Posts tagged Thomas Jefferson

Just shut the fuck up

I don’t mean to be rude. But this issue is important.

There are lots of reasons to despise Alexander Hamilton — given his record as a Caesarian centralizer, rampaging war-luster, and the spiritual and political father of U.S. state capitalism. There are also lots of cases where Thomas Jefferson was better than Hamilton on things that Hamilton was rotten on. This should be taken into account if you are ever trying to rank U.S. revolutionaries according to their libertarian merits. But the reverse is also true, and the issues that Jefferson was rotten on — like, oh, slavery — were not small potatoes or minor personal foibles. And while I think that Will Wilkinson is making several interrelated mistakes, among them misrepresenting and unfairly minimizing the case against Hamilton, when he says…

If you think central banks are a bigger issue for liberty than human enslavement, trade, or the growth of capitalism then your priorities are screwed.

— Will Wilkinson (2008-04-07), comments on ABJ @ The Fly Bottle

… what I would like to stress, at the moment, is that if you ever, ever find yourself thinking that it might possibly be appropriate to reply to a remark like that by saying something like this:

Central banking is one of the worst forms of human enslavement, actually. You should try going out more often, WW, and read some Hoppe and DiLorenzo for good measure.

— Alberto Dietz (2008-04-09), comments on ABJ @ The Fly Bottle

Then you need to stop. Right there. And just—well, you know the rest.

Thomas Jefferson wrote a couple of documents that I admire very much. One of them I consider to be one of the finest and most important political documents written in the history of the world. But Jefferson was a man, not just the signature on a series of essays, and he also did many other things in his life. He was an overt and at times obsessive white supremacist. He was a rapist. He was a posturing hypocrite. He was President of the United States. He was himself a war-monger, who launched the United States’ first overseas war within months of his first inauguration. Most of all, he was a active slaver, a lifelong perpetrator of real, not metaphorical, chattel slavery. He violently held hundreds of his fellow human beings in captivity throughout their lives and throughout his, with the usual tools of chains and hounds and lashes. He maintained himself in an utterly idle life as a landed lord of the Virginia gentry by forcing his captives to work for his own profit, and living off of the immense wealth of things that they built and grew by the sweat of their own brows and the blood of their own backs. He had no conceivable right to live this life of man-stealing, imprisonment, robbery and torture, and no justification for it other than racist contempt for his victims and the absolute, violent power that he (with the aid of his fellow whites) held over the life and limb of hundreds of victims. He knew that his own words in the Declaration of Independence condemned his own actions towards his slaves, who were by right his equals, beyond appeal, but he went on enslaving them anyway for the rest of his life and would not even make any provisions in his will to set them free when he finally died. He was a hereditary tyrant, claiming, based solely on his descent, the right to go on perpetrating a reign of terror over his prison-camp plantation more hideous and invasive than anything ever contemplated by the most absolutist Bourbon or Bonaparte. Not because he was in any way extraordinary or at all harsher than the average, compared to other white slavocrats, in how he treated his slaves—but rather because that kind of terror and violence is part and parcel of what forcing hundreds of people into chattel slavery means. As insidious and destructive as government-centralized banking and the money monopoly may be — and I am the last person to deny that — it is callous, counter-historical, inhuman bullshit to try and pass it off as one of the worst forms of human enslavement in comparison to American chattel slavery. It’s bullshit that needs to stop.

A side note. When trying to explain Jefferson’s view on slavery, one thing that a lot of people seem to take as a point in his favor is his opposition to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In 1807, Jefferson in fact signed a bill banning the trans-Atlantic slave trade (which could not take effect until 1808 because the U.S. Constitution only granted Congress the power to regulate the international slave trade 20 years after its ratification). It comes up a couple of different times in the same comments thread.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually speak in Jefferson’s favor. Jefferson, like many other white Virginian slave-camp commandants, was indeed for banning the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which he, like many other white Virginian slavers, sometimes fiercely denounced as infamous and inhumanly cruel. They were right about that part, and they were right that the trans-Atlantic slave trade ought to have been banned, but their primary reasons for wanting it banned were quite different from what people reading them today often conclude. If, after all, they were actually against the slave trade for humanitarian reasons, then they certainly ought to have the same problems with the internal slave trade in the United States, and the exportation of slaves out of the United States (for example, down to the death-plantations of the Caribbean). Those parts of the slave trade also involved the hellish passage of hundreds of slaves, shackled below decks, in sea voyages from New England or the upper South to the far-away places they were sold down to. But you’ll find little of that from Jefferson or his fellow white Virginian slavers, and the reason is that they profited from the internal slave trade. By the late 18th and early 19th century, Virginia was in the process of a long decline in agricultural productivity, but the landed lords held on to their stream of pirated wealth — by becoming the leading exporter of slaves to other, more productive plantations, down in the Deep South and in the Caribbean. Jefferson’s opposition to the slave trade, like that of many of his fellow Virginia slavers, was not nascent abolitionism. It was pure protectionism, designed to prop up the Virginian slave-traders’ profits while they retained the same absolute, violent power over their slaves at home.

Hope this helps.

Further reading:

Official national hero types

(Via Gene Expression 2008-04-04.)

Here’s the Danny Bonaduce of the Blogosphere, marking the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr., to reflect on the comforting lies about Dr. King, which the New Class political-intellectual complex has spent the last 40 years manufacturing and promoting:

Kai Wright has an excellent piece on the forgotten radicalism of Martin Luther King, Jr. — always a point worth making in a day and age when conservatives would like you to think they would have been standing right beside King when he marched on Washington.

That said, to some extent I think the creation of the King Myth and the displacement of the more authentic radical King is a good thing. A country doesn’t get official national hero types without mythologizing and sanitizing them to a large extent, and it’s a good thing, at the end of the day, that King has moved into national hero status.

— Matt Yglesias, The Atlantic (2008-04-04): MLK’s Radicalism

Really.

It seems to me that if the only way you can get official national hero types is by oversimplifying, lying, and thus eviscerating the substance of a world-changing life of work and body of thought, then official national hero types are worth less than nothing. What interest do they serve, and what are we supposed to need them for?

Certainly not the interest of honesty, or truth, and it seems to me that in these times those are coins far rarer — and therefore far more dear — than the pompous deliveries of the cosseted clique of power-tripping politicians and professional blowhards, who have convinced themselves that their collective in-jokes, shibboleths and taboos constitute the public life of a nation. I don’t give much of a damn, in the end, whether or not King gets ritualistically name-checked by men and women who were or would have been his mortal enemies to make stentorian speeches supposedly on his behalf. What I give a damn about is what the man, for all his many faults, actually cared about, fought for, and died for: the struggle of ordinary men and women for their own freedom, which meant their struggle to defy, resist, or simply bypass the consolidated violence of the belligerent power-mongers and the worse-than-useless moderate hand-wringers who made their living peddling excuses, apologetics, and the endless counsel of wait, wait.

This, not public-school pageants and official national hero types, is what the vast majority of us, who get no profit from the fortunes of the political-intellectual complex and its pantheon, need:

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.

… All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.

So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only noncommunist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.

Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call fortified hamlets. The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these. Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers.

… These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

… A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, This way of settling differences is not just. This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.

— Martin Luther King, Jr. (1967-04-04): Beyond Vietnam

And also this:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was well timed, according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the words Wait! It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This Wait has almost always meant Never. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that justice too long delayed is justice denied.

We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, Wait. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading white and colored; when your first name becomes nigger, your middle name becomes boy (however old you are) and your last name becomes John, and your wife and mother are never given the respected title Mrs.; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodiness; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that An unjust law is no law at all. … So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action; who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a more convenient season. Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail to do this they become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is merely a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, where the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substance-filled positive peace, where all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured. …

… You spoke of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of the extremist. … But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love — Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. Was not Amos an extremist for justice — Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ — I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Was not Martin Luther an extremist — Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God. Was not John Bunyan an extremist — I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience. Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist — This nation cannot survive half slave and half free. Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist — We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice—or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

— Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

For anybody other than a self-appointed public intellectual, honest appraisal and serious engagement with the real life, virtues, foibles, questions, and struggles of a creative extremist like King are things more profound, more beautiful, more powerful, more passionate, and ultimately more useful than all the combined hagiographies and bed-time stories of the canonized saints of American theo-nationalism.

Further reading:

Disobedience Day

I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. … I say it as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen. … In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause, and with deep moral concern, serve as the channel through which our just grievances would get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed. I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshippers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say, follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother. In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.

— Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was well timed, according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the words Wait! It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This Wait has almost always meant Never. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that justice too long delayed is justice denied.

We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, Wait. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading white and colored; when your first name becomes nigger, your middle name becomes boy (however old you are) and your last name becomes John, and your wife and mother are never given the respected title Mrs.; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodiness; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that An unjust law is no law at all. … So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action; who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a more convenient season. Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail to do this they become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is merely a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, where the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substance-filled positive peace, where all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured. …

… You spoke of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of the extremist. … But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love — Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. Was not Amos an extremist for justice — Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ — I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Was not Martin Luther an extremist — Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God. Was not John Bunyan an extremist — I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience. Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist — This nation cannot survive half slave and half free. Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist — We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice—or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

— Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

Further reading:

Refuge of oppression #3: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Here is a piece of correspondence that I actually received quite a long time ago, but which I just noticed recently as I was cleaning old out e-mail. The letter is apparently in response to my remarks in GT 2005-01-03: Robert E. Lee owned slaves and defended slavery. I suppose that it’s better late than never, when it comes to reprinting such valiant efforts to clear the name of such a great man and great American.

From: Todd
Subject: Hero
Date: 11 May 2006

General Lee is and will ever be my hero. Despite Slavery. He was a Great American. One can look with hind sight and say things, but we are careful about this. Never damning such people as Washington, or Jefferson. My point is we make our history to meet the PC thought of the day.

Lee was a loyal patriot, that had history provided a different out come, would be the model of every young person of every race.

The one thing I don’t like about America is we dismiss the brave heroes of our past because they don’t fit the PC world of today. We have a rich history, of which we should be proud. Men like Lee should be praised along side others like Washington, Lincoln, F.D.R. and so on.. They are part of what made us American.

I have traveled to the former USSR many times, and the subject of Gen Lee came up with ex Soviet Army Vets. All knew him as a great General. They had studied his tactics. When I told them that Americans were ashamed and renamed schools which once bore his name, they always laughed, saying you Americans have become weak, and cant honor your own This was hurtful words, but true words.

Slavery was an evil, one we should always remember, but something more important we should know , it still exist. In the heart of Africa it is there, why don’t we do something ? The only answerer I can provide myself is that, it isn’t PC. If it were P.C. every Hollywood actor, and Liberal Political would be screaming from roof tops. Dear Lord, it would be the biggest political thing in 150 years.Because we don’t here about it leaves me to wonder about the legitimate cry over the history American Slavery. It is just an agenda of the left. Because if they really cared they would do something to help the people around the world still enslaved. I don’t think they really care, but blaming men like Robert E. Lee makes them feel better.

For the record, I would like to admit that I have been convinced, in spite of the seditious libel spread throughout the P.C. world of today, that Robert E. Lee should indeed be praised about as much as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and whichever of their own nationalist heroes as may be honored by the proud veterans of the Red Army.

Further reading:

Independence Day

Besides explosions and strong drink, nationalist nostalgia is probably the most popular way to celebrate Independence Day in the U.S. It is, we are told, a day to sing national hymns, pledge our allegiance, have a parade, and fly the military colors from every available flagpole. We are told that it is, above all, a day sanctified for celebrating the birth of a new nation.

No it isn’t.

July 4th is the anniversary of the ignominious death of a tyranny, not the birth of a new government. On July 4th, 1776, there was no such thing as the United States of America. The regime under which we live today was not proclaimed until almost a decade later, on September 17, 1787. What was proclaimed on July 4th was not the establishment of a new government, but the dissolution of all political allegiance to the old one. All for the best: a transfer of power from London to Washington is no more worthy of celebration than any other coup d’etat. What is worth celebrating is this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it …. [W]hen a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

— Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1776

That is, the revolutionary doctrine that we all, each of us, are the equal of every puffed-up prince and President, that as such you, personally, have every right to refuse the arbitrary orders of tyrants, to ignore their sanctimonious claims of sovereignty, to sever all political connections if you want, and to defend yourself from any usurper who would try to rule you without your consent.

The logical conclusion of the radical equality proclaimed by the Declaration is not, however, what Jefferson or any of the other quasi-revolutionists thought it was. It is not home rule, and it is not republican government. It is not majoritarian democracy or the elective kingship that passes for the Presidency today. It is not democratic government or limited government; it is not any kind of government at all. If you, personally, are equal in rightful authority to your would-be rulers, and so have every right to tell them where they can go promulgate their law; if you, personally, have every right to refuse their demands and nullify their authority over you, at your discretion; if you have every right to withdraw your allegiance, and every right to defend yourself if they should come after you; then the logical conclusion is anarchy. The throne of the Constitution, or of the Majority, is no more dignified or sacred than the old thrones of the Czars and Sultans. Let’s not bow and scrape before them.

Today is not a day for nationalist bromides, or for government and its loyalists. It’s a day for radicals and revolutionaries. It’s a day to proclaim independence; it’s also a day to remember that the American Revolution, if it was worth anything, is far from over. We still have a long way to go. Here is how Frederick Douglass, a refugee from Southern slavery who became one of the United States’ most celebrated orators, put it back in July of 1852:

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth! To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery—the great sin and shame of America! I will not equivocate; I will not excuse; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgement is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man, (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, there will I argue with you that the slave is a man!

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively, and positively, negatively, and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and lo offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employments for my time and strength, than such arguments would imply.

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is past.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

— Frederick Douglass (1852): What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

To which I can add only: boy, thank goodness that’s all over with.

Happy Independence Day. Let’s turn off the Lee Greenwood and take down that damned flag: it’s time to celebrate the day under a new banner. One that reads:

Anarchism is the radical notion that other people are not your property.

And:

NO UNION WITH WARMONGERS, POLITICALLY OR SPIRITUALLY.

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