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Allen Mendenhall and Walter Block Discuss Environmentalism

In Conservatism, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Politics on October 19, 2022 at 6:00 am

e.e. in the U.S.S.R.

In America, Arts & Letters, Books, Emerson, Humanities, liberal arts, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Modernism, Philosophy, Poetry, Politics on August 25, 2022 at 6:00 am

This piece originally appeared here in Discourse Magazine.

Born in 1894, E.E. Cummings—poet, painter, playwright, novelist—is known for his innovative idioms, very unconventional punctuation and experimental forms. He is less remembered for his staunch commitment to philosophical and political individualism, in the tradition of 19th-century transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, which found its fullest expression in his opposition to the ascendent Marxism and communism of the early 20th century.

Cummings was raised by Unitarian parents around Harvard Yard (his father taught at the university) at a time when the chief modes of transportation were not yet by automobile. The ebullient young poet enjoyed his academic milieu with its residual transcendentalism. Even the jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., an allegedly cold realist then serving on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, acknowledged Emerson as his inspiration and wrote about “an echo of the infinite” and “a hint of the universal law.”

An urban center for publishing and speaking and all varieties of expatiation, Cambridge, Massachusetts, was at the time home to American intellectuals such as William James, Josiah Royce and Charles Eliot Norton, as well as to the nascent pragmatism that would eclipse republicanism, Unitarianism and other New World paradigms in its importance to the identity of educated Bostonians and Harvard highbrows. Burgeoning industry generated prosperity and energetic commercialism in Boston and its surrounds. The Civil War had tempered the optimism of earlier generations, but vibrant efforts to fashion a uniquely American culture and to break free from the constraints of European customs and traditions continued to shape the growing market for newspapers and books.

In this stimulating climate, under his parents’ care, young Cummings cultivated his creative talents, especially for poetry. He entered Harvard University in 1911, published his first poem in 1912, graduated in 1915 and earned a master’s degree from Harvard in 1916. As a college student he became, according to biographer Susan Cheever, “a new man, an archetypal questioner, and with this newness would come a different kind of poetry.”

Originality was the hallmark of American writing long before Cummings. The national literature, such as it was, sought discontinuity and inventiveness. The crass humor of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), the gothic grotesqueness of Edgar Allan Poe, the bold activism of Margaret Fuller, the caustic realism of Edith Wharton, the performative independence of Henry David Thoreau, the shocking obscenity of Walt Whitman—each contributed to the paradox of the emergent American canon: its derivative novelty and mimetic resistance to outside influences.

Strictly rhyming meter and syntax in American poetry gave way to a rebellious free verse and democratic improvisation. The ostentatious vocabulary and syntactical pretensions of upper-class Europeans were not suited to rugged American prose, which—as in Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”—featured common speech, plain diction and vulgar colloquialisms. But how far could writers push boundaries? How could they transcend the inescapable past or reimagine inherited orthographies? Could language exist without recognizable precedents, rules or structures? What approaches had not been tried? What poems could satisfy the endless aspiration for American ingenuity?

Stretching the Limits

Cummings may have stretched the limits as far as they could go. His anarchic, avant-garde style signaled his rogue, rollicking individualism, which, in his view, defied the dehumanizing forces of collectivism. This is not the space to examine his extensive oeuvre or undertake close readings of his thousands of brilliant poems. Yet two acclaimed examples suffice to show the lyric distinctiveness of his curious method:

when my love comes to see me it’s

when my love comes to see me it’s
just a little like music,a
little more like curving colour(say
orange)
       against silence,or darkness….

the coming of my love emits
a wonderful smell in my mind,

you should see when i turn to find
her how my least heart-beat becomes less.
And then all her beauty is a vise

whose stilling lips murder suddenly me,

but of my corpose the tool her smile makes something
suddenly luminous and precise

—and then we are I and She….

what is that the hurdy-gurdy’s playing

[in Just-]

in Just-

spring          when the world is mud-

luscious the little

lame balloonman

whistles          far          and wee

and eddieandbill come

running from marbles and

piracies and it’s

spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer

old balloonman whistles

far          and             wee

and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s

spring

and

the

goat-footed

balloonMan          whistles

far

and

wee

In the first poem we experience a traditional theme: tender, romantic love. The second, with its evocative images, vague figures, fragmented lines and unusual, disruptive punctuation, is like the scene of an abstract painting or photograph, a rendered moment, the sounds purely imagined.

Cummings famously embraced lowercase font (or, if you prefer, infamously avoided capitalization). The spatial arrangement of this poem—large gaps between words, for instance, or the swaying effect of differing line lengths—lends the impression that the wind has blown the letters and words back and forth, together and apart, and that the ominous perspective is that of a child who is unable to articulate clearly or cogently the evanescent flurry of activity he beholds.

Emerson coined “individualism” for the American lexicon to capture the “individualisme” that Alexis de Tocqueville recorded in the early 1830s in his observations while touring the United States. The individualism that Cummings developed was more than merely a youthful sense of bravado and self-importance that would moderate as his testosterone receded with age. It was deep-seated, rational and enduring—in a word, Emersonian.

Mentor. Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1857. Image Credit: Josiah Johnson Hawes/Wikimedia Commons

Lasting beliefs earn staying power through lived experience; trying circumstances force people to validate or renounce their convictions. Two pressing events reinforced Cummings’ individualism, which he exposited with an ever-maturing understanding of the dangers of totalitarianism.

One was his detainment during World War I, right out of college. He and novelist William Slater Brown had volunteered for the Norton-Harjes Ambulance service in France. Charged with espionage because of cryptic comments in their letters home, they were imprisoned for three months in holding cells at a military detention camp in the French town of La Ferté-Macé. Meanwhile the U.S. Department of State erroneously notified Cummings’ parents that he had been aboard the SS Antilles, which a German U-boat had torpedoed and sunk.

Cummings was released from confinement without commotion or fanfare shortly before Christmas 1917 and was stateside again by January. He would later portray this period in his autobiographical novel “The Enormous Room,” which biographer Richard S. Kennedy describes as a “symbolic attack upon all governmental structures whatsoever.”

Lenin’s Tomb

The other belief-affirming event was Cummings’ five-week trip to the Soviet Union in 1931, which hardened him against communism and its American supporters. During this trip Cummings kept a diary that became his second prose book, “Eimi.” The title is Greek for “I am.” In his 1958 preface, Cummings wrote, “To devotees of the Old Testament, this may suggest Exodus III, 14—‘I AM THAT I AM.’” Cummings’ signature “i,” rendered in lowercase throughout his poetry, lacks the grandeur and majesty of the Hebrew God. Yet, paradoxically, it seems mighty in its diminutive size: a sign of individuality that draws attention to itself, its power made perfect in weakness.

First published in 1933, “Eimi” abounds with bitter, biting critiques of collectivism and of its corollary, a planned economy. This diary-invective can be obscure, its plot sequencing at times difficult to follow. Guided by a derisory version of Virgil, Cummings—the mocking and mythical narrator, a 20th-century Dante—undertakes a depressing, disturbing passage through the “unworld,” Stalinist Russia: a nightmarish hell of senseless bureaucracy, unimaginative ideology and brutalizing oppression.

His first stop on this journey: “A singularly unbanklike bank:outside,mildly imposing mansion; inside,hugely promiscuous hideousness—not the impeccable sanitary ordered and efficient hideousness of American or imitation-American banks,but a strictly ubiquitous whenwhere of casual filth and aimless commotion and profound hoping inefficiency.” Such bleak, odd imagery and frank disgust anticipate the surreal, satirical episodes he later sees and records: propaganda plays, indoctrination speeches, a plethora of comrades, secret police, a socialist jail. The neologism “whenwhere” emphasizes the managerial pointlessness of Soviet administration, which homogenizes society into a monotonous, mechanistic mass of inept, brainwashed automatons.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “Harry” Dana (grandson of the renowned poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who had died in 1882), a union-loving advocate of labor causes, a Harvard habitué and a lively expert on Russian drama, happened to be in Russia when Cummings arrived there. With entrée into Russian cognoscenti society, Dana was Cummings’ Virgil, introducing him to the glitterati, the literati and local theater. Anti-authoritarian to his core, Cummings was unimpressed. He “went to the Soviet Union with his eyes open and without an agenda,” explains biographer Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno, but “his experiences there, in which he witnessed first-hand the privation and sadness of the Stalinist state, certainly helped him develop an agenda.”

In “Eimi,” Cummings allegorizes his haunting visit to Lenin’s mausoleum, calling it the “Vision of Satan.” The revulsion with which Cummings illustrates the procession of bodies to the grave is palpable. Too lengthy to quote here, these lines scramble with intensity in the manner of the mourning throng—a “number of numberlessness”—which mobilizes toward “the Tomb of Tombs,” toward “Lenin our life!” and “Lenin our hope!” The tomb, discussed much earlier in the narrative, is “a rigid pyramidal composition of blocks; an impurely mathematical game of edges.”

The picture here is religious, or irreligious—the hallowed Lenin in his sacred space, wholly consecrated, absolutely revered. If Lenin is God, then his state—his government—is holy. Nothing could have been more frightening or distressing to Cummings.

Kennedy asserts that the concluding lines of “Eimi” attempt to “express something similar to an Emersonian transcendental experience, a mystical union with the creative force”:

silence is made of

(behind perfectly or

final rising

humbly

more dark

most luminous

whereless fragrant whenlessly erect

a sudden the!entirelyblossoming)

Voice

(Who:

Loves;

Creates,

Imagines)

OPENS

Notice the emergence of sound from silence: the voice a mode of agency, a source, a genesis, a conception. The result is as if to say, “You, reader, are now released from Soviet censorship, restraint and restriction; you have ended that chapter and may close this book; the future is yours to make.”

Standing Alone

Kennedy explains that the self-celebrating and increasingly embittered Cummings sometimes “felt isolated from other literary contemporaries, mostly leftists who shunned him because of his strong anticommunist views.” True Emersonian self-reliance means standing alone, if necessary, in the face of hostility and to the chagrin or ire of the naysaying multitudes. Cummings, “no base imitator of another,” struck out on his own, taking great risks with his poetry despite harsh charges that his writing was indecipherable, esoteric or impenetrable.

His acrobatic, often puzzling techniques represent aesthetically the prevailing motifs of his romantic, nonconformist individualism: imagination, life, emotion, instinct, spontaneity and love. His liberating eccentricity contrasts with the crushing, repressive and absurd Soviet system. “Eimi,” a sustained indictment of Marxism and communism, depicts the all-encompassing despotism of mobs as well as a cruel and implacable government run by myriad comrades who lack character or personality because they are subservient sycophants: dispensable units within an indiscriminate superstate of interchangeable agents and functionaries.

When the idiosyncratic Cummings died of a stroke in 1962, he was a household name, his stature secured by the blooming hippie, hipster subculture that, dissatisfied with current affairs, followed his lead in rejecting establishment standards and submission to authority. His obituary in The New York Times, published the day after his death, commences on the front page and, because of its length, extends to another section. He was a force, a giant of his time, a modernist trendsetter whose trends were insuperable, a transparent eyeball, the “i” and the person he decided to be, the Whitmanesque “me myself” who would not capitulate to badges, names, large societies or dead institutions. He was e.e. and E.E., living truly, seeing truly, acting singly. There can never be another.

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In American History, History, Law, Politics on November 20, 2019 at 6:45 am

What do “Change” and “Equality” Mean?

In Humanities, Law, liberal arts, Philosophy, Politics on November 6, 2019 at 6:45 am

This piece originally appeared here in The Intercollegiate Review.

As the elections of 2020 near, the left has weaponized two principles that are now prevailing orthodoxies on college campuses, in the mass media, and among activist blatherskites: change and equality.

Examples of change?

Senator Sanders and Senator Warren advocate differing forms of “free college” at public institutions of higher learning. Most of the Democratic presidential candidates have proposed eliminating the Electoral College. Andrew Yang backs a government-funded “universal basic income” program.

These are specific policies. What about large-scale models of government like socialism, openly embraced by Senator Sanders and Representative Ocasio-Cortez?

Which brings us to equality. “Equality,” today, refers to diverse causes: gender equality, marriage equality, income equality, transgender equality, racial equality, housing equality, healthcare equality, environmental equality—in short, you can affix the term “equality” to just about any hot-button political issue or mobilized interest group and find some politician supporting it.

Change and equality sound nice in theory, but what, exactly, do these words mean? The eminent thinker and man of letters Russell Kirk provides key insights into the nature and limitations of change and equality.

THERE ARE MANY KINDS OF “CHANGE”

Is change always for the better? Isn’t there regress, deterioration, degeneration, and decay? Wouldn’t we need a conservative disposition—an understanding of history in its immeasurable complexity—to know the difference between change that’s good and change that’s bad?

“When a society is progressing in some respects,” Kirk warns, “usually it is declining in other respects.” The French Revolution certainly brought changes: widespread violence, corruption, the beheading of innocents, the massacring of clergy, looting, chaos, food shortages, and the destruction of churches. The Russian Revolution promised change and delivered it in the form of war, mass murder, riots, starvation, and dictatorship. The Chinese Communist Revolution successfully instituted changes that resulted in tens of millions of deaths.

If you want change for the sake of something different, the object is transformation itself, not a definitive outcome. What do you achieve? The creed of change implies that you can never get things right: the only correct state is that of perpetual flow and flux.

“You’re on the wrong side of history,” we’re told by those who demand change. They value progress as the summum bonum, as though the past were devoid of good people and useful data, as if it were a monolithic evil from which you must flee and hide your eyes. But you should not move forward—you should not change—without the past to guide you.

We must be mindful of the debts we owe our ancestors, without whom, after all, we wouldn’t have the ideas, luxuries, technologies, and freedoms we enjoy. Kirk exemplifies a proper attitude toward change in his Concise Guide to Conservatism: “Change is essential to a good society,” but it must take place “within the framework of tradition.” He adds that “progress is possible only so long as it is undertaken upon the sure footing of permanence.”

I like asking progressives what society would need to look like for them to become conservatives. What is their teleology, their ultimate goal for culture and governing institutions? What achievement would they preserve and defend?

Change can be dangerous. The wisdom of generations—the taking of the long view—acts as a check against those radical changes that lead to loss of life and violations of the dignity and bodily integrity of every human person.

EQUALITY IS AN ILLUSION

Equality raises the questions: Equal to what? Equal in what sense? But this means it is a signifier without a signified. There’s no such thing as equality in the tangible, phenomenal world.

Every lawyer knows on some level that differentiations between people are inevitable.

“Civilized society requires that all men and women have equal rights before the law,” Kirk writes, “but that equality should not extend to equality of condition: that is, society is a great partnership, in which all have equal rights—but not to equal things.”

Why? Because justice, in Kirk’s view, demands “sound leadership, different rewards for different abilities, and a sense of respect and duty.” Moreover, “In the name of equality, the collectivist establishes a political and economic order which subjects a great mass of individuals to the will and whim of a new managerial elite.”

The law categorizes us: citizen and noncitizen, parent and child, minor and adult, alive and dead, employer and employee, buyer and seller, debtor and creditor, single and married, majority and minority, donor and donee, plaintiff and defendant, prosecution and defense, innocent and guilty, solvent and insolvent, offeror and offeree, payer and payee, promisor and promisee, landlord and tenant, agent and principal.

Nobody escapes labels under the law: human, mother, father, child, spouse, brother, sister, niece, nephew, cousin, aunt, uncle, descendant, heir, client, guardian, bystander, driver, owner, resident, patient, insured, devisee, witness, litigant, student, taxpayer, guest, signatory, broker, trustee, volunteer, testator, mortgagor, investor, author, licensee, victim, subscriber, decedent—the list goes on.

Everyone fits within more than one of these classifications, which are not necessarily hierarchical. The flesh-and-blood people to whom they refer, however, are not treated equally in all circumstances. They cannot be because no one can occupy an identical position in society, nor hold the exact same provisions in the exact same settings within the exact same jurisdiction.

We have different jobs, careers, ages, obligations, goals, talents, and familial statuses. The law treats people differently because of their different roles and responsibilities in specified contexts. Taxonomical differences are natural and inevitable, flowing from the diversity of human experience.

Laws by definition discriminate: they state who may or may not do something, who possesses or protects rights, who creates or enforces rules, who must or must not act in particular situations, which acts are proper or improper in light of unique circumstances. Discrimination is inevitable. The operative question, then, is on what basis laws discriminate. Some bases are acceptable, whereas others are not.

Aristotle maintained that the telos, or the purpose, of the law is to achieve goodness and virtue. Accordingly, laws discriminating on the grounds of race are presumptively invalid because they have no bearing upon human intent or action, on the pursuit of goodness or virtue. Rather, they involve an immutable characteristic, a trait people cannot help, an unchosen quality of the human body.

Goodness and virtue, by contrast, involve choices. A person acts morally by selecting one course of action over another. The law incentivizes good behavior and punishes crime or mischief. It shouldn’t penalize people for acts they didn’t or couldn’t commit, for properties they are incapable of changing or affecting.

Except in the eyes of God, absolute equality, true equality, doesn’t exist. Attempts to attain it necessitate coercion, perhaps even the annihilation of certain people or the destruction of certain places and things. Yet I wouldn’t expect the government forcibly to remove someone else’s good lung to replace my bad lung to equalize our conditions. Besides, no two lungs are alike.

Equality, as a concept, is the enemy of another concept the left purports to champion: diversity. Every human being is unique. Every person has distinct skills, aptitudes, weaknesses, and temptations. Diversity involves differences. It is real, not an ideal like equality.

“Variety and diversity are the characteristics of a high civilization,” Kirk says. “Uniformity and absolute equality are the death of all real vigor and freedom in existence.”

We should celebrate the fact that no two people are alike, that our variety as a species makes us wonderful and marvelous. We’re in awe when musicians produce sounds we cannot produce, when artists render images we cannot render, when athletes leap or jump or run in ways foreign to our bodies, when writers arrange words on a page with a facility we lack.

Diversity is good and beautiful; seeking to eliminate it in the name of equality is cruel and misguided. We rightly fear societies in which one group uses political power and the apparatus of government to deprive individuals of their wealth and property in pursuit of hypotheticals like equality. Kirk reminds, after all, that the “aim of the collectivistic state is to abolish classes, voluntary associations, and private rights, swallowing all these in the formless blur of the ‘general will’ and absolute equality of condition—equality, that is, of everyone except the clique which rules the state.”

FOCUS ON PRINCIPLES, NOT JUST POLICY

Understandably, we focus on policy during election seasons. But maybe we should quiz candidates on their philosophical moorings. If we do, we might find that progressives have embraced quixotic concepts that lead, in practice, to violence and coercion rather than their intended outcomes.

Kirk cautioned against the siren songs of change and equality. We should listen.

St. George Tucker’s Jeffersonian Constitution

In American History, Arts & Letters, Books, Civics, History, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Law, Legal Education & Pedagogy, liberal arts, Nineteenth-Century America, Philosophy, Politics, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on October 30, 2019 at 6:45 am

This piece originally appeared here in Law & Liberty. 

One could argue that there are two basic visions for America: the Hamiltonian and the Jeffersonian. The former is nationalist, calling for centralized power and an industrial, mercantilist society characterized by banking, commercialism, and a robust military. Its early leaders had monarchical tendencies. The latter vision involves a slower, more leisurely and agrarian society, political decentralization, popular sovereignty, and local republicanism. Think farmers over factories.

Both have claimed the mantle of liberty. Both have aristocratic elements, despite today’s celebration of America as democratic. On the Hamiltonian side we can include John Adams, John Marshall, Noah Webster, Henry Clay, Joseph Story, and Abraham Lincoln. In the Jeffersonian camp we can place George Mason and Patrick Henry (who, because they were born before Jefferson, could be considered his precursors), the mature (rather than the youthful) James Madison, John Taylor of Caroline, John C. Calhoun, Abel Upshur, and Robert Y. Hayne. The Jeffersonian Republicans won out in the early nineteenth century, but since the Civil War, the centralizing, bellicose paradigm has dominated American politics, foreign and monetary policy, and federal institutions.

St. George Tucker falls into the Jeffersonian category. View of the Constitution of the United States, published by Liberty Fund in 1999, features his disquisitions on various legal subjects, each thematically linked. Most come from essays appended to his edition of Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England.

Born in Bermuda, Tucker became a Virginian through and through, studying law at the College of William and Mary under George Wythe, whose post at the law school he would eventually hold. On Tucker’s résumé we might find his credentials as a poet, essayist, and judge. He was an influential expositor of the limited-government jurisprudence that located sovereignty in the people themselves, as opposed to the monarch or the legislature, which, he believed, was a surrogate for the general will in that it consisted of the people’s chosen representatives.

Tucker furnished Jeffersonians with the “compact theory” of the Constitution:

The constitution of the United States of America . . . is an original, written, federal, and social compact, freely, voluntarily, and solemnly entered into by the several states of North-America, and ratified by the people thereof, respectively; whereby the several states, and the people thereof, respectively, have bound themselves to each other, and to the federal government of the United States; and by which the federal government is bound to the several states, and to every citizen of the United States.

Under this model, each sovereign, independent state is contractually and consensually committed to confederacy, and the federal government possesses only limited and delegated powers—e.g., “to be the organ through which the united republics communicate with foreign nations.”

Employing the term “strict construction,” Tucker decried what today we’d call “activist” federal judges, insisting that “every attempt in any government to change the constitution (otherwise than in that mode which the constitution may prescribe) is in fact a subversion of the foundations of its own authority.” Strictly construing the language of the Constitution meant fidelity to the binding, basic framework of government, but it didn’t mean that the law was static. Among Tucker’s concerns, for instance, was how the states should incorporate, discard, or adapt the British common law that Blackstone had delineated.

Tucker understood the common law as embedded, situated, and contextual rather than as a fixed body of definite rules or as the magnificent perfection of right reason, a grandiose conception derived from the quixotic portrayals of Sir Edward Coke. “[I]n our inquiries how far the common law and statutes of England were adopted in the British colonies,” Tucker announced, “we must again abandon all hope of satisfaction from any general theory, and resort to their several charters, provincial establishments, legislative codes, and civil histories, for information.”

In other words, if you want to know what the common law is on this side of the pond, look to the operative language of governing texts before you invoke abstract theories. Doing so led Tucker to conclude that parts of English law were “either obsolete, or have been deemed inapplicable to our local circumstances and policy.” In this, he anticipated Justice Holmes’s claim that the law “is forever adopting new principles from life at one end” while retaining “old ones from history at the other, which have not yet been absorbed or sloughed off.”

What the several states borrowed from England was, for Tucker, a filtering mechanism that repurposed old rules for new contexts. Tucker used other verbs to describe how states, each in their own way, revised elements of the common law in their native jurisdictions: “modified,” “abridged,” “shaken off,” “rejected,” “repealed,” “expunged,” “altered,” “changed,” “suspended,” “omitted,” “stricken out,” “substituted,” “superseded,” “introduced.” The list could go on.

The English common law, accordingly, wasn’t an exemplification of natural law or abstract rationalism; it was rather the aggregation of workable solutions to actual problems presented in concrete cases involving real people. Sometimes, in its British iterations, it was oppressive, reinforcing the power of the king and his agents and functionaries. Thus it couldn’t fully obtain in the United States. “[E]very rule of the common law, and every statute of England,” Tucker wrote on this score, “founded on the nature of regal government, in derogation of the natural and unalienable rights of mankind, were absolutely abrogated, repealed, and annulled, by the establishment of such a form of government in the states.”

Having been clipped from its English roots, the common law in the United States had, in Tucker’s view, an organic opportunity to grow anew in the varying cultural environments of the sovereign states. In this respect, Tucker prefigured Justice Brandeis’s assertion in Erie Railroad Company v. Tompkins (1938) that “[t]here is no federal general common law.” Tucker would have agreed with Brandeis that, “[e]xcept in matters governed by the Federal Constitution or by acts of Congress, the law to be applied in any case is the law of the state.”

In fact, summarizing competing contentions about the Sedition Act, Tucker subtly supported the position that “the United States as a federal government have no common law” and that “the common law of one state . . . is not the common law of another.” The common law, in Tucker’s paradigm, is bottom-up and home-grown; it’s not a formula that can be lifted from one jurisdiction and placed down anywhere else with similar results and effects.

By far the most complex essay here is “On the State of Slavery in Virginia,” which advocated the gradual extirpation of slavery. With admirable clarity, Tucker zeroed in on the hypocrisy of his generation:

Whilst we were offering up vows at the shrine of Liberty, and sacrificing hecatombs upon her altars; whilst we swore irreconcilable hostility to her enemies, and hurled defiance in their faces; whilst we adjured the God of Hosts to witness our resolution to live free, or die, and imprecated curses on their heads who refused to unite us in establishing the empire of freedom; we were imposing upon our fellow men, who differ in complexion from us, a slavery, ten thousand times more cruel than the utmost extremity of those grievances and oppressions, of which we complained.

Despite his disdain for the institution of slavery, Tucker expressed ideas that are racist by any measurable standard today—for instance, his notion that slavery proliferated in the South because the climate there was “more congenial to the African constitution.”

On the level of pure writing quality and style, Tucker had a knack for aphorism. “[T]he ignorance of the people,” he said, “is the footstool of despotism.” More examples: “Ignorance is invariably the parent of error.” “A tyranny that governs by the sword, has few friends but men of the sword.”

Reading Tucker reminds us that for most of our country’s formative history the principal jurisprudential debates were not about natural law versus positivism, or originalism versus living constitutionalism, but about state versus federal authority, local versus national jurisdiction, the proper scale and scope of government, checks and balances, and so forth. To the extent these subjects have diminished in importance, Hamilton has prevailed over Jefferson. Reading Tucker today can help us see the costs of that victory.

On Nationalism and National Conservatism

In America, American History, Arts & Letters, Conservatism, Humanities, Politics on October 16, 2019 at 6:45 am

Estados Unidos no es una nación: el problema del «conservadurismo nacional»

In America, American History, Arts & Letters, Conservatism, Essays, Historicism, History, Humanities, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Philosophy, Politics on October 9, 2019 at 6:45 am

This article originally appeared here at Mises.org in July 2019.

A principios de este mes, nombres prominentes del movimiento conservador se reunieron en Washington, DC, para una conferencia sobre el «Conservadurismo Nacional». Entre los oradores se encontraban personalidades como Tucker Carlson, Peter Thiel, J.D. Vance, John Bolton, Michael Anton, Rich Lowry, Yuval Levin y Josh Hawley. En representación de la academia estuvieron F.H. Buckley, Charles Kesler, Amy Wax y Patrick Deneen. Otros escritores y pensadores conservadores participaron en los paneles. Las dos figuras más asociadas con el conservadurismo nacional — Yoram Hazony y R.R. Reno — hablaron durante el plenario de apertura.

¿De qué se trata este conservadurismo nacional?

La respuesta sucinta es el matrimonio del nacionalismo con el conservadurismo. Los organizadores de la conferencia definieron el nacionalismo como «un compromiso con un mundo de naciones independientes». Presentaron al conservadurismo nacional como «una alternativa intelectualmente seria a los excesos del libertarismo purista, y en fuerte oposición a las teorías basadas en la raza». Su objetivo declarado era «solidificar y dinamizar a los conservadores nacionales, ofreciéndoles una base institucional muy necesaria, ideas sustanciales en las áreas de política pública, teoría política y economía, y una extensa red de apoyo en todo el país».

Suena interesante. Sin embargo, ni el conservadurismo nacional ni el nacionalismo —independientemente de las distinciones entre ellos— pueden arraigar en los Estados Unidos.

La diferencia entre un país y una nación

¿Por qué? Porque Estados Unidos no es, y nunca ha sido, una nación. La generación de los fundadores se refirió a Estados Unidos como un sustantivo plural (es decir, «estos Estados Unidos») porque varios soberanos estaban bajo esa designación. George Tucker llamó a Estados Unidos un «pacto federal» que consiste en «varios Estados soberanos e independientes». Si su punto de vista parece irreconocible hoy en día, es porque el nacionalismodentro de los Estados Unidos está muriendo o está muerto, y los Estados Unidos lo mataron.

Los Estados Unidos de América en singular es un país, no una nación. Contiene naciones dentro de ella, pero no constituye en sí misma una nación. Las naciones implican solidaridad entre personas que comparten una cultura, idioma, costumbres, costumbres, etnicidad e historia comunes. Un país, por el contrario, implica acuerdos políticos y territorios y fronteras gubernamentales.

Desde sus inicios, Estados Unidos se ha caracterizado por el fraccionalismo y el seccionalismo, los choques culturales y las narrativas en competencia – entre tribus indígenas de lo que hoy es Florida y California, Wyoming y Maine, Georgia y Michigan; entre británicos y franceses y españoles y holandeses; entre protestantes y católicos y disidentes ingleses y disidentes e inconformes y denominaciones disidentes; entre el calvinismo de Cotton Mather y el racionalismo de la Ilustración que influenció a Franklin y Jefferson. Los Estados Unidos también han experimentado numerosos movimientos separatistas, entre los que cabe destacar la secesión de los Estados que formaban los Estados Confederados de América.

Estados Unidos no es una nación.

Una nación consiste en una cultura homogénea de la que sus habitantes son muy conscientes. Por el contrario, los Estados Unidos de América son, y siempre han sido, culturalmente heterogéneos, y consisten en una variedad de culturas y tradiciones.

Mientras los puritanos de Nueva Inglaterra desarrollaban ansiedades de brujas, una nobleza plantadora se estableció en Virginia. Mientras la esclavitud se extendía por el sur, los cuáqueros americanos —desterrados de la Colonia de la Bahía de Massachusetts— predicaban la abolición y el pacifismo en Rhode Island y Pennsylvania. Mientras tanto, la industria surgió en Filadelfia y Boston. Alrededor de 60.000 leales abandonaron los Estados Unidos al final de la Revolución Americana.1 En muchos aspectos, la Revolución Americana fue la guerra civil antes de la Guerra Civil.

Mientras que William Gilmore Simms escribió novelas y disquisiciones sobre temas y escenarios del Sur, lidiando con el significado de la frontera emergente en Occidente, Nueva Inglaterra se caracterizó por el Romanticismo y el trascendentalismo, por autores como Emerson, Thoreau, Longfellow, Melville y Hawthorne. Mientras Walt Whitman cantaba America en todas sus multiplicidades, María Ruiz de Burton escribía ficción que reflejaba su trasfondo y perspectiva mexicana. Décadas más tarde, Langston Hughes escribiría que él también cantaba en América.

¿Qué hay de los samoanos en Hawaii, los refugiados cubanos en Florida, los descendientes de esclavos negros de África y el Caribe, los isseis y los nesi sanseis, los criollos en Nueva Orleans, las comunidades judías ortodoxas, los gullah en las llanuras costeras y el país bajo de Carolina, los athabaskans de Alaska, los amish, los puertorriqueños, los inmigrantes de Colombia y Perú y Guatemala y Honduras y Panamá y Nicaragua? ¿Tienen un patrimonio común?

Estadounidenses unidos por la ideología, no por la nación

La noción de los nacionalistas conservadores de que el libertarianismo ha dominado al Partido Republicano es extraña a la luz de la marginación de Ron Paul por parte de ese partido, las guerras extranjeras orquestadas por los republicanos y el crecimiento constante del gobierno federal bajo el liderazgo republicano. Los nacionalistas conservadores proyectan una caricatura de los libertarios que, en 1979, Murray Rothbard refutó a fondo (audio aquí, texto aquí). El libertarismo de Rothbard es compatible con el nacionalismo, e incluso podría ser una condición necesaria para el nacionalismo. Los nacionalistas conservadores, además, buscan vincular su programa con Russell Kirk, quien, de hecho, advirtió contra «los excesos del nacionalismo fanático».

El nacionalismo conservador está equivocado, basado en una falacia, a saber, que los Estados Unidos son una nación.

Pero Estados Unidos no es una nación.

Si el pueblo de Estados Unidos está unido, es por un sistema de gobierno, la Constitución, el republicanismo y los conceptos de libertad, control y equilibrio, separación de poderes y estado de derecho. En otras palabras, Estados Unidos es un país cuyo pueblo está conectado, si es que lo está, por el liberalismo. La historia de los Estados Unidos ha sido la destrucción del nacionalismo, no el abrazo de éste.

Los conservadores nacionales celebran la grandeza y la homogeneidad en lugar de la verdadera nación.

Dado el énfasis en la soberanía, el autogobierno y la autodeterminación que caracterizan a los movimientos nacionalistas y la retórica, es de esperar que entre los conservadores nacionales se presenten ardientes argumentos a favor de la secesión, tal vez para una nación independiente del Sur, la desintegración de California o la independencia de Texas o Vermont. En cambio, los conservadores nacionales celebran la grandeza y la grandeza, socavando así las asociaciones de grupos y las identidades nativas basadas en culturas, costumbres, prácticas, idiomas, creencias religiosas e historia compartidas, fenómenos que existen en distintas comunidades locales en todo Estados Unidos.

Los Estados Unidos de América —el país en singular— es demasiado grande, el alcance y la escala de su gobierno demasiado grande para ser objeto de un verdadero nacionalismo. El pueblo de los Estados Unidos no está unido por una ascendencia común, solidaridad étnica o valores uniformes. Estados Unidos no es una «nación de inmigrantes», «una nación bajo Dios», «la primera nación nueva», o una «nación excepcional». Ni siquiera es una nación. Los conservadores nacionales pasan por alto o ignoran esa realidad por su cuenta y riesgo. El conservadurismo nacional que prevén para Estados Unidos sólo puede conducir a la supresión del nacionalismo real.

Estados Unidos no es una nación. Tratar de hacerlo así acabará con cualquier nacionalismo que quede en los Estados Unidos.

  • 1.Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles (Random House, 2011), p. 6.
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