Friday, October 6, 2006
Tonight's Episode: The Tory Perspective, or There Goes my Severance (THIRD UPDATE; see comments section)
A brief preface:
This one is long and unfortunately heavy on history, but PLEASE stick it out. Toward the end of this entry I will share some very significant personal news that is directly related to the substance of this essay. Forgive me for “burying the lead,” but in this case it's necessary to do so.
In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, those now honored as the fathers of American Independence were often disparaged as extremists – uncouth radicals given to hyperbole, ad hominem attacks on on King George and his agents, alarmist assessments of seemingly innocuous policies, and other off-putting rhetorical excesses.
Heading up the Department of Rhetorical Excess for the Freedom Faction was Samuel Adams, who was also its canniest and most effective organizer.
As Mark Puls points out in his splendid new biography Samuel Adams: Father of the American Revolution, Adams – although eclipsed by Washington, Jefferson, and his own second cousin John – was the chief instigator of the independence movement. To paraphrase James Madison, Samuel Adams took alarm at the first experiment on the liberties of the American colonists, and resisted abuses of power before they became institutionalized as policies.
During a 1761 conversation with John, who at the time didn't see the British government as a potential threat, Samuel “said he was suspicious of British power in the colonies and believed that leaders in London had `hostile designs' to rule over them,” notes Puls. “For more than a century, Britain had a `hands-off' policy concerning the colonies, but that attitude seemed to be changing.... Samuel told [John] to be on guard for signs of growing power by royal officials.”
The wealth and productivity of the Colonies had indeed provoked more than a few concupiscent glances from London. Once France was effectively chased from the Americas at the end of the Seven Years' War, England emerged as the most powerful Empire since Honorius woke up one morning in 410 AD to find himself hip-deep in Visigoths.
But debt is always empire's greedy and implacable consort, and London was looking to the Americas to pick up the tab. This meant, among other things, keeping Redcoats garrisoned along the western frontier – allegedly to provide security against terrorism from the Indians, but in fact to exact what London considered due obedience to its dictates.
As taxes were ramped up, efforts to avoid them escalated as well. This prompted London to begin a “war on smuggling,” employing “writs of assistance” operating in a fashion somewhat like roving wiretaps, national security letters, and other “homeland security” measures operate now.
And King George's administration created its own special tribunals – admiralty courts in Nova Scotia (from which the British had expelled the Acadians in the New World's first instance of “ethnic cleansing”) to prosecute those who ran afoul of the new impositions.
None of this was lost on Samuel Adams, even though most of the public was utterly oblivious to what was going on. He himself had been an elected tax collector, albeit one who displayed a pronounced indisposition to force people to pay up. The one good thing to come out of that disreputable job, notes Puls, is that Adams “developed a feel for the pulse of public opinion that no other local leader could match.”
But Adams, unlike the trend-sucking invertebrates that typify the contemporary PR industry and the cringing, timid sycophants who pay for their advice, wasn't content to “ride the wave” of public opinion. Leaders don't ride waves; they make them. This is why Adams made an issue out the 1764 Sugar Act when practically nobody else paid attention to it.
“In his view,” writes Puls of Adams, the Sugar Act “would lead to more taxes, more royal officials, and dependence on Britain, and eventually would render the self-governing legislatures powerless.... If an outside body such as Great Britain was allowed to tax [the Americans], then their liberty was gone.”
But Adams stood practically alone; nobody else in the political clubs or merchants' associations seemed to understand or care about the issue. He needed “to rouse the indignation over the taxes” -- which were imposed not just on sugar but on various other raw materials and finished products -- “and turn theoretical arguments about government and liberty into battle cries.”
This meant haranguing as many audiences as he could reach, using suitably alarmist and intemperate language, and then organizing a boycott of British goods that was calculated to provoke heavy-handed reprisals from London. This was intended to make clear and tangible the latent tyranny of London's policies.
Adams on one occasion defined his political strategy as: Put them in the wrong, and keep them in the wrong. He was, in a word, a provocateur. He was also an unabashed demagogue, both in the original sense of being a teacher of the public and in the less elevated sense of being prone to what some might now characterize as “violent” and “extremist” rhetoric.
And Adams was not at all afraid to tear into those he deemed collaborators with tyranny, including those who were passive out of a desire for respectability.
“If ye love wealth more than liberty,” wrote Adams in addressing that cowardly and sanctimonious lot as the War for Independence began, “and the tranquility of servitude more than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May you chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were ever our countrymen.”
Now, that's extremism. Would to God that our nation today were to come down with an epidemic of it.
Thomas Paine was a similarly gifted practitioner of patriotic invective, even though he didn't possess Samuel Adams' genius for organization (and was less commendable in many other important ways). Paine's most memorable – and important – use of his God-given gift of patriotic vituperation came in his treatment of King George in Common Sense.
The chief task before Paine in composing that Pamphlet was to provoke a sufficient portion of the torpid American public – not a majority, but rather an active, informed minority, who would influence a plurality – into reclaiming their sovereign rights from a government bent on centralizing power and reducing the colonists to peonage.
To that end, Paine directed his fire at the person of King George III, describing him as the “Royal Brute of Great Britain,” a “crowned ruffian” who was “nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang; whose savage manner of preeminence in subtlety obtained him the title of chief among plunderers.”
This isn't to say that Paine believed America would be better off with a different king. Rome had some experience with this kind of thing, as Montesquieu observed in The Spirit of Laws. "Instead of being roused from her lethargy by Caesar, Tiberius, Gaius Claudius, Nero, and Domitian, she riveted every day her chains,” he observed. This was because, "If she struck some blows, her aim was at the tyrant, not at the tyranny."
What Adams, Paine, and other intemperate, insult-spewing “George haters” of the Founding Era understood, however, was that it is impossible to take aim at tyranny without targeting the tyrant as well. It wasn't enough to speak in diaphanous generalities about abuses of power; the abuser had to be named and shamed, along with his collaborators, both active and passive. When a political system had become corrupted into a tyranny built on loyalty to a man, those who agitate for freedom will have to deploy arguments against that man – that is to say, ad hominem attacks.
As the late Murray Rothbard pointed out, Paine “delegitimized and desanctified the king in American eyes.”
I'm not that familiar with the reaction of Tory pamphleteers to the attacks on King George and his agents. I would be willing to bet, however, that some of them -- while professing to sympathize with the grievances of their over-taxed fellow Americans, and acknowledging the troubling trend toward despotism – saw King George, the most powerful ruler of his time, as a persecuted “victim” of those rhetorical assaults.
As the British noose tightened on Boston in reaction to the agitation of the Freedom Faction, Tory publicists no doubt strove to find some way to focus blame on Samuel Adams and his kindred “extremists,” whose radicalism had supposedly precipitated the crisis, and whose unproductive personal attacks on the King supposedly alienated moderate and respectable people.
The Tory position, in a phrase, would be this: Samuel Adams and his fellow radicals are to blame for our troubles, because they pissed off the King and those who support him.
What would the Tory Perspective sound like today -- an era when America is living under another hereditary Emperor named George, who is also the most powerful ruler on the planet?
Transposing the basic sentiment into contemporary terms, it might take the form of a warning against “Feeding the Police State Through Hate” -- the “hate” in this instance consisting of rhetorical attacks, done in the style of Samuel Adams and Thomas Paine, against the beady-eyed, in-bred, bloody-handed little simian who presently defiles the presidency.
“The major problem in attacking the wrong-doer rather than the action is the natural human tendency to allow room for the wrong in sympathy with the victim of ad-hominem style attacks,” lectures this voice of what could be called Tory “respectability.” “ As critics of the Bush administration level personal insults at President Bush, his apologists defend every presidential usurpation of power and assault on the Constitution -- in the name of fighting the war on terror, of course.”
“Apologists for the Imperial Presidency play upon the natural revulsion of the uninformed for this type of personal name-calling and ranting,” continues this tutor in moderation, who insists that “principled Constitutionalists ... can agree that giving power to the offender by attacking the person rather than the action plays right into the hands of those who seek to exploit it.” The Bush administration “has almost perfected the art of exploiting this flawed approach, and are masterfully using it to excuse their abuse of the Constitution -- along with the alarming accumulation of power in the Executive Branch.”
The man who performed that feat of verbal contortionism appears to have been auditioning for the rhetorical equivalent of the Cirque du Soleil: He places the blame for our descent into presidential dictatorship on those who have been warning about it, even as he has studiously avoided engaging in the struggle against the all-but-consummated transformation of our republic into a Reich.
Indeed, had our Founding Fathers acted on counsel of that sort, the United States would never have come into existence. And following that advice today will certainly result in the extinction of what remains of our liberty.
The author of those words is Alan Scholl, a man for whom I have great affection and no little respect. My feet have been under his table on more than one occasion, and my family has worshiped alongside his. We have been the beneficiaries of his kindness and generosity, and until last Tuesday (October 3), I was a professional colleague of Alan's on the staff of The John Birch Society, for which he serves as Director of Mission and Campaigns.
On Tuesday I was fired because I refused to shut down this blog, which I created and maintained on my own time.
According to Alan and the others who made the decision to fire me, I have used this private, after-hours web diary to express opinions and espouse positions contrary to the purposes and principles of the JBS. They insist that I have given scandal to those who have erroneously been identified as the Society's “core audience” -- Bush-enraptured Republicans, the very people working most energetically to build a presidential dictatorship.
Alan, who is in charge of shaping the Society's campaigns, has said, in so many words, that the JBS cannot undertake a campaign to oppose the emerging Fuhrer-Reich because by doing so it would become a “pariah.”
Given that the Society is already routinely – and dishonestly – compared to the KKK and groups of that ilk, what does it have to lose in terms of its public image by taking a principled stand in favor of civil liberties? And what does it have to gain by passively “riding the wave” on immigration and related issues, rather than (forgive the mixed metaphor) distinguishing itself from the conservative herd by standing up for the Constitution, individual liberties, and the rule of law?
With the legal foundation laid for an American gulag, I have to ask: Is freedom worth risking one's reputation, and livelihood? We know the answer of those who pledged their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.”
There are many, many good and capable people working in and for the JBS. Its principles are still sound, as is the concept behind its creation, which was to be the modern equivalent of Samuel Adams' Commitees of Correspondence. Those principles, and that concept, remain laudable and worthy of the attention of sober and serious patriots.
What the JBS needs, at the leadership level, is modest amount of Samuel Adams' intrepidity.
The New American, for which I was a contributor since 1990 and a Senior Editor since 1994, remains the finest journal of its sort in circulation. It still draws on the talents of many capable and principled writers, the best among them – now as it has been for some time – being William F. Jasper, the surviving Senior Editor and a very close friend.
Bill tells me that the Society is recovering very well from a tumultuous (and badly overdue) change in administration a year ago. Many key people, both volunteer leaders and former staffers, have returned to the crusade. The organization boasts a terrific media department as well as an impressive – and expanding – web presence.
It is my sincere hope and prayer that the organization grows and prospers – but more importantly, that its leadership quickly rediscovers the advertised purpose of the JBS, which is to lead an organized, principled struggle to restore our freedoms.
And by the way --
It looks like I'm not the only commentator recently pink-slipped for committing unabashed acts of "Bush Hatred":
"Comic Paul Mooney (most recently of Chappelle's Show) was midway through a taping of the famed Harlem theater's weekly variety show when the plug was abruptly pulled. Mooney claims the show's producer, Suzanne de Passe, told him material in his monologue had offended unnamed officials from Time Warner, whose chairman, Richard Parsons, heads the Apollo Theater Foundation's board of directors and is among the country's most prominent black Republicans."
"They wanted me out of there, the Republicans, the Time Warner people," Mooney insists. "They said I was Bush bashing, and it was hatred. I felt like I was in Iran or Cuba or somewhere." (Emphasis added.)
The routine, as Mooney describes it, was fairly vulgar, but not the sort of thing that used to get Lenny Bruce locked up. Were I in his place, I would have dropped the remarks about presidential daughters Jenna and Barbara, who are non-combatants, and focused entirely on the Wee Decider himself. Indeed, the bit that "killed" did exactly that: "Mooney also did a bit on how the letters in Bush's name can be manipulated to produce the number 666, proving Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's recent claim that Bush is the devil. `The audience went crazy for that,' he says."
"My point is ever since 9/11, we lost all our rights," Mooney contends. "They're practicing on the minorities, but when they get good at it they're going to do it to the white folks."
As a fellow "Bush-Basher of Color" who just lost a job for giving offense to the Dear Leader and his followers, I'm not entirely in accord with Mooney's analysis: It seems to me that the regime is "practicing" on all of us without regard to color. I do agree with Chris Floyd's take on this incident: "[T]he ethos of the Leader-state officially ratified by Congress last week is spreading fast...."
at 12:14 AM