Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

The president of Emory University, James W. Wagner, has been censured by faculty members.  He may even be forced to resign.   

In his school’s magazine, Wagner, you see, cited “the three-fifths compromise over slavery” as illustrative of the art of political comprise.   

In response to the backlash, Wagner issued the obligatory mea culpa and deplored the “clumsiness and insensitivity” of his piece. 

There was a time when the average American elementary school student could be expected to know that of which our current academics remain invincibly ignorant: the three-fifths compromise was intended to retard the expansion of slavery, to weaken the power of the slave states.    

Yet this is historical fact.  Along with reason, logic, and truth itself, fact is routinely treated by my colleagues in the academy as an ideological “weapon” with which white men have been bludgeoning the entire planet into submission for millennia.  Still, there is more than one way to expose a position for the species of folly that it is.

The Emory faculty and their president believe that the latter was both clumsy and insensitive for mentioning slavery in a way that could give offense to the sensibilities of those who continue to suffer from slavery’s legacy (or something like this). The faculty thinks that such is the gravity of Wagner’s transgression that he just might deserve to lose his job.   But if this is true, then most of our racial activists, and, particularly, our academics who write on slavery for their livelihood, are clumsy and insensitive as well.  Maybe they deserve to lose their jobs.

The word “slave” derives from the word “Slav”—as in the Slavish people.  It grew out of the experience of being enslaved that untold numbers of the Slavish endured for centuries.  Interestingly, for all of our generation’s tireless talk over slavery, this little detail is seldom stated. 

But while this omission may be interesting, it is not surprising.  The Slavish, of course, are white.  Current talk over slavery centers almost exclusively on American—i.e. black—slavery.   

However, is this not clumsy?  After all, by focusing solely upon blacks in bondage in America, don’t we present a wildly distorted vision of slavery?  Don’t we delude ourselves into thinking that, historically speaking, slavery has always equaled the enslavement of blacks by whites?  And isn’t it the case that this severely truncated account of slavery is deeply insensitive to those whites of Slavish descent (like my wife and son) whose ancestors were subjected to the hardships of slavery? 

As if the failure of racial activists to mention any of this didn’t already convict them of “clumsiness” and “insensitivity,” at least two other considerations convict them all the more.

First, aside from the ubiquity of slavery throughout Europe prior to the rise of Christianity, the modern world witnessed the enslavement of millions of white Europeans—and not just the Slavish.  Moreover, they were enslaved by and large by Africans, North African Muslims.  Robert Davis is one brave scholar who relays this conveniently neglected chapter of history in his, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800. Paul Baepler is another. In White Slaves, African Masters: An Anthology of American Barbary Captivity Narratives, Baepler covers this ground that few dare to tread.

Second, even the conventional story of American slavery is woefully inaccurate.  The first slaves in America were white.  I know of two books that do a meticulous job showing that both in route to America aboard British vessels, as well as once they arrived here, America’s first (white) slaves endured conditions just as horrific, and just as humiliating, as those suffered by blacks. The one is Don Jordan’s, White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America.  The other is Michael Hoffman’s, They Were White and They Were Slaves: The Untold History of the Enslavement of Whites in Early America.

This episode at Emory University is just the latest reminder of the sham that is the politically correct orthodoxy regarding slavery and race in America.

originally published at World Net Daily 

 

 

 

To hear them tell it, the Second Amendment deniers in Washington and their accomplices in the media know about all there is to know when it comes to guns.   

Some guns—so-called “assault” rifles—we just don’t “need,” they constantly tell us.  It isn’t that the President and his fellow partisans wish to prevent American citizens from exercising their Second Amendment liberties.  They just wish to prevent us from obtaining those guns that no one needs in any event.

For the moment, we can put to one side the monumental presumptiveness involved in third parties instructing the citizens of a free society as to what they do and do not need.  It is more important that we grasp what this little lesson entails.

When the Second Amendment deniers talk about “needs” in respect of guns, what they imply is that guns have a unique purpose: guns kill.  Since, say, no one “needs” a so-called “assault rifle” for hunting, it is commonly argued, no one “needs” an assault rifle, for the only purpose of such a weapon is to slaughter.

Interestingly, the very same people who insist upon making this argument from purpose when it comes to guns ridicule it when it comes to almost everything else.  Take the issue of sexual morality, for instance. For millennia, Christians (among others) have contended that sex is permissible only within the confines of marriage.  According to this reasoning, sex has two purposes.  Its chief purpose is reproductive.  Yet it is also intended to unite the spouses. Since only marriage—heterosexual marriage—can fulfill this twofold purpose, sex within any other context is immoral.

This argument may or may not work.  The point, though, is that those on the left resolutely reject this argument from purpose while relying upon another such argument to restrict the Second Amendment.

But let’s play along.  Let’s assume that the left’s argument from purpose against the Second Amendment is sound. And now let’s apply it to the First Amendment.

A free people do indeed need a free press, for the latter fulfills the purpose of preventing government from becoming tyrannical.  Those in the press are supposed to be forever vigilant against any and all signs of government corruption and abuse.  They are “watchdogs.”  It is on this basis that they are forever poised to take refuge behind the First Amendment when criticisms come their way.

However, what if our media figures fail to fulfill the purpose for which the First Amendment allots them free speech?  What if they not only suspend their skepticism toward all government office-holders, but actually begin to side with some of them?  And, worse, what if those politicians toward whom they’re partial are just those politicians who are anxious to expand the national government ever further?  That is, what if they promote those plans that threaten the liberties of the very Americans for whose sake they exist?

Sadly, these aren’t really hypothetical questions.  The blunt truth of the matter is that those in the “mainstream” media have failed to fulfill their purpose.  And they have failed abysmally.  Moreover, they have allied themselves with politicians, particularly, those politicians, like Barack Obama, who are all too eager to grow our Gargantuan Government even beyond its already monstrous size.

Since these same media personalities seem to agree with Obama and his party that those gun rights that allegedly don’t advance the purpose of the Second Amendment the federal government can essentially revoke, then maybe they can be persuaded that those speech rights that don’t advance the First Amendment should be revoked as well? 

After all, the speech that comes from a free press is supposed to function as a check upon government.  Outside of politicians, no one needs speech from the media that frustrates this function by strengthening the hold of the government over the citizenry.  Thus, press-control, or media-control, may be necessary.

Maybe we should pressure government into assembling a bipartisan commission to preside over Congressional hearings in which the owners, managers, and even employees of various journalistic outfits are forced to answer tough questions about government-media collusion.  Those organizations deemed guilty of propagandizing on behalf of government will face stiff penalties, including and up to losing their licensing.

Media personalities will be permitted to exercise their free speech rights. But this means that they will be allowed to operate in the media only if they are using speech in order to challenge government. 

To be clear, I am not seriously advocating any of this. My point, rather, is to point out the glaring hypocrisy of journalists and politicians who would never in a million years think to say the things about the First Amendment that they say about the Second.  

originally published in Front Page Magazine    

 

 

More than a few Americans who tuned into the Oscars ceremony Sunday night were put off by the appearance, via satellite, of First Lady Michelle Obama.

Washington Post writer Jennifer Rubin expresses their disgust when she remarks: “It is not enough that President Obama pops up at every sporting event in the nation.  Now the First Lady feels entitled…to intrude on other forms of entertaining [.]” 

Rubin continues: “I’m sure the left will holler that once again conservatives are being grouchy and have it in for the Obamas.”  However, “if they really had their president’s best interests at heart, they’d steer away from encouraging these celebrity appearances.” The problem, as Rubin understands it, is that such appearances make “both the president and the first lady seem small and grasping.”

This kind of analysis is commonplace among those on the right. 

And the right is so much the worse because of it.

In the wake of their reversals of fortune, Republicans and conservatives have debated much among themselves.  For the most part, though, the conflict has centered on the positions that the GOP is known for taking on the issues of the day. But if it is victory that Republicans seek, then it is far more important for them to rethink how they think about American politics itself. 

This means that they must rethink their views on their opponents, especially the Obamas, who know the nature of American political life better than anyone.

The Obamas may “seem small and grasping,” as Rubin asserts, but if so, then they appear this way only to those who have always disliked them. In other words, they seem small and grasping to those Americans with whom the Obamas are no longer concerned.

In contrast, to over half of the country that voted for them, the Obamas seem connected.  And to those “low information” Americans who are politically disengaged but who live for their movies and sports, the Obamas now seem like folks with whom they can relate, ordinary Americans who share their interests. 

This is one reason why Barack and Michelle Obama continue to make “these celebrity appearances” that Jennifer Rubin and legions of other conservatives so lament.

Yet there is another.  The Obamas don’t refuse the opportunity to make celebrity appearances precisely because they indeed want to be seen as celebrities.

All celebrities are famous, it is true, but not all famous people are celebrities.  To cite just one example, George W. Bush is famous.  But he is no celebrity.  Celebrities belong to the pop culture.  Usually, a celebrity is mostly loved.  Yet even when that celebrity is hated, it is not a real hatred to which he is subjected.  It is an obsession, a hatred that the haters love.  As such, as long as the obsession endures, those who do the obsessing will do anything to make sure that their objects remain in full view of the public.

The Obamas know this well.  This, once more, explains why they ache to be celebrities.

There is a third and final reason why the President and First Lady insist upon making their faces seen and voices heard all throughout the culture.  They have a desire—one shared by leftists for centuries—to erase the boundaries that modern Western states have drawn between political and non-political arenas of life. 

Seeing the President and First Lady at nationally and globally-televised sporting events and Hollywood ceremonies makes it all that much easier for the average American to think that there is virtually no area of his life that excludes, or should exclude, government intervention.  As feminists have been saying for decades, the personal is political, and the political is personal.  To be sure, the Obamas want to make sure that every American believes this.

This can’t be stated strongly enough: if Republicans really do want to win national elections again, then they need to understand just how and why their opponents think as they do. 

At the same time, they might also want to consider that this approach to politics has proven successful for the Obamas.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

America has a creed and this creed is embodied in our Declaration of Independence. Such is the frequency, and the certainty, with which this is said that few people think to question it. And of those who do think to question it, far fewer dare to do so, for to question it is to expose oneself to the charge that one is a heretic, an anti-American.  

The America that was forged into an independent nation at the time of the composition of the Declaration had no creed.  And it could not have had one.  More so than most others in our history, the founding generation was consumed by the fear of tyranny.  Its members knew all too well that there was nothing so poisonous to political liberty than that of a creed—any creed.

Creeds are the stuff of religious and philosophical communities. They contain statements of belief that all members of the community are expected to affirm.  The Nicene Creed that Roman Catholics the world over affirm on a regular basis is a classic illustration of a creed.  Individual Catholics consider themselves distinct parts of one body, a single community with a single vision of the good life.  Irrespective of where one lives, anyone can belong to the Catholic, or “universal,” Church—as long as one accepts its Creed. 

The pioneers who settled America were motivated first and foremost by their desire to advance their liberties. Where liberty of the sort with which the colonists were familiar prevails, so too does individuality, the freedom to think and act in ways that may deviate from those of the majority.  

This is one strike against the notion that America was intended to be a community.  Another is the fact that the generation of ’76 regarded America as a union of sovereign states. 

Together, these two considerations establish that America simply could not be a community in the sense in which “community” has ordinarily been understood.

Rather, America was understood by the Founders as a civil association.  The members of a civil association do not share a vision of the good.  What they share is an interest that the law that holds their association together be observed by every one of its members.

Unlike orders and commands, laws do not tell us what we must do.  That is, they do not impose purposes upon those who are bound by them.  Instead, laws are concerned with how we go about pursuing the purposes of our own choosing.  Friedrich Hayek once likened the law to a map.  A map specifies no destination. It does, however, inform us of the roads that are available to get us to whatever destinations we select for ourselves.

It is America’s Constitution—not the Declaration of Independence—that distinguishes America for the kind of association that it is. The Constitution is law. It is utterly devoid of the kind of lofty, utopian-friendly rhetoric of which the Declaration is ridden.  There is not a trace of talk of “rights” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” rights that are held to be “unalienable” and “self-evident.” It doesn’t deny such rights. But it does exclude them.

The Constitution guarantees as wide a distribution of power and authority as is compatible with the existence of a federal government.  It delineates a self-divided government, and the complex of constraints of which such a government consists.  From these constraints, our liberties are derived. 

Yet while lip service to the Constitution remains in vogue today, it has been a long, long time since America has functioned as the civil association that its founders intended for it to be. This explains why it is the Declaration that ideologues of all stripes invoke in justifying their programs, visionary plans requiring an ever larger, stronger national government. 

In other words, the Declaration, with its resounding affirmation of self-evident, universal rights, comes ready-made as “the creed” of “the community” into which the apostles of Big Government are laboring away to fundamentally transform America. 

Beside the destruction of the civil association that America was supposed to have been, the replacement of law and liberty with creed and compulsion, there is another big problem with the idea of America as a community or “creedal nation”: if being an American is all about affirming a set of propositions, then anyone anywhere and at any time can be an American. America’s borders are no more—and can be no more—than lines on a map.  One never even needs to step foot on what is treated as American soil in order to be an American.

If you ask me, it is not the rejection of this idea of America as a creedal nation or community that it is anti-American. It is its endorsement that convicts us of anti-Americanism.