July 22, 2005


The Left’s war on Britishness (Anthony Browne, The Spectator, 7/23/05)

The terrorist attacks of 7 July, as the ludicrous BBC refuses to call them, have raised many questions. We might ask what turned ordinary Muslim youths into mass murderers. Or we might wonder how a religion of peace can inspire people to terrorism across the world.

A more pressing question, however, is: why Britain? Not why was Britain attacked, because the list of countries targeted by Islamist terrorism is growing so fast it will soon be quicker to list those unaffected. But rather: why did Britain become the first country in the developed world to produce its own suicide bombers? Why is Britain just about the only country in the world to have produced suicide bombers who sought to kill not another people but their fellow citizens? Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands and Poland were all part of the war on Iraq, and have not produced suicide bombers. The US and Spain had to import their terrorists. For those who think that Muslims in Britain are particularly oppressed and poor, try visiting Muslims in France or Italy. . . .

No, the real answer to why Britain spawned people fuelled with maniacal hate for their country is that Britain hates itself. In hating Britain, these British suicide bombers were as British as a police warning for flying the union flag.

Britain’s self-loathing is deep, pervasive and lethally dangerous. We get bombed, and we say it’s all our own fault. Schools refuse to teach history that risks making pupils proud, and use it instead as a means of instilling liberal guilt. The government and the BBC gush over ‘the other’, but recoil at the merest hint of British culture. The only thing we are licensed to be proud of is London’s internationalism — in other words, that there is little British left about it.

If a society teaches its children that their own culture is bankrupt, that it is built on lies and the blood of the other, that it is selfish and bloated and corrupt, then how does can it object when those children agree?

Obviously, I'm not talking about Britain.

If you read enough about the 50's and 60's, particularly biographies but also fiction, a shared experience emerges. The radical as a child has a pure love for this country, which he learns in school is good and just; the greatest country in history. He then goes on to college and discovers (either through his own brave exploration or with the help of a brave truth-telling teacher) that in fact nothing he was taught in kindergarten was true and in fact our history is stained with sin from conception. Never the same again, he fights the reactionary forces for control of the country in order to establish true justice. Also, he doesn't want to be killed in Viet Nam.

Becoming a radical because history is more subtle than is presented in kindergarten is easy to mock. To teach, in reaction, that America is tainted, unexceptional and hypocritical is not just wrong, but suicidal. Yet we can't ignore our history. The native peoples were destroyed. Many of the Founders were slaveholders. The Constitution is a pact with the devil. There is a different justice for the rich. We are war-mongers.

The trick is to understand that this does not change the essential truth. The United States is the great achievement of humanity. We are the indispensable nation. We are exceptional, just and true. Our history is everything we are taught in kindergarten, and everything we learn afterwards. The United States is the most human of nations, with everything that implies. We need to face that much of what our enemies say about us is true -- which should make us proud and them nervous.

Posted by David Cohen at July 22, 2005 7:54 AM

An inormed public -- even if we're talking about 18-year-olds -- is the best defense against propeganda. At least in the U.S., I think today's incoming college students go in a little better informed about what many of their professors' goals are than those who entered college 40 years ago, because there's a wider spectrum of information available and the instructors are held in less reverence than they were when the Vietnam War actions began (add to that the fact that for draft age kids in the 1960s, the "What's in it for me?" rationale behind Vietnam was harder to grasp, while 9/11 made the answer to that question quite obvious for the majority of today's college-age population, including those who choose to enlist in the military).

Posted by: John at July 22, 2005 9:08 AM

I enjoyed that quick summary. One question: when you say "The Constitution is a pact with the devil," is that meant to refer to a specific flaw (e.g., slaves as 3/5 people), or a more general comment on the imperfections of human governments, or something else?

Posted by: Guy T. at July 22, 2005 9:21 AM

Didn't we go over this already? Isn't the natural response to the title of this piece "The left's war on what?"...

Posted by: b at July 22, 2005 9:44 AM

Guy: The "pact with the devil" language is from the abolitionists, who generally said it while burning the Constitution. Generally, it refers to the willingness of the free states to enter into the Constitution with the slave states. In other words, not so much that the Constitution is evil, but that forming a nation with slave-holders is evil.

The "3/5's clause," which substantially reduced the South's power in the national government, was one of the compromises demanded by the northern states before they would agree to the Constitution. Remember that electors and representatives are allocated based upon a state's total population, not on citizens or voters. (Today, this is one of the unmentioned benefits to states from illegal immigration.) The North wanted to exclude slaves (not, as is usually said, blacks) while the South wanted to count them like any other person. Three-fifths was a compromise, made the North more powerful than otherwise and probably led to the Civil War.

All of which leads us back to the "pact with the devil." Everything the United States is and everything it has achieved has come into being because after the Revolution the North was willing accomodate slavery in the South. One of the fundamental American questions is, can a nation birthed through a pact with the devil survive that pact and prosper?

[NB: I should note that we are dealing here with some of the (I think)fundamental questions Orrin and Stephen meant to raise in the blog. If you haven't in a while, go to the site's main page (www.brothersjudd.com) and scroll to the bottom.]

Posted by: David Cohen at July 22, 2005 9:49 AM

I think that Brown's reaction to the bombimgs is more a reflection on the self loathing of the British than the bombing itself. You can't take the bombings as a gauge of the British psyche, because they were carried out by 2nd generation Muslim immigrants. They are the ones who are divided between their identity as native Englishmen and ethnic/religious Muslim Asians. These identity crises are common amongst the children of immigrants, but it mostly manifests itself as criminal and anti-social behavior for those who cannot breach the divide. But Brown's reaction is indicative of a culture that has become accustomed to blaming itself. It even blames itself for blaming itself. Confident cultures don't do that. We don't blame ourselves for Timothy McVeigh or Theodore Kaszinski. We hold them responsible for their crimes.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 22, 2005 9:54 AM

Thanks for the information. I'll check out the other parts of the site -- I've read many pages of it in the past, yet still only a tip of the iceberg.

Posted by: Guy T. at July 22, 2005 10:04 AM

Robert: Excellent point. We are not responsible, as a nation, for every fruitcake wondering around out there, even if he's wearing a bomb belt. There's nothing so nuts that some American somewhere doesn't believe it. My own personal cut off is the 2% of Americans who believe that they, or someone they know, has had a close encounter with an extraterrestrial. So, unless at least 6 million Americans believe some nutty thing, I don't feel any obligation to consider it.

(I have been thinking about raising my threshold to 49 million, the number of Americans who thought that John Kerry would be a better president than W.)

Posted by: David Cohen at July 22, 2005 10:20 AM

Party loyalty.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at July 22, 2005 10:25 AM

"pact with the devil"

All states recognized slavery as legal within their borders at the time the constitution was written and adopted, except for Vermont (1777?) and Mass. (1783?)

The 3/5 rule is as David stated, however that was due to the disproportionate numbers in the South and not the fact that slavery was not recognized in most of the Northern States.

Posted by: h-man at July 22, 2005 10:56 AM

is there that much difference between a suicide bomber, and someone who goes into a high school or a mc donalds and opens fire ? we have our own jihadis here, they just haven't been organized, yet.

Posted by: cjm at July 22, 2005 10:57 AM

The Framers were explicitly aware that they were buying the constitutional with the coin of accomodation:

Mr. Sherman said it was better to let the Southern States import slaves than to part with them, if they made that a sine qua non. He was opposed to a tax on slaves imported as making the matter worse, because it implied they were property. He acknowledged that if the power of prohibiting the importation should be given to the General Government that it would be exercised. He thought it would be its duty to exercise the power.

From Madisons Notes on the constitutional debates.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 22, 2005 12:36 PM

Mr. Govr. MORRIS moved to insert "free" before the word inhabitants. Much he said would depend on this point. He never would concur in upholding domestic slavery. It was a nefarious institution. It was the curse of heaven on the States where it prevailed. Compare the free regions of the Middle States, where a rich & noble cultivation marks the prosperity & happiness of the people, with the misery & poverty which overspread the barren wastes of Va. Maryd. & the other States having slaves. Travel thro' ye. whole Continent & you behold the prospect continually varying with the appearance & disappearance of slavery. The moment you leave ye. E. Sts. & enter N. York, the effects of the institution become visible, passing thro' the Jerseys & entering Pa. every criterion of superior improvement witnesses the change. Proceed south wdly & every step you take thro' ye. great region of slaves presents a desert increasing, with ye. increasing proportion of these wretched beings. Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them Citizens and let them vote. Are they property? Why then is no other property included? The Houses in this city [Philada.] are worth more than all the wretched slaves which cover the rice swamps of South Carolina. The admission of slaves into the Representation when fairly explained comes to this: that the inhabitant of Georgia and S. C. who goes to the Coast of Africa, and in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections & damns them to the most cruel bondages, shall have more votes in a Govt. instituted for protection of the rights of mankind, than the Citizen of Pa. or N. Jersey who views with a laudable horror, so nefarious a practice. He would add that Domestic slavery is the most prominent feature in the aristocratic countenance of the proposed Constitution. The vassalage of the poor has ever been the favorite offspring of Aristocracy. And What is the proposed compensation to the Northern States for a sacrifice of every principle of right, of every impulse of humanity. They are to bind themselves to march their militia for the defence of the S. States; for their defence agst. those very slaves of whom they complain. They must supply vessels & seamen in case of foreign Attack. The Legislature will have indefinite power to tax them by excises, and duties on imports: both of which will fall heavier on them than on the Southern inhabitants; for the bohea tea used by a Northern freeman, will pay more tax than the whole consumption of the miserable slave, which consists of nothing more than his physical subsistence and the rag that covers his nakedness. On the other side the Southern States are not to be restrained from importing fresh supplies of wretched Africans, at once to increase the danger of attack, and the difficulty of defence; nay they are to be encouraged to it by an assurance of having their votes in the Natl. Govt. increased in proportion, and are at the same time to have their exports & their slaves exempt from all contributions for the public service. Let it not be said that direct taxation is to be proportioned to representation. It is idle to suppose that the Genl. Govt. can stretch its hand directly into the pockets of the people scattered over so vast a Country. They can only do it through the medium of exports imports & excises. For what then are all these sacrifices to be made? He would sooner submit himself to a tax for paying for all the negroes in the U. States, than saddle posterity with such a Constitution.

Mr. DAYTON 2ded. the motion. He did it he said that his sentiments on the subject might appear whatever might be the fate of the amendment.

Mr. SHERMAN. did not regard the admission of the Negroes into the ratio of representation, as liable to such insuperable objections. It was the freemen of the Southn. States who were in fact to be represented according to the taxes paid by them, and the Negroes are only included in the Estimate of the taxes. This was his idea of the matter.

Mr. PINKNEY, considered the fisheries & the Western frontier as more burdensome to the U. S. than the slaves. He thought this could be demonstrated if the occasion were a proper one.

Mr. WILSON. thought the motion premature. An agreement to the clause would be no bar to the object of it.

Question On motion to insert "free" before "inhabitants."

N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. no. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. no.

From Madison's Notes, August 8, 1787.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 22, 2005 12:44 PM

They were sacrificed for the greater good.

We had to hang together.

Posted by: Sandy P at July 22, 2005 1:32 PM

Sandy: That's where I come out, too. But for all that we say that the nation is rooted in its Judeo-Christian heritage, what would religion teach us about an institution knowingly conceived in sin?

The title to this post shows what I think.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 22, 2005 1:51 PM

An excellent post, David. It reminds me of this:

"American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it." -James Baldwin

It was right to include the South--the other option would have been a Confederacy with a four-score and three-year headstart. Not to mention a French-American country on our borders.

I counsel against 'historicism'. The Magna Carta was a huge step--even if they were weak on, say, women's rights. Jefferson didn't free his slaves--but his ideas eventually did. I've always admired Washington the most. Not only because he could have been king but refused, but came to advocate abolitionism in his letters to the influential and freed his own slaves after preparing them.

How many of us would reject slavery if we were born into a society where it was as normal as breathing? We'd all like to think we would--but would we?

Adams and Hamilton were anti-slavery from the beginning. Franklin & Washington came to be. Even Jefferson and Henry understood it to be evil, yet wouldn't free themselves from it personally. But we are only able to sit in judgement at this late date because they made it possible for us to do so.

Posted by: Noel at July 22, 2005 5:56 PM

H-Man: In 1787, 2 years before the Constitutio, Congress adopted the Northwest Ordinance, Governing what is now Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota. It provided:

Art. 6. There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted: Provided, always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the original States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 23, 2005 2:58 AM

Excellent post Noel.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 23, 2005 12:04 PM
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