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.
Controversy Is Renewed About the 1619 Project, Which Says Racism “Is in America’s DNA”
The author of The New York Times 1619 Project argues essentially that American society is inherently racist, and has been from the beginning. When Nikole Hannah-Jones was denied tenure at the University of North Carolina, the 1619 Project came under renewed scrutiny. As school districts in various parts of the country adopt this curriculum for their schools, it is good that we further examine the thesis of this enterprise.
Many respected historians have taken sharp issue with the 1619 Project. A letter to The New York Times from Princeton historian Sean Wilentz and other prominent historians such as James McPherson, Gordon Wood, and Victoria Bynum, says that the project “reflected a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.”
The letter is rooted in a vision of American history as a slow, uncertain march toward a more perfect Union. One passage in Hannah-Jones’ introductory essay says:
“One of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery as abolitionist sentiment was rising in Britain.”
Quite to the contrary, Prof. Wilentz sees the rising anti-slavery movement in the colonies and its influence on the Revolution as a radical break from millennia in which human slavery was accepted around the world. He declares:
“To teach children that the American Revolution was fought in part to secure slavery would be giving a fundamental misunderstanding, not only of what the American Revolution was all about, but what America stood for, and has stood for since the Founding.”
Historians point out that slavery was a part of recorded history from the very beginning. It existed in Ancient Greece and Rome, and at the time the Constitutional Convention met in 1787, it was legal everyplace in the world. The notion that slavery was, somehow, America’s “original sin” is completely ahistorical. Indeed, the idea that the American Revolution was fought to protect slavery because anti-slavery feeling was growing in England is without foundation. In fact, anti-slavery sentiment was far stronger in the American colonies at that time.
Prof. Wilentz sees the rising anti-slavery movement in the colonies and its influence on the Revolution as a radical break from thousands of years in which human slavery was accepted around the world.
Beyond this, the American Revolution was kindled in New England where pre-war anti-slavery sentiment was strongest. Early patriots like James Otis, John Adams, and Thomas Paine were opposed to slavery, and the Revolution helped fuel the abolitionist movement.
The 1619 Project expresses pessimism that “a majority of white people will abandon racism.” The idea that a majority of white Americans are “racist” is itself false. It makes readers wonder what country the author has been living in. In the Civil War, 360,222 white Americans lost their lives in the fight against slavery. The 1619 Project sounds as if the South won the Civil War.
The 1619 Project declares that “anti-black racism is in the very DNA of this country.”
I wonder if Hannah-Jones has been living in the same country as the rest of us. Slavery was an extraordinary evil, but was hardly “original” to America. Historically, people became slaves in a variety of ways. Many gave up their freedom because of economic necessity. In ancient Babylon, Egypt, and Rome, and among black Africans and Aztecs, a man who could not pay his debts sold himself into slavery to his creditor. Slavery through violence has also been common throughout history people were kidnapped by raiders, captured in war, or sent as tribute to governments as conquered peoples. From the 1500s to the 1800s Europeans — from France, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands — shipped ten of millions of slaves from Africa to the Western Hemisphere.
When the Constitution was written in 1787, many delegates to the Philadelphia convention wanted to eliminate slavery at the beginning — among them Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and Benjamin Franklin. They did eliminate the slave trade in 1808. In 1787, no other country in the world had made slavery illegal. It was clearly a sin, and equally clear is the fact that it was not “original” to America. In retrospect, we can argue that it should have been eliminated at the beginning.
But the Framers knew that changes would be needed as the country moved forward. They created the amending process. They were in many ways far ahead of their time. In the First Amendment, they provided religious freedom for all, a really unique idea at that time. They opened immigration to men and women from throughout the world. Already in the colonial period, 18 languages were spoken in New Amsterdam when it became New York. All these people would become Americans — bound together not by common ancestry or common religion but by a common commitment to freedom.
Black Americans have indeed suffered from slavery and the years of segregation which followed. We should all regret this aspect of our history. But we had an ability to change and move forward. Think of what has happened in my lifetime alone. I lived in Virginia in the years of segregation. Black men and women could only eat in separate restaurants, use “Colored only” restrooms, drink from “Colored only” water fountains, and use separate waiting rooms at airports and train stations. They had to sit at the back of the bus. I remember 1957, when President Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock to integrate the schools.
Then, slowly, things changed. We passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Black Americans, in possession of equal rights, moved forward. Respected black men and women became Secretaries of State, Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Supreme Court Justices, and, finally, President of the United States.
Could this have happened if “racism is in our DNA,” as the 1619 Project tells us?
Sadly, racism still exists in our society, as cases such as that of George Floyd indicate. But it has been in steady retreat. The goal of men and women of goodwill, the vast majority of Americans, has been the achievement of Martin Luther King’s dream of a genuinely “colorblind society.” Whatever the motives of its author, the 1619 Project moves us in the opposite direction. Even The New York Times, in its response to Prof. Wilentz, agreed that the 1619 Project had overstated its case, particularly in falsely arguing that defense of slavery was a goal of the American Revolution.
Pride in America Is in Dramatic Decline Among Young People
In a Gallup Poll this June, only 63 percent of American adults say they are “extremely proud” or “very proud” to be American, the lowest level of patriotism ever recorded since Gallup first asked the question in 2001. Among the youngest people surveyed, only 4 out of 10 respondents age 18-34 claim to be extremely or very proud of being American.
Sadly, the teaching of American history has dramatically declined in our schools. A 2016 report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni even found that two-thirds of top U.S. colleges do not even require history majors to take a single course in U.S. history. How many young people know that ours is the longest existing form of government in the world? No other country in 2021 lives under the same form of government that existed in their countries in 1787. In the Constitution, the Framers established religious freedom, separation of church and state, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech. These did not really exist anyplace else in the world at that time.
The Framers of the Constitution knew that their work was imperfect, and would have to be amended. Unfortunately, they compromised on the question of slavery. Many of the Framers, including Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, wanted to end slavery at the beginning. Still, those who criticize the Framers seem not to know that in 1787 slavery had not been made illegal anyplace in the world. Slavery, unfortunately, was the way of the world from Ancient Greece and Rome to the 19th century. It was embraced by the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the Bible, slaves are told by Paul to follow the commands of their masters. This is hardly, as many now tell us, America’s “original sin.”
What younger Americans seem not to have been taught is that ours is not simply another country but, instead, is the embodiment of an idea — the idea of individual freedom. Those who call themselves Americans are the descendants of brave men and women of every race and religion and nationality who left their native homes in search of a place where a person’s station in the world would be based upon his ability, not upon the accident of birth. Such a concept was rare more than 300 years ago. It is still rare today. Otherwise, America would not remain the magnet for the hopes and dreams of millions throughout the world.
Creating a new nationality made up of all the people of the world is no mean accomplishment. At the very beginning of the new nation, Thomas Paine noted that:
“. . . 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 retired, and the parts are brought into cordial unison.”
The great mixture of peoples in America — the “melting pot” which was once hailed but is now sometimes denigrated by those with rising “ethnic awareness” — is not new, but existed at the very beginning. In Letters of an American Farmer written in 1782, Jean De Crevecoeur asks, “What then is the American, this new man?” He responds: “He is either a European, or the descendant of an European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country.”
“I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have four wives of different nations. He is an American who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced. . . . The Americans were once scattered all over Europe; here they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared. . . . The American ought therefore to love his country much better that that wherein he or his forefathers were born. Here the rewards of his industry follow with equal steps the progress of his labor.”
Now, of course, the American story includes not only Europeans, but men and women of every race, religion, and nation. 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 . . . we are not a narrow tribe of men . . . No: 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.”
At a time when religious freedom was largely unknown in the world, George Washington wrote his now famous letter to the Jewish congregation in 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 alike possess liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that tolerance is spoken of as if it was 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 those who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
We are ill-serving the younger generation of Americans by not transmitting our history. We are ill-serving them as well by making Washington an arena of narrow partisanship, as manifested by the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. Is it any wonder that patriotism is in decline?
In his book History of the Idea of Progress, Robert Nisbet writes:
“There is by now no single influence greater in negative impact . . . than our far-flung and relentless jettisoning of the past. The past, let us remember, is sacred ground for any genuine, creative, and free civilization. Readers will not have forgotten how crucial it was for the rulers of Orwell’s society in 1984 to blot out or else remake the past. Without the past as represented by ritual, tradition, and memory, there can be no roots; and without roots, human beings are condemned to a form of isolation in time that easily becomes self-destructive.”
Author Mario Puzo, the son of Italian immigrants, recalls growing up in New York’s Lower East Side:
“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 . . . economic dignity and freedom . . . And some even became artists.”
How sad that we are not transmitting our unique history to the younger generation of Americans. It is time that we change course, as the latest indication that pride in America is declining makes clear. And our politicians who continue to insult one another and question the loyalty of their adversaries should think before they speak, and weigh their words more carefully. In the past, our politicians found it possible to disagree without being disagreeable. In the current age of social media and Twitter, people speak before they think, and often regret their words. Civility in our political discourse would represent an important ingredient in restoring the pride in America which is now in decline — along with a serious and fair teaching of our history, its great achievements as well as its shortcomings. No human enterprise is without fault, but few have the achievements which Americans used to view with pride.
Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington: An Extraordinary Story of Cooperation to Build Schools for Black Children in the Segregated South
At a time when we are hearing a great deal about racial division, it is important to remember the important collaboration one hundred years ago of Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute, and Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears, Roebuck and Company. The two men first met in 1911 at a Chicago luncheon. In the book You Need a Schoolhouse (Northwestern University Press), Stephanie Deutsch offers a fascinating look into the partnership that would bring thousands of modern schoolhouses to African-American communities in the rural South.
Julius Rosenwald was one of America’s wealthiest men and was committed to philanthropy. He was influenced by the Reform Jewish tradition of seeking to improve and repair the world. Active in Chicago Sinai Congregation, he was close to its rabbi, Emil G. Hirsch, who advised him to use part of his wealth to help build schools for black students in the segregated South. With Washington, Rosenwald entered into a massive project based on the use of matching funds from local communities.
Washington leapt onto the national scene following the nationwide publication of his speech at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895. This was the same year that respected abolitionist Frederick Douglass died. Douglass, one of Washington’s personal heroes, had been black America’s leader and spokesman for 50 years. Washington inherited Douglass’ firm belief in the strength and capability of his black brethren. When asked by a white journalist, “What do you blacks want from white people?” Douglass replied, “Just leave us alone and we can take care of ourselves.” It was Washington’s firm belief that former slaves could stand on their own feet and achieve prosperity in American society.
The most important theme for Washington was education. A second theme, closely tied to education, was self-reliance. Tuskegee began as a “Normal School” and focused on training black men and women to become skilled at building, farming, and other occupations so they could earn their way into mainstream American society. A third Washington theme was entrepreneurship. Living at a time of racism and segregation, Washington encouraged black men and women to look at the need for goods and services in their communities as an opportunity to start their own businesses. In 1900, Washington founded the first black businessman’s association, the National Negro Business League. He personally helped many black businesses get started by introducing black entrepreneurs to white investors.
In some circles in recent days, Booker T. Washington has come under criticism. Professor Anne Wortham of Illinois State University declares that:
“As a member of the Tuskegee Institute class of 1963, I was the beneficiary of Booker T. Washington’s legacy. . . . One of Washington’s well-known metaphors was ‘Cast down your bucket where you are’. . . . Washington’s critics have distorted the metaphor to suggest that his words were those of an appeaser of white racism. It is wrongly used to suggest that. Washington believed the best approach to race relations was that blacks should not protest the system of white supremacy that blocked their striving. But if Washington actually believed that blacks should not protest the state of their community, why did he devote all of his life to promoting industrial education, economic self-sufficiency, self-responsibility, and self-cultivation? . . . ‘Cast down your bucket’ was the advocacy, not of resignation or passive accommodation, but of self-initiated and self-responsible action.”
In 1901, Washington published his autobiography, Up From Slavery, which became the best-selling book ever written by an African American. It was eventually translated into seven languages, and was as popular in Europe as it was in Africa. It was more than an autobiography. It was an explication of Washington’s major themes: education, self-reliance, and entrepreneurship.
In 1910, The Chicago Tribune asked several prominent Chicagoans which books had most influenced them. Julius Rosenwald, identified as one of Chicago’s leading citizens, named two. They were An American Citizen: The Life of William Henry Baldwin, Jr., and Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery. The book about Baldwin, writes Stephanie Deutsch:
“. . . did not describe the exciting events of an adventurous life, but, rather, the way one man answered a question he himself found vital, a question of great interest to Rosenwald: Is it possible to succeed in business without sacrificing personal morality and idealism? Baldwin, president of the Southern Railway, made it his stated goal to use his influence and his wealth for the good of his workers. . . . A large part of the book dealt with a subject especially dear to Baldwin — his work as a member of the board of Tuskegee, and his relationship with Booker T. Washington.”
Describing how the connection between Rosenwald and Washington began, Deutsch notes that:
“It was a chance encounter on a train and their mutual connection to the YMCA movement that led to the meeting, which later seemed so inevitable, between Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald. On one of his northern trips, Washington fell into conversation with Wilber Messer, a white minister and General Secretary of Chicago’s YMCA. He asked Messer if he could suggest a wealthy person from Chicago who might have an interest in serving on the board of Tuskegee. Messer named Julius Rosenwald. He then ensured that the two men would meet by inviting both to speak at the annual YMCA dinner in Chicago in May 1911.”
The rest, of course, is history. Julius Rosenwald joined the board of Tuskegee. Visiting Tuskegee, writes Deutsch:
“. . . introduced Rosenwald to some of the less pleasing aspects of life for blacks in the South. On one of the early visits, driving in the countryside not far from Tuskegee, Rosenwald and Washington passed a dilapidated wooden shack with just one window. That, Booker T. Washington told Rosenwald, was a typical state-run primary school for black children in Alabama. He explained that thanks to two northern donors — Anna Jeans, a Quaker woman who had given $1 million to aid black teachers in a fund administered through the Rockefeller-funded General Education Board, and Henry Rogers, an executive of the Standard Oil Company — some new schools had been built. But Jeans and Rogers had both recently died, and there was a huge need throughout the state and the entire South for more and better schoolhouses for black children.”
Rosenwald and Washington embarked upon a program to help build schools for black children across the South. Rosenwald began by providing funds to build six small schools in rural Alabama that were constructed and opened in 1913 and 1914. In the end, more than 5,000 schools were constructed across the South, with Rosenwald providing a portion of the funds, and local communities raising the remainder. By 1932, there was a “Rosenwald school,” as they became known, in every county with a significant black population in the South. A third of all black children in the South were attending Rosenwald schools. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. once said that he would donate to anything Rosenwald did because he had complete trust in his philanthropy.
One of the towering figures of the civil rights movement, the late Rep. John Lewis, grew up on an Alabama farm south of Tuskegee. The elementary school he attended was a Rosenwald school. In his memoir, Walking with the Wind, Lewis recalls the fish fries, picnics, and carnivals that neighbors would organize to raise money for supplies for the school. He wrote that to his parents, “Education represented an almost mythical key to the kingdom of America’s riches, the kingdom so long denied to our race.” In the years of slavery, it was illegal to even teach black children to read.
Stephanie Deutsch, who is married to the great-grandson of Julius Rosenwald, concludes:
“Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald were men who judged each other not by the color of their skin but the content of their character. Certainly, each had something the other wanted — Julius had the wealth and influence that Booker needed to further his work; Washington was connected to a segment of society that Rosenwald wished to encourage but knew little about. But each judged — correctly — that the other had goals larger than himself. . . . The schools they built assured people in otherwise forgotten corners of the rural South that they could offer their children opportunities they themselves had been denied. The Rosenwald schools provided for the children who attended them not just book learning but also a personal legacy from Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald, of faith in democracy, optimism, confidence, and hope.”
There are many lessons for today from the collaboration of Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald, if only we would study our history more carefully. *
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.
Finally, the Tulsa Massacre Is Becoming a Part of Our History
Finally, 100 years after it occurred, the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 is receiving the recognition it deserves. It represents a dark day in our history.
For the first time, an American president visited Tulsa to commemorate this event. He met with three survivors, now centenarians, and the descendants of other victims. He declared that:
“For much too long, the history of what took place here, was told in silence, cloaked in darkness. But just because history is silent doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. . . . I come here to help fill the silence, because in silence wounds deepen. And, painful as it is, only in remembrance do wounds heal.”
We cannot learn from history if we pretend that it never happened. Until recently, this massacre, which killed up to 300 African Americans, burned nearly 40 square blocks to the ground, and left at least 9,000 black residents homeless, was largely unknown. Most history books never mentioned it.
I have a personal memory of visiting Tulsa and exploring the Greenwood area which had been burned down. It was a prosperous black neighborhood, referred to as the “Black Wall Street” by Booker T. Washington. Some years ago, my daughter spent a year working in Tulsa for Americorps. After her graduation from college, our family drove in two cars to Tulsa. Prior to the trip, my wife did some research and learned of the 1921 events. None of us had ever heard of this before. It never appeared in history textbooks. Once in Tulsa, we visited the area. There was almost nothing there, and not a single historical marker. Tulsa wanted very much to forget this event.
Historian Scott Ellsworth, in his book Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Riot of 1921, writes that:
“Overnight, over one thousand homes occupied by blacks had been destroyed in Tulsa. The Greenwood business district had been put to the torch. In terms of density of destruction and ratio of casualties to population, it has probably not been equaled by any riot in the U.S. in this (20th) century.”
Located along and near Greenwood Avenue, the area included schools, a hospital, two newspapers, thirteen churches, three fraternal lodges, eleven rooming houses, four hotels, two theaters, numerous retail stores from restaurants to billiard parlors, and a public library. The Greenwood Cultural Center describes the area as “a hotbed for jazz and blues and the site where Count Basie first encountered big-band jazz” as well as “the richest African-American neighborhood in North America.”
One black victim of the violence was 40-year-old physician Dr. Andrew C. Jackson. The Mayo brothers, of Mayo Clinic renown, regarded him as “the most able Negro surgeon in America.” He came out of his burning house with his hands up. He was shot three times and bled to death.
The massacre came about when a 19-year-old shoe shiner, Dick Rowland, left his shoe shine stand to use the only restroom available to blacks in segregated downtown Tulsa. He went to the Drexel Building, where a 17-year-old white girl, Sarah Page, operated the elevator. Between the first and third floor, Sarah let out a scream. Rowland said he tripped and fell against her. She was not harmed in any way, and pressed no charges. She never claimed that anything improper had occurred. Rowland was arrested. The Tulsa Tribune headlined an editorial, “To Lynch Negro Tonight.” A white crowd gathered, and things soon got out of hand.
Oklahoma was a segregated state. In 1910, legislators passed a law intending to prevent blacks in Oklahoma from voting, but it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. This was also the era of so-called “progressive” Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the White House. Wilson was a committed segregationist. Under his administration, black postal workers across the country lost their jobs. Federal offices in Washington and across the country were segregated by Wilson. He hosted the screening of the pro-Ku Klux Klan movie The Death of a Nation by D. W. Griffith at the White House. Wilson later commented about how much he liked the movie.
Events in Tulsa, unfortunately, were hardly unique. On Nov. 10, 1898, white supremacists murdered African Americans in Wilmington, North Carolina, and deposed the elected Reconstruction-era government in a coup d’état.
The town’s newspaper, The Daily Record, was burned down and as many as 60 people were murdered in a few hours. The local government that was elected two days earlier was overthrown and replaced by white supremacists. It was the only coup d’état to take place on American soil.
Before the violence, this port city on the Cape Fear River was remarkably integrated. Three of the ten aldermen were African Americans, and black people worked as policemen, firemen, and magistrates. Democrats, then the party of the Confederacy, vowed to end this “Negro domination.” In 1900, the North Carolina legislature effectively stripped African Americans of the vote.
The massacre in Tulsa was preceded by events in Wilmington and followed by other such assaults on black people in many cities, such as Atlanta and East St. Louis, Illinois. Recognition of these events is long overdue. At the Vernon AME Church on Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa, where black people sought refuge during the massacre, the Rev. Robert Turner unveiled a prayer wall for racial healing. The Rev. William Barber, standing outside the church, which was set ablaze during the massacre, said he was humbled “to stand on this holy ground. You can kill the people, but you cannot kill the voice of the blood.”
The Rev. Turner declared:
“Outside of the majestic Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, it will be one of the few public outdoor prayer walls in the world, and we believe it will be the only one solely used for racial healing.”
No one in Tulsa was ever punished for this attack, and the victims were never compensated for the lives and property lost, either by government or insurance companies. There is now discussion of reparations for the three survivors and the descendants of those who were lost.
It is good for all of us that the history of what happened in Tulsa in 1921 should be widely known by Americans. History is complicated. As human beings are flawed, so all societies exhibit such flaws. Societies often like to hide or cover up such parts of their histories. Only now is Germany confronting its genocide in Namibia. Canadian flags are flying at half-mast in memory of the murder of indigenous children. The role played by European countries in their colonial ventures in Asia and Africa is coming under increased scrutiny in Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, and other countries.
As President Biden said in Tulsa:
“We do ourselves no favors by pretending none of this ever happened. I come here to help fill the silence, because in silence wounds deepen. And painful as it is, only in remembrance wounds heal.”
Celebrating America on July 4: A Time to Confront the Complexity of Our History
As Americans prepare to commemorate July 4, our society is facing a growing examination of our history, with the focus largely on our shortcomings. Throughout the country, statues are being removed of figures once considered worthy of being honored, but now found wanting. Schools and universities are changing their names to reflect contemporary sensibilities. In various communities the names of once revered figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt are coming under attack. America, we have been told, is guilty of “structural racism.” A new kind of identity politics is replacing the goal of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, which was to create a colorblind society in which men and women would be judged on the “content of their character” rather than the color of their skin.
There is much in American history to regret, as there is in the history of every country on earth. We are, after all, imperfect human beings. We were guilty of slavery, although it was not America’s “original sin,” as some now claim. Slavery existed in Ancient Greece and Rome and was embraced in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. In 1787, when the Constitutional Convention met, slavery was legal everyplace in the world. Many of our Founding Fathers wanted to eliminate slavery at that time. Among them were Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. They compromised on this question to get all 13 colonies to declare independence from England. Were they wrong to do so? In retrospect, a strong case can be made that they were.
After the Civil War ended slavery, black Americans faced an era of segregation, lynchings, and bigotry enshrined in law. In the South, they were denied the right to vote. I remember the years of segregation. I lived in the South and saw on a daily basis the disabilities under which blacks lived. I remember Martin Luther King’s march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. I was saddened to hear of the murder of the Rev. James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister from Boston, who had joined with other clergymen in going to Selma to participate in the march. A year or so earlier, Jim Reeb came to speak at the William and Mary Law School, where I was a student. After his talk, I hosted a reception for him at my house.
The horrors of slavery and segregation are a part of our history. But so is our ability to reform and to change. In 1954, school segregation was declared unconstitutional. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed, and in 1965 the Voting Rights Act was adopted. My generation, which grew up in the years of segregation, lived to see a black president elected and re-elected. We lived to see black Americans hold the most important positions in our society — from Secretary of State, to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Supreme Court Justice. We still have serious problems to resolve, as the George Floyd case shows us. But if our society were indeed imbued with “structural racism,” it is unlikely that all of this would have happened in one lifetime.
The story of America is indeed complex. When the Framers of the Constitution completed their work in 1787, the French Revolution had not yet occurred. Italy and Germany were not nations, but only a collection of warring states. No other people in 2021 are living under the same governmental structure which existed in their countries in 1787 — only Americans.
The U.S. Constitution changed Americans from being subjects of government to being its rulers. In his book, We Hold These Truths, Mortimer Adler writes:
“The government of the United States resides in us — we, the people. What resides in Washington is the administration of our government. I am sorry to say that most Americans think of themselves as the subjects of government and regard the administrators in public office as their rulers, instead of thinking of themselves as the ruling class and public officials as their servants — the instrumentalities for carrying out their will.”
When the Constitution was written, the Framers could look everyplace in the world for an example of a free society with limited government — 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. They fully realized the uniqueness of their enterprise. Charles Pinckney of South Carolina asked:
“Is there, at this moment, a nation on earth that enjoys this right, where the true principles of representation are understood and practiced, and where all authority flows from and returns at stated periods to the people? I answer, there is not.”
The achievements of the Constitutional Convention were considered miraculous in their own day. James Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson, who was serving as the U.S. representative in France, on Dec. 9, 1787, saying it was “impossible to consider the degree of concord which ultimately prevailed as less than a miracle.”
Madison declared that:
“Happily for America, happily we trust for the whole human race, they (the Framers) pursued a new and more Noble course. They accomplished a Revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society. They reared the fabrics of governments which have no model on the face of the globe. They formed the design of a great Confederacy, which it is incumbent on their successors to improve and perpetuate.”
One of the unprecedented breakthroughs that the Framers included in the Constitution was that there would be no religious test for public office or for citizenship. Elsewhere in the Western world, Catholics were without rights in Protestant countries, Protestants were without rights in Catholic countries, while Jews had few rights in either case. Charles Pinckney lamented:
“How many thousands of the subjects of Great Britain at this moment labor under civil disabilities, merely on account of their religious persuasions! To the liberal and enlightened mind, the rest of Europe affords a melancholy picture of the depravity of human nature, and of the total subversion of those rights, without which we should suppose no people could be happy or content.”
Pinckney pointed out that:
“From the European world are no precedents to be drawn for a people who think they are capable of governing themselves. Instead of receiving instructions from them, we may with pride affirm that, new as this country is, in point of settlement, inexperienced as she must be upon questions of government, she still has read more useful lessons to the old world, she has made them more acquainted with their own rights, than they had been otherwise for centuries. . . . ”
Professor Samuel Huntington notes that:
“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 a time of peace and tranquility, meet together by their representatives and, with calm deliberation, frame for themselves a system of government.”
The Framers of the Constitution were under no illusion that they had written a document that would stand the test of time without additions and changes. It is for this reason that Article V sets forth the process by which amendments can be adopted. James Madison stated that the founders hoped their successors would “improve and perpetuate” the Constitution. He said that
“. . . useful alterations will be suggested by experience that could not but be foreseen. . . . It, moreover, equally enables the general and the State governments to originate the amendment of errors, as they may be pointed out by the experience on one side or the other.”
That the Constitution has survived these 234 years and has enabled Americans to live in freedom and to attract to our shores men and women of every race, religion, and nation who sought liberty is testimony to the extraordinary achievement of the Founders. Kurt Weill, the lyricist who was forced to flee Nazi Germany, captured America’s genuine uniqueness when he wrote a song entitled, “Every Name Is an American Name.” The Founders were committed to building a new civilization that would become a model for the rest of mankind. “Happily for Americans,” declared James Madison, “happily we trust for the whole human race, they (the Founders) pursued a new and more Noble course.”
In recent days we have heard a great deal about America’s flaws and shortcomings which, sadly, are a part of the human condition, not only here but wherever imperfect human beings are to be found. We have seen our early leaders demeaned because their values were not those of the 21st century. This, the Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood pointed out, represents the sin of “contemporaneity,” holding people of the past guilty of not embracing the standards of the present time. Instead, we should recognize that their belief in limited government, checks and balances, religious freedom, and individual rights, set them apart from their contemporaries elsewhere in the world. We can take pride in their achievement and respect their understanding that it would be necessary to change and advance as time went by. America is not finished. It is still changing and moving forward. The Fourth of July celebrates this unique contribution to advancing human liberty.
Recent Assaults on Our History Miss the Uniqueness of the American Story
American history, in recent days, has come under relentless attack. Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) said of the Fourth of July celebration that, “The freedom they’re referring to is for white people. This land is stolen land and black people still aren’t free.” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) attacked the Declaration of Independence, suggesting that
“. . . all men are created equal is only applicable to white men. . . . Isn’t it something that they wrote this in 1776 when African-Americans were enslaved. They weren’t thinking about us then. But we’re thinking about us now.”
U.S. Air Force Academy Professor Lynne Chandler Garcia says that George Washington was a “racist” and that the U.S. Constitution “was ingrained with racism from the beginning.”
We could fill pages with similar thoughts. Those who provide this assessment do not compare colonial America with other places in the real world at that time, or with other real places in earlier history. Instead, they compare America in 1776 and 1787 with their idea of “perfection,” as “enlightened” men and women would have it in 2021. By that standard, America is found wanting — but so would every other country in the world be in precisely the same position.
When the Framers of the Constitution gathered in Philadelphia, slavery was legal everyplace in the world and had been all through history. Indeed, most people in the ancient world regarded slavery as a natural condition of life. It has existed almost universally through history among peoples of every level of material culture — among nomadic pastoralists of 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 poems of Homer supply evidence that slavery was an integral part of Ancient Greek society as early as 1200 B.C.
Our Judeo-Christian tradition was also one which accepted the legitimacy of slavery. In Leviticus, God instructs the Children of Israel to enslave the heathen and their progeny forever. St. Paul urges slaves to obey their masters with full hearts and without equivocation. He wrote:
“Slaves, give entire obedience to your earthly masters, not only with an outward show of service . . . but with singlemindedness out of reverence for the Lord.”
When the Constitution was written, the Framers could not find a single example in history of a society which had made slavery illegal. The first society to do so would be Denmark, which in 1792 banned the importation of slaves to its colonies in the West Indies, although the law was not to take effect until 1803. What the critics of the Constitution overlook is the fact that what is historically unique is that so many of the leading men of the American colonies of that day wanted to eliminate slavery, 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 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 said, “Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven upon a country.”
In the end, the slave trade was made illegal, but this was delayed by 20 years, a compromise made by ten states to ensure that the original union would include the three states of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. In retrospect, this compromise may have been a mistake. It would have been good if slavery had been eliminated at the beginning. If it had, the U.S. would have been the first nation in history to do so. Critics of our history would do well to consider the new ground broken by the Founding Fathers. They created something new and unique in history. Americans in 2021 live under the same form of government our Founders established in 1787. That is not true of any other country in the world.
One of the unprecedented breakthroughs that the Framers included in the Constitution was that there would be religious freedom, separation of church and state, and no religious test for public office or for citizenship. Elsewhere in the Western world, Catholics were without rights in Protestant countries, Protestants were without rights in Catholic countries, while Jews had rights in neither.
America was — and is — something unique in the world, made up of men and women of every race, religion, and nation. This was true from the very beginning. 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 de 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.”
In Redburn, written in 1849, Herman Melville declared:
“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. . . . We are not a narrow tribe of men . . . no: 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.”
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 knew 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 the northwest region where you settled — were I asked I could not answer. I know of none.”
America, being a nation composed of imperfect human beings, has made many mistakes in its history. But the Founding Fathers knew that this would be true. They provided a means to amend the Constitution, and this we have done. Freedom has been expanded, slavery was ended by a civil war, segregation was ended, legislation has been passed to provide equal rights to all citizens. America is not finished. Positive change will continue. But our vocal critics continue to compare America to perfection and find it wanting — not to other real places that have an address.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote:
“France was a land, England was a people, but America, having still about it 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.”
One Dead White Male Still Popular in the Academy: Karl Marx
Back in the early 1990s, Jesse Jackson led a group of students at Stanford University in chants of “Hey, Hey, Ho Ho, Western culture Has Got To Go.” A Stanford professor declared that the study of Western civilization was “imbued with whiteness” and had to be largely abandoned. More recently, this campaign has gained strength. All over America, once revered figures such as William Shakespeare, John Milton, and Aristotle are being castigated as “dead white males.” Martin Luther King’s goal of living in a society in which men and women would be judged on “the content of their character” and not “the color of their skin” has been set aside by those who now embrace a much different, race-based, vision for our future.
Not too long ago, students at the University of Pennsylvania removed a large Shakespeare portrait from the staircase that students and faculty members of the English Department walk by every day. In its place, the students put up a photograph of Audre Lorde, the black feminist poet. At universities around the country, the study of ancient history and classical literature is under increasing attack because of its alleged “whiteness.”
It is interesting to note that one “dead, white European male” who remains in vogue is Karl Marx, whose influence also continues among radical movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. What has been widely overlooked by those who are keeping the Marxist flame alive is the blatant racism of Karl Marx. Largely unknown to his non-white and non-Western admirers is the contempt in which Marx held all non-European peoples and cultures.
Much has been written about the fact that Marx, although of rabbinical descent on both sides of his family, was an extreme anti-Semite. In fact, his book, World Without Jews, is considered by many to be a forerunner to Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
Little, however, has been written about Marx’s racial views, the contempt in which he held not only non-whites, but whole groupings of Europeans, especially the Slavic peoples.
In a book entitled Karl Marx: Racist, Nathaniel Weyl shows how Marx privately developed an entire racial hierarchy and racial views of history by the 1860s. In the middle of that decade, Marx was casting about for some scientific or pseudo-scientific justification for his racial notions, which he found in the work of Pierre Trémaux. He and his friend and benefactor Friedrich Engels went so far as to advocate wars of extermination against Slavic peoples and the destruction of Russia. How ironic that the Soviet Union later proclaimed itself a “Marxist” state.
“Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels,” Weyl writes:
“. . . were neither internationalists nor believers in equal rights for all races and peoples. They opposed the struggles for national independence of those races and peoples that they despised. They believed that the ‘barbaric’ and ‘ahistoric’ peoples who comprised the immense majority of mankind had played no significant role in history and were not destined to do so in the foreseeable future. They regarded them as obstacles to the forward sweep of history. They considered them as objects rather than subjects. They were people who ought to be conquered and exploited by the more advanced nations. Some of these inferior stock were people who ought to be eradicated and swept from the surface of the earth.”
Marx took from Hegel, another German philosopher, the idea that certain races, peoples, and nations were “ahistoric.” Either they had never played any role in history and never would, as in the case of black Africans, or they were insignificant peoples whose history was irrelevant, or they were frozen at civilization levels at which the more advanced portions of mankind had already left them behind.
“There were ideas,” Weyl notes,
“. . . which Marx would adopt and transform. . . publicly and for political reasons, both Marx and Engels posed as friends of the Negro. In private, they were anti-black racists of the most odious sort. They had contempt for the entire Negro race, a contempt they expressed by comparing Negroes to animals, by identifying black people with ‘idiots’ and by continuously using the opprobrious term ‘n____r’ in their private correspondence.”
Marx, for example, wrote to Engels on July 30, 1862, about one of the leaders of socialism in Germany and his rival Ferdinand Lasalle, whom he referred to as “that Jewish n____r, Lasalle.” He wrote:
“It is now absolutely clear to me that, as both the shape of his head and his hair texture shows — he descends from the Negroes who joined Moses’ flight from Egypt (unless his mother or grandmother on the paternal side hybridized with a n____r). . . . The pushiness of the fellow is also n____r-like.”
Marx championed slavery in the United States. When Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, probably the leading socialist thinker in France at the time, published a book called The Philosophy of Poverty, Marx replied with a vitriolic rebuttal entitled The Poverty of Philosophy (1874). Proudhon had advocated the emancipation of slaves in the U.S. Marx replied:
“Without slavery, North America, the most progressive of countries, would be transformed into a patriarchal country. Wipe out North America from the map of the world and you will have anarchy — the complete decay of modern commerce and civilization. Abolish slavery and you will have wiped America off the map of nations.”
In the U.S., socialists early in the 20th century adopted Marx’s racist views. On September 14, 1901, the Social Democratic Herald characterized black Americans as inferior, depraved elements who went around “raping women and children.” In an article in the paper dated May 31, 1902, Victor Berger, one of the national leaders of the Socialist Party, wrote that “there can be no doubt that the Negroes and mulattos constitute a lower race.”
It is ironic indeed that the most acceptable white male in the curriculum on American college and university campuses is Karl Marx, a bigot and supporter of slavery. On what basis, one wonders, is he more acceptable than John Calhoun or Woodrow Wilson, not to mention Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis? Marx not only referred to black Africans as “ahistoric” people but praised the thinking of French technologist Pierre Trémaux, who argued that the human race was the product of evolution, but that blacks resulted from so-called regeneration. Marx hailed Trémaux’s work as making “a very significant advance over Darwin” and termed a Creole man who married his niece a “guerrilla offspring.”
Marx also approved of European imperialism in Asia because he considered the Asian culture so inferior that it was incapable of entering historic development without a European push. Of China and India, he said they were “semi-barbarian and semi-civilized” and had “no history at all, at least no human history.”
Marx’s colleague, Friedrich Engels, was equally racist in his views. When he learned that Marx’s son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, who was partially of black background, was running as a socialist in a district that contained the Paris zoo, Engels observed, “Being in his quality as a n____r, a degree nearer to the rest of the animal kingdom than the rest of us, he is undoubtedly the most appropriate representative of that district.”
Before his death, the respected black economist Walter Williams wrote a column entitled, “Did You Know That Karl Marx Was a Racist and an Anti-Semite?” He noted that:
“Most people who call themselves Marxists know very little of Karl Marx’s life. . . . Marx is a hero to many civil rights organizations . . . what most people do not know is that Marx was a racist and anti-Semite. When the U.S. annexed California after the Mexican-American War, Marx wrote: ‘Without violence, nothing is ever accomplished in history. Is it a misfortune that magnificent California was seized from the lazy Mexicans who did not know what to do with it?’”
Given the racial attitudes of Karl Marx, it is difficult to understand why he remains immune from criticism on the part of those non-whites and non-Europeans he held in such contempt. If there ever was a public figure who believed that black lives don’t matter, Karl Marx is it. *
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.
Critical Race Theory’s Assault on Teaching the History of Western Civilization
The teaching of the history of Western Civilization is now under attack in many of our schools and universities because, the advocates of Critical Race Theory tell us, it is “imbued with whiteness.” In their view, race consciousness should dominate every aspect of learning. Objective truth, they seem to believe, must be set aside.
This, sadly, is not new. For many years we have been hearing that the teaching of Homer, St. Thomas, Shakespeare, Darwin, Freud, and Einstein is the perpetuation of the power of “dead white males” over women and minorities.
One opponent of teaching Western Civilization, Professor Renato Rosaldo of Stanford University, made this argument in 1993:
“Try beginning to teach a diverse classroom with: ‘We must first learn our heritage. It extends from Plato and Aristotle to Milton and Shakespeare.’ The students ask, ‘Who’s the we?’ At Stanford over 40 percent of the entering undergraduates are Asian-Americans, African-Americans, native Americans, and Chicanos. Who, they wonder, is included in the phrase ‘our heritage?’ Are they included? Must they continue to look into the curricular mirror and see nothing?”
This issue is now being debated at Howard University in Washington, D.C., one of our leading black institutions, which has announced that it is dissolving its classics department. One of the nation’s most prominent black academicians, Professor Cornel West of Harvard, co-wrote an article in the Washington Post stating that by removing the department, the university is “diminishing the light of wisdom and truth” that inspired freedom fighters such as Frederick Douglass and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Professor West notes that:
“. . . upon learning to read while enslaved, Frederick Douglass began his great journey of emancipation, as such journeys always begin, in the mind. Defying unjust laws, he read in secret, empowered by the wisdom of contemporaries and classics alike to think as a free man. Douglass risked mockery, abuse, beating, and even death to study the likes of Socrates, Cato, and Cicero. Long after Douglass’ encounters with these ancient thinkers, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be similarly galvanized by his reading in the classics as a young seminarian — he mentions Socrates three times in his 1963 ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’”
The campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is, in Dr. West’s view:
“. . . a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline, and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture. Those who commit this terrible act treat Western civilization as either irrelevant and not worthy of prioritization or as harmful and worthy only of condemnation. Sadly, in our culture’s conception, the crimes of the West have become so central that it’s hard to keep track of the best of the West. We must be vigilant and draw the distinction between Western civilization and philosophy on the one hand, and Western crimes on the other. The crimes spring from certain philosophies and certain aspects of the civilization, not all of them. . . . Engaging with the classics and with our civilizational heritage is the means to finding our true voice. It is how we become our full selves, spiritually free and morally great.”
The study of Western civilization is important for men and women of every race and background. In his Wriston Lecture on “Universal Civilization,” V. S. Naipaul, the son of immigrant Indian laborers who grew up in post-colonial Trinidad and was educated in England, contrasts some of the static, inward-looking, insular, backsliding “non-Western” cultures with that spreading “universal civilization” that he finds to be based, above all, on Jefferson’s idea of the pursuit of happiness.
Discussing the essence of Western civilization — which sets it apart from others — Naipaul characterizes it in these terms:
“. . . the ideal of individual responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system nor generate fanaticism. But it is known to exist, and because of that, other more rigid systems blow away.”
It is a contemporary illusion that particular works of art, literature, or music are, somehow, the possession of only those who can trace their lineage to the creators of such culture. Shall only Jews read the Hebrew Bible? Only Greeks read Plato and Aristotle? Only those of English descent read Shakespeare, and only Italians appreciate Dante or Leonardo da Vinci?
Western culture is relevant to people of all races and backgrounds, particularly to those living in the midst of our Western society. The distinguished black intellectual 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.”
In his address to the freshman class at Yale some years ago, Donald Kagan, then professor of History and Classics and Dean of Yale 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 on 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. . . . It has produced the theory and practice of separation of church and state . . . thereby creating a free and safe place for individual conscience. At its core is a tolerance and respect for diversity unknown in most cultures. . . . Only in the West can one imagine a movement to neglect the culture’s own heritage in favor of some other.”
The West has its sins, Kagan acknowledged, but argued that:
“. . . most of its sins and errors . . . are those of the human race. Its special achievements and values, however, are gifts to all humanity and are widely seen as such around the world today, although their authorship is rarely acknowledged. . . . Western culture and institutions are the most powerful paradigm in the world today.”
Our unity as a nation is threatened, in the view of Dr. Kagan, by those who would replace the teaching of our history and culture with something else. He points out that:
“American culture derives chiefly from the experience of Western civilization, and especially from England, whose language and institutions are the most copious springs from which it draws its life. I say this without embarrassment, as an immigrant who arrived here as an infant from Lithuania. . . . Our students will be handicapped in their lives . . . if they do not have a broad and deep knowledge of the culture in which they live and the roots from which they have come. . . . As our land becomes ever more diverse, the danger of separation and segregation by ethnic group . . . increases and with it the danger to national unity which, ironically, is essential to the qualities that attracted its many peoples to this country.”
The goal of the civil rights movement was the creation of a genuinely colorblind society, one in which men and women would be judged on “the content of their character” and not “the color of their skin,” as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed. This vision, of course, has always had its enemies. Usually, they have been found in circles that attract white racists. Now, advocates of Critical Race Theory are attacking not only the goal of a genuinely colorblind society but the transmission of our history and culture through our schools. Politics, it has been said, makes strange bedfellows. But just as white racists do not represent the thinking of the overwhelming majority of white Americans, so too, the advocates of Critical Race Theory do not represent the thinking of most black Americans. Most Americans of all races embrace Dr. King’s vision of a colorblind American society.
The notion that Western civilization is less relevant to a student because of his or her racial or ethnic background is a product of the strange ethnocentrism which is now increasingly vocal. The great works of art, music, literature, science, and philosophy are the common patrimony of all.
China’s Tyranny Is Clear to All — Something Which Was Not Always True
China’s tyrannical regime is now clear to all, something which has taken a long time in coming to many circles in our own country.
More than a million Muslims have been arbitrarily detained in China’s Xinjiang region. The re-education camps are just one part of the government’s crackdown on Uyghurs. About 11 million Uyghurs — a mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic group, live in the northwest region of Xinjiang.
The Chinese government has imprisoned more than one million people since 2017, and subjected those not detained to intense surveillance, religious restrictions, forced labor, and forced sterilization. The U.S. Government has determined that China’s actions constitute “genocide” and “crimes against humanity.”
Under Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party has pushed to “sinicize” religion, or shape all religions to conform to the officially atheist party doctrines. The Economist reports that:
“All religions in China are being targeted by the sinification campaign, which was launched in 2015 by the country’s leader, Xi Jinping. . . . Even for many of those who attend official churches, the five-year plan’s emphasis on the need to integrate Christian theology with socialist ideology is grating. It says quotations should be used by preachers to promote ‘core socialist values.’ These principles should feature more prominently in their training. Interpretations of the Bible should become more sinicized — meaning, presumably, that they should help to bolster belief in socialism.”
When it comes to Catholics, China in 2018 reached an agreement with the Vatican that gave both sides a say in the appointment of bishops. This agreement means, in effect, that no party-rejecting Catholic can become a bishop in China, a clear victory for sinification.
In Hong Kong, democracy is being dismantled. China’s autocrats were angered when, after months of demonstrations in 2019 against a proposed new extradition law, pro-democracy politicians won a landslide victory in elections for Hong Kong’s district councils that November. The elections scheduled for September 2020 for the Legislative Council were postponed. Pro-democracy politicians were banned. In March, in Beijing, sweeping changes were made in Hong Kong’s election laws by a margin of 2,895 votes, with one abstention. Those who oppose the government are, in effect, barred from participating. Freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the right to peaceful protest are coming to an end in Hong Kong.
China’s agreement to “one country, two systems” when it comes to Hong Kong has apparently come to an end. China’s growing tyranny is now clear for all to see.
For many years, as Communism took hold in China and a brutal regime was imposed, many in the U.S. welcomed this change. It is instructive to review how the American media reported upon Communism’s advance in China and how wrong its assessment was.
The fashionable theme of journalists covering China in the late 1940s was that the Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek were hopelessly corrupt and inefficient. Mao Zedong was portrayed as brilliant, incorruptible, efficient, loved by the masses — and not a Communist, but an “agrarian reformer.”
Theodore White and Annalee Jacoby, then correspondents for Time magazine, described the Chinese Communists this way in their 1946 book, Thunder Out of China:
“There is only one certainty in Communist politics in China: the leaders’ interests are bound up with those of the masses of poverty-stricken, suffering peasants, from whom they have always drawn their greatest support. They, and they alone, have given effective leadership to the peasant’s irresistible longing for justice in his daily life. . . . In great areas of north China the Communists have established a new way of life.”
Later, after Richard Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, the American media flooded the country with extravagant praise of the achievements of the Communists. We were told that they had solved all of the ancient problems of hunger, floods, erosion, and inequality of wealth.
Reporting from China, New York Times correspondent Seymour Topping noted that:
“. . . the evidence of construction, the lush, well-tended fields, the markets full of food and consumer necessities, and the energy exhibited everywhere add up to the impression that the basic needs of the people are being met and the foundation is being laid for a modern industrial country.”
Visiting in China, James Reston of The New York Times reported 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.” He wrote:
“China’s most visible characteristics are the characteristics of youth . . . a kind of lean, muscular grace, relentless hard work, and an optimistic 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 New York 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 New York 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 that, “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.’”
Not everyone was willing to accept that Mao had killed millions. PBS interviewed John Stewart Service, the former foreign service officer whose admiration for the Chinese Communists got him into considerable trouble in the 1950s. He told the PBS audience that reports that Mao had executed millions were inspired by Taiwan and should be taken “with a great bucket of salt.”
Since then, of course, the Chinese leadership has knocked Mao from his pedestal, making those who deified this bloody tyrant in the U.S. appear naive and foolish at best.
Now China’s continuing tyranny is widely understood. Human Rights Watch declares that:
“China has constructed a high-tech surveillance state and a sophisticated internet censorship system to monitor and suppress public criticism. Abroad, it uses its economic clout to silence critics and to carry out the most intense attacks on the global system for enforcing human rights. No other government is simultaneously detaining a million members of an ethnic minority for forced indoctrination.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned China not to take any steps to alter the status quo on Taiwan. He reaffirmed that the U.S. stands by its commitments to Taiwan and said the U.S. Government must make sure that American companies are not helping China’s policy of repression. Finally, our government seems aware of China’s contempt for human rights and international law. Let us hope that our policy toward China will reflect that understanding.
First Principles: What the Founding Fathers Learned from the Greeks and Romans
To understand the thinking of the Founding Fathers and the political philosophy that molded the new country and the writing of the Constitution, it is essential that we become aware of what they learned from the Greeks and Romans and how that shaped our country.
That is the subject of an important book, First Impressions, by Thomas E. Ricks, who won two Pulitzer Prizes as part of reporting teams at The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, and he is a visiting fellow in history at Bowdoin College.
To understand the thinking of the Founders, Ricks decided to go back and read the philosophy and literature that shaped their worldview, and the letters they wrote to one another debating these crucial works — among them the Iliad, Plutarch’s Lives, and the works of Xenophon, Epicurus, Aristotle, Cato and Cicero. For though much attention has been paid to the influence of English political philosophers closer to their own era, like John Locke, Ricks notes that the Founders were far more immersed in the literature of the ancient world.
The first four American presidents came by their classical knowledge in different ways. Washington absorbed it mainly from the culture of his day. Adams learned it through the laws and rhetoric of Rome. Jefferson immersed himself in classical philosophy, and Madison spent years studying the ancient world like a political scientist. Each of their experiences played an essential role in the formation of the United States.
This important book follows these four members of the Revolutionary generation from youth to adulthood as they grappled with questions of independence, and with forming and keeping a new nation. In doing so, Ricks not only interprets the effect of the ancient world on each man and how their classical education shaped our Constitution and government but also offers new insights into these early leaders.
“The classical world,” Ricks points out:
“. . . was far closer to the makers of the American Revolution and the Founders of the United States than it is to us today. Nowadays, the Greeks and Romans are remote to us, their works studied by a few in college and then largely forgotten, even by most of those readers. But Greco-Roman antiquity was not distant to the leaders of the American Revolution. It was present in their lives, as part of their political vocabulary and as the foundation of their personal values. In short, it shaped their view of the world in a way that most Americans now are not taught and so don’t see.”
Americans today do not recognize the presence of the ancient world in our political life. People tend not to notice that our “Senate” meets in “The Capitol” — both references to Ancient Rome. Most of its members are either “Republicans,” a name derived from Latin, or “Democrats,” a word of Greek origin. Just east of the Capitol building, our Supreme Court convenes in a marble 1935 imitation of a Roman temple. To the west stands the Lincoln Memorial, which resembles the Parthenon of Athens turned sideways.
In Ricks’ view:
“The best place to begin to understand the views of the Revolutionary generation is with a look at the word ‘virtue.’ This word was powerfully meaningful during the eighteenth century. . . . It meant putting the common good before one’s own interests. Virtue, writes the historian Joyce Appleby, was the ‘lynchpin’ of public life — that is, the fastener that held together the structure. . . . The word ‘virtue’ appears about six thousand times in the collected correspondence and other writings of the Revolutionary generation. . . . The practice of virtue was paramount, which is one reason George Washington, not an articulate man, loomed large over the post-revolutionary era.”
The colleges the Founders attended are described by Ricks as “tiny outposts of learning, having more in common with medieval seminaries.” In the early 18th century, there were just three of them — William and Mary in Virginia, Harvard in Massachusetts, and Yale in Connecticut. In 1746 they were joined by the College of New Jersey, later known as Princeton, and then, in 1754, by King’s College, better known as Columbia, established by New Yorkers. At William and Mary, Jefferson wrote, they lived in brick buildings, “rude, mis-shapen piles” that provided “an indifferent accommodation.” Their academic diet consisted mainly of the best-known works of Latin literature, history and philosophy, with some Greek works thrown in.
The dominant political narrative of colonial American elites, Ricks notes, “. . . was the story of how the Roman Cicero put down the Catiline conspiracy to take over Rome.” John Adams, writes Ricks, “aspired to be the Cicero of his time — that is, the key political figure in late 18th century America.” While a student at Harvard, Adams often went to hear the young preacher, Jonathan Mayhew, who had graduated from Harvard and then went to the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, where he earned a divinity degree.
The Scottish influence in colonial America was significant, Ricks points out:
“Scottish philosophers long had maintained that it is natural and right for there to be limits to the power of monarchs. In 1750, George Buchanan, a humanist, Scottish philosopher who taught in Scotland, Portugal, and France (where the great essayist Michel de Montaigne was one of his students), stated emphatically that kings must earn and retain the consent of the governed: ‘It is right that the people confer the political authority upon whomsoever they will.’”
James Madison decided against attending William and Mary, which would have been the normal choice for a young Virginian, and chose Princeton. Founded in 1746, like the Scottish universities, it was religiously tolerant. The college’s founders had stated “that those of every religious denomination may have free and equal liberty and Advantage of Education . . . any different sentiments in religion notwithstanding.” The Princeton faculty included recent graduates of Scottish universities who were committed to transmitting the history of the ancient world and learning lessons from the fall of Greece and Rome.
In the case of Washington, Ricks writes:
“Washington’s last Roman role would become his finest. He had rejected becoming a Caesar. Instead, he would become another Cincinnatus, that is, the Roman soldier who, according to legend, served his country in 458 B.C. Roman tradition states that he was plowing his fields when he was called to lead the rescue of a Roman army that was besieged. . . . He was given the temporary title of dictator. He triumphed in just sixteen days, then resigned his office and returned to his waiting plough. The story of Cincinnatus is a reassuring one, because the revolutionary generation had an abiding fear of the power of generals. . . . Washington’s decision to step down . . . was a magnificent deed of renunciation. . . . For him, it was always about virtue.”
Later, when the Articles of Confederation seemed inadequate, James Madison writes Ricks:
“. . . began to contemplate the problems of Ancient Greek confederacies. He had several questions on his mind, all relating to the fragile condition of the United States. What had brought down ancient republics? What made them so fragile? Were there gaps between their theory and practice? Did they have inherent flaws that caused them to fail . . . Could American government be structured in a different way that would make it more sustainable? Here he could begin by revisiting his college readings of Thucydides and Xenophon . . . . He embarked on a multi-year study of these issues.”
The Founders sought to protect against the possibility that an overly ambitious and unprincipled individual might one day come to power. In The Federalist Papers, Madison writes that, “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.” Just after Aaron Burr nearly became president, Jefferson wrote that:
“. . . bad men will sometimes get in and with such an immense patronage may make great progress in corrupting the public mind and principles. This is a subject with which wisdom and patriotism should be occupied.”
The Founders tried to learn from the fates of Ancient Greece and Rome. “Fortunately,” writes Ricks:
“. . . the Founders built a durable system. . . . Over the past several years we have seen Madison’s checks and balances operate robustly. Madison designed a structure that could accommodate people acting unethically and venally. . . . We should appreciate how strong and flexible our Constitution is.”
To be true to the intent of the Founders, Ricks argues, we should refocus on the public good:
“The coronavirus pandemic reminded America of a lesson it had forgotten about the public good — a phrase that occurs over 1,300 times in Founders Online. Health is a public good — which is one reason everyone should have access to health care. In the longer term, so are education, transportation infrastructure, the environment, and public safety. These are the things that come under ‘the general welfare’ of the people that is mentioned twice in the Constitution — the preamble, and Article 1, Section 8. The idea has its roots in Cicero that ‘salus populi suprema lex esto’ — that is, ‘the Welfare of the public is the supreme Law.’ Salus was the Roman goddess of ‘health, prosperity, and the public welfare.’ John Adams wrote in 1766, ‘The public Good, the salus populi, is the professed end of all government.’ With that in mind, Americans need to put less emphasis on the property rights of the individual and more on the rights of the people as a whole. The market should not always be the ultimate determinant of how we live, or always allowed to shape our society.”
The social philosopher Michael Sandel is quoted as declaring that, “To be free is more than a matter of pursuing my interests unimpeded, or satisfying my desires, whatever they happen to be. It is to share in self-government, to deliberate about the common good to have a meaningful voice in shaping the forces that govern our lives.”
This book is an erudite look at how Greek and Roman writers influenced members of the Founding generation. The Founders looked to the classical world to answer important questions about the nature of power and the nature of government. The fact that ours is now the longes-lasting system of government in the world today indicates that their careful study was precisely the right course. Thomas Ricks has done all of us a great service in writing this book. Ironically, it appears just when the teaching of classics is coming under attack in some circles, as is Western Civilization itself. It serves as an important rejoinder to such critics. *
Allan C. Brownfeld
Christmas Comes Just When We Need It
In a society increasingly divided by political differences, racial disparities, and economic dislocation — not to mention the COVID pandemic — Christmas arrives at just the right moment. It should help us to look beyond this very troubled moment and focus upon things which are not transitory, but eternal.
The 20th century witnessed a profusion of religion without God — materialism, self-actualization, Marxism, and fascism. Now, in the 21st century, many Americans, both on the right and the left, have made a false God of politics, viewing those with whom they disagree as “enemies.” Democracy requires that we are open to differences of opinion and are prepared to work with those who share views contrary to our own.
Christmas should focus our attention upon permanent, rather than transitory, things. In this regard, it is interesting to reflect upon the thinking of two unique men, G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis. They did battle for the Gospel with that most powerful of weapons, the pen.
Chesterton, the journalist, and Lewis, the scholar, differed in manner and style. But their religious vision was much the same, and their writings brought this vision to millions — and still do, even to those who would never knowingly open a “religious” book.
In the summer of 1987, a seminar was held in Seattle to celebrate the achievements of these two men. In a 1989 book, G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis: The Riddle of Joy, seventeen notable scholars offer a comprehensive analysis of these two influential writers, each of whom “felt the riddle of the earth and came to think, impossibly, that its name is joy.”
From Chesterton’s Father Brown detective stories to Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, these two Englishmen have had an unprecedented impact — not only in the English-speaking world, but far beyond. In 1954, an administrator in the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States surveyed all of the career missionaries at home and abroad. One of the questions asked was, “What person most influenced your decision to become a missionary?” Fifty percent wrote, “C. S. Lewis.”
The connection between the two men is clear. Christopher Derrick, who knew them both, notes that:
“There was influence between them, but all of it ran in the one direction. It started to run during World War I, when Lewis — being sick in hospital — chanced to read a volume of Chesterton’s essays. ‘I had never heard of him and had no idea of what he stood for,’ he wrote later, ‘nor can I quite understand why he made such an immediate conquest of me.’ It wasn’t so strange or inexplicable, since Chesterton already had a habit of making immediate conquests of highly diverse people. Even today . . . years after his death, he frequently displays a power and privilege which he once attributed to Samuel Johnson, ‘He can walk into the heart without knocking.’”
Chesterton’s Everlasting Man played a crucial part in Lewis’ conversion to Christianity. The two men, however, were quite different. Lewis, the scholar, wrote meticulously. Chesterton wrote chaotically. Lewis, the Oxford don, devoted much time to his medieval studies. Chesterton, the journalist, was very much a man of the world, deeply involved in the political battles of the day.
Christopher Derrick notes that:
“It is only as writers, of course — and more precisely, as writers on religious subjects — that these two men can really be regarded as having a shared vocation and achievement. . . . I’d even go so far as to define their joint achievement as that of two very great translators.”
“There is always a strong case for restating the gospel and the faith in the language of one’s own time — provided that one does exactly that. The trouble is that some people claim and appear to be doing that necessary task, when in fact they’re doing something radically different. It’s one thing to restate the old faith so as to make it more easily understood; it’s quite another thing to modify the faith so as to make it more easily acceptable. . . . The pattern of much present-day theology . . . is shaped most crucially by what present-day people want to hear. As in business, the product gets modified to meet consumer demand . . . now the great merit of both Chesterton and Lewis . . . is that neither of them fall into that trap . . . Each was in fact restating the ancient faith in the language of his day, in the rhetorical language of a flamboyant journalist or with the cool lucidity of a scholar, with a thousand new angles and insights but otherwise without modification.”
At a time when, for intellectuals, it took far more courage to defend traditional religion than to mock it, Chesterton declared that:
“The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice. Moral truisms have become so much disputed that they have begun to sparkle like so many brilliant paradoxes.”
And Chesterton was a master of paradox. To those who insisted on materialism, he wrote,
“. . . the materialist theory of history, that all politics and ethics are the expression of economics, is a very simple fallacy indeed. It consists simply of confusing the necessary conditions of life with the normal preoccupations of life, that are quite a different thing. It is like saying that because a man can only walk about on two legs, therefore he never walks about except to buy shoes and stockings.”
Ian Boyd, editor of The Chesterton Review, points out that:
“The religious critique of life which Chesterton presents in all his writings is ultimately based on a belief that God is present in creation through sign and symbol in the center of the most profane realities, and it is possible to find God. He seldom wrote about directly religious subjects, but in the events of everyday life or in a piece of chalk or in a city street he found the central religious mystery.”
According to T. S. Eliot in his 1936 obituary of Chesterton in The London Times, Chesterton “did more than any man in his time to maintain the existence of the Christian minority in the modern world.”
Even many who proclaim themselves to be Christian fail to understand that the view of man and the world set forth by Jesus — and the Old Testament prophets who preceded him — and the one which dominates in the modern world, and in many political circles today, are contradictory.
The British author and editor Malcolm Muggeridge, long an atheist, had a religious conversion while preparing a BBC documentary about the life of Jesus. In his book Jesus Rediscovered, he pointed out that the desire for power and riches in the world — a desire to which so many are committed — is the opposite of what Jesus commanded. Indeed, Jesus was tempted by the Devil with the very worldly powers so many seek.
“Finally, the Devil showed Christ all the kingdoms of the world and said: ‘All this power will 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 to 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 attainable through an understanding with him! Many have thought otherwise, and sought power in the belief that by its exercise they could lead men toward 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.”
At the time of his death in 1990, Muggeridge lamented:
“I firmly believe our civilizations began with the Christian religion, and have been sustained and fortified by the values of the Christian religion, by which admittedly most men have not lived, but to which they have assented, and 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 and the societal divisions we have seen, there is a spiritual yearning in the American society, a feeling that things are not what they should be, a desire to set ourselves and our country on a better path. Jesus told us to love our enemies. Many Americans today are unable to love those with whom they disagree on one public issue or another.
Christmas speaks to the spiritual vacuum in our lives — but only if we will listen to its message. 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.
Remembering Walter Williams: A Crusader for Individual Freedom and a Color-blind American Society
Walter Williams, who spent his life as a crusader for individual freedom and for a color-blind American society, died on Dec. 2 after teaching his final class at George Mason University. He was 84.
I knew Walter Williams for nearly 50 years. He was a frequent contributor to The Lincoln Review, of which I was an editor, and was actively involved with the Lincoln Institute, headed by one of America’s original black conservatives, my good friend J. A. Parker. It was his belief that genuine free enterprise represented the best path for Americans of all races to advance.
Walter Williams grew up in the black neighborhoods of inner-city Philadelphia, living in the Richard Allen housing project with a single mother. At one point, he drove a cab for the Yellow Cab Company. In 1959, he was drafted into the military and served as a private in the U.S. Army. While stationed in the South, he engaged in a one-man battle against segregation. He was eventually court-martialed and argued his own case. He was found not guilty. He was then transferred to Korea. He marked “Caucasian” for race on his personnel form. When he was challenged on this, because he was clearly not white, he responded, “If I marked ‘Negro’ I would end up with the worst jobs.”
When he returned from Korea, he resumed his education and received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Economics from UCLA. In college, he recalled, “I was, more than anything, a radical. I was more sympathetic to Malcolm X than Martin Luther King. . . . But I really just wanted to be left alone.” While Williams was at UCLA, the free market black economist Thomas Sowell arrived on campus as a visiting professor. They began a friendship that lasted the rest of their lives.
Williams’ pioneering 1992 book, The State Against Blacks, argues against such government intervention in the economy as occupational licensing, taxicab regulations, labor union privileges, and other measures that inflict disproportionate harm on blacks by restricting their employment options and driving up the costs of goods and services.
At his death, Williams was the John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University. From 1995-2001 he chaired the Economics Department. He was the author of over 150 publications in scholarly journals and was the author of ten books. One of them, The State Against Blacks, was made into the PBS documentary, “Good Intentions.”
In his book All It Takes Are Guts (1988), Williams responds to those who charge America is a “racist” society:
“The fact of race and sex discrimination in the United States does not make us unique. There is no other place on the globe free of race and sex discrimination in one form or another. The truly unique feature of the United States is our effort to eliminate discrimination. Our greatest achievement is that the typical American of today finds race and sex discrimination repulsive.”
Addressing apartheid in South Africa in the book South Africa’s War Against Capitalism, Williams, who traveled to South Africa a number of times during the years of apartheid and lectured to students of all races, argued that apartheid is simply another form of government regulation. “It is,” he noted:
“. . . the antithesis of the free market and was designed specifically to protect some people — white workers in particular — from the competitive rigors of capitalism while denying others — non-whites — the chance to compete and earn capitalism’s rewards. . . . Indeed, it is the free play of market forces — with no intervention by political forces — that has always been seen as the enemy of white privilege and that apartheid ideology has always sought its defeat.”
“The Mines and Work Act of 1911,” Williams points out,
“. . . can aptly be called the first in a series of laws known as ‘the color bar.’ Militant white labor unions opposed the use of black workers who, like the Chinese, would work in mines at lower wages than the whites. The government, under pressure from the white labor unions, adopted legislation which gave the right to issue ‘certificates of competency’ for such employment. By law, the certificates could not be issued to non-Europeans.”
Historically, organized labor has played a similar role in the U.S. Writing in The Lincoln Review (Spring 1979), Williams writes:
“Organized labor, with but few exceptions, has sought to exclude Negroes and other minorities from many job markets. Exclusionary devices have ranged from union charter provisions that restrict membership to ‘whites only’ to outright violence. . . . It would be unfair and incorrect to attribute all black labor market problems to labor unions per se. In a democratic society people should have the right to form groups to pursue what they perceive to be in their best economic interests. The basic issue involved is whether we should have a political system where such a group can, through Congress, get laws written which advance their own narrow interests at the expense of other Americans. . . . Black people . . . do not need federal handouts and gifts. Black people need a chance to compete.”
In the area of education, Williams argues that the monopoly position of the public schools is particularly harmful to minorities. Black students, he writes:
“. . . have been receiving what amounts to a fraudulent education, the fraud being that the education establishment warrants, by issuing a diploma, that black high school students can read, write, and compute at a twelfth-grade level; the fact of the matter is that the greater percentage cannot even perform at the eighth-grade level. This is nothing less than a cruel lie and an unconscionable fraud. In the government schools teachers get paid whether or not students can read or write.”
To improve black education and the education of all children, Williams calls for an educational voucher system, designed along the lines of the G.I. Bill.
“Such a system would give the poor and minority parents the freedom of choice to select the best possible school for their children, the kind of freedom which only the most affluent have today.”
Williams laments that:
“. . . if the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan wanted to deny blacks upward mobility, reinforce racial stereotypes of black mental incompetence, and foster racial conflict, he couldn’t find a better tool than our public education system.”
It is Williams’ view that with an end to segregation and with laws against discrimination, the major civil rights battles have been won and that what black Americans need most at the present time is a willingness to walk through the doors which have been opened. This, he points out, requires hard work, discipline, respect for education, and commitment to family. He understood, of course, that problems still remain, such as those manifested by the police killing of George Floyd.
Walter Williams believed that limited government and a genuinely free enterprise system was most consistent with other freedoms, such as free speech and freedom of religion. He opposed the “crony capitalism,” embraced more and more by both Republicans and Democrats, in which government interferes in the economy, picking winners and losers, and bailing out businesses and industries which have failed in the marketplace. He believed in a genuinely color-blind society in which men and women would be judged on their individual merits, not the color of their skin. He opposed political correctness and identity politics and how they were infringing upon free speech and the integrity of the university.
Walter Williams made a major contribution to making America a better society. It was my pleasure to have reviewed many of his books and to have published many of his articles. We did not always agree, but I knew his opinions were carefully considered and thought out, and his only objective was to improve our country. His body of work will long be studied by those concerned with making sure our society remains free.
The Strange Case of Jonathan Pollard: Parole Ends for a Spy for Israel Who Was Surprisingly Supported by Many Americans
Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy analyst convicted of spying for Israel in the 1980s, had his parole ended on November 20. Pollard, who served 30 years in prison before being released in 2015, became a hero in Israel. The Israeli government, ironically the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in history, granted him citizenship in 1995. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu regularly asked Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama to release Pollard and allow him to move to Israel. Until now, no administration was willing to do so.
Pollard was arrested in 1985 and accused of passing secret documents to the Israeli intelligence service, including satellite photos of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s headquarters in Tunis, which Israel later used to guide airstrikes on the Tunisian capital. He pleaded guilty in 1987 and was sentenced to life in prison.
The scope of his espionage was so extensive that in the 1990s, then-CIA Director George Tenet threatened to resign if President Clinton released him. It is instructive to review the scope of Pollard’s espionage, the funds he received from the Israeli government to spy upon its major benefactor, and the support Pollard has received from many American friends of Israel.
Pollard was working as a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he was recruited by the Israeli Defense Ministry in the mid-1980s. He delivered suitcases full of military intelligence to Israel, including satellite photos and information on Arab military systems.
Pollard claimed that the information was vital for Israel’s defense and was being withheld by Washington. Prosecutors, however, maintained that much of the information had nothing to do with vital Israeli security interests and might have fallen into the hands of hostile nations. They also said that Pollard was not motivated entirely by pro-Israel sentiments, since he admitted accepting $50,000 in cash from Israel at one point. Justice Department officials also contend that Pollard did not cooperate with the investigation, as many of his supporters claim.
So damaging to U.S. security was Pollard’s role that then-defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger told Israeli Ambassador Meir Rosenne in 1987 that Pollard should have been executed. Joseph DiGenova, the prosecutor who handled the Pollard case, said that the damage he did to U.S. security was “beyond calculation.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Leeper declared, “The defendant has admitted that he sold Israel a volume of classified documents 10 feet by 6 feet by 6 feet.” He said that Pollard provided Israel with thousands of pages, including secret information on the location of American ships and training exercises.
The U.S. government, at the time of Pollard’s trial, said that the damage resulting from Pollard’s spying exceeded that caused by Ronald T. Pelton, a former National Security Agency employee, who was convicted in 1986 of selling classified electronics surveillance secrets to the Soviet Union.
“Pollard compromised specific intelligence gathering methods in a specific area, and damaged the U.S. position relative to the Soviet Union,” the prosecutors said. But they added, “Pollard compromised a breadth and volume of classified information as great as in any reported espionage case and adversely affected U.S. interests vis-a-vis numerous countries, including, potentially, the Soviet Union.”
Several U.S. intelligence analysts believe that documents stolen by Pollard were handed over to Moscow by Soviet moles within the Israeli intelligence services.
Despite all of this, the pro-Pollard movement became increasingly vocal. In 1993, a campaign to persuade President Clinton to commute Pollard’s sentence was launched. In a full-page advertisement a wide range of Jewish leaders urged President Clinton “to demonstrate your commitment to justice by commuting Jonathan Pollard’s sentence to the time he has already served.” Among those signing this statement were Rabbi Norman Lamm, president of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Arthur Green, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and Rabbi Gerald Zeller, president of the Rabbinical Assembly.
Many rabbinical organizations joined in urging a commutation of the Pollard sentence, including the Rabbinical Council of America and the New York and Chicago Boards of Rabbis. Seymour Reich, past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations, said, “I urge the President to commute the sentence of Jonathan Pollard.” The American Jewish Committee asked the President to review the case and the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council voted to approve a letter asking for clemency.
Some of Pollard’s most vocal supporters even charge that his incarceration is somehow based on religious prejudice. Thus, Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, New York wrote in The Los Angeles Times that Pollard “remains incarcerated because of the improprieties, prejudice, downright anti-Israelism and elements of anti-Semitism . . . now he has become a political prisoner.”
While major Jewish groups in the U.S. urged Pollard’s early release, many prominent Jewish Americans sharply disagreed. One of these was Michael Ledeen, who was a consultant to the national security adviser to the President, to the undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department, and to the Secretary of Defense from 1982 to 1986. He stated that:
“American Jews who are mounting an impassioned campaign on behalf of Jonathan Pollard are making a mistake — a big mistake. The man deserves everything he got, and more, both for the despicable acts he committed and for the damage he did to the American Jewish community.”
Ledeen argues that:
“His oath didn’t give him the right to decide when or to whom he could divulge our secrets. Moreover, while there is no doubt that Israel ‘ran’ Pollard, he could not have been certain that his controllers were actually who they claimed to be. If the KGB had set out to recruit an agent like Pollard, they would most likely have pretended to be officials of the Mossad.”
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who is Jewish, declared that:
“There is no excuse for Pollard to accept $150,000 from Israel for spying on America and no excuse for Pollard to give Israel American codes. . . . I think he deserved the punishment he got.”
Despite the rhetoric of Pollard’s defenders, he was never a “political prisoner.” He was a convicted spy, and there was never any evidence available, or offered by his supporters, that he was innocent. David Geneson, a federal prosecutor and one of the team who handled the Pollard case as an assistant U.S. attorney, states that:
“Not only did Pollard solicit his monthly pay and enjoy two luxurious European trips (unrelated to his espionage activities) at the expense of his Israeli controllers, he demanded a raise from his most senior control officer while the man lay in a hospital recuperating from surgery.”
Jonathan Pollard was clearly in it for the money. But his motivation seems to have been more complicated. He grew up in a religious Jewish family deeply committed to Zionism, to the idea, as Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel frequently proclaims, that Israel is the “homeland” of all Jews. Jonathan Pollard clearly was confused about where his loyalties properly belonged. The vast majority of American Jews believe that Judaism is a religion of universal values and that religion and nationality are separate and distinct. They understand very clearly that their “homeland” is the United States and Judaism is their religion, just as other Americans are Catholic, Protestant, or Muslim.
Sadly, Jonathan Pollard may be viewed as a victim of this Zionist worldview and of Israel’s claim to speak for millions of men and women who are citizens of other countries. He has paid a high price for his crime and is now in poor health. He can certainly be viewed as a tragic figure. If he decides to move to Israel, that country should not view him as a hero, which many Israelis may do. If Israel views itself as a friend of our country, which it repeatedly proclaims, it should ask itself whether employing a spy such as Jonathan Pollard is the way friends should treat one another. *
Allan C. Brownfeld
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
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
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. *