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The Methods in the Mendacity of Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Catholic Right activist Thomas E. Woods, Jr., was upset when I described him as a neo-Confederate. But his ongoing involvement with neo-Confederate organizations as well as the ideas expressed in his writing earned him that descriptor. It is one which will undoubtedly be fairly applied until such time as he publicly disassociates himself from neo-Confederate groups and publicly changes his mind about the value of neo-Confederate ideas.

This post is the second of three brief replies to Woods’s critique of my series. In this piece I will focus on how he avoids responsibility for his own views.

First, let me acknowledge that I provided an opening for Woods to misrepresent something I had written via my own imprecision in  “Thomas E. Woods, Jr. And the Right to Oppress”.  Here is the paragraph in my post with the key sentence highlighted in italics:

 

Woods’ omissions are all-too-convenient. First, in response to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions (declaring the Alien and Sedition Acts unconstitutional) nine other states expressed either disapproval or outright rejection of the Resolutions. Secondly, Jefferson was always an anti-Federalist. Beyond that, Madison would conclude that determining unconstitutionality was to be decided by the federal courts. For Madison, nullification was a means of registering protest, not acting upon it.

Woods wasted no time in twisting this into a self-serving deflection. “For some reason,” Woods declared, “central to his argument is his claim that Thomas Jefferson was an Antifederalist. He was not.”

Sometimes the use of the capital letter of a written word changes its meaning. For example, when I used the term “anti-Federalist” I used a capital letter “F” as in the Federalist political party of which George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams were members (it was President John Adams who signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law; more on that issue in a second). I should have fully explained this, and not relied on a capital “F”.

Yet my error does not justify Woods’ claim that that I was describing Jefferson as an “antifederalist” — slyly employing a lower case letter “f” in the word, federalist. This writing of “federalist” describes a political philosophy, not a political party, as Woods almost certainly well knows.

Did I argue that the Alien and Sedition Acts were justified, as Woods suggests? Of course not; nor did I argue that nullification is ever the proper remedy for an individual state in reacting to a federal piece of legislation – no matter who is president of United States.  Instead, I was arguing for the proper Constitutional process of registering complaint on such ill-conceived legislation. To suggest otherwise is intellectually dishonest.  

So while I am sorry that I provided Woods with an opportunity to divert his readers away from my main point — the invalidity of nullification — we can thank Woods for revealing to us some of the methods of his mendacity.  (We can include in the latter his failure to provide a link to my piece so that reader could see for themselves what I had to say.)

So, back to our story. Was Jefferson a federalist?  To the extent that he supported the U.S. Constitution, yes. But Jefferson was also a man of contradictions. While being wary of larger government as President, for example, he also transacted the Louisiana Purchase — clearly a strong exercise of federal power. But beyond that, he was not a federalist in the same sense as Federalist Party members George Washington and Alexander Hamilton; two men who understood that confederation was not a sturdy enough form of government to withstand the arbitrary passions that have destroyed many societies throughout history.

What Woods is actually advocating is giving factions the power to hold popular government hostage.  Factionalism does not arise out of the Enlightenment ideal of reason and the pursuit of rational self-interest (as opposed to the unfettered laissez-faire self-interest favored by conservatives and those further Right).  Instead, it rears its ugly, destructive head when unchecked emotion controls group actions. Indeed, the contemporary Religious Right is increasingly resorting to factionalism to get its way; much like a child throwing a tantrum when it is told they cannot do something destructive to others.

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