Libertarianism, the Confederacy, and Historical Memory

In the last few days libertarians have been debating the neo-Confederate sympathies of some in their movement. I don’t to wade into the discussion. Several voices in that tribe—including Jacob Levy, Jonathan Adler, and Ilya Somin—have been doing an excellent job. (This John Stuart Mill essay, which Somin cites, was an especially welcome reminder to me.)

But this post by Randy Barnett caught my eye.

I should preface this by saying that I think Barnett is one of the most interesting and thoughtful libertarians around. I’d happily read him on just about anything. He’s a forceful writer, who eschews jargon and actually seems to care about his readers. He’s also the architect of the nearly successful legal challenge to Obamacare, so we’re not talking about some academic outlier who gets trotted out, Potemkin-style, to serve as the kinder, gentler face of the movement.

What’s fascinating about his post is this:

I wish to add a few additional considerations that I have become aware of over the past several years as I have researched and written about “abolitionist constitutionalism” and the career of Salmon P. Chase.

What follows is a series of observations about the centrality of slavery and abolition to the origins of the Republican Party and the Confederacy and to the Civil War. Barnett, for example, says:

The Republican party was formed as the anti-slavery successor to the Liberty and Free Soil Parties.  It was the election of the presidential candidate of this party with its anti-slavery platform that precipitated the South’s initiation of force against federal troops and facilities — not a dispute over tariffs.  Slavery was deeply involved in both the formation of the Republican party, which supplanted the Whigs due to this issue, its election of a President on its second try, and the Southern reaction to this election, which directly precipitated the Civil War.

What’s striking about this set of observations is that with some minor exceptions it has been pretty much the historiographical consensus for decades. Indeed, I learned much of it in high school and in my sophomore year at college.  Yet Barnett, by his own admission, has only discovered it in recent years.

Let me be clear: I have no desire to impugn Barnett’s intelligence or learning, or to do that annoying academic thing of mocking someone for coming so late to the party. To the contrary: it’s because I have respect for Barnett that I am surprised. We’re not talking here about libertarianism’s Praetorian Guard. Barnett is a major scholar, who’s actually been thinking and writing about abolitionism and its constitutional vision for some time.

That a libertarian of such acuity and learning, of such range and appetite, would have come to these truths only recently and after intensive personal research tells you something about the sauce in which he and his brethren have been marinating all these years. In which the most delectable ingredient (don’t even try the rancid stuff) tastes something like this: “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Civil War was an unjust war on both sides.”

Never mind the formal and informal declarations of sympathy for the Confederacy that libertarians are currently debating. Barnett is grappling with a deeper kind of knowledge, or anti-knowledge, on the free-market right: the kind that Renan spoke of when he said that every nation is founded upon a forgetting. That forgetting—that deep historical error which held that the Civil War was a fight over tariffs or some other nonsense—lay for many years at the core of not only southern but also northern identity. It was not just the furniture of Jim Crow; it was the archive of American nationalism, the common sense of a country that was all too willing to deny basic rights, including voting rights, to African Americans. It was that forgetting that revisionist historians like Kenneth Stampp and C. Vann Woodward, with the Civil Rights Movement at their back, felt it necessary to take aim at. More than a half-century ago.

That Barnett—who’s been prodding libertarians on this issue for some time—has only recently gotten the news tells you much about his movement’s morning prayer, the sense of reality it brings to the table. The problem here isn’t merely that some, perhaps many, libertarians are overt fans of the Confederacy; it’s what the movement’s been reading in its afterglow, long after the light went out.

Update (5:15 pm)

So Randy Barnett and I have been emailing throughout the day, and it turns out there’s some misunderstanding here on my part, though as Barnett concedes in his clarifying post today, it’s not completely unwarranted. The misunderstanding, I mean.

Like Robin, I have been well aware of the consensus on these views since high school and college.  The point of my opening sentence, however, was to note that I have been studying this period seriously over the past several years as part of my research on the “constitutional abolitionists” and the career of Salmon P. Chase, and what followed was informed by that study and was not just repeating the conventional wisdom off the top of my head.  And, although my interest in abolitionist constitutionalism dates back to a lecture on Lysander Spooner’s theory of constitutional interpretation that I gave at McGeorge in 1996, my appreciation of these issues and their subtleties has been greatly enriched by my intensive reading of both secondary and primary sources in recent years as I broadened my focus well beyond Spooner.

The sentence that misled Robin was badly enough written to be misconstrued by him because it was written before the 6 bullet points that followed, which touched upon more than the role abolitionist constitutionalism played in the formation of the Republican party and the fear it engendered in the South, and because the misreading I now see is possible simply did not occur to me.

So that makes perfect sense. My apologies for the misreading.

Let me add two points. First, to Jacob Levy’s comments over at Crooked Timber. I haven’t read everything by Barnett, but I’ve read a fair amount (hence my admiration!) So I was fairly familiar with his background and interest in Spooner. I tried to telegraph that, however unsuccessfully, in two places in my post: “who’s actually been thinking and writing about abolitionism and its constitutional vision for some time” and “who’s been prodding libertarians on this issue for some time.” That said, Brad DeLong is right to point out in the CT comments that that anarcho-abolitionist view doesn’t necessarily take us very far from some of the underlying historical assumptions of the neo-Confederate position. To wit: the “it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Civil War was an unjust war on both sides” claim, and all the associated historical baggage around it, that I cited in the OP.

Which leads to my second point. Whether or not I got Barnett wrong on the meaning of that sentence—and clearly I did—the larger question his post raised for me was about the historical common sense of the libertarian movement and its organic intellectuals. My impression—and it is just a impression, so take it for what it’s worth—is that the historical view of the Civil War (not the normative position in favor or against, but the analysis of the two sides) that I was challenging is not that marginal in the libertarian firmament. Part of why Levy et al’s posts are so important is not simply that they argue against a pro-Confederacy reading of US history but that they actually supply badly needed historical facts and awareness to the movement. Facts alone seldom change minds, but they are important. To the extent that I got Barnett’s back story wrong, my post adds nothing to what Jacob and others have written. But to the extent that the historical common sense I’m pointing to is held by more in the libertarian movement than the overt or covert sympathizers with the Confederacy—which was my real concern here—I think the post still stands.

By way of comparison: The left has its own version of this historical common sense: the dismissive wave of the Republicans as simply the party of Northern capitalism, and the Civil War as the radiating wave of that motive force, as if that were the beginning and end of the story. (This is not to say, of course, that the Republicans were not the party of Northern capitalism; it’s just to point out that that claim, like the party itself, contains multitudes, including radical abolition, and that those multitudes would eventually come to blows over just what that promise of abolition actually meant.) The difference on the left, I think, is that we have scholars like Eric Foner who’ve long parried that simplistic view and that the revisionism that began in the fifties has become as much a part of the historical common sense of the left as the older alternative view. If not more so.

But, again, this is impressionistic. I live in Brooklyn, after all.


  1. Samir Chopra July 19, 2013 at 10:12 am | #

    Corey: the most commonly prescribed single-volume history of the Civil War, _Battle Cry for Freedom_, comes to precisely the conclusions Barnett lists in that para you quote. This is elementary stuff, as you point out.

  2. Jonny Butter July 19, 2013 at 10:18 am | #

    Lovely essay, and good motivation to read Barnett.

    Our Great National Forgetting is great indeed since it obtrudes so outrageously into our very recent past (my lifetime), and our present and probably near future. It is tasteless to point out that it was at least quasi-legal to murder black people in this country, particularly in the South, from forever until circa the 1950s. It’s shocking that millions of people right now, including well educated people, might not think it’s that cut and dried. Unfortunately for our multifarious vanities, it pretty much *is* that cut and dried. It’s the fact itself which is tasteless.

    Which is not to forget that this has always been a violent country, and you could get away with murder a lot over the centuries, depending; e.g. I gather anybody could get lynched in the West at various times.

    I think it’s a true cliche to say that allowing injustice to be visited on people ‘below’ you is not only unjust to them, but stupid for you, since you are thereby making it more probable that the same injustice will be visited on you or someone you know. In a sense, bad crap happens to black people first in the US, sort of as a try-out (and other disadvantaged minorities too), but then gets ‘popular’. From financial ruin and degradation (now popular in the white middle class) to getting murdered because some asshole happened to have a gun and felt like doing it. WOW.

    Anyway, writing about race in the US is like writing a fugue – it can be hard to know when to stop. You could go on and on.

  3. neffer July 19, 2013 at 10:42 am | #

    This is a very well considered comment, Prof. Robin. Thank you.

    I would, to be fair, note that people on the Left like the late Howard Zinn peddled the view that the Civil War was not really about slavery but about preserving the union, at any cost. So, the view which recast the Civil War on every term but it central issue has reared its head all around.

    Yet, it is hard to imagine how anyone could not understand that the then Republican party was the anti-slavery party.

    Some years back I read a biography – I do not recall the title or author, at the moment – of Oliver Wendell Holmes, the late Supreme Court justice. He fought in the Civil War and was wounded 3 times. In any event, at some point along the way, he wrote to his mother, noting that, while slavery was a great evil, it was not one he over which he wished to die. His mother wrote back that were he to leave the service, he would not be welcome back home.

    So, to suggest that slavery was not really at issue, as Zinn suggests, is rather preposterous. Holmes was from a prominent family, to say the least.

    Another interesting book I came across is James Ford Rhodes’s book, History of the Civil War, 1861–1865 written in 1917. He notes that there was a very strong interest in preserving the union but anti-slavery was a strong part of the mix. In fact, Lincoln himself intervened behind the scenes, after being elected but before coming to office, to defeat the Crittenden Compromise. Lincoln, evidently, could live with slavery in the existing states. However, the lock in of slavery would apply too broadly. On Rhodes’ telling:

    The five Republican senators opposed the territorial article, and, as it had been agreed that any report to be binding must have the assent of a majority of these five, they defeated in committee this necessary provision of the Compromise. William H. Seward, 12 one of the thirteen, the leader of the Republicans in Congress, and the prospective head of Lincoln’s Cabinet, would undoubtedly have assented to this article, could he have secured Lincoln’s support. But Lincoln, though ready to compromise every other matter in dispute, was inflexible on the territorial question: that is to say as regarded territory which might be acquired in the future. He could not fail to see that the Territories which were a part of the United States in 1860 were, in Webster’s words, dedicated to freedom by “an ordinance of nature” and “the will of God”; and he was willing to give the slaveholders an opportunity to make a political slave State out of New Mexico, which was south of the Missouri Compromise line. 13 But he feared that, if a parallel of latitude should be recognized by solemn exactment as the boundary between slavery and freedom, “filibustering for all south of us and making slave States of it would follow in spite of us.” “A year will not pass,” he wrote further, “till we shall have to take Cuba as a condition upon which they [the cotton States] will stay in the Union.” Lincoln, therefore, using the powerful indirect influence of the President-elect, caused the Republican senators to defeat the Crittenden Compromise in the committee, who were thus forced to report that they could not agree upon a plan of adjustment.

    Clearly, the Republicans were willing to put the entire union on the line – something they clearly wanted to avoid, as Lincoln’s willingness to find at least some compromise shows – but not one which fully compromised the then abolitionist objectives of the then Republican party.

    So, if the Republican party was not wholly about abolitionism, it was certainly an important part of the mix.

    • William Neil July 19, 2013 at 12:07 pm | #

      Very good points. In background work for my essay (see below) I wanted to see reviews of Gary Will’s book, “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” and sure enough, there was the NY Review of Books article written by none other than James M. McPherson himself (“The Art of Abraham Lincoln,” July 16, 1992.) While paying due homage to Wills’ classical scholarship, McPherson felt Wills missed an essential point about the address – and why the North would not allow the South to secede: here is what he said:

      “…the Union was a bond among all of the American people, not a voluntary association of states that could be disbanded by action of any one or several of them.

      This was the constitutional theory on which Lincoln denied the right of secession and on which the North fought the war for the Union. But as a theory it lacked the passion that inspired a people to fight a bloody and destructive war. Secession threatened America’s mission as a city on a hill, its destiny as a republican government of, by and for the people…If secession triumphed, they feared the no-longer United States would go the same way as the others, proving the contention of European monarchists and aristocrats that the upstart democratic republic across the Atlantic could not last.”

      And let me add this observation, since a review of Gar Alperovitz’s new book was integral to my essay. There is a strong current of decentralization that runs through the left, and Alperovitz makes that explicit, wondering how such a currently poorly governed nation whose population will continue to soar can be governed centrally; the environmental movement has believed, not all to be sure, in “small is beautiful,” and all the debates over alternative energy and bio-regionalism (this goes back to Lewis Mumford in the 1930’s – see Mark Luccarelli’s Lewis Mumford and the Ecological Region, 1995) tend to push in this direction. (I’ll spare you the old cliché to “think globally….)

      So it is not just Libertarians who have secessionist tendencies. Let’s not forget also that one of the great abolitionists, William Lloyd Garrison was a “come-outer,” come-out of the tainted Constitution and tainted Union, the compromised churches…he burned the document one infamous July 4th.

      And indeed, there are great tensions on the left between the decentralizers like Aperovitz and my own leanings towards the more central and universal – I’m thinking of FDR’s Second Bill of Rights.

      So the overt talk today of secession tends to be on the Right and among Libertarians, but it lurks also in some of the clear implications of directions on the left.

      • Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) July 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm | #

        As an erstwhile anarchist myself, I don’t think that left decentralism in general should be associated with secessionism. While there are certainly impulses in that direction, fueled by anti-authoritarianism, among other things, universalism is one of the deepest values permeating the left, and that tends to cut against secessionism.

        Rather, what I got out of reading Mumford as a teenager in the 60s–along with the Nearings and others in that vein–was an orientation toward localism and regionialism which was based on a universalist perspective wedded to a desire for individual and participatory democracy solutions as frontline defaults for how social issues ought to be dealt with. This traces directly back to Thoreau, of course, and thus strongly ties into the Thoreau/Ghandi/Lawson/King lineage of moral vision.

        Of course, the examples you cite are quite real, and there have always been some on the left who do exhibit the logic you speak of. But their ideas do not catch fire the way such ideas so often do on the right because of the universalist component and its integration into a deeper, more complex moral vision, which is ultimately a more powerful force on the left.

      • neffer July 19, 2013 at 2:45 pm | #

        Hi William,

        Thank you for your kind words and interesting comment. I also read your other comment, below.

        I am on the “moderate” Left, not a Conservative or a Republican but, please note, I do not think the Right’s point of view about Obama is a fantasy. I think a reasonable person could look as his administration and think he has placed us on an unsustainable course and believe that his expansion of the welfare state places us on a slippery slope towards Socialism. That, to me, is a reasonable argument with which I disagree.

        I note, having a wife who was a refusenik from the former USSR, that concern about the slippery slope is not mindless. You should spend some serious “quality” time, if you have not, with people who have lived with Socialism. As my wife says, many people, who have not had the misfortune to live with it daily, fail to imagine just how remarkably dehumanizing it is. One can believe, as she does, strongly in helping people and believe that the government should play a role in helping people while still being very suspicious of efforts to bring government further into daily life. As she would say, it is reasonable and, in fact, important to carefully scrutinize and be highly suspicious of anything that is based even in part on Socialist concepts – because the concepts can lead bad places. Now, she still comes down in favor of Obama’s health insurance reforms but notes that it is thoroughly reasonable to see it leading to a loss of freedom.

        Which is to say, one can see Obama’s plans as serious reaches and not moderate at all.

        So far as your comments about the Civil War, I wonder about the preemptive bit. The South worked to preserve the Union. That was a point of, for example, the failed Crittenden Compromise. And, the Republicans were not a sufficiently large group to force abolition on the South, at least at that point. I would say that it was the ideological opposition to slavery which made compromises that had earlier kept the Union together no longer possible. And that, as you remark, was due to a change of attitude in the North. But, I do not really think it was preemptive. It was that the slavery based society of the South was clearly under attack by the anti-slavery abolitionists. Maybe, that is what you are saying, in a round about way. I’m not sure. If not, that is what I am saying, at least.

      • Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) July 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm | #


        Yes, indeed, it is reasonable to think that Obama’s adoption of the Heritage Foundation health care reform proposal of the early 90s sets us on a path to the Gulags. No question at all. It’s perfectly reasonable, in the same sense that it’s reasonable to debate whether Lincoln was the greatest mad dictator of the 19th Century.

    • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg July 22, 2013 at 2:39 am | #

      The war was about slavery, but it wasn’t a war initiated by the north to abolish slavery. It was a war initiated by the south to preserve slavery. Had the southern states pursued purely electoral means of preserving slavery, they would have lost eventually (I should hope), but there would have been no war.

      The “preserving the union” line, then, actually does not even go far enough. It was not even secession which precipitated war, but the attack on Sumter. That was an offense which no government would tolerate regardless of the reason behind it.

      So, while it’s preposterous to suggest the war was unjust on both sides, it still seems to me it’s giving the north too much credit to imply that the south was invaded in order to abolish slavery. The south was invaded in order to get troops to Sumter where the federal government was already under attack. For the north it was a purely defensive war (unique among wars in that supporters of the defending side actually want to portray the war as offensive).

      What if SC had backed down and given back Sumter? Would the north have invaded anyway because they were still practicing slavery? Seems unlikely — in any case, it’s not what happened.

      All that said, it applies only to Lincoln. The motivation of the troops themselves was different and certainly had a lot to do with abolishing slavery — although it still had something to do with defending the union.

      • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg July 22, 2013 at 3:10 am | #

        Also, to put this into perspective, imagine that the (say) Texas state legislature declared it was seceding from the union in order to prevent Obamacare from going into effect.

        In reality, at this point, Obama would probably send in federal troops to keep order. But imagine that, like Lincoln, Obama decided to wait, so that he would not be seen as an aggressor.

        Now imagine that the new President of Texas, elected by elections held by the Texas state legislature, ordered Texas state troopers to take over some federal building. In the process of taking over the federal building, dozens of US federal marshals and other federal employees are killed.

        If Obama responds by sending in the National Guard, the Marines, etc., does this become a war to establish (semi-)socialized healthcare???

      • Benjamin David Steele July 22, 2013 at 9:52 am | #

        “The war was about slavery, but it wasn’t a war initiated by the north to abolish slavery. It was a war initiated by the south to preserve slavery. Had the southern states pursued purely electoral means of preserving slavery, they would have lost eventually (I should hope), but there would have been no war.

        “The “preserving the union” line, then, actually does not even go far enough. It was not even secession which precipitated war, but the attack on Sumter. That was an offense which no government would tolerate regardless of the reason behind it.”

        You explained it well. I’ve pointed this out before. I’m always surprised by how so many people forget that little detail about South Carolina attacking Fort Sumter. I truly doubt that Southern leaders believed the federal government wouldn’t defend one of its military bases. They knew they were starting a war.

        It was their lack of imagination that saw war as inevitable. Or to put it another way, once the people were riled up by political rhetoric, alternative possibilities to war became rather improbable. Nonetheless, alternatives did exist. Secession was more likely to succeed by avoiding war. If the South played their cards right and had not been so hasty, most Americans probably would have accepted secession over war if the South had been united in demanding it.

        “If Obama responds by sending in the National Guard, the Marines, etc., does this become a war to establish (semi-)socialized healthcare???”

        Of course not. Maybe the South could try seceding again, just without the starting a war part. The problem is, if they put it up to a democratic vote, I doubt even a majority of Southerners would want to secede. But there is always a minority who would like to see another Civil War because in their minds it never ended, and so socialized healthcare is seen as just another battle in the war against the federal government.

        • Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) July 22, 2013 at 10:02 am | #

          The South attacked Fort Sumter. Ergo, it was a war of Southern aggression. With a typical bully’s bad conscience, they turned around and called it “The War of Northern Aggression.”

          Everything the say is a lie, often two or three times over.

  4. Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) July 19, 2013 at 10:42 am | #

    It’s certainly true that libertarianism comes out of profound historical ignorance, and this is an excellent example of that. But it also comes out of a profound inability to read, as most libertarians still imagine that Locke is one of their own–rather overlooking the fact that they are reading a Treatise on Civil GOVERNMENT, which is all about rationally justifying what they abhor. The importance of government for securing liberties lies at the very core of Locke’s view, and is echoed in the language of America’s founding. Yet libertarians miss it entirely.

    It almost makes the sociopath-worshiping Randians look good by comparison. Just kidding!

  5. Benjamin David Steele July 19, 2013 at 10:48 am | #

    This post reminded me of another post I came across recently:

    I’ve recently played with the idea that the Civil War at least partly was about a refusal to assimilate.

    One of the most clannish ethnic groups in American history are the Scots-Irish. an ethnic group that expresses its clannishness most strongly in the South where it was concentrated in the rural areas. If not for the Scots-Irish, there would have been no hope of even starting a war much less a hope of winning it. The Scots-Irish have along history of refusing to assimilate into standard Americans. The idea of starting their own country probably appealed to them.

    I think that is the reason for the libertarian impulse in the South. It isn’t a principled position. Rather, it is motivated by a clannish dislike of any authority outside of the clan. If the Confederates had won, then the Scots-Irish clannishness would have been at odds with that new government as well.

    Anyway, hbd chick has written numerous insightful posts about the nature of clannishness, its causes and results. I think she is onto something, although the HBD crowd can way over-emphasize the genetic angle.

  6. William Neil July 19, 2013 at 11:13 am | #

    I am the author of a very recent essay – June 30th – which looks at the reasons the Civil War was fought – what spokesman for each side said about their causes. I have a long quote from James M. McPherson, which I will paste in below, and I also refer to the work of Eric Foner, one of our outstanding historians. McPherson asserts that the war was fought between two very different moral visions of capitalism; I use a review of the movie Gettysburg to dramatize this, and the second part of my essay is a review of Gar Alperovitz’s “What Then Must We Do?” which is also about the moral vision lacking in contemporary capitalism and what we might do about it. The title of my essay is “The HIgh Ground: Gettysburg, 1863, ‘What Then Must We Do?’ 2013. I’ll be happy to send it to readers – I did promise a short time ago a review of his book, just drop me a line at Unfortunately, I lost my free online publishing at – they no longer post unsolicited works – at least not mine.

    Here’s the quote and a little before and after context from my essay:

    Consider now, in all its full resonance and irony for the divided America of 2013, James M. McPherson’s summary of what the two sides were doing all that fighting about from April of 1861 until April of 1865. McPherson is considered the dean of American Civil War historians, with this passage taken from his concluding chapter of perhaps the best one volume history of the war, his 1988 book The Battle Cry of Freedom, from the Epilogue, entitled, suggestively, “To the Shoals of Victory”:

    “Thus when secessionists protested that they were acting to preserve traditional rights and values, they were correct. They fought to protect their constitutional liberties against the perceived northern threat to overthrow them. The South’s concept of republicanism had not changed in the three-quarters of a century; the North’s had. With complete sincerity the South fought to preserve its version of the republic of the founding fathers – a government of limited powers that protected the rights of property and whose constituency comprised an independent gentry and yeomanry of the white race undisturbed by large cities, heartless factories, restless free workers, and class conflict. The accession to power of the Republican Party, with its ideology of competitive, egalitarian, free-labor capitalism, was a signal to the South that the northern majority had turned irrevocably toward this frightening, revolutionary future. Indeed, the Black Republican party appeared to the eyes of many southerners as ‘essentially a revolutionary party’ composed of ‘a motley throng of Sans culottes…Infidels and freelovers, interspersed by Bloomer women, fugitive slaves and amalgamationists.’ Therefore secession was a pre-emptive counterrevolution to prevent the Black Republican revolution from engulfing the South. ‘We are not revolutionists,’ insisted James B. D. DeBow and Jefferson Davis during the Civil War, ‘We are resisting revolution…We are conservatives.’”

    Today, in late June of 2013, both American parties fully embrace “free-labor capitalism,” the Right with Utopian zeal, the Center sharing that zeal in matters of trade and globalization and the military might to back it up, tempered by a slightly more robust “safety net,” but still no tampering with that free-labor market, now a world-wide one embracing billions of new workers. Just as the South imagined full blown nightmares unfolding with the election of the moderate Lincoln, the Right of today conjures radical fantasies up about the moderate centrist Obama, and with, I suspect, even more contemplating Hillary’s 2016 run. While Lincoln was driven by both abolitionists and the events of the war to free the slaves, today there is no political economy equivalent to the abolitionists to drive the current President to rise to the occasion presented by the joint crises of climate and capitalism. And in my reading of Naomi Klein’s essay Capitalism vs. the Climate, I also hear those Antebellum Southern- like fears of threats to property, the current prerogatives of income and power distributions and social control itself in the absolute opposition of the Right to the very notion that growth at all costs economies can alter something as grand as the existing natural order.

  7. Bill Barnes July 19, 2013 at 12:45 pm | #

    Problem is that saying either “slavery was the issue” or “slavery was not really the issue,” whether said from the right or the left, is simplistic and misleading. Slavery, racism, white supremacy were definitely the issue for radical Abolitionists, but not for all abolitionists and certainly not for most of the leaders and member of the Republican Party of the 1850s, including Abraham Lincoln (not to mention the great majority of Northern whites). Read Foner’s The Fiery Trial. Radical Abolitionists forced slavery to the forefront, followed by the impact of 300,000 slaves fleeing the South in 1862-63. The central issue before that was, would the territories and new states comining into the union be slave states or frees states, integrated into the Southern plantation political economy or into the Northern “liberal” capitalist, “free labor” economy? would they elect pro-slavery people to Congress or anti-slavery people to Congress, such that the Federal Government would favor and protect the plantation political economy and its expansion, or rather bottle it up in its existing domain and a slow death, guaranteeing all the new territory and resources of the West to the “free labor” economy and guaranteeing a federal government uninterested in the survival of the plantation economy?

    Around the time Corey was born, Barrington Moore published his Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, whose wonderful Chapter III, “The Americabn Civil War: The Last Capitalist Revolution,” whatever its faults from the point of view of professional American historians of the Civil War era, explained the foregoing in a way which seemed definitive to a generation of graduate students (including me) and which holds up very well today.

    Bill Barnes

    • Benjamin David Steele July 19, 2013 at 12:52 pm | #

      I would put it this way. Slavery was a central issue, but people can argue how central, The most important point is that if not for slavery the Civil War would never have happened. It was the issue at the center of all the central issues. Slavery represented an entire worldview and way of life, an entire economy and social structure. Still, slavery taken in isolation was only one part of a greater whole.

  8. steve white July 19, 2013 at 1:53 pm | #

    What is the current academic view of Carl Sandberg’s work on Lincoln?

  9. neffer July 19, 2013 at 3:39 pm | #

    Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) July 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm #


    Yes, indeed, it is reasonable to think that Obama’s adoption of the Heritage Foundation health care reform proposal of the early 90s sets us on a path to the Gulags. No question at all. It’s perfectly reasonable, in the same sense that it’s reasonable to debate whether Lincoln was the greatest mad dictator of the 19th Century.

    And, your point is what? A Conservative could propose something which is Socialist in the name of Conservatism. Some Conservatives – and, to note, I am not a Conservative but am merely noting their viewpoint – are not doctrinaire about Socialism. Others are. Those, most especially refugees from the former USSR, are more suspicious than most people, for the rather good reason that they saw a Socialism that was inhumane, intolerant and dehumanizing. Hence, they worry about anything that adopts or even, as the Heritage Foundation plan embraces, hints at it. Where is your imagination? Do you have any experience with people who see the world from perspectives other than your own? From what you have written, I doubt it. Otherwise, you cannot imagine how seriously people take Socialism as an evil and want nothing to do with it.

    I went on a tour of a Kibbutz. A tour woman from the Kibbutz explained the theory of the Kibbutz. My wife and the few other refusniks on the tour were all visibly shaken by the experience. And, that was of a voluntary socialism. My wife said to the tour woman, “How could you volunteer to live as a slave?” So, this is a real phenomena born of actual life experience.

    Now, the Right in the US is not from the USSR. However, many of them share that aversion to anything Socialist. It is not irrational. And, making fun of what other people think is not reasonable. Rather, you should be attempting to understand their concerns, at the very least.

    • Benjamin David Steele July 19, 2013 at 6:01 pm | #

      The main problem is few people even know what socialism is.

      The anarcho-syndicalism of the East Wind Community is socialism. The federation of workers cooperatives of Mondragon Corporation is socialism. The municipal socialism that governed Milwaukee for more than a half century was socialism. All these were voluntary socialism and all have been successful. Socialist Milwaukee at the time was considered one of the best run cities in the country.

      Most responses to socialism are kneejerk reactions either to communist statism or to Cold War propaganda, but not to socialism as most socialists today promote and practice it. Being against socialism because of communist statism is the same as being against capitalism because of fascist statism. There are both right-wingers and left-wingers who like to make straw man arguments against their opponents, but it isn’t conducive to fair and reasonable discussion.

      It isn’t even about being rational. You first have to be informed before rationality can usefully be applied.

      • Benjamin David Steele July 19, 2013 at 6:47 pm | #

        I should also add the North Dakota state-owned bank. Also, there are numerous farmer cooperatives. Many granaries, for example, are cooperatively owned by local farmers. There are also food coops all across the US.

        There are so many types and examples of voluntary socialism than I could barely name a small fraction of them. Socialism is everywhere: public schools, highways, emergency services, etc. In democratic countries, all of that is voluntary. We could vote to close down or privatize all the public schools, infrastructure, and services.

        There is nothing, not even the government itself, that couldn’t be run privately and for profit. The problem is that no one has figured out how to run a democracy privately and for profit (i.e., without any socialism).

        • Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) July 19, 2013 at 6:57 pm | #

          Don’t forget the Green Bay Packers!

      • neffer July 19, 2013 at 7:23 pm | #

        I would think that a person raised in the USSR knows a lot about what Socialism is. Perhaps, a great deal more about it than someone raised in the US. Don’t you think that is possible?

      • Benjamin David Steele July 19, 2013 at 7:31 pm | #

        “I would think that a person raised in the USSR knows a lot about what Socialism is. Perhaps, a great deal more about it than someone raised in the US. Don’t you think that is possible?”

        USSR was communist statism. Someone who knows about communist statism wouldn’t necessarily know about much about democratic socialism. Democratic socialism was more likely to be found in Cold War US than in the USSR.

        Your argument is like saying someone who lived in fascist Italy would know more about free market capitalism than someone who lived in democratic US Or it would be like saying someone who lived in theocratic Saudi Arabia would know more about religious freedom because they personally know about a religious society.

        All that a person living in the communist statism of the USSR personally knows is the communist statism of the USSR. They wouldn’t even know about the communist statism of China, much less about the democratic socialism of the Milwaukee or Mondragon.

    • Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) July 19, 2013 at 6:04 pm | #

      neffer: “Now, the Right in the US is not from the USSR. However, many of them share that aversion to anything Socialist.” Such as farm subsidies, Social Security, Medicare.. Oh, wait… there’s actually DECADES of polling data to the contrary!

      • neffer July 19, 2013 at 7:24 pm | #

        Well, there is a lot of objection from some elements on the Right in the US to each item you mention. And, there are elements on the Right who accept these things. So, I really do not see you point.

        Do you actually have a point? Or, are you just being contrary for the fun of it?

        • Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) July 19, 2013 at 9:04 pm | #

          neffer: “there is a lot of objection from some elements on the Right in the US to each item you mention.”

          Reality: (Quoting myself here, but you can run the numbers yourself): “since 1984, the General Social Survey has asked Americans 18 times whether our spending on Social Security and health care is ‘too much’, ‘too little’ or ‘about right’. Among self-identified conservative Republicans, just 3.4 per cent think we are spending ‘too much’ on both.”

          neffer: “Do you actually have a point? Or, are you just being contrary for the fun of it?”

          Funny, I was just about to ask you the same question!

      • jonst July 20, 2013 at 4:18 pm | #

        Hey Paul…why stop with the Packers? By the way…did you see the record profits they posted? And they are the smallest marketing area in the NFL. So, look how the NFL has artificially capped salaries. Combined with record profits? And life sweet–for the owners–in the Socialist Republic of the NFL.

        And who in the media is talking about it? Other than the veterans who can’t find work. Ah well…

    • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg July 22, 2013 at 3:24 am | #

      Half of my family came here from the former USSR. I can attest that the people of the former USSR do not know what socialism is. They are, as a people, woefully ignorant of political ideas — cynical about all political ideas, even. USSR brainwashing about “grandfather Lenin” did not properly inform anyone about socialism; nor did experience in the USSR.

      The idea that “socialized” medicine is some kind of slippery slope that leads to the USSR is, in any case, insane. There is not even a need to explain why. European history clearly demonstrates otherwise (also: Canada, Australia).

      The USSR’s problems resulted from its dictatorial power structure, not from the idea of removing healthcare from the realm of economic competition. Both left- and right-wing dictatorships have the same kind of problems.

      • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg July 22, 2013 at 3:27 am | #

        In case it’s not clear — “socialized” medicine also does not necessarily lead to socialism. Certainly, in the USA, that progression is wildly implausible.

      • Benjamin David Steele July 22, 2013 at 9:27 am | #

        ““socialized” medicine also does not necessarily lead to socialism”

        I would put it this way. If socialism is to be defined as a collectivization of the means of production (public ownership in a democracy), then socialized medicine or any other aspect of social democracy is already socialist. It is a collectivizing of the means of production for medicine or some other aspect of the economy. Public schools and roads could be privately run for profit and indeed there already are private schools and toll roads.

        However, socializing the means of production for some public good doesn’t necessitate or make inevitable the socializing of the entire economy. An authoritarian state (left-wing or right-wing) usually seeks as much control as it can get, but in a social democracy (such as existed in Milwaukee) the purpose is to keep the control tilted toward the citizenry. An authoritarian communist state like the USSR does seek control. It just isn’t offering a social democratic collectivizing of anything. Socializing can mean either centralizing power or democratizing power and there is a vast gulf between the two.

        In a social democracy or in municipal socialism, the ideal is to never let private benefit negate, undermine, weaken or destroy public good. At the same time, there is no reason to attack private benefit if there is no conflict with public good. In Milwaukee, the municipal socialists did get rid of corruption in their city, including among businesses, but they didn’t seek to end the free market. What they did was to empower local businesses which helped to democratize the economy. Under this kind of socialism, local businesses and the local economy actually flourished. Municipal socialists were simply focused on the public good which is why they were dismissively called sewer socialists, and indeed they had the best run sewer system in the country which decreased illnesses.

        “Certainly, in the USA, that progression is wildly implausible.”

        The strongest example of socialism in the USA is that of the Milwaukee sewer socialists. It obviously didn’t lead to USSR-style authoritarian communism. Democracy can lead to many types of governments, but in and of itself it can’t lead to authoritarian anything.

        The problem we have in the US is that most of the founding fathers never wanted democracy or even understood what is democracy. They wanted a plutocracy of an enlightened political elite, but the American public decided that we didn’t want to be ruled by a plutocracy and so we replaced it with democracy. We are still struggling just to have basic democracy in this country. If anything, it will be the opponents of democracy that will lead us to authoritarianism. And to be clear, the opponents of democracy tend to not like social democracy in all of its forms, including socialized healthcare.

        • Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) July 22, 2013 at 9:58 am | #

          Socialized fire departments will be the death of us all!

          Sinister “volunteer” fire departments make it impossible for hardworking private equity firms to dominate the fire protection market with freedoms like they should!

          Is their no justice for the would-be Mitt Romney of fire? Without justice for him, there is no justice for any of us! FREEDOM!!!!!

        • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg July 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm | #

          But socialism is _not_ merely “collectivization of the means of [this or that form of] production.” Rather, it is the theory that private ownership of the means of production is illegitimate, and must be abolished. It makes absolutely no difference whether this or that thing is collectively owned or managed (government itself implies collective management of at least some things). A government that is firmly (indeed, overwhelmingly) supportive of private ownership of capital is simply not socialist, no matter who pays for healthcare.

          • Paul Rosenberg July 22, 2013 at 3:12 pm | #

            You’re quite right to point out what socialist ideology actually is.

            Mostly, when folks refer to socialism in the US, it’s social democracy they really mean–socialistic functions within an overall capitalistic framework, mediated by democratic governance that varies considerably in the degree to which it represents countervailing forces or simply a more convenient way for capitalist forces to manage their affairs.

            Stii because anti-socialist ideology is so rigid and extreme, it is valuable simply to point to the widespread commonality of social democratic (“socialist”) structures throughout our culture and daily lives.

      • Benjamin David Steele July 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm | #

        “But socialism is _not_ merely “collectivization of the means of [this or that form of] production.” Rather, it is the theory that private ownership of the means of production is illegitimate, and must be abolished. It makes absolutely no difference whether this or that thing is collectively owned or managed (government itself implies collective management of at least some things). A government that is firmly (indeed, overwhelmingly) supportive of private ownership of capital is simply not socialist, no matter who pays for healthcare.”

        That is incorrect in that is a definition of only one category of socialism.

        There are also anarchistic, non-governmental forms of socialism. It depends if you are defining socialism according to the mainstream that tends to be less friendly to socialism or if you are defining socialism according to the views of actual practicing socialists. I prefer the latter because the former is the same as using the term ‘capitalism’ as defined by anti-capitalists, and so it wouldn’t lead to useful discussion.

        There are many kinds of socialists in the real world as there are many kinds of free markets. There are even proponents of socialist free markets.

        • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg July 22, 2013 at 10:43 pm | #

          I don’t believe my definition excluded anarchist socialism, actually. Anyway, I’m sure there are better ways to define socialism; my point is just that merely implementing a publicly-funded social service is far from inherently anti-capitalist. And anti-capitalism itself is far from implying USSR-style authoritarianism. The neffers of the world erase such distinctions in a most dishonest fashion, purely to manufacture an easier target to attack.

      • Benjamin David Steele July 23, 2013 at 10:04 am | #

        @Blinkenlights der Gutenberg – “I don’t believe my definition excluded anarchist socialism, actually.”

        My bad. Sorry for misunderstanding you.

        “Anyway, I’m sure there are better ways to define socialism;”

        Yeah, I’m not much of a defender of a particular ideological definition of socialism. I’ve never been drawn to the worldview of the ideologues, especially not the ideological purist. I’ve found reality tends to be more complex than any ideology I’ve yet seen.

        “my point is just that merely implementing a publicly-funded social service is far from inherently anti-capitalist. And anti-capitalism itself is far from implying USSR-style authoritarianism.”

        Yep, it’s like what I was saying in one of my comments. This kind of illogic can be applied to anything. If anti-capitalism leads to USSR-style authoritarianism, then anti-socialism leads to Mussolini style fascism and anti-atheism leads to Saudi Arabia-style theocracy and anti-multiculturalism leads to North korean-style insular ethnic nationalism.

        “The neffers of the world erase such distinctions in a most dishonest fashion, purely to manufacture an easier target to attack.”

        I’m never sure about people like neffer. He seems intelligent. It is hard for me to imagine he doesn’t understand such distinctions. The question is why does he pretend to not understand. It could be dishonesty or maybe just lazy thinking. Either way, it is unacceptable.

  10. William Neil July 19, 2013 at 6:46 pm | #

    To Paul, Benjamin and Neffer:

    Well, here goes my attempt to walk across the minefields laid between categories and positions on the political spectrum, taken from the essay I referenced above; this is from Part II, my review of Gar Alperovitz’s “What Then Must We Do?” You can find about 70% of the full review at Amazon…I gave him Four Stars and a lot of questions. Please note that the following speaks of ideology and the emergence of the Republican Party in Antebellum America; I also address the distinctions between Social Democracy and full blown socialism, and the varieties of the former, comparing the mild US to the more full bodied version in Great Britain before the emergence of Thatcherism.

    “The good professor has written a low key but yet very direct book about some highly charged matters, about what, in my opinion, constitutes the “high ground” of strategy and tactics for the American left, to deal with the great economic and political problems that so bedevil us. I strongly suspect that he might object, after my Gettysburg writing above, to this characterization of searching for the high ground, with its implication of and historical connection to the idea of seizing the “commanding heights” of the state, the traditional goal of not only democratic left politics but more broadly of any serious party in a democratic state. Indeed, he leans towards a long term strategy of bottom up organizing, of new institution building (picking up on a theme of Michael Kazin’s 2011 book American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation) and away from grand national economic strategies of ever higher GDP. Therefore Keynes doesn’t appear in the Index – but Louis Kelso does. He would indeed say to Kevin Phillips and his Arrogant Capital that the traditional remedies of American reform politics, the rectifying small revolutions ushered in by the “watershed” elections of 1800, 1828, 1860, 1896 and 1932, are no longer likely, or even possible: the dramatic maldistribution of wealth and income has led, as many observers said it must, to the comparable maldistribution of power within politics, making a mockery of the always fraught terms which stand for “the truly fundamental American values – equality, liberty, and democracy.” To more fully understand what he is up to in this book, we must also add the values of “community,” “decentralized scale” and “ecological sustainability.”

    Yet for the long distance runner nature of his strategy, and his non-confrontational style – he claims endorsements from the Right for employee owned businesses and co-operatives – endorsements including a direct quote from Ronald Reagan in 1987 – Alperovitz is nonetheless treading on mine strewn ideological ground which goes by several other names, one which he uses, economic democracy, which had a revival in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, and another which is a bit broader, but which he steers away from – Social Democracy – grounds which the American Right has turned into a political “killing field.” When the Right rolls up the heavy ideological artillery against even an imagined left of today, the chest thumping begins with America as the bastion of “free-market capitalism” which sets itself apart, in heroic and very self-conscious terms, as not needing, or wanting, any stinkin’ European style – Scandinavians included – “socialism,” which in turn has become the blur-it-all label to obliterate distinctions between different types of Social Democracy – a term which also does not appear in the Index.

    Since in my previous writings I have deliberately classified myself as a Social Democrat, I’m quite curious about the way and the why’s of Alperovitz steering around it. After all, Social Democracy has its roots in the late nineteenth century left reform traditions, as the middle ground between revolutionary socialism of the eventual Bolshevik type and the middle class-upper class dominated liberal to conservative parties in power in England and Germany. It is not a precise term, for there were a wide range of styles and mixes between the mild American Progressive/New Deal version and what the Labor Party in Britain came to stand for between the end of World War II, when Churchill was turned out of office (what were they fighting for, not just against?) and the rise of Margaret Thatcher in the late 1970’s. It is the yawning ideological vacuum that now exists on the left, post 2008-2009, which has prompted financial writer Michael Lewis to ask, in a recent book review about the Great Britain of today: what will emerge to fill it? Well, Gar Alperovitz is proposing sweeping changes at the very core – and nature – of modern capitalism – who will own the economic means of production and how it will be governed – for once, democratically he proposes – yet all this will be done steadily, quietly, drawing on what he says are long-standing American traditions. Interestingly enough, just as in William Greider’s Come Home America, the powerful force of the Republican Right (and the business Right) does not come in for much, if any discussion, either as to where it wants to go – back to the 1840’s or 1880’s – or how it might react, taking into consideration it is “well armed” (in many senses of the term, money and ideology especially…) and considers Democratic centrist President Obama to be an out-and-out “socialist.” No wonder the good Professor wants a quiet transformation.
    But when he evades the “Social Democratic” label – but characterizes what he is advocating as “evolutionary reconstruction” by “checkerboard strategies” and states it the following way in his important chapter entitled “The Emerging Historical Context,” I sit up and take notice, and prepare for a closer look:

    ‘There are steadily building local changes, mostly developing out of stalemate, economic difficulties, pain and frustration. These include cooperatives, worker-owned firms, land trusts, social enterprises, new forms of agriculture, B corporations, and many, many other evolving efforts in communities across the nation. I have termed change of this kind evolutionary reconstruction to distinguish it from reform, on the one hand, and revolution on the other. To recall: Traditional reform assumes that the ownership of wealth will remain largely in corporate hands and relies on policy to regulate and alter the impact of corporate behavior. Revolution commonly assumes a crisis collapse and a (usually violent) takeover of corporate institutions, democratizing their ownership through radical and abrupt shifts in power. Evolutionary reconstruction also democratizes ownership, but in an evolving, institution-developing way.’

    So this leads me to several basic questions about what is sketched out for us as tactics and strategies (and institution building) on the way to “the next American revolution” from where we stand in stalemate today: do the indigenous and very American forms of employee ownership and co-operatives, including municipal owned utilities and even a state owned bank(s), constitute enough of a model and precedent to challenge, even slowly over time, the dominant mode of what Larry Kudlow loudly proclaims: that “free-market capitalism is the best path to prosperity.” (And is Robert Reich still regurgitating that line as the price to get interviewed?) Is there enough critical mass in the newer emergent forms to make what is happening in the city of Cleveland and the state of Ohio a successful “community” focused model of economic “development” very different in both its methods and goals from the present “system?” Have these models moved to the point where they have – or should they if they have not – developed a form of ideological cohesiveness (on the way to ideological assertiveness) – in the way say Lincoln and the Republicans emerged from the Free Soil Party and the Whigs (and Abolitionist pressure) to become the “free labor party” in the 1850’s? I rather suspect that the Professor would not be in favor of the last item here, no matter how gently phrased and placed in the best possible framework of an indigenous American “ideology,” but it nonetheless bears upon the question of the level of political and economic self-consciousness of the key human actors themselves and how they interact with the dominant Center-Right consensus all around them, that of neoliberalism, the shareholders’ uber alles mode of production and power.”

    • Benjamin David Steele July 19, 2013 at 7:06 pm | #

      There is a thin line between social democracy and democratic socialism. I would go so far as to say the former tends toward the latter over time.

      The US wasn’t always a social democracy or even much of a democracy in its early decades. Only with the Jacksonian era did democracy begin to emerge on the national stage, although democracy had existed long before that at the local level such in places like New England town hall meetings.

      However, once democracy took hold nationally, social democracy quickly began to take hold over the 19th century. It was the groundwork of social democracy that set prepared the way for the progressivism on the federal level and the municipal socialism on the local level. Once democracy begins, it is hard to stop the inevitable direction it takes. The only way to stop it is to entirely undermine or even destroy democracy. That is what has happened with the US as we’ve increasingly become a banana republic.

      Most Americans, however, like democracy. And most Americans are becoming more liberal and even leftist over time.

      I don’t know what all this means or where it is heading. I’m not an ideologue and so I don’t even have any clear opinions about socialism.

      All I can say is that I like experimentation because we are at a point where the old system has become dysfunctional and unsustainable, assuming it ever was all that functional and sustainable. I’m for all kinds of experimentation, even that of libertarians and anarcho-capitalists. If you have a belief system, I say try it out and see if it works and if people like how it works.

      It seems pointless about arguing about the past. Yes, nearly everyone hates communist statism and fascist statism. Neither of those are what most people are proposing when they speak of socialism and capitalism. Straw man arguments are pointless. We need to mature as a society and begin to have adult discussions about the serious possibilities before us.

      • William Neil July 19, 2013 at 8:04 pm | #

        You can argue that the outlines for some of the programs of US “social democracy” were contained in the Agrarian revolt of the 1890’s and various experiments in mostly urban progressivism 1900-1914, but it did not take serious institutional form until the New Deal.

        The past does not have all the answers, but it certainly can supply some clarifications and directions. But what does it tell you about today when FDR is considered, very wrongly a socialist, the New Deal is not seen as a model for the current President, and a professor proclaims Reagan endorsed co-operatives and employee owned businesses? I don’t dispute the fact that he might have done that, but who would maintain that that statement was what his economy was all about? Historians dispute the relevance of FDR’s “Second Bill of Rights,” but it had more grounding in what FDR and the New Deal actually accomplished, and as a statement of future goals, than such assertions (by Professor Alperovitz) about conservative support for some of his directions.

        Let me something additionally inflammatory about the relevance of the past, and not about its “pointlessness.” Go back and read Gordon Wood on our Founders and their love affair with Rome; then go and read some Roman history, say by Michael Grant. I never heard of the Gracchi revolt from reading about our founders and their Romans, or that before that revolt, the plebeians actually physically withdraw from the city over their debtor status (fiscally as well) and lack of land (this was early 5th century). The Republic broke down not in the more famous time of Caesar crossing the Rubicon, but when the Senatorial land barons refused to accept both the form and the substance of the Gracchi proposals: elite led mobs murdered both of the brothers…and many others. I had to laugh upon rereading Richard Hofstadter’s “The American Political Tradition,” because there he was reminding us that Teddy Roosevelt never took his Harvard assignment on the Gracchi revolt seriously, went off and wrote about naval battles.

        So I take what the Republican Right and the Tea Party tell us about our founders and their love affair with republicanism inspired by Rome with a huge grain of salt. And M.I. Finley tells a similar tale of elite directed violence in the overthrow of Athenian democracy in the 411 BC “coup.” (“Democracy: Ancient and Modern”).

        My way of saying that I sought – and found – some clarifications of contemporary ancestor worship in even a basic review of Roman and Greek History (and a pretty good understanding of what the Catos stood for and how appropriately named the present day conservative/libertarian think tank is for the ultimate cultural reactionary.

        But I digress; my apologies.

      • Benjamin David Steele July 19, 2013 at 8:48 pm | #

        Interesting points, all. I get tired of the ideological talk on all sides, although it has been worse on the right. The Cold War humbled the American left, but the right just got more arrogant.

        I wouldn’t say the past doesn’t matter. It’s just there is a certain person stuck in their own story about the past. Even the past is more complex than the ideologues want to make it. The present and the future are more complex still.

        If I must give allegiance to an ideology, give me democracy wherever it may lead. If we as a society took democracy seriously, there would be a revolution over night.

    • neffer July 19, 2013 at 7:47 pm | #

      Well, I am not quite sure where you are going here. I think there are multiple views among the public of which way the country should go. Rather brilliant writers on both sides of the divide see only idiocy on the other side. Which is to say, I rather think there is rather little listening occurring.

      Those who see only fantasy on the Right are not listening carefully. The same for those who see only insanity on the Left. That’s my view.

      I come from a rather liberal family. It was, for me, a revelation to meet an entire group of well educated people who thought the Left in the US and Liberals to be literally, to use Russian Jewish parlance, “Stupid” and “Dangerous.” As I note, such people were not brought up in the American tradition. But, that does not mean they lack a valuable perspective.

      They see the distinction drawn between democratic socialism and socialism to be specious – a false veneer of respectability placed over a monstrous ideology and monstrous outcomes. And, they can go through its beliefs, understanding them well. Their perspective is not mine but my experience with such people has led me to believe that they are certainly not crazy or fantasizing. So, if that is the case for such people, I do not see why it should be any different for Americans with whom I disagree.

      Do the distinctions drawn here really exist? Is there social democracy or is it, as refusenik’s typically assert, an on the way station on the journey to dictatorial versions of Socialiam. Is it, as they would argue, the road to tyranny and, on their view, to mediocrity and destruction of society? That, after all, in a nutshell, is what the libertarian Right asserts?

      I have no answer for these things. I do note, ala what Walter Russell Mead argues, that liberalism has clearly hit a wall, with results such as what we see in Detroit (on his telling). It is no longer the ideology of the working class in the US, as a great many of them, who can hardly pay their own bills, resenting being asked to pay for programs they think they get nothing from. And, as argued by Charles Murray in his rather interesting book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, society has not just become more unequal but we have reached the stage where the rich rulers of the country, on both the right and the left, have not the slightest understanding of the life of the rest of society, with trends in the lower part of the society being terribly self-destructive but with neither the left nor the right proposing a program even directed to the problems perceived from the underclass.

      I might note, I do not agree with Murray’s libertarianism. But one does not need to be a libertarian to see that his book has shown just how far our country has fallen, with the rulers of the country entirely disconnected from reality and with the same thing being so among the intelligentsia, as his research makes rather plain.

      • William Neil July 19, 2013 at 9:34 pm | #


        I wish I would have this type of luck in playing the lottery – just kidding, I can’t afford it. But I just happened to write a very polemical, aggressive “one star” (the worst) review of Murray’s book that you are writing about. It was the first time a reviewed a book clearly on the Right, and his supporters really threw it back at me. Fair enough. It’s getting late, and I’m tired, just I’ll just provide the link, but I attack his whole notion of causality in matters social and economic, especially about the working class, who did themselves in, if I read him correctly, by their loss of “character.” The good guys and women – the upper middle class Belmontians (MA that is) kept their good character – and the Founding Fathers would approve! Simple as that.

        Here’s the link:

  11. neffer July 20, 2013 at 12:00 am | #

    William Neil July 19, 2013 at 9:34 pm #,

    I read Murray’s book differently than you. I was not much interested in whether his causality is correct. I was interested in the data he presented. The data, of itself, he uncovers are damning to the last 40 years of government policy, whether or not, as you have it, his specific focus is spot on or not and whether his “solution” is reasonable or not.

    I read his book as saying, there is a deep divide in our country, to the extent that one part of society knows essentially nothing about the other part and makes policy which has essentially nothing to do with the troubles facing the other part of society. I think that part of his book is beyond reproach. I think it is valuable to know just how segregated, by class, our society has become and how that is dramatically different from what was the case 60 years ago. I think it is also valuable to note the differences in lifestyle of the classes – again, something quite different than what existed 60 years ago. Knowing that poor people are segregated to their own zip codes, so to speak, which is something not quite the same as what existed 60 years ago, is important. It well explains why politicians claim to speak for the working class yet, if you know any working class people, they find the prescriptions unrelated to their problems.

    As for the issues he focuses on as deteriorating, lack of work habits, lack of family structure for raising children, single bread earning families, different social interests, etc., – I am not quite sure how one can discount those aspects of our country’s ills. I do not see those issues as Left/Right divides, although Leftists tend to emphasize societal and class structures more than the Right – but certainly not discounting the importance of family level factors by Murray. They are the stuff that has been the subject of social science, from both the Left and Right, since social science began. They are not the whole story and he may overemphasize such points but to exclude them as factors, it seems to me, is to adapt a rather kinematic, rather than causal, explanation of society’s woes.

    Many things necessary to leading a good life – in the Aristotelian sense of that phrase – require the acquisition of good habits. And, good government policy certainly has to be part of the mix, supporting good life habits. But, so do the the structures people adapt in their lives. And, structures need, I think, to be fair and need to be sustainable. So, I do not quite see your point.

    • William Neil July 20, 2013 at 10:11 am | #

      Murray’s book is a strange one, very strange to me, especially when he ends up advocating a minimum standard of living payment because the thrust of his “causality” arguments about why the working class declined and the upper middle class thrived was placed upon the character, or morality, if you will, of each – and Americans “the hard working middle class” are very disinclined to send money to those they view as having inferior character traits. Although he is a statistical guy, as you point out, his deeper arguments contrasting Belmont and Fishtown, classes at opposite ends of the economic spectrum really illustrate the enormous differences between left and right over the most profound subjects: what causes historical change, and do vast changes, like the deindustrialization of Philadelphia (jaw dropping changes in the number of industrial jobs over the period he is writing about) and the decline of the Catholic Church affect different classes differently. He himself placed the emphasis upon the institutions of the Church in his exposition of Fishtown’s decline, but he never mentioned what Gary Wills wrote about in “Bare Ruined Choirs”: the impacts upon the church of secularization, scientific inventions (esp. the pill) and the sexual revolution, which were unfolding at the same time as the deindustrialization of the older manufacturing cities, like Philadelphia was taking place. I made the point that if a wealthy and ancient institution like the Catholic Church, which, for purposes of argument, stood upon bedrock principles of morality (maybe not quite those of the “founders” but close enough) suffered such terrible losses of its clergy, priests and nuns, and loss of the middle class to the suburbs – in short, was suffering at the hands of modern economic and cultural change (its hard to separate the two – but not for Murray) – “modernity” – then why should we be surprised if a segment of society which was in part so “dependent” on this ancient institution – also did poorly? And is it any surprise that the class from which many of these changes emanate and are directed, did so much better – (and a class which was, in my opinion, quite freed from the religious world view of the working class…)?

      In many ways, the structure of Murray’s argument – setting aside the whole issue of his handling of statistics which has been the source itself alone of enormous controversy – recalls for me the great divide initiated in part by Machiavelli, between religious and secular explanations for historical change, explored so wonderfully – and with great difficulty for the reader – by JGA Pocock’s “The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition.”

      We stare, we Americans, across this great chasm on the causes of changes in our society, the Religious Right placing great emphasis on the ability of good personal character to weather all changes, changes which in reality are generated by capitalism itself, which demands invention, change and technological dominance at an ever accelerating rate – and the Right pretends as if nothing has changed in the way the world works, and character is formed, since the Middle Ages, or, to be more accurate, since Luther, or the Great Awakenings…and the revival of the religious Right in the 1970’s.

      We stare, we stare at each other across this great divide, and that is why I wrote about Gettysburg this June. We underestimate the gulfs at our great peril.

      • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg July 22, 2013 at 3:37 am | #

        Well, it shouldn’t be a mystery. He advocates abolishing social security, medicaid, SNAP, TANF, etc., in order to pay for the basic income. Thus, he’s actually advocating a substantial redistribution _away_ from the poor, _to_ the wealthy. Plus, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if some of those latter programs were abolished before the basic income gets passed. Just keep in mind that the basic income is coming some day, while you vote away those food stamps. (The USA did not wait for Friedman’s negative income tax to pass the rest of his program.)

        In particular, his basic income does not provide any extra income per child. It’s his way of starving the poor out of existence. Those without the good character to afford to feed their children will simply see them die off — and bad character will die off with them. That should solve the problem!

      • neffer July 22, 2013 at 11:13 am | #

        I did not read Murray’s book for his solutions. I am not a libertarian but, nonetheless, his book provides valuable insight.

        For those of us who are (a) not Conservatives and (b) not Libertarians, questions still need to be directed at why things have gone wrong. It is the Left which, as I see, is in deep crisis and denial. What else explains borrowing so much from reactionary sources (e.g. Carl Schmidt). It is the Left which has seen tyrannies of the worst sort set up under the banner of the Left, which has seen even democratic countries that have embraced social democracy run up against unsolvable problems which are essentially wished out of existence or blamed on everything except perfectly predictable problems inherent in the programs (which is why the enemies of these programs predicted the problems that arose without much difficulty), etc., etc.

        So, Murray’s book is, in showing just how divided the country has become and how those of the hard social classes that have been created, live in essentially different countries to the extent that they know nothing of each other. And, government policy is like scientists doing experiments on rats, predicting this or that outcome but not having the basic understanding of what their lab rats are really thinking. It is rather sad, I think.

        • Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) July 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm | #

          The intellectual contortions to make Murray seem like some sort of moral hero are most amusing, really. But if you have to read him to get the news about extreme social stratification, then I pity you–if not for your ignorance of left/liberal writers in 1980s, then at least for missing out on their fictional counterparts, the cyberpunks.

          Perhaps Murray can explain Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, too?

  12. Mitchell Freedman July 20, 2013 at 12:34 pm | #

    David Potter is a historian of the Antebellum and immediate causes of the Civil War who should be read and re-read: his book on Lincoln, the Republican Party and the secession crisis is a must read as he shows clearly how Lincoln understood the South would in fact filibuster to take over Cuba, Mexico or other places south of the borders and Gulf of Mexico to create more slave states, and that is why he opposed the Crittenden Compromise. Potter’s “The Impending Crisis” released after Potter’s untimely death in 1971, shows that the tariff issue and other economic fights were stand ins for the largest issue, which was slavery. Funny thing: Potter saw himself in his lifetime as a conservative. He would be tarred and feathered by conservatives today, and frankly, having read some other of his works, he was simply someone who wondered if the New Deal was the final answer, and in the last decade of his life, found the student leftist leaders and anarchist leaders to be lacking in decorum. It would be like calling Daniel Bell “conservative” one supposes.

  13. ramendik July 22, 2013 at 10:04 am | #

    Thanks, great post!

    And something to add to that. There is a common myth that the 14th Amendment created a federal citizenship, distinct from state citizenship, and thus vastly increased the power of the Federal government.

    Except it didn’t. The Dred Scott case did. The amendment explicitly overturned Dred Scott, which claimed that there is such a thing as US citizenship and it can not be held by black people even if citizens of a state.

  14. neffer July 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm | #

    Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) July 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    The intellectual contortions to make Murray seem like some sort of moral hero are most amusing, really. But if you have to read him to get the news about extreme social stratification, then I pity you–if not for your ignorance of left/liberal writers in 1980s, then at least for missing out on their fictional counterparts, the cyberpunks.

    Perhaps Murray can explain Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, too?

    That there is a social divide? Yes, we all know that. But, the extent of the divide and the interests of people on the other side of the divide? No. I learned a lot about such things from the book. That people are more segregated, geographically, now than in the past? No. I did not know that (other than rather generally) although it does jive, thinking back, to when I was young. That the various vices of society are not evenly divided? I certainly knew that. The degree to which the vices of society are not evenly divided? I did not know the degree.

    That the underclass has vices in great numbers it did not have in great numbers, say, 60 years ago? Well, I did not know, for example, the degree to which basic job skill issues now plague the underclasses. The information provided on that issue is, I think, rather important and interesting.

    Murray’s contention is that, however good or bad a program may be at helping people get jobs, if the basic skill necessary to hold a job do not exist – as in, for example, there are large groups of people who act as if they do not understand the need to show up for work when they have a job -, such people will not keep any jobs they get. And, as he notes, holding jobs is, for such people, very much a from time to time thing because of the lack of job skills and the ability to survive at the same life style notwithstanding the lack of a job. Well, that calls for some thinking, I think. I, for one, think that the lack of a job should not be a death sentence. But, the fact that people contribute to their lacking a job, which receives positive reenforcement from the government, is a fact that is important. I am well aware that Conservatives have screamed such things, regardless of facts, for decades. But, we have some hard evidence of a large “counter-culture” of sorts, where very large numbers of people have become effectively unemployable.

    If we cannot deal with such a basic point (i.e., that it is crisis to have tens of millions of people who, even if they are given a job, cannot hold a job), we are leaving the field to those with different agendas than to help people.

    • Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) July 22, 2013 at 1:04 pm | #

      Aside from being a racist, Murray is a fanatical reductionist & over-simplifier. The fact that you think this profound speaks volumes.

      The 19th-Century work ethic is obsolete, because 19th-Century work is obsolete. It’s a global socio-economic phenomenon, not an individual moral failing of the lower orders.

      • William Neil July 22, 2013 at 1:26 pm | #

        Tell him Paul. Having grown up between the ruins of Trenton, Newark, Camden and Philadelphia, and having read Gary Wills about the decline of the Catholic Church, I could not let Murray’s handling of “Fishtown” in Philadelphia just dismiss so much obvious history staring at him.

        I don’t want to dismiss “character” and personal morality out of hand – how can anyone do that in our culture? There was a chance in the late 1960’s and even into the 1970’s, for a truly grand bargain between the left and right on deindustrialization and the problem of the urban ghetto. The Right would get their “tough love,” “law and order,” no pissing in public/fix every broken window, and in return, there would be an industrial policy and commitment to full employment, with updated New Deal means employed: the CCC, the WPA…along with the jobs came an obligation to update work skills…but this never came up in any coherent form on the public policy table. Instead, we got the full meaning of “Hellfire Nation” – when things go wrong, who do you blame, the economic system or the failing individual? And who could overlook the bitterness, the bittersweet quality to the American Dream; many blue collar workers, struggling though decently paid at that time on the assembly lines of the era…were in the frontlines of inner urban real estate value warfare – and crime. The thought of how hard they and their parents worked to get what little they had – made it easy for Wallace and then Nixon and the GOP to harvest what fruits they could from the bitterness.

        Of course we blame the individual, and our racial politics make that even more explosive. In that worldview, there is no such thing as a morality of institutions, which can decay over time…just like individuals can…In the Right’s worldview, there is no such thing as a capitalism that can go bad, just individuals’ reactions to the changes it dishes out. The Republican’s official explanation for the financial crisis – contained at the end of Commission Inquiry Report, is a perfect example of this. Can anyone bridge these gaps in worldviews?

        • Paul Rosenberg (@PaulHRosenberg) July 22, 2013 at 1:47 pm | #

          Well-intended, William, but the right has no interest in a grand bargain, other than to sucker-punch the likes of clueless centrists like Obama. Truth is, young men in general always tend to have “bad character” until the prospects of settled family life become real to them. So the grand bargain wouldn’t have worked, even if the right had been willing to take it.

          It’s a matter of “incentives” if we must take on somewhat of a market framework just to get the point across. And punitive approaches toward the same end only work to the degree that they fit into a larger framework in which the positive incentives dominate–which the grand bargainers would never have allowed for. BTW, this is the one, single valuable insight that came out of B.F. Skinner’s otherwise utterly barren behaviorist obsession: punishment does not work.

      • neffer July 22, 2013 at 1:52 pm | #

        I think profound may be a bit more than I was asserting. I think his data are mind opening. I think what he shows is ignored at our peril.

        The 19th-Century work ethic is obsolete, because 19th-Century work is obsolete. It’s a global socio-economic phenomenon, not an individual moral failing of the lower orders.

        You are correct that we are in the 21st Century. I rather doubt that the 19th Century work ethic is dead. It clearly applies to those who rule our country. Compared with most other countries, Americans who work actually do work very, very hard.

        One other point, to paraphrase Nietzsche, something is not better because it is later in time. From that I gather that there is no satisfactory replacement for the work ethic, assuming that it is actually dead – something I rather doubt. Moreover, Murray’s point was and is that for the underclass, there is no work ethic. However, that is not the case for most of society. On that, I think he is on rather solid ground.

  15. neffer July 22, 2013 at 2:22 pm | #

    William writes: “Of course we blame the individual, and our racial politics make that even more explosive.”

    That is a rather ironic comment with respect to Murray’s book, which focuses on White Americans. Race is a real issue in the US. I think that one of Murray’s points is to show that class, not race, has become the defining issue, since the same issues that plague the African American underclass now also plague the White American underclass.

    I cannot comment on the Fishtown selection. Murray does not provide any useful history of how that “zip code” came to have problems. Where he is useful is in noting the specific problems.

    I have this same issue with my long term secretary, who is rather bright. She is a single Mom, with two kids. She works very, very hard. You would think she is a poster girl example of a person who would vote straight across the board for Democrats. However, she votes straight across the board for Conservative Tea Party types. I find it astonishing.

    Having spoken with her – knowing her now for more than a decade -, I have asked her why. She speaks about two issues, which ticks her off about Democrats. She, while I pay her very well, can, with two kids and no other support, hardly pay her own bills. She says, it is immoral for the government to ask me to support people on her back, when she can hardly support herself. And, she says it is immoral to have to pay for programs that equalize non-work with someone, like her, who works hard. I have no idea what to say to her in response on the first of her concerns. It is certainly a fact that Democrats have not solved the problem of paying for programs.

    The second part I am less sure about. So far as I know, she lives better than the underclass. However, taking her at her word (as I am not a frequent guest at her abode and do not live her life) that, despite my gut reaction to the contrary, it is certainly reasonable for someone to complain that others who do not work ought take her money and, without lifting a finger, live as well as she, who works hard, does.

    • neffer July 22, 2013 at 2:24 pm | #


      delete: “She says, it is immoral for the government to ask me to support people on her back, when she can hardly support herself.”

      Substitute: She says, it is immoral for the government to ask her to support people on her back, when she can hardly support herself.

    • William Neil July 22, 2013 at 3:29 pm | #

      Since Detroit is very much in the news today, let me offer the insights of Thomas J. Sugrue’s “The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit” 1996, as a counter explanation form to most of what Murray writes about the decline of the white working class, mirrored in his portrait of Fishtown in Philadelphia.

      I did not mention above, but I surely did in my longer book review, the other astonishing fact of Murray on Philadelphia: the missing discussion of race. That’s unbelievable because you can’t understand modern Philadelphia’s trials, just like those of Detroit, without at least a dual track (I’ve added another – secularization’s impact on the Catholic Church) of deindustrialization played out upon urban ethnic whites (largely Catholic I both cities) the expectations of recent black migrants from the South, and the pressures upon the working class for both races as industries fled to the suburbs and further to escape first the sense of a “union town’s” solidarity…rising taxes…a policy which Sugrue says – “decentralization” was both a federal national defense policy and a corporate anti-union/tax avoidance strategy.

      How someone could leave race out of the physical ruins of black northern Philadelphia, the rise of Mayor Rizzo, the black-police struggles, and the incredible shrinkage of industrial jobs….I don’t know. But in Detroit, the “golden years” of American affluence begin receding in the midst of the late 1940’s and 1950’s….industrial jobs are down…the building trades won’t take black Americans…instead of going for a 30 hour work week industry is happier with overtime for existing workers…and, God forbid this word and thought, Sugrue actually talks about the power and threat of automation…imagine that…

      Race? I’ve mentioned Mayor Rizzo; who could forget those years. Well, how about Mayor Albert Cobo’s election in 1949, and the issues of that race? Centered on housing and race…a Republican in a sea of Democrats, vs. George Edwards, the Dem candidate “a former UAW activist and an advocate of public housing” according to Sugrue. Well before Wallace, well before Nixon, this was the prophetic race for where the nation was headed…

      Now readers, go and find the contemporary references to Sugrue’s fine book, much deeper and richer than Krugman’s so-so column this morning, which certainly got part of the story right: there are costs to “creative destruction.” I can’t explain where he is, because he’s still teaching, at U of P, no less. Sabbatical? We could sure use his voice now, to head off from his almost two decades old work, to head off precisely what Krugman was trying to get at this morning. Where are you Professor?

      • neffer July 22, 2013 at 4:37 pm | #


        The book written by Murray concerns a description, not a history, of the decline of the lower social strata of White American. Why, pray tell, would he write about the topic that interests you in a book that is, by its very mission statement, so to speak, not about African Americans or how we got where we are today?

        Not to be unfair to you, but note the title of his book: Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Note the explanation for his book, which I just found online: “In Coming Apart, Charles Murray explores the formation of American classes that are different in kind from anything we have ever known, focusing on whites as a way of driving home the fact that the trends he describes do not break along lines of race or ethnicity.”

        So, we have a book about White Americans, not African Americans. But, on your telling, the book is remiss because it fails to focus on your theory. Now, you may be correct that race plays a big, perhaps, decisive role in what has happened. I am not doubting that point or supporting it. I am, rather, doubting that as a critique of a book that is not a history or explanation of decline. It is a description of the decline. As the online source states:

        The top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures, Murray argues, with the powerful upper class living in enclaves surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America, and the lower class suffering from erosions of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness. That divergence puts the success of the American project at risk.

        My source for this is Barnes and Noble, and I assume – since I long ago returned the book I borrowed to the library – this comes from the book’s blurb. In any event, it is an accurate description of the book.

  16. William Neil July 22, 2013 at 5:05 pm | #


    No misunderstanding on my part Neffer, not at all, I read the book and what was deliberately left out. Author’s prerogative, and from past tempests that Murray has been involved in, I guess we all could say that is understandable.

    But as a matter of fact and history, I don’t believe you can disentangle the passage of the white working class – not in Philadelphia, not in Detroit, not in Newark, wherever older industrial cities are involved – my old hometown, Trenton, into the state Murray describes them as being in, by ignoring race. He did, and he makes history incomprehensible as I, at least, have lived it during these same years. That’s the basis of Sugrue’s subtitle about Detroit, and if you’ve read any of the running commentaries on its recent filing, you would be hard pressed to take race out of the dynamics.

    Philadelphia was race saturated as its Mayoral politics and neighborhood struggles show; and as the history of the desegregation of its union jobs also demonstrate. It would be on the same order of taking slavery out of the Civil War equation, out of the fate of the planter class, both before and after that War.

  17. William Neil July 22, 2013 at 5:30 pm | #


    As an additional and more specific follow-up, and I’m reaching back to my memory here, no cites readily available, but was not Philadelphia the locus of some nationally ground breaking agreements to desegregate the building trades, in the seventies, which were almost exclusively white in their better paying jobs, with the agreements being to hire a certain percentage of black men (later women across race) by dates definite; given what I have sketched out above on the loss of industrial jobs, the troubles in the Catholic Church, and now the most direct imposition of economic loss sharing along racial lines…none of this but especially this later “imposition” had an effect on the morale or economically downward pressures of the white working class in Philadelphia? I know there are experts in these matters in the Philadelphia area colleges, some of them having lived this first hand…would be great if they could weigh in…If you slice a shrinking “pie” of jobs ever thinner with more coming to the table…you have trouble all around…

    I have the names of Philadelphia neighborhoods still ringing in my ears from the media citations…and the terrible night under Mayor Goode when the police moved in, rightly or wrongly, to evict the “Move” members….a good portion of the neighborhood burned down, and there were fears of even a greater conflagration…

    • William Neil July 22, 2013 at 7:04 pm | #


      I didn’t want to leave folks hanging on my fading memory, but I guess if Murray can invoke the movie “The Philadelphia Story” while describing upper class life styles, it would be fair for me to invoke “The Philadelphia Plan” in raising the issue of race, quotas and working class life in the same city. Here’s my source, which popped into my head with a little delayed reaction. It’s from that good New Yorker Rick Perlstein, from his book called “Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America.” I’ll quote directly from page 515, from a chapter entitled “Purity”:

      “When Richard Nixon had made his own steps toward affirmative action, he saw it as a tool to destroy the Democrats. Building trades unions controlled apprenticeship opportunities that often passed from father to son, making construction sites among the most segregated workplaces in the nation. Labor Secretary George Shultz, hoping to reform them, came up with the idea of voluntary goals for integrating government building projects. In Philadelphia, the plan’s original target, he suggested a goal of increasing black employment from less than 5 percent to over 25 percent in the next four years. Nixon spied a thrilling political opportunity. ‘With our constituency, we gained little on the play,’ he noted. But it drove a wedge through the Democratic coalition at its most vulnerable joint between blacks and hard hats. The president told Shultz to go full steam ahead with the ‘Philadelphia Plan.'”

      So I would interpret that, if the goals were met, to mean a 25% drop in white blue collar employment in a key working class sector of employment, depending on whether that sector was expanding, or staying static in overall terms. Add it to the picture of lost industrial jobs, painted by Walter Licht’s little essay “Workshop of the World,” where the number went from 365,000 industrial jobs in 1953, to 168,400 in 1977, and you’re talking serious trouble.

      • neffer July 23, 2013 at 9:10 am | #


        I am replying to your three – I think it is three – comments.

        In particular, I note your statement: “He did, and he makes history incomprehensible as I, at least, have lived it during these same years.”

        I reiterate: Murray did not write a history. That was not the point of his book. His point is that the existing situation in our country is a disaster in the making and that class is the issue which policy makers need to address.

        His view that class is the defining problem of our time does not cancel out that racism exists or is important. That does not cancel out corruption in urban areas (or anywhere else).

        Moreover, with respect to race, his point is that the problems which, for decades, have plagued the Black community disproportionately now also plague an all too large segment of the White community.

        Given that problems that plague the Black community are very often if ever of interest to the political class that rules our country while the concerns of the White community are, what Murray has written about the White community ought, if you actually care about the Black community, be something you embrace (apart from his solution, which I do not embrace and, from what I can see here, you do not embrace), you ought to consider that the only way that the plague on the Black community will ever be addressed is if it is considered in the same breadth as the plague on the White community is addressed.

        So, think about it. Politically speaking, Murray is helping the Black community by showing it does not have a unique problem.

  18. neffer July 23, 2013 at 11:50 am | #


    Strike: “Given that problems that plague the Black community are very often if ever of interest …”

    Substitute: “Given that problems that plague the Black community are very rarely if ever of interest …”

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