Pop quiz, Ethics Alarmers: if you worked for Nike, and learned that it was about to launch a new campaign promoting the brand’s Trail Running collection with this—“The Lost Cause…Because the lost cause will always be a cause worth supporting”—what would you do? I assume that most of you would immediately recognize that the Lost Cause, in American historical context, refers to the sentimental, romantic and troubling interpretation of the Confederacy’s defeat, in which slavery is recalled as a benevolent institution and the Civil War as a noble effort by the South to protect a civilization now “gone with the wind”—the title of the film which, coincidentally, I am watching as I type this.
It is seductively easy to be certain about one’s analysis of controversial issues if you simplify them to the point of distortion. This is what politicians do, and it is often impossible to tell whether they are trying to deceive, just don’t understand the issue at hand, or are deliberately ignoring inconvenient facts to advance an agenda. Sometimes it is all three. The Civil War, as the recent debate over Confederate statues again illustrates, is a classic example of this phenomenon, and has been since the war itself began. Southerners saw their cause as just, because they were fighting for the right to determine the shape of their own culture, a right they felt was embodied in the Constitution itself. Since that culture included slavery, to assert that the South had a measure of law and ethics on its side has routinely dismissed as, and simplifies as, sympathizing with slaveholders. (As an aside, I wonder if the censorious Left will redouble its efforts to get “Gone With The Wind” exiled from television permanently. I’m betting yes.)
Arguments about what the Civil War was fought over have been taking on the tenor of the old Miller Beer commercials: “Less filling!” “More taste,” or perhaps the Certs ads: “Certs is a breath mint!” “Certs is a candy mint!” “STOP you’re both right!” To his great credit, texagg04 accepted the challenge of trying to clarify the complexities of the “root causes of the Civil War” confusion in a concise comment (the topic has filled long scholarly books). He did an excellent job, and as he wrote as he began his explanation, the complexities matter. They usually do.
Here is texaggo4’s Comment of the Day on the post,Yes, Virginia, There Is A White Supremicist Teacher Principle:
…The South seceded to defend against what it believed would be the Republican plan to eradicate slavery via the National level of government.
Slavery is why the South seceded – Slavery could be said to be a type of Final Cause of secession.
But that said, slavery was merely the topic of the question, “Who has final authority to make significant economic decisions within the individual states: The States or the National level of government?” State powers — those not delegated to the Union — was the issue to be answered as it pertained to slavery. So “States Rights” could be said to be a type of Formal Cause of secession.
There was NO war at that point, because secession, prior to the Civil War, was widely regarded as a perfectly legal course for States *voluntarily* part of a Union to do.
Stopping secession, that is preserving the Union status quo, is *why* hostilities began. Continue reading
The Angry Man
The other day I chanced to meet
An angry man upon the street —
A man of wrath, a man of war,
A man who truculently bore
Over his shoulder, like a lance,
A banner labeled “Tolerance.”
And when I asked him why he strode
Thus scowling down the human road,
Scowling, he answered, “I am he
Who champions total liberty —
Intolerance being, ma’am, a state
No tolerant man can tolerate.
“When I meet rogues,” he cried, “who choose
To cherish oppositional views,
Lady, like this, and in this manner,
I lay about me with my banner
Till they cry mercy, ma’am.” His blows
Rained proudly on prospective foes.
Fearful, I turned and left him there
Still muttering, as he thrashed the air,
“Let the Intolerant beware!”
Bob and Ray, the great deadpan comedy team that mastered the form of the comedy interview on radio, recordings and TV, once has a routine about a longshoreman without a high school diploma who had written a voluminous “History of the United States.”
“But the book is riddled with errors!” protested Bob Elliott, playing the interviewer. “For example, here on page 214, it says that Abraham Lincoln was born in 1926 in Bailey’s Mistake, Maine!”
“Well, it’s a big book with a lot of pages,” shrugged Ray Goulding, as the longshoreman-historian. “I’m sure I missed some typos. You can’t catch everything!”
I was reminded of the Bob and Ray skit when I learned that a history book used in 4th Grade in Virginia elementary schools, Our Virginia: Past and Present, teaches that thousands of African Americans fought for the South during the Civil War, a discredited claim often made by groups seeking to play down slavery’s role as a cause of the South’s rebellion. Continue reading
“Confederate History Month.” That title should be sufficient to have any semi-conscious American’s ethics alarms ringing, like “Dina Lohan, Mother of the Year.” That it didn’t for Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, at least until furious critics rang it for him, tells us something disturbing about the Republican’s ethical blind spots, and perhaps other things as well. Perhaps we can truly get through to Bob with a song…sung to the tune of that traditional Virginia favorite, Dixie. All together, now: Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh… Continue reading