Reading up on the 1800 Presidential election is incredibly instructive. If the current state of American political discourse freaks you out — if you think it has acquired its unflattering features, its peculiar kinks and rifts, only recently — then read up on what Adams and Jefferson partisans said about one another.


Note the second item.

One discovery of particular interest: Had debates over the peculiar institution of chattel slavery not so dominated the years 1820-1860, the American Civil War may well have been fought over questions of Religious Establishment and Religious Free Exercise. The competing strange-bedfellows coalitions, had they formed along the lines suggested by the arguments over public theology in 1800, would have looked something like this:  New England Federalists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians, which favored state Establishments and religious tests for public office, lining up against Southern Republicans, Midlands Quakers, and Baptists, who rejected religious tests for public office and favored broad accommodations for individual conscience and religious freedom.*

The Jeffersonian Republicans won the 1800 election and, simultaneously, Jefferson and his allies won the argument for broad religious accommodations and against Establishments. Their victory was so overwhelming that it remained remarkably stable for the better part of two centuries.

That Jeffersonian settlement of religious freedom, though, is vanishing. The New Atheists, who started organizing politically and mobilizing in earnest in the early 1970s, and the Christian Coalition that quickly followed, have both shown little interest in accommodations. While there are plenty of would-be Jeffersonians left — an odd collection of old-school Baptists, neo-Anabaptists, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians, and classic secular liberals — these parties are scattered and politically ineffective. Establishment and religious tests, therefore, increasingly look like the order of the day. Which leaves the following as the most live questions: Who will be the Establishment, and what will be the religious tests?

* Full text of Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom may be found here.

I have praised the work of singer-songwriter Eric Peters in this space before, and Eric happens to be coming into the home stretch of a Kickstarter campaign for his current project, Far Side of the Sea. You can find out more about the project here:

I’m particularly excited about Eric’s concept for this latest project: lending his voice to the overlooked and abandoned things of the world. It’s ambitious to take on such a task on an album-length scale, but Eric has done this before in individual songs, and those songs demonstrate that his mind and talents are perfectly suited to the task he’s set himself with Far Side of the Sea. If a man resolves to sing the songs of overlooked, abandoned things, it is well that his voice should resonate with the clarity and faithfulness of the heavens, while touching the things of earth with a reviving tenderness.

Only a few days remain to back this project. Don’t miss the chance. The return will make you proud.

I have now read comments by several logicians who deny that the revelations in the recent round of ‪#‎defundPlannedParenthood‬ videos are game-changing. For the principled and philosophically consistent pro-lifer or pro-choicer, these videos shouldn’t make a difference.

To computers, maybe. Not to human beings. We do not live by logic alone.

It was one thing to think about the evils of the slave trade in the abstract — quite another to see the tiny boxes in the slave ships into which living men, women and children were packed like sardines, or to catch even a whiff of the excrement and vomit they were made to lay in for weeks. It was one thing to read the “Final Solution” — quite another to walk through the camps at Flossenbürg or Dachau in 1945. It was one thing to read Plessy v. Ferguson and Jim Crow laws on a printed page — quite another to witness a lynching, or the burning of a black church, or Bull Connor’s attack dogs tearing into civil rights protesters.

And it is one thing to listen to Planned Parenthood profess concern for “reproductive rights” and bemoan “heavily edited” videos — quite another to hear its own officers and abortionists talk breezily over lunch of altering a baby’s presentation from vertex to breech in order to extract intact heads.

And to bring this, finally, up to the seventh video: It is one thing to hear someone testify “they have cut brains from the skulls of babies,” quite another to hear someone confess “I have done it.”

Abstract principles are not bad per se. But you have to take a good hard look at any principle’s real-world effects to evaluate it accurately. It would have been possible, theoretically, for slave traders to treat Africans “humanely” in the Middle Passage. You could say even that it might have been wiser to do so, because they would then have delivered more living, healthy slaves to the West Indies and the shores of New England. But the slavers didn’t — because the principle that “it’s okay to kidnap African men and women and treat them as chattels” trained them to do otherwise. Dostoevsky wrote that “man grows used to everything, the scoundrel.” Barbaric principles will reveal themselves, sooner or later, by begetting practices that are correspondingly and visibly barbaric.

Procrustes seems hospitable and tidy when he talks of making sure guests and beds are well suited to one another. And then you look at the amputated limbs. Planned Parenthood’s long-faced statements about health, rights and “not in her shoes” have an appearance of compassion and moral seriousness — but its practices have now been revealed as unmistakably callous and Procrustean. When you catechize a generation in the question-begging sophistry, obscurantism, and individual-autonomy absolutism of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, this is the harvest. The tree is known by its fruits.

So let’s talk “black lives matter”/”all lives matter.”

When a weak point in an army’s line of defense is under heavy fire, and the commanding general seems oblivious and unconcerned, someone must point out the weakness, as insistently as necessary for the weakness to be addressed. If the general’s response is “the whole line matters” he is, in his unassailable correctness, missing the point.

“This man has insulted me!” said Syme, with gestures of explanation.
“Insulted you?” cried the gentleman with the red rosette, “when?”
“Oh, just now,” said Syme recklessly. “He insulted my mother.”
“Insulted your mother!” exclaimed the gentleman incredulously.
“Well, anyhow,” said Syme, conceding a point, “my aunt.”

“But how can the Marquis have insulted your aunt just now?” said the second gentleman with some legitimate wonder. “He has been sitting here all the time.”

“Ah, it was what he said!” said Syme darkly.

“I said nothing at all,” said the Marquis, “except something about the band. I only said that I liked Wagner played well.”

“It was an allusion to my family,” said Syme firmly. “My aunt played Wagner badly. It was a painful subject. We are always being insulted about it.”

“This seems most extraordinary,” said the gentleman who was decore, looking doubtfully at the Marquis.

“Oh, I assure you,” said Syme earnestly, “the whole of your conversation was simply packed with sinister allusions to my aunt’s weaknesses.”

“This is nonsense!” said the second gentleman. “I for one have said nothing for half an hour except that I liked the singing of that girl with black hair.”

“Well, there you are again!” said Syme indignantly. “My aunt’s was red.”

“It seems to me,” said the other, “that you are simply seeking a pretext to insult the Marquis.”

“By George!” said Syme, facing round and looking at him, “what a clever chap you are!”

G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday ch. x (1908).

1. When the government declines to license, endorse, use or participate in any conduct, opinion, or symbol, it does not follow that it has “banned” that conduct, opinion or symbol, nor that it has violated your right to participate in that conduct, hold and express that opinion, or use that symbol;
2. When retailers, service providers and broadcasting networks decline to sell certain products or services, or broadcast certain programs, that does not mean that anyone is violating your rights — unless you have paid for and/or entered into a valid contract for those particular goods, services or programs;
(3) If someone proffers an opinion you find disagreeable, or contradicts something you say, he is not violating your rights. He is exercising his. You may join him;
(4) If any of the foregoing principles bothers you, there is a good chance that you have an exaggerated idea of your own rights and an underdeveloped view of your neighbors’.

This morning I visited the Appomattox Walmart, which is located not two miles from the old Appomattox Court House where Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant and the Federal Army.

Earlier this year, in light of the sesquicentennial of that event, the store stocked a bunch of “Appomattox 150th” t-shirts. This is a picture of one such shirt:

Appomattox 150 shirt

Today, upon orders issued by Walmart corporate HQ, because this shirt contains a picture of the Confederate battle flag, it is being removed from the store immediately — despite the fact that the flag’s significance on this shirt, at this time, and in this setting cannot possibly be misunderstood.

Context, people. A flag signifies one thing when it is raised over a Capitol dome in anti-Civil Rights defiance, quite another when it appears on a shirt marking an important historical event — where, significantly, the various parties, victors and defeated alike, acted with respect, dignity, and grace.


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