by Doctor Science
Slacktivist Fred Clark talks about South Carolina Tea Partiers sneering at the idea of "government of the people, by the people and for the people". I think this is another aspect of what Andrew Sullivan accurately calls America's Cold Civil War, which is also what Dennis G. (dengre) means by the modern
Republican Confederate Party and which digby talks about in a post that came up as I was writing this.
It's no coincidence that "of the people, by the people, for the people" was a statement by the Union President, and that South Carolinians are the ones objecting. South Carolina was the spark plug for what James McPherson has accurately called The War of Southern Aggression. South Carolinians were most aggressive because they had the most to lose: SC had a black slave majority. Both democracy and the Golden Rule would have been deeply threatening to white South Carolinians.
But it wasn't just SC. In What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War, Chandra Manning shows that Confederate and Union soldiers, especially enlisted men, had different attitudes toward government -- and I see those differences still playing out today.
Of SC (and other) Tea Partiers, Fred said:
They profess a deep pessimism about the human capacity for self-government, but it comes packaged with an incompatible naive utopianism that believes in unchecked power so long as that power is wielded by anyone not elected by the public.Fred is baffled and horrified that self-proclaimed conservatives would be so anarchistic.
The contradictions of these Hobbesian hippies are seen most clearly when they are asked to explain what it is that they are for — what it is that they would like to see replace the "government of the people, by the people and for the people" at which they sneer with such vicious contempt.
... Their scorn is not directed at our failure to more fully realize the noble ideal of "government of, by and for the people." Their scorn is directed at the belief that this is a noble ideal or that it is worthy of realization. Quote that glorious phrase from Lincoln and they will roll their eyes and sputter because they think you're a fool to believe that such a thing could ever be even partially true.
They do not believe in it. They do not believe in government of the people, by the people and for the people. They cannot believe in it because they do not believe in government. That word, to them, means one and only one thing: tyranny. And so they respond to Lincoln's phrase accordingly — as though he were advocating tyranny of the people, tyranny by the people and tyranny for the people.
And so again I ask, if not democracy, then what? If we are not to govern ourselves, then how are we to be governed?
That's just it, comes the reply, we shouldn't be governed at all.
IMHO it's not truly anarchy, it's a different vision of government that Manning found well-established during the Civil War. Manning looked at letters and regimental newspapers written by enlisted men, not officers, and found:
Confederates believed that their rebellion against a federal government that inadequately served white Southerners' interest in slavery reenacted the colonies' revolt against Great Britain ... The actual Union that the Revolution had created mattered less than the reasons for its creation.
When Confederate soldiers spoke of liberty, they referred not to a universally applicable ideal, but to a carefully circumscribed possession available to white Southerners. No mere abstraction, liberty had to do with the unobstructed pursuit of material prosperity for white men and their families.
In order to retain legitimacy, government must also serve the needs and interests of white families, according to Confederates.
The Spirit of '76, by Archibald MacNeal Willard, is an iconic representation of the Confederate view of the American Revolution. It's about the heroic struggle, the march toward victory against desperate odds, the admiration of young for the old and determined. It's about courage even when the Cause seems to be Lost.
Confederates emulated the Revolution through the act of rebellion, but Union troops honored the Revolution by fighting to preserve the American government it created. By rallying "around the star spangled banner to defend the Union of our Revolutionary sires", one camp newspaper explained, Union troops were helping to "protect and perpetuate a Government which the oppressed in every land have looked upon for half a century as the beacon of liberty." That statement contrasted sharply with the Confederate claim (voiced by Ivy Duggan and countless others) that the Union in 1861 violated its own reasons for being and threatened liberty.
Union troops interpreted the significance of the Union more broadly, and harbored a different vision of liberty. The Union existed, according to northern volunteers in 1861, not simply for limited purposes like facilitating white citizens' pursuit of material interests, but for the grander purpose of proving to the world that republican self-government based on the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence could work.
government in the pre-Civil War North was not 'them', it was us. Both northern & southern men could and did vote, equally. But because people in the North lived closer together and in more small communities, there were many more ways there for men to participate in government beyond voting. ... there were more local governments and therefore more offices with more impact on daily life than in the South, where most seemed to prefer a more hands-off attitude toward local government.
Norman Rockwell's Freedom of Speech, part of the Four Freedoms series, gives a Union view of what the American Revolution was about, and what government should be. A plain, unheroic man is standing up and speaking at a New England town meeting, where the government is *everybody*. Although he is younger than the men immediately around him, they are listening to him with respect (not admiration, he is no particular hero), the mutual respect of peers who are working together.
My starting-place for looking at these sorts of patterns in American history and culture is always Albion's Seed, by David Hackett Fischer. Fischer hypothesizes that many enduring patterns in American culture arise from the different subcultures ("folkways") brought to North America by different waves of immigrants from the British Isles: the Puritans of New England (who came largely from Essex), the Anglicans of Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay (from Wessex), the Quakers of the Delaware Valley (from the north Midlands), and the Presbyterians and Methodists of the backcountry (who came from the border regions between England and Scotland, and from northern Ireland). There is a fifth major folk culture in the US, which Fischer has never been really able to explore, though at one point he planned a book about it: The Ebony Tree: African Folkways in America.
When the question is "what should be the average person's relationship to the government?", you get four different answers for the different folk cultures. For the cultural descendents of Puritans, New Englanders and west, they *are* the government: they have to respect the consensus of the community, but they are also expected to help shape that consensus. Government is a collective achievement, and can be pretty heavy-handed as long as it's everyone's hand. They also have a great deal of respect for the wisdom of age and education.
The cultural descendents of Quakers, from the Delaware valley to the Upper Midwest, have the most respect for all individual consciences. The role of government is to be a protector of reciprocal liberties based on the Golden Rule. As Fischer says,
the Quakers extended to others in America precisely the same rights that they had demanded for themselves in England. Many other libertarians have tended to hedge the principles when power passed into their hands. That sad story has been reenacted many times in world history, from New England Puritans to French Jacobins to Israeli Jews who have cruelly denied to others the rights they demanded for themselves. The Quakers behaved differently. They always remained true to their idea of reciprocal liberty, to the everlasting glory of their denomination.
The cultural descendents of the Anglican Cavaliers of Virginia believed, like the Puritans, in respect for hierarchy and authority, but their preferred government was aristocracy. Fischer quotes John Randolph of Roanoke, who said:
I am an aristocrat. I love liberty; I hate equality.They believed -- and still believe -- that government should be run by the Best Men, who are known by their inherited status and wealth (inherited or otherwise). Government shouldn't tell such people what to do, but has a necessary function in keeping the rest of society properly in line. "We shouldn't be governed at all!" in this culture means that *I* don't really need to be governed, but I may accept some for the sake of keeping other people in their place.
The Backcountry culture is the most familiarly libertarian, the one that believes every (white) man should have the maximum personal liberty, and government should be as minimal as possible. This is the culture that sneers most thoroughly at the idea of government "of the people and for the people" -- government for them represents either Yankee busy-bodies or greedy aristocrats, and is never expected to reflect the needs or wishes of regular people who just want to be left alone.
As for Black American culture, I'm just guessing that the basic attitude toward government is to work it when you can, dodge it when you can't, never ever trust it, but never expect to be completely free of it, either: a practical, cynical approach.
In any event, I think when Tea Partiers sneer at "government of the people, by the people and for the people", it's because that was *never* their culture or experience. The cultural forces that made the Confederacy are still there, and still count as common sense for many Americans.