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What Catholic Neo-Confederates Don’t Want You To Know About Secession

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

During the summer of 2013 I wrote several posts about Catholic Neo-Confederates. My purpose was to explain the activities of libertarians such as Tom Woods, Thomas DiLorenzo and an organization known as the League of the South: all of whom advocate for the secession and nullification as tools to be used by the Christian Right.

To that end, they perpetuate the myth of an antebellum South that was united in its belief in and desire for secession. They paint a portrait of Old Dixie as both an orthodox Christian and libertarian paradise for all its inhabitants that was spoiled by a foreign intruder: thus their claim that the conflict of 1861 to 1865 was not a Civil War initiated by a faction of Southern planters — but a war of Northern aggression.

Bullfeathers and balderdash!

In an August 6, 2015 article Sarah Posner interviewed author Julie Ingersoll about her book on Christian Reconstructionism, Building God’s Kingdom was asked about the influence the movement’s founder, R. J. Rushdoony has had upon the Neo- Confederate movement. Ingersoll explained:

I’ve tried to handle this delicately and in detail in the book and a brief answer is really difficult. This is partly because neither of these movements has clear-cut membership requirements and it depends what you mean by Neo-Confederates. There are numerous organizations that identify as Reconstructionist and Neo-Confederate that hold lectures and conferences—there is a lot of cross-fertilization among them…

What’s important, I think, is the larger way in which Rushdoony and the Reconstructionists helped build a resurgence of interest in and affection for, a pre-civil war vision of society. They did this, in part by promoting the work of Southern Presbyterian theologian R. L. Dabney and the view that the civil war was not about slavery but was a religious war to preserve a godly southern culture from the tyranny of a secularizing North.

Libertarian and traditionalist Catholic author Thomas E. Woods, Jr. is correct that the Civil War is surrounded by mythology. But with that said, the real myths are the ones Woods believes in and teaches in his homeschooling courses and in his books. The war was not about the North against the South, but patriot against secessionist. And for our purposes, many of those patriots included Southerners – a fact that today’s secessionist faction all-too-conveniently ignores.

Take for example Woods’s claims about the Civil War in his heavily criticized work – from both the left and the right, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Woods starts out his chapter on the Civil War by claiming it should be more accurately described as a “War Between the States.”

Strictly speaking, there never was an American Civil War. A civil war is a conflict in which two or more factions fight for control of a nation’s government. The English Civil War of the 1640s and the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s to classic examples; in both cases, two factions sought to control the government. This was not the case in the United States between 1861 and 1865. The seceding Southern states were not trying to take over the United States government; they wanted to declare themselves independent.

But contrary to this assertion, secession was, as it is today, a tool of factionalism. As Civil War hero, General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain noted, “The flag we bore into the field was not that of particular States, no matter how many nor how loyal, arrayed against other States. It was the flag of the Union, the flag of the people, vindicating the right and charged with the duty of preventing any factions, no matter how many nor under what pretense, from breaking up this common Country.”

Chamberlain’s statement cuts the heart out of Tom Woods’s central argument, that Southern secession was not a factious action. In fact, the majority of American Southerners did not support the secession.

Two excellent books on secession and nullification pose a challenge to Woods and his ilk: The South Vs. The South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War by William W. Freehling and David Williams’s Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War. On page 7 of the introduction of the latter, Williams makes two important points:

It seems to gratify the pride of most southerners, at least white southerners, to think that the wartime South was united. It seems also to gratify the pride of many northerners to think their ancestors defeated a united South. Few northerners seem willing to consider that’s the Union may not have been preserved, the chattel slavery would not have ended when it did, without the service of nearly half a million Southerners in Union blue

And:

Our skewed image of the Civil War South also stems in part from the ways in which we emphasize the era’s military and political aspects. The great mass of literature dealing with the war years focuses largely on battles and leaders. Such studies are crucial, to be sure. By focusing so much of our collective attention on those aspects, tends to foster the myth of sectional unity, minimizing dissent or ignoring it altogether. In doing so, we paint all southerners, all white southerners at least, with a broad brush of rebellion. This oversimplified an often not-so-subtle effort to, in a sense, generally demonize white southerners as led to the mistaken idea that the terms “Southern” and “Confederate” are interchangeable during the war. They are used as such in most texts to this day. That firmly embedded misconception leaves little room in the popular and, too often, professional imagination for the hundreds of thousands of southern whites who opposed secession and worked against the Confederacy.

Williams documents how secessionist factions seized control many of the state conventions called to decide whether or not to leave the Union. Over and over again the author cites examples of secessionist intimidation designed to prevent the participation in these meetings of those who chose loyalty to the United States. Williams said in a 2008 interview:

That’s right. In late 1860 and early 1861, there were a series of votes on the secession question in all the slave states, and the overwhelming majority voted against it. It was only in the Deep South, from South Carolina to Texas, that there was much support for secession, and even there it was deeply divided. In Georgia, a slight majority of voters were against secession.

He also said:

The popular vote [in Georgia] didn’t decide the question. It chose delegates to a convention. That’s the way slaveholders wanted it, because they didn’t trust people to vote on the question directly. More than 30 delegates who had pledged to oppose secession changed their votes at the convention. Most historians think that was by design. The suspicion is that the secessionists ran two slates — one for and one supposedly against — and whichever was elected, they’d vote for secession.

In that same interview Williams commented, “It seems like the common folk were very much ignored and used by the planter elite. As a result, over half a million Americans died.” Such behavior does not describe a reasoned citizenry justifiably seeking independence but a poisonous faction trampling on the rights of the many.

Indeed, a close examination of Confederate society as well as of the Antebellum South exposes the weaknesses of economic libertarianism, especially of the Austrian School laissez-faire variety. And as both authors esoterically point out, it was devotion to libertarianism that ultimately did in the Confederacy.

As both authors point out the Confederate Army never had enough food to feed their soldiers. The problem was not enough farming but no government planning that would require the plantations to produce certain amounts of food. Instead, the plantation class exercised “their freedom” and concentrated on growing cotton and tobacco simply because those products were far more profitable. Woods, DiLorenzo and other Neo-Confederates often speak of the Confederacy and the Antebellum South as if they were paradise. That may have been true for the plantation class, but not for slaves and poor white farmers.

As David Williams points out in Bitterly Divided, plantation owners used slavery not only to exploit African-American labor also to control poor white dirt farmers. Slavery was used to keep wages artificially low by creating a surplus of cost-free labor. It also allowed the wealthier members of Southern society to build economic empires against which any smaller free labor enterprise had to struggle to compete with (at page 11, Williams states that on the eve of the Civil War half of the South’s personal income went to just over 1000 families). The planters used their economic muscle to outbid poor whites for the best farmland – and in the process, drove up prices. And to control them politically, devices such as literacy tests and poll taxes were used to keep poor whites from voting – the same devious devices that would later be employed to keep African-Americans from exercising their right to vote.

How unpopular was the Confederacy in the South? Those “nearly half a million Southerners in Union blue” more than replaced the 364,511 Federal soldiers and sailors killed in action. Our nation would not have been preserved without the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Southern whites and blacks dressed in blue uniforms, along with the countless others who engaged in everything from civil disobedience to out right guerilla activity.

As I have previously written, libertarian economic s is not about freedom per se but the freedom to oppress others:

This is libertarianism ‘s inherent fatal flaw: Its sole emphasis upon the liberty of the more powerful individual and its striking indifference to the rights of others. It fails to account for externalities — when a third person is affected by an occurrence or transaction to which he is not a party. It is a philosophy of governance that refuses to consider that the individual’s well-being is linked to the well-being of all within a given society

And this brings us back to the mythology pedaled by Rushdoony and the Reconstructionists — that of an idyllic pre-Civil War Southern society and notion that the war was not about slavery but was a religious war to preserve a godly Southern culture from the tyranny of a secularizing North. It was not. It was more about preserving a caste system society based upon Mudsill economics — a libertarian model that has more in common with feudalism than with capitalism.

Secession and nullification have regained currency with elements of the Christian Right in recent years, as Rachel Tabachnick and I have reported. They now rise, zombie-like, and threaten true economic and religious freedom. One way to expose the fraudulent foundations upon which secession and nullification are built, is to look at our own history — and to give long overdue credit to the brave American Southerners who helped to preserve the Union.

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Bishop DiMarzio’s Stilted Hobby Lobby Analogy

Originally posted at Talk to Action

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the overseer of the Diocese of Brooklyn-Queens New York, recently weighed in on the recent US Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the case concerning the ability of certain closely held corporations to opt out of one of the preventive health care  provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) that required that insurance packages provide free birth control for women. In praising the High Court’s decision he offered an analogy that was fractured and misses the point.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio is not well-known beyond the metropolitan New York area.  He is often overshadowed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan the head of the much larger and neighboring Diocese of New York. Installed by Pope John Paul II in October 2003, DiMarzio does nevertheless exercise influence by the fact that he lead a diocese of almost 1 ½ million Catholics. Beyond that, is also a religious cultural warrior being both a member of Opus Dei and a signatory of the Manhattan Declaration; the controversial statement that proclaims that Christians should not only oppose marriage equality and reproductive freedom, but engage in civil disobedience in order to get their way.

Thus it is not surprising that the bishop weighed in on the recent US Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby case. He told the local CBS affiliate:

Religious liberty is at stake. Let me give you an example: if we were to tell Muslims and Jews that pork is good to eat, the government could decide you should eat pork because it’s good for your health. Could we force them to do something that is against their religious tenet? I don’t think so,

Forget for now the shoddiness of the decision. Also put aside that by voting with the majority Associate Justice Antonin Scalia contradicted himself from a decision he himself wrote 24 years earlier. What the Bishop does not seem to understand is that health insurance provided by an employer is part and parcel of a compensation package, akin to monetary salary. This is a critical distinction that illuminates why this is a false analogy.

What SCOTUS has essentially said is that an employer has to power to tell an employee what to do with her compensation. Because birth-control could now conceivably not be covered by insurance plans, it drives up the cost to the user. The reason for that is simple: instead of making a simple $20 or $35 co-payment, the employee is now possibly liable for the full payment. Which brings us back to the bishop’s analogy.

Bishop DiMarzio’s syllogism does not work because it makes no distinction between employer and employee.  As the result of the court’s ruling an employer may now dictate to an employee — especially one whose religious beliefs differ from that of an anti-birth-control employer – that she cannot take advantage of the purchasing power of an insurance plan to lower her costs. And beyond that, because before Hobby Lobby was decided, the birth-control coverage was purchased through a compensation plan it was truly the employee, not be employer, who was paying for birth control. While the bishop spins a scenario of the government telling a Muslim or Jewish citizen what type of meat he must eat, the reality was quite different; it would be as if an employee could legally impede that same Muslim or Jew from purchasing what type of meat he can eat. The bishop’s analogy would only make sense if the employee were required to use birth control in violation of her religious convictions

I do agree with Bishop DiMarzio in one respect: religious freedom is the issue. Unfortunately, it is the Supreme Court that is now ensuring that the religious freedom of millions of Americans will be violated in the wake of Hobby Lobby.

Opus Dei Priest’s Secessionist Roadmap to Theocracy

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Fr. C.J. (“John”) McCloskey is in many ways the American face of the secretive Catholic organization, Opus Dei. He is a former Wall Streeter, who is well-connected on the Catholic Right and among the political and media elite of Washington, DC. There, he fosters his message of traditional Catholicism and supply-side economics framed with a reactionary view of the American people as being either “Bible Christians and faithful Catholics” or a “…culture of death.”

McCloskey recently raised the stakes of his geo-political vision in an essay in which he considers secession in response to and the continuation of Roe vs. Wade as the law of the land, which he sees as epitomizing the “tyrannical regime” that is the government of the United States.

John McCloskey

Then there is another possibility course of action, which, while ranking low in probability with the bookmakers, should not be ruled out: secession. I wrote about this elsewhere some years ago and stirred up no small amount of controversy. The red state/blue state dichotomy could—perhaps sooner than we might think—result in states opting to pull out of the union. My guess is that if that were to happen, the armed forces of the United States (who tend to be more conservative and religious than the general population) would be reluctant to exercise military force to stop seceding states. In addition, perhaps paradoxically, the generalized modern sense that we should not dictate personal lifestyle choices for others (although it coexists in many liberal minds with intolerance of traditional morality) may make blue states reluctant to impose continued membership in the United States on red states that choose to secede. On the other hand, given the United States’ status as a major superpower for the past century, for strategic reasons there may be more official resistance to secession than we might think. We pray the secession option does not happen, but ultimately the protection of innocent life trumps any tyrannical regime that cannot protect even the smallest of its future citizens.

As startling as these assertions may be, they are not new for McCloskey. As I observed in a post in 2013, the Opus Dei prelate is linked to Catholic neo-Confederate activist Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Indeed, McCloskey is no stranger to the concept of secession:

It is therefore no surprise that among Woods’ admirers is the influential Opus Dei priest C. John McCloskey. The former Ivy League-Wall Street laissez-faire apostle-turned-prelate has himself ruminated on the appeal of secession to achieve theocracy. In his infamous futuristic dystopian essay 2030: Looking Backwards he gleefully imagines a violent separation from the United States:

The tens of thousands of martyrs and confessors for the Faith in North America were indeed the “seed of the Church” as they were in pre-Edict of Milan Christianity. The final short and relatively bloodless conflict produced our Regional States of North America. The outcome was by no means an ideal solution but it does allow Christians to live in states that recognize the natural law and divine Revelation, the right of free practice of religion, and laws on marriage, family, and life that reflect the primacy of our Faith. With time and the reality of the ever-decreasing population of the states that worship at the altar of “the culture of death,” perhaps we will be able to reunite and fulfill the Founding Fathers of the old United States dream to be “a shining city on a hill.”

McCloskey’s key phrase is this: “…and laws on marriage, family, and life that reflect the primacy of our Faith.” such a statement cannot be mistaken for anything but the intention is to create a theocracy through secession.

The Ghost of John Calhoun

Secessionism has its roots in the philosophy of 19th century South Carolina Senator John Calhoun (1782-1850). Distrustful of democracy, Calhoun was a firebrand who, unlike other Southern politicians who not only described slavery as “a necessary evil,” openly proclaimed the peculiar institution to be a positive good, not only for African-Americans (of whom he paternalistically described as, “a people unfit for it [liberty]”) but as a means of driving away poor whites he viewed as “shiftless.”

Unlike his contemporaries Daniel Webster and Abraham Lincoln, Calhoun did not believe Americans were a people; instead, only individuals and groups of people who took their identities by their home state or by their particular section of United States. Disdaining numerical democracy, he believed that minorities had to be protected – albeit, certain elite minorities: the slaveholder but not the slave. To that end, Calhoun developed the concept of “concurrent majorities.”

Calhoun knew that the northern urban centers had the numbers to politically prevail over the agrarian south. So in place of numerical expressions of a national will Calhoun substituted the idea that votes would not merely be counted but weighed pursuant to sectional interests and prejudices.

(This view is consistent with what conservative icon Russell Kirk observed to be one of Calhoun’s fundamental beliefs: complete equality is incompatible with liberty)

In any case, Calhoun’s notion of weighted sectional interests would serve as justification for individual states to nullify Federal statues locally determined to be unconstitutional. And according to Thomas E. Woods, if nullification is not widely supported a state has another remedy:

In Calhoun’s conception, when a state officially nullified a federal law on the grounds of its dubious constitutionality, the law must be regarded as suspended. Thus could the “concurrent majority” of a state be protected by the unconstitutional actions of a numerical majority of the entire country. But there are limits to what the concurrent majority could do. Should the three-fourths of the states, by means of the amendment process, choose to grant the federal government the disputed power, then the nullifying state would have to decide whether it going with the decision of its fellow states or whether it would be better to secede from the Union.

Therein lies the excuse for secession. Upon closer inspection, it is a flimsy excuse to avoid a common minimum standard of basic rights. For all his concern about minority rights, Calhoun was downright hypocritical.

A close review of “concurrent majorities” reveals that the concept is not only ignores the prevailing will of a national consensus it also does not protect the rights of all minorities. Instead, the real life application of concurrent majorities would really mean local self-selected minorities rule. In other words, what would be a national minority in terms of sectionalism would then become that section’s prevailing majority.

We need look no further for a good example than the American South on the eve of the Civil War. In 1860 there were 9 million individuals living in Dixie; of those 4 million were African-American slaves with no rights whatsoever. Under this scheme not all individuals share the same minimum standard of rights. At the same time, the white land owning classes fully enjoyed the right to vote, to serve on juries and engage in other civil functions. The notion of concurrent majorities is nothing but a sham; an excuse to cast oppression as a liberty interest.

Neither Woods nor McCloskey advocates the restoration of the institution of slavery. However, they do seek a different system of oppression: theocracy. Ideas such as nullification, secession and concurrent majorities can be used interchangeably to bring about theocracy as they were once used attempting to make permanent human slavery. And just as African-Americans were once denied a minimum standard of natural rights so too would those not practicing a traditionalist Catholic or fundamentalist Christian religious belief. Personal decisions regarding birth control, reproductive rights the marriage equality would be limited by the dictates of ultra-orthodox Christian Applications to secular law, not by the collective will of the nation.

Over the course of more than two centuries as an American people the general movements has to make basic rights more inclusive. This includes the freedom to believe or not to believe as we see fit. Americans have given their lives in the struggle against those who would diminish those rights. It appears that McCloskey has no qualms about entertaining discredited and treasonous ideas and actions in order to accomplish what cannot be accomplished through the democratic process.

It is disconcerting enough that zombie concepts such as nullification and secession are currently being casually bandied about in the public discourse. It is even more disconcerting when a priest who has the ear of the rich and powerful does so as well.

Nationwide Catholic “Counter” Rallies Next Friday, Noon, June 8, for Abused Children, Women, Sisters, & Gay Persons

As I just noted at the end of a posting at my Bilgrimage site earlier today, a reader I value has sent the following announcement about counter rallies that are being organized to occur simultaneously with the nationwide USCCB- sponsored “religious freedom” rallies this coming Friday.  In contrast to the USCCB-sponsored rallies, these counter rallies don’t seem to be centrally organized with a website to which I can point readers for more information.  But the announcement is informative and clear, and should answer any questions interested readers may have about attending, wearing white, bringing signs to indicate your concerns, and doing local organizing to gather other like-minded Catholics in your area.  The proposal to encourage Catholics who want to give a counter-witness to the narrow, politically partisan and lopsided USCCB definition of religious freedom strikes me as very good: Continue reading

Gender, Power, Privilege: Unavoidable Impolite Questions about the Catholic Conversation in the Public Square

In a posting I made earlier this morning about the compromise the Obama administration has offered the U.S. Catholic bishops re: contraceptive coverage, I ended by noting Joan Walsh’s outstanding analysis of what has taken place in the intra-Catholic debate lately. I noted that Joan Walsh sees a new maturity in what has been a tribalistic American Catholicism whose public voice has been almost exclusively dominated by men.  She notes that, in recent debates about the contraceptive guidelines, the voices of women–Catholic women included–are beginning to be heard with new force.   Continue reading

Civil Partnerships: Irish Bishops’ Humpty Dumpty Language.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you
can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again.
“They’ve a temper, some of them – particularly verbs, they’re the proudest – adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs – however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

“When I use a word”, said Humpty Dumpty, “It means what I want it to mean”

In Ireland, the Catholic bishops are concerned about the imminent passing of legislation to allow civil partnerships.  In voicing their opposition, they are using an argument used before in Washingto DC, and in Bolder Colorado. This time, though, the application of the argument is so breathtaking it would do Humpty Dumpty proud:

In a statement, Why Marriage Matters , released by the bishops yesterday, they describe provisions in the Civil Partnership Bill as “an extraordinary and far-reaching attack on freedom of conscience and the free practices of religion – which are guaranteed to every citizen under the Constitution”.

Now correct me if I am wrong, but I thought that freedom of religion and of conscience meant allowing those who disagree with you, to act in accordance with their own conscience, and not force them to comply with your own.  The proposed bill is about civil partnerships, not religious marriage, and imply no obligations whatever on the actions or religious beliefs of anyone who does not wish to participate.  I would have thought that permitting civil partnerships for those who disagree with the Church’s teaching on same sex marriage was a way of implementing, not restricting religious freedom.

But then, I use words as Alice does – not as Humpty Dumpty does.