Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby(Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Rediscovering American Uniqueness at Thanksgiving: Celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower Compact
We celebrate Thanksgiving this year at a time of continuing political division and a coronavirus pandemic. It is good that we take this moment to consider America’s genuine uniqueness, which some seem to have forgotten, and to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Compact, which set us on the path of democratic self-government. Today, ours is the oldest existing form of government in the world.
America began with a covenant, the Mayflower Compact, adopted in 1620. It was a voluntary and binding covenant recognizing the principle of self-government under God with far-reaching economic, religious, and legal implications for all society. Beginning in Provincetown Harbor in Massachusetts, it would establish the American precedent of free men covenanting to maintain a “civil body politic of self-government under God.” It would culminate in the halls of Philadelphia in the 1780s with the formulation of the U.S. Constitution.
One hundred years ago, during the 300th anniversary both of the Mayflower landing and the adoption of the Mayflower Compact, Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge, who became president a few years later, declared:
“The Compact they signed was an event of the greatest importance. It was the foundation of liberty based on law and order, and that tradition has been steadily upheld. They drew up a form of government which has been designated as the first real constitution of modern times. It was democratic and an acknowledgment of liberty under law and order and the giving to each person the right to participate in the government. . . . But the really wonderful thing was that they had the power and strength of character to abide by it and live by it from that day to this.”
All of us are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, beginning with those arrivals on the Mayflower and excluding only Native Americans. What we share is more important than common ancestry. It is a commitment to an idea of individual liberty and self-government, something which has thrived in America since the Mayflower arrived.
There are some who envision a homogeneous American society and therefore lament our increasingly diverse population. In fact, America has always been diverse. Between 1815 and 1914, more than 30 million people left their homelands to settle in the U.S. This was the greatest mass movement in human history. By the mid-18th century, Welsh and Germans had settled in Pennsylvania and the Carolinas, which also had a large population of Scotch-Irish. South Carolina and the major towns in New England were home to many French Huguenots. Delaware had a significant population of Swedes and Finns. Sephardic Jews from Holland and Portugal lived in Rhode Island.
Visiting New Amsterdam in 1643, the French Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was surprised to discover that in this town of 8,000 people, 18 languages were spoken. In his Letters from an American Farmer, J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur wrote in 1782: “Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”
America was the place where the hatreds and passions of the Old World could finally be abandoned and in which, as Thomas Wolfe wrote, each man could become whatever his manhood would permit. Liberty for the individual, the Founding Fathers believed, would change the very face of the world.
Mario Puzo, author of “The Godfather” and the son of Italian immigrants growing up in New York, wrote of America:
“What a miracle it was! What has happened here has never happened in any other country or in any other time. The poor who had been poor for centuries — hell, since the beginning of Christ — whose children had inherited their poverty, their illiteracy, their hopelessness, achieved some economic dignity and freedom. You didn’t get it for nothing, you had to pay a price in tears, and suffering, why not? And some even became artists.”
As a young man growing up in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Puzo was asked by his mother what he wanted to be when he grew up. When he said he wanted to be a writer, she responded, “For a thousand years in Italy no one in our family was even able to read.” But in America everything was possible — in a single generation.
Puzo writes that:
“It was hard for my mother to believe that her son could become an artist. After all, her one dream in coming to America had been to earn her daily bread, a wild dream in itself. And looking back, she was dead right. Her son an artist? To this day she shakes her head. I shake mine with her.”
In Redburn, written in 1849, Herman Melville declares:
“There is something in the contemplation of the mode in which America has been settled that, in a noble breast, should forever extinguish the prejudices of national dislikes. “Settled by the peoples of all nations, all nations may claim her for their own. You cannot spill a drop of American blood without spilling the blood of the whole world. . . . Our blood is the flood of the Amazon, made up of a thousand noble currents all pouring into one. We are not a nation, so much as a world.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that:
“France was a land. England was a people, but America, having about it still the quality of the idea was harder to utter — it was the graves at Shiloh, and the tired, drawn, nervous faces of its great men, and the country boys dying in the Argonne for a phrase that was empty before their bodies withered. It was a willingness of the heart.”
At a celebration in New York City of the 150th anniversary of Norwegian immigration, news commentator Eric Sevareid, whose grandfather emigrated from Norway, addressed the group in the form of a letter to his grandfather. He said:
“You know that freedom and equality are not found but created. . . . This grandson believes this is what you did. I have seen much of the world. Were I now asked to name some region on Earth where men and women lived in a surer climate of freedom and equality than that northwest region where you settled — were I so asked, I could not answer. I know of none.”
Now in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, it is immigrants who have created the vaccines that will, hopefully, bring this disease under control. One of these is Mikael Dolsten, the Jewish immigrant from Sweden who is leading Pfizer’s efforts. He hopes that America remains the melting pot that welcomed him and is concerned with the anti-immigrant rhetoric to which we have been subjected in recent days. He notes that, “A lot of great breakthroughs have come from people who emigrated,” Albert Einstein among them. The CEO of Pfizer is a Jewish immigrant from Greece, and the chief medical officer for Moderna, a competing drug maker that announced that its vaccine is 95 percent effective, is an Israeli immigrant.
Mikael Dolsten is concerned about the hostility to immigrants shown by some political leaders in recent days. He says:
“I do hope we can heal as a nation and again be a shining sun and bring people together rather than move back from the world. I do hear a lot from Europeans who miss seeing the U.S. as the image of the future and now see the U.S. as isolated.”
Thanksgiving should cause us to reflect upon the uniqueness of the American society and to resist all those who would turn their backs on our history. In 1866, Lord Acton, the British Liberal leader, said that America was becoming “the distant magnet.” Apart from “the millions who have crossed the ocean, who shall reckon the millions whose hearts and hopes are in the United States, to whom the rising sun is in the West. . . ?”
Our changing demographics and the new immigrants who are arriving from around the world keep America an increasingly dynamic society. Many of them seem to understand the genuine uniqueness of the American society, which some others appear to have forgotten.
America has been much loved and has been a new thing in the world, something we should reflect upon this Thanksgiving.
Democratic Societies Are Fragile — They Can Break
For many years, I was a frequent lecturer at Freedoms Foundation in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. High school students from around the country came to receive an introduction to American history. My subject was whether or not a free and democratic society such as ours could survive into the future. I pointed out that such societies have been rare in history, and generally ended badly.
At that time our political life seemed stable. Democrats and Republicans competed with each other, but did not view the other side as “enemies.” After hard-fought elections, the loser had no difficulty in conceding. Incumbents who were defeated left office quietly and accompanied the victor to his inauguration.
We tend to forget how rare freedom has been in human history. In On Power, the French political philosopher Bertrand de Jouvenel points out that we frequently say, “Liberty is the most precious of all goods” without noticing what this concept implies. He writes:
“A good thing which is of great price is not one of the primary necessities. Water costs nothing at all, and bread very little. What costs much is something like a Rembrandt which, though its price is above rubies, is wanted by very few people, and by none who have not, as it happens, a sufficiency of bread and water. Precious things, therefore, are really desired by but few human beings and not even by them until their primary needs have been amply provided. It is from this point of view that liberty needs to be looked at — the will to be free is in time of danger extinguished and revives again when once the need of security has received satisfaction. Liberty is in fact only a secondary need; the primary need is security.”
From the beginning of history, the great philosophers predicted that democratic governments would produce this result. Plato, Aristotle, and, more recently, De Tocqueville, Lord Bryce, and Macaulay, predicted that men would give away their freedom voluntarily for what they perceived as greater security. De Jouvenel concludes: “The State, when it is made the giver of protection and security, has but to urge the necessities of its protectorate and overlordship to justify its encroachments.”
In a similar vein, Thomas Babington Macaulay, writing to Henry Randall in 1857, lamented:
“I have long been convinced that institutions purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty or civilization or both. In Europe, where the population is dense, the effect of such institutions would be almost instantaneous. . . . Either the poor would plunder the rich, and civilization would perish, or order and prosperity would be saved by a strong military government, and liberty would perish.”
Macaulay, looking to America, declared that:
“Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong hand, or your republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by barbarians in the 20th century as the Roman Empire was in the 5th — with this difference, that your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your own country by your institutions.”
The Founding Fathers shared the concern that democracies, historically, did not last very long. John Adams observed, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide.” Similarly, Professor Martin Diamond argues that:
“. . . the crucial point . . . is the priority of liberty as the end of government, the merely instrumental status of all forms of government and the peculiarly questionable status of the popular form — democracy — up to the time of the American Revolution.”
The unfortunate fact is that no “form” of government, no matter how carefully devised — and the U.S. Constitution was, in many respects, the most carefully devised — can make freedom certain and lasting. In Book XI of The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu said that no form of government is free “by its nature” — none has liberty built securely into its very form. Every form of government gives power to some governing authority and “eternal experience” teaches that, if the power is not restrained, it will be abused. How can it be restrained? Montesquieu believed that power could only be restrained by “another power,” hence our concept of federalism and checks and balances.
An all-powerful executive was the great fear of those who wrote the Constitution. In particular, they gave the power to declare war to the Congress. This worked for many years. But World War II was the last war declared by Congress. Since then, Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have abdicated their constitutional responsibility. We have gone to war in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere without Congress voting to do so. The very executive power the authors of the Constitution feared has steadily grown, regardless of which party was in power.
At the time of the bicentennial of the Constitution, when I was speaking to students about the future of freedom, I did not think I would live to see the current virtual collapse of our political system. Anyone who doubts this should review the Trump-Biden debate. Never before have we seen an incumbent president refuse to say he would peacefully leave office if he loses the election.
When he left the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was asked what form of government had been created. His famous reply was, “A republic, if you can keep it.” We have kept it for more than 200 years. Ours is now the oldest form of government in existence. Only Americans are living under the same form of government as they did more than two hundred years ago. Let us hope that the strident partisanship of the present will recede and something resembling normality will return to our political life. Otherwise, all of us, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, will be in more trouble than we ever imagined.
Moving Toward a Color-Blind Society
The racial tension in our society is growing, in part in response to the killing by police officers in Minneapolis of George Floyd, and a series of other killings of black men and women by police. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic upon black Americans and other minorities has been disproportionate. Clearly, our racial divisions are still with us, as continuing demonstrations across the country make clear.
It is important that we understand the complexities of race in America, which is often simplified at the expense of a real understanding of a complex and evolving reality. A reality that is often overlooked is the real progress we have made.
I remember segregation. Living in the South, I experienced a society in which black Americans could not eat in the restaurants, stay in the hotels, or use the restrooms, among other things. There were “white” and “colored” signs everywhere. It was against the law for blacks and whites to marry. In many areas, it was impossible for blacks to vote. If anyone suggested when I was in college that we would live to see a black president, it would have been considered an impossibility.
Then things began to slowly change. In 1954, the Supreme Court declared school segregation to be unconstitutional. In 1957, President Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock to integrate the schools. Even earlier, President Truman integrated the military. In 1967, in the case of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court unanimously, by a 9-0 vote, found laws against inter-racial marriage, miscegenation, unconstitutional. In 1964, Congress passed legislation forbidding discrimination in restaurants, hotels, and other areas of public accommodation.
Slowly, individuals were able to advance to the highest positions in the American society. Thurgood Marshall was named to the U.S. Supreme Court. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice became Secretaries of State. Then Barack Obama became President — and was re-elected. Black Americans have distinguished themselves in every area of society — as CEOs of respected businesses, on Wall Street, in sports, literature, entertainment, and every aspect of American life. By any standard, this represents dramatic progress.
And yet, serious disparities exist between black and white Americans. Children who grow up poor — as 32 percent of black children do — tend to do badly by a variety of measures. They face increased risks of dropping out of school, getting pregnant while still teenagers, being incarcerated, experiencing poverty in adulthood, and dying early. There are aspects of black American private life that exacerbate these problems. Respected black academics such as Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, and William Allen point to the role that increasingly unstable families play in passing black disadvantage down the generations. Seven in ten black babies are born out of wedlock, something which was not true in the post-World War II years.
Harvard sociologist William Julius Williams, who is black, points out that the rate of joblessness and the number of out-of-wedlock births in the black community both increased in the 1960s. The ravages urban deindustrialization and mass incarceration inflicted on black men permanently reduced the pool of eligible partners for black women, he argues. Sociologists Kathryn Edin of Princeton and Maria Kefalas of St. Joseph’s University argue that behavior, policy, present-day discrimination, and the unfair initial conditions seeded by centuries of historical discrimination are tied together in a knot of pathology. All of these things — persistent racism most important among them — leads to the current situation.
The traditional goal of black leaders from Frederick Douglass to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was to push American society toward their vision of equality of opportunity and equality before the law. They sought a genuinely color-blind society in which, in King’s words, men and women would be judged by “the content of their character, not the color of their skin.” More recently, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, what The Economist calls “a rival dangerous approach” has emerged.
In The Economist’s view:
“. . . it rejects the liberal notion of progress. It defines everyone by their race, and every action is racist or anti-racist. It is not yet dominant, but it is dynamic and it is spreading out of the academy into everyday life. If it supplants liberal values, then intimidation will chill open debate and sow division to the disadvantage of all, black and white. . . . This ideology has some valid insights. Racism is sustained by unjust institutions and practices. Sometimes, as in policing, this is overt. More often, in countless put-downs and biases, it is subtle but widespread and harmful. But then the ideology takes a wrong turn by seeking to impose itself by intimidation and power. Not the power that comes from persuasion and elections, but from silencing your critics, insisting that those who are not with you are against you, and shutting out those who are deemed privileged or disloyal to their race. It is a worldview where everything and everyone is seen through the prism of ideology — who is published, who gets jobs, who can say what to whom, one in which in-groups obsess over orthodoxy in education, culture, and heritage, one that enforces absolute equality of income, policy by policy, paragraph by paragraph, if society is to count as just.”
If America were really a “racist” country, it would not have spent the years since the 1954 school segregation decision moving toward a fair and equitable society. This, sadly, has not yet been fully achieved. The mistreatment of black men and women by the police is one example. I remember when I was in law school writing an article for the William and Mary Law Review about Virginia’s law against interracial marriage. What right, I asked in this article, did the state of Virginia have to tell people whom they might marry? Shortly after this article appeared, that Virginia law, and similar laws throughout the South, was declared unconstitutional. Later, I was a member of President Ronald Reagan’s transition team at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In the report we prepared, we called for an end to racial discrimination of any kind in employment and for the establishment of a “color-blind” society.
Some years ago, I participated in a debate with a young lady representing the NAACP. She declared that “America is a racist society.” In my response, I pointed out that she was too young to remember the years of segregation and how we had moved away from that legalized racism, but still had a long way to go. Now, we have advanced much further, having elected a black president twice. But we still have a long way to go. Our goal should be the goal of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. — a genuinely color-blind society.
Genuine equality means that all Americans, regardless of race, should respect the right of free speech and should not casually use the epithet “racist” to categorize those with whom we disagree. It is healthy for us to explore the history of slavery and segregation but it is unhealthy to insist on only a single perspective. People are complicated, as are societies. That is why we are fortunate to have a Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech, which is now under attack by the so-called “cancel culture,” as a number of leading writers and intellectuals — J. K. Rowling, Noam Chomsky, and Salman Rushdie among them — recently pointed out.
Hopefully, when the passions of the moment have been exhausted — men and women of good will, of all races, will continue their efforts to move America toward a genuinely color-blind society. *
Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
The New York Times 1619 Project: Revisionist History That Doesn’t Belong in Our Schools
In August 1619, a ship appeared on the horizon near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans who were sold to the colonists. Writing in The New York Times Magazine, Nicole Hannah-Jones declares that:
“No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.”
The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019 and aims to frame the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative. In the view of Hannah-Jones, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written.” She argues that 1619 was the real date of America’s founding — not 1776, with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In her view, defending slavery was one of the motivations for the American Revolution itself.
Many public school systems are now considering the use of the 1619 Project in the teaching of history. It has already been embraced by Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Buffalo, New York, despite the fact that it has been sharply criticized by leading historians. Prominent historians wrote a letter to The Times expressing dismay at the factual errors found in the project’s materials. They said, for example, that the Project’s contention that the American Revolution was launched “in order to ensure that slavery would continue” was completely wrong. Among the historians signing this letter were Gordon S. Wood, James M. McPherson, Sean Wilentz, and Victoria Bynum.
The 1619 Project ignores the fact that slavery has a long history and is hardly unique to America. Indeed, it does not mention the role of African slave traders who sold the African slaves captured by African chiefs, often in battle, to the Europeans. From the beginning of recorded history, until the 19th century slavery was the way of the world. Slavery was a prominent feature of life in Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Do the authors of the 1619 Project understand that in 1787, when the U.S. Constitution was written, slavery was legal every place in the world? To condemn the Founding Fathers for not having eliminated slavery at that time is to condemn them for not having done something which had never before been done in history. This is comparing colonial America with a 21st century ideal of perfection, not with other places in the real world in that era.
In fact, the Framers of the Constitution created the freest country in the world at that time. They established religious freedom and separation of church and state at a time when European countries persecuted religious minorities. They established freedom of speech and of the press, also unique ideas at that time. Being imperfect human beings, they could hardly have created a perfect society. But, even then, the leading figures who established the country recognized that slavery was an evil, and many at the Constitutional Convention wanted to eliminate it.
What is historically unique is not that slavery was the accepted way of the world in 1787, even sanctioned by Christianity, but that so many of the men of the American colonies of that day wanted to eliminate it — and pressed vigorously to do so.
Historians Nathaniel Weyl and William Marina write:
“When the Federal Convention met in May 1787 to form a Constitution for the United States, a significant minority of the delegates were staunch opponents of slavery. Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton were ardent abolitionists. John Jay, who would become the first Chief Justice, was president of the New York Anti-Slavery Society. . . . Rufus King and Gouverneur Morris were in the forefront of opposition to slavery and the slave trade.”
One of the great debates at the Constitutional Convention related to the African slave trade. George Mason of Virginia made an eloquent plea for making it illegal:
“This infernal traffic originated in the avarice of British merchants. The British Government constantly checked the attempt of Virginia to put a stop to it. The present question concerns not the importing of slaves alone, but the whole Union. The evil of having slaves was experienced during the last war. Had slaves been treated as they might have been by the enemy, they would have proved dangerous instruments in their hands.”
More than this, declared Mason:
“Slavery discourages arts and manufactures. The poor despise labor when performed by slaves. . . . Every owner of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a country.”
In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, one of the principal charges made by Thomas Jefferson against King George III and his predecessors was that they would not allow the American colonies to “outlaw the importation of slaves.” This, unfortunately, was not adopted. Even a slaveholder such as Jefferson understood the evil of slavery. In his autobiography, he wrote:
“Nothing is more certainly written in the book of life than that these people are to be free.”
In Notes on The State of Virginia, Jefferson wrote:
“The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submission on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it. . . .”
In the end, in order to secure all 13 colonies in the new nation, the question of slavery was postponed. This decision may be criticized, as it has been over the years. Many of the Framers felt they had set in motion an opposition to slavery that would bear fruit in the future. James Wilson of Pennsylvania declared:
“I am sorry that it could be extended no further, but so far as it operates, it presents us with the pleasing prospect that the rights of mankind will be acknowledged and established throughout the Union. . . . The lapse of a few years and Congress will have the power to eliminate slavery from within our borders.”
Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut stated:
“Slavery, in time, will not be a speck in our country. Provision is already made in Connecticut for abolishing it. And the abolition has already taken place in Massachusetts.”
The U.S. Constitution is unique in history. It established a system of government which was based upon the realities of human nature and attempted to learn the lessons of the past. The Framers knew that change would be necessary, and incorporated an amending process. They established a system which has lasted for more than 200 years — the oldest system of government in the world today. With all its faults and shortcomings, ours has been the freest society in the world’s history. It has welcomed men and women of every race, religion, and nation to its shores to be equal citizens. Being flawed human beings, we have mistreated black Americans, Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans and others. Yet, we have sought to move beyond these injustices and we have slowly moved toward the equality which is our ideal. We ended segregation and today black Americans hold every conceivable position in our society. We have elected a black president twice and, despite continuing problems with racism, we now have black mayors in Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and other major cities. There is no position in American society to which black men and women cannot aspire.
American history is complex. The Founding Fathers were committed to building a new civilization that would become a model for the rest of mankind. James Madison wrote, “Happily for Americans, happily we trust for the whole human race, they (the Founders) pursued a new and more noble course.”
In announcing its 1619 Project, The New York Times said it wanted to “tell our story truthfully.” But American history, and the history of every other nation and civilization, is many-faceted.
All of us want to tell our story truthfully. This should involve its good and unique contributions, not only its weaknesses and shortcomings. Focusing only on slavery and questions of race leaves a great deal of our recent history out of the picture. Man’s history in Europe, Asia and Africa is filled with examples of racism, religious bigotry, and slavery. In the 19th and 20th centuries, European countries — England, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal — occupied countries in Asia and Africa and, in some cases, slaughtered tens of thousands of their inhabitants. With all its imperfections, America represented something new in the world. Thus far, The 1619 Project seems not to understand this reality.
The Dangerous Assault on Free and Open Discussion and Debate
The world has a long history of stifling free and open discussion and debate. In the 17th century Galileo Galilei, the Italian astronomer and physicist, offered evidence that the earth traveled around the sun. The Catholic Church and other scientists of his day believed that the earth was the center of the universe. Galileo, accused of heresy, was forced to recant and was imprisoned by the Inquisition.
Today, with our Constitutional guarantee of free speech, men and women cannot be put in jail for expressing unpopular points of view. Still, they are being silenced in other ways.
Professor Stephen Hsu of Michigan State University was pressured to resign as Vice President of Research and Innovation because he conducted research that found that black police officers were just as likely to shoot blacks as were white officers. The research found:
“The race of the police officer did not protect the race of the citizen shot. In other words, black officers were just as likely to shoot black citizens as white officers were.”
For political reasons, the author of the study sought its retraction.
The U.S. Department of Education warned UCLA that it may impose fines for improperly and abusively targeting a professor, Lt. Col. A. Jay Peris, for disciplinary action over the use of the n-word while reading to the class the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” that contains this statement, “. . . when your first name becomes ‘n——’ your middle name becomes ‘boy,’ no matter how old you are.” Referring to civil rights activists, King wrote: “They have languished in . . . roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as ‘dirty n—— lovers.”
On July 4, a letter was issued by hundreds of faculty members at Princeton University. It begins with the following sentence: “Anti-blackness is fundamental to America.” In the view of Professor of Classics Joshua T. Katz, “The letter calls for eliminating academic freedom via a committee that would review all publications for racist thought (racism defined by the committee).”
Students at Marymount Manhattan college are seeking the termination of Theater Arts Professor Patricia Simon. The reason: She appeared to briefly fall asleep during an anti-racist meeting held on Zoom. Simon denies the allegation, but a Marymount student, Caitlin Gagnon, started a petition campaign accusing Simon of ignoring “racist and sizeist” actions. The petition quickly got roughly 2,000 signatures.
At times like this it is important to remember George Orwell’s observation that, “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.”
It is not only in the academic world where freedom of thought and open debate are under attack. Our newspapers also are becoming part of what critics call the “cancel culture.” In July, Bari Weiss, an opinion editor and writer at The New York Times, resigned after she found herself the victim of bullying for “wrong thinking.” This closely follows the resignation in June of her boss and editorial page editor James Bennet, who was pushed out after his section published an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), in which Cotton advocated using military force to quell violent protests.
Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker asks:
“How could a newspaper intent on airing differing opinions and diverse voices decide that a sitting U.S. senator’s viewpoint didn’t measure up? Allowing a senator to espouse thoughts one might find objectionable is exactly the point of the op-ed page. The walk-back had less to do with standards and more to do with the simple fact that Cotton thought the ‘wrong’ thing.”
In her letter to New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Bari Weiss said that there may well be many among the Times staff who are concerned as she is about the cancel culture, but they dare not say so in public. “If a person’s ideology is in keeping with the new orthodoxy,” she wrote, “they and their work remain un-scrutinized. Everyone else lives in fear of the digital thunderstorm. Online venom is excused as long as it is directed at the proper targets.”
In Kathleen Parker’s view:
“Sulzberger, too, is likely cowed by the wrong-think police. So is corporate America. So are our institutions of higher education. Most have decided it is not worth the risk of certain punishment to challenge the orthodoxy of the relentless left. But it is . . .”
Ironically, Bari Weiss is herself a part of the cancel culture. A strong supporter of Israel, she categorizes Jews who call for Palestinian rights and oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as being “as dangerous as white nationalists.” In her book on anti-Semitism she said that Jews who oppose Zionism “are as deeply opposed to Jewish interests as many of our community’s enemies.” Even when she was a student at Columbia University, she tried to have Palestinian professors removed from the faculty.
Andrew Sullivan, a columnist for New York Magazine, was forced to leave his position because staff members “believed my columns were physically harming them.” Sullivan takes conservative positions on many subjects, but is vocally opposed to President Trump and is openly gay. Independent thinking, however, is no longer in demand. Noting that the intolerance of dissenting views, that is now widely present in academic life, has made its way to journalism, Sullivan says, “We all live on campus now.”
Fortunately, a reaction to the cancel culture is growing. More than 100 writers and scholars of a variety of points of view have signed a public letter decrying the cancel culture and the rising intolerance of opposing views. Among the signatories are J. K. Rowling, Noam Chomsky, Salman Rushdie, David Brooks, and Malcolm Gladwell.
The letter, which appeared in Harper’s Magazine, declared that, “The free exchange of information and ideas, which is the lifeblood of a liberal society is lately becoming more constricted.” Censorship often characterized the right wing, as in the McCarthy era. It is now increasingly coming from the left, the letter declares, with “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”
At the present time, the letter notes that:
“Editors are fired for printing controversial pieces, books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity, journalists are barred from writing on certain topics, professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class. This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time.”
Assaults on free speech do not only come from the left. President Trump has gone to court twice to try to prevent publication of books critical of him: one by former national security adviser John Bolton, the other by his niece, Mary Trump. In both cases he lost, and the First Amendment prevailed. The president has also put a chill on free speech by regularly referring to journalists with whom he disagrees as “enemies of the people.”
Those on both the left and right who seek to stifle the voices of those on the other side of major public issues misunderstand the nature of a genuinely free society. In “On Liberty,” the 19th century British philosopher John Stuart Mill writes:
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race, posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still move those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose. What is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error.”
The Framers of the U.S. Constitution valued free speech. The assaults on speech that we now see — from various points on the political spectrum — show us how much we have departed from their respect for a diversity of opinion. We have had moments in our history like this before. They were brief and we moved beyond them. Let us hope that the same is true today.
We Need Police Reform — Not Defunding or Abolition of the Police
There is no doubt that American society needs major reform of how our police departments operate. The killing of George Floyd and other unarmed black men and women indicates a serious problem. The response to these real problems, unfortunately, has led some to advocate not the real reforms that are necessary but the defunding of the police and, in some cases, abolition of police departments entirely. While the Minneapolis City Council and New York’s Mayor De Blasio may think there is merit in such ideas, few others do. The vast majority of Americans, of all races and both political parties, recognize the necessity of the police.
Prof. Steven Pinker of Harvard notes that:
“If the police are indiscriminately crippled, whether it be by defunding them, or simply making them more reluctant to intervene, then the rates of violent crime will go up. . . . They have in the last couple of months. Far more people are killed at the hands of their fellow civilians than by the police.”
Even the concept of abolishing the police, argues Pinker, is “stark raving mad” because “it means that we leave people to defend themselves with private armies and mafias and vigilantes and gangs of thugs.”
When it comes to policing and crime, black attitudes elude simple explanations.
Polling within the black community shows that respondents express disgust with police racism, but support for more funding for the police. A 2015 Gallup Poll found that black adults who believed police treated black people unfairly were also more likely to desire a large police presence in their local area than those who thought police treated black people fairly.
A 2019 Vox poll found that despite being the racial group with the most unfavorable view of the police, most black people supported having more police officers in their community. A June 2020 Yahoo News/YouGov survey, taken after the killing of George Floyd, found that 50 percent of black respondents still said, “We need more cops on the street,” even as 49 percent of black respondents said that when they personally see a police officer, it makes them feel “less secure.”
Last year in Baltimore, more than 300 people were killed, almost all of them black, as were the killers. John Hudgins, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun, writes that:
“This is a devastating plague acutely affecting black communities across the country. We must realize that some black people are a much greater threat to other black people than the Ku Klux Klan or the White Citizens Councils. The number of blacks gunned down in the streets by other blacks parallels our memories of the many blacks lynched in communities across the U.S. after Reconstruction. This is a devastating plague acutely affecting black communities across the country.”
According to Princeton sociologist Patrick Sharkey, the best scientific evidence available shows that police are effective in reducing violence. Those who argue that police have no role in maintaining safe streets are arguing against strong evidence, Sharkey points out. One of the findings in criminology is that putting more officers on the street leads to less violent crime.
After the unrest around the deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, police officers stepped back from their duty to protect and serve; arrests of all kinds of low-level offenses dropped, and violence rose. Criminologists Juston Nix and Scott Wolfe, writing in The Washington Post, note that:
“We have enough research evidence to be concerned about the immediate impact of drastic budget cuts or wholesale disbanding of police agencies. Crime and victimization will increase.”
They state that if this were to happen:
“More people will arm themselves . . . the increased crime will disproportionately harm minority communities. Cities that have more police officers per capita tend to have lower crime rates.”
They argue for community-oriented policing which has been shown to reduce crime and improve communitywide satisfaction.
The reason we need police — or government itself — is because of the essence of human nature. John Adams declared that, “Whoever would found a state and make proper laws for the government of it must presume that all men are bad by nature.” In The Federalist Papers, James Madison wrote:
“What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal restraints on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and then in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
If men were angels, those who call for defunding or abolishing the police might have a strong case. Since men and women are imperfect by nature, it is essential that we live in a society in which all are protected. The latest polls show that two-thirds of Americans oppose the campaign to defund the police. They understand that real reform of the police is necessary and it is to reform that we should turn our attention. *
Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
American History Is Complex: Its Critics Are Ignoring Its Extraordinary Achievements
American history is now under attack. Statues are being torn down, not only of Confederate generals, but also of the abolitionist John Brown, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, the commander of the Union Army Ulysses S. Grant and a host of others. There is now talk of removing statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. America, we are told, was conceived in the “original sin” of slavery.
Slavery, of course, was a great sin. But it was hardly an American creation. It existed in Ancient Greece and Rome, in Africa, the Middle East, and throughout Europe. In 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was written, slavery was legal every place in the world. Many of the Founding Fathers recognized it as an evil and sought to eliminate it at the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
Men and nations are imperfect. If they are to be rejected because of their imperfections, all would be found wanting. Men are not perfect beings. In the Bible we are told that all men are sinners. We celebrate individuals for their achievements, not because they are without faults and shortcomings. If that were our standard, there would be no statues at all except, as one religious leader said, to Jesus Christ himself. Even with Jesus, some activists want his statue removed because he is sometimes portrayed with blond hair and blue eyes.
Those who are so eager to destroy our history do not seem to realize that history is as complex as the men and women who make it. Despite their failings, the Founding Fathers moved America ahead of the rest of world in freedom in the 18th century. Consider religious freedom. Throughout Europe, Catholics suffered persecution in Protestant countries, as did Protestants in Catholic countries. Jews were limited in their rights virtually everywhere. But in America, there was separation of church and state and religious freedom for all. As George Washington wrote to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, in America we give “to bigotry no sanction.”
What is interesting about the Founding Fathers is the fact that many of them wanted to eliminate slavery at the very beginning. In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, one of the principal charges made by Thomas Jefferson against King George III and his predecessors was that they would not allow the American colonies to outlaw the importation of slaves.
When Jefferson was first elected to the Virginia legislature at the age of 25, his first political act was to begin the elimination of slavery. Though unsuccessful, he tried to further encourage the emancipation process by writing into the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” In his draft of a constitution for Virginia, he provided that all slaves would be emancipated in that state by 1800, and that any child born in Virginia after 1801 would be born free. This, however, was not adopted.
Jefferson resumed his attack on King George III in his draft of the Declaration of Independence:
“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, to incur miserable deaths in their transportation hither.”
This formulation was rejected at the instigation of Georgia and South Carolina.
In his autobiography, Jefferson declared, “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of life than that these people are to be free.” In 1784, when an effort was unsuccessfully made to exclude slavery from the Northwest Territory, Jefferson was one of its leading supporters. Finally, with the passage of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, slavery was indeed excluded from these territories — a further step along the path to the final elimination of slavery, and a clear indication of the view of slavery which predominated among the Framers of the Constitution.
In Notes on The State of Virginia, Jefferson wrote:
“The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submission on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it, for man is an imitative animal.”
While many criticized the Founders for not eliminating the slave trade immediately, others understood that they had set in motion an opposition to slavery that would bear fruit in the future. James Wilson of Pennsylvania, for example, declared:
“I am sorry that it could be extended no farther, but so far as it operates, it presents us with the pleasing prospect that the rights of mankind will be acknowledged and established throughout the Union. If there were no other lovely feature in the Constitution than this one, it would diffuse a beauty over its whole countenance. Yet the lapse of a few years, and Congress will have power to exterminate slavery from within our borders.”
Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut declared:
“Slavery, in time, will not be a speck in our country. Provision is already made in Connecticut for abolishing it. And the abolition has already taken place in Massachusetts.”
James Madison pointed out that:
“The Southern states would not have entered into the Union without the temporary permission of that trade; and if they were excluded from the Union, the consequences might be dreadful to them and to us. . . . Great as the evil is, a dismemberment of the Union would be worse. If those states were to disunite from the other states for indulging them in the temporary continuance of this traffic, they might solicit and obtain aid from foreign powers.”
Alexander Hamilton, on March 13, 1786, joined in sending a petition to the New York legislature urging the end of the slave trade “as a commerce so repugnant to humanity and so inconsistent with the liberality and justice which distinguish a free and enlightened people.” Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania said that if South Carolina and Georgia refused to ratify the Constitution unless it contained full protection of the slave interest, then the other states should form a union without them. He said of slavery, “It is a nefarious Institution. It is the curse of heaven on the states where it prevails.”
Those who criticize the Framers of the Constitution today forget that prior to the late 18th century, opposition to the idea of slavery was almost nonexistent. Yet in the American colonies, there were vigorous anti-slavery societies and in Philadelphia in 1787, the most prominent of the Framers wanted to eliminate slavery from the outset. They decided, however, that creating the Union had to take precedence and argued that the question of slavery would have to be finally determined at a later time.
When the Constitution was written, the Framers could look everywhere in the world for an example of a free society with limited government and freedom of religion and free speech — and find none to follow. No existing government in 1787 was designed to provide its people with freedom, nor had any in past history. The Framers set out to create something that had never been created before — an inherently perilous undertaking. That they succeeded is a remarkable achievement.
As the Framers were imperfect men, the Constitution was also imperfect, particularly when it came to slavery. But the Framers knew that changes would be needed. They provided a process to amend the Constitution and a Supreme Court to review the legislative decisions of Congress. This has been used to eliminate slavery and, later, segregation. It has provided for equal rights for women and for men and women no matter what their sexual orientation. Clearly, our current society needs further change and reform. We have the means to provide it.
When our country was formed, it was the freest country in the world at that time. Our teaching of history has declined to such a degree that many Americans do not understand that this is true. Professor Samuel Huntington points to the truly historic meaning of the Constitution:
“. . . this is a new event in the history of mankind. Heretofore most governments have been formed by tyrants, and imposed on mankind by force. Never before did a people, in time of peace and tranquility, meet together by their representatives and, with calm deliberation, frame for themselves a system of government.”
American history is complex, but those who are now engaged in denigrating it seem to know little about its uniqueness. It has survived for more than 200 years and is the oldest existing form of government. It has enabled Americans to live in freedom and has attracted to our shores men and women of every race and religion and ethnic group who sought liberty. This is the extraordinary achievement of the Founding Fathers. It is sad that so many Americans do not know this history and appreciate its uniqueness.
Slavery Was a Great Evil — But It’s Important to Get the History Right
Slavery, clearly, is one of mankind’s great evils. It is important for all of us to understand its history. Surprisingly, speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate on May 12, Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va) declared that the United States “created” slavery and “didn’t inherit slavery from anybody.” Though Senator Kaine seems not to know it, the real story is much more complicated.
In fact, from the beginning of recorded history until the 19th century, slavery was the way of the world. Rather than some American uniqueness in practicing slavery, the fact is that when the U.S. Constitution was written in 1787, slavery was legal everyplace in the world. What was unique was that in the American colonies there was strenuous objection to slavery and the most prominent Framers of the Constitution wanted to eliminate it at the very start of the nation.
The history of slavery seems to be unknown to Senator Kaine, and many others. Slavery has existed since the beginning of recorded history. It played an important part in many ancient civilizations. Indeed, most people in the ancient world regarded slavery as a natural condition of life, one that could befall anyone at any time. It has existed almost universally through history among people of every level of material culture. The legal codes of Sumer provide documentary evidence that slavery existed there as early as the fourth millennium B.C. The Sumerian symbol for slave in cuneiform writing suggests “foreign.”
The poems of Homer supply evidence that slavery was an integral part of Ancient Greek society, possibly as early as 1200 B.C. Plato opposed enslavement of Greeks by Greeks, regarding bondservants as essentially inferior beings. His pupil Aristotle considered slaves as mere tools, lucky to have the guidance of their masters.
At the time of Pericles, Athens had 43,000 citizens, who alone were entitled to vote and discharge political functions, 28,500 metics, or resident aliens, and 115,000 slaves. A century and a half later, Demetrius of Phalerum took a census of the city and counted only 21,000 citizens, 10,000 metics and 400,000 slaves.
Aristotle argued that there were natural and artificial slaves and that it was necessary to keep the former in a state of bondage. He believed that servitude was beneficial to the natural slave because the man who was merely an instrument needed a directing brain. In Plato’s Republic, which depicted his ideal society, the population was distributed on the basis of ability among four classes: the guardians, who ruled the city; the warriors, who defended it; the merchants and artisans, who provided it with goods and services; and the slaves, who did the unskilled menial work.
None of the Greek schools of philosophy called for the emancipation of slaves. Perhaps the closest approach to the abolitionist position was that of such neo-Stoics as Dio Chrysostom and Seneca, who urged humane treatment of bondsmen. Stoicism regarded slavery as a mere accident of existence and argued that any man could free himself from slavery by committing suicide. The aim of life, the Stoics believed, was not external but internal freedom.
The respected British historian of classical slavery, Moses I. Finley, writes that, “The cities in which individual freedom reached its highest expression — most obviously Athens — were cities in which chattel slavery flourished.” At the time of its cultural peak, Athens may have had 115,000 slaves to 43,000 citizens. The same is true of Ancient Rome. Plutarch notes that on a single day in the year 107 B.C., 150,000 slaves were sold in a single market.
Race was not necessarily an element in slavery, even when different peoples were involved. The Romans enslaved other white people, and black Africans enslaved other black people. Racial differences became closely connected with slavery only when European colonial powers were expanding into world areas whose inhabitants were from a different race than the dominating group. Beyond this, our Judeo-Christian culture also accepted the legitimacy of slavery.
The Old Testament regulates the relationship between master and slave in great detail. In Leviticus (xxv: 39-55), God instructs the Children of Israel to enslave the heathen and their progeny forever, but to employ poor Jews as servants only and to free them with their children on the year of Jubilee. By classical standards, the treatment of slaves called for in the Bible was humane. No bondman could be made to work on the Sabbath. Slaves could be beaten but if the slave died on the spot “the master must be punished” (Deuteronomy v: 14). But he shall not be punished if the slave survives for one day or two, “because he is worth money to his master.” It was assumed that the death was accidental, for no prudent man would destroy his own property. Mosaic law provided that if a master blinded his slave or knocked out one of his teeth the slave was to go free.
There is no departure from this approach to slavery in the New Testament. St. Paul urges slaves to obey their masters with full hearts and without equivocation. “Slaves give your entire obedience to your earthly masters.” He wrote from prison:
“. . . not merely with an outward show of service, to curry favor with men, but with single mindedness, out of reverence for the Lord. Whatever you are doing, put your whole heart into it, as if you were doing it for the Lord and not for men, knowing that there is a Master who will give you and your heritage as a reward knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.”
St. Peter goes beyond this and orders slaves to obey even unjust orders, declaring that there is greater merit in submitting to punishment when one is innocent than when one is guilty of an offense.
Slavery was a continuous reality in Western life throughout the entire history that preceded the establishment of the United States. In England, 10 percent of the persons enumerated in the Domesday Book (A.D. 1086) were slaves, and these could be put to death with impunity by their owners. During the Viking age, Norse merchant sailors sold Russian slaves in Constantinople. Venice grew to prosperity and power partly as a slave-trading republic, which took its human cargo from the Byzantine Empire and sold some of the females for the harems of the Moslem world. The Italians organized joint stock companies and a highly organized slave trade. In the colony of Cyprus, they established plantations where imported bondsmen were employed in the cultivation of sugar cane. By 1300, there were black slaves in Cyprus.
Portugal imported large numbers of black slaves to work in the southern provinces and do menial labor in the cities from 1444 on. By the middle of the 16th century, Lisbon had more blacks than whites. In 1515, the Portuguese king ordered that they be denied Christian burial and thrown into a “common ditch,” called the “Poco for Negroes.”
Throughout the Middle Ages, black Africans practiced slavery as a form of prestige and as a source of income. They sold slaves to other Africans and to Moslem traders, who also bought slaves in Europe and Asia. The beginning of European colonial expansion in the 15th century brought a vast increase in slavery. Colonists in the New World enslaved Indians to work their lands and mines, and when the Indians were exhausted the colonists turned to black Africans.
When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, not a single nation had made slavery illegal. As they looked back through history, the Framers saw slavery as an accepted institution. It was not until 1792 that Denmark became the first Western nation to abolish the slave trade. In 1807, the British Parliament outlawed the slave trade. Slavery was abolished in British colonies between 1834 and 1840. France freed the slaves in its colonies in 1848. Brazil abolished slavery in 1888.
What is historically unique is not that slavery was the accepted way of the world in 1787, but that so many of the leading men of the colonies of that day wanted to end it and pressed vigorously to do so. George Mason of Virginia, for example, made an eloquent plea to end the slave trade at the Constitutional Convention. He declared, “This infernal traffic originated in the avarice of British merchants.”
What was Senator Kaine thinking when he said that America “created” slavery? Any history book will show him that the truth is quite different. America participated in the evil of slavery, but so did the rest of the world. Man’s inhumanity to man has known no bounds. Hopefully, the future will learn lessons from the past, but history’s lessons cannot be learned if we are not honest about that history.
Police Reform Should Be A Compelling Issue for Both Conservatives and Liberals
The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer who had a long list of complaints against him for prior bad behavior, preceded by a steady stream of killings of unarmed black men and women in various parts of the country, has properly focused attention on the need for reform of our police departments. This is something that both conservatives and liberals should find compelling. Conservatives, in particular, frequently express concern about the abuse of government power. What is a greater abuse of power than for police officers, representatives of government, to take innocent lives? In Louisville, in possession of a no-knock warrant, police broke down the door of Breonna Taylor’s apartment and killed her. She had not been charged with any crime.
Police in the U.S., it is pointed out, rely much more on the use of guns and violent force than do other Western nations. The average police officer in Norway, New Zealand, Iceland, Britain, Ireland and some other European countries is not armed. Overall, the absence of firearms appears to lessen the level of tension between officers and civilians. Professor Paul Hirschfield of Rutgers University notes that while police can be armed in most European countries, they have nowhere near the level of police killings. Hirschfield, who studies why American police officers kill more people than their European counterparts, found that police shootings in the U.S. in 2014 were 18 times more lethal than in Denmark and 100 times more deadly than in Finland.
The legal framework in the U.S. is different from that in Europe. The European Convention on Human Rights allows police to use deadly force that is “absolutely necessary.” In contrast, police in the U.S. are permitted to do so if they have “a reasonable belief” that their lives are in danger. Rules differ in different European countries. In Spain, for example, police officers must first fire a warning shot and shoot at a non-vital part of the body before they shoot to kill.
All of the available evidence indicates that black men and women are the victims of police misconduct far more frequently than other Americans. During traffic stops producing no arrests in a 13-month period in 2013-14, police in Oakland, California, handcuffed 1,466 African Americans but only 72 whites, according to Stanford University psychologists. While 72 percent of the officers had handcuffed a black who wasn’t arrested, 74 percent had never done so to a white. Handcuffing blacks was “a script for what is supposed to happen,” the study concluded.
A 2019 study of 100 million traffic stops nationwide found blacks more likely than whites to be stopped but less so after dark when officers couldn’t see a driver’s race. Blacks who were pulled over were more likely than whites to be searched.
We could fill pages with studies that show the different treatment blacks receive from the police than races. A 2016 examination of files and mug shots determined that “the whiter one appears, the more the suspect will be protected from police force.” Off-duty black officers trying to stop crimes are more at risk of being shot by fellow officers than their white counterparts. Comprising 10 of the 14 killed between 1995 and 2010, according to a nationwide study commissioned by the New York Governor’s office, “Inherent subconscious racial bias plays a role in ‘shouldn’t shoot’ decisions made by officers of all races and ethnicities,” the study declared.
No matter how high their status in society may be, black men and women remain the subject of police attention. Consider Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who went to the Senate floor recently and described being repeatedly stopped by police officers over the course of his life — including seven times in one year — “the vast majority of the time for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reason just as trivial.”
Senator Scott, who is now working on legislation for police reform, says:
“. . . while I thank God I have not endured bodily harm, I have felt the pressure applied by the scales of justice when they are slanted. I have felt the anger, the frustration, the humiliation which comes with feeling that you are being targeted for nothing more than being just yourself.”
While radicals speak of “defunding the police,” or of eliminating police departments entirely — a position that sounds very much like anarchy — there are indeed many reforms that would make our police departments more fair. One of these I would change is “qualified immunity,” the legal doctrine that shields officers from lawsuits, by lowering the bar for plaintiffs to sue officers for alleged civil rights violations. Another section of a law now being considered in Congress would change federal law so that victims of excessive force or other violations need only show that officers “recklessly” deprived them of their rights. The current statute requires victims to show that officers’ actions were “willful.” The bill also seeks to ban chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants in drug cases at the federal level. To keep “problematic” officers from bouncing from one law enforcement agency to another, this legislation would create a “national police misconduct registry” to compile complaints and discipline records.
The police play an essential role in society. Human nature being what it is, it is a legitimate function of government — perhaps its most legitimate — to protect all citizens from those who would attack their lives or property. But the police themselves must act within the rule of law, and, unfortunately, some do not. The reforms now being considered would be an important step in the right direction.
My own attitude toward the police has been informed by the experience of my son Burke, who was a police officer for six years. Through him, I met many police officers, black and white. They faced danger each time they put on their uniforms. I was always relieved when Burke returned home from his shift. For citizens, it is comforting to know that dialing 911 will bring rapid assistance. To think society could function without the police is an illusion.
Wanting to make the police more accountable is necessary, as serious shortcomings have been revealed. Many advocate community policing, in which police officers become real parts of the community. My son was involved in the production of the widely praised documentary film “Charm City,” about police-community relations in Baltimore. It is his view that police should use non-lethal, stun gun-like devices far more often than guns. We should use this moment for serious change, which should be embraced by Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. The safety and stability of our society depends upon it.
Thomas Sowell at 90: A Prophet in His Own Time
In the midst of this time of racial strife and turmoil, Thomas Sowell, the respected black economist who has perhaps written the most thoughtful analyses of our racial history — and of relations between different racial and ethnic groups around the world — reaches the age of 90.
It has been my good fortune to know Thomas Sowell for many years. I have fond memories of a night when my good friend and colleague Jay Parker, an early leader of black conservatives, and I were returning from a trip to Japan. We spent a night in San Francisco and called Thomas Sowell. He came to our hotel and drove us to Stanford University, where he was a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He gave us a tour of his office and we then went to dinner. I put a tape recorder on the table and, during several hours, conducted a lengthy interview. It later appeared in Human Events, taking up four pages.
Sowell was born in the segregated South and grew up in Harlem. His childhood encounters with white people were so limited, he has written, that he did not know blond was a hair color. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and graduated from Harvard University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He has written more than 30 books and is the recipient of a National Humanities Medal for innovative scholarship. In his autobiography, A Personal Odyssey, he writes that for most of the time he was earning his degrees, he considered himself a Marxist. However, studying the effects of a variety of government interventions in the marketplace led him to conclude that free competitive markets were the best path for betterment and prosperity, especially for the least well-off in society.
When it comes to slavery, Sowell argued that it can hardly be considered a uniquely American evil, or “original sin.” He notes that from the beginning of recorded history until the 19th century, slavery was the way of the world. Slavery played an important part in ancient civilizations. It has existed almost universally through history — among nomadic pastoralists in Asia, hunting societies of North American Indians, and sea people such as the Norsemen. The legal codes of Sumer provide documentary evidence that slavery existed there as early as the fourth millennium B.C. The poems of Homer supply evidence that slavery was an integral part of Ancient Greek society, possibly as early as 1200 B.C. Our Judeo-Christian tradition was also one that accepted the legitimacy of slavery. In a number of places in the Bible, St. Paul urges slaves to obey their masters “with full hearts and without equivocation.”
When the U.S. Constitution was written in 1787, slavery was legal every place in the world. What was unique, in Sowell’s view, was that there was a strenuous effort to end slavery and that the most prominent framers of the Constitution wanted to eliminate it at the very start of the nation. Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton were ardent abolitionists. John Jay, who would become the first Chief Justice, was president of the New York Anti-Slavery Society.
In fact, one of the great debates at the Constitutional Convention related to the African slave trade. George Mason of Virginia made an eloquent plea for making it illegal:
“This infernal traffic originated in the avarice of British merchants. The British government constantly checked the attempt of Virginia to put a stop to it. . . . every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a country.”
In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, one of the principal charges made by Thomas Jefferson against King George III and his predecessors was that they would not allow the American colonies to outlaw the importation of slaves. Finally, the Civil War resolved this question.
If we were to add together most of what has been written about the racial question, a thoughtful observer would be hard-pressed to find a more eloquent and honest presentation than that provided by Sowell in his book Race and Economics (1975). He writes that, “Race makes a difference in economic transactions, as in all other areas of life.” But he denies that the black experience in America is radically different from that of the Irish, Italians, Germans, Russian Jews, and Japanese. He believes that those who date the black arrival in the U.S. to the colonial period and then advance the view that later groups have advanced beyond them — race having been the factor that held them back — are mistaken.
The key dates, in Sowell’s view, “. . . are not the time of arrival in America, but (1) the time of being freed from slavery, and (2) the time of movement from the rural South into a modern, industrial and commercial economy.” Blacks had to “undergo two major transformations within two or three generations.” They had first to adjust to freedom and individual responsibility for feeding, clothing, and housing themselves. This had to be done in an economy and society devastated by war. The second hurdle was adaptation to urban living — an experience that “had proved shattering to European immigrants from similar rural backgrounds before them.” Most of today’s black urban population has been in the city for only several generations, and many of the poorest and most problem-ridden less than that.
The experience of the Irish immigrants of the 19th century and the black urban dweller of the 20th is, Sowell points out, very similar. In 1888, William Dean Howells noted that: “The settlement of an Irish family in one of our suburban neighborhoods strikes a mortal pang in the old residents.” Henry George applied the phrase “human garbage” to the immigrants of the 1880s, and H. G. Wells, at the turn of the century, doubted if immigrants in the American slums could ever be usefully absorbed into society.
Of the 19th century immigrant groups, the Russian and East European Jews advanced most quickly. The reason dated back to their distant past, as did the corresponding failure to advance more rapidly of the Irish, Italians, Poles and blacks. Sowell writes:
“In one important respect, medieval Jews were very fortunate in the particular form of occupational discrimination practiced against them. They were forbidden to engage in those occupations that were central to feudalism — those involving the land — and were therefore forced into urban, commercial, and financial occupations, which of course would later turn out to be central to the modern capitalist economy. While the intention behind such prohibitions were repressive, the consequence was that Jews were rather better prepared for the modern world.”
The most successful non-white immigrant group was the Japanese. They met discrimination, were unable to own land in many places, and, during the Second World War II, were interned. Yet, their economic advance continued. Neither they nor the Jews demanded government aid or assistance — or civil rights legislation. They simply educated themselves, acquired the skills necessary to succeed, and made dramatic economic progress.
It is Sowell’s conclusion that, “political power is not necessary for economic advance.” The Irish were the most politically successful minority. Yet, the bulk of them were still predominantly in unskilled and manual occupations in the last decade of the 19th century. Sowell adds that emphasis on promoting economic advancement has produced “far more progress than attempts to redress past wrongs, even where these historic wrongs have been obvious, massive and indisputable.”
Sowell asserts that liberal programs — minimum wage laws, rent control, school busing — do not assist black Americans to advance economically. Welfare, in particular, has made many of them wards of the state and has deadened the incentive needed to progress. He also argues that most negative situations faced by blacks today were faced at an earlier time by other immigrant groups. The answer to progress for black Americans, he believes, is to consider the qualities upon which other groups’ successes were based.
In Discrimination and Disparities, Sowell concludes:
“Nothing that we do today can undo the many evils and catastrophes of the past, but we can at least learn from them, and not repeat the mistakes of the past, many of which began with lofty-sounding goals. . . . Apologies in America today for slavery in the past have no meaning, much less do any good for either blacks or whites today. What can it mean for A to apologize for what B did, even among contemporaries, much less across the vast chasm between the living and the dead? The only times over which we have any degree of influence at all are the present and the future — both of which can be made worse by attempts at symbolic restitution among the living for what happened among the dead, who are far beyond our power to help or punish or avenge. . . . Galling as these restrictive facts may be, that does not stop them from being facts beyond our control. Pretending to have powers that we do not in fact have risks creating endless evils in the present, while claiming to deal with the evils of the past. . . . To admit that we can do nothing about what happened among the dead is not to give up the struggle for a better world, but to concentrate our efforts where they have at least some hope for making things better for the living.”
In a very thoughtful article commemorating Thomas Sowell’s 90th birthday, Professor Richard B. Ebeling of The Citadel writes:
“Now, at the age of 90, Thomas Sowell continues to offer us understanding and insight into the attitudes and institutions that can bring all people greater peace and prosperity, as well as human liberty. This includes an appreciation of how problems of race and race relations can have their improvement in a setting of the individualist ideas upon which the United States was founded, but which have not always been fully practiced and from which the country is dangerously drifting even farther away.”
Thomas Sowell has always believed in a genuinely colorblind society. As he celebrates his 90th birthday our society, sadly, still has not confronted all of its lingering racial problems. We have made extraordinary progress since Sowell was born in the segregated South. Who would have imagined at that time that we would live to see a black president, two black Secretaries of State, black Supreme Court justices, and African Americans excelling in every area in society? Still, serious problems remain, as the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and untold examples of police brutality indicate. Yet, many of our troubled cities now have black mayors and police chiefs who are dealing with these problems. Throughout his life, Thomas Sowell has helped American society understand its racial dilemmas and put them in a proper historical perspective. American society has been enriched by his presence. Happy birthday, Thomas Sowell! *
Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Identity Politics vs. the Older Goal of a Color-Blind Society
There was a time not too long ago when men and women of good will, both liberals and conservatives, sought to create a genuinely color-blind society. The goal, as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, was to judge individuals on the “content of their character,” not the “color of their skin.”
Now, on the left, we have seen the emergence of four freshman congresswomen, who seem to be embracing a contrary philosophy. One of them, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) recently declared that:
“We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be brown voices. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be black voices.”
In response to Rep. Pressley and her colleagues, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), a native of Somalia, President Trump responded that if they were unhappy in America they could go back where they came from, although three of them were born in the U.S. When a crowd at a Trump rally in North Carolina chanted “Send her back,” about Rep. Omar, many saw a different version of identity politics at play. In this case, many argued, it was white identity politics.
Race-based identity politics can be seen in many sectors of our society. The National Association of Scholars has released a study indicating that “at least 75 American colleges have blacks-only graduation ceremonies, and 43 percent of surveyed colleges offer segregated residential halls. The organization refers to this as “ neo-segregation.”
Harvard’s separate commencement for African-Americans first made national news in 2017. The New York Times headline read, “Colleges Celebrate Diversity With Separate Commencements.” Ward Connery, President of the American Civil Rights Institute, and a black critic of such race-based programs, says that separate commencement ceremonies “serve only to amplify racial differences. College is the place where we should be teaching and preaching the view that you’re an individual, and choose your associates based on factors other than skin-color.” Connerly is a former regent of the University of California system of colleges and universities.
The leaders of the civil rights movement, who worked to achieve a genuinely color-blind society, would have been disappointed to see the emergence of identity politics in today’s American society. Thurgood Marshall, who would later become our first black Supreme Court justice, arguing for the NAACP in the case of Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma (1948) declared that, “Classifications and distinctions based on race and color have no moral or legal validity in our society.”
Our racial history, of course, is complex. Black Americans, although they suffered the indignity of slavery and, after slavery came to an end, the legal barriers of segregation, have been committed patriots. Professor Benjamin Quarles, a distinguished black historian, in his book The Negro in the Making of America, points out that from the beginning, black Americans made one important decision: they would remain in America. From the time of the Revolutionary War, blacks had been advised — by many spokesmen, black as well as white — to return to Africa. Instead, the decision to remain in America and be free was pervasive.
At a black church meeting in Rochester, New York in 1853, chaired by the noted orator Frederick Douglass, a statement was adopted which declared: “We ask that in our native land we shall not be treated as strangers.” The delegates officially rejected any move to abandon the United States and supported, instead, a proposal to establish a manual labor school that would teach the skilled trades.
Professor Quarles notes that for most black Americans
“. . . the vision of the Founders of this republic . . . is still a vital force. American to the core, they believe that freedom and equality for all could be achieved in their native land . . . the belief has been one of their significant contributions in the making of America. . . . He (the black American) has been the watchman on the wall. More fully than other Americans, he knew that freedom was hard-won and could be preserved only by continuous effort. The faith and works of the Negro over the years has made it possible for the American creed to retain so much of its appeal, so much of its moving power.”
Identity politics violates every principle of American history, whether in the variety promoted by radicals in the minority community, or the white variety manifested in the cheering crowd in North Carolina. It is time that we return to the goal of a colorblind society, in which men and women are treated as unique individuals — not representatives of one tribal group or another. Any other path leads to a society that doesn’t work — glimpses of which are now on the horizon.
The Continuing Assault Upon American History: A Self-Righteous Display of Narrowness of Vision
In recent days, we have seen an escalation in the assault upon American history. The sports-ware company Nike pulled sneakers displaying the 13-star Betsy Ross flag after former NFL football player Colin Kaepernick, who has a deal with the company, objected because the flag is sometimes displayed by far-right groups. At almost the same time, the city of Charlottesville, Virginia decided that it would no longer celebrate the birthday of Thomas Jefferson — and the city of San Francisco announced that it would spend $600,000 to paint over a mural depicting the life of George Washington.
In the case of the Betsy Ross flag, there is no connection in any way with slavery, Mark Pitcavage, a senior fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said: “We view it as essentially an innocuous historical flag. It’s not a thing in the white supremacist movement.” Lisa Moulder, Director of the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia, says of the flag that, “I’ve always seen it as a representation of early America, a society that was not perfect and is not perfect today.”
In San Francisco, there are plans to paint over a mural painted 83 years ago as part of a New Deal program, which portrays the life of George Washington, at a cost of $600,000. The painter was Victor Arnautoff, a Russian-born radical. He portrayed many aspects of Washington’s life, including the depiction of slavery at Mt. Vernon. The mural consists of 13 panels and occupies 600 square feet on a wall in George Washington High School.
Richard Walker, professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, an outspoken liberal and director of the History Project, argues that the portrait is an important part of history and should be maintained:
“We on the left ought to welcome the honest portrayal. . . . Destroying this work of art is the worst we can do in dealing with history’s evils.”
The growing attacks upon the history of our country reflect a narrowness of vision. America, after all, is a human enterprise, and all human enterprises are deeply flawed. We define things on the basis of how they differ from other things. With its many shortcomings, our country’s history stands out in positive terms. Its critics compare America to perfection — not to other very real places.
In 1987, when we celebrated the bicentennial of the Constitution, Dr. Mark Cannon, Director of the Commission on the Bicentennial, noted that:
“Nearly two-thirds of the world’s national constitutions have been adopted or revised since 1970, and only fourteen predate World War II. . . . Fifty-three point five percent of the independent states of the world have been under more than one constitution since the end of the Second World War. The average nation has had two constitutions since the Second World War. Two states, Syria and Thailand, have each had nine constitutions over the past forty years. . . . The Constitution of the United States has proven remarkably durable.”
The Constitution — and all of our history — is found wanting because of the existence of slavery. Many critics appear to hold the view that slavery was a uniquely American evil — our “original sin.” History, however, tells a far more complex story.
From the beginning of recorded history until the 19th century, slavery was the way of the world. In 1787, slavery was legal every place in the world. What was unique was that in the American colonies there was strenuous objection to slavery and the most prominent Framers of the Constitution wanted to eliminate it at the very start of the nation.
The history of slavery is a long one. In the ancient world, most people regarded slavery as a natural condition of life, one which could befall anyone at any time, it has existed almost universally through history among peoples of every level of material culture — it existed among nomadic pastoralists of Asia, among societies of North American Indians, and sea people such as the Norsemen. The legal codes of Sumer provide documentary evidence that slavery existed there as early as the 4th millennium B.C. The Sumerian symbol for slave in cuneiform writing suggests “foreign.”
When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, not a single nation had made slavery illegal. As they looked back through history, the Framers saw slavery as an acceptable and accepted institution. It was not until 1792 that Denmark became the first Western nation to abolish the slave trade. In 1807, the British Parliament passed a bill outlawing the slave trade — and slavery was abolished in British colonies between 1834 and 1848. Spain ended slavery in Puerto Rico in 1873 and in Cuba in 1886. Brazil abolished slavery in 1888.
What is historically unique is not that slavery was the accepted way of the world in 1787, but that so many of the leading men of the American colonies wanted to eliminate it — and pressed vigorously to do so.
Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton were ardent abolitionists. John Jay, who would become the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was president of the New York Anti-Slavery Society. Rufus King and Gouverneur Morris were in the forefront of the opposition to slavery and the slave trade.
One of the great debates at the Constitutional Convention related to the African slave trade. George Mason of Virginia made an eloquent plea for making it illegal. He declared:
“This infernal traffic originated in the avarice of British merchants. The British government constantly checked the attempt of Virginia to put a stop to it. . . . Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a country.”
The provision finally adopted read:
“The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding Ten dollars for each Person.”
This clause was widely viewed by opponents of slavery as an important first step on the long road to abolition. The delay of twenty years was considered the price ten of the states were willing to pay in order to assure that the original union would include the three states of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Even in these states there was sympathy for an end to slavery, but they wanted additional time to phase out their economic dependence on it.
In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, one of the principal charges made by Thomas Jefferson against King George III and his predecessors was that they would not allow the American colonies to outlaw the importation of slaves.
When Jefferson was first elected to the Virginia legislature at the age of 25, his first political act was to begin the elimination of slavery. Though unsuccessful, he tried to further encourage the emancipation process by writing into the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” In the draft of a constitution for Virginia, he provided that all slaves should be emancipated in that state by 1800, and that any child born in Virginia after 1801 would be born free. This, however, was not adopted.
The Founding Fathers were committed to building a new civilization that would become a model for the rest of mankind. Even before the Declaration of Independence, John Adams saw the human hope that was flowering in America, and wrote:
“I always considered the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, of the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the immigrant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the world.”
Similarly, James Madison declared, “Happily for Americans, happily we trust for the whole human race, they (the Founders) pursued a new and more Noble course.”
To judge the Founders of America in 1787 by the values of 2019 is to engage in the sin of contemporaneity. It is self-righteous in the extreme to find our ancestors wanting, despite their extraordinary achievements. They created a Constitution and a government that have endured until today. They gave it the flexibility to expand the freedoms inherent in its written words. When religious persecution plagued the world, they established freedom of religion and separation of church and state. They limited government power.
Those who would topple statues and paint over murals because those who created our country were not perfect are guilty of a narrowness of vision. Those who have come before us were imperfect human beings, as are we. We celebrate them for their achievements — in spite of their faults and shortcomings. In totalitarian societies, we have seen groups like the Nazis, the Red Guard, and the Taliban burn books, topple statues, and destroy paintings. We should not permit those in our own society, a small but vocal group, to succeed in imitating such destructive behavior.
July 4: A Time not Only to Celebrate, but to Reflect on the Fragility of Free Societies
July 4 is a worthy occasion for celebration. The government established by the Founding Fathers has maintained the free society they created. The Constitution reflected their political philosophy — a fear of excessive government power and the need to limit it through a division of powers and a series of checks and balances. While we view America as a young country, the form of government they established is now the world’s oldest.
While celebration is important, so is serious reflection on the fragility of free societies throughout history. The Founding Fathers hoped that the system of government they established in 1789 would survive into the future. But many were fearful that it might not. When Benjamin Franklin was asked what sort of government had been created, he replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
For too long we have believed that freedom would be taken from us by demagogues at home or tyrants abroad. These dangers do, of course, exist. The more pressing problem, however, may be the willingness of the majority of citizens to give their freedom away for something they want even more.
In his book On Power, the French political philosopher Bertrand de Jouvenel points out that we frequently say, “Liberty is the most precious of all goods,” without noticing what this concept implies. He writes:
“A good thing which is of great price is not one of the primary necessities. Water costs nothing at all, and bread very little. What costs much is something like a Rembrandt, which though the price is above rubies, is wanted by very few people and by none who have not, as it happens, a sufficiency of bread and water. Precious things, therefore, are really desired by but few human beings, and not even by them until their primary needs have been amply provided. It is from this point of view that liberty needs to be looked at — the will to be free is in time of danger extinguished and revives again when once the need of security has received satisfaction. Liberty is in fact only a secondary need; the primary need is security.”
From the beginning of history, the great philosophers predicted that democratic government would produce this result. Plato, Aristotle and, more recently, de Tocqueville, Lord Bryce and Macaulay predicted that people would give away their freedom voluntarily for what they perceived as greater security. De Jouvenel concludes:
“The state, when once it is made the giver of protection and security, has but to urge the necessities of its protectorate and overlordship to justify its encroachments.”
In a similar vein, Thomas Babington Macaulay, writing to Henry Randall in 1857, lamented:
“I have long been convinced that institutions purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty or civilization or both. In Europe, where the population is dense, the effect of such institutions would be almost instantaneous. . . . Either the poor would plunder the rich, and civilization would perish, or order and prosperity would be saved by a strong military government and liberty would perish.”
Macaulay, looking to America, declared that:
“Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reigns of government with a strong hand, or your republic will be so fearfully plundered and laid waste by barbarians . . . as the Roman Empire was . . . with this difference — that your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your own country by your institutions.”
More than 200 years ago, the British historian Alexander Tytler wrote that:
“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that democracy collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by a dictatorship.”
Such prophecies did not foresee other challenges to democratic government — such as the influence of money in politics.
Candidates for public office spend much of their time raising money from special interest groups. In return, they reward these groups when they are elected. Wall Street is a major contributor to political campaigns. When our financial institutions failed, the members of Congress bailed them out with taxpayer money. Washington is home to an army of lobbyists who seek subsidies of various kinds. This is the “swamp” we so often hear discussed. It thrives whichever party is in power. It is alive and well today.
The Founding Fathers created a form of free and limited government which, so far, has survived — defying the predictions of its demise. But the system they created has been altered and constitutional government has been challenged in recent years by both parties.
The Framers of the Constitution gave the power to go to war to the Congress, fearing an all-powerful executive. Yet, since the end of World War II, we have gone to war in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere without a congressional declaration. The executive — whether Democratic or Republican — has expanded his power, and Congress has abdicated its authority. Now, as we hear talk of war with Iran, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are speaking of restoring the role given to them by the Constitution. Yet, late in June, the Senate voted down a proposal that would have required the president to get congressional approval before any attack on Iran. Republicans such as Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) supported this legislation, but a majority of Republicans turned their backs on the Constitution’s mandate for the role of Congress in going to war. The legislation actually received a 50-40 majority vote — but fell short of the 60 votes needed. The Founding Fathers would have been disappointed. But they would not have been surprised. From the very beginning, they feared that limits on executive power would be breached.
I have personally witnessed a dramatic decline in our political life. Many years ago, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I worked for members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives as a legislative aide. In one position, I served as assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference. Those leading this group included two future presidents — George H. W. Bush and Gerald Ford.
We met each week to discuss our legislative plans. I do not remember any denunciations of the Democrats — let alone the kind of name-calling we hear today. It was not just a matter of civility, which both parties respected. Our goal was to convince the Democrats of the merits of the proposals we were presenting and show them that they served the best interests of the country. We regularly formed coalitions with members of the other party. No one viewed them as “enemies.” Our two party system can’t work otherwise. Today, it isn’t working. During the years of the Cold War, when I worked in Congress, we all — Republicans and Democrats — knew who our enemies were. Now some in our political life identify our fellow Americans in this way.
Commemorating July 4 requires more than parades and fireworks. It is in need of serious reflection about how rare and fragile free societies are and, despite the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, there is no guarantee that it will endure into the future. Whether it does or not is entirely up to us. Preserving our free society, and not the constant jockeying for partisan advantage, is what should motivate those in public life. There was a time in our early history when it did. Sadly, that time is long gone.
The men who declared independence in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776 — risked their lives and their property to do so. They were challenging the most powerful empire in the world. The likelihood that they would suffer defeat was great. If they did, they faced execution and the loss of everything they had. Mt. Vernon and Monticello would be gone. Contrast what they were willing to sacrifice to establish a free society with what characterizes our political life today. Today, people enter public life, risk nothing, and end up with great wealth as a result. The Founding Fathers were uniquely America’s greatest generation. To honor them and the free society they established — and which still endures — is our privilege and honor. But we should do so with the understanding that our free society is now being challenged — and needs men and women of similar dedication to defend it still today. *
Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Promoting Infanticide: An Indication of Indifference to Human Life
It is hard to believe, but in our political arena at the present time there are advocates of infanticide. Even harder to understand is that these are some of the same people, self-identified as progressives, who, at the same time, quite properly, criticize other human rights abuses, such as separating parents from children at the border.
In mid-January, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Reproductive Healthcare Act, which allows abortions up to 40 weeks into a pregnancy to protect the woman’s physical or mental health. It even permits non-doctors to perform some of them. To celebrate, Gov. Cuomo ordered the building at One World Trade Center to be drenched in a strange milky pinkish glow in commemoration of the state’s new law that permits fully developed babies to be killed even on what would be their birthdays.
As Gov. Cuomo signed the bill — a death warrant for countless babies — the New York State Legislature erupted in cheers. What does it tell us when men and women are so enthusiastic about a law that permits abortion at any time, for any reason, through the ninth month of pregnancy?
Similar legislation was introduced in the Virginia legislature later in January by Delegate Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax). A video was widely circulated indicating that her bill would allow abortions up to the point of delivery in cases where the life of the mother or her health, including mental health, was at serious risk.
At the present time, late-term abortions are permitted in Virginia only when the mother’s life is at grave risk. Tran’s bill would lift some restrictions. Instead of requiring three doctors to sign off on the procedure, it would have required only one doctor. It also would remove language requiring that the danger to the mother be “substantial and irremediable.”
Asked if her bill would allow abortion even after a woman was dilating, Tran replied, “My bill would allow that, yes.” Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, himself a pediatric surgeon, appeared to support the bill. He initially misrepresented its contents, first stating that it would require more than one physician to agree, and saying it would only apply where “there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that is unviable.” When he became aware of what was actually in the bill, Northam maintained his support. In the end, a House subcommittee voted 5-3 to table the bill, with all Democrats voting against.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin called it a “sad commentary on the culture of death that continues to creep insidiously into the laws of our country.” Writing in The Washington Post, Bethany Mandel, an editor of Ricochet, notes that:
“The ‘safe, legal, and rare’ disclaimer that was once on pro-choice messaging has disappeared. There are more abortions after 20 weeks than gun homicides in the United States, and according to research from the Planned Parenthood-affiliated Guttmacher Institute, ‘data suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.’ Rolling back restrictions further on these abortions will increase these numbers.”
This issue will be with us for some time. Rhode Island and New Mexico are debating bills that would ban the government from “restricting an individual person from terminating that individual’s pregnancy after fetal viability when necessary to preserve the health or life of that individual.” In Vermont, lawmakers are advancing a bill that would enshrine the right to abortion in state law.
The practice of infanticide and child sacrifice is nothing new. It was rampant in the ancient world. With the advent of religion, this slowly declined in what we think of as the civilized world. Judaism prohibited infanticide. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that, “The Jews regard it as a crime to kill late-born children.” The ancient Jewish historian Josephus wrote that God “forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten or to destroy it afterward.” Christianity shares this view and rejects infanticide. The Teachings of the Apostles declares, “Thou shalt not kill a child by abortion neither shall you slay it when born.” Infanticide is explicitly forbidden in the Koran: “And do not kill your children for fear of poverty; we give them sustenance, and yourselves too. Surely to kill them is a grave wrong.”
This subject, unfortunately, has become a partisan political issue with hypocrisy and double standards on all sides. Many conservatives, who would make all abortion illegal, seem to be concerned with the child in question only before birth. They oppose legislation for government-subsidized day care and parental, leave — which would make it easier, particularly for single parents, to raise their children. And liberals, who use the term “right to choose,” ignoring that the choice involved is the death of a potential human being and, in the case of New York’s new law, an actual human being, indicate a strange set of priorities. They are properly concerned, for example, about the potential danger to human life from climate change, but seem able to embrace infanticide at the same time.
Abortion has been a contentious issue for many years and is likely to continue to be so. Some have compared it to the issue of slavery, which was only resolved by the Civil War. Some years ago, the Lutheran theologian Richard John Neuhaus noted that:
“We have procedures for making adjustments between different and even conflicting evaluations. A statement of moral truth is much more inconvenient to the political process. We do not have procedures for dealing with truths, for truths are presumably objective and universal and not amenable to negotiation. . . . From time to time the polity is confronted by issues which cannot conceal the questions that generated them. Slavery was such an issue. . . . The question was whether those of African descent belong to the community of persons who possess rights that we are bound to respect. The Dred Scott decision of 1857 tried to handle the issue by answering the question one way. The Civil War reversed that decision.”
Today’s question is whether the unborn or, in New York, the just-born, have rights that we are bound to respect. Rev. Neuhaus pointed out that:
“The question posed in the abortion debate are fundamental and it is therefore understandable that courts and legislatures might prefer that the issue . . . would go away.”
The issue, however, will not go away — precisely because it confronts us with the basic question of our respect for human life. Do Americans really want to embrace infanticide? The legislation adopted in New York and rejected in Virginia is a wake up call for our society. The choice before us, really, is life or death. Hopefully, we will choose life.
Identity Politics: A Threat to the Unity a Diverse Society Requires
Those of us old enough to remember segregation understand the nature of identity politics. In those days, men and women were judged on the basis of their racial identity — and on this basis some were denied the right to vote, as well as everything from the right to stay in hotels to the use of restrooms. The goal of people of good will was to bring identity politics to an end. As the Rev. Martin Luther King declared, people in a just society should be judged on the “content of their character, not the color of their skin.”
Now identity politics is back, promoted by extremists of both the left and right, seeking to divide the American people on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and sexual identity. Black Lives Matter seeks to isolate blacks as victims. On the right, extremists such as David Horowitz — a former left-wing activist who now heads the David Horowitz Freedom Center — says that, “This country’s only serious race war is against whites.” Where identity politics can lead may be seen in the hate-filled social postings of the killer who took the lives of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
In his book, The Once and Future Liberal, Columbia University professor Mark Lilla criticizes the way left-wing identity movements have embraced the “pseudo-politics of self-regard” and stressed the history “of marginal and often minuscule groups,” all of which make it more difficult to embrace policies which advance the common good and the general welfare. California Governor Jerry Brown notes that, “When you are caught in this maw of identity, feelings, and movements, it becomes very difficult to keep at the more general level that unites people.”
In his book, The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, Stanford University political scientist Francis Fukuyama calls identity politics, one of
“. . . the chief threats facing democratic societies, diverting energy and thinking away from larger problems facing our society. How can we come together to solve major problems, if we keep dividing ourselves into smaller factions? Down this road lies, ultimately, state breakdown and failure.”
In his view, citizenship must be the cornerstone of a renewed national identity, one based on constitutionalism and diversity.
The identity movement has become a dominant force on many college and university campuses. In their book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt point to a disturbing conviction that lies at the heart of campus identity politics: the notion that each racial group, gender, and sexuality, is fundamentally different, destined to coexist at best in separate spaces. The authors lament that this diverges dramatically from the idea of common humanity that informed both the civil rights movement and, later, the drive for gay equality.
In a contest for the Washington, D.C., City Council, incumbent Elissa Silverman, who is white, is being challenged by Dionne Bussey-Reeder, who is black. The newspaper, The Washington Informer, which serves the African-American community and has a circulation of 50,000, captured the dynamic with the headline “At-Large Council Race Reveals Racial Schisms” and “Prominent Black Women Back Reeder for D.C. Council.” Washington Post columnist Colbert King, who is black, laments that, “Identity politics and naked racial appeals are, like the air, out in the open and with us. They are the extra visible ingredients in this year’s . . . politics.” The same can be said about political contests in many parts of the country.
The extreme to which such identity politics and “grievance studies” has gone, particularly in the academic world, was made clear by scholars James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian. They managed to get seven hoax papers accepted for publication in academic journals. They called the experiment “Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship.” The journal Gender, Place, and Culture published their article exposing rape culture in dog parks; a feminist journal accepted their paper interwoven with excerpts from Mein Kampf. Their contribution to Cogent Social Sciences, which argued that the “conceptual penis” is “better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender per formative, highly fluid social construct,” was well received.
Those who promote the division of identity politics seem to have little understanding of the uniqueness of our history and our ability to create a nation that lacks the “identity” of a common race, religion, or ethnicity. What Americans had in common, instead, was a desire to live in a free and open society that respected their individual rights — to be as different or as similar as they chose.
Visiting New Amsterdam in 1643, French Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was surprised to discover that 18 languages were spoken in this town of 8,000 people. In his Letters from an American Farmer, J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur wrote in 1782: “Here individuals of all races are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”
During a period of turmoil and division in the 1960s, author Mario Puzo wrote:
“What has happened here has never happened in any other country in any other time. The poor who had been poor for centuries . . . whose children had inherited their poverty, their illiteracy, their hopelessness, achieved some economic dignity and freedom. You didn’t get it for nothing, you had to pay a price in tears, in suffering. Why not? And some even became artists.”
As a young man growing up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Puzo was asked by his mother, an Italian immigrant, what he wanted to be when he grew up. When he said he wanted to be a writer, she responded that, “For a thousand years in Italy, no one in our family was even able to read. But in America everything was possible — in a single generation.”
“It was hard for my mother to believe that her son could become an artist. After all, her own dream in coming to America had been to earn her daily bread, a wild dream in itself, and looking back she was dead right. Her son an artist? To this day she shakes her head. I shake mine with her.”
The U.S. has been an ethnically diverse society from the beginning. By the time of the first census in 1790, people of English origin were already a minority. Enslaved Africans and their American-born descendants made up 20 percent of the population, and there were large clusters of Scotch-Irish, German, Scottish, and Dutch settlers, and smaller numbers of Swedes, Finns, Huguenots, and Sephardic Jews.
In 1904, the British writer Israel Zangwill wrote a now famous passage — as relevant in 2019 as when written, and a prophetic commentary which those who now celebrate division into “identity” groups would do well to consider:
“America is God’s Crucible, the Great Melting Pot, where all the races of Europe are reforming. Here you stand, good folk, think I, when I see them at Ellis Island, here you stand in your 50 groups, and your 50 languages and histories, and your 50 blood-hatreds and rivalries, but you won’t long be like that, brothers, for these are the fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas. Germans and Frenchmen, Englishmen and Irishmen, Jews and Russians. Into the crucible with you all. God is making the American.”
Several years ago, I visited the U.S. Military cemetery in Nettuno, Italy, down the road from Anzio, with my son and grandson. The cemetery covers 77 acres. The total number interred there is 7,861, which represents only 35 percent of those who died in combat from the invasion of Sicily to the liberation of Rome. Reading the names of the dead tells us much about the uniqueness of the American society. All ethnic groups and nationalities are represented. Headstones of pristine marble with stylized Latin crosses mark the gravestones. Headstones of those of the Jewish faith are tapered marble shafts surmounted by a Star of David. In the 1840s, Herman Melville wrote:
“We are the heirs of all time and with all nations we divide our inheritance. If you kill an American, you shed the blood of the whole world.”
As Mark Lilla argues, “identity politics” threatens the unique American story:
“National politics in healthy periods is not about ‘difference,’ it is about commonality. And it will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny. . . . We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. It would concentrate on appealing to Americans as Americans . . . it would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another.”
Whether it is the “identity politics” of the left or what often sounds like white nationalism on the right, the American idea of diversity, inclusiveness, and individual freedom is being challenged. The American political tradition is something quite different. In his letter to the Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790, George Washington wrote:
“Happily, the government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that those who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving on all occasions their effectual support.
As if speaking to our diverse society of today, Washington concluded:
“May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make them afraid.”
This is the American tradition which all of us, liberals and conservatives, should celebrate. Those who would divide our society into warring groups are rejecting that tradition. As some have pointed out, “We came over on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
Republicans Used to Oppose Huge Budget Deficits — What Happened?
The Republican Party used to be considered the party of free trade and the party that opposed huge budget deficits. Democrats, quite to the contrary, used to be considered big spenders, completely indifferent to deficits. They were also viewed, with their colleagues in organized labor, as advocates of tariffs to protect American industries and jobs from the competition of the free market. Now, after two years of the Trump administration and its imposition of tariffs and trade wars — and our unprecedented deficits — we must reassess our view of where the two political parties really stand when it comes to economic policy.
In 2010, Republican Paul Ryan made this ominous prediction about President Barack Obama’s budget: “Unprecedented levels of spending, deficits, and debt,” he declared, “will overwhelm the budget, smother the economy, weaken America’s competitiveness in the global 21st century economy, and threaten the survival of the government’s major benefit programs.”
The deficit has once again skyrocketed, a byproduct of increased spending, large tax cuts, and the inexorable rise of Social Security and Medicare expenditures, that Congress, with Republican majorities in both houses has failed to contain. But today, no one seems to mention it. The deficit — which the Treasury Department said in October had swelled to $779 billion in the 2018 fiscal year, up from $666 billion the previous year — has largely been ignored.
With Republicans in power, it seems, budget deficits no longer concern Republicans. “The Tea Party wave of 2010 was animated by federal spending, but that has definitely subsided,” said Tim Chapman, executive director of Heritage Action for America, a conservative lobbying group that helped fuel the Tea Party movement. In Chapman’s view:
“The focus of Trump’s campaign was not on federal spending. He wanted to focus on national security, and tax cuts, and making America great again. When he said that, a lot of the Republican base went with him.”
Under President Trump, the traditional Republican agenda appears to have been replaced. Rory Cooper, who served as an aide to Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the majority leader in 2011, notes that:
“This is definitely one of the major issues that has transformed the Republican Party under Trump. Free trade, Russia, the deficit, and frankly the size and scope of government have all fallen to the wayside.”
After several years of attempts to reduce the federal deficit through tax increases and spending cuts, the nation’s debt load is now steadily climbing. Federal tax receipts rose a mere 0.4 percent over the last fiscal year, largely because of a lower corporate tax rate passed last year by Congress. Federal spending grew by 3 percent during the same period. Spending will be increased over the next decade by $300 billion.
“The evil party and the stupid party got together and called it bipartisan,” said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
“This is the beginning of a long-term avalanche caused by Social Security and Medicare costs that are only going to get worse every year. I project $2 trillion within a decade, or $3 trillion if interest rates return to 1990s levels. So, no, the tax cuts will not pay for themselves.”
Many conservatives are concerned about the Republican Party’s abandonment of fiscal responsibility. Mr. Chapman of Heritage Action declares that:
“A core part of the Republican brand has been fiscal responsibility. And it is not good for the brand when deficits continue to skyrocket under Republican control. . . . The truth is, conservatives have not sufficiently galvanized the majority of the country around the idea that debts and deficits are a major threat to our country.”
Charles Sykes, the former conservative talk show host in Wisconsin, has known House Speaker Paul Ryan for more than twenty years, and had great respect for Ryan’s commitment to limited government, free trade, and balanced budgets. He laments Ryan’s acquiescence in Trump administration policies that have been quite the opposite:
“Even by his own standards, Ryan’s tenure has been a disappointment. I lost count of how many times he came on a radio talk show I hosted in Wisconsin to discuss the looming debt crisis or the need to tackle entitlements. These were the defining issues of his career. . . . That Ryan now leaves office, with trillion-dollar deficits and entitlements untouched is one of the more disconcerting aspects of our bizarre political world.”
Sykes concludes that:
“Given Trump’s own indifference to fiscal sanity, Ryan might have had relatively few options. But the same cannot be said about his silence or capitulation. . . . What if Ryan had made the case for free markets, asserted the independence of Congress, defended the United States allies. . . . Instead, Ryan not only bit his tongue but allowed legislative trolls . . . . to become accomplices. . . . History is unlikely to be kind. Of course, Ryan’s harshest critics see all of this as inevitable. But it wasn’t. It was a choice by one of the brightest, most decent, and thoughtful political figures of our time. And it was heart breaking.”
According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, under current law, the debt would double from 78 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) now to 160 percent by 2050 and hit 360 percent of GDP by 2093. Under a different scenario, that assumes policies like the recent boosts in federal spending and tax cuts are extended, debt would break an all-time record in just over a decade.
Republicans must ask themselves whether they now want to become the party of unprecedented government deficits and abandon their advocacy of free trade. If they do, long after Donald Trump is gone, they will have a hard time explaining to voters just what it is they stand for. At the present time, this seems to be the posture most Republicans, with a few honorable dissenters, have adopted. Can this party any longer be viewed as conservative? This is a question more and more Americans will be asking. *
Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Thanksgiving: A Time for Americans to Come Together
Thanksgiving 2018 is coming along just when we need it. The divisions in our diverse society have been growing, in large part because of intemperate political rhetoric which casts those with whom we disagree on matters of public policy as “enemies.” and the growth of “identity politics,” in which we are asked to identify ourselves by race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion — not view ourselves as individual citizens of a free and democratic society.
It is time to take a moment and recall the uniqueness of the American society. From its very earliest days, ours has been a country made up of men and women of every conceivable background. In colonial America, Thomas Paine noted that:
“Is there a country in the world where concord, according to common calculation, would be least experienced, it is America. Made up, as it is, of people from different nations, accustomed to different forms and habits of government, speaking different languages, and more different in their modes of worship, it would appear that the Union of such a people was impracticable. But by the simple operation of constructing government on the principles of society and the rights of man, every difficulty retires and the parts are brought into cordial unison.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes pointed out that “We are the Romans of the modern world — the great assimilating people.” America, F. Scott Fitzgerald pointed out, was not simply another country:
“France was a land. England was a people, but America, having about it still the quality of the idea, was harder to utter — it was the graves at Shiloh, and the tired, drawn, nervous faces of its great men, and the country boys dying in the Argonne for a phrase that was empty before their bodies withered. It was a willingness of the heart.”
In recent days, some have said that diversity is an American “weakness,” not a strength. Any who hold this view simply do not understand our history. Diversity is not a novel 21st century notion. It is the reality of our society from its earliest days — long before we became an independent nation. Visiting New Amsterdam in 1643, French Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was surprised to discover that eighteen languages were being spoken in this town of 8,000 people. J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur wrote in 1782 in his Letters From an American Farmer, that, “Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”
There was never a time when the American society was not diverse. By the time of the first census in 1790, people of English origin were already a minority. Enslaved Africans and their American-born descendants, made up 20 percent of the population. There were large clusters of Scotch-Irish, German, Dutch and Scottish settlers, and smaller numbers of Swedes, Finns, Huguenots, and Sephardic Jews.
America has been a nation much loved. Germans have loved Germany, Frenchmen have loved France, Swedes have loved Sweden. This, of course, is only natural. But America has been loved not only by native Americans, but by men and women throughout the world who have yearned for freedom. In the 1840s, Herman Melville wrote that, “We are the heirs of all time and with all nations we divide our inheritance. If you kill an American, you shed the blood of the whole world.” America dreamed a bigger dream than any nation in history. The dream remains very much alive, despite the efforts of those who would diminish it. It will survive even the tortured partisanship of the present time.
At a time when intolerance is widely expressed — especially on social media that enables disgruntled and disturbed individuals to connect with one another — we see growing manifestations of hatred and violence. The murder of eleven worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh is a recent example. The alleged killer is a white nationalist, a neo-Nazi who expressed particular anger at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which helps resettle refugees from around the world. HIAS started its work in the 1880s. It says it originally helped refugees because they were Jewish. Now it helps refugees — from Iraq, Syria, Bangladesh, and elsewhere — “because we are Jewish.” If the Pittsburgh shooter, who denounced what he called an “immigrant invasion,” thinks he was upholding some sort of American tradition, he could not have been more wrong. After all, his own ancestors were immigrants — as were the ancestors of all of us — other than the descendants of those who greeted them.
The American tradition we celebrate on Thanksgiving Day is the one set forth by George Washington in his now famous letter to Jewish congregation of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790:
“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
From the beginning, America has represented hope for a better future to people throughout the world. In a letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1849, Thomas Carlyle wrote:
“How beautiful to think of lean tough Yankee settlers, tough as gutta-percha, with most occult unsubduable fire in their belly, steering over the Western Mountains to annihilate the jungle, and bring bacon and corn out of it for the Posterity of Adam. There is no Myth of Athene or Herakles to equal this fact.”
In 1866, Lord Acton, the British Liberal Party leader, said that America was becoming the “distant magnet.” Apart from the “millions who have crossed the ocean, who should reckon the millions whose hearts and hopes are in the United States, to whom the rising sun is in the West?”
We are a young country, but we are also an old one. Our Constitution is the oldest in the world, and we have continuously maintained the freedoms to which we first paid homage. There has been no period of an elimination of freedom of religion, or of the press, or of assembly. We have weathered wars and depressions. We will also weather the difficulties in which we are now embroiled. How ironic, that in a period of peace and prosperity, our political life has deteriorated to its present state. Democracy cannot thrive if men and women who disagree about public policy — health care, criminal justice, immigration, the environment, regulation of firearms, tax policy — are unwilling to work together and insist upon labeling those with whom they disagree “enemies of the people,” or worse. What happened to our traditional view of the “loyal opposition?”
We will move forward only if we recognize the fragility of a free and democratic society. It can be broken if its genuine uniqueness is not recognized and cherished. Thanksgiving is a time to recall our history and remember our values — and not give assent to those, on both the right and left, who seek only to condemn and divide.
Remembering George H. W. Bush
It was with sadness that I learned of the death of George H. W. Bush.
I first met him in the early 1960s when I was in law school. I spent a summer in Houston working as a reporter for the Houston Press — and lived in the home of good friends Marjorie and Raymond Arsht, who were good friends of the Bushes.
One night, George and Barbara Bush came to dinner. He was then chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. One of his goals was to convince black voters to join the Republican Party. At that time, many Texas Democrats were still sympathetic to segregation. He encouraged Marjorie and Ray to have a reception for black leaders at their home. This took place after I returned to law school.
Later, after Bush was elected to Congress, I worked with him when I served as assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference. We had two future presidents on our committee — Bush and Gerald Ford. We met weekly. I don’t remember hearing any abusive — or mocking — rhetoric about the Democrats. They were not viewed as “enemies.” Our goal was to convince as many Democrats as possible of the merits of the public policy proposals we were developing.
George H. W. Bush wanted the Republican Party to genuinely be the party of Lincoln. He wanted it to welcome Americans of all backgrounds. In his view, the role of a leader was to unite the country — not divide it. Sadly, the generosity of spirit he brought to our political life is lacking at the present time. Hopefully, we will return to it and abandon the divisive and narrow partisanship that is now corrupting our public life.
Making a Place for Christmas in a Chaotic World
As we enter the Christmas season, it seems that most of society’s concerns and obsessions are quite the opposite of what is, in fact, being celebrated. We live, more and more, in a materialist era in which the Christmas season begins with “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.” Newspaper headlines tell us how much money was spent each day — the more the better. In our political life, we are told that “nationalism” and “America First” are values we should embrace. But the Christmas message is something quite different.
I remember, after the murder of Martin Luther King, attending a memorial service at Washington’s National Cathedral. The hymn chosen declared, “In Christ, there is no East or West.” Its words express a universal religious message, which many seem to ignore:
“In Christ there is no East or West.
In Him no North or South.
But one great Fellowship
Throughout the whole wide earth.”
The idea of viewing all men and women as children of God, of respecting the stranger as oneself, was part of the Jewish tradition Jesus learned from his earliest days. Ironically, we have political spokesmen who at the very same time stir suspicion of those who are different — either by race, religion, or ethnicity — and proclaim they are Christians. What would Jesus say?
The views of man and the world set forth by Jesus — and the one that dominates in the modern world — are contradictory. Christmas should be a time of contemplation of the meaning of life — and of our own lives — and of seeking our answer to the question of what God expects of us.
In his book Jesus Rediscovered, Malcolm Muggeridge, the distinguished British author and editor, who had a religious conversion while preparing a BBC documentary about the life of Jesus, pointed out that a desire for power and riches is the opposite of what Jesus called for. Indeed, Jesus was tempted by the Devil with the very powers many of us so eagerly seek:
“Finally, the Devil showed Christ all the kingdoms of the world in a moment in time and said, ‘All this power I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will give it.’ All Christ had to do in return was worship the donor instead of God — which, of course, he could not do. How interesting though that power should be at the devil’s disposal, and only available through an understanding with him! Many have thought otherwise, and sought power in the belief that by its exercise they could lead men in brotherhood, and happiness, and peace — invariably with disastrous consequences. Always, in the end, the bargain with the Devil has to be fulfilled — as any Stalin, Napoleon or Cromwell must testify. ‘I am the light of the world,’ Christ said. ‘power belongs to darkness.’”
Muggeridge, who died in 1990, lamented the path in which he saw the Western world moving:
“I firmly believe that our civilization began with the Christian religion, and has been sustained and fortified by the values of the Christian religion, by which the greatest of them have tried to live. The Christian religion and these values no longer prevail. They no longer mean anything to ordinary people. Some suppose you can have a Christian civilization without Christian values. I disbelieve this. I think that the basis of order is a moral order; if there is no moral order there will be no political or social order, and we see this happening. This is how civilizations end.”
And yet, despite all of this, there is a spiritual yearning in our American society, a feeling that things are not what they should be, and a desire to set ourselves and our country back on a better path. Christmas speaks to the spiritual vacuum in our lives — but only if we will listen to the message.
G. K. Chesterton, discussing the meaning of Christmas, wrote:
“. . . there is a quite peculiar and individual character about the hold of this story on human nature; it is not, in its psychological substance, at all like a mere legend or the life of a great man. It does not in the ordinary sense turn our minds to greatness; to those extensions and exaggerations of humanity which are turned into gods and heroes, even by the healthiest form of hero worship. It does not exactly work outwards, adventurously, to the wonders to be found at the ends of the earth. It is rather something that surprises from behind, from the hidden and personal part of our being; like that which can sometimes take us off our guard in the pathos of small objects or the blind pieties of the poor. It is rather as if a man had found an inner room in the very heart of his own house, which he had never expected; and seen a light from within. It is as if he found something at the back of his own heart that betrayed him into good.”
A key question for Chesterton was, “How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it?” His sense that the world was a moral battleground, wrote his biographer Aliza Stone Dale, “helped Chesterton fight to keep the attitude that has been labeled ‘facile optimism,’ something that he could never recover, the wonder and surprise at ordinary life he had once felt as a child.”
The divisions in our society are unseemly and unnecessary — and the opposite of the Christmas message. Dividing people on the basis of race or ethnicity ignores the reality that all men and women are created in the image of God. To view people as “enemies” because they disagree about how best to deliver healthcare, or what the tax rate should be, or what our immigration policy should embrace, is to misunderstand the nature of democratic government. Men and women will naturally disagree about matters of public policy. That is why compromise in a democratic society is necessary. Genuine leaders strive to unite the American people, not divide it. We used to think that we could disagree without being disagreeable. Why is that no longer true for so many? Jesus urged his followers to love their enemies. Even many who call themselves Christian cannot even love those with whom they disagree upon one policy proposal or another.
This holiday season we would do well to reevaluate the real gods in our lives and in the life of our country. Our health and that of America may depend upon such a genuine celebration of Christmas.
As Political Passions Rise, Knowledge of American History and Government Declines
One of the ironies of our society at the present time is that, as political passions rise, the knowledge of American history, and how our system of constitutional government is meant to work, is in sharp decline.
The evidence of this decline is all around us. Recently, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation conducted a multiple choice poll using questions used on the test administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and found a shocking lack of knowledge.
Only 13 percent could identify 1787 as the year the Constitution was written. The foundation said passing the citizenship test requires a score of at least 60 percent. But just 36 percent of the citizens they surveyed achieved that score. The poll found older Americans did better, with 74 percent of seniors answering enough questions correctly to have passed. Fewer than one in five Americans under 45 cleared the threshold.
The Woodrow Wilson Foundation President Arthur Levine said:
“With voters heading to the polls . . . an informed and engaged citizenry is essential. Unfortunately, this study found the average American to be woefully informed regarding America’s history and incapable of passing the U.S. Citizenship Test. It would be an error to view these findings as merely an embarrassment. Knowledge of the history of our country is fundamental to maintaining a democratic society which is imperiled today.”
The evidence of this sad reality has been building for some time. Several years ago, a student group at Texas Tech University went around campus and asked three questions: “Who won the Civil War?”; “Who is our Vice President?”; “Who did we gain our independence from?” Students’ answers ranged from “The South,” for the first question to “I have no idea,” for all three of them. However, when asked about the T.V. show Snookie starred in (“Jersey Shore”) or Brad Pitt’s marriage history, they answered correctly.
A study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute surveyed more than 2,500 Americans and found that only half of adults could name the three branches of government. Studies have shown that 60 percent of college graduates don’t know any of the steps necessary to ratify a constitutional amendment and 50 percent don’t know how long the terms of representatives and senators are. Forty percent don’t know that Congress has the power to declare war; and 43 percent don’t know that the First Amendment gives them the right to freedom of speech; and a third can’t identify a single right it guarantees.
A 2016 American Council of Trustees and Alumni report showed that, even though all 12th grade students took a course in civics, less than a quarter of them passed a basic examination at “proficient” or above. In a survey of over one thousand liberal arts colleges, only 18 percent include a course in U.S. history or government as part of their graduation requirements.
Diane Ravitch, an education historian, was invited by the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s governing board, to review the results of a history and civics test in which 20 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders, and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency. She was particularly disturbed by the fact that only 2 percent of 12th graders correctly answered a question concerning Brown v. Board of Education, which she called “very likely the most important decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the past seven decades.”
Students were given an excerpt, including the following passage: “We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Students were then asked what social problem the 1954 ruling was supposed to correct. “The answer was right in front of them,” said Ravitch. “This is alarming.”
The evidence of our failure to teach our history is abundant. Fewer than half of eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights on a recent national civics examination and only one in ten demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
“These results confirm that we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to civics education,” said Sandra Day O’Connor, the former Supreme Court justice, who has founded icivics.org, a nonprofit group that teaches students civics through web-based games and other tools. Justice O’Connor says that:
“We face difficult challenges at home and abroad. Meanwhile, divisive rhetoric, and a culture of sound bites threaten to drown our national dialogue. We cannot afford to continue to neglect the preparation of future generations for active and informed citizenship.”
Historian David McCullough laments that:
“We’re raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate. I know how much these young people, even at the most esteemed institutions of higher learning, don’t know. It’s shocking.”
McCullough tells of a young woman who came up to him after a lecture at a respected university and said: “Until I heard your talk this morning, I never realized the original thirteen colonies were all on the East Coast.”
Historian Paul Johnson points out that:
“The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, totally false.”
The history of the world indicates that freedom is not natural to man, but must be carefully cultivated and taught. Through most of recorded history, man’s natural state has been to live under one form of tyranny or another. Freedom must be learned and carefully transmitted from one generation to another if it is to endure. As Cicero (106-43 B.C.) understood:
“To remain ignorant of things that happened before you were born is to remain a child. What is human life worth unless it is incorporated into the lives of one’s ancestors and set in a historical context.”
The men who framed the U.S. Constitution were careful students of history, particularly the fate of early democracies in the ancient world, Athens and the Roman Republic. They sought to learn lessons from the demise of those early democracies. As a result, they crafted a government of limited power, and divided that power between three separate branches, hoping that freedom would be preserved in this way.
But free societies are very fragile. Our overheated political rhetoric at the present time, with each party portraying its adversary as a virtual enemy of freedom itself, threatens the very civility and honest competition that a properly functioning democracy requires. The less we know of history — and we seem to know less each year — the further we move away from what the Founding Fathers understood were the necessary prerequisites for freedom. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1816: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
Do Those Who Promote “Socialism” Have Any Idea of What It Means?
Suddenly, we are hearing a great deal about “socialism.” A Gallup Poll in August found that 57 percent of Democrats said they view socialism positively. Other polls show the popularity of socialism among millennials. And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez achieved celebrity promoting socialism, after she defeated the fourth-ranked Democratic House leader, Joseph Crowley, in a New York primary. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), has long called himself a “democratic socialist,” and gained widespread support in his 2016 challenge of Hillary Clinton.
What exactly do its proponents mean when the use the term “socialism?” In his article, “Socialism Is So HOT Right Now” (Commentary, Oct, 2018), Jonah Goldberg, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, notes that:
“. . . socialism has never been a particularly stable or coherent program. . . . It has always been best defined as whatever socialists want it to be at any given moment. That is because its chief utility is as a romantic indictment of the capitalist status quo. As many of the defenders of the new socialist craze admit, socialism is the off-the-shelf alternative to capitalism, which has been in bad odor since at least the financial crash of 2008.”
“For millennials’’ writes the Huffington Post’s Zach Carter, ‘‘capitalism means ‘unacceptable people ripping off the world’ while ‘socialism’ simply means ‘not that.’”
There was a time when socialism was widely understood to involve government owning the means of production, deciding exactly what was to be distributed, and who would get it. If contemporary advocates of socialism believe that the economies of Norway, Sweden and Denmark represent their ideal, they must be reminded that these Scandinavian countries are capitalist countries, with thriving, privately owned industries. They simply have decided to have higher taxes than we do, and to provide additional social services. They are not socialist.
We did have our own colonial experience with a genuine variety of socialism. From the earliest days, the American colonists learned the important lesson that the entire idea of the “common ownership” of property was both impractical and inequitable.
Discussing the experience of the Plymouth Colony, Professor Gottfried Dietze, in his book, In Defense of Property, writes that:
“Irrespective of what each of the colonists produced, everything went into a common warehouse and the government doled out the proceeds of the warehouse as need seemed to require. However, this system soon proved to be unsatisfactory. The warehouse was constantly running out of provisions and many of the colonists were starving. In view of this emergency, Governor Bradford and the remaining members of the colony agreed during the third winter to give up the common ownership and permit each colonist to keep the products of his work. This gave incentive to all.”
When Spring came, reported Governor Bradford:
“. . . the women now wente willingly into ye field and tooke their little-ons with them to set corne, which before would alledge weakness, and inabilitie; whom to have compelled would have bene thought great tiranie and oppression.”
The result of these efforts was a happy one.
Professor Dietze, reviewing the history of the entire American colonial period, as well as the thinking of the framers of the Constitution, concludes that, “. . . the American Revolution became, to a great extent, a movement for the protection of property.”
Those who today advocate an “equal” distribution of property claim that in doing so, they are simply applying the philosophy of the Founding Fathers to matters of economic concern. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In The Federalist Papers, James Madison clearly deals with this question. He wrote:
“The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interest. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results.”
It is difficult to understand how political activists who express suspicion of government and the ruling elites they believe to be in charge would think that socialism — which would give government power over our entire economy — would, somehow, be an improvement. What they misunderstand is the fact that economic freedom is the form of organizing an economy most consistent with other freedoms — of religion, speech and press, among others.
This point was made by Professor Milton Friedman:
“The kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely competitive capitalism, also, promotes political freedom because it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to offset the other.”
Unfortunately, we do not now have a system of genuine competitive free market capitalism. We have what some have called “crony capitalism,” with government subsidizing favored sectors of the economy, bailing out sectors which have gone bankrupt with taxpayer dollars, and interfering in the economy in myriad ways — most recently by imposing tariffs on products from a number of countries, leading to an unnecessary trade war. Democrats and Republicans are co-conspirators in this enterprise.
Jonah Goldberg explains how this works:
“The major difference between the left and the right when it comes to any movement dedicated to overthrowing the free market order . . . is which groups will be the winners and which groups will be the losers. A left-wing system might empower labor leaders, government bureaucrats, progressive intellectuals, universities, certain minority groups, and one set of industries. A right-wing system might reward a different set of industries, as well as traditional religious groups and their leaders, an ethnic majority, aristocrats, or perhaps rural interests. But both systems would be reactionary in the sense that they rejected the legacy of the Lockean revolution, preferring . . . a natural state where the ‘stakeholders’ colluded to determine what was best for their interests.”
Where today’s conservatives stand is, Goldberg argues, increasingly confused:
“Today, in America, we associate defense of the market with the political right, although the new nationalist fervor aroused by Donald Trump and his defenders may overturn that somewhat. Already, the president’s economic rhetoric — and considerable swaths of his policies — is more reminiscent of natural state economics. Just as Obama picked economic winners and losers to the benefit of his coalition, Trump rewards industries that are crucial to his. One can argue that favoring wind and solar power is better policy than favoring steel or coal, but it’s still an argument for favoritism.”
Socialism, real socialism as envisioned by Karl Marx and his adherents, has always led to economic inefficiency and scarcity, and has eliminated political and religious freedom as well. The state controls everything and citizens become mere pawns of those in power.
It seems that those in our American political arena who casually embrace “socialism” know little of this history. They would do well to undertake a study of what socialism really involves and where it has led. If they did, they might be surprised to learn that they are promoting an ideology far worse, with far greater inequality, than whatever problems they seek to address in our own imperfect, but far preferable, society.
If, as has been said “ignorance is bliss,” then today’s advocates of socialism are having a moment of euphoria, to be followed, as night follows day, by a harsher reality.
The Green Book — The Travails of Traveling While Black During the Years of Segregation
For those of us who are old enough, and lived in the South, the years of segregation remain an indelible memory. I remember a time, not that long ago, when restaurants, restrooms, trains, buses, and almost every aspect of life was segregated. When I taught a course in international law at the Pentagon, I asked one of my students why there were so many restrooms along the hallways. I was told that the Pentagon, located in Virginia, was built during the years of segregation and that on the halls there were four sets of restrooms, for white men, black men, white women and black women.
The recent movie “The Green Book” shows the travail endured by black travelers in those days. It tells the true story of Dr. Don Shirley, a world-class African-American pianist who is about to embark on a concert tour in the South in 1962. In need of a driver and protection, he recruits Tony Valielonga, a tough-talking bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx. Despite their differences, the two men soon develop an unexpected bond while confronting racism and danger. Tony is given a copy of The Green Book by the record studio, a guide for black travelers to find safe havens throughout the South. It guides them to the few establishments that were then safe for African Americans.
The Negro Motorist Green Book was originated and published by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green from 1936 to 1966 as a guide to places and services relatively friendly to blacks. Many black Americans took to driving to avoid segregation on public transportation. The black journalist George Schuyler wrote in 1930 that, “All Negroes who can do so purchase an automobile as soon as possible in order to be free of discomfort, discrimination, segregation, and insult.”
Victor Green compiled resources “to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into discrimination and to make his trip more enjoyable.” In 1917, the black scholar W. E. B. Du Bois observed that “the impact of ever-recurring race discrimination” had made it so difficult to travel to any number of destinations, from popular resorts to major cities, that it was now a “puzzling query as what to do with vacations.”
It was not only in the South that black travelers were not welcome. In Cincinnati, the African American editor Wendell Dabney wrote of the situation in the 1920s that, “Hotels, restaurants, eating, and drinking places almost universally are closed to all people in whom the least tincture of colored blood can be detected.” Not one hotel or other accommodation was open to blacks in Salt Lake City in the 1920s. Only 6 percent of the more than 100 motels on Route 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico admitted black customers. Across the whole state of New Hampshire, only 3 motels in 1956 served African Americans.
In 1943, George Schuyler wrote: “Many colored families have motored all across the United States without being able to secure overnight accommodations at a single tourist camp or hotel.” He suggested that they would find it easier to travel abroad than in their own country.
In Chicago in 1945, St. Clair Drake and Horace A. Clayton reported that “the city’s hotel managers by general agreement do not sanction the use of hotel facilities by Negroes, particularly sleeping accommodations.”
Lester Granger of the National Urban League reported that black travelers had to carry buckets or portable toilets because they usually were barred from bathrooms and rest areas in service stations. African American travelers often packed meals and carried cans of gasoline because many service stations did not welcome them as customers.
Civil rights leader Julian Bond recalled that his parents used The Green Book, He notes that:
“It told you not where the best places were to eat but where there was anyplace. You needed The Green Book to tell you where you could go without having doors slammed in your face.”
Victor Green looked forward to a time when such guidebooks would no longer be necessary:
“There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication. For then we can go as we please without embarrassment.”
The 1966 edition was the last to be published after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial discrimination in public accommodations. We have come a long way since then. When I was in college, in the years of segregation. If anyone suggested that we would live to see a black Supreme Court Justice, Secretary of State, and President. that person would have been considered mad. Yet, it has happened. Our society has shown a great capacity to change — for the better.
But the story is not over. Even today, we have politicians who seek to divide us on the basis of race. Too often, innocent people have been killed by the police, largely because of race. In December, a black man was escorted from the lobby of a hotel in Portland, Oregon because he was innocently speaking on his telephone in the lobby — even though he was a guest at the hotel. The news, unfortunately, has too many such stories.
Reviewing the history of The Green Book is instructive. We have come a long way. But our journey is hardly finished. And, sadly, divisions of people based on race, religion, and ethnicity is hardly a uniquely American problem. The growth of nationalism — often a euphemism for tribalism of one kind or another — is growing throughout the world. Hopefully, we — and people of good will everywhere — will learn some lessons from the story of The Green Book. *
Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Socialism and American Politics: The Strange Involvement of Both Parties
Suddenly, the term “socialism” is on the lips of more and more men and women engaged in our political life. In August, Sen. Bernie Sanders said that socialism has gone “mainstream,” and urged Democrats to embrace the term. He is an avowed Democratic Socialist, as is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who unseated 20-year incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in a New York primary. Another self-proclaimed socialist, Rashida Tlaib, is the Democratic candidate for Congress in Detroit. Both Ocssio-Cortez and Tlaib are almost certain winners.
The Economist notes that, “Socialism is having a moment in America unlike any since perhaps 1912, when Eugene Debs, the socialist candidate won 6 percent of the national vote. A recent Gallup Poll showed that 57 percent of Democrats have a positive views of socialism.”
The poll, however, never defined “socialism,” so exactly what people were expressing support for was not clear. While Republicans immediately tried to tie Democrats identifying themselves as socialist with failed regimes in places like Venezuela and Cuba, and Newt Gingrich declared that socialists are “demons,” the reality may be somewhat more complicated.
Under classical Marxism, government ran the economy, owned factories and farms, and determined what was to be produced, who would get it, and what workers would be paid. This does not seem to be what today’s Democratic Socialists are promoting. Instead, the pro-free market Economist characterized what they are advocating this way:
“Even the platform of Bernie Sanders . . . left capitalism fundamentally intact, calling instead for a broader and more redistributive social safety net. His supporters seem enamored of Nordic-style social welfare policies. But those countries are not socialist; they are free market economies with huge rates of taxation that finance generous public services. Indeed, the ‘socialist’ part of those countries that (Democratic Socialists) support would be unaffordable without the dynamic capitalist part they dislike.”
While Republicans denounce “socialism,” the fact is that they endorse a form of government intervention in the economy — what many have called “crony capitalism” — which also challenges the idea of free market capitalism, except it serves a different constituency than would Bernie Sanders and those who embrace his philosophy.
In an article entitled “Corporate Welfare Lives On and On” in The American Conservative, Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, notes that:
“Fiscal responsibility is out of fashion. The latest federal budget, drafted by a Republican president and Republican-controlled Congress, blew through the loose limits established by Democratic President Barack Obama. The result is trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see.”
In Bandow’s view:
“Any amount of corporate welfare is too much. . . . Business plays a vital role in a free market. People should be able to invest and innovate, taking risks while accepting losses. In real capitalism there are no guaranteed profits. But corporate welfare gives the well-connected protection from many of the normal risks of business. Business subsidies undermine both capitalism and democracy. Allowing politicians to channel economic resources toward their preferred ends distorts investments and trade. Turning government into an engine of illicit profit encourages what economists call rent-seeking. Well-organized special interests usually triumph over the broader public and national interest.”
Tad DeHaven, a Mercatus scholar at George Mason University, makes the case that:
“Corporate welfare often subsidizes failing and mismanaged businesses and induces firms to spend more time on lobbying rather than on making better products. Instead of correcting market failures, federal subsidies misallocate resources and introduce government failures into the marketplace.”
Government aid to business comes in many forms, and is distributed through a variety of agencies, such as the Export-Import Bank and the Small Business Administration. We see spending, usually in grants, loans, and loan guarantees. There are limits on competitors, such as tariffs and quotas. There are tax preferences attached to broader tax bills to benefit individual companies and industries. All of these are a form of corporate welfare — insuring corporate profits. Those corporations on the receiving end of such subsidies employ armies of lobbyists — and huge campaign contributions — to achieve their goal. They contribute to both parties, so they always have a friend in power.
The Cato Institute argues that:
“Agriculture in particular has spawned a gaggle of sometimes bizarre subsidies, payments, loans, crop insurance, import quotas and more to underwrite farmers. When these distort the marketplace, further efforts are concocted to address these dislocations. A dairy program created milk surpluses, which in turn encouraged state price fixing that generated massive cheese stockpiles. . . . The federal government killed off cows as it continued to subsidize milk. . . . The Export-Import Bank is known as Boeing’s Bank. It provides cheap credit for foreign buyers of American products. This gives foreign firms, such as airlines that purchase Boeing airplanes, an advantage over U.S. carriers that must pay full fare. The Export-Import Bank’s biggest beneficiary, in recent years, has been China.”
Those who believe in free markets have adversaries in both parties. The left’s advocacy of socialism and the right’s embrace of corporate welfare, both lead us in the direction of a government-managed economy. In the long run, other basic freedoms are also challenged when government control of the economy increases.
In their initial consideration about what kind of government to establish, the Founding Fathers, when they turned their attention to questions of economic organization, asked themselves which economic form would best maintain the free society they were in the process of creating. Clearly, the answer was free enterprise. For men suspicious of government power, this was an obvious choice.
Professor Milton Friedman explained that:
“The kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely competitive capitalism, also promotes political freedom because it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to offset the other. Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow men. The fundamental threat to freedom is power to coerce, be it in the hands of a monarch, a dictator, an oligarchy, or a momentary majority.”
In Friedman’s view:
“The preservation of freedom requires the elimination of such concentration of power to the fullest possible extent and the dispersal and distribution of whatever power cannot be eliminated — a system of checks and balances. By removing the organization of economic activity from the control of political authority, the market eliminates that source of coercive power. It enables economic strength to be a check to political power rather than a reinforcement.”
Political partisanship prevents Americans from understanding the forces that are at work in Washington. Republicans and Democrats regularly demonize each other, but regardless of which party holds office, government power grows and freedom declines. Whether it is bailing out Wall Street with taxpayer dollars, or subsidizing failing businesses, or keeping out competing products with tariffs, the last thing either party seems to want is a genuinely free market.
Understanding that the political parties are co-conspirators in the expansion of political power and the diminution of freedom is the beginning of political wisdom.
What Would the Founding Fathers Think of the Growth of Executive Power?
Executive power has been steadily growing, regardless of which party was in power. The Constitution clearly gives Congress the power to declare war. Still, we have gone to war in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a host of other places upon the authority of the president alone. Today, the president, on his own authority — without approval by Congress — imposes tariffs upon China, Canada and a host of other countries. We are even told by some that a president cannot be indicted or subpoenaed — even though the Constitution says no such thing. This would, in effect, place a president above the law. And how many of the rules under which we live have been imposed by executive order — by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump — with no action by our elected representatives in Congress?
The Founding Fathers understood that freedom was not man’s natural state. Their entire political philosophy was based on a fear of government power and the need to limit and control that power very strictly. It was their fear of total government which initially caused them to rebel against the arbitrary rule of King George III. In the Constitution, they tried their best to construct a form of government that, through a series of checks and balances and a clear division of powers, would protect the individual.
The Founding Fathers would be disappointed to see the growth of government power, particularly in the executive branch. But they would not be surprised. In a letter to Edward Carrington, Thomas Jefferson wrote that, “The natural progress is for Liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” He noted that:
“One of the most profound preferences in human nature is for satisfying one’s needs and desires with the least possible exertion, for appropriating wealth produced by the labor of others, rather than producing it by one’s own labor . . . the stronger and more centralized the government, the safer would be the guarantees of such monopolies, the weaker the producer, the less consideration need be given him and the more might be taken away from him.”
That government should be limited — and clearly divided between separate branches — and that power is a corrupting force was the essential perception held by the men who formed the nation. In The Federalist Papers, James Madison declared:
“It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. . . . But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If Angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.”
The Founding Fathers were not utopians. They understood man’s nature. They attempted to form a government that was consistent with — not contrary to — that nature. Alexander Hamilton pointed out that:
“Here we already have seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, weaknesses, and evils incident to society in every shape. Is it now time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age and adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue.”
Rather than viewing man and government in positive terms, the framers of the Constitution had almost precisely the opposite view. John Adams expressed the view that, “Whoever would found a state and make proper laws for the government of it, must presume that all men are bad by nature.” Adams attempted to learn something from the pages of history:
“We may appeal to every page of history we have hitherto turned over, for proofs irrefragable, that the people, when they have been unchecked, have been as unjust, tyrannical, brutal, barbarous, and cruel as any king or senate possessed of uncontrollable power. . . . All projects of government, formed upon a supposition of continued vigilance, sagacity, and virtue, firmness of the people when possessed of the exercise of supreme power, are cheats and delusions. . . . The fundamental article of my political creed is that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratic council, an oligarchical junto, and a single emperor. Equally bloody, arbitrary, cruel, and in every respect diabolical.”
During the colonial period, Americans became all too familiar with the dangers of an all-powerful King and unlimited and arbitrary government. The Revolution was fought to prevent such abuses. When the Articles of Confederation were being considered, fears of excessive concentration of authority were often expressed. The town of West Springfield, Massachusetts, to cite one examples, reminded its representatives of the
“ . . . weaknesses of human nature and growing thirst for power. . . . It is freedom, Gentlemen, it is freedom, and not a choice of the forms of servitude for which we contend.”
To prevent the growth of unlimited government power, the Constitution divided government between a legislative, executive and judicial branch. The Congress was to be the most important branch, elected by the people on a frequent basis. The experience of life under an all-powerful King made a powerful president less than appealing. As years went by, however, the executive — whether Democrat or Republican — assumed more and more power.
Under President George W. Bush, for example, many began to refer to a new “Imperial Presidency.” The Cato Institute study, “The Cult of the Presidency” notes that the Bush administration’s broad assertion of executive power includes:
“ . . . the power to launch wars at will, to tap phones and read e-mails without a warrant, and to seize American citizens on American soil and hold them for the duration of the war on terror — in other words, perhaps forever — without ever having to answer to a judge.”
The study’s author, Eugene Healy, points out that:
“Neither Left nor Right see the president as the Framers saw him: a constitutionally constrained chief executive with an important, but limited, job: to defend the country when attacked, check Congress when it violates the Constitution, enforce the law — and little else. Today, for conservatives as well as liberals, it is the president’s job to protect us from harm, to ‘grow the economy,’ to spread democracy and American ideals abroad, and even to heal spiritual malaise.”
The modern presidency has become one far different from the one set forth in the Constitution. The Cato Institute provides this assessment:
“The constitutional presidency, as the Framers conceived it, was designed to stand against the popular will as often as not, with the president wielding the veto power to restrain Congress when it transgressed its constitutional bounds. In contrast, the modern president considers himself the tribune of the people, promising transformative action and demanding the power to carry it out. The result is what political scientist Theodore J. Lowi has termed ‘the plebiscitary presidency’: ‘An office of tremendous personal power drawn from people . . . and based on the . . . theory that the presidency with all powers is the necessary condition for governing a large democratic nation.’”
The men who led the Revolution, different from many today — in both parties — were suspicious of power and those who hold it. Samuel Adams declared:
“There is a degree of watchfulness over all men possessed of power or influence upon which the liberties of mankind much depend. It is necessary to guard against the infirmities of the best as well as the wickedness of the worst of men. Jealousy is the best security of public Liberty.”
The Founding Fathers would not be happy with our increasingly powerful government — and chief executive — but they would not be surprised. Leaving the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government had been established. He replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
People who call themselves “conservative” used to understand all this. Now, they seem to have forgotten.
An Epidemic of Child Abuse in the Catholic Church: What Would Jesus Say?
More than 300 Catholic priests across Pennsylvania sexually abused children over seven decades, protected by a church hierarchy who covered it up, according to a sweeping grand jury report released in mid-August. The investigation, one of the most comprehensive inquiries into church sex abuse in U.S. history, identified 1,000 children who were victims — but reported that there are probably thousands more.
The grand jury wrote that, “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing, but hid it all for decades.” The 1,400-page report described some of the abuses in disturbing detail. In Erie, a 7-year old boy was sexually abused by a priest who then told him he should go to confession and confess his “sins” to that same priest. Another boy was repeatedly raped from ages 13 to 15 by a priest who bore down so hard on the boy’s back that it caused severe spinal injuries. He became addicted to painkillers and later died of an overdose.
One victim in Pittsburgh was forced to pose naked as Christ on the cross as priests photographed him. Priests gave the boy and others gold cross necklaces to mark them as being “groomed” for abuse. One priest raped a girl who bore him a child. Another made his victim get an abortion. The report notes four cases in the Scranton diocese in which bishops and other church leaders allowed predator priests to continue in the ministry. The leadership also used confidentiality agreements with settlements to silence the victims. In one instance, they provided tuition for a boy to attend a school in the diocese.
Consider the case of Rev. Thomas D. Skotak. He sexually assaulted a minor female between 1980 and 1985, resulting in pregnancy. He helped her get an abortion in 1986. When Bishop James Timlin became aware of the situation, he transferred Father Skotak to another parish in 1989, and offered $75,000 to the girl and her family, contingent on a nondisclosure and confidentiality agreement. After the settlement, Bishop Timlin sought to reassure senior Catholic leaders in Rome that Father Skotek’s “criminal” acts would likely remain hidden. Sadly, we can fill pages with reports such as these — and that is what the Pennsylvania grand jury did.
The unfortunate fact is that the decades-long cover-up by the church hierarchy has created a situation in which few criminal cases may result from the massive investigation because most instances of abuse are too old to be prosecuted because of the statutes of limitations. One answer many are now calling for is a re-thinking of the whole idea of statutes of limitations.
Pennsylvania State Rep. Mark Rozzi said he was raped by a priest at his Catholic Church in Berks County, Pa. The same priest, he said, sexually abused one of his childhood friends, who killed himself in 2009. Rozzi called on fellow legislators to pass measures that would eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of sexual abuse of children. In addition to ending such limitations, the grand jury also called for a law to allow older victims to sue a diocese for damage inflicted upon them as children, tighter laws that mandate the reporting of abuse, and an end to nondisclosure agreements when settlements have been reached.
Corruption in the church has been widespread, from parish priests to bishops and beyond. In July, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington, resigned after being accused of sexually abusing children and adults for decades. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the current archbishop of Washington, figures prominently in the report because he led the Pittsburgh diocese as its bishop from 1988 to 2006. It reports that, at times, he removed abusive priests, and, at other times, guided them back into parishes.
The fact is that there has been no full accounting of abuse in the Catholic Church in the U.S. Peter Isely, a longtime advocate for victims of sexual abuse, said groups have long been pressing the U.S. Government for a national investigation of child sex abuse, particularly in the Catholic Church. Isely, who was abused and is a spokesman for the global group, Ending Clergy Abuse, said that a five-year inquiry in Australia is “ the gold standard,” but that other nations, including Canada, Germany, and Ireland, have conducted national reviews. “Imagine if they did what was done in Pennsylvania, but nationwide,” he said. In Chile, prosecutors and police are raiding church offices, confiscating documents and looking for crimes that went unreported to police.
Hopefully, the Pennsylvania grand jury report will lend new momentum to statute reform efforts both in that state and nationwide. “This will reignite these battles at the state level,” said Michael Moreland, a law professor at Villanova University, a Catholic school outside of Philadelphia. The grand jury also urges a two-year “civil window” in the existing statutes of limitations that would allow victims to sue the church for damages no matter when the abuse occurred. “These victims ran out of time before they even knew they had a case,” the grand jury wrote. In the past, the Catholic Church has lobbied fiercely against any such provisions that would hold it accountable. The church argues that it would be left open to “financial catastrophe.” Given the church’s role, that might, many would argue, constitute simple justice.
How would Jesus react to a church acting in His name in such a manner? When it comes to the abuse of children, consider these words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:
“Anyone who welcomes one little child like this in my name, welcomes me. But anyone who is the downfall of one of these little ones who have faith in me would be better drowned in the depths of the sea with a great millstone around his neck.”
For a much lesser offense than the sexual abuse of children, we know how Jesus reacted to moneychangers and others who were corrupting the temple. Jesus and his disciples traveled to Jerusalem for Passover. He finds the holy temple corrupted by merchants and moneychangers. He expels them for having turned the temple into a “den of thieves” through their commercial activities. In John 2:13-6, we read:
“And making a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And He poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables. And He told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”
Nathan W. O’Halloran identifies the actions of Jesus with “a calculated prophetic action evocative of the temple condemnation in Jeremiah 7:1-15.” The Gospel of Mark uses the phrase, “Then he taught them. . . .” as Jesus references the prophet Jeremiah. The quote from Jeremiah reads:
“Are you to steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal, go after strange gods that you know not, and yet come to stand before me in this house which bears my name, and say: ‘we are safe; we can commit all these abominations again?’ Has this house which bears my name become in your eyes a den of thieves, I, too, see what is being done, says the Lord (Jeremiah 7:9-11).”
The Catholic Church portrayed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report is not a “den of thieves” but something far worse. One can only imagine how Jesus would respond to those who have inflicted such horror, pain and suffering in His name. *
Allan C. Brownfeld
Fifty Years Ago, Washington Was Burning; Despite Continuing Problems, Advances in Race Relations Have Been Dramatic
Fifty years ago, on April 4, 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in Memphis. Riots exploded in 125 cities nationally, 43 people died, 3,500 were injured and 27,000 arrested in violence during the ten days following King’s murder, according to Peter B. Levy’s new book about race riots in the 1960s, The Great Uprising. Damage estimates reached upwards of $65 million — about $442 million today.
In 1968, this writer, a few years out of law school, was working in the U.S. Senate — as Washington went up in flames. Thirteen people were killed, two of them never identified. The air was filled with smoke and tear gas and the streets were littered with broken glass. Parts of the city resembled combat zones, and 13,000 members of the Army, Marines, and National Guard were brought in to regain control. I remember tanks patrolling the streets of Capitol Hill and a curfew of 6 p.m. From the window of a friend’s apartment across the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia, we could see smoke filling the air of the nation’s capital. It felt as if our country was tearing itself apart.
In those days, Washington was a largely segregated city. It did not elect its own city government, but was controlled by the House Committee on the District of Columbia. It was presided over by Rep. John McMillan (D-SC) and other Southern Democrats who were sympathetic to segregation. It represented the very system of taxation without representation against which the American Revolution had been launched. Thus, a majority-black city was disenfranchised, adding to the anger on display in the riots.
Charlene Drew Jarvis, a fourth generation black Washingtonian, and former member of the D.C. Council, recalls that:
“There was a confluence of anger and hurt about the death of Martin Luther King. But there was also a way of breaking out of a cage in which African Americans felt they had been contained. A lot of it had to do with, ‘We’ve been contained here. We’re angry about this. We owe nothing to people who have confined us.’”
Much has changed in Washington since 1968. There is now an elected D.C. Mayor and City Council. Former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, who is black, notes that:
“Civil rights advances resulted in the desegregation of the federal and District government work forces, reversing discrimination that began, formally at least, more than 50 years earlier during the Woodrow Wilson administration.”
This is not to say that Washington does not still have serious social problems to deal with, and that many African-Americans continue to feel left behind. But the larger picture, as Anthony Williams points out, is a positive and hopeful one:
“For many residents, commuters and tourists, life is dramatically better. Seen through this lens, 50 years after rioting left large sections of the city in ruin, the District is a great success story. Washington has advanced markedly in its revitalization, its finances are on an enviable footing, its population continues to increase, investment continues to flow, and it is considered a front-runner for a new Amazon headquarters. . . . I am optimistic. Yes, inequality has been persistent; yes, the concentration of poverty in our city is daunting; but we have the capacity, we have the resources, and we’ve shown the willingness to tackle the big problems.”
There has been much concern expressed in recent days about the state of race relations in the American society. The election of Barack Obama in 2008 inspired hope that the country had moved into a new era of racial equality. More recently, the rise of white nationalist groups, such as those which organized last summer’s racist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, and continued police shootings of unarmed black men, have caused some to express doubt that real progress has, in fact, been made.
The reality, however, is that, despite shortcomings, things continue to improve. According to the Center for American Progress, the number of black men between 18 and 24 who attend a form of higher education is on the rise. Between 1976 and 2014 the number of black men aged 25 and over who earned at least a bachelor’s degree rose from 6.3 percent to 20.4 percent. In the same time period the rate of high school dropouts for black men has more than halved, decreasing from 21.2 percent to 8.1 percent.
The respected black academician, Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. of Harvard, believes that the past five decades have been, if not a new Reconstruction, the occasion for tremendous progress for black Americans:
“This period, 1965-2015, I was thinking of it as the Second Reconstruction. This specific period is one between the Voting Rights Act and the re-election of the first black man to occupy the White House.”
Gates refers to this 50-year period as one of “unparalleled advances for black people,” which he explored in a four-hour PBS series, “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise” in 2016. While racial injustice continues to exist, in Gates’ view:
“The picture is quite complicated. On one hand, the black middle class has doubled. The black upper middle class has quadrupled. We have more black people elected to state office than ever before. These things were scarcely imaginable the terrible day in April 1968 when Dr. King was killed.”
To those of us of a certain age, who lived in the South during the years of segregation, when a black person could not get a cup of coffee, or use a rest room or, in many cases, cast a ballot, to suggest that race relations have not been steadily improving is to ask us not to believe our own eyes. When I was in college, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to integrate the schools in Little Rock. In our dormitory discussions of events in the world, if anyone suggested that we would live to see a black Governor of Virginia, or a black Secretary of State, let alone a black president, he would have been viewed as mad. We have, fortunately, lived to see things we never imagined. But things don’t move steadily in the right direction. Sometimes, there are those who suggest a backward step. Some problems prove difficult to resolve. But, taking all things in their proper perspective, 50 years after Dr. King’s murder and Washington in flames, we are a better country than we have ever been when it comes to race. Hopefully, despite all of our problems, we will become better still.
The Strange Criticism of the Movie “Chappaquiddick” — A Seeming Defense of Ted’s Kennedy’s Admittedly Bad Behavior
Political partisanship, on all sides of the political spectrum, makes people do strange things. Many find a way to defend the most outrageous behavior on the part of those within their own party — behavior they would find completely unacceptable if engaged in by those in the opposition. This is part of the reason people have such a low opinion of politicians, both Republicans and Democrats.
The new movie “Chappaquiddick,” which this writer found to be a fair presentation of what occurred on the night of Friday, July 18, 1969, is becoming the subject of controversy. The late night accident occurred on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, and was caused by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s negligence, and resulted in the death of 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, who was trapped inside the vehicle.
According to his own testimony, Kennedy accidentally drove his car off the one-lane bridge and into a tidal basin. He swam free, left the scene and did not report the accident to the police for ten hours. Kopechne died inside the fully submerged car. The next day, the car with Kopechne’s body inside was recovered by a diver, minutes before Kennedy had reported the incident to local authorities. Kennedy later pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of a crash, causing personal injury, and he later received a two-month jail sentence.
The film begins the day before the crash and ends six days later. The film’s producer, Mark Ciardi, says that:
“It’s amazing how compelling that narrative is when you just look at the facts. The writers used the inquest. It wasn’t off of a book. We went with the facts we knew, and didn’t make a movie for the left or right. It’s for the truth. . . . It’s a very tight line to walk because it’s a pretty bad incident that happened. A girl died at his hands, and his actions after proved pretty incredible — not in a great way.”
Mary Jo Kopechne was a member of Robert Kennedy’s staff for four years, and was considered a political idealist with a promising future. On the night in question, Kennedy attended a party on Chappaquiddick, an island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. Also attending were a group of young women who had worked in Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign. Kennedy left the party early, and Kopechne asked if she could join him for a ride back to the hotel.
In an interview with Breitbart senior editor Rebecca Mansour, Ciardi discussed the film’s revelation of how Kopechne might have been saved if Kennedy had acted differently after the accident. He notes that:
“We spoke and tracked down the scuba diver, John Farrar, and he had been on record. . . . As he was recounting it, it was chilling, as if it was yesterday. He said when he got into that car and saw the position of the body and the way it was almost kind of reaching for her last breath up in the corner, hands up. When he took her out and they put her on the beach, when they compressed the stomach and chest, that there was a kind of pink froth coming out of the nose and mouth, which that signals to him that it was asphyxiation.”
Kopechne’s death, says Ciardi:
“. . . was not drowning. He didn’t know how long. He said it could have been five minutes or up to a couple of hours. . . . But she was alive in the car. The fact that he (Kennedy) walked past, 75 yards away, the dike house with the light on, he could have lit that island up and they could have had help there. Maybe she could have been saved. We can’t say for sure. But even if there’s a chance, it’s pretty bad not to try. At least have that wherewithal, even if you’ve been drinking. You don’t worry about your own consequences. That’s his biggest failing, and he didn’t report it for ten hours. You cannot get around that, and then he was having brunch the next morning. And that’s factual.”
In Ciardi’s view:
“Kennedy portrayed himself almost as a victim following the accident. . . . I mean he’s responsible for someone’s death, and then not to notify anybody, and pretend like it didn’t happen. In some ways he was reduced to a kind of child. He was like a ten-year-old who threw a baseball through a window and pretended that it didn’t happen.”
Kennedy says that he “was not driving under the influence of liquor” and that his conduct after the accident “made no sense to him at all.” He regarded as “indefensible” the fact that he did not report the accident to the police “immediately.” He says there was “no truth whatsoever to the widely circulated suspicions of immoral conduct.” At the inquest in January 1970, Judge James A. Boyle, found that Kennedy:
“. . . failed to execute due care as he approached the bridge. . . . There is probable cause to believe that Edward M. Kennedy operated his motor vehicle negligently . . . and that such operation appears to have contributed to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.”
The movie does not allude to the many conspiracy theories that have surrounded the Chappaquiddick incident. It has received largely favorable reviews from such liberal publications as the Village Voice, Vanity Fair and The New York Times. But it has also come under attack.
CNN was particularly harsh. “‘Chappaquiddick’ is heavy-handed history, a film that at times seems to owe as much to ‘The X-Files’ as the many cinematic dives into the target-rich territory that is the Kennedy clan,” wrote critic Brian Lowery. New Yorker critic Richard Brody wrote that, “The sketches of Kennedy-family tensions and loyalties are thin and simplistic; the action rushes by with little insight or context.” An opinion writer in The New York Times, Neal Gabler charges the movie with “character assassination.”
Mr. Gabler argues that the film’s advertisements claiming to tell the “untold true story” of a “cover-up” is pointless because:
“. . . the story has been told plenty, and no one but the most lunatic conspiracy theorists see this as anything but a tragic accident in which nothing much was covered up. . . . Many scenes cross from dramatic interpretation to outright character assassination. In this version, the Kennedy character leaves Kopechne to die as she gasps for air, and then with the aid of his brothers’ old advisers, cooks up a scheme to salvage his presidential ambitions.”
But, in fact, the movie’s portrayal of events is quite true to history. Washington Times columnist Joseph Curl notes that:
“Contrary to what the Times’ writer claims, the movie does not delve into conspiracy theories — Kennedy does not appear drunk and there’s no mention of the rumors that spread after the accident that Kopechne was pregnant with Kennedy’s child. But the film does wade into some territory for which there is much factual support. An autopsy was never performed on Kopechne (the police chief and judge involved were all in the bag for Kennedys) but there is evidence that she did not drown. . . . And the movie perfectly captures Kennedy’s attempts to cover up the circumstances of her death, bringing in a team of high-powered politicos to concoct a plausible story. In one hilarious scene, Kennedy dons a neck brace to look injured (he wasn’t) and his only true friend, cousin Joseph Gargan (who throughout the movie plays a sort of Good Angel on his shoulder), forcibly rips it off him.”
What the viewer is left with, writes Curl:
“. . . is simply a portrait of a weak man — perhaps beaten down by a brutal and demanding father and the pressure of being the last of four of America’s most famous brothers. But throughout, Kennedy’s weak moral core is exposed. He makes the easy choice every time, the one most likely to save his skin.”
The movie ends with Kennedy giving a nationwide T.V. speech. He ends his speech with a quote from his brother Jack’s book, Profiles In Courage (which was not written by John F. Kennedy at all, but by Ted Sorenson):
“It has been written, ‘A man does what he must — in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures — and that is the basis of all human morality. Whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience — the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow man — each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage cannot supply courage itself. For this, each man must look to his own soul.’”
Noble sentiments, indeed. But Ted Kennedy’s actions that night in 1969 were something quite different. This story is a part our history, and in this movie that story is told accurately. Did Ted Kennedy regret his actions and move beyond them in later life? This seems to be the case. And the movie ends on precisely that note.
As the film ends, the camera is on a still image of the Chappaquiddick bridge where Kopechne died and the audience hears a sound montage listing all of Kennedy’s legislative accomplishments throughout his long political career after the incident at Chappaquiddick. The film challenges viewers to consider the life of a complex man, with both achievements and great character flaws.
Why some narrow partisans have attacked this movie is difficult to understand — just as it is difficult to understand why honorable men and women will defend the dishonorable actions of politicians they view as being on “their” side. The political issues we debate — whether health care, the environment, taxes or education — may be less important in the long run than the moral character of those we choose as leaders, and the example they set. There is much to think about concerning our contemporary political life when considering “Chappaquiddick.”
Whatever Happened to American Conservatism: Remembering Russell Kirk
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Russell Kirk, who may be most responsible for the emergence of an intellectually vigorous and politically viable conservative movement in the latter part of the last century. If he were still with us, it would be interesting to consider his assessment of the many strange formulations that call themselves “conservative” at the present time.
Historian Bradley Birzer, author of the recent biography, Russell Kirk: American Conservative, notes that, “Amidst today’s whirligig of populist conservatism, crass conservatism, consumerist conservatism, we conservatives and libertarians have almost completely forgotten our roots.”
Writing in The American Conservative, Birzer declares that:
“These roots can be found in Kirk’s thought, an eccentric but effective and potent mixture of stoicism, Burkeanism, anarchism, romanticism, and humanism. It is also important — critically so — to remember that Kirk’s vision of conservatism was never primarily a political one. Politics should play a role in the lives of Americans, but a role limited to its own sphere that stays out of rival areas of life. Family, business, education and religion should each remain sovereign, devoid of politics and politicization. Kirk wanted a conservatism of imagination, of liberal education, and of human dignity. Vitally, he wanted a conservatism that found all persons — regardless of their accidents of birth — as individual manifestations of the external and universal Logos. One hundred years after the birth of Russell Amos Kirk, those are ideas well worth remembering.”
For all of those who knew him, Kirk was a gentleman and scholar of the old school, always seeking to understand how men and women and societies work and interact, and to carefully delineate which things are permanent and must be preserved, and which are temporal and can, and often must, be altered.
The author of more than 30 books, his best-known work, The Conservative Mind, was published in 1953 and presented the intellectual and historic framework for contemporary American conservatism. It was a bestseller when it appeared and has never been out of print in subsequent years. Speaking at a testimonial dinner in Kirk’s honor in Washington in 1981, President Ronald Reagan said:
“Dr. Kirk helped renew a generation’s interest and knowledge of ‘permanent things,’ which are the underpinnings and the intellectual infrastructure of the conservative revival of our nation.”
To those who argued that it was liberal ideas that defined the American experience, Kirk, through an extensive discussion of Edmund Burke, John Adams, James Fennimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Benjamin Disraeli, Herman Melville, T.S. Eliot, and George Santayana, presented readers with a different intellectual and moral tradition, one with deep roots in the past — the Judeo-Christian tradition, the experience of Greece and Rome, the tradition of democratic self-government as it evolved in England from the time of Magna Carta.
It was Kirk’s view that if our nation were to grow and thrive, it must remember and understand the historical roots from which it grew. In The Roots of American Order, he wrote that:
“Lacking a knowledge of how we arrived where we stand today, lacking the deep love of country which is nurtured by knowledge of the past, lacking the apprehension that we all take part in a great historical continuity — why, a people so deprived will not dare much, or take long views. With them, creature comforts will be everything; yet historical consciousness wanting, in the long run they must lose their creature comforts too.”
The roots of the American order, Kirk showed, went back to the ancient world — to the Jews and their understanding of a purposeful universe under God’s dominion, to the Greeks, with their high regard for the uses of reason, to the stern virtues of Romans such as Cicero, to Christianity, which taught the duties and limitations of man, and the importance of the transcendent in our lives. The roots of our order, in addition, include the traditions and universities of the medieval world, the Reformation and the response to it, the development of English common law, the debates of the 18th century, and the written words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
The beliefs which motivated the Founding Fathers, Kirk pointed out, were ancient in origin:
“From Israel . . . America inherited an understanding of the sanctity of law. Certain root principles of justice exist, arising from the nature which God has conferred upon man; law is a means for realizing those principles, so far as we can. That assumption was in the minds of the men who wrote the Declaration . . . and the Constitution. . . . A conviction of man’s sinfulness, and the need for laws to restrain every man’s will and appetite, influenced the legislators of the colonies and of the Republic. . . . Thomas Jefferson, rationalist though he was, declared that in matters of political power, one must not trust in the alleged goodness of man, ‘but bind him down with chains of the Constitution.’”
It was Kirk’s hope to persuade the rising generation to set their faces against:
“. . . political . . . fanaticism . . . and utopian schemes . . .’ Politics is the art of the possible,’ the conservative says; he thinks of political policies as intended to preserve order, justice, and freedom. The ideologue, on the contrary, thinks of politics as a revolutionary instrument for transforming society and even transforming human nature. In his march toward Utopia, the ideologue is merciless.”
The ideologies that have been so costly — Nazism, Communism, Fascism — are, Kirk pointed out, really “inverted religion.” But, he noted:
“The prudential politician knows that ‘Utopia’ means ‘Nowhere,’ and that true religion is a discipline for the soul, not for the state. . . . In the 20th century it has been the body of opinion generally called ‘conservative’ that has defended the Permanent Things from ideological assault.”
Conservatism, to Kirk:
“. . . is not a bundle of theories got up to by some closet philosopher. On the contrary, the conservative conviction grows out of experience, the experience of the species, of the nation, of the person. . . . It is the practical statesman rather than the visionary recluse, who has maintained a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of freedom.”
Not long before his death in 1994, this writer, who knew Kirk for more than three decades, spent a leisurely lunch with him and his wife, Annette, at which we discussed many of the problems facing our society. He lamented the fact that the evidence of decadence is all around us — growing crime, increasingly unstable families, schools which are no longer transmitting our history and cultural traditions, and ever more wasteful government. He saw this as not dissimilar to Greece and Rome in their days of decline. Still, he was not a pessimist, for he took history’s long view, as he did in the epilogue of The Politics of Prudence, which had recently been published. He wrote, “We may remind ourselves that ages of decadence sometimes have been followed by ages of renewal.” He urged the young to explore the past, discover the roots of our civilization, and work to restore its sensibility. “Time is not a devourer only,” he concluded.
Both Time and Newsweek described Kirk as one of the nation’s most influential thinkers. He often quoted the 1843 speech of Orestes Brownson, given at Dartmouth College: “Ask not what your age wants, but what it needs, not what it will reward, but what, without which it cannot be saved, and that go and do.” For 75 years, Russell Kirk did just that.
It would be interesting to know what Russell Kirk would think of the politics of 2018, in particular what those who now call themselves “conservative” proclaim — the lack of civility, the characterization of those with whom we disagree as “enemies,” the coarseness and vulgarization of our political life. It is certain that he would be unhappy, but equally certain that he would not be surprised. Human nature being what it is, periods such as this have been seen before. He would, more than likely, lament that the conservative movement he helped to launch after World War II, had evolved into something quite different. But this, he might say, will not last either. Something better, he might predict, is just over the horizon. If that would indeed be his prediction, let’s hope he’s right. *
Allan C. Brownfeld
The Attack on Robert E. Lee Is an Assault on American History Itself
Early in February, the City Council of Charlottesville, Virginia, voted 3-2 to remove a bronze equestrian monument to Robert E. Lee that stands in a downtown park named in his honor. Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy, the council’s only African American member, led the effort to remove the statue. In the end, this vote may be largely symbolic. Those opposed to the statue’s removal intend to file a lawsuit and point to a state statute that says Virginia cities have no authority over the war memorials they inherited from past generations. “If such are erected,” the law reads, “it shall be unlawful for the authorities of the locality, or any other person or persons, to disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials so erected.”
The attack on the Robert E. Lee statue is, in reality, an attack on American history itself. It has been suggested that the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial are inappropriate, since they celebrate men who owned slaves. Those who seek to erase our history seem a bit like the Taliban and ISIS, who are busy destroying historic structures all over the Middle East if they predate the rise of Islam. History is what it is, a mixed bag of mankind’s strengths and weaknesses, of extraordinary achievements and the most horrible depredations. To judge the men and women of past eras by today’s standards is to be guilty of what the Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood called the “sin of contemporaneity.”
Those who refer to slavery as America’s “original sin” should review history. Sadly, from the beginning of recorded history until the 19th century, slavery was the way of the world. When the U.S. Constitution was written in 1787, slavery was legal everyplace in the world. What was unique was that in the American colonies there was a strenuous objection to slavery and that the most prominent framers of the Constitution wanted to eliminate it at the very start of the nation.
Our Judeo-Christian tradition, many now forget, accepted the legitimacy of slavery. The Old Testament regulates the relationship between master and slave in great detail. In Leviticus (XXV: 39-55), God instructs the Children of Israel to enslave the heathen and their progeny forever. In the New Testament, St. Paul urges slaves to obey their masters with full hearts and without equivocation. St. Peter urges slaves to obey even unjust orders from their masters.
At the time of its cultural peak, ancient Athens may have had 115,000 slaves to 43,000 citizens. The same is true of Ancient Rome. Plutarch notes that on a single day in the year 167 B.C., 150,000 slaves were sold in a single market. The British historian of classical slavery, Moses I. Finley, writes: “The cities in which individual freedom reached its highest expression — most obviously Athens — were cities in which chattel slavery flourished.”
American history is flawed, as is any human enterprise. Yet those who now call for the removal of statues and monuments commemorating our past are measuring our history against perfection, not against other real places. What other societies in 1787 — or any date in history prior to that time — would these critics find freer and more equitable than ours? Where else was religious freedom to be found in 1787? Compared to perfection, our ancestors are found wanting. Compared to other real places in the world, they were clearly ahead of their time, advancing the frontiers of freedom.
In the case of Robert E. Lee himself, there is more to his story than the Charlottesville City Council may understand. Everyone knows that Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox effectively ended the Civil War. What few remember today is the real heroism of Robert E. Lee. By surrendering, he was violating the orders given by Jefferson Davis, the elected leader of the Confederacy. The story of April 1865 is not just one of decisions made, but also of decisions rejected. Lee’s rejection of continuing the war as a guerrilla battle, the preference of Jefferson Davis, and Grant’s choice to be magnanimous, cannot be overestimated in importance.
With the fall of Richmond, Davis and the Confederate government were often on the run. Davis, writes Prof. Jay Winik in his important book April 1865: The Month That Saved America,
“. . . was thinking about such things as a war of extermination . . . a national war that ruins the enemy. In short, guerrilla resistance. . . . The day after Richmond fell, Davis had called on the Confederacy to shift from a conventional war to a dynamic guerrilla war of attrition, designed to wear down the North and force it to conclude that keeping the South in the Union would not be worth the interminable pain and ongoing sacrifice.”
But Robert E. Lee knew the war was over. Grant was magnanimous in victory and, Winik points out,
“. . . was acutely aware that on this day, what had occurred was the surrender of one army to another — not of one government to another. The war was very much on. There were a number of potentially troubling rebel commanders in the field. And there were still some 175,000 other Confederates under arms elsewhere; one-half in scattered garrisons and the rest in three remaining rebel armies. What mattered now was laying the groundwork for persuading Lee’s fellow armies to join in his surrender — and also for reunion, the urgent matter of making the nation whole again.”
Appomattox was not preordained. “If anything,” notes Winik,
“. . . retribution had been the larger and longer precedent. So, if these moments teemed with hope — and they did — it was largely due to two men who rose to the occasion, to Grant’s and Lee’s respective actions: one general, magnanimous in victory, the other gracious and equally dignified in defeat, the two of them, for their own reasons and in their own ways, fervently interested in beginning the process to bind up the wounds of the last four years. . . . Above all, this surrender defied millenniums of tradition in which rebellions typically ended in yet greater shedding of blood. . . . One need only recall the harsh suppression of the peasants’ revolt in Germany in the 16th century, or the ravages of Alva during the Dutch rebellion, or the terrible punishments inflicted on the Irish by Cromwell, and then on the Scots after Culloden, or the bloodstained vengeance executed during the Napoleonic restoration, or the horrible retaliation imposed during the futile Chinese rebellion in the mid-19th century.”
If it were not for Robert E. Lee’s decision not to blindly follow irrational instructions to keep fighting a guerrilla war indefinitely, the surrender at Appomattox never would have taken place and our nation’s history would have been far different. Fortunately, our American tradition has never embraced the notion of blindly following orders, particularly if they involved illegal or immoral acts. No American could ever escape responsibility for such acts by saying, “I was simply following orders.”
The effort to erase our past, as the Charlottesville City Council proposes, comes about, in large part, because we know so little about our own history. Pulitzer Prize winning historian David McCullough declares that:
“We are raising a generation of people who are historically illiterate. We can’t function in a society if we don’t know who we are and where we came from.”
More than two-thirds of college students and administrators who participated in a national survey were unable to remember that freedom of religion and the press are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. In surveys conducted at 339 colleges and universities, more than one-fourth of students and administrators did not list freedom of speech as an essential right protected by the First Amendment.
If we judge the past by the standards of today, must we stop reading Plato and Aristotle, Sophocles, and Aristophanes, Dante and Chaucer? Will we soon hear calls to demolish the Acropolis and the Coliseum, as we do to remove memorials to Washington and Jefferson, and statues of Robert E. Lee? Must we abandon the Bible because it lacks modern sensibility? Where will it end? As theologian Elton Trueblood declared, “contemporaneity” is indeed a sin. We would all do well to avoid its embrace.”
Free Speech Is Not Only Under Attack at Our Universities, But “Objective Truth” Itself Is Referred to as a “Racist Construct”
Free speech is not faring well on the nation’s college and university campuses. In mid-April, the University of California at Berkeley canceled a scheduled talk by conservative author Ann Coulter in what The New York Times called “the latest blow to the institution’s legacy and reputation as a promoter and bastion of free speech.” In a letter to the Berkeley College Republicans, which was sponsoring the talk, two vice chancellors said the university had been “unable to find a safe and suitable venue for your April 27 event . . .”
In February, a speech by controversial right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos, also sponsored by the College Republicans, was canceled after masked protestors smashed windows, set fires, and pelted the police with rocks. The Washington Post notes that:
“The decisions by U.C.-Berkeley to cancel both events are especially notable given the campus’s role during the 1960s and 1970s as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement and its long tradition of social protest.”
Throughout the country, assaults on free speech are widespread at our colleges and universities. In March, author Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute was forced to abandon a lecture at Middlebury College in Vermont. The professor who was hosting him, a liberal Democrat, was assaulted. Recently, Notre Dame students said that they felt “unsafe” at the prospect of Vice President Mike Pence speaking at their commencement. In April, the Student Senate at the University of California at Davis voted to remove the American flag from their meetings. One student declared that the flag “represents a history of genocide, slavery and imperialism.”
Things at our universities are becoming increasingly difficult to understand. The Wall Street Journal reports that:
“Every year, Stanford asks its applicants an excellent question: ‘What matters to you, and why?’ Ziad Ahmed of Princeton, N.J. summed up his answer in three words. His essay consisted of the hashtag ‘#BlackLivesMatter’ repeated 100 times. He got in.”
Carrying things to an extreme even unusual for the advocates of political correctness, a group of students at California’s five college Claremont Consortium says that objective truth is itself a “myth” espoused by “white supremacists.” This came after Pomona College President David Oxtoby released a statement in defense of free speech after conservative author Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute had an event disrupted at nearby Claremont McKenna College.
President Oxtoby’s letter was met with a list of demands by minority activist students who called MacDonald “a white supremacist fascist supporter of the police state,” and objective truths, such as those cited in the Declaration of Independence, “a means of silencing oppressed peoples.” The authors, Dray Denson, Avery Jonas, and Shanaya Stephenson, received 22 co-signers. They said that silencing conservative speakers, like MacDonald, whose work has been published widely in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and other newspapers and journals, is a valid option for activists since such speaking engagements constitute “a form of violence.”
During her lecture, MacDonald was attempting to discuss the rise of anti-police attitudes when she was derailed by protestors banging on windows and shouting “F--k The Police” and “Black Lives Matter.” Campus security ultimately forced MacDonald to live stream her lecture from a near-empty room across campus.
In his letter, President Oxtoby wrote that:
“Protest has a legitimate and celebrated place on college campuses. What we cannot support is the act of preventing others from engaging with an invited speaker. Our mission is founded upon the discovery of truth, the collaborative development of knowledge and the betterment of society.”
This call for free speech was rejected by the student protestors. They wrote:
“Free speech, a right that many freedom movements have fought for, has recently become a tool appropriated by hegemonic institutions. It has not just empowered students from marginalized backgrounds to voice their qualms and criticize aspects of the institution, but it has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry. Thus, if our mission is founded upon the discovery of truth, how does free speech uphold that value?”
The students said that the very idea of objective truth is a concept devised by “white supremacists” in an “attempt to silence oppressed peoples.” They declare that:
“Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity and wielded a dichotomy of ‘subjectivity vs. objectivity’ as a means of silencing oppressed peoples. The idea that there is a single truth —‘the Truth’ — is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples.”
The assault on Heather MacDonald, viewed as a mainstream commentator, not an extremist, was particularly harsh. The students write:
“If engaged, Heather MacDonald would not be debating on mere difference of opinion, but the right of Black People to exist. Heather MacDonald is a fascist, a white supremacist, a War-hawk, a transphobic, a queerphobe, a classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live. . . . Engaging with her, a white supremacist fascist supporter of the police state, is a form of violence.”
The assault on Western Civilization at our universities is hardly new. In the 1980s, Jesse Jackson led a group of militant students through the campus chanting, “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Western Civilization Has Got To Go.” The opposition to transmitting our culture and civilization is based on the unusual idea that only books, music, and art created by men and women who share our own racial or ethnic background can be meaningful to us and should be transmitted. Under such a notion, only Jews could read the Bible, only Greeks could contemplate Plato or Aristotle, only those of English descent read Shakespeare, and only Italians appreciate Dante or Leonardo da Vinci.
Western culture is relevant to men and women of all races and backgrounds, particularly those living in the midst of our Western society — such as the students at Pomona College. The distinguished black scholar W. E. B. Du Bois recognized this reality when he wrote more than a hundred years ago:
“I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line, I walk arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously, with no scorn or condescension. So, wed with truth, I dwell above the veil.”
When the attacks upon transmitting Western civilization began at our universities, in his address to the freshman class at Yale College in September 1990, Donald Kagan, Professor of History and Classics and Dean of the College, declared:
“The assault on the character of Western civilization badly distorts history. The West’s flaws are real enough, but they are common to almost all the civilizations known in any continent at any time in human history. What is remarkable about the Western heritage, and what makes it essential, are the important ways in which it has departed from the common experience. More than any other it has asserted the claims of the individual against those of the state, limiting the state’s power and creating a realm of privacy into which it cannot penetrate. . . . Western Civilization is the champion of representative democracy as the normal way for human beings to govern themselves, in place of the different varieties of monarchy, oligarchy, and tyranny that have ruled most of the human race throughout history and rule most of the world today. It has produced the theory and practice of separation of church and state, thereby creating a safe place for individual conscience. At its core is a tolerance and respect for diversity unknown in most cultures. One of its most telling characteristics is its encouragement of itself and its ways. Only in the West can one imagine a movement to neglect the culture’s own heritage in favor of some other.”
Our civilization is now under attack on many of our university campuses, as is the idea of objective truth itself, as the students at Pomona College have shown us. When will universities finally decide to remove from their campuses students who silence the speech of those with whom they disagree? When will alumni cut back their contributions to institutions that embrace identity politics and limit the speech of those who dare to differ? This is a serious challenge to our institutions of higher learning. Some of them are resisting. Others, such as Berkeley, seem to be acquiescing. It is hard to imagine student protestors who deny that there is such a thing as “truth” being taken seriously. That many take such irrationality as legitimate discourse tells us as much about today’s academic world as it does about those who would destroy free speech.
The Russian Revolution at 100: Remembering the Naïve Westerners Who Embraced It
One hundred years ago, Russia’s czar was overthrown and Communism began its reign. Sunday, March 12, is the date generally recognized as the start of the uprising. In Moscow, no celebrations are planned. Evidently the country remains too divided over Communism’s legacy. Mikhail Zygar, a Russian journalist and author of the book All The Kremlin’s Men, points out that:
“Vladimir Putin cannot compare himself to Nicholas II, nor to Lenin, nor to Kerensky because that is not Russian history to be proud of. In terms of 1917, nothing can be used as a propaganda tool.”
Communism’s toll was a heavy one. The Black Book of Communism, an 846-page academic study, holds Communism responsible for the deaths of between 85 million and 100 million people worldwide. It estimates that the ideology claimed 45 million to 72 million in China, 20 million in the Soviet Union, between 1.3 million and 2.3 million in Cambodia, 2 million in North Korea, 1.7 million in Africa, 1.5 million in Afghanistan, 1 million in Vietnam, 1 million in Eastern Europe, and 150,000 in Latin America.
Through all those years, many intellectuals in the West insisted on disassociating Communism from the crimes committed in its name. Incredibly, in retrospect, we see many Western academics, clergymen, journalists, and literary figures not resisting Communist tyranny, but embracing it, defending it, and apologizing for it.
Consider the German playwright Bertolt Brecht, who created the modern propaganda play. When he visited the Manhattan apartment of American philosopher Sidney Hook in 1935, Stalin’s purges were just beginning. Hook, raising the cases of Zinoviev and Kamenev, asked Brecht how he could bear to work with the American Communists who were trumpeting their guilt. Brecht replied that the U.S. Communists were no good — nor were the Germans either — and that the only body that mattered was the Soviet party. Hook pointed out that they were all part of the same movement, responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of innocent former comrades.
Brecht replied: “As for them, the more innocent they are, the more they deserve to be shot.” Hook asked, “Why, why?” Brecht did not answer. Hook got up, went into the next room and brought Brecht his hat and coat. During the entire course of Stalin’s purges, Brecht never uttered a word of protest. When Stalin died, Brecht’s comment was: “The oppressed of all five continents . . . must have felt their heartbeats stop when they heard that Stalin was dead. He was the embodiment of all their hopes.”
Another case in point is French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. In a July 1954 interview with Liberation, Sartre, who had just returned from a visit to Russia, said that Soviet citizens did not travel, not because they are prevented from doing so, but because they had no desire to leave their wonderful country. “The Soviet citizens,” he declared, “criticize their government much more and more effectively than we do.” He maintained that, “There is total freedom of criticism in the Soviet Union.”
Another intellectual defender of tyranny was Lillian Hellman, the American playwright. She visited Russia in October 1937, when Stalin’s purge trials were at their height. On her return, she said she knew nothing about them. In 1938 she was among the signatories of an ad in the Communist publication New Masses that approved the trials. She supported the 1939 Soviet invasion of Finland, saying: “I don’t believe in that fine, lovable little Republic of Finland that everyone is weepy about. I’ve been there and it looks like a pro-Nazi little republic to me.” There is no evidence that Hellman ever visited Finland — and her biographer states that this is “highly improbable.”
The American Quaker H. T. Hodgkin provided this assessment: “As we look at Russia’s great experiment in brotherhood, it may seem to us some dim perception of Jesus’ way, all unbeknown, inspiring it.”
The case of New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty who covered the Soviet Union in the 1930s is also instructive. In the midst of the enforced famine in the Ukraine, Duranty visited the region and denied that starvation and death were rampant. In November 1932, Duranty reported that “. . . there is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be.” In The Times of August 23, 1933, Durany wrote: “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda. . . . The food shortage which has affected almost the whole population last year . . . has, however, caused heavy loss of life.”
He estimated the deaths at nearly four times the usual rate, but did not blame Soviet policy. What Americans got was not the truth — but false reporting. But its influence was widespread. What Walter Duranty got was the highest honor in journalism — the Pulitzer Prize for 1933, complimenting him for “dispassionate, interpretive reporting of the news from Russia.” The citation declared that Duranty’s dispatches — which the world now knows to be false — were “marked by scholarship, profundity, impartiality, sound judgment, and exceptional clarity.”
Walter Duranty was only one of many correspondents and writers in the 1920s and 1930s who fed their readers in the West a steady diet of disinformation about the Soviet Union. Louis Fischer, who wrote for The Nation magazine, was also reluctant to tell his readers about the flaws in Soviet society. He, too, glossed over the searing famine of 1932-33. He once referred to what we now know as the “Gulags” as “a vast industrial organization and a big educational institution.” In 1936, he informed his readers that the dictatorship was “voluntarily abdicating” in favor of “democracy.”
Somehow, liberal intellectuals, who were harsh in their judgment of the American society, eagerly embraced the ruthless dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. Concerning the forced collectivization of Soviet agriculture, author Upton Sinclair wrote: “They drove rich peasants off the land — and sent them wholesale to work in lumber camps and on railroads. Maybe it cost a million lives — maybe it cost five million — but you cannot think intelligently about it unless you ask yourself how many millions it might have cost if the changes had not been made.”
W. E. B. Du Bois, the black intellectual, thought that, “He (Stalin) asked for neither adulation nor vengeance. He was reasonable and conciliatory.” It was not only Stalin who was embraced by many in the West but Mao as well. Visiting in Communist China, New York Times columnist James Reston said that he thought Chinese Communist doctrines and the Protestant ethic had much in common and was generally impressed by “the atmosphere of intelligent and purposeful work.” (New York Times, July 30, 1971). He wrote:
“China’s most visible characteristics are the characteristics of youth . . . a kind of lean, muscular grace, relentless hard work, and an opportunistic and even amiable outlook on the future. . . . The people seem not only young but enthusiastic about their changing lives.”
Reston also believed that young people from the city who were forced to work as manual laborers in rural areas “were treating it like an escape from the city and an outing in the countryside.” When Mao died in 1976, the Times devoted three pages to his obituary, but only a few lines alluded to his enormous crimes against the Chinese people. It has been estimated that Mao was responsible for the deaths of 30 million to 60 million people. The Times referred to the execution of “a million to three million people, including landlords, nationalist agents, and others suspected of being class enemies.” The Washington Post also devoted three pages to Mao, concluding, “Mao the warrior, philosopher, and ruler was the closest the modern world has been to the God-heroes of antiquity.” The Post acknowledged that some three million persons had lost their lives in the 1950 “reign of terror,” but the only victims mentioned were “counter-revolutionaries.”
In his landmark study of intellectual support for Communism, Political Pilgrims, Professor Paul Hollander writes that an important myth to be laid to rest “is the belief in the unflinching commitment of intellectuals to freedom, and particularly to freedom of expression.” In the case of the Soviet Union and other Communist societies, he notes:
“It is very clear that the absence of freedoms . . . hardly concerned the visitors or interfered with the attractions of these societies. To the extent that the lack of free expression was observed — and it is by itself noteworthy how frequently it was overlooked — it was excused or rationalized on the familiar grounds of temporary necessity, amply compensated for by the various achievements of the regimes concerned.”
In addition, states Hollander:
“Attributions of idealism and disinterestedness also call for re-examination when intellectuals move with lightning speed from vehement moral indignation and moral absolutism (generally reserved for their own society) to a strangely pragmatic moral relativism brought to the assessment of policies of countries they are committed to support. . . . Scott Nearing, who often left his home in Maine in November rather than watch hunters kill deer, defended Soviet tanks in Budapest (in 1956). . . . Such misjudgments and moral double ‘bookkeeping’ (or double standards) are in part due to the readiness to believe ‘the other side.’”
The anniversary of the Russian Revolution is particularly meaningful for those of us who are old enough to remember the reality of what Communism was really like. This writer spent time in Eastern Europe during the darkest days of Communist rule, visiting both the Berlin Wall and Czechoslovakia in 1969, shortly after the Soviet Union brutally marched into Prague and put down the attempts at liberalization. Wherever one went in Czechoslovakia, the contempt for the occupying Soviet Army was clear. At a student club I visited, when word got around that an American was on the premises, many young people came by to extend greetings. I was invited to the homes of a number of Czechs who openly declared their hostility to Communism and their desire for their country to once again join the Western world. It is fair to say that I did not encounter a single Czech who spoke well of either Communism or the Soviet Union.
As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, we should remember how easily naïve Westerners were eager to embrace it. Vladimir Putin, who served Communism as a KGB agent, was an eager participant in the Communist enterprise. It is interesting to observe his current reluctance to celebrate the totalitarian and imperialistic system to which he devoted much of his life. Sadly, he now seems intent upon restoring as much of the Soviet empire as he can and to destabilize NATO, the EU, and our own country. Let us hope that we do not engage in the same wishful thinking about Putin’s goals and objectives that so many in the West did about Communism. Remembering those who naïvely embraced tyranny should immunize us against following such a path in the future — that is if we are willing to learn from history, something that is all too rare. *
Allan C. Brownfeld
America Is Exceptional — But Now There Is an Effort to Make It Ordinary
Our society is unique in history — in other words “exceptional.” Ronald Reagan described it as a “City on a Hill.” Now, we confront an effort to make it ordinary, to build walls, promote fear of strangers, and promote a narrow nationalism. Perhaps those who would make America small and narrow do not understand what generations of Americans, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, have meant by the term “American exceptionalism.”
America has never simply been another country. From the very beginning, its vision of Liberty attracted people of every ethnic background and religion. At the time of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine wrote:
“If there is a country in the world where concord, according to common calculation, would be least expected, it is America. Made up, as it is, of people from different nations, accustomed to different forms and habits of government, speaking different languages, and more different in their modes of worship, it would appear that the Union of such a people was impracticable. But by the simple operation of constructing government on the principles of society and the rights of man, every difficulty retires and the parts are brought into cordial unison.”
In Redburn, (1849), Herman Melville spelled out a vision of America which is as true today as it was then:
“There is something in the contemplation of the mode in which America has been settled that, in a noble breast, should forever extinguish the prejudices of national dislikes. Settled by the people of all nations, all nations may claim her for their own. You cannot spill a drop of American blood without spilling the blood of the whole world. Be he Englishman, German, Dane or Scot: the European who scoffs at an American . . . stands in danger of judgment. We are not a narrow tribe of men. . . . No: our blood is as the flood of the Amazon, made up of a thousand noble currents all pouring into one. We are not a nation, so much as a world.”
To make America simply another country, concerned only with its narrow self-interest, is to reverse our history. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote:
“France was a land. England was a people, but America, having about it still the quality of an idea, was harder to utter — it was the graves at Shiloh, and the tired, drawn, nervous faces of its great men, and the country boys dying in the Argonne for a phrase that was empty before their bodies withered. It was a willingness of the heart.”
Today, our country is the most powerful and most prosperous in the world. We defeated Communism, Fascism and Nazism. Of course, there are always challenges to be confronted. ISIS threatens the West with terrorism, and it is important that it be defeated. But the promotion of fear by some in Washington is irrational. In his first Inaugural Address, in the midst of the Great Depression, as democracy was collapsing in Europe, Franklin D. Roosevelt told the country that:
“. . . the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Now, our new administration stirs fear with no basis for doing so. Scholars of the subject say they can think of no previous president so enamored as Mr. Trump of scare tactics. Historian Robert Dallek says, “If he frightens people, it puts him in the driver’s seat. These are what I think can be described as demagogic tendencies.”
There is nothing conservative about what we are hearing from the White House in recent days. Of the catchphrase “America First,” the antecedents of which go back to keeping the U.S. out of the war against Nazism, which many who now use it do not understand, conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer writes:
“Some claim that putting America first is a reassertion of American exceptionalism. On the contrary, it is the antithesis. It makes America no different from all the other countries that define themselves by a particularist blood-and-soil nationalism. What made America exceptional, unique in the world, was defining its own national interest beyond its narrow economic and security needs to encompass the safety and prosperity of a vast array of allies. A free world, markedly open trade and mutual defense was President Truman’s vision, shared by every president since. Until now. . . . For seventy years, we sustained an international system of open commerce and democratic alliances that has enabled America and the West to grow and thrive. Global leadership is what made America great. We abandon it at our peril.”
The people around presidential adviser Stephen Bannon and the “alt-right” philosophy he promoted on the Breitbart news website, have more in common with the right-wing racial nationalism to be found in European parties such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France than anything in our own history. To what degree President Trump has embraced such views, remains less than clear. But many traditional conservatives see all of this as a dramatic departure from American exceptionalism. New York Times columnist David Brooks notes that:
“We are in the midst of a Great War of national identity. We thought we were in an ideological battle against radical Islam, but we are really fighting the national myths spread by Trump, Bannon, Putin, Le Pen and Farage. We can argue about immigration and trade and foreign policy, but nothing will be right until we restore and revive the meaning of America. Are we still the purpose-driven experiment Lincoln described and Emma Lazarus wrote about: assigned by providence to spread democracy and prosperity; to welcome the stranger. . . . Or are we just another nation, hunkered down in a fearful world?”
In 1866, Lord Acton, the British liberal leader, said that America was becoming the “distant magnet.” Apart from “the millions who have crossed the ocean, who shall reckon with the millions whose hearts and hopes are in the United States, to whom the rising sun is in the West.”
America has been a nation much loved. Germans have loved Germany. Frenchmen have loved France. Swedes have loved Sweden. This, of course, is only natural. But America has been beloved not only by native Americans, but by men and women throughout the world who have yearned for freedom. America dreamed a bigger dream than any nation in the history of man. Now, in Washington, that dream is being replaced with something far different. The Republican Party, which always embraced the idea of American exceptionalism, one to which Ronald Reagan and conservatives were particularly committed, now has a choice. Will it abandon its vision of America as exceptional and adopt the very ordinary nationalism that now is manifesting itself in the White House, or will it maintain its belief in an America that is, indeed, something new and positive in history? All of us will be losers if the vision of America embraced by the Founding Fathers and generations of Americans is abandoned by those whose notion of America is narrow and completely ahistorical.
The Strange Assault on Thomas Jefferson at the University He Founded
At the University of Virginia, its founding father, Thomas Jefferson, is under attack by some students and faculty.
After the November presidential election, university president Theresa Sullivan wrote a letter in which she quoted Jefferson in expressing the hope that students from the University would help our republic. Sullivan wrote:
“By coincidence, on this exact day 191 years ago — November 9, 1825, in the first year of classes at the University of Virginia — Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that U.V. students ‘. . . are not of ordinary significance only; they are exactly the persons who are to succeed to the government of our country, and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes.’ I encourage today’s U.V. students to embrace that responsibility.”
Almost immediately, a response was drafted by Noelle Brand, an assistant professor of psychology, who declared that Thomas Jefferson “was deeply involved in the racist history of this university” and he noted that:
“We would like for our administration to understand that although some members of this community may have come to this university because of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy, others of us came here in spite of it. For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotations in these e-mails undermines the message of unity, equality, and civility that you are attempting to convey.”
Approximately 500 students and faculty signed the letter, with more adding their names later. President Sullivan responded that:
“Quoting Jefferson (or any historical figure) does not imply an endorsement of all the social structures and beliefs of his time, such as slavery and the exclusion of women and people of color from the university.”
Sullivan acknowledged “the university’s complicated Jeffersonian legacy.” She pointed out that:
“Today’s leaders are women and men, members of all racial and ethnic groups, members of the LGBTQ community and adherents of all religious traditions. All of them belong to today’s University of Virginia whose founders most influential and quoted words were ‘all men are created equal.’ Those words were inherently contradictory in an era of slavery, but because of their power they became the fundamental expression of a more genuine equality today.”
What President Sullivan’s critics are doing is applying the standards of 2016 to 1787, when the Constitution was written, and finding our ancestors seriously deficient. They are guilty of what the Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood called “the sin of contemporaneity,” of applying the standards of our own time to those who have come before. It is possible to look at the colonial period from both the vantage point of the period that preceded it as well as the period which has followed. This is instructive when considering the question of slavery.
Slavery played an important part in many ancient civilizations. Indeed, most people of the ancient world regarded slavery as a natural condition of life, one that could befall anyone at any time, having nothing to do with race. It has existed almost universally through history among peoples of every level of material culture — among nomadic pastoralists in Asia, hunting societies of North American Indians and sea people such as the Norsemen. The legal codes of Sumer provide documentary evidence that slavery existed there as early as the 4th millennium B.C. The Sumerian symbol for slave in cuneiform writing suggests “foreign.”
When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, not a single nation had made slavery illegal. As they looked back through history, the framers saw slavery as an accepted and acceptable institution. It was not until 1792 that Denmark became the first Western nation to abolish the slave trade. In 1807, the British Parliament passed a bill outlawing the slave trade — and slavery was abolished in British colonies between 1834 and 1840. France freed the slaves in its colonies in 1848. Spain ended slavery in Puerto Rico in 1873, and in Cuba in 1886. Brazil abolished slavery in 1888.
The respected British historian of classical slavery, Moses L. Finley, writes:
“The cities in which individual freedom reached its highest expression — most obviously Athens — were cities in which chattel slavery flourished.”
The same is true of Ancient Rome. Plutarch notes that on a single day in the year 167 B.C., 150,000 slaves were sold in a single market.
Our Judeo-Christian tradition was also one that accepted the legitimacy of slavery. The Old Testament regulates the relationship between master and slave in great detail. In Leviticus (XXV: 39-55), God instructs the Children of Israel to enslave the heathen and their progeny forever, but to employ poor Jews as servants only, and to free them and their children on the year of Jubilee. There is no departure from this approach to slavery in the New Testament. St. Paul urges slaves to obey their masters with full hearts and without obfuscation.
What is historically unique is not that slavery was the accepted way of the world in 1787, but that so many of the leading men of the American colonies of that day wanted to eliminate it — and pressed vigorously to do so.
Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton were ardent abolitionists. John Jay, who would become the first Chief Justice, was president of the New York Anti-Slavery Society. Rufus King and Gouverneur Morris were in the forefront of opposition to slavery.
One of the great debates at the Constitutional Convention related to the African slave trade. George Mason of Virginia made an eloquent plea for making it illegal. He said:
“Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a country.”
In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, one of the principal charges made by Thomas Jefferson against King George III and his predecessors was that they would not allow the American colonies to outlaw the importation of slaves. When Jefferson was first elected to the Virginia legislature at the age of twenty-five, his first political act was to begin the elimination of slavery. Though unsuccessful, he tried to further encourage the emancipation process by writing into the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” In his draft of a constitution for Virginia, he provided that all slaves would be emancipated in that state by 1800, and that any child born in Virginia after 1801, would be born free. This, however, was not adopted.
In his draft, instructions to the Virginia delegation to the Continental Congress of 1774, published as “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” Jefferson charged the British crown with having prevented the colonies from abolishing slavery in the interest of avarice and greed:
“The abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire of these colonies, where it was, unhappily, introduced in their infant state. But previous to the enfranchisement of the slaves we have, it is necessary to exclude all further importations from Africa. Yet our repeated efforts to effect this by prohibition, and by imposing duties which might amount to a prohibition, have been hitherto defeated by his Majesty’s negative.”
Thomas Jefferson and the other framers of the Constitution were imperfect men and it is not difficult to discover their personal flaws. But these imperfect men did an extraordinary thing in creating a new nation, which now has the world’s oldest continuous form of government. Professor Forrest McDonald points out that:
“The framers were guided by principles but not by formulas. They understood that no form or system of government is universally desirable or workable; instead, if government is to be viable, it must be made to conform to human nature and to the genius of the people — to their customs, morals, habits, institutions, aspirations. The framers did just that, and thereby used old materials to create a new order for the ages.”
While the majority of the framers of the Constitution were opposed to slavery, a small minority supported it and if it were outlawed the union never would have come into being. Thus, they compromised. What they did do was outlaw the slave trade as of 1808 and Congress, in 1787, outlawed slavery in the new territories by passing the Northwest Ordinance. It was, we must remember, the framers of the Constitution who were the first duly constituted authority in the Western world to act decisively against slavery.
One wonders how much of this history is known by those who wrote and signed the letter calling upon University of Virginia President Theresa Sullivan to stop quoting Thomas Jefferson. To her credit, President Sullivan understands the distinction between intrinsic principle and historical personality. To hold leaders of the past to the standards of the present time is to be guilty of missing the larger message of our history. Jefferson and our other Founding Fathers set in place a system of government that permitted growth and change. While they may not have shared the views of today, neither did Socrates, Plato, Dante, or Shakespeare. Shall we only be able to quote those from the 20th and 21st centuries who share the standards we only ourselves came to accept a very short time ago? This would be “contemporaneity” gone mad.
Thomas Sowell Ends His Column, But His Intellectual Legacy Will Only Grow
Thomas Sowell, one of America’s foremost public intellectuals and most outspoken black conservatives, submitted his final column in December after 25 years in syndication. At 86, he said, he thought the time had come to retire from this enterprise. Hopefully, his other literary pursuits will continue.
For more than 50 years, Sowell has published books and journals on race, economics, and government policy. He grew up in Harlem and was the first member of his family to go beyond 6th grade — eventually graduating from Harvard. A self-proclaimed Marxist in his 20s, he received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago, where he studied under Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economic advocate of free markets. Sowell slowly lost faith in the ability of government to effectuate positive change in our economic life. He taught economics at Cornell and UCLA and has been a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University since 1980. (Shortly after he moved into his office at Stanford, I visited him there. I remember having dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Palo Alto, and putting a tape recorder on the table, and engaging in a lengthy interview, which was subsequently published in Human Events).
Thomas Sowell examined the history of race relations in America, and throughout the world. He questioned much of the orthodoxy to be found in intellectual circles and asked — and tried to answer — the most difficult questions. Do certain groups advance in society at varying rates because of the attitude of society toward them? Does discrimination against a given group cause it to do less well economically and educationally than those groups that do not face such external barriers?
In a landmark study, “The Economics and Politics of Race: An International Perspective”(1983), followed by an impressive succession of important books, Sowell uses an international framework to analyze group differences. Examining the experience of different groups in more than a dozen countries, he seeks to determine how much of each group’s economic fate has been due to the surrounding society and how much to internal patterns that follow the same group around the world.
The Italians in Australia and Argentina, for example, show social and economic patterns similar in many respects to those of Italians in Italy or in the United States. Chinese college students in Malaysia specialize in very much the same fields that they specialize in American colleges — a far different set of specializations from those of other groups in both countries. Germans have, similarly, concentrated in very similar industries and occupations in South America, North America, or Australia.
Analyzing the successes of each group, Sowell points to the group’s culture, which rewards some behaviors over others, as the determinant of skills, orientations and therefore economic performance. “Race may have no intrinsic significance,” he writes, “and yet be associated historically with vast cultural differences that are very consequential for economic performance.”
In Southeast Asia, for example, the overseas Chinese have been subjected to widespread discrimination. Quota systems were established in government employment and in admission to universities in Malaysia, and a “target” of 30 percent Malayan ownership in business and industry was established. In Indonesia, a 1959 law forbade the Chinese to engage in retailing in the villages. Chinese-owned rice mills were confiscated. In the Philippines, it was decreed that no new Chinese import business could be established, and Chinese establishments were closed by law.
Despite all of this, Sowell points out, the Chinese thrived. As of 1972, they owned between 50 and 95 percent of the capital in Thailand’s banking and finance industries, transportation, wholesale and retail trade, restaurants, and the import and export business. In Malaysia, the Chinese earned double the income of Malays in 1976, despite a massive government program imposing preferential treatment of Malays in the private economy. In the U.S., as in Southeast Asia, writes Sowell, “The Chinese became hated for their virtues.” Despite discrimination, the Chinese advanced rapidly in the U.S., as did the Japanese, who met similar forms of racial bigotry, including special taxes and job restrictions.
In Europe, Sowell points out, precisely the same story can be told with regard to Jews. Anti-semitism was a powerful force in many countries, yet Jews continued to advance. Although Jews were only one percent of the German population, they became 10 percent of the doctors and dentists, 17 percent of the lawyers, and won 27 percent of the Nobel Prizes awarded Germans from 1901 to 1975. In the U.S., notes Sowell:
“Although the Jewish immigrants arrived with less money than most other immigrants, their rise to prosperity was unparalleled. Working long hours at low pay, they nevertheless saved money to start their own small businesses . . . or to send a child to college. While the Jews were initially destitute in financial terms, they brought with them not only specific skills but a tradition of success and entrepreneurship which could not be confiscated or eliminated, as the Russian and Polish governments had confiscated their wealth and eliminated most of their opportunities.”
In the case of blacks in the U.S., Sowell shows that West Indians have advanced much more rapidly than native born American blacks because of major cultural differences. In the West Indies, slaves had to grow the bulk of their own food — and were able to sell what they did not need from their individual plots of land. They were given economic incentives to exercise initiative, as well as experience in buying, selling, and managing their own affairs — experiences denied to slaves in the U.S.
The two black groups — native-born Americans and West Indians — suffered the same racial discrimination, but advanced at dramatically different rates. By 1969, black West Indians earned 94 percent of the average income of Americans in general, while native blacks earned only 62 percent. Second generation West Indians in the U.S. earned 15 percent more than the average American. More than half of all black-owned businesses in New York State were owned by West Indians. The highest-ranking blacks in the New York City Police Department in 1970 were all West Indians, as were all the black judges in the city.
It is a serious mistake, Sowell believes, to ignore the fact that economic performance differences between whole races and cultures “are quite real and quite large.” Attitudes of work habits, he argues, are key ingredients of success or failure. The market rewards certain kinds of behavior, and penalizes other behavior patterns — in a color-blind manner. Blaming discrimination by others for a group’s status, he states, ignores the lessons of history.
Political efforts to address the “problems” of minorities, such as race-based affirmative action programs, usually fail, Sowell reports, because they refuse to deal with the real causes of such difficulties:
“. . . political ‘solutions’ tend to misconceive the basic issues. . . . Black civil rights leaders . . . often earn annual incomes running into hundreds of thousands of dollars, even if their programs and approaches prove futile for the larger purpose of lifting other blacks out of poverty.”
Crucial to a group’s ability to advance is the stability of its family life and the willingness to sacrifice:
“. . . more than four-fifths of all white children live with both their parents. But among black children, less than half live with both parents. . . . What is relevant is the willingness to pay a price to achieve goals. Large behavioral differences suggest that the trade-off of competing desires vary enormously among ethnic groups. . . . The complex personal and social prerequisites for a prosperous level of output are often simply glided over, and material wealth treated as having been produced somehow, with the only real question being how to distribute it justly.”
If we seek to understand group differences, it is to “human capital” that we must turn our attention, Sowell declares. The crucial question is not the fairness of its distribution but “whether society as a whole — or mankind as a whole — gains when the output of both the fortunate and the unfortunate is discouraged by disincentives.”
It is Sowell’s view that many black leaders have not served their constituencies but themselves. Instead of expressing concern over the decline of the black family, the increasing out-of-wedlock birth rate, the rise of inner-city crime — they speak only of “discrimination.” Instead of calling for an end to such government licensing laws as those that limit the number of taxicabs in cities such as New York and Philadelphia, they call for more government “make-work” jobs.
While many blame all problems within the black community on the legacy of slavery, Sowell points to the fact that more black children lived in two-parent families during slavery, Reconstruction, and the years of segregation than at the present time. He writes that:
“In reality, most black children were raised in two-parent homes even during the era of slavery, and for generations after, blacks had higher rates of marriage than whites in the early 20th century, and higher rates of labor force participation in every census from 1890 to 1950. The real causes of the very different patterns among blacks in the world of today must be sought in the 20th century, not in the era before emancipation.”
Tom Sowell has been telling the hard truth for many years, and has received much abuse for doing so. He has been a strong advocate for a genuinely color blind society, in which men and women would be judged on their individual merit, not on the basis of race. All Americans who believe in such a society, and believe that one’s view about economic, political, and other matters should be based on the facts as one sees them — not on race, religion, or ethnicity as the promoters of today’s “identity politics” would have it — should recognize what a champion of freedom Sowell has been. We will miss his regular column, but hope he will continue to share his wisdom with us. It is certain that his intellectual legacy will grow for it is based upon scholarship and a search for truth, not upon the changing needs of our political class for convenient and popular responses to the complex challenges we face. Sadly, there are too few such people among us. For a free society to thrive, we need more Thomas Sowells. We have been lucky indeed to have him with us.
Washington Once Again Shows Us That “Congressional Ethics” Is an Oxymoron
On the very first day of the new Congress, House Republicans met in secret. Their very first order of business was to vote to eliminate the quasi-independent office that investigates House ethics. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) was the architect of the attack on the Office of Congressional Ethics, known as O.C.E. The rules change would have prevented the office from investigating potentially criminal allegations, allowed members of the House Ethics Committee to shut down any O.C.E. investigation, and silenced staff members in their dealings with the news media.
The O.C.E. was created in 2008, after a series of bribery and corruption scandals involving members of both parties. Three House members were sent to jail. Among those joining Rep. Goodlatte in calling for the end of O.C.E. were Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), who had been investigated by the O.C.E. for sexual harassment, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), who was investigated after he and his wife took a $24,000 trip to Taiwan, which appeared to have been improperly paid for by the Taiwanese government, and Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), who was ranking member of the House Committee on Small Business in 2009 when he invited expert testimony on the renewable fuel industry from a representative of a renewable fuels business in which his wife had a financial stake, a potential conflict of interest. Another advocate of ending O.C.E. was Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM), who last year tried to eliminate the entire O.C.E. budget after it investigated one of his staff members. Or consider Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), another supporter of eliminating O.C.E., who has used campaign funds for personal expenses, which is illegal. Among his reported expenditures: $1,400 for a dentist, $2,000 for a Thanksgiving trip to Italy, and $600 to take his children’s pet bunny on a commercial airplane. (After these expenses were exposed, he reimbursed his campaign $62,000). The list of those supporting the elimination of O.C.E. who have been the targets of investigation is not a short one.
President-elect Donald Trump quickly weighed in, questioning the priorities of Republican members of Congress. Shortly after, lawmakers were summoned to the basement of the Capitol for a meeting with Republican leaders. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the majority leader, asked his fellow Republicans whether they had campaigned to repeal the Affordable Care Act or to eliminate the ethics office? Shortly after this, the idea of eliminating the O.C.E. was scrapped.
This was not the first time that House lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — had tried to curtail the powers or budget of the O.C.E. In 2011, Rep. Melvin Watt (D-NC), who later left Congress to join the Obama administration, tried to cut the agency’s budget by 40 percent, a proposal that failed on a 302-102 vote. The Republican effort, just after the election of Donald Trump, who promised to “drain the swamp” of Washington, was viewed as tone-deaf in the extreme. The vote to eliminate the O.C.E., noted The Economist, “showed those lawmakers to lack self-awareness to an amazing degree.” Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) said:
“Mr. Trump campaigned that he was going to drain the swamp, and here we are on Day One trying to fill the swamp. . . . I just could not believe that the Congress does not understand that, if anything, we need to bring sunshine in.”
Many years ago, Mark Twain pointed out that Congress was our only “native born criminal class.” The evidence in recent years would fill many pages. In 2009, Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) was convicted of corruption charges in a case made famous by the $90,000 in bribe money stuffed into his freezer. Federal jurors found Jefferson guilty of using his congressional office as a criminal enterprise to enrich himself, soliciting and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to support his business ventures in Africa. While the Jefferson case is an extreme example of congressional corruption, his attorney’s defense that, in effect, “everyone does it,” is not as far fetched as it may appear. Other members of Congress may not have $90,000 in their freezers, but too many are guilty of questionable activities.
Just as Jefferson’s trial began, we learned of Sen. John Ensign’s (R-NV) affair with an aide and the subsequent payments to her family by his parents. Also at that time, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was the subject of several ethics investigations over matters ranging from his occupying four apartments at below market rents in a Harlem building owned by a prominent real estate developer, and his admission that he had neglected to pay some taxes by failing to report $75,000 in income in rental income earned from a beachfront villa in the Dominican Republic. The Wall Street Journal commented: “Ever notice that those who endorse high taxes and those who actually pay them aren’t the same people?”
There is, of course, the larger question of the ethical standards of the Congress, beyond activities that are clearly illegal. Members of Congress subsidize, in one form or another, a host of special interests — farmers, businessmen, Wall Street, universities, welfare recipients, labor unions — and each group has a special Political Action Committee (PAC) that contributes to members’ campaigns. Cuts in subsidies to these groups will provoke cuts in contributions. The result: every group gets what it wants, and the budget deficits skyrocket. Added to this business-as-usual subsidization are the bailouts of failed banks, Wall Street firms, and auto companies — turning traditional ideas of free enterprise on their head. This is the “crony capitalism” now embraced by both political parties.
We have created in America a permanent political class that has an interest in ever-expanding government. The party out of power always says government is too big — but once it comes to power, it makes it even bigger. Republicans accuse Democrats of being supporters of “big government,” which is true enough, but government power has also grown dramatically under Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. When will voters finally understand that both of our political parties are co-conspirators in the growth of both government power and our huge deficits? This is something the Founding Fathers sought to prevent — and would have been sorry to see. But they wouldn’t have been surprised.
Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Edward Carrington, observed that:
“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. . . . One of the profoundest preferences in human nature is for satisfying one’s needs and desires with the least possible exertion; for appropriating wealth produced by the labor of others, rather than producing it by one’s own labor. . . . In other words, the stronger the government, the weaker the producer, the less consideration need be given him and the more might be taken away from him. A deep instinct of human nature being for these reasons in favor of strong government, nothing could be a more natural progress of things than for Liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”
It was because of their fear of governmental power that the Framers of the Constitution limited government through the Bill of Rights and divided its authority through our federal system. By establishing the executive, legislative, and judicial branches — and by dividing authority between the state and national governments — the Framers hoped to ensure that no branch of government would ever obtain so much power that it would be a threat to freedom.
The kind of activist government we have now — involved in every aspect of people’s lives, even running an automobile company — is the opposite of what the Founding Fathers had in mind. From the beginning of history, the great philosophers predicted that democratic government would not long preserve freedom. Plato, Aristotle and, more recently, De Tocqueville, Lord Bryce and Macauley predicted that men would give away their freedom voluntarily for what they perceived as greater security. French political philosopher Bertrand De Jouvenel noted that:
“The state, when once it is made the giver of protection and security, has but to urge the necessities of its protectorate and over-lordship to justify its encroachments.”
Voters say that they are against big government and oppose inflation and deficit spending, but when it comes to their own particular share, they act in a different way entirely. Walter Judd, who represented Minnesota in Congress for many years, once recalled that a Republican businessman from his district:
“. . . who normally decried deficit spending, berated me for voting against a bill which would have brought several million federal dollars into our city. My answer was, ‘Where do you think federal funds for Minneapolis come from? People in St. Paul?’. . . My years in public life have taught me that politicians and citizens alike invariably claim that government spending should be restrained, except where the restraints cut off federal dollars flowing into their cities, or their pocketbooks.”
If each group curbed its demands upon government, it would not be difficult to balance the budget and restore health to the economy. But as long as we allow politicians to solicit virtually unlimited amounts of money from those special interests with business before Congress, this is unlikely — and both parties are in it together. Human nature leads to the unfortunate situation in which, under representative government, people have learned that they can secure funds for themselves that have, in fact, been produced by the hard work of others.
This point was made more than 200 years ago by the British historian Alexander Tytler:
“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury — with the result that democracy collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by dictatorship.”
The Founding Fathers never envisioned the creation of a permanent political class such as the one we have now. They believed that men would be farmers, businessmen, doctors, lawyers, teachers — and would devote several years of their lives to public service and then go home to their careers. Today, however, we have professional politicians — men and women who support their families by holding public office and intend to do so for many years. When they do leave public office, most do not go home and many remain in Washington as high-priced lobbyists. Their motivation, it seems, is clearly whatever will permit them to do so, not the long-run best interests of the country. Incumbents running for re-election in one-party districts raise millions from special interests that they do not need for their campaigns, and can keep it when they leave Congress.
The incoming Trump administration promises to “drain the swamp.” It will be interesting to see how — and if — this proceeds. Still, we must keep in mind that Members of Congress respond to our demands. As long as we — whether individuals, farmers, Wall Street banks or any other special interest, seek to be subsidized by government, and this is the price they must pay for our support, the politicians of both parties will comply. In this sense, our own selfishness, as well as theirs, is the culprit. The term “congressional ethics” may indeed be an oxymoron. But the ethics of the rest of us may not be far behind. In a sense, then, we have the kind of government we deserve — one that indeed represents our values. A brazen effort to eliminate the independent ethics office by a secret vote of House Republicans shows us how far we have gone down this path. *