some members of the Institute protested in favor of civil rights in the 1960s. The winners really do write the history books.

The Tragic Failure of the “Greatest Generation”

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The crowd at Woodstock fills a natural amphith...

The so-called “Greatest Generation” survived the Great Depression and helped to win World War II. The level of sacrifice that generation endured was most likely among the highest levels in American history. Courage, perseverance, thrift, integrity–the Greatest Generation exemplified all these virtues. But many from that generation failed in their most fundamental duty: the rearing of children with virtues and high moral standards.

This was not all the generation’s fault. May fathers (and some mothers) had been killed or had died of disease during the war. Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome had not been identified as a treatable condition, although it was recognized as “battle fatigue” or “shell shock.” Soldiers returning from the European and Pacific theaters had seen the worst of what humanity could do, and some POWs had experienced the worst. Not every soldier who came home was going to be the same loving husband and father he was before the war. Even soldiers who did not suffer from PTSD had changed a great deal during their time overseas, as did their wives. The divorce rate skyrocketed to the highest levels ever seen in the United States shortly after World War II. Even today, with a high divorce rate, the United States has not matched the level of the late 1940s.

Parents not directly affected by the war were at least intimately aware of the Great Depression. Many parents who had suffered so much did not desire their children to have the same negative experiences. This was a laudable goal. However, as is often the case, the pendulum swung too far to the other extreme. Some social scientists said that children should not be disciplined at all, and Dr. Benjamin Spock was actually a conservative among social scientists for suggesting moderate discipline. The economy boomed, and parents, eager to give children the things they missed in their own childhood, showered their children with gifts on Christmas and on birthdays. Although many parents did hold their children accountable for their actions, others who bought into the social science framework reared children as if they existed in Rousseau’s state of nature, with no discipline. This lack of discipline, combined with the number of homes that were either single-parent or with a stepfather, sometimes produced spoiled children. Certainly some good children came out of single-parent homes, and some stepfathers were both loving and demanding of good behavior from their children. Children were also allowed to socialize more with other children rather than with adults, as had been the earlier practice–and with the post-World War II baby boom there were plenty of young people to socialize.. Moral relativism was growing among high school students, a trend noticed by social scientists around 1960. In 1964, the first boomer children entered colleges and universities–and the world changed forever.

Universities became occupied camps as students made multiple demands on the administration. Marxist agitators, the result of the Port Huron Meeting in 1962, in which Marxists took over the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) easily took advantage of spoiled and over-privileged children–“a bunch of spoiled brats,” as philosopher John Searle labeled them. Contemporary movements of multiculturalism, radical feminism, womanism, Neo-Marxist literary criticism, a bias against Western Culture, “special studies” programs–all came to fruition among the radical products of failed parenting among the baby boomers. It is true that many boomers resisted the radicals or were indifferent to them. But there were enough to overthrow the traditional Judeo-Christian European ethic that had guided the United States from the Second Great Awakening in the 1790s until the real 1960s began in 1964. Spoiled rich children used their parents’ money to go to Height-Asbury or to the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Festival with its ramped drug use and overdoses and sex out in the open. These were not the actions of well-disciplined children.

In the Old Testament, God held the good judge Eli responsible for his sons having sex with prostitutes while supposedly worshiping Yahweh. As a result, his sons died in battle, and Eli, in shock that the Ark of the Covenant had been taken by the Philistines, fell over in his chair, broke his neck, and died. Now society is reaping far worse results than  the death of a beloved judge–the entire fabric of society in the United States is breaking apart as the world is turned upside down by the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of the boomers.

I was recently talking with a member of the Greatest Generation at church–a World War II veteran. His children turned out well–but he told me the many of the Greatest Generation did not rear their children in the right way. There are no guarantees in parenting, and some children of non-disciplining parents may have turned out great, and some from parents who provided moderate discipline may have turned out badly. But in general, a large enough group of spoiled brats to begin America’s slow suicide entered the colleges and universities. Some are “tenured radicals.” Others have retired. The damage has been done, and it may be irrevocable–God only knows.

Americans’ Failure to Grow Up

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Greuze, Jean-Baptiste - The Spoiled Child - lo...

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A seventy-year-old man spouts off moral relativism like a college sophomore. A forty-year-old woman throws a temper tantrum at a store. Young people demand pay and benefits but are unwilling to do the job for which they were hired. Marriages break up under the strains of self-centeredness of one or both partners, a self-centeredness that is so extreme that it rivals that of a six-year-old. Teenagers demand, and permissive parents allow, them near total freedom to engage in destructive behavior such as alcohol and drug abuse as well as sexual promiscuity.

Since the end of World War II, the United States has produced multiple generations of spoiled, lazy children who grow up to become spoiled, lazy adults. One reason that it is unlikely that federal spending will not be controlled is adults’ lust for government handouts and benefits. The baby boomers and their successors are so self-centered that they do not care what happens to their children or grandchildren. All that matters is “me, me, me, now, now, now.” Is it any surprise when these selfish people reach old age that their children, reared in the image of their parents, cart their parents off to a nursing home and have little to do with them? Is it a surprise when schools cannot discipline unruly children because their parents threaten to sue the school if such discipline takes place? Even though there remain millions of people in the United States who have not bowed down their knees to the Ba’al of self-centeredness, enough people are self-centered that the country has been severely damaged, perhaps irreparably, by their irresponsiblity. The steel and auto industries, caring only about profits in the present, did not spend money to upgrade their facilities, and either went under or outsourced much of their work forces to other countries.

Probably the worst product of self-centeredness is moral relativism, a denial of any objective moral values above the individual self, or in the case of a less radical relativism, above the level of the culture. Moral relativism poisons a society, making it unable to make basic moral distinctions once taken for granted. A woman gets pregnant and murders her child through abortion–she wants the joy of sex (as does the man) without the responsibility. A man desires to have sex with a man; instead of making the effort to refocus his sexual desires on women, he fulfills his immediate desire and claims that it is normal and morally right. A couple want to spice up their sex lives and get involved in swinging, “threesomes,” and orgies. A Wall Street banker justifies misusing others money by his view that morality should suit him, not others. Egoism is the brother of relativism, especially subjectivism, for people who locate moral standards only in the individual self will only be concerned for their supposed self interest. I have seen how the poison of subjective moral relativism has reduced some students to blithering idiots in any discussion of morality–“well, this is just my opinion;” “there’s no real right or wrong answer here,” “morality depends on what you think it is, but somebody else might think something different, and that’s okay, too.” Such ignorance should be called out for what it is: spoiled children wanting to be promiscuous or get drunk or do other unethical activities without anyone “judging” them for their behavior. The problem with the United States is not only economic; it is moral and spiritual. Unless the main problems can be solved the economy will, in the long run, fail. Community will fail if people only follow their individual standards and seek only their own self-interest. The end state of the current course of American’s spoiled adults will be anarchy, Hobbes‘ state of nature, in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” A dictator may restore order, but without any transcendent vision above the will to power this will only be a short-term “solution” to the problem of people who believe themselves to be atomistic individuals. Once John Locke’s vision of government was secularized, the inevitable logic of his atomistic view of people led to mass relativism, mass egoism, and extended childhood. There is always hope that people will see the emptiness of a life based only on a child-like self-assertion and that people will return to a mature view in which they are responsible for themselves and for other people dependent on them,  and in which they base their values on something that transcends their own selfish desires. If that does not happen, then God help the United States of America.

The Modern American City

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No reasonable person could deny that there is some good in large American cities–symphony halls, museums, unique shops, and in some cities, classical architecture (Nashville, Tennessee’s building housing their symphony orchestra is an example). Overall, however, the verdict on most of America’s large cities must be negative. Large cities have become cesspools of crime, alcoholism, illegal drug use, prostitution, lonely, isolated people, rudeness–places where the dregs of human existence can hide. This is not to deny that there is much evil in small towns and in rural areas; as Flannery O’Connor pointed out in “Good Country People,” there are wicked people in the country as well as in the city.

That caveat aside, large American cities have, in the individualistic culture of the United States, become havens for evil and vice of all stripes. Often there is very little interaction between people who are strangers to each other, who often come from many parts of the country and from many other countries. The stable neighborhoods necessary to establish healthy human communities rarely exist in the contemporary large metropolis. Although community is breaking down in every area, a person is more likely to find a human community with healthy interactions, families, and stable friendships in a small town or in a rural area. Thomas Jefferson noted this fact over two hundred years ago. He believed that Americans could, despite their individualism, live a virtuous life (in the sense of eudaimonia, Aristotle’s term for enlightened well-being, a well-lived life) in small towns and in small family farms that nurture human interaction and overcome the self-seeking of individuals striving to seek the products of their own desires. Small communities help a person to reach outside himself for the good of those he loves, beginning with his family, then outward to close friends, and then to the wider community. A sense of obligation to the wider community is more likely when the community is small and when people share common values and goals. In large cosmopolitan cities, there are few shared ends, and there are so many people that any obligation outside an illusory self-fulfillment is difficult to accept. The loneliest people live in large cities because they do not know anyone who shares their values, and they can hide in the lies of seeking money, status, or power. Like Citizen Kane, they would be happiest near their family, around people they know and love, and perhaps doing something as seemingly mundane as playing on a sled. Kane tried to help mankind and ended up losing his fellow man.

With the loneliness and isolation of individuals in large cities and the attendant breakdown of families, more and more citizens of large American cities will grow up into vicious, rather than into virtuous, human beings. Vicious human beings can only be controlled, as Thomas Hobbes recognized, by law, by a state that sets up penalties strong enough to deter crime. For less vicious people, contracts may hold them in line for a while, but contracts, already based on distrust, are not the best tool for uniting a human community. In the small town South and Midwest prior to World War II, a man’s word was his bond. Local businesses routinely gave credit to poor farmers while the farmers waited for the harvest so they could pay their bills. It was rare that such agreements were written down on paper. Those who violated their agreements, unless there were extenuating circumstances, were, at the very least, ostracized from the community. Even “rough people” who would get into fights, wound honor the ancient code that if one is beaten, he should walk away. There was none of the barbarism of today’s fights, when the loser of a fair fight tries to murder the winner. In a small community that values honor, such behavior would get the dishonorable person either killed or exiled from that community. Such honor is possible on a small scale. But the notion of “fairness” is defined differently  by the various groups in a large city–not all would accept the notion of a fair fight or of honoring one’s word. The overall moral direction in such large cities is inevitably down–until finally people get tired of anarchy and a strongman takes power over the state to enforce order–and people willingly accept such dictatorship in order to feel safe. I pray that the United States does not get to that level, but unless the country can focus less on large urban population centers with large, faceless businesses and more on small towns and small farms with community-based businesses, there will be little hope for avoiding the final end of the republic.

But hope never fully dies–more people are leaving large cities and moving to small towns and to the country. More people are going into gardening and into raising their own food. Even in large cities, unified communities, primarily ethnic, offer a sense of belonging to those people who live in those communities. Eventually, the methods of large corporate factory farms may backfire, and the government will be forced to allow room for the return of small family farms. There are still traditional churches who have not bought into liberal theology or the faddish worship trends of Evangelical Protestants. Not only do these churches affirm tradition, they also become surrogate families for people who no longer have a family in any meaningful sense. In the northern industrial states, large cities continue to shrink, but there are some small towns that are still thriving and have not been affected by the recent massive emigration to large southern cities. I would love an America that was again an agricultural country of small towns and only a few large cities. If American does not return to that state, I pray that some of the stopgap measures I mentioned above will hold enough virtuous people together to prevent total anarchy and to preserve the freedom within constraints of voluntary community that Jefferson desired.

Arrogance and Hypocrisy in U.S. Foreign Policy

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Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States...

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President Obama has chosen to lecture Egyptian President Mubarak on the issue of human rights. This is another instance of American arrogance and hypocrisy, as traditional conservatives such as Pat Buchanan and libertarians such as Ron Paul, as well as some on the left, have pointed out. The U.S. has a shameful history of violation of rights and, regarding the American Indians, genocide. The U.S. Army engaged in brutal tactics during the Philippine War in the early twentieth century. In World War II, the U.S. forced thousands of Japanese-American citizens into what de facto were concentration camps–the fact that they were not as brutal as the German camps does not make what the United States did morally right. The U.S. engaged in saturation bombing of Tokyo in March 1945, killing over 100,000 people with the firestorm created from gasoline-laden bombs. The U.S. is the only country to have used nuclear weapons in combat. The U.S. and its allies, violating centuries of just war theory, demanded unconditional surrender of the Axis Powers in World War II. In Vietnam there were multiple instances of abuse by U.S. Army personnel against the Vietnamese people; Lt. Calley’s unit was not the only one to engage in rape or kill civilians. In Iraq and Afghanistan, torture was the official practice of U.S. military intelligence personnel as well as regular army personnel. The U.S. has not eschewed the first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict–not even with President Obama in power. And domestically, neither the FBI nor the ATF have clean human rights records, as FBI surveillance of American citizens and the ATF disasters at Ruby Ridge and Waco show. Now many countries engage in similar behaviors or worse–it may be the case, as blind patriots claim, that the U.S. has a better record on human rights than most other countries. But this does not justify our actions, nor does it justify the arrogance of President Obama in telling Mr. Mubarak how to run his country, especially since democracy in the Middle East tends to lead to radical Islamists coming into power. Perhaps Mr. Obama (and Mrs. Clinton) would prefer the Muslim Brotherhood to gain power in Egypt. If that happens, the powerkeg that is the Near East may explode.

In addition, U.S. policy holds that democracy is the best form of government for all nations. But as Aristotle recognized in his Politics, the best form of government for any state is going to depend on its history and traditions. But the U.S. continues to follow the neo-Puritanism of Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy and try to export “democracy” to the world–at the same time democracy is dying a slow death in the U.S. The rest of the world sees U.S. hypocrisy and hates us for it. The U.S. can do better than this–it can clean up its own house and avoid sticking its nose into every other country’s business. I hope such reform happens–but the secularist Puritan strand in American foreign policy is ingrained that I am pessimistic. We need more Ron Pauls, more Pat Buchanans, more true liberals such as Nat Hentoff, to join together in an effort to both stop U.S. abuses of human rights and also to encourage a “more humble” (as President G. W. Bush said in his pre-911 days) U.S. foreign policy.

Is Modern “Total War” Ethical?

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Atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

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I just viewed an excellent PBS “American Experience” program, “The Bombing of Germany.” It detailed how in World War II the United States moved from a position of “precision bombing” of military targets to accept the British strategy of “terror bombing” of German (and later Japanese) cities. For a number of years I have struggled with the ethics of modern “total” warfare–the idea defended long ago by General Sherman that “war is hell” and thus targeting noncombatants is morally legitimate. Thus, the 45,000 civilians killed in World War II in Hamburg, the 40,000 (minimum) killed in Dresden, the 100,000 killed by the U.S. raid on Tokyo in March 1945, the 80,000 killed by the Hiroshima atomic bomb, and the 40,000 killed by the Nagasaki atomic bomb were, according to the “total war” theory, necessary casualties to win the war more quickly.

I am not interested in utilitarian arguments since I reject utilitarianism as a viable moral theory. But traditional just war theory (which I accept; at the theoretical level I am not a pacifist) has always made a distinction between combatants and noncombatants. Of course some noncombantants will be killed in any war, but it is the intentionally targeting of noncombatants that is morally repugnant. Just war theory has always considered noncombatants to be “innocent” in the sense that they are not directly killing their fellow human beings. Arguments that extend “guilt” to the entire population of a country waging war can only justify mass destruction of human life. Total war inevitably harms the characters of those who actively participate in such activities as terror bombing and intrinsically corrupt any society that engages in them. Granted, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and after Germany and Italy declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941, the U.S. had no choice but to fight. The United States kept the moral high ground until 1945; would that it had kept it until the end of the war. It now seems to me that modern fullscale war has crossed the threshold into immorality, even for the “innocent” state in what otherwise would be a just war. Thus, I now believe that full scale “total war” is intrinsically unethical.