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Burning the Stars and Bars, Again.


J. Arthur Bloom tries to meet the paleolibertarians halfway. When I say that the Confederacy wasn’t libertarian, he agrees — and then asks, “What’s the point?”

For me, the point is simple. It’s that people aren’t completely stupid. They know very well what symbols mean, and they know that those meanings are not infinitely malleable.

If the Confederacy wasn’t libertarian — and it wasn’t — then waving its flag is no way to rally libertarians to your cause. At best the people who fall in line behind you will be a certain flavor of nationalist, and nationalism has never been a particularly libertarian sentiment. At worst? Well, we know where that leads.

The truth is probably a bit orthogonal to both nationalism and racism. Bloom comes close to it: What could the Confederate flag stand for, he asks, among people with “little geographic or hereditary connection to the Old South,” among “the sort of economically disenfranchised Appalachians whose ancestors tended not to own slaves”?

I suspect it’s rather like the Che Guevara t-shirt on the back of a campus leftist. It’s not about supporting the Cuban Revolution. Still less is it for the tyrannical government the revolution created. It’s not about the firing squads, and it’s certainly not about the Cuban Missile Crisis, which Che helped directly to precipitate (with a big boost from that insecure patrician warmonger, John F. Kennedy).

The t-shirt, like the flag, stands as a generic symbol of rebellion; both sides have them. It’s not supposed to be “for” anything.

Yet one doesn’t get a pass on such matters by dint of carefully declining to think through their implications: If you don’t think them through, someone else will. As a matter of fact, libertarians love to mock those Che t-shirts. And they are quite right to do so. I have done nothing more, and nothing less, in condemning the Confederate flag.

So. This little controversy isn’t about cleverly finessing the libertarian message in the hopes of winning over the masses. It’s not about libertarian populism, whatever that even means. It’s about getting libertarianism right. It’s about building a movement that actually stands for liberty — and that does not stand for anything else but liberty.

Ultimately I wrote what I did so that the many, many enemies of libertarianism will have to argue directly against liberty — a losing proposition, in the longest of terms — rather than being able to argue, even once, “I know damn well what liberty is, and you guys aren’t it.”

I want to make it hard to be anti-libertarian. Not easy.

For conservatives, the implications of Confederate apologism are a little different, and they can sort those out on their own. As for us, the libertarian program doesn’t need this flag, and we won’t gain anything from it that can’t be had better elsewhere. Indeed, nothing about our program needs to change when we burn the Stars and Bars. (You are okay with free speech, right? Even if it offends certain people? Oh good…)

Burn it, because it should be burned. And yet one can still be a critic of Lincoln, and a friend of secession in principle, and a libertarian most certainly should be both.

People who care about liberty should still say, loudly and clearly, that Lincoln behaved as a tyrant in office. In the name of saving the old republic he twisted it beyond recognition. Lincoln’s commitment to abolition was never more than tactical, and at best lukewarm. His commitment to civil liberties was rather a commitment to destroying them. He suspended habeas corpus, censored the press, and jailed dissidents. He and his party instituted an illegal income tax, a horde of other taxes, a forced conscription, and — were that not enough — an inflationary money.

And yet. For everything that I have named in the above paragraph, the Confederacy did at least the same, point by point, and often much worse. Had slavery been abolished twenty years earlier, and had the war taken place just for the hell of it, there still wouldn’t be a libertarian dog in the fight.

Which is not to say that I oppose secession in principle. I am a warm friend of the right to disassociate oneself from a political community. Our Constitution would be much improved if it provided an explicit process for states and regions to leave the Union by their own choosing, and without anyone else’s consent. Yet even without that mechanism, the natural right remains. It’s not alienable. As in, literally not alienable — you can always secede. Personally. Or with a few friends. Or with your whole state. After that, it’s up to you to bear the consequences, because natural rights can’t help you deal with those.

Secession presents philosophical questions at several levels. It may be paper-legal or not. It may also be ethically justified — or not. To my mind, the most justifiable cause of secession is to preserve individual liberty. The least justifiable is to repress individual liberty. And there is no doubt which one the Confederacy served.

I know very well the claim that smaller, more local government tends to respect individual liberty better than larger, more distant government. Is it correct? Often enough, yes. But why do the defenders of this principle always seem, when they go looking for examples, to settle on the Confederacy — which if anything is the world’s most important counter-example, and whose central government, as seen from hinterland, was hardly less distant than Washington? Examples like these bring discredit on their proponents.

Nor does alternate history help. I’ve heard again and again that if the South had only been let go peacefully, slavery would have faded away without firing of a shot.

I suppose one is always entitled, as by inalienable right, to wishful thinking. But one ought not to base strong real-world claims on alternate histories. We can never actually run another experimental trial. But over in the real world, nothing about the government of the Confederacy so much as hints that they were preparing to let slavery go gentle into that good night. Constitutionally, free states were barred from ever entering the Confederacy. They had to have slavery to get in. Still worse, it is doubtful that any existing Confederate state was permitted under that Constitution to abolish slavery. (And can we just be honest for two quick seconds here? Gradual emancipation wasn’t Jefferson Davis’s platform. It was Linclon’s.)

Worse, I am haunted by a bleaker counterfactual: Had the war not been fought in 1861, might it have come in 1916? In the future lay tanks, incendiary rounds, and phosgene gas. How bad would that Civil War have been?

Of course, our actual history fell at a sickening slant. With the sole exception of the Reconstruction Amendments, virtually nothing good came of the Civil War. Even the amendments were largely inoperative for more than a century. One badly wants a do-over, knowing what we now know — and yet we see so easily how so many things could have been so much worse.

Might the northern war effort at least have been conducted differently? Qualms aside, I do think it should have been. I favor Murray Rothbard’s recommendation from chapter 11 of The Ethics of Liberty:

[T]here was only one possible moral solution for the slave question: immediate and unconditional abolition, with no compensation for the slavemasters. Indeed, any compensation should have been the other way – to repay the oppressed slaves for their lifetime of slavery. A vital part of such necessary compensation would have been to grant the plantation lands not to the slavemaster, who scarcely had any valid title to any property, but to the slaves themselves, whose labor, on our “homesteading” principle, was mixed with the soil to develop the plantations.

If I could go back in time and be one person in the U.S. Civil War, I would be William Tecumseh Sherman. Here are my orders in the march to the sea: Emancipate all slaves. Destroy nothing. Give all to those who built it. What would the slaves do with their new assets? And with their former masters? Not my problem. The freedmen have farms to run, and justice to administer. I, however, have a war to administer.

The real Sherman behaved very differently, of course, and unconscionably. It doesn’t make me a Confederate sympathizer to say — as clearly as I can — a pox on his house, too.

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152 thoughts on “Burning the Stars and Bars, Again.

  1. A pox on Sherman’s house indeed.
    His mercy gives us both the vilification of Longstreet
    and the Hero Worship of Lee.

    When ten or twenty houses send a nation to war,
    kill millions of people… is it justice to let them be?


    • Confederate leadership was dealt with very gently. Many of them were guilty of treason and could be convicted of such and hanged. Lots of governments, including the United States government, inflicted a lot worse punishment for less. What would have happened if the Confederate leadership was charged with treason?


      • The book April 1865 is all about that. I understand it’s gotten some criticism from other historians, but it still raises a lot of the “what if” issues related to the behavior of both sides in the last days and weeks before the end of the war, and the days and weeks immediately after it (e.g., the potential for guerrilla warfare, in the Appalachians in particular, and the call by some on the Union side to try and punish Confederate higher ups as traitors).


      • the whole ‘truth and reconciliation’ after a conflict is a tricky thing. You got to balance bringing justice with moving forward & creating a sustainable peace. For instance, the other side of the pendulum swing was the de-baathification of the Iraq government, which worked out well for almost* no one.

        *’cept the opportunists that filled in the vacuum and robbed the country blind.


    • Everyone wants nice sanitary wars. They’re entirely mythical. Both Sherman and Lee observed war was hell and it is a good thing that war is so horrible, else we might grow too fond of it, respectively.

      It wasn’t ten or twenty houses which plunged the United States into the Civil War. Bleeding Kansas had been ongoing since the Kansas-Nebraska Act. We are told the Civil War commenced with the firing on Fort Sumter in 1861 but that’s just the point at which the nation acknowledged what had been a going concern since 1854.

      Sherman brought total war into the equation. He sets out on 15 Nov 1864. By that time, 416,137 Union casualties had mounted up. Confederate figures are harder to find. The meat grinder of conventional warfare had not produced results, nor would it, any more than Verdun or the Somme did later in WW1, a war for which the Civil War was only a warmup exercise.

      Justice and War are incompatible concepts, all the philosophers and theologians notwithstanding. It’s been my observation all these folks who maunder on like so many Hamlets, looking back on the horrors of previous wars — are the first to take up arms against a sea of troubles, no sooner than the first sling or arrow of outrageous fortune hoves into view.


        • Nonsense. Any mention of Abolition had been evicted from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and every law passed until the Reconstruction Amendments and you goddamn well know it. Wasn’t as if the nation didn’t know what was going on. It did know and ignored every sign of the growing problem.

          The Peckerwood Populists might not like the implications of the Stars and Bars and a few more high-minded and more circumspect advocates might Avert Their Eyes from their unwashed, bucktoothed acolytes, but they’re preaching the same message of Theoretical Liberty while at the same time damning every attempt to enact those rights into law.


  2. Murray Rothbard, heh. That old racial separatist hog cuddled up to David Duke, Grand Wizard of the KKK and said many nice things about him, too. Quite a character, back in the day.

    Mises was an odd duck about racial equality as well : “Nothing, however, is as ill founded as the assertion of the alleged equality of all members of the human race.”

    Someone once characterised all this Rothbard/Rockwell/Ron Paul crap as Peckerwood Populism. The label seems to fit admirably into the space allotted.


    • Rothbard seems to have gone off the deep end late in life. I certainly don’t quote him without reservations. Here, I think he was exactly right. Elsewhere, no.

      Mises wasn’t making a point about race in the quoted passage. He was simply noting that different people clearly do have different capacities, and that this has often been urged as a reason against equality before the law. He goes on to demolish that reason, and to support equality before the law on new and better foundations:

      There are two distinct reasons why all men should receive equal treatment under the law. One was already mentioned when we analyzed the objections to involuntary servitude. In order for human labor to realize its highest attainable productivity, the worker must be free, because only the free worker, enjoying in the form of wages the fruits of his own industry, will exert himself to the full. The second consideration in favor of the equality of all men under the law is the maintenance of social peace. It has already been pointed out that every disturbance of the peaceful development of the division of labor must be avoided. But it is well-nigh impossible to preserve lasting peace in a society in which the rights and duties of the respective classes are different. Whoever denies rights to a part of the population must always be prepared for a united attack by the disenfranchised on the privileged. Class privileges must disappear so that the conflict over them may cease.


      • Many are the lunatics whose utterances can be dissected into fine enough chunks so as to render them palatable. Doesn’t change the fact that Murray Rothbard was a racial separatist and an enemy of integration from the beginning.

        The worker must be free, all right. The Libertarians are all about Freedom, as long as it stays in the realm of theory. Let it appear in law, though, they are the most reliable enemies of it ever seen.


        • He was certainly a racial separatist, and I hold him personally responsible for much of the neo-Confederate tendency in the libertarian movement.

          All of which means, I would hope, that quoting him here helps to confound that tendency. My sense is that his racist proclivities developed over time, and that the younger Rothbard was much the better man.


          • There’s no defending Murray Rothbard. Any of it. The core of Rothbard’s complaint arises from any attempt to make rights and liberties explicit in law. That mealy-mouthed bigot gave lip service to equality before the law but enforcing those laws provoked him something dreadful.

            Right from the start, Murray Rothbard sided with the bigots. You know it, too. There he is in college, starting a Strom Thurmond fan club. Jeebus!


            • He also endorsed Norman Mailer for mayor of New York and headed an infiltration of the Peace and Freedom Party. His work in real-world politics was all over the place, at least in the early days.


          • If the Libertarians — whoever they may be, wherever they are — want to be taken seriously in future, here’s two pieces of unwanted but in my view — entirely necessary advice:

            Denounce Murray Rothbard.

            And return to Hayek.

            Just stop trying to defend Rothbard any more. Throw his books out, stop quoting him, quit preaching any more of his Peckerwood Populism. Hayek does a much better job of explaining the form and substance of the libertarian ethos and he’s a respectable man. Rothbard and Mises are just not respectable.


      • Let’s not play little games of Tu Quoque, Vikram. Murray Rothbard’s prescriptives were quoted in this context and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was not. FDR did nothing about racism either. I grow sick and tired of the stench of bigotry which always seems to emerge from the Peckerwood Populists. I feel as if I am killing cockroaches with a shoe heel every time the subject of Saint Murray Rothbard comes up. This much I can say, anyone who dares to mention him again will meet up with my rhetorical shoe heel. Sick of any mention of that racist turd.


  3. Who cares about a libertarian program, and building a movement, apart from the movement itself? Maybe I’m just being pessimistic, but I don’t think it’s likely that libertarianism is likely to ever be the unified, purified political force you seem to have in mind. That’s why I mention those Ohio Valley neoconfederates, not because they make good prospects for libertarian evangelism, but because the demographics of which they are a part are electorally crucial, and their anxieties are pretty widely held. Any politically significant libertarianism probably has to speak to these people.


    • are you nuts?

      Part of making successful political coalitions is about choosing people with whom one would be willing to compromise. When it comes to compromise, you better fucking well ignore neoconfederates. There are plenty of neoliberals on both the left and right to garner a coalition that is friendly to both markets and civil liberties.

      The labour wing of the democratic party tends to consist of people who are socially conservative. The social conservatives can team up with the neoconfederates and neoconservatives to form a rump party for all I care.


  4. I think you are spot on about the comparison to Che t-shirts and the Confederate flag.

    I said this in your other post but I think the Confederate flag now also works as a kind of “fuck you” symbol for the white working-class. This is why you see it rural areas that were part of the Union. It is also why you can see it sprouted in rural Canada (with confirmation from our own Canadian). I think a good chunk of them just put it up because they know it pisses off upper-middle class urban liberals and I suspect they would put you in that category.

    In short, it is just another post in the fact that everything in the United States needs to become an issue for our perpetual culture war. This culture war is not merely a right v. left issue but can even exist on the left v. left and right v. right. On a left the fight would be among tech-utopians and tech-skeptics.


    • I’m with ND on agreeing with the Che=Conferderate Flag parralell. Both are used to indicate rebellion and to irritate some imagined other. Both function in practice to identify the wearer as an unreflective idiot.


      • A lot of people, even if they are intelligent, really don’t put to much thought into the things they support. They have enough problems in their life and most people aren’t fond of abstract thought. I’ve talked with people I agree with and still felt a bit ashamed on hoe they reach their conclusions.


        • Indeed, your victim complex, no matter how warranted, biases your beliefs.
          Perhaps if you decided to examine the propaganda a bit more thoroughly,
          you might come to different conclusions.


      • In fairness to people who wear Che t-shirts, most of them stop that shit by the time they are 24-25. Usually younger.

        Stars and Bars on the other hand…….

        Now there is a whole question about what happens when one really horrible regime is replaced by some other really horrible regime. I have some sympathy for Castro and the Russian revolutionaries because they were trying to get rid of truly repressive regimes. I’m not fond of historians who romanticize the aristocracy and tazarist Russia just because the Communist regime was a failure. A lot of people really suffered under the Tzars and Russian serfdom.


      • Kim, that’s why I can’t go to rallies and demonstrations. I listen too closely to the speakers and pay too much attention to the signs. I find that I can’t keep the constant applause up.


    • The problem with that is that Cuban Communism is the source of an active political controversy. Chattel slavery in Mississippi is not (and has not been for some time). Also, the image of a particular person with a particular political history can more readily be confounded with an endorsement than a more nebulous regional symbol. Che is also comprehensively foreign; the Confederate flag is most certainly not.


      • Cuba’s Communism is the direct result of America’s trifling in other nations’ affairs. Do you know how often the USA has invaded Cuba over the years or its long history of messing up that wretched country? Do you even have any idea how we came to have the base in Guantanamo Bay?

        You know what, Art, you can call Cuba an Ongoing Controversy if you want. I hate Communism, more than you do and served quite a few years in the cause of opposing it. But I understand why people become Communists. Che Guevara is a hero to many people for the same reason Osama bin Laden is still a hero to millions. He stood up to the USA and made it bleed.

        When America gets around to fulfilling its many broken promises and quits fucking up other countries and cozening up to tyrants, maybe people will wear t-shirts with American faces on them. I don’t think I’ll live that long. Nor, I believe, will you.


      • Spare me all that hooey, Art. I’ve heard it all before. How many times did the USA invade Cuba? Or any of those Caribbean shithole republics? We’ve been in and out of pretty much all of them, over time. Don’t like Communism? Think capitalism really makes people’s lives better? I’m on board for both those statements. I just know what the terminus of unregulated capitalism looks like: Guatemala City. Ain’t a pretty sight, not that you’d know a goddamn thing about it. Banana Republican.


      • The United States seized Cuba from Spain and occupied it for about four years (1898) ‘ere setting up a sovereign government and departing. There were certain treaty obligations which limited formal sovereignty in various ways. The country was occupied again from 1906-09. The treaties with Cuba and Panama were abrogated in 1935.

        The U.S. had an expeditionary force in Nicaragua from 1925 to 1934. It consisted of about 2,000 Marines engaging in counter-insurgency operations. The country retained its native government and I do not think the Marines were so numerous or obtrusive that you could describe the country as occupied. The Dominican Republic was under occupation from 1916 to 1924 and Haiti from 1016 to 1934.


    • The topic of “States’ Rights” and “Secession” show up a lot in Libertarian circles.

      Should States/Regions have a right of exit? “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary something something”? Should Colorado have the right to jurisdiction over areas that the Federal Government does not share? Like, if Colorado wants to say “we want to make it legal for citizens to buy/sell marijuana”, should Colorado be able to do that even if California, New York, and Texas all vote that Colorado shouldn’t be able to do so? (Call it “democracy”)

      Or gay marriage, for that matter. Whatever.

      The problem is that the last time we had a vigorous discussion about the right to secession was, of course, the civil war. The last time we had a vigorous discussion about States’ Rights was around the time of segregation.

      And so if you want to discuss secession and/or States’ Rights (well, if you’re arguing *FOR* them, anyway), you should be prepared to have both the civil war and segregation brought up as counter-examples.

      A charitable reading of so-called Libertarians arguing for The South is that they are biting the bullet.


      • Check out Volokh Conspiracy — they had a couple of posts lately on the subject, each with hundreds of comments (about 5 times more than their “busy” posts and about 20 times more than the average).

        I think there’s a few types of Confederate/Libertarian intersections, actually. One — which I find most notable — is the Libertarian-with-no-connection-to-the-Confederacy. He’s not a Southerner raised in the noble lost cause, he’s not an out-and-out racist…

        But he admires the Confederacy, because they were “for State’s Rights” and “fought for it”. Their Constitution or whatever had some stuff he liked better than the US one. And so he latches onto it, in a weird way, and twists the whole Civil War into some ideological dispute over Federal power in ways it clearly was not.

        He ignores history, invents it. Slavery? No-no, this was no horrible thing about slavery — that’s propaganda. It was unfortunate that the South was full of slave states, but their motivations were pure! They were against federal overreach. Which Was Bad.

        Basically, they’re libertarians who think “I hate the US government, so overly powerful and not the way I want” and then go “The Confederates hated the US government too. And look, they use a few phrases I recognize about state’s rights and stuff. THEY MUST HAVE BEEN RIGHT” and just glosses over history.

        Which is different than the Confederates, by and large, I meet here in Texas who come in three flavors: Out-and-out racists, redneck casual racists, and Historically Ignorant. (The latter having learned all about the War of Northern Aggression at their family’s knee, and any history, context, or notions that said anything other than Lincoln was a power-mad dictator who invaded the peaceful north because he couldn’t stand power slipping through his horrible finders is a Leftist, Lying, Propaganda artist)


      • No one called Rothbard a racist. Although if the suspicion that he ghostwrote the Ron Paul newsletters is correct, he could give a damned good imitation of one. His defense of the Confederacy was highly principled, you see. States’ rights, and decentralization, and the right to secede. And it’s hardly a secret.


  5. Lincoln’s commitment to abolition was never more than tactical, and at best lukewarm.

    Lincoln was for confining slavery to the states where it already existed. This was the most anti-slavery position possible for someone with national political ambitions, and quite enough for his election to trigger the secessions. (The South didn’t secede out of an irrational fear that there was an immediate threat to slavery; it seceded out of a very rational realization that its future was in grave danger.) When his war powers gave him the ability to order emancipation, he did so. And one of his final accomplishments was to push the 13th Amendment through Congress. Lincoln was a politician, and politics is the art of the possible. Denying that he was, more than any other American, the architect of the end of slavery is bemoaning the fact that he was a human being and not a plaster saint.


  6. “Lincoln’s commitment to abolition was never more than tactical, and at best lukewarm. ”
    This is outright untrue. Strange that you failed to grasp what even filmmakers understand…

    Lincoln viewed slavery as an economic cancer, that if left unchecked, would destroy the union entire.
    Judging by current events, it’s hard to disagree.


  7. If I could go back in time and be one person in the U.S. Civil War, I would be William Tecumseh Sherman. Here are my orders in the march to the sea: Emancipate all slaves. Destroy nothing. Give all to those who built it. What would the slaves do with their new assets? And with their former masters? Not my problem. The freedmen have farms to run, and justice to administer. I, however, have a war to administer.

    I wonder if the Civil War’s racist aftermath stems from lack of such orders? A valuing of social order above civil liberties? (In this wondering, I include women’s actions, particularly temperance over the right for women to vote.)


  8. Hmm. Another thought on the Che/Stars and Bars comparison….

    Che..wasn’t American. All that nasty stuff? Someone else’s history, basically. Someone else’s problem. To students of history, there’s a lot there, but to the average American — even one wearing a t-shirt with his mug on it — it’s literally JUST a symbol. There aren’t any (or if there are, so few as to basically be zero) Americans who see Che and think “That man had the right idea with all that nasty crap”.

    But the Stars and Bars? The Confederacy? That nastiness has a huge American history. It’s a weight on the country, a pivotal event. Che isn’t taught several times over your public education — the Civil War is.Morever, there are LOTS of people today who say things like “The Confederacy had a really good set of ideas” and that extends to flat-out, outright racists.

    Whatever wounds Che inflicted on America? They’ve pretty much healed to the point where it’s unlikely anyone wearing his t-shirt even knows about the bad stuff. But the Civil War? The Stars and Bars? That’s still dragging on our country today. Still a painful topic. STILL an emblem of flat-out racism to a lot of people.

    I think there’s really a difference between stupidly wearing a symbol that is, effectively, meaningless in your culture as a sign of “rebellion” and basically dragging out the biggest historical wound of the country and waving it around.

    The former is clueless. The latter? Well, it’s really hard to wave around the Confederate Flag and expect people to believe you didn’t realize it was, you know, sort of a sore point to people.


    • Whatever wounds Che inflicted on America? They’ve pretty much healed to the point where it’s unlikely anyone wearing his t-shirt even knows about the bad stuff.

      They were inflicted on his own country and are still ongoing.

      Juveniles strike attitudes. Nothing particularly pleasant about that.


      • So did my point fly over your head or what?

        Che wasn’t American. Americans wearing Che t-shirts? Have no first-hand experience with Che. Their parents didn’t. Their country was not deeply involved with Che. In short, they don’t know anything about it. It lacks cultural or historical weight.

        For all the social or cultural importance of Che in America, his face on a t-shirt is less symbolic than a Nike swoosh.

        Now where that t-shirt in certain other countries, and well….that’s a different matter.

        The Confederate Flag, however? THAT has American symbolism. History. Social connotations. To wear that symbol, to wave that symbol, as an American in America and not realize what it symbolizes?

        Please. Nobody’s buying that.


      • Your point did not fly over my head. Your point is just wrong. You’re writing a brief for the Che juveniles and attempting to say its just fun and games and Confederate flags are sinister and offend Tyrone Washington etc.

        It is awfully contrived in most circumstances to have a portrait of a lieutenant of a foreign head of state on your wall, most particularly when the regime in question is a) extant and b) manifestly odious. You are contending they do not know what they are doing, and it would not surprise me if that were true. I doubt they find the visage of Che attractive because it appeals to the earnest and the sanguine. (And who was de Gaulle’s right hand? Churchill’s? Ben Gurion’s?)

        Having a flag or a bumper sticker on your car is a statement of affinity. It is not articulate in any detailed sort of way. If I have a Stars-and-Stripes lapel pin, I am not endorsing the Trail of Tears or Executive Order 9066. I might be (or might not be) offering an implicit reply to the arts and sciences professoriate about their attitude to the country in which they live and the social world which they inhabit. I do that also when I wear a tie to work (which is a statement of affinity, also, but more idiosyncratic).

        Since I lived in a world which had scant investment in Civil War memorials (but plenty of urban problems) and in which Southern shtick was common and passed by un-noticed, I am a bit skeptical that the supposed offense is anything but some obnoxious person marking their territory. I did not care for those silly “X” caps, but I did not see it as my part to be confrontational about it (and the fad died out). Dixie’s somewhat more enduring than Spike Lee, so the Stars and Bars are not likely to disappear except by regulatory edict.


  9. He and his party instituted an illegal income tax, a horde of other taxes, a forced conscription, and — were that not enough — an inflationary money.

    I’m sorry for going off-topic, but please tell me you’re not one of the gold-standard types. Opposing a floating currency was a perfectly reasonable position during the 19th century because the two US attempts at it – during the American Revolution and the Civil War – were disastrous. They were disastrous because their strength was tied to faith in the government’s ability to repay its debts and they were issued at times when the government’s chances of survival were, at least, questionable. In the modern era where that hasn’t been the case, a currency not tied to the amount of arbitrary yellow metal in the world has worked fine; most clearly shown by the fact that when the US credit rating was downgraded a couple years ago, people responded by buying more Treasury bonds – because they still trusted the credit of the US government more than they trusted gold.

    I’m just asking because I’d like to get a better handle on this position; while there are other libertarian positions I find more offensive, there are few that I find more nonsensical. You have a record of being good at explaining libertarian philosophy so I thought I’d ask you.


    • In that era, the gold standard was the best guarantee of a relatively sound money.

      I understand why people want to return to it today, and I don’t think they are crazy for wanting it, but I also think times have moved on. Most governments now face very strong pressures — in the form of mature international currency markets — that prevent them from inflating their money. This largely does the good work that the gold standard formerly did, and I suspect that it’s an improvement. Not, however, one that a government in the mid-19th century could have been subject to.


      • I assume you’re talking hyperinflationary, here.
        Inflation is something that the powers that be…
        might choose, should they manage to get their
        heads out of their collective asses.

        I much prefer it to deflation, myself.


      • Hmm, Charles Stross (in passing, when discussing Bitcoin) said “It represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what money is, namely that it represents the velocity of commerce: if you’ve got a growing economy you need to print more money in order to keep up with the rate at which it’s exchanged, otherwise you end up in a deflationary situation (which is Not Good).”

        Which is quite true. A growing economy with a currency that stays static is an economy with a deflationary currency. While not always bad, deflation is generally NOT good.

        And I think that’s a real blind spot for people in general. You see the same thing come up again and again about government budgets. “How is cutting a 10% increase to a 7% increase a cut?”

        You see it with complaints about “there must be super inflation somewhere!” — no, you’ve just not seen an actual pay raise in 10 years. Sure, the numbers have gone up — but the economy has grown more, and the currency has had to grow with it.


      • You see it with complaints about “there must be super inflation somewhere!”

        For the sake of argument, consider… The Federal Reserve has created enormous amounts of new money. The only parties who get this money directly are banks (and some other large corporations that issue the right kinds of financial instruments). In the old days of Glass-Steagall, mortgage standards, and international capital controls, the only thing the banks could “buy” with that money was a chunk of an expanding domestic business with most of the money (about 70%) flowing eventually into payments to labor. That’s a tough way to earn a living; much easier today to spend money gambling in financial markets. From Dec 2008 through today, US stock prices have increased at over 7% per year, much more than any change in business fundamentals. Sure looks like inflation in the price of the goods that the people who got all that new money buy. Not super inflation, but then, the amount injected by the Fed ($3T+, I believe) is pretty small compared to the global value of publicly-traded companies (on the order of $50T today).


      • The people screaming about super-inflation existing and being hidden by the Evil Gubmint? Not really the investment class.

        The investment class simply is paranoid about it. They think it’s “just around the corner”.


    • He and his party instituted… a forced conscription…

      I took exception to this part of it, at least the implication that it was new. The Militia Acts of 1792 required states to maintain militias, and that every free able-bodied white male citizen between the ages of 18 and 45 to (a) register with their state’s militia and (b) equip themselves at their own expense. Further, states were required to provide troops when the federal government demanded them. During the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, forced conscription was required to produce the number of bodies the federal government demanded from the states. Yes, there were some differences in the implementation details between those laws and the Civil War act (although the states acted as middlemen in both cases), but from the perspective of a draftee, that hardly seems to matter — you’re still stuck in the military against your will. In both cases you could buy your way out if you were rich enough, and in both cases there were draft riots by people who were too poor to do so.


  10. and Erik – turning off nesting may solve the over-indentation problem when threads get long with replies, but even with the function, lack of any nesting at all makes conversations MUCH harder to follow. I like the function itself as an addition, but you still need nesting IMO to serve as visual high-level thread differentiation at least.

    I don’t know that the nesting-results-in-over-indentation issue is completely solvable without going the route that we used to go here (and AVClub does) – once a thread hits x replies to the original comment (at AVClub it’s 2 or 3), then nesting stops (and the only “REPLY” button is on the last nested comment); all further replies appear in-line with no nesting – at that point, commenters using the function help keep the conversational threads straight.

    Sorry to whine and complain, but…wait, I LOVE whining and complaining!

    Check comments on this for an example of both limited nesting and use of function thereafter:



  11. Mike Schilling
    July 24, 2013 at 10:29 am
    Jason: “Lincoln’s commitment to abolition was never more than tactical, and at best lukewarm.”

    Mike Schilling: “Lincoln was for confining slavery to the states where it already existed. This was the most anti-slavery position possible for someone with national political ambitions, and quite enough for his election to trigger the secessions. (The South didn’t secede out of an irrational fear that there was an immediate threat to slavery; it seceded out of a very rational realization that its future was in grave danger.) When his war powers gave him the ability to order emancipation, he did so. And one of his final accomplishments was to push the 13th Amendment through Congress. Lincoln was a politician, and politics is the art of the possible. Denying that he was, more than any other American, the architect of the end of slavery is bemoaning the fact that he was a human being and not a plaster saint.”

    Jason, I have to say that Mike proved that your statements were simply not true here.


  12. Well, the Confederate dilemma is finding a self-justification that hasn’t been judged odious. Obviously the defense of slavery has gone out the window, and attempts to substitute the idea that they were fighting for honor, defense of their territory, and smaller government have been trotted out. Democrats still try to imply that they had nothing to do with the Confederacy or any subsequent Southern institutions, trying to run away from their past as surely as Alabama college kids with a Confederate battle flag in their dorm room deny that it had anything to do with enslaving black people.

    Eventually the truth, as always, will win out or not. So let’s go ahead and establish that the Civil War was fought entirely because the North refused to put sugar in iced tea before it was served, and hundreds of thousands of outraged Southerners fought to prove that yes, iced tea should be served sweet. Unfortunately they lost and the proper way to serve iced tea remained largely confined to the old South, and for a hundred years our politics ducked the issue and instead battled over whether tea should have some lemon or not, before finally throwing tradition out the window during the social breakdown of the 60’s and 70’s and tossing in raspberries, kiwis, and all sorts of other misbegotten flavors. The proper libertarian position is that people should be free to sweeten their own tea, using Dixie Crystals, Splenda, NutraSweet, Sweet’N Low monk fruit, or stevia,

    The alternative is to believe that all that fighting and trauma was for a cause that was absolutely rancid.


      • What, do you think, might have caused this “degree of alienation?” I mean, they were deeply connected economically (the South was entirely dependent on the North, in fact), so it wasn’t economic alienation. Culturally, there was as much diversity within the South as there was between the North and the South (compare Louisiana, Texas, and Tennessee, Virginia, and Florida, and see whether the cultural differences are lesser or greater than that between these states and, say, Ohio or Indiana or Illinois). I mean, I can think of one thing that had created a “degree of alienation,” but I suspect you’re trying to avoid that. So what else might it have been?


      • You suspect? Oh, tricky me.

        People have their sense of affinity and alienation. I suspect in most cases these tend to be insensitive to what others authoritatively declare to be ‘more variation’ and ‘less’, if only because what is salient is their choice and not yours.

        People can also be invested in their way of life and sense of self. Whatever variation their may have been between Louisiana and Virginia, you did not have scads of politicians from Louisiana rebuking Virginia. Charles Sumner was from Massachusetts. When you define “we” and “they”, it is not necessarily according to distinctions the amateur anthropologist would regard as important in his own world.


      • The funny thing is that in implicitly chiding me for accusing you of avoiding saying slavery is the cause of the alienation, you go on to avoid mention of slavery altogether at the same time that you are actually referring to it.

        So my suspicion was correct. That’s all I wanted to know. Thanks.


      • Not precisely. Slavery was extant in the early federal period as well. It was not such an acute source of conflict. How people responded to that distinction and understood themselves in contradistinction to others changed, and patterns of trust changed.


      • So much so that no self-respecting Southerner would serve in it. Other than, you know, Jefferson Davis, who was a United States Senator until his term expired in 1861, Alexander Stephens, a US Representative until 1859, and Robert E. Lee a general in the United States Army.

        Honestly, do you ever get tired of being silly?


    • The alternative is to believe that all that fighting and trauma was for a cause that was absolutely rancid.

      Can we look at original documents from the time and reach a conclusion?

      It seems like if there were a significant number of people who spent more time talking about the importance of keeping slavery who kept getting elected/re-elected, could we reach conclusions about that?


    • Democrats still try to imply that they had nothing to do with the Confederacy or any subsequent Southern institutions, trying to run away from their past as surely as Alabama college kids with a Confederate battle flag in their dorm room deny that it had anything to do with enslaving black people.

      I wonder, do you understand the difference between being part of an institution with the same name, but a base, constituency, and agenda that has changed multiple times in the last 150 years, and celebrating its agenda from 160 years ago? You’ve raised this comparison several times, so I’m inclined to think you don’t understand the difference.


      • The hunting enthusiast in Upstate New York with a Stars and Bars decal on his pickup truck is not celebration plantation agriculture or chattel slavery.

        Partisan Democrats have for upwards of 40 years been trafficking in this cockamamie discourse contending the Republican Party’s electoral victories are illegitimate because they mobilize white nationalists. To anyone remotely familiar with current history, this is absurd and malicious. You do not want crap thrown in your face, stop sending the ammunition this way and we will stop bundling it up and throwing it back at you.


      • The hunting enthusiast in upstate NY, should he opt for an offensive bumper sticker, usually goes for the “Terrorist Hunting Permit” one. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a confederate flag in all my days living in hunting country.


      • Who says Repub victories are illegitimate because they mobilize the while nationalist vote??? Those victories are the same as everybodies else’s victories…even the ones where minorities vote.


      • Really? They said those votes don’t count or shouldn’t be counted? Show me some quotes. They aren’t down with the white nationalist voters preferences for policy and gov but that is a bit different.


      • http://www.thedailycall.org/?p=32808

        I have tangled with Yeselson myself, though not recently. That site had now been taken down. I was stunned to see Prof. Derr, who ordinarily does not write topical commentary, assert this thesis in a letter to First Things. Yes, Kitty Dukakis actually did traffic in the idea that her husband was done out of the Presidency by malicious dirty tricksters. So, for that matter, did Michael Kinsley. The “racist Republican mobilization” meme (with the ritual incantation of “Southern Strategy”) is such a commonplace of partisan Democratic discourse (out-of-context quote from Lee Atwater very popular), I am somewhat taken aback to see the lot of you playing dumb. Billy Carter was a fairly apolitical and amusing figure. I do not know why I would be referencing him.


      • Well, I read the whole link by Krugman and nowhere in there does he claim “Partisan Democrats have for upwards of 40 years been trafficking in this cockamamie discourse contending the Republican Party’s electoral victories are illegitimate because they mobilize white nationalists.”

        Did you give the wrong link? Nowhere in there is Krugman claiming the GOP victories aren’t legitimate. Just that racist whites vote Republican, and the GOP courts them. Carefully.

        Not seeing “legitimacy” discussed at all. Do you want to try another link, or just admit you were talking BS?


      • It’s called “lying”, Art. It’s “lying” when you claim someone said something they didn’t.

        Krugman didn’t say anything remotely like what you claimed he did.

        He never claimed their victories were illegitimate, merely that they courted (and won) the votes of racists. Nowhere in that piece did he claim racists can’t vote, shouldn’t vote, that their votes don’t count, or that having racists vote for you somehow made your win illegitimate.

        Somehow, I bet you’ll keep repeating the lie though.


      • Morat, my man — Mr. Frank Zappa once said a very wise thing. “It is best in cases like this / to pretend that you are stupid.”

        I’m coming to believe Art Deco doesn’t believe a word he’s saying. It can’t be for real. It’s brilliant, really.


      • I’ve just assumed Art was Tom.

        Anyway, I know precisely what the hunter in upstate New York who puts the Confederate flag on his truck is trying to say. I’m quite certain that you do, too.

        And dude, I’m from a state that seceded. My high school’s (and Junior High School’s, and Middle School’s, and Elementary School’s) nickname? The Rebels. Our Mascot? A Confederate Colonel. The t-shirts my senior class produced? Had a big ol’ Confederate flag on the front. I’m from a place where the battlefield upon which the Army of Tennessee was destroyed is treated with reverence not because it played a pivotal role in the defeat of the Confederacy, but because so many of “our brave boys” shed their blood there. There is a 40-odd foot tall statue of a Confederate soldier in the center of the town square. The Confederate cemetery (with a few Union graves relegated to the back, under some trees) is one of the town’s most revered places. I knew, as a child, grandchildren of “our brave boys,” who, even in their 70s and 80s, frequently reminded you of their ancestry.

        I suspect I’ve known more flag wavers than you by a few orders of magnitude.


      • at 4:02pm

        i had not considered that hypo. now all of art’s performance makes sense.

        or much like George he is just doing a performance art piece for his local modern art museum. just think of the walls covered with our conversations that sophisticated people will enjoy far into the future.

        working title of the show: Trolling for art and education: The LOOG experience.


    • ” Democrats still try to imply that they had nothing to do with the Confederacy or any subsequent Southern institutions, trying to run away from their past as surely as Alabama college kids with a Confederate battle flag in their dorm room deny that it had anything to do with enslaving black people.”

      Fool or liar, I care not which.


  13. You seem to have forgotten that people without any Southern heritage had an affinity for cultural phenomena originating from the South. The Charlie Daniels Band might well have been the top seller where and when I was in high school. Lynard Skynard and the Allman Brothers had had a constituency prior to that. Charlie Daniels straddled the distinction between popular culture and mass entertainment because his aficionados actually sang the songs as well as buying the records and attending the concerts. I recall other bits and fragments of Confederate identification from that time – T-shirts and junior high art projects. It was not considered sinister in that particular environment. I think you are treating the Confrederate flag as a signifier of a program – when it is really endorsing something pre-articulate and aesthetical.


    • The S and B made a huge comeback in popularity and usage in the 1950’s and 60’s in response to the Civil Rights movement. That flag hadn’t always been hanging on top of state houses or widely displayed. It made its comeback in direct response to CR.


    • It was not considered sinister in that particular environment. I think you are treating the Confrederate flag as a signifier of a program – when it is really endorsing something pre-articulate and aesthetical.

      This is what people always tell themselves, but in my experience, the people who wear the flag know precisely what culture they’re expressing nostalgia for.


      • So does Art, but it’s so un-PC to be blatant about it. People get all judgemental when you’re nostalgic about the good old days of Jim Crow and/or slavery.

        They act like you’re saying “Man, I sure loved it when minorities knew their place” even if you’re only, you know, just talking about States Rights, yo. Because NOTHING got Southerners upset in the 1860s like the thought that the Federal Government was going to tell a State what to do, unless it was to tell that State to endorse slavery even if it wasn’t a slave state.

        Nothing says “State’s Rights” like saying “Yup, New York, that’s a Georgia slave and sure you don’t have slaves in New York, but it’s my Right as the State of Georgia to have the Federal Government make you hand him over, you stinking federalist”.


      • Nostalgia for either Jim Crow or slavery was not an animator of high school students in the Genesee Valley ca. 1980. No one had an investment in that type of thing. Neither was it a response to conflicts with the local black population, as it was among suburban students which had only tangential contact with inner city kids. It is not something that could be explained much better than any sort of consumer preference. Rubik’s cubes were popular at the time too; different sort of diversion.


      • Art, see above. I’ve dealt with real flag wavers my whole life. Get your own head out of your ass. Just because you see the Confederate flag issue as another instance of the culture war doesn’t mean you’re not full of shit.


  14. The story of Che Guevara and his rise to iconic status should be mentioned. Che Guevara first appears in the context of a CIA-engineered coup in Guatemala, overthrowing the legitimately elected government of Arbenz, whose crime was to offend the United Fruit Company.

    You see, then and now, almost all the land of Guatemala is owned by a handful of finqueros, huge farms and ranches. The people who work those farms, the campesinos, have little subsistence farms on that land, granted to them by the finqueros. They’re not large, at most an acre, kept in corn and beans and other such staples. They’re a tiny fraction of the huge finca estates. American slaves also worked such subsistence plots.

    Arbenz’ crime was to say the campesinos should be given title to that tiny scrap of subsistence farm land. The ownership of the rest of the estate was never in question. But any attempt at land reform is met with cries of outrage. Noises such as “Communist!” are heard here and there and everywhere and soon enough, gangs of private militias will turn up, as did the Klan, to deal with the Uppity Peasants.

    Mao Zedong observed every landless peasant is already a Communist but this made no impact on the Eisenhower administration or the United Fruit Company. A tiny scrap of land will turn such a landless peasant into an ardent capitalist but the lesson was lost on such as these. Arbenz was overthrown and Guatemala was plunged into a civil war lasting almost four decades, a war in which the USA played a huge part, funding the Guatemalan military and the private militias as they waged a brutal campaign of extirpation against the campesinos.

    Che Guevara went on to fight the Batista regime in Cuba, another fine example of American tolerance. The gangsters ran Cuba, as folks who’ve seen the Godfather movies might understand. An elderly gay man of my acquaintance, a fellow who’s seen his share of rum things in his day, assures me it was not only possible for a sadistic pedophile to go to Cuba, procure the services of an orphan boy, abuse him — and murder him — and fly back to the USA the same day — not only possible, but the price tag was well known.

    Such were America’s friends in the world. Che Guevara was a brutal thug, not much different than the early Stalin, really. A thug grown large on success, he would go on to ruin Cuba’s economy, as did Stalin in the USSR. Che’s status as a hero of the American counterculture comes from his opposition to many genuinely evil people in the world. Trouble was, with Che, his solution always ended up in violence. Well, so were the American solutions. Still are, in point of fact. The CIA caught up with Che and pumped a clip of ammunition into him — but not before they’d captured and interrogated him.

    Trying to make sense of the story of Che Guevara only makes sense when you consider who he was fighting and why. He died as he lived, ultimately a failure, a slave to his dream of the revolution. If his face has become an icon, many people in the world still hate and fear the CIA and with good reason.


    • Actually, Arbenz was a career military officer with an affinity for gangster methods (see Francisco Javier Arana). He ran afoul of John Foster Dulles and the Guatemalan officer corps when he attempted to set up an alternative military with arms imported from Czechoslovakia.


      I am not exactly sure what this has to do with Cuba’s 54 year long police state – cum – command economy and the wreckage it has made of the island.


      • Oh, Art. You poor, deluded soul. Who told you these things? You’re too young to have been a Cold Warrior. I was. Half a lifetime in and out of Guatemala and you’re going to tell me about Arbenz? What chutzpah. If the true story of the CIA’s long involvement in the Guatemalan civil war was ever told, it would be a black comedy. There isn’t one of those asshole generalissimos we didn’t fellate and fund and feed a line of horseshit. As long as they weren’t Communists, we tolerated anything from any of them.


      • The rest of the world looked at the USA bombing the living shit out of Vietnam and Laos and Cambodia, backing those corrupt, Catholic, Buddhist-murdering assholes in Saigon and said “Hell, if that’s what America means when it says Defending Liberty and Democracy, we don’t want any of that, thanks.”

        More than a million land mines still remain in the ground in Guatemala. They’re still killing people. Thanks, America. We won’t sign the Convention on Land Mines — and have the unmitigated gall to shake our fists and gin up froth and spittle about Iran getting a nuclear weapon.

        As Elvis Costello said, some while back “I used to be disgusted. But now I’m just amused.”


      • Blaise, you try to place partial blame on the CIA instead of where it belongs, the American vegans and vegetarians who demand their fresh fruit at any cost. They act like the rest of the world exists to give them bananas, coffee, and soy beans, and they’ll alternately stir up the peasants or assassinate them village by village, depending on which outcome Mother Jones thinks will get them the freshest produce at the cheapest price.

        The evil is directed by people who don’t eat meat, and you’ll notice that places like Australia, Argentina (gaucho central), Brazil (home to the world’s largest meat company), New Zealand (where sheep outnumber people), Austria (where they make the canned sausages), Germany (everywurst), France (pates), and Britain (roast beast) are scrupulously free of CIA sponsored coups, whereas countries where leftists buy fruit might as well be under occupation.


      • Yeah. Whatever. You really want to argue with me about UXO in Guatemala and southern Mexico? I say there are a million mines in the ground. I have that from the Guatemalan military and PADCA. Let’s just say you’re right, there are only a few thousand actual purpose-built mines in the ground. I say there are more — but let’s just humour the crazy for a moment — most of the American casualties of the last decade-plus of war weren’t killed by purpose-built mines either. They’re just artillery or mortar rounds with a pressure plate rig. They’re called IEDs. The Guatemalan military had mines, the rebels had IEDs. I say there are about a million of them still left on pretty good authority.

        Fruit-eaters! If only we could suppress those goddamn fruit-eaters! They’ll go to any lengths to get at those papayas and bananas. Ruthless bastards. I do have to take exception to the soybeans, though. Those are all trademarked and patented these days.


      • ” Half a lifetime in and out of Guatemala and you’re going to tell me about Arbenz?” Hmmm, I had a relative that owned a pancake house in Guatemala city around that time. He used to tell quite a few tall tales. He’s long dead but claimed he was running guns under Bibles for the CIA, amongst other lovely things.


      • It was a tall tale. The Guatemalan Army mostly used Israeli weapons, bought with American money. and exhibited at military fairs. They liked the Galil rifle especially. Nobody had to run guns under Bibles, not under Rios-Montt. Bibles were issued along with the guns. Clinton would eventually apologise for America’s role in that mess.

        Fact is, Rios-Montt was a monster whom Reagan would call a great patriot. R-M’s favourite technique was to direct fire his howitzers into villages full of peasants from across the valley. A 155 howitzer round weighs just short of 100 lbs. The resulting carnage must be seen to be believed. At this, George Bush 41 (the Wiser) got a mortal case of the ass and withdrew all military aid to Guatemala. Within a few months, the civil war had stopped.

        Funny how that works. Makes me wonder what might happen if we pulled our military aid from places like Pakistan and Egypt and other such faraway shitholes.


      • That’s what I thought at the time. It was a long time ago. He died mid ’80s. I don’t remember much. He had a story of being involved in an overthrow. My memories of that are very wispy. The tale of running guns later to El Salvador under the bibles and that he did so from an ex-pat pancake house in Guatamala struck a visual memory that has stayed. I also remember he was very loyal to Reagan.


      • Ex-pats in Guatemala fall into two categories: Peter Pan people who never grew up and wanted to live in a cheap paradise — and people without last names who are hiding out from warrants issued elsewhere. Panajachel is full of the latter. I couldn’t stand dealing with either sort. I was married to a Guatemalan woman and ran a restaurant down there, mostly to give the in-laws something to do besides camping out in my house in the States. The Peter Pans would hang out in the restaurant and nurse a cup of coffee for hours, playing chess. If Uselessness was an Olympic sport, the ex-pats would take home gold to Guatemala every four years.

        Lots of bad memories of Guatemala in the 1980s. First time I went down there, my brother in law had been caught out without his papers and had been arrested. Paid the only bribe I’ve ever had to pay down there to get him out. I was fending off bribe-takers for the next few years on the strength of that act of idiocy.

        El Salvador was the textbook case for a Woozle Hunt. The CIA was paying bad people for good information which created a market for that sort of thing. A goddamn madhouse. Nicaragua, double your pleasure, double your fun, the CIA backed the most worthless bunch of scumbags in the hemisphere. It’s one thing to back goons and thugs, it’s another if they can’t win their battles. All those CIA dudes stuck out like so many turds in the punchbowl. Every time I see one of those films where the CIA is such a bunch of hypercompetent badasses, I secretly laugh. In Central America, they always backed the losers and the crazies.


      • The CIA will never, ever back anyone who isn’t corrupt. If they’re not corrupt already, the CIA will corrupt them. The CIA have no idea what to do with an actual patriot or small d democrat, someone who just might work on behalf of the ordinary people. This greatly confuses the CIA: you see, they’re so used to dealing with rogues and rascals, the Devils We Know, they don’t know a Good Guy when they see one.


  15. I believe there is a portion of the country’s population that thinks the US is racing off in directions of which they do not approve. They don’t want the country to be more urban, more multicultural, to pay knowledge workers relatively more compared to manual labor than used to be the case. Deep down, I think they (accurately) fear being left behind in terms of earning a living. They look around for a target to strike back at, and the federal government is an obvious one: the EPA, the ESA, the ADA, OSHA, NCLB… the federal government does intrude into our lives more than it used to.

    A large contingent of this group are rural. We’re seeing an interesting collection of things play out in Colorado this summer. Earlier, we had the group of rural states who raised the subject of seceding from Colorado to become their own state. Their grievances included the legislature passing a renewable energy mandate for rural electric coops; the rural politicians asserted the people they represent can’t afford the very modest price increases that would result (based on the state’s experience with the big investor-owned utilities). At the same time, we have some of the same rural areas coming hat-in-hand to request subsidies from the state because they can’t afford the prices required to keep ambulance services running, hospitals open, and attract doctors to staff those hospitals.

    We are a country of symbols — bumper stickers and printed T-shirts. That sizable chunk of the population that’s afraid and is blaming the federal government wants one. They chose a particularly bad one in the stars and bars. And while the symbol may be bad, but the problem(s) they face are very real. The US can’t afford to let rural America fall into permanent second-class status.


    • Even many American blacks also have a nostalgia for the South because culturally, the South is home, and they carried a good deal of it with them when they left. Bad elements of Southern life were left behind in the migration to Northern urban centers, but so were some good elements, abandoned as reminders and relics of a poor, downtrodden past or customs that were looked down upon by urban Northerners as primitive and rural.

      Thus the need for groups like the African American Hunting Association to promote black hunting outside of the South, which is a fascinating topic all around. (BTW, it would be interesting to speculate on how many non-Southern whites, if informed about the growing popularity of a group called the AAHA, whose core demographic was concentrated in the South, would reflexively assume it was a bunch of Klansmen and demand a Civil Rights investigation)


  16. When people here claim that a Che t-shirt is equivalent to a Confederate battle flag (the one with the diagonal blue bars with white stars on a field of red) they are either showing extreme ignorance or willful ignorance.

    First off Che did not set up a guerilla operation in central Florida and kill Americans so unlike the Confederates, he didn’t attack us. Nor, for that matter, was he the sole person responsible for the killings in Cuba after the revolution at that time – many people had a even bigger hand in it. On the other hand, Lee and Davis where the direct cause of hundreds of thousands of Americans being killed. And as any school child in this country knows, their symbol was that very same confederate battle flag.

    To then add that some thousands of Cubans dying indirectly at Che’s hand’s is some how worse than hundreds of thousands of Americans dying at confederate hands is beyond false equivalency. So a teen wearing a Che shirt is as bad as a teen wearing the confederate battle flag of shame isn’t even close – just a ridiculous straw man that makes the person using that analogy either foolish or desperate.

    Let’s not forget that we had supported the military occupation of Cuba a few times in the twenties/thirties and during those times our sugar companies setup vast, serf like plantations that put millions of Cubans into terrible poverty for decades. But more to the point, we made sure the right dictator was in power to keep order for those companies.

    Also, let us not forget the little civil war we very recently supported in Nicaragua back in the eighties. WE supplied very large guerilla armies that killed thousands of innocent peasants and this was done against a government recognized legal – even if we didn’t like it (it had been elected, no less in fair elections, too.)

    Where is your sympathy for those woman and children in Nicaragua killed by our guerilla’s in that dirty civil war? How are Cuban deaths more horrible? Is it because we didn’t kill the Cubans or just that American companies lost assets?

    Also, what of the deaths of thousands of American blacks in the deep South by the “forced labor” prison system from the 1880’s – 1930’s? Hundreds of thousands of black men lived in terror from the state that they too would be arrested, ripped from their families on the most minor charges; be fined for the arrest, court costs and time in jail being held. Then forced to pay the “State” back by serving a year in hard labor camps setup by companies. These ‘jobs’ were in extremely dangerous, horrible conditions in coal mines, steel mills and other hard, dangerous jobs – and if they refused? Punishments that could kill that included being staked out in the sun in stress positions or hot boxes (remember those in war movies that we called war crimes in WW II?) …and you choose to forget this history and worry about Che’ t-shirts or say it is identical to the confederate flag of treason/shame?


    • The comparison does not actually require that Che be as bad as the Confederacy. It is established primarily on people wearing apparel that represents an agenda that the wearer does no actually support.

      The comparison you are making would be between someone that actually thinks Che was okay versus someone who actually thinks the Confederacy was okay. In that comparison, I would agree with you.

      (This is not dissimilar to how the Confederacy does not actually have to be as bad as Nazi Germany for there to be a comparison between the two.)


      • So, the analogy is appropriate to the extent that people are merely “signalling” rather than because the content of the expressed signal is equivalent? That seems a bit of a stretch, to me, given that the author of the OP said he thinks people are by and large intelligent (well, that they’re “not completely stupid”). At a minimum, that means they’re somewhat aware of the intended signal.


      • Intelligence has nothing to do with it. Some people think what they mean by a signal is the important part. So if they just mean ‘rebellion’than thatis the signal should mean. Even though the most obvious reading is as a support for something they don’t support.

        I don’t Che shirt wearers actually support the depths of what Che stood for. The same is true of a lot of confederate flag wearers. They wrongly think they get to decide what a symbol means, regardless of actual historical context.

        One of the two can be considerably more egregious than the other without the similarity in dynamic being invalidated.


      • Stillwater is right about this. But, it’s not just that slavery is much more horrible than Che’s violent regime. At the most superficial level, Che represents sticking it to the Man and socialism, which itself superficially signals solidarity with the poor and with workers. That socialist regimes are terrible at achieving socialist goals comes after the fact. It may be important, but realising that requires that additional bit of thought over and above any minimal awareness of symbolism. The same can be said about the violence of the regime. Yes, Che’s regime was violent, but that is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Che.

        Contrast this with the confederacy. The first thing people think when they think of the confederacy is not federalism and small government, no matter what the neo-confederates say. Even if they were right about the pure intentions of the confederacy, the simple fact that because their beliefs are fringe, they have to work with the subtext that the confederacy was about slavery. This does not even have the saving grace of being a reasonable goal. Ignoring the subtext indicates that someone just doesn’t care enough about the wrongness of slavery to want to avoid providing symbolic support for it. To put it this way: If you wear a Che T-shirt, you are an idiot and not very thoughtful at all. If you wear a shirt with the confederate flag, you’re not just a douchebag, you’re probably even morally corrupt.


      • Murali,

        I’ve always been more of a Clemet Atlee, Nye Bevan, David Ben-Gurion, Eugene Victor Debs, and Golda Meir kind of guy.

        Or David Marshall for a Singapore shout out. Nice Jewish guy.


      • My sense of Che t-shirt wearers is that they are saying, ‘F-it, yeah, I’m for rebellion and socialism and I’ll accept the baggage that coes with the fact that I’ve chosen someone who used violent means to pursue that (even if those wouldn’t be my preferred means), because those other two values are that important.” I.e., that they’re not denying the role of violence in the symbol they’ve chosen, and they’re aware they’re going to take a rhetorical hit for that. (They’re dangerous and reckless like that, see?). I’ve never really talked to any of them about it, but that’s the vibe I get.

        That’s different from just denying that they mean for the message to have connotation relating to violence at all, simply on the power of their not meaning it to have. (Obviously, not all Che t-shirt wearers have the same intended meaning (if any), so by all means there are probably some who do make that full denial. But, as I said, that’s not the vibe I tend to get from them.)

        I could just be completely deluded about these people, though. I really have no idea how they think about their t-shirt wearing.


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