Skip to comments.Sobran's:How Might Makes Right
Posted on 03/21/2002 9:58:54 AM PST by TEXICAN II
How Might Makes Right March 7, 2002
by Joe Sobran
Whatever they may say, most people assume that might makes right. Abstractly, they may consider this is shocking and cynical doctrine; yet in practice they live by it. In plain language, they go with the winners.
They take it for granted, for example, that the Civil War proved that the North was right and the South wrong: no state may constitutionally secede from the Union. All the war really proved was what wise men knew at the outset: that Northern industrial superiority was overwhelming. (If the South had won, most people would, with equal illogic, accept that as proof that the South was right.)
In ratifying the Constitution, the states voluntarily joined a confederated Union; they didn't give up the "sovereignty, freedom, and independence" they had retained under the Articles of Confederation. Such a radical change would have had to be explicit.
If secession was to be unconstitutional, the Constitution would have had to forbid it. It would also have had to provide some method of dealing with it if a state seceded anyway. It did neither.
Abraham Lincoln, in arguing against secession, had to invoke what he claimed as implied powers of the presidency. And in practice, he had to exercise clearly unconstitutional powers, such as making war without the consent of Congress. And when he won the war, he had to install puppet governments in the defeated states, in flagrant violation of the Federal Government's duty to guarantee each state a "republican form of government."
Lincoln himself all but admitted this. Contrary to his insistence that the Union cause was that of self- government -- "of the people, by the people, for the people," et cetera -- his actual postwar policy was to rig the situation in the South to prevent "the rebellious populations from overwhelming and outvoting the loyal minority."
So "the people" could have self-government, all right -- as long as they voted his way. Otherwise he would see to it that the minority was not outvoted. This was a novel idea of democracy. To such contortions was Lincoln driven by the principle that secession is unconstitutional.
The Constitution also requires the Federal Government to "protect [the states] against invasion"; it doesn't authorize it to invade them itself! Such a power would surely have been mentioned if the Framers had meant to prevent secession. Again Lincoln was forced to invent Federal authority -- and presidential authority -- where there was none.
The Constitution sounds great on paper. But how is the Federal Government to be prevented from exceeding its allotted powers?
Originally there were three safeguards.
First, there was the right of secession. Just as the states had seceded from the British Empire, a state could revoke the Federal Government's legal authority within its own borders. Lincoln's war crushed this right.
Second, the Senate of the United States represented the states, and would oppose any usurpation of the rights reserved to the states and denied to the Federal Government. But the Seventeenth Amendment virtually abolished the Senate by requiring the popular election of senators, ending their selection by the state legislatures. By being democratized, the Senate became a redundant institution, with no special constitutional function.
Third, of course, there were elections. The people could insist on constitutional government through the ballot box. They can still do this, in theory -- unless they are too ignorant, corrupt, or apathetic to demand that the Constitution be honored. Which, alas, has long been the case. Most Americans aren't the sort of citizens the Founding Fathers expected; they are contented serfs. Far from being active critics of government, they assume that its might makes it right.
Yes, in this old world might has always made right, but might often needs the assistance of plausible sophistry, of which Lincoln was a master. His awesome eloquence was matched by his willingness to suppress critics of his administration, and we easily forget that his four years in office were the darkest period for civil liberties in American history -- far worse than the so-called McCarthy Era.
How could a man who spoke so beautifully of "a new birth of freedom" be an enemy of freedom? In the same way, I suppose, that so many "freedom fighters," after they overthrow tyrants, turn out to be tyrants themselves.
Read this column on-line at "http://www.sobran.com/columns/020307.shtml".
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But then, war is always so popular & competition in the government business is never popular.
I'd be interested to get opinions on what the world would look like if the South had won. Would we still be separate nations, or would a reunion have been inevitable? I seriously doubt slavery would have continued indefinitely, and the European antics of the 20th century would have placed unique pressures on both a Confederacy and a separate Union....One of many questions: Would two nuclear nations now occupy what is now the U.S.?
One of my ancesters rode with Forrest-my Mother and Father had about 20 grandparents & uncles in various Confederate States. Some earlier Virginia & North Carolina ancestors were present at Yorktown ( one direct ancestor, Light Horse Harry L., later delivered a eulogy at Washington's funeral ). One uncle was at Ft.Sam Houston, in San Antonio, when he resigned his US Army commision, declined Command of the Union Army, before heading home to assume command of the Army of Virginia ( his younger sister Katherine was a Gr-Gr-Gr-Great Grandmother ).
Besides participants of the American Revolution & War of Northern Agression, my mother's most serious genes of true rebelion come from William Wallace.
Both parents had Grandparents in the Texas Revolution.
Personal skills include a natural capacity with both rifle & pistol-I was trained by the time I could hold the weapons. I can provide my own kit, horse and weapons.
Genetically, you see, I am one inherently disturbed individual & seriously impaired, but given my verbal skills, wonder if I might perhaps make a great G-2? I have some measure of the importance of intelligence-as I read that my Uncle's Army suffered greatly at Gettysburg for want of Stuart's intelligence. If selected, I shall be ever loyal & shall never fail you!
Even now, Sir, I await the fresh mail, with its promise of the proper code with which to enroll for your most urgent dispatches! Do not forget me! I shall serve in capacity you deem apropriate!
"If the South would have won we'd have had it made....
I'd probably run for President of the Southern States.
The day Elvis passed away would be a national holiday,
If the South would have won we'd have had it made."
Okay, maybe Hank Williams, Jr. isn't the best political analyst on this topic. I think we'd have stayed two nations, or more than two. With secession firmly established as a valid political strategy in both nations, either more states would split off, or the knowledge that they could would make other statesmen less inclined to push them. It would probably result in a decentralization of the federal governments of however many countries you eventually end up with.
As a side note, look what this libertarian web site had to say about the possibility of modern secession after the 200 election:
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
Sobran is wrong: there were never three safeguards.
There was and is only one safeguard: that the general population of the U.S. behave in a manner conducive to the existence of a free society.
Only then can the elected leaders be expected to act in the best interests of the country, in accordance with the Constitution.
At the same time, the electorate is expected to hold their representatives accountable, and to protect their own rights, as well as the rights of others.
And finally, all people are expected to recognize and follow through upon their duties to society.
Sobran is engaged in a bit of Constitutional idolatry here. He expects that somehow a scrap of paper can act as a hedge against people who want to get around the constraints it embodies. Without the underlying moral concensus that created it, the Constitution is without meaning.
To understand what's going on, one has got to go back to moral first principles. In fact, one is pretty much required to go back to Christian first principles.
I would be very interested in hearing what you have to back up that claim. Can you show by any measure how slavery was on the wane in 1860? Can you show how it would have been possible under the confederate constitution that slavery could have varied by state, much less county?
If Mr. Sobran is so wrong, and rather doubt that he is, maybe you should tell him about his careless writing-I only brought it to the attention of more people. His web site invites reply.
I shall not fill in the blank areas of your history education. Look it up, sir, if you wish to know.
But that's precisely the point, and precisely where Sobran misses the boat. If the people aren't accustomed, how are you going to make them accustomed? The answer is, you can't. They have to get there on their own.
There's a story about how, during the Viet Nam war, we sent a group of earnest young folks over to Saigon to help them craft a nice, new constitution. They argued, negotiated, and sweated amongst themselves, and it was by all accounts a thing of beauty.
Only problem was, it had absolutely no impact -- the moral values of Vietnamese people were different from those enshrined by the earnest Ivy-leaguers.
As for the Constitution being a great political instrument: it is. But only because it expresses the far greater moral fibre of the people who created it. The strength of the United States came not from the scrap of paper, but from the people who wrote it.
I have. I can point out to how the slave population rose by over 20% between 1850 and 1860. I can point you to statistics which show that the southern plantation owners propered during that period like never before. I can also point you to statistics which show that the number of free blacks actually declined in a number of southern states, while growing everywhere else. Finally I can quote chapter and verse of the confederate constitution which shows that the document protected slavery throughout the south and safeguarded the importation of new slaves.
You make blanket statements without offering any evidence to support them, and when challenged on your claims you find that to be a character flaw in those who challenge you. Well I have a great deal of respect for your right of free speech and your right to say whatever you want. But I do have problems with false speech and I'm sorry if you are troubled by that. The easiest way to silence me would be to do the research and prove me wrong. Are you interested in doing that?