Of Civil Wars Past and Future

Statism and freedom cannot meet in the middle.

Today we celebrate Memorial Day whose purpose is to remind us of the men who bravely fought and died defending our country.  Its origins could hardly be more moving and honorable; as recorded in Wikipedia:

...The first memorial day was observed by formerly enslaved black people at the Washington Race Course (today the location of Hampton Park) in Charleston, South Carolina. The race course had been used as a temporary Confederate prison camp in 1865 as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who died there. Immediately after the cessation of hostilities, formerly enslaved people exhumed the bodies from the mass grave and reinterred them properly with individual graves. They built a fence around the graveyard with an entry arch and declared it a Union graveyard.

These first celebrants had respect and honor of our American soldiers as their ultimate purpose: those soldiers had given their lives that those slaves who so honored their bodies might be free.  Known originally as Decoration Day, Memorial Day began to honor Civil War veterans and the deceased, but has expanded into today's remembrance of all America's honored dead.  We can't help but notice that President Obama, not being a descendant of freed slaves, doesn't seem to find it necessary to follow their example of honoring our fallen.

For the rest of us, however, at this time of year, we are regaled with concerts, flags on graves... and advertisements paying their respects.  While listening to the radio, your humble correspondent heard a startling ad from GEICO - which, let us remind you, is an acronym for Government Employee's Insurance Company.  This ad honored

...members of our military and Federal government...  Whether working in an office, serving on a base, or standing watch... [emphasis added]

It went on to extol all of the above for keeping us safe and "making America strong."  So now Memorial Day honors not only those who risk their lives on the battlefield, but also all the paper-pushers and red-tape-wielders who blight our lives?

The fact is, this ad simply reflects one of the two competing and mutually incompatible philosophies that are at war in our country today.  On the Left stands the philosophy that government knows best, that America's elites know how to run your life better than you do, and that therefore you should shut up and do as you are told by your betters.  On the Right stands the belief in individual sovereignty, holding that each person has the right to live their life as they see fit as long as they aren't hurting anybody else, even if other people might think them stupid, wrong, or be ab out to hurt themselves.

Irreconcilable Differences

America's Founders instituted a system of government with the express intention of allowing individual states to, as much as possible, run things their own way, while still cooperating as a single nation.  For the most part, that worked quite well.  Unfortunately, fourscore and some-odd years later, Abraham Lincoln pointed out one area in which it wasn't possible to agree to disagree:

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."  I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.  I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided.  It will become all one thing or all the other.  Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new -- North as well as South.  [emphasis added]

The trouble was that slavery is a moral absolute.  Either black people are human beings, and enslaving them was an evil, immoral horror; or they aren't, in which case it really didn't matter what their owners did to them.  Believers in one view simply cannot coexist with believers in the opposite, any more than vegetarians can happily live next to cannibals or a devoutly religious husband can happily remain married to an open-marriage libertine.  One way or another, the question had to be resolved and closed - and it was, by force of arms.

The Civil War conclusively determined that slavery was evil, wrong, and illegal.  That was good.

It also decided that states have no right to secede unless they are willing and able to successfully fight a war.  In the case of the slavery question, that's just as well.

What about today?  Modern American politics addresses not just one, but several issues which rise to the level of moral absolutes just as slavery did.

The abortion question, for example: either we are gruesomely murdering millions of innocent human beings in the most brutal and stomach-churning way possible, or we are simply performing a minor surgical procedure on meaningless, unfeeling tumor-like biological growths.  There really is no middle ground nor much room for happy compromise.

The only thing that has prevented the abortion question from escalating into full-scale violence - and it's come perilously close at times - is the fact that abortions themselves are performed in private, invisibly, to victims who cannot speak for themselves.  Slavery was public, visible, and generated famous spokesmen like Frederick Douglass who expounded on the brutality he personally had experienced.

The question of statism epitomized by Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid is far more dangerous than either of these questions.  They believe with their whole hearts that they truly do know better how to live your life and spend your money than you do.

As his encounter with Joe the Plumber made plain, Mr. Obama believes in the moral necessity of forcibly taking earned money from whomever he decides are rich and giving it unearned to whomever he decides are poor.

Nancy Pelosi believes that your health insurance is too posh and you don't deserve it; instead, it should be taxed and restricted to provide care for those who do not work so long as they vote for her and her ilk.

Harry Reid believes that what you thought was your own private property really isn't and can be restricted as your betters see fit.

All of these people are convinced that you have no right whatsoever to defend yourselves with firearms or with anything else.

The long arm of statism now reaches into each and every home and office in America.  There is no longer any place to hide.

The new Obamacare laws require you to purchase, at your own expense, a government-approved plan of health insurance whether or not it meets your needs, on pain of fine or imprisonment via the tax laws.

The government is preparing plans to prohibit food manufacturers from making and selling foods with the amount of salt that their customers prefer.

The government has long since extended regulations into all manner of areas large and small that affect nobody but the individual making a choice, whether it be seatbelt laws and bike-helmet rules, or laws preventing smoking in private establishments, or forcing banks to report private financial transactions to government authorities, or now requiring filings to the IRS on virtually every business purchase.

Because this interference and fiscal tyranny is at the federal level, Americans cannot simply move to a different state to escape.  For many years, overtaxed Californians have moved to Arizona or Colorado for tax relief, likewise residents of Massachusetts moving to New Hampshire and New Yorkers going to Florida.  Our nation was designed as a republic for the express purpose of having this sort of relief valve.

Modern statists cannot allow any escape from their tyranny; they must rule all because, as Margaret Thatcher observed, "Eventually you run out of other people's money."  The unions and their pet politicians are not satisfied with having destroyed Michigan's economy, they must now leech from the entire United States; the public-sector unions of California are attempting to do as the GM unions did and get a federal bailout.

Please, God, not again.

Is There Any Way Out?

As Lincoln said of chattel racist slavery, one nation with an all-powerful federal government cannot endure half-enslaved to statist tyranny, and half free.  Our federal government must be hacked down into its long-ignored Constitutional boundaries, allowing California and Massachusetts to go to Hell in their own way while freeing Texas to run a successful, effective, lean government free of enforced cross-subsidy.

Or, we will shortly all be crushed under the hell of an almighty, all-thieving, all-controlling government that resembles Stalin's Soviet Union more than anything American.

Or... As Article 10 of New Hampshire's state constitution says:

Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government.  The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.  [emphasis added]

The men of the Old South felt that their rights were being destroyed by the abolitionist North.  They were correct, but that was only because Southerners were themselves infringing on the human rights of their slaves, which they had no right to do.

Today, the rights of liberty and private property belonging to those who have rightfully earned it are being infringed by the greedy tyranny of those who want what they have not earned and of the politicians they elect.  Even worse, our rulers believe they have a moral authority to control what you do even with the money they graciously permit you to keep.

For the first time, a majority of America is now receiving money from the government; only a minority earns their own keep anymore.  The takers, nannies, and nags now hold a voting lead; can that ever be reversed democratically?

We hope so.  Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of a new civil war can be avoided.  But the hour is late, and only now are Americans beginning to awake to their peril.  Will it be in time?  This November will, perhaps, halt the slide; then November 2012 offers the opportunity to reverse it.

And if not?  Then, we deeply and profoundly fear, our future holds very grim Memorial Days to come, and a great many more veterans and noble dead to be honored.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments
Hmm, you seem to have forgotten the economic aspect of the civil war (things are never so clean and simple). The northern industrialists were prohibiting the sale of southern cotton to England to protect the New England industry, and Government was receiving most of its income from the tariffs. The war started over the economic aspect with the anti-slavery faction being in the minority. Though the skill of the anti-slavery movement, the war ended with the majority of the north siding with the abolitionists as a way of punishing the south. As we learned over the next 100 years, abolition was only the first step in granting true citizenship to the former slaves, and the north was almost as bad as the south in that aspect. The KKK was very powerful in the north by the 1930's.
Our current problems will likewise be addressed by coalitions of different political movements and not be as clean cut as many would like. If my party is to win (spelled TEA) we must accept others who may just be in it for themselves, something hard for an idealist to accept. But that is how wars of ideology are won.
May 31, 2010 1:51 PM
As a libertarian anarchist I resent being lumped in with right wing nuts who claim security is paramount to liberty, and use laws to advance their statist authority, using domestic spying, paperwork, and fines jails or their threats.
Presidents who support terrorists like Usama (Reagan, billions of our $$ thru out his reign in the 80s) or Saddam (Reagan, during the Iran/Iraq war 1986).. governors like Rockefeller whose draconian sentencing laws in New York, not to mention the insanity of the so called war on drugs, an abysmal failure..
Lovers of Liberty reject the socialist notions of the party on the right, whose free wheeling spending gave us this farce of an Obama in backlash.
You might make a good politician, Mr Petrarch, but you must discard this concept of right/left spectrum, for one is either against using government to control others, or else one wishes to be in charge... there is no middle ground.. the two major parties have ignored this for decades.. we cannot buy the popular notion of security at the price of our private business staying private.
Please do no use pejoratives like right/left, conservative/liberal et cetera: they only convolute your message and create unwarranted presumptions in those of us who use language to a greater degree of precision.

May 31, 2010 6:43 PM
irvn, you're quite right that the customary "left-right" political axis is extremely limited and confusing. Personally, I prefer the two-dimensional Pournelle axes, you can read about that system here:


Among other things, this properly puts fascism and communism on the same, statist side of the chart where they belong, as they are most certainly not opposites but bear many similarities.

"Lovers of Liberty reject the socialist notions of the party on the right, whose free wheeling spending gave us this farce of an Obama in backlash."

Actually, I agree perfectly with this sentence. :-)
May 31, 2010 7:03 PM
sorry.. i apologize.. I do wish these traditional aned inaccurate labels discarded...liberal describes someone like my father who is willing to tolerate my eccentric adventures, yet consistently anti-authoritative...
thank you for the link.. I am unaware of any discourse of the terms, other than my conception first formed by my long ago GF, who wrote "Lift is right, Right is wrong, upside down is backwards..".. my own is along the line of «right is wrong, left is gone, none the two is wiser».. neither of which is a strict haiku

May 31, 2010 7:31 PM
PS I posted the Jerry Pournelle link on my face book account.. mezentian gate
May 31, 2010 7:34 PM
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