Monday, 29 July 2013

“Free at last!” [updated]

Stephen Spielberg’s recent film on Lincoln dramatised the passing of his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation—justifiably famous for freeing around 4 million slaves in North America, and beginning the removal of the stain of slavery from American law.

This, with the subsequent constitutional amendment outlawing slavery across the continent, was the culmination of an anti-slavery movement that swept the west in the nineteenth century, following on the heels of the movement for individual rights that swept the west in the eighteenth century.

Freeing the slaves was a necessary righting of a wrong that the gradual recognition of individual rights had made imperative.

Abolition began in the birthplace of individual rights, in Britain; the slave trade was abolished in the West Indies in 1807, and abolition exported across the British Empire, so that by 1835 the stain had been removed empire-wide.

And in 1840, a Treaty was signed in New Zealand that was as effective in freeing the slaves here as Lincoln’s later more famous document was over there.

And there were a lot of slaves to free.

It’s almost forgotten today, but when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed virtually every Maori in the country outside the tribal chiefs was a slave—and their life was cheap. There was a caste system in Maori tikanga, with the overwhelming majority, the slaves, enjoying no more rights than a dog.

The life of a slave was entirely forfeit to their master and his chief. One chief blew out the brains of his slave for failing to light his pipe in time.  Another because her husband had “cast her off for a season.” Slaves were taken in conquest, and killed as easily. They were taken on long journeys purely as a source of food, eaten when they were no longer needed as porters. Any person lacking position was “a tutua--a fellow [or woman] not worth a spike nail.” Until 1840, folk not worth a spike nail had no rights. They were chattel.

The “glory” of traditional Maori society, notes John Robinson in his book Two Cultures Meet, was the domain of only a few.

A history of this country must pay due regard to the experiences and fates of all Maori, including the dispossessed, the lower ranks, the slaves—and the women.  Then efforts can be made to improve the lives of all and longer focus on righting supposed wrongs to the few chiefs who benefited from tribalism.

For characters such as Jake Heke, whose tragedy is told in Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors, the legacy of Maori society was not one of glory, but of slavery.

Jake asks his children, “Hey kids, Know what I inherited as a Maori? Jake asking our of the blue … Slaves … My family were slaves … My branch of the Heke line was descended from a slave … Five-hundred years of the slave curse bein’ on our heads.

On our heads, and also in their heads. Then and (for some) for ever more. Because the slave mind is a hard thing to shake off.

Californian columnist for The Free Radical Michael Vardoulis sent me a reflection from afar a while back on what Maori activists need to learn about independence and self-reliance from the likes of the late-career Malcolm X (right), who argued that if American blacks were ever to be truly free they needed to free themselves first—free themselves, like Jake had to, from their slave minds.

Says Michael:

Yes, Maori individuals have a lot fewer historical claim to bitterness than Afro Americans, or especially Native Americans and Hawaiians!  Whatever their legitimate complaints, at least New Zealanders never suffered the stain of slavery while the slaveholders proclaimed the protection for themselves of individual rights. 

Maoris are individuals whose ancestors were never enslaved -- not at least after the British arrived.

But Maori individuals need to shake off the great state fixation too many seem obsessed with.  There is a kind of philosophical 'judo' that Malcolm X represents, insofar as the pride of self-reliance he talked about is essential to survival as an individual, and it would apply to Maori as well.  His message of "why look to your former 'masters' for anything, nor to  the government that supported them”?  The only thing a (insert arbitrary racial identity here) individual should seek from the government which supported their former master is to be left the hell alone!"

   The lesson that needs to be tattooed on the soul was expressed perfectly by Isabel Paterson: "A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you've got" -- including, if you let them, your pride in your self-reliance.  Self-reliance does not come from sucking nanny's tit, or from the marshmallow embrace of collectivism -- it comes from standing on one's own feet and beginning to take responsibility for one's own future as an individual.

And then we have the conclusions one can draw universally on the issue of 'race' from what Rand wrote so perfectly: the only genuine solution to racism is a colour-blind government supporting the same rights for all individuals as individuals; equality before the law; anything *other* than that merely perpetuates the evil of racism, and (not incidentally) the careers of political figures who benefit from the perpetuation of the problem rather than achieving solutions.

Liberty HAS been stolen from many different arbitrary groups (though compared to what others have suffered over history, including many Europeans it's much harder to find in the case of post-1840 Maori) and in any case it's ultimately irrelevant to the much more important issue of regaining that liberty, which can only be achieved in a society where only the rights of the individual are upheld regardless of any arbitrary 'group' status either placed upon them or with which they choose to identify.

   Hell, the Brits stomped all over my mother's ancestors in Ireland, and the Turks all over my father's ancestors in Greece.  I don't go looking for handouts from Downing Street or Istanbul!  I just pursue a society in which the individual is protected from being interfered with, knowing as a result that no arbitrary group can be singled out either for persecution, or for restitution.  The people who stomped all over my ancestors are long dead and buried -- those alive now bear no guilt for what their great-great-great grandparents did to mine.

But, I fear I preach to the choir.  It's individuals of Maori, Afro-American or Native American backgrounds which need to 'get it'... as my mentor Richard Boddie (right), a former student of Malcolm X, is fond of saying, "People are deluded en masse and enlightened one at a time."

The lesson of Malcolm's own growth and change over his life helps to show that lesson is true -- and dangerous to those who would hope the lesson is never learned.

I think Michael makes some great points, don’ t you?.

The interested reader might appreciate in this context my earlier review of Spike Lee's film Malcolm X' that appeared in The Free Radical at the time of the film's release.  [NB: Some light editing of Michael's post has been done for sense and context.]

UPDATED

It has become somewhat fashionable of late to knock Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and to pillory Lincoln himself as some kind of neo-fascist. As Thomas Sowell says sadly, "today we see the spectacle of pygmies sniping at this giant"--examples of which you can find in the comments section below.

Sowell takes to task these assorted pygmies and their ahistorical criticisms:

People who indulge themselves in this kind of self-righteous carping act as if Lincoln was someone who could do whatever he damn well pleased, without regard to the law, the Congress, or the Supreme Court. They might as well criticize him for not discovering a cure for cancer.
   
Fortunately, there is an excellent new [in 2005] book, titled "Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation" by Professor Allen C. Guelzo of Gettysburg College, that sets Lincoln in the context of the world in which he lived.
   
Once you understand the constraints of that world, and how little room for maneuver Lincoln had, you realize what courage and brilliance it took for him to free the slaves.
   
Just one fact should give pause to Lincoln's critics today: When Lincoln sat down to write the Emancipation Proclamation, the Supreme Court was still headed by Chief Justice Roger Taney, who had issued the infamous Dred Scott decision, saying a black man had no rights which a white man needed to respect...
   
Professor Guelzo's book does more than give us some sense of realism about a major event in American history. Perhaps if we come to understand the complexities and constraints of Lincoln's turbulent times, we might not be so quick to seize opportunities to reduce other times -- including our own -- to cartoon-like simplicities that allow us to indulge in cheap self-righteousness when judging those who carry heavy responsibilities.

Perhaps those people that enjoyed this poorly-written smear of Lincoln should give Sowell's points, and Guelzo's book, some much needed thought.

PS: Here's a question for you: How many know who the chap is in the picture above next to Old Abe? Answers on a postcard please. [And if you don’t know the name of that hero and about the Dred Scott decision and its implications, then please do some reading before offering up your opinions.]

18 comments:

  1. "Stephen Spielberg’s recent film on Lincoln dramatised the famous passing of his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation— etc"

    Yes the film did a nice job of continuing the falsities of the myth. Consider salient fact. The glorious proclamation did not free all the slaves in the Union, but it purported to free those resident in the Confederacy. In other words the proclamation (which Lincoln had to be cajoled into signing - he opposed it until he was able to turn it to his own political advantage) was directed at people in territories not under Lincoln's political authority but independent of it. Also, the Confederacy was not a part of the Union Lincoln presided over. It's like Australian Prime Minister Rudd making a law that New Zealanders must all start speaking Australian Aborigine or better still, making a law that New Zealanders must all start speaking Hindi (which would be good for some of us, but a lot of you may not agree with being forced into that). Of course, the purpose of the emancipation was a simple expedient to weaken the "foe" and (it was hoped) harm the Confederacy by wrecking its home front within. Also, did you ever notice that elsewhere in the West slavery was eliminated without the horrors of a civil war. Funny that. Look to the centralisation of power in the Federal Government as the main motivational reason for the Civil War. President Lincoln advanced that reason over and over again as the prime factor in waging war. He did it in writing and in speach. Lincoln was a war criminal. Make no mistake about that.

    Amit

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  2. Pete, I will always be skeptical of Lincoln's motives, as he is said to have written in 1862:

    "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union..."

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  3. Yes, Amit, the Confederacy was a collection of free states, and slavery had nothing to do with causing the Civil War.

    Oh, and Islam is Peace.

    Sheesh.

    Fast is, any country has the right to liberate a slave state--which is what the Confederacy was quite literally. (Read its constitution when you get a chance.)

    And any "wrecking" of any "home front" within a slave state is entirely justified.

    Slavery is an abomination. I'm surprised to find an apologist for it here.

    Oh, and "waging war"? You recall who started the US Civil War, don't you? And when?

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  4. @Richard, Lincoln is certainly a more complicated fellow than some alleged historians in Auburn, Alabama give him credit for.

    For some context to Lincoln's views on slavery and much else, sit down sometime with the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and have a good think about them.

    Among other things said there, Lincoln made clear he recognised that popular sovereignty would tend to nationalise and perpetuate slavery--the corollary being that any abolitionist leader, were there to be one, would necessarily be acting ahead of popular opinion and needing to take it with him.

    When in 1862 he wrote what you quoted, I expect he had no idea whether those fighting for the Union would support abolition as a majority or not, but he certainly indicated elsewhere his understanding that if abolition was ever going to last, it needed to be done as part of a popular movement.

    In 1862 the public were not ready to fight for abolition, but were ready to fight for the Union. By 1863 (but only just), they began to realise that in fighting for the Union, they *were* fighting for abolition.

    And Lincoln was ready to move.

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  5. I'm disappointed the only substantive comments made on this post have been carping about the Civil War, and nothing about the point I was trying to make.

    However, fact is, it is sobering to see libertarians posting to defend the monstrousness of a slave state. "While it would be disingenuous to say that the North began the war with the intent to end slavery, it would be nothing short of delusion to say the South did not fight to preserve both slavery and the white supremacy upon which it relied."

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  6. Good post Peter. Galt save us from the libertarian revisionists who sling mud at Lincoln's legacy (often accompanies by a defence of the confederacy).

    The criticism that he wasn't primarily motivated by ending slavery but preserving the union reminds me of an attach you often hear from socialists in a different context - attacking business because "they're motivated by profit and not the interests of their customers". The two go hand in hand - making money requires serving your customers, and preserving the union required ending slavery. The two go hand in hand and are both consistent with freedom, so what's the beef?

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  7. Certainly I have no beef with the end result of the Civil War - ending slavery. We are all reading from the same song sheet there, I hope. That's a no-brainer. I will read whatever I can find about the Lincoln-Douglas debates Peter, but a brief search came up with the following quotes from those debates:

    “I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favour of the race to which I belong having the superior position.”

    “Free them [slaves] and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this. We cannot, then, make them equals.”

    “What I would most desire would be the separation of the white and black races.”

    “I will to the very last stand by the law of this state, which forbids the marrying of white people with Negroes.”

    While one outcome of the Civil War - the abolition of slavery - was great, I do have serious doubts about Lincoln the man. Certainly a person can change their mind, but Lincoln appears to have moved a long way from his original position that was pretty much entrenched in the racist camp. However I can still be convinced otherwise.

    At the very least, you would have to agree the above quotes make somewhat disappointing reading.

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  8. Peter

    No need for posing and game playing. Free your mind from its prison of mythology and partake in some intelligent discourse for a change!

    First error of yours is evasion of the points I raised. Instead of addressing them you swiftly move towards setting up for personal attack insteads. Look at the snarling cynicism in what you have written. For example you say, "Yes, Amit, the Confederacy was a collection of free states, and slavery had nothing to do with causing the Civil War." I did not write, say, imply or believe any of that.

    Second error you make is writing a falsity and hoping yo can smear me with it. This, "Oh, and Islam is Peace."

    Let readers be clear about what is happening here. I have not ever written anything like that, never implied it and never said that. Peter here made it up out of his own imagination. Peter, you and Gregster do the same strategy- evade and smear. Make up cant and pretend it came from another person who you try to impune and dimiss. Dishonest to try that, Peter. Stupid as well.

    Then there is this, "Fast (sic) is, any country has the right to liberate a slave state". Not so. That is your third error. It is false. Peter, by this standard any government can initiate force against other people merely by a rhetorical device- by declaring them a "slave state" or some other convenience. {It is a surprise to learn that this is the standard with some Objectivism people. I did not know it was thus.} This approach is a common behaviour type often exhibited by the USA and various Western governments- claim the other people bad in some way and use that as justification to do violence on them. Slavery is but another of a long list of dishonest excuse. Yet you remain completely silent about the facts pertaining to slaves in the Union. Were you directly honest with your enquiry into this topic you'd have to apply standards consistently and admit the Union was a "slave state" just as was the Confederacy.

    "any "wrecking" of any "home front" within a slave state is entirely justified."

    Any? "Any" excuses a lot of malevolence. You could not mean for that to happen. Not if you really think about it. By that standard anything goes once a suitable lable can be affixed upon the dirty evil enemy. The fact is unaltered all the same. Lincoln's ultimate motivation for issuing the emancipation proclamation was to seek a strategic advantage in the clash of arms that was the Civil War. Freeing slaves was not the primary objective of Lincoln's Civil War. Read what he wrote about it (Richard McGrath has reproduced one of his quotes right above).

    Fourth error, "Slavery is an abomination. I'm surprised to find an apologist for it here."

    I have never anywhere argued apologetics in favour of slavery. You are without any doubts most intellectually dishonest there by writing that. That is low and scummy. If you have decency and integrity within you, you would to apologise for that.

    What started the Civil War? Bad decisions by politicians and military men from both sides contributed to the outbreak, although the initial military action was the result of a successful exercise of provocation. President Lincoln takes the stage front and centre as one of the main parties responsible. He was a war criminal. Make no mistake about that.

    Amit

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  9. Mark

    Your analogy fails. You don't even address the point.

    Amit

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  10. Lincoln doesn't fare well in this blogger's list of U.S. presidents:

    http://freedomed.blogspot.co.nz/2012/10/libertarian-presidents.html

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  12. Richard

    Peter is engaging in the manufacture of rationalisation and excuses to try to sanitise away what Lincoln was and what he did. The facts stand unaltered. Lincoln said what he said, wrote what he wrote and acted as he did. When it comes to understanding what Lincoln was, head to the source, the evidence is the man himself. There is no altering fact.

    Among other actions of Lincoln there is mercantilism, graft, bribe taking, assorted rackets, suspense of habeas corpus, denial of individual rights, initiation of violence (on the personal level, in business and at the political level), destruction of the US Constitution (which he had sworn to uphold remember), theft by taxation, enslavement, conscription, genocide, destruction of private property, breaking the law, misappropriation of funds, common theft, chronic delinquent indebtedness, dishonesty, fraud, waging of violence against non-combatants, initiations of violence against civilians and on and on and on it goes. The man was motivated by power lust.

    When Peter discusses what the public were ready to fight for, notice how seamlessly he argues as a collectivist. He collectivises hundreds of thousands of individuals when he thus writes. Instead consider these questions,
    Who exactly was it that sought war?
    Which "public" was that?
    What specific interests were advanced?
    Whose?
    Also consider the identity of the primary promoters the violence and war talk at the time. Look to the then existing media for your evidence and always, like a very famous man said, follow the money.

    Amit

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  13. @Richard: Lincoln was a politician, and a very slippery one, who very rarely said what he really meant--which is why the full context of what he says has to be used.

    The Lincoln-Douglas debates are possibly the best opportunity to see from him a fully well-rounded argument on the slavery question, but you won't get that by the sort of cherry picking quote harvesting they engage in down in Auburn.

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  14. @Amit: This post is not directly about Lincoln; oddly enough it's about slavery.

    Be nice if you chose to address that.

    And, yes, any free country does have the moral right (the right, but not the duty) to liberate a slave pen--since every slave pen makes itself morally illegitimate. "The right of a nation to determine its own form of government does not include the right to establish a slave society (that is, to legalize the enslavement of some men by others). There is no such thing as 'the right to enslave.' A nation can do it, just as a man can become a criminal—but neither can do it by right... Dictatorship nations are outlaws. Any free nation had the right to invade Nazi Germany and, today, has the right to invade Soviet Russia, Cuba or any other slave pen. Whether a free nation chooses to do so or not is a matter of its own self-interest, not of respect for the non-existent “rights” of gang rulers. It is not a free nation’s duty to liberate other nations at the price of self-sacrifice, but a free nation has the right to do it, when and if it so chooses."

    And, no, a slave state has no right of secession.

    That said, and since you ignored the question earlier, I invite you again to consider who actually started the Civil War and when (hint: it wasn't Lincoln), and the reason it was started (you don' t have to guess: these four documents of secession--"our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery" says the Georgian statement for example--and the unusually clear statement by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stevens--"our peculiar institution African slavery ... was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution"--give you every clue, as does their racist constitution.)

    So, now, do you have anything to say about slavery, huh?

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  15. Amit - a few years back I made a joke along the lines of - slavery was abolished because it was getting unprofitable for slave owners.

    Little did I realise the lack of a sense of humour in many quarters.
    Little did I realise what within days I would be tarred as a racist who hates maoris, black people, Indians, Asians [________ write anyone else you care to name in here, it doesn't really matter as the damage was done].

    Even today this view of me continues (despite my domestic situation) and is a bit shocking.

    The response I received - smears, lies, personal abuse, deceit - is summed up in your following comments -

    "..I have never anywhere argued apologetics in favour of slavery. You are without any doubts most intellectually dishonest there by writing that.."

    and

    "notice how seamlessly he argues as a collectivist. He collectivises hundreds of thousands of individuals when he thus writes.."

    and

    "..same strategy- evade and smear. Make up cant and pretend it came from another person who you try to impune and dimiss.."

    It is astounding (or is it?) that years go by and nothing changes amongst people proclaiming their honesty and integrity to anyone who will listen.

    All I can say Amit is 'welcome to the club' HAHAHAHA!

    Lincoln was a corrupt, syphilitic racist who was quite mad - and took credit for something which he had little to do with.
    What Doc Mcgrath quotes is all you need to know about Lincoln!

    A good analogy in this country would be to suggest (!) that Sir Roger is some kind of libertarian freedom fighter - bizarre to anyone who genuinely is a libertarian freedom fighter - but almost universally accepted, despite the 180 degree opposite being the case.

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  16. "Lincoln ... took credit for something which he had little to do with."

    Yes, Lincoln had "little to do with" slaves being freed.

    Please read some history before bothering to comment.

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  17. Opps - I think I went slightly over the top in my last post.

    When I said " nothing changes amongst people proclaiming their honesty and integrity to anyone who will listen.."

    Hmmmm yes, well, slightly overboard there; I can see that can be taken in a number of ways, and implies things about certain people - such as Peter - which I do consider to be correct, and of course certain "people" are honest and possessed with enormous integrity - they are libertarians, afterall.

    I apologise.

    (Last week a fake blog and fake facebook profile, purporting to be mine, was brought to my attention. These have all manner of nasty disgusting things on them - supposedly written by me, which of course they are not - still kinda pissed off by it all and think I sort of took it out on my previous post)

    Still stick to what I said about Lincoln though!

    By saying he had very little to do with actually freeing slaves I was meaning in the sense of he may have signed documents, but these were drawn up - the actual brains behind it - by officials and others who had been doing spadework on the topic for many years.

    A good analogy would be in, say, 50 years time (or 150) the free trade agreement with China turning out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread for NZ and John Key being somehow or other proclaimed as the author of the agreement.

    NZ circa. 2065 and New Zealanders openly say "John Key is the greatest NZer ever because he gave us the free trade agreement with China which has earnt $28 trillion and made us a rich country"

    Not quite correct, wouldn't you agree? (all the actual work having been done by officials)

    The negro in that photograph looks like Fountain Hughes (as part of my historical ignorance I read his book).

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  18. Peter

    "Any free country blah blah blurt blah barf barf.....

    Rubbish! Drivel! You are arguing as a collectivist. You ought to know better.

    Countries do not have rights. Only individuals have rights. You are wrong to claim otherwise.

    An individual has the right to secede from a group of other individuals and leave them. That includes individuals you might choose to affix aspersions to or people you do not like. Similarly, a group of individuals are quite within their rights to leave a super-group. That includes people you might choose to affix aspersions to or people you do not like.

    As far as going to war to liberate enslaved people, be very careful about what you are trying to justify. If an individual or a group thereof each decide to gear up, invade and attack the evil slavers to help the slaves get out of there, then that is a matter for them to undertake voluntarily. They do it with their own resource and body, no-one else's. They do not have the right to involve third parties such as their neighbours or people who do not want to get involved or people who do not want to contribute money, equipment and resources to their enterprise. No government institution has any sort of right to prosecute that action against neighbouring independent societies of individuals, let alone by employing coercive means to extract the money, equipment, resources and slaves of its own (by means of what Ludwig von Mises identified as a variant of slavery- conscription) from those unfortunates it claims to already govern.

    As far as who started the Civil War, the initial military action (the beginning of hostilities) was the result of a successful exercise of provocation. President Lincoln takes the stage front and centre as one of the main parties responsible. It was his policy. It was his decisions. He was chief architect of it. President Lincoln did have alternatives. As an authoritive leader of other people he took the choice to lead them and others to violence and bloodshed and war and genocide and crime and impoverishment and terror and such needless prolonged suffering. He had the opportunity to avoid all that but chose to lead to death and destruction. He was a war criminal. Never forget it.

    There is something else. You still owe me an apology for writing offensively to me. I am not an apologist for slavery as you are aware. Have you no integrity? Have you no honour? If you did have you'd have retracted and apologised immediately. Funny that you need to be reminded. Your behaviour is beneath you. It is disappointing.

    Amit

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