History

Sep 17

Civil War 2.0 Will Be Livestreamed

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

The events of this summer are a taste of what’s to come in the fall, and even more so, November 9, 2016.

Someone is going to win the Presidential election, and regardless of whether it’s Trump or Clinton, the loser’s supporters are going to feel existential angst about America, and their place in it, far beyond the usual.

Pat Buchanan advises us to take a Chill Pill; “For when a real powder keg blew in the ’60s, I was there. And this is not it.” And yet…in “The ’60s” (and the early ’70s, which is when some of the worst SHTF) we had the evening TV news and the papers. The crazy spread slower then. This time, any and every incident is going to be magnified and extremely accelerated. (more…)

America’s Thinning Cohesion

If someone says that America is the one nation based on an idea and not an identity one more time, I swear I’ll…..

Eh, probably complain about it online before moving on to more practical matters. Anyway, here’s my latest Taki’s Mag piece about why Mexican immigrants need to assimilate or go home. An excerpt:

I can’t think of a better example of the “propositional nation” concept so enjoyed by the left. Liberals love to crow about America being an open, welcoming society for all. Mainstream conservatives, who wet the bed over the possibility of being called xenophobic or hateful, have foolishly given in to this abstraction. In a recent address to a group of congressional interns (read: a publicity stunt), Speaker of the House Paul Ryan contended that “America is the only nation founded on an idea—not an identity.”

Not by a mile, Mr. Amnesty.

The late Harvard professor Samuel Huntington has covered this ground before, but let’s recap: America is a country founded by men of English descent, informed by Protestant theology and Enlightenment ethics. The founders didn’t create a country and system of government that was meant for pygmy hut-dwellers. It was made for what John Jay called in Federalist No. 2 “a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs.” These “people” just so happen to be predominantly Anglo-Protestant. Over time, other creeds and ethnicities have adopted, sometimes imperfectly, the American identity, including Germans and Catholics. But we still remain a weird breed compared with, say, the goat-lovers in Syria.

So why is Ramirez so clueless about the historical roots of the country he was born in?

Read the rest here. And please, don’t put guacamole on your burger, unless you truly want to see America die.

America’s first UFO

Apologies for my light posting these last few months, and thanks to all who have kept things going. I aim to pick up the pace a bit in the new year (though if anyone out there would like to take over social media duties drop me a line; I just don’t have the time to promote this blog like it deserves to be). The podcast is coming slowly but well, with the first three or four episodes beginning to take shape, some sources picked, and I’ve even put pen to paper on one of the scripts. Stay tuned.

Also, Ron Fournier’s book Love That Boy is out in April. You dads out there, pick it up, it’s bound to be great. I helped with a little research when it was still in the early stages, and am excited to see what the final product looks like.

But back to Virginia. The lady and I joined my family for a Shakespeare doubleheader at Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton last week, and in between we visited two members of the Virginia Antiquarian Booksellers Association. At Barrister’s Books, so named because it’s tucked into the alley behind the downtown courthouse, I picked up a collection of columns by George Holbert Tucker, the longtime Virginiana columnist for the Virginian-Pilot who got his start as an archivist for the WPA. They’re full of strange little details, like the third Earl of Southampton Henry Wriothesley being visited in the Tower of London by his loyal cat, who kept its notorious rats at bay, John Pory’s drinking habits, a congressman’s attempt to repatriate Pocohontas’s remains, and more.

There’s one that probably won’t fit into the podcast’s story, but it’s so good I’ll transcribe it for you here, about the first UFO sighting in British America, on July 25, 1813. Unfortunately the book does not date when the columns were published, but they appeared in the Virginian-Pilot and Ledger-Star. Tucker begins by noting the more recent UFO sightings in 1965-67 before telling the story:

… the 1813 UFO recorded by the Norfolk County man easily matched all of the recent Virginia-oriented ones described in Vallee’s book and elsewhere, plus humorous touches lacking in the others. SO, first a word concerning the man who saw the aerial object and reported it to Thomas Jefferson.

Edward Hansford, the man who reported the UFO in 1813 over what is now Chesapeake, was a member of an old York County family that acquired notoriety in 1676 when one of its members, Major Thomas Hansford, was hanged by Sir William Berkeley for the traitorous role he played in Bacon’s Rebellion.

The later Hansford, a carpenter, was living in Norfolk County during the Revolution, working on forts erected by the Commonwealth. In 1784, he married Ann Kidd in Norfolk County. In 1802, he was appointed harbormaster for the District of Norfolk and Portsmouth.

At the time of the sighting, Hansford operated the Washington Tavern on London Street in Portsmouth, the sign of which depicted the Father of Our Country commanding his troops on one side and planting a field on the other. When Hansford died is not known, but his widow survived until 1832, running a fashionable boarding house on East Main Street in Norfolk where in 1824 she was Lafayette’s hostess.

So much for prologue. The following is the significant excerpt from Hansford’s letter to Jefferson, dated Portsmouth, July 13, 1813, in which he described the strange object that he and a Baltimore citizen named Jon L. Clark witnessed.

“We the subscribers most earnestly solicit, that your honor will give us your opinion on the following extraordinary phenomenon viz.: At (the exact time is omitted in the letter) hour on the night of the 25th instant, we saw int he South a Ball of fire as full as large as the sun at Maridian (sic) which was frequently obscured within the space of ten minutes by a smoke emitted from its own body, but apparently retained its brilliancy, and form during that period, but with apparent agitation. It then assumed the form of a turtle which also appeared to be much agitated and as frequently obscured by a similar smoke. It descended obliquely to the West, and raised again perpendicular to its original hite (sic) which was on or about 75 degrees. It then assumed the shape of a human skeleton which was frequently obscured by a like smoke and as frequently descended and ascended – it then assumed the form of a Scotch Highlander arrayed for battle and extremely agitated, and ultimately passed to the West and disappeared in its own smoke.”

Whether Jefferson answered Hansford’s letter is now unknown, but one thing is certain: The liquor provided by the Washington Tavern must have been pretty potent. Otherwise, how can we account for Hansford’s transformation of what was a legitimate UFO into a human skeleton or a Scotch Highlander?

If Georgio Tsoukalos feels like visiting Southside to explore Virginia’s extraterrestrial connections, I am at his service.

Make America renegade again

 renegade

The book A Renegade History of the United States by Thaddeus Russell, a professor of History and American Studies at Occidental College is maybe inaugurating a new genre in American History. Russell is a maverick historian whose family come from the Trotskyist left and is very interested in libertarianism, however not a libertarian or a socialist but something in between. In a time when political correctness is dominating left-wing activism on campus, these professor tell a tale that is not going to please a lot of liberals. The premise is that renegades made America great. But who are these renegades?

He writes in the book about prostitutes as the pioneer of women’s rights. Now these is not something that contemporary feminists from Gloria Steinem or Lena Dunham are going to agree since they support banning prostitution. But Russell had some strong arguments, prostitutes were among the first American woman’s in achieve economic independence. A lot of the brothels were managed by madams that not only become wealthy but influential in local politics. Prostitution also broke race segregation of the early since most prostitutes didn’t had problems in offer their services to non-white customers and also there were some Asian, Native American and Black prostitutes as well.

There are some interesting things about race relations. He talks about the fascination with black culture and slavery from White Americans as something that goes beyond the puritan ethics of the time. He talk about ethnic groups like Irish, Italian and Jewish and how they became White Americans after being marginalized Europeans. Irish and Italians join the police, the military and became important politicians while Jews were successfully in business and the academia.

But he also has some strong disagreements with mainstream left-wing historians about the Civil Rights leaders because he consider MLK and others were too puritans and on a lot of issues on the side of conservatives. He made a point that is not necessary understood that the radical Black Power movement was crucial for the achievement of Civil Rights since MLK had the leverage to say to the white political class that could choose between non-violent Cristian Afro-Americans or the dangerous black radicalism.

He talks about how the mafia was fundamental for the LGBT movement since a lot of gay bars used to be ruled by the mafia. But also when he talks about the LGBT movement he spoke about how the early leaders of the movement try to present their self as regular Americans and not crazy queers. About how the early LGBT movement there was a desire of acceptation in the society.

There is also a powerful tale about the similarities between the New Deal liberalism, Italian fascism and German Nazism as totalitarian programs. In which popular leaders use centralized government in the name of progress. He talk about the early good relations of these governments and how the World War II wasn’t a fight of ideology but of geographical influence.

By far Russell has write one of the most interesting books on American history of the last years. His book is Michel Foucault meets Howard Zinn. The history of how some times are not virtuous leaders or courageous activists that had made America a better place but the lowlifes that are more interested in their self than the in country whom however by different ways conquest the liberty that today Americans celebrate.

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The historical legacy of American Socialism

The recent book The Socialist Party of America: A Complete History by Jack Ross, a contributor to this blog, is a must-read for anyone interested in the meaning of American socialism. The books starts in the nineteen century with the early socialists of America, some more close to Marx and others more similar to Bakunin. What seems to be the center of the book is American social democracy, but when Ross speaks about social democracy, he doesn’t refer to the Keynesianism of liberals like Paul Krugman, but the populist Jeffersonian decentralism of Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas.

Both Debs and Thomas are central to history of American socialism. The book refers to Debs as biggest champion in American history of the cause of free speech. Being imprisoned for a political speech in the context of World War I, there are few politicians that could match his anti-imperialism and conviction, and Ross mentions a possible kindred spirit in the present, the conservative libertarian Ron Paul.

Debs was a five time presidential candidate, a man who came from a prosperous immigrant family from Terre Haute, Indiana but who gave his life to the cause of workers and peace. Ross mentions that if Debs had been the presidential candidate of the Populist Party, history could have been very different; if the socialists would have gotten the endorsement from the unions, they might have been able to become an organization similar to social democratic parties in Europe. Ross makes clear his admiration for Norman Thomas, a Presbyterian minister opposed to both the New Deal and World War II, who ran six times for president as a candidate of the Socialist Party of America. Like Debs, Thomas was an anti-imperialist whose commitment to peace made him an ally of the Old Right.

Both Debs and Thomas were patriots in the most profound sense of the word; like the early socialists, their cause was a new American revolution against the oppression of capitalism, but their desired model was very different from Marxian European Socialism.

Why socialism failed to take root in the United States is question that gnaws at the edges of the book. While there is not one answer, Jack Ross thinks that the early days of the Socialist Party were crucial to their tragic future, because despite the fact that Eugene Debs was a true hero for the working class, the Socialist Party could never build a strong alliance with national labor organizations. I think there is some truth to that but the question of race is very important; the ties of socialists with racists and even with the Ku Klux Klan in some regions generate a strong problem with minorities in the days of Debs despite that he and an important part of the leadership of the Socialist Party were anti-racist. Also the question of Zionism made some Jewish socialists change their anti-interventionist position.

The text attempts to refute the Popular Front narrative that has been common in the history of the American Left — the role of communism and especially the Communist Party USA were overstated in the historiography of the Cold War. Though the Popular Front realignment was due largely to communists, it is very hard to think that this explains why some radicals support the Democratic Party today. Socialism was misunderstood in the context of Cold War as a synonym for communism, despite that in the American tradition they were particularly opposed to one another.

The attempt to defend the historic American social democracy is complex, because today social democracy is synonym of left-liberalism and identity politics. Maybe Milwaukee could be an interesting example for the history of American socialism, a city with a history of mayors from the Socialist Party which were efficient and transparent in the way to govern — the last one was Frank Zeidler, elected in 1948. John Norquist who called himself a fiscally conservative socialist was elected in 1998 as a member of the Democratic Party. I think that while Norquist never hold the fame of Bernie Sanders, he would probably had been closer to a more populist vein of the socialism that the Socialist Party used to represent.

On the legacy of American socialism, Ross points three groups that emerge from the break-up of the Socialist Party of America: the Schatmanites of SDUSA, the reformers of DSOC and the radicals of SPUSA. While Schatmanites were fundamental to the development of neoconservativism and very hard to identify as socialists, you can hear prominent neocons like David Frum supporting universal health care and a hike of the minimum wage. However, if non-interventionism is what used to be the principal characteristic of the American socialism, that makes them, definitively, something else.

DSOC, now DSA, is very small and despite having prominent members like Cornel West it is still part of left-wing of the Democrat Party, and it’s not event as prominent as some other progressive groups. The SPUSA still participates in some elections, but shows weaker and weaker results; their last elected member Karen Kubby was a councilwoman from Iowa City, who switched parties to the Greens, a relatively a quite common choice for members of the SPUSA.

The possibilities of development of socialism in America despite the odds were very exciting. The book relates that in the beginnings of the last century there was even a proposal of members of the Socialist Party to form an independent socialist republic in Texas. But the most clear possibility for the development of American Socialism was if Martin Luther King would have survived and run as a third party candidate in 1968.

King’s politics were close to Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas, but obviously being a prominent Afro-American leader he could rally the support of minorities. Without King the third party effort of the People’s Party failed. In the 80s the Citizens Party was born out of the Barry Commoner presidential campaign but its form of liberal reformism never became powerful. In 1984 the Green Party was born. The Green Party, despite being identified with the Keynesianism of Ralph Nader, was born in the legacy of the New Left. In the 80s socialists and anarchists founded the Left Green Network, whose purpose was to drive the party to the left, among them was the social theorist and eco-anarchist Murray Bookchin. Under his influence the Left Green Network developed a decentralist platform fighting for change at the local level, but with time the Left Green Network’s priorities fell off in favor of the more liberal wing of the party that was more focused on the national level.

I think Ross’s book fails to mention the importance of one of the Green Party founders to the history of socialism in America, Howie Hawkins was a member of SPUSA that became an ally of Murray Bookchin, but also was key into drafting Ralph Nader as the Green Party candidate. While the 2000 Nader campaign caused a backlash against the Green Party for allegedly being a spoiler, party insiders had said that the organization wasn’t as strong as in the early days of the party. The Green Party failed to become a biggest threat to Democratic Party in the next election, the liberal wing decided to choose as presidential candidate an unknown lawyer David Cobb in 2004, against Nader who was supported by socialists and anarchists and even some libertarians and paleoconservatives.

Nader running as an independent didn’t help in the party building, but neither did running a weak candidate like Cobb. In 2008 Nader built a relatively similar alliance running as an independent, while greens choose Cynthia McKinney a popular black congresswoman, but with Barack Obama as the Democratic Party nominee both Nader and McKinney showed poor numbers. In 2012 they ran Jill Stein, a physician, and got numbers far from the ones of Nader in 2000. Stein, unlike Nader, never showed interest in making inroads with the paleoconservative or libertarian vote and was in search of progressive supporters. The Green Party has evolved from libertarian municipalism of the 80s to the liberal reformism of the 90s to eco-socialism today. Though eco-socialism is a term connected to Murray Bookchin, I think today eco-socialism has in more in common with state interventionism in the name of ecology. The Green Party has embraced identity politics, which could be a problem if as in the past there is need of the votes from what used to be the Old Right. Though decentralism is still on their platform, they focus a lot more on the presidential campaign.

Ross mentions that the Old Right and socialist left had a lot in common, and I agree. Their foreign policy was the biggest common cause, Bill Kauffman goes as far as to suggest Pat Buchanan is the second coming of Eugene Debs. The text fails to mention that Goldwater speechwriter Karl Hess was also a former member of the Socialist Party, but unlike the neocons he went leftward in the context of the Vietnam War. But the text mentions something often forgotten, the fact that after his presidential campaigns Norman Thomas started to sound closer to Peter Kropotkin, denouncing state bureaucracy and calling for the development of mutual aid. In those days he sounded closer to eco-anarchists like Murray Bookchin or Christian anarchists like Dorothy Day. But even with libertarians there is still some room for an alliance, in the 2014 election Howie Hawkins the eco-socialist candidate of the Green Party for Governor of New York opposed the Keystone XL Pipeline on the grounds that it violated property rights.

A curious fact is that Jack Ross was a writer of The American Conservative, and I think he could be defined as a heterodox left-conservative, but his book could make the radical left think again in their own tradition. Today the possibility of America having a president who calls himself a socialist is real. Few journalists predicted Sanders’ success, the liberal left is tired of the corporatism of the Clintons, and Sanders’ message is resonating with a public tired of the merger of Wall Street and Washington. But neither Debs nor Thomas would had been proud of Sanders, who is not only much more bureaucratic than them, he is also a supporter of the American Empire.

Ross points that socialists are like prophets, and he is right. The historic antiwar activist David McReynolds said on the 100 year anniversary of the Socialist Party that the victory of socialism in America was not going to be when someone who was part of the socialist left is in a place of power — a sly reference to the neocons. Likewise, a victory for Bernie Sanders could easily be less the vindication of American Socialism than its defeat.

I don’t know if America will see a character like Debs or Thomas again. Ralph Nader was closer to the Old Left in speaking about a broad left/right alliance against the corporate state and the importance of the concept of community activism. But Ron Paul was even closer because in making foreign policy his priority he was able unify libertarians, conservatives, progressives and socialists against the American Empire, and like Debs and Thomas he want a Republic. I think that the book shows that not only the New Left had a lot in common with the Old Right but actually the Old Left had also a lot in common with the Old Right, a call for a Jeffersonian decentralist Republic, and whether one calls that libertarian, conservative or socialist doesn’t make much difference. The socialist left in America had strong democratic convictions and was opposed to all totalitarian forms of socialism. Though today there is still a caricature of socialism as a synonym of Soviet communism, but the youth is not interested in buying it.

There is a long noble history of American socialism, men and woman who choose to believe that they can build a new country, based on the ideals on which the old one was founded. We may need to rediscover it, as the socialism we’re most familiar with is much more pernicious. America has in the last century started to live under a kind of socialism, the state socialism of Bismarck, proper to a military empire like the ones between World Wars. Later, in the context of Vietnam War, Murray Rothbard described a “nixonian socialism,” and since Reagan, neoconservativism can be understood as right-wing social democracy. If conservatives have been vital for the triumph of some forms of socialism, maybe they could be a factor in bringing about a future for the more positive kind. Maybe the descendents of the prairie socialists are supporting Donald Trump but I think they could be waiting for a new Eugene Debs.

(Image source)