Posted: January 29, 2007
In "Lincoln's Victory" (Summer 2003) Angelo Codevilla takes issue with Mac Owens's review of David Blight's Race and Revision: The Civil War in American Memory ("How the Confederates Won," Winter 2002).
The Confederates won, according to Blight and Owens, because Northerners and Southerners after the war joined in "avoiding questions of culpability or the right and wrong" of the conflicts. "Post-war reconciliation was the defeat of Lincoln's 'struggle for freedom...[for] the liberation of blacks and their elevation to citizenship and constitutional equality.' Thus," writes Codevilla, "do Owens and Blight misunderstand both Lincoln and the meaning of victory. Lincoln's cause had been to restore the Union that the Founders had forged in American hearts."
To say, however, that after the end of Reconstruction, "the North let Southern whites govern themselves without full equality for negroes" is cosmic understatement. Jim Crow was a regime in many respects harsher than slavery. Slaves had had the protection accorded valuable property. There were very few lynchings under slavery. But these became commonplace under Jim Crow, as a form of terror designed to cow the black population into servile obedience to the master class. The share-cropping system was a form of serfdom, and the ordinary rights and remedies of the common law were seldom if ever available to blacks. A black man might be cheated or abused in a thousand ways, but he could seldom get redress in the courts, before all-white juries. Under Jim Crow, black women continued to be available to white men, as they were under slavery. But any black man accused of making sexual advances to a white woman was under sentence of death, no matter what the facts.
Codevilla speaks of "the abolitionists' idea that the government must become the negro's patron against his former masters." The myriad freebies of the welfare state and the many forms of "affirmative action" may justly be considered patronizing. But to guarantee constitutional rights is not patronizing. The right to vote—the most fundamental of constitutional rights, explicitly guaranteed by the 14th and 15th amendments—was systematically denied until the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
Restoring "the Union that the Founders had forged in American hearts" meant to Lincoln restoring the Union dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. There can be little doubt what Lincoln's position would have been on the 14th and 15th amendments, or on the role of the federal government in their enforcement. But while the Confederacy was defeated, the racism that had been its core was now almost universal. Once the physical and political Union was restored and an enormous growth and prosperity followed, the "new birth of freedom" as a moral cause was forgotten.
The truth is that the North as well as the South was alienated from the principles to which Lincoln was dedicated, as America, like the Western world generally, was inundated by doctrines derived from Hegel and Darwin. John C. Calhoun had been a right-wing Hegelian. Negroes were inferior, whether slave or free, because of History, and not because of any "abstract" ideas of right and wrong. There could be no moral objection to Jim Crow at the end of the war, because there had been none to slavery during the war for a large number of Union men. They had supported the war for material but not moral reasons.
The fate of the Negro in the post-Reconstruction South was indeed the defeat of the Union of the Founders and of Lincoln.
Harry V. Jaffa
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When reviewing my book Getting Over Equality ("A Postmodernist's Prayer," Spring 2003), V. Phillip Muñoz asserts peremptorily that "[j]udicial review's legitimacy depends on the Court's ability to translate constitutional rights into clearly defined principles." Regarding constitutional religious freedom specifically, modern thinking (including, it seems, Muñoz's) typically clings to two propositions: first, that courts cannot act "legitimately" except pursuant to some "principle" and, second, that for the last half-century the courts have in fact been acting in a largely unprincipled manner. It is at least awkward to maintain these propositions simultaneously.
The embarrassment is deepened by the fact that advocates of "principle" typically cannot give any account that will withstand two minutes' reflection of exactly how "principled" adjudication differs from "unprincipled" adjudication anyway.
In this situation, it seems at least worth exploring approaches less obsessed with "principle" and more attuned to prudence or, as I would now prefer to put it, tradition. Muñoz sees risks in this approach, and he is right: in traveling this path we are entering new territory (for academics, at least). Still, it is not as if we are departing from solid ground in the last half-century's religious freedom jurisprudence.
Muñoz also suggests that my criticism of prevailing theories and doctrines "presumes that a theory is adequate only if everyone accepts it," so that "[d]isagreement alone…demonstrates a theory's inadequacy"; and he proceeds to reject that presumption. I agree that it would be wholly untenable, and self-defeating, to hold as a general proposition that theories are unsatisfactory unless they can win universal assent. Things stand differently, though, for a theory that insists that the essence of, say, religious freedom is that the state must be completely neutral toward religions, or must treat all religions as equals in the sense that the state cannot regard any religion as being more or less true or good or "American" than any other. The fact that some religions reject this position—>or, to put it differently, that this position amounts to a rejection of some religious views—does pose a conspicuous problem for this kind of theory.
Finally, and quickly, Muñoz ascribes the book's shortcomings to my being a "postmodernist." He is surely right to observe that I reject some of the central assumptions that have characterized most modern thinking about religious freedom. But I would have thought that with respect to modernity, my leanings and sources of inspiration are more "pre" than "post."
Steven D. Smith
University of San Diego
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The Rule of Law
We welcome Thomas S. Hibbs's fair-minded and thoughtful review of our Myth of the American Superhero in "God and Man at the Multiplex" (Summer 2003). His most serious complaint is that we have "a rather naive faith in the possibility, both domestically and globally, of resolving disputes and fending off attacks on the innocent through negotiation and compromise." But a well-designed constitutional system like that of the U.S.—when accompanied by the principle of equality before the law—can defend the rights of the weak through the force of legislation. Conflicts on a scale that would otherwise provoke wars are regularly attenuated through congressional compromises.
The superheroic narrative that Hibbs and many others commend of vigilantes dealing out precise doses of retributive and redemptive violence has already created new kinds of chaos in Afghanistan and Iraq, where democracy seems to move away on a receding horizon. Because the nation thrilled to our allegedly superheroic invasions, it felt prepared for gratitude of the liberated—but not for the destructive anger that will surely erode the morale of a military that deserves a more prudent direction from its leaders. The nation's new doctrine of preventive war, fueled by the spirit of the American monomyth, has alienated us from allies and added to world's insecurities.
We should remember Atticus Finch, the clay-footed democratic hero of To Kill a Mockingbird. Although Atticus does not succeed in protecting his client from vigilantes, he offers principled courage and commitment to impartial justice in his community. This story embodies the best of American ideals and institutions and it was so recognized at the time, with a Pulitzer for the novel and a shower of Academy Awards. The American Film Institute recently identified Atticus as our most admired film role, surpassing Shane and Dirty Harry, which confirms our conviction that such modest heroism in defending constitutional rights should not be denigrated as naïvely out of tune with public sentiment.
John Shelton Lawrence
Thomas S. Hibbs replies:
Although I have always enjoyed the Dirty Harry films, I am happy to concur with Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence in their praise for To Kill a Mockingbird, a film my wife and I try to have our children watch as often as possible. Atticus Finch is indeed a model of principled courage but he is also a man who admits the necessity of the use of violence in certain circumstances, not, to be sure, against innocent mockingbirds like Tom Robinson but against mad dogs like Bob Ewell. It is, after all, the violence used by the otherwise gentle Boo Radley that saves the innocent Finch kids from Ewell's attack.
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Doing Manent Justice
I was astonished to read William Allen's systematic misrepresentation of Pierre Manent's reflections on the nation and citizenship ("Making Citizens" Summer 2003). In choosing an unpublished talk delivered at Harvard in October 2002 as the sole basis of his account of Manent's thoughts, Allen seems wholly unaware of the fact that all of Manent's recent work is a critique of the contemporary European impulse to say "farewell to politics."
In a very significant book, Cours Familier de Philosophie Politique (Fayard, 2001, and forthcoming in English translation from Princeton), Manent explains that without a vital public realm, without self-governing nation-states, there is no way for the various experiences of life to communicate, no way for human beings to make a whole of their lives and aspirations. The idea of a world without politics and war is for Manent "the grand illusion."
At the heart of Cours Familier is a systematic critique of "the religion of humanity" in both its theoretical and practical manifestations. In the unpublished piece that Allen cites, Manent explains the growing estrangement between Israel and Europe in part by the role that this humanitarian religion plays in the European self-understanding. But far from endorsing Boutros Boutros-Ghali's claim that the "age of sovereignty" is now behind us as Allen fantastically claims, Manent is in fact a "sovereigntist" of the first order. As he put it in Le Figaro (June 4, 2003), contemporary Europeans delude themselves when they promote the United Nations (and related international organizations) "to the role of the central organ of global democracy. There is no such thing as global democracy because humanity does not constitute a single people. There are only particular democratic nations, and they are not the majority at the UN!"
It is imperative for American conservatives not to lump together all criticisms of American foreign policy in some artificial category of apolitical anti-Americanism. Pierre Manent,a student of Raymond Aron and an admirer of Leo Strauss, is a friend of both America and the political nation. Any adequate account of his thought must do justice to those two facts.
Daniel J. Mahoney
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I am happy to inform William B. Allen and the readers of the CRB that Pierre Manent does not subscribe to the views attributed to him in Allen's "Making Citizens" (Summer 2003). Manent is presented as adhering to some sort of cosmopolitan humanitarianism, which has as one essential characteristic, an absolute, apolitical assertion of human rights. As a consequence of this utopian view, it is intimated that Manent misunderstands the right of territorial states like America and Israel to defend themselves, and that he counsels imprudent strategies for them instead.
Allen's root intellectual error was to have mistaken Manent's reports for an endorsement. In his talk at Harvard, Manent was intent upon developing a dialectical contrast between the dominant European view of international order and America's place within it, and what he believes to be the Bush Administration's worldview and motivations. He himself, however, occupies a third position, critical of both, pleasing to neither. His aim was to contribute intellectual clarity in the midst of current misunderstandings and debates, in the hope of shoring up a breached and threatened "transatlantic alliance," which he cherishes. Manent devoted the last two-thirds or more of his remarks to a sketch and analysis of the general characteristics of "the present situation" and then focused upon America's alliances and general position in the Arab-Muslim Middle East. The reader of Allen's piece unfortunately received no idea of these two major topics of Manent's talk, which clearly show a thinker acutely aware of political realities and with a fine moral-political compass.
While one may legitimately disagree with, say, his view of the Bush Administration's worldview and policies, the relevant fact is that Manent is one of France's and Europe's most penetrating and persistent critics of utopian apolitical humanitarianism, and a stout defender of the nation-state. Readers who do not read French may consult the Winter 2003 issue of Modern Age for a brief (but incomplete) synopsis of his views of the "Current Problems of European Democracy," as well as his 1996 piece "Democracy without Nations?" found in Modern Liberty and Its Discontents (Rowman & Littlefield).