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Yes, Mr. Woods, You Advocate the Right to Oppress

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

 photo thomaswoods_zps65b2661f.jpg This post constitutes my third and final reply to Thomas E. Woods, Jr.’s critique of my series on his neo-Confederate activities. In my first reply I explained why, his protestations not withstanding, he is indeed a neo-Confederate. My second reply focused on how Woods twists his opponents’ statements into self-serving red herring.

Now I get to what is as the heart of Woods’s neo-Confederate/libertarian agenda: defending the right to oppress; a critical component of which is the combination of nullification and secession.

“I am a libertarian” and “not a `neo-Confederate'” wrote Thomas E. Woods, Jr. in a verbal shell game he plays to mask the shared flaw of his chosen philosophies:  the elevation of raw power over justice and equality before the law, cloaking oppression in the guise of freedom and liberty.

As I have previously noted, his advocacy of both secession and the unilateral nullification of Federal court decisions as well as Federal legislation appeals to many on the Catholic Right. What’s more, nullification is becoming a weapon in efforts to thwart the will of the American people as expressed by its elected representatives.

Some Neo-Confederates are also Libertarians

While not all libertarians are neo-Confederates, neo-Confederates of Woods’s ilk are certainly libertarians. This comes into focus when we consider the League of the South,a neo-Confederate organization with which Woods proudly identifies and whose core economic beliefs are of the aforementioned Austrian School of libertarian economics: opposition to fractional banking; a return to the gold standard; and a general distrust government regulation that often borders on anarchy. (Indeed, Woods himself is devotee of  anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard).  Woods’s strain of libertarianism argues that these are essential elements of freedom.

Austrian school libertarians even oppose the laissez-faire “Chicago school” economics of Milton Friedman — which at least considers using some government intervention in the economy through monetary policy.  Austrian schoolers want government to play no role at all in the economy. After all, they steadfastly assure us, that economically speaking, everyone acts with reasonable self-interest.

Austrian schoolers also believe that the freedom to contract is absolute, regardless of the imbalance of power between parties, particularly when it comes to matters of employment. “Labor is appraised like a commodity not because the entrepreneurs and capitalists are hardhearted and callous,”  Ludwig von Mises famously declared, “but because they are unconditionally subject to the supremacy of the pitiless consumers.” (Woods is a Senior Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Alabama.) Every dollar is a ballot from their point of view; and the messy ethical considerations of government are replaced by the supposed efficiencies of the free market. Of course, if every dollar is a ballot, then those with more dollars have more ballots and the outcome of every election is predetermined.

Thus the question of freedom, is really a question of freedom for whom?

The above von Mises quote suggests that owners are free to abuse low wage workers while providing excessive executive compensation; unjustifiable stock dividend payouts; failing to invest in more efficient manufacturing equipment; and ineffective trades policies. And as the 2007 Wall Street meltdown has proven, many financial figures do not act solely out of “reasonable self-interest;” irrationality plays an outsized role along with, greed, ego and self-aggrandizement.

This gets us to the core of our dispute: That Woods’ neo-Confederate libertarianism distorts the meanings of freedom and liberty into a defense of the excesses of self-interest.  He argues, referring to me:

And finally, my critic says I defend a “right to oppress.” This is preposterous, needless to say. … The point is that the federal government is far more likely to be a threat to our liberties, indeed to civilization itself, than the states — from which, in any case, exit is rather easier. There is absolutely nothing the states could do that would amount to a grain of sand on the beach compared to a new Middle Eastern war, but I am supposed to be super worried about what Montana might do next. Nice priorities.

He then added, “And of course, nothing centralized regimes do ever, ever, ever discredits centralization.”

This is typical Woods, vigorously assaulting a straw man of his own invention. (While I clearly believe that a sturdy federal government is far preferable to confederacy, nowhere have I claimed that it is a perfect; all forms of government are subject to abuse.) Quite tellingly though, Wood opposes the centralization of power in a democratically elected Federal government, but thinks the centralization of economic power in the hands of unaccountable private interests is just fine.  

There is no shortage of examples to demonstrate that Woods’s definition of freedom includes the right to oppress.  Woods goes so far as to oppose child labor laws. (He claims that passing laws against child labor is like passing laws against gravity.)  He also opposes the recent efforts of fast food workers to achieve a living wage. “Instead of being amazed that they can earn anything at all with no skills to speak of,” says Woods, “they are enraged that they aren’t making a comfortable living performing a task as simple as fast-food preparation.”

Ignoring Facts and History

History teaches us a different lesson about child labor than the world according to Woods.  Child labor in the past has been used to drive down wages by creating a surplus of workers. Beyond that, the law informs us that minors are generally considered to be legally incompetent to enter into most contracts. While Woods’s position may be honestly grounded in his libertarian philosophy it does not change the dynamics of highly unequal wage bargaining power — hence his embrace of a right to oppress children without interference from the government.

Progressive child labor laws have freed children from toiling long hours in mills full of dangerous machinery or having to dig for coal in poorly ventilated and unsafe mineshafts. At the same time, parents have received better wages because the size of the workforce was reduced. Children once unable to attend school, now have the opportunity, which in turn, creates a more sophisticated work force.

Likewise, increases in the minimum wage pegged to productivity have proven to be healthy for the overall economy – as well as being the right thing to do. Woods mischievously frames his argument against fast food workers seeking a raise, by suggesting that they want something exorbitant.  It is not unreasonable for workers to seek wages that are at the very least, adjusted for inflation.  Woods’ twisting of facts to fit his argument is characteristic of his method.

As if all this were not enough, there is one part of Woods’s critique of one of my pieces on nullification that I find astonishing. “There is absolutely nothing the states could do,” he claims, ” that would amount to a grain of sand on the beach compared to a new Middle Eastern war…” As someone who holds a Ph.D. in history from an Ivy League university he should know better. He must certainly be aware that his beloved (so-called) Confederate States of America’s dreams of a slave empire extending into the Caribbean as well as Central and South America.  History teaches us that neither size nor form of government is a guarantee against Empire – let alone the desire to extinguish individual rights.

If the modern federal state is inherently such a tyrannical menace, why have Sweden’s armies not marched in conquest?

No Oppressor is an Island

Woods is also involved with organizations that are devoted to the right to oppress.

As I have previously documented, Woods is a founding member of the League of the South, a neo-Confederate organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as a hate group.

The League’s “Core Belief Statement” also suggests a religious supremacism of the sort that would clearly be a building block of theocracy. The League declares:

“The South still reveres the tenets of our historic Christian faith and acknowledges its supremacy over man-made laws and opinions…

If the southern Leaguers got their way in this regard, the prospects might be bleak for anyone other than officially approved Christians, and worse for minority religions and the non-religious. Freedom for religious supremacism means the right to oppress, whether at the state, local or federal level.

Woods, a convert to traditionalist Catholicism, is a regular contributor to the The Remnant . This traditionalist biweekly newspaper has been highly critical of anything Catholic since Vatican II, including Nostra Aetate, — the official Catholic statement repudiating the notion that the Jewish people are guilty of deicide.  The Remnant has also been a vocal supporter of the schismatic – and anti-Semitic – priestly order of the Society of St. Pius X.  For this and other examples of hostility to Judaism The Remnant has also earned a spot on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups.

The Remnant’s support for SSPX is a particular point of interest. SSPX has maintained ties to the Northern Italian secessionist political organization, Northern League – as does the League of the South.

Coming Full Circle

Of course, to this crowd, the main problem with a sturdy federal government is that it stands in the way of the neo-Confederate vision itself. Modern notions of civil rights as well as the legacy of New Deal economics exist to protect the rights of those who would suffer if the neo-Confederate libertarian dream were to come true.

What the agendas of secession and nullification are truly about is the frustration of various like-minded minority factions’ ambitions to oppress the majority.  To that end, they want the federal government disassembled at least to the point where the religious and economic prejudices of the few are less likely to be checked by the democratically derived consensus of the many.

This happened in 1861 when proslavery forces lost their grip on the White House; and it is happening now with a small but effective gang of Christian Right activists that cannot find a constitutional avenue to impose their moral and economic views on the entire nation.  It is why we see, paradoxically, the likes of the theocratic protestant Gary North (an Associated Scholar of the von Mises Institute) and Opus Dei priest C. John McCloskey embrace Woods’s brand of theocratic libertarianism. North and McCloskey are not opposed to theocracy, per se, they just want to localize it. Indeed, that is why Woods’s advocacy of secession and nullification is so appealing to them. If they cannot persuade the whole country to see things their way while playing by the rules, they will simply tear up the rulebook – as well as the nation.

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.

I will assume that Thomas E. Woods, Jr. is sincere when he says he doesn’t personally believe in oppressing others who are different than him.  But he defends a philosophy predicated upon a highly subjective definition of liberty attained at the expense of others.  I would go so far as to say he also believes in maximizing the opportunities presented in such situations. Therefore, he resolutely believes in the right to oppress, and is conflating freedom with oppression.

But there is a different way of viewing freedom.  

 “One principle of liberty is for all to rule and be ruled in turn,” Aristotle once said, “and indeed democratic justice is the application of numerical not proportionate equality; whence it follows that the majority must be supreme, and that whatever the majority approve must be the end and the just.”

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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.

Thomas E. Woods, Jr.’s Long and Winding “Yawn”

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

 photo thomaswoods_zps65b2661f.jpg “Apparently there’s been a series against me over at the Daily Kos by a left-liberal lawyer,” neo-Confederate author Thomas E. Woods Jr. recently wrote in a blog post titled, “Left-Wingers Attack; I Yawn.”

Before launching into his response to my series he claimed, “I no longer pay attention to left-wing attacks”  (Except, apparently, when he does).

This post is the first of three brief replies to Mr. Woods. In this initial offering I will explain why the term neo-Confederate to which he objects, suits him so well.

“It’s the same arguments every time,” he fumes. “They pretend I haven’t answered them. I have.”

But has he really answered me, or anyone else? Or are his answers really more like deflections? There are good reasons why he is described as a neo-Confederate. Let’s look at a few.

Woods knows that many of his clearly neo-Confederate ideas and purposeful involvements will make other of his allies uncomfortable at best, especially among the Catholic Right. So his ideas and involvements must be hidden or downplayed and when they cannot be, they are strenuously denied.

Woods claims that he is really just a libertarian. But that is a canard. Most of us know libertarians. And while we may disagree with them on many issues, especially economics, we know that they are not advocating the breakup of United States of America.

Woods insinuated in his response that I have equated his calls for secession and nullification with racism and a call to reestablish slavery, hence, why I call him a neo-Confederate. I did no such thing, of course, and all he has for an argument is to lump me in with other unnamed critics, complaining, “They idiotically call me a “neo-Confederate” (have they really not seen the zombie video, or are they trying to caricature themselves?).”

Woods would have us believe that this video answers all of his critics about everything. (It would be better titled “The Zombie Straw Man.”)  Using the setting of a mock interview to discuss his book, Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, he starts out by saying that the federal government does whatever wants without constitutional restraint. Of course he does not specify exactly what the government is doing that requires restraining.  He goes on to claim that if anyone questions the constitutionality of a given issue, “they laugh you.”  Paraphrasing Jerry Seinfeld, who are all these people who are laughing?  Of course, he does not say.  This is, after all, a straw man he is pummeling.

As the video churns on we see the zombie “host” throw accusations of “slavery” and “neo-Confederate” at Woods, as if those of us who use this moniker to define him do so baselessly.  But perhaps unsurprisingly, he engages in the very behavior of which he accuses his critics — falsely (and absurdly) equating those who oppose nullification and secession with Hitler.

He never addresses the real reason why he’s fairly described as a neo-Confederate: it is the content of his own works and his involvement in neo-Confederate organizations.  Let’s look at a standard definition of the term:

The Southern Poverty Law Center defines it this way:  

The term neo-Confederacy is used to describe twentieth and twenty-first century revivals of pro-Confederate sentiment in the United States. Strongly nativist and advocating measures to end immigration, neo-Confederacy claims to pursue Christianity and heritage and other supposedly fundamental values that modern Americans are seen to have abandoned.

So even the SPLC does not say one has to advocate slavery or even be an overt racist to be a neo-Confederate. But one does not have to look very hard to see what the League is all about. A current visitor to the League’s web site will find a close-out special on League of the South tee-shirt with a quote from Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest (the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan) on the back. And if you need a bumper sticker to express your feelings about secession, you might pick “Feds Out of Dixie!”. And after making your purchases you can keep up with the cause on the League of the South blog, Rebellion.

In fairness, Woods once stated, “I have played no day-to-day role in the [League of the South] organization and I am responsible neither for the comments of any other member nor for the politically incorrect statements I am told can be found on the League’s site.”

But with that said, nowhere in that statement, or any other statement he has made to my knowledge, does he actually separate his views from those of the League. And although Woods acknowledges that he was present at the League’s formative meetings, he also claims not to completely identify with the League’s core beliefs. But he does not say which ones or why.

There is much more eye opening material in the League’s core beliefs, which are laced with exclusionary statements, such as:

“The League of the South asserts that Southern society is radically different from the society impressed upon it by an alien occupier.”

 

Woods is more than a contemporary fashionista of secession and nullification.  He is a leader who puts an Ivy League gloss on some crude and discredited ideas, and even cruder and more discredited proponents of these ideas. Indeed, for a man who says he is not a neo-Confederate because he is not a racist and does not believe in slavery, he is having a hard time explaining his relationship with the League of the South, a leading apologist for the Southern Cause.

But one does not have to rely entirely on Woods’s involvement with the League as evidence of his neo-Confederate commitments. He is also involved with the Abbeville Institute (taking its name from the birthplace of secessionist John C. Calhoun). As my Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has already noted:

Woods is from Massachusetts with degrees from Harvard and Columbia, but he has described himself as one of “the founders of the League of the South.” He is also affiliated with the Abbeville Institute, described by the Chronicle of Higher Education as a group of 64 scholars nostalgic for the Old South and Secession. Time Magazine described the institute, founded by Emory University professor Donald Livingston, as a group of “Lincoln loathers.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed the Abbeville Institute founder as one of the leaders in the modern neo-Confederate movement and, as described in a Chronicle of Higher Education article, pointed out the following quote in its mission statement.

“Rarely these days, even on Southern campuses, is it possible to acknowledge the achievements of white people in the South.”

 photo thomaswoodshistory_zps7015e6a2.jpg There is also Woods’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History.  Woods uses Confederate revisionist rhetoric to describe the Civil War, as the “War of Northern Aggression” or the “War Between the States.”

Union General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain once adroitly observed:

“There was no war between the States. It was a war in the name of certain States to destroy the political existence of the United States, in membership of which alone, on any just theory of the government, their own sovereignty as States inhered, and could make itself effectual. To this absurd pass did that false theory come — a war of States against the people; and if successful, the suicide of States.”

Indeed, this book cements his credentials as a neo-Confederate, starting with the cover art. There we see a smug looking Confederate officer standing with his arms almost folded with an “I-told-you-so” look on his face.

But finally there is Woods’s 1997 article in The Southern Partisan magazine entitled, “Christendom’s Last Stand” where Woods, who described himself as “a founding member of the League of the South,” enthusiastically waved the flag of his neo-Confederatism:

So the War Between the States, far from a conflict over mere material interests, was for the South a struggle against an atheistic individualism and an unrelenting rationalism in politics and religion, in favor of a Christian understanding of authority, social order and theology itself. The intelligent Left knows this, and even the incurably stupid, like [former Democratic Senator from Illinois — the first African-American woman to be elected as a U.S. Senator] Carol Moseley-Braun, must at least sense it. For all their ignorant blather about slavery and civil rights, what truly enrages most liberals about the Confederate Battle Flag is its message of defiance. They see in it the remnants of a traditional society determined to resist cultural and political homogenization, and refusing to be steamrolled by the forces of progress.

I have been a Northerner for my entire 24 years. But when we reflect on what was really at stake in the “late unpleasantness,” we can join with [Confederate Vice-President] Alexander Stephens in observing that “the cause of the South is the cause of us all.”

And that is why Thomas E. Woods, Jr. has earned the description of neo-Confederate.