Kevin LoVecchio is right to argue over at TPMCafe that the libertarian faith in free contracts willfully ignores to extent to which many of the contracts Americans are coerced into on a daily basis are “not about negotiations, but instead are about tricks and traps.”
The conservatives’ ironclad, reality-be-damned faith in the absolute inviolability of contract has an ugly historical pedigree, going back to Congress’ refusal, on “free contract” grounds, in the wake of the Civil War to punish industrialists who knowingly sold defective weapons to the US Army. It’s philisophical pedigree is fraught as well. Hobbes, for example, insists that “Covenants entered into by fear, in the condition of meer nature, are obligatory” lest collective irrationality in the absence of contract fundamentalism drive societies into the war of all against all whose avoidance Leviathan sets forth as the major task of political philosophy.
Such an argument begs the question of whether human desires can really be inferred from contractual behavior in absence of full information or meaningful alternatives, and of whether human beings have any inalienable rights which they are themselves unable to contract away.
Modern conservatives would do well to remember that even Hobbes is forced later in Leviathan to recognize that there are indeed limits on the individual’s freedom to contract freedoms away. “A Covenant not to defend my selfe from force, by force,” he writes, “is alwayes void.” No human being, Hobbes argues, would knowingly trade away the fundamental right to self-defense, nor should an attempt to do so be recognized as valid. Hobbes thus qualifies his faith in contracts as guardians of collective peace and individual liberty with a nod to inalienable rights. What Hobbes does not or cannot set forth is what should distinguish a promise not to defend oneself from violence from a range of other contractual promises – from mortgaging your home to renouncing union membership – which men and women are coerced into making every day, and which many experience as threats to their bodily integrity or that of their families. None of the free contract fundamentalists, most of them members like Hobbes of a class with little reason to fear for their economic security, has come up with a convincing answer since then either.
The newest issue of Yale’s ISI-funded right-wing mag, Light and Truth, offers Editor Emeritus Alden Bass’ celebration (not available on-line, alas) of neo-confederate secessionists:
The founding fathers did it. And now another group is trying it, for similar reasons…Almost exclusively composed of Christian neo-confederates (and trust me, there is no shortage of those people in the South) the group plans to assemble 12,000 souls willing to transplant their families to South Carolina, where they intend to infiltrate the state government and secede from the Union. Yes, secede…When Southerners speak of the South, a dreamy look clouds their face as all the bittersweet associations of home come rushing back…the South is so frequently considered to be one category (like the Soviet Bloc or Latin America) that no one really questions the difference between Alabama and Mississippi. There is also the shared experience of the War of Northern Aggression, which none of us remembers, yet which none of us can forget…You may think this is my unique experience as a middle-class white preacher’s boy, but I don’t think so. Because I’ve heard it in too many old bluegrass songs, I’ve read it in too much literature, and I’ve seen it in too many elderly faces. Communicating face to face is the essence of Southern conservatism. It’s about connecting, and not consumerism. This is why the South love’s state’s rights. The shared experiences of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights movement have bonded Southerners together in a way no other region can boast. It’s no wonder that we stick together the way we do…
These disheartened fundamentalists of Tyler, Texas have realized that the sense of community once shared by the Nation and untiil recently by the South is fading fast, and they have opted to act radically. They will establish a community, a community small enough that it can be managed efficiently, personably, and responsibly. They will restore those values that we in the South were raised with, or at least thought that we were raised with. Will they succeed? I don’t know, but I’ll certainly be rooting for them.
I’m going to venture a guess that Bass’ identity as a white conservative might, bluegrass aside, indeed have something to do with his excitement at the prospect of neo-confederate secession, and that other Southerners – white conservatives or not – might be somewhat more skeptical about what features other than size these “Christian Exodus” types are looking for in their new community. They might also question the idea that Southerners are all united by “shared experiences” of the Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement. Seems to me that being sprayed with fire hoses for non-violent protest of American Apartheid and being one of the ones holding the fire hoses are very different experiences to have of those events, and that the zeal of some to pull out of the union and found a nation they find more in keeping with their “values” only evidences how deep that division runs.
Strom Thurmond’s successor, Senator Lindsey Graham, apparently thought this was funny:
“We don’t do Lincoln Day Dinners in South Carolina,” he said. “It’s nothing personal, but it takes awhile to get over things.”
Steve Gilliard says Graham “is being unfairly attacked” for a perfectly innocent joke about the burning of the State Capitol and that
nothing to apologize for, because every South Carolinian knows he’s talking about Sherman’s March and not slavery.
Really? Every South Carolinan? There’s plenty to fault Lincoln for, be it his racism or his erosion of civil liberties. But for a US Senator from a state which attempted to seceed from the union and fought an extended war against the United States, a war which had little to do with slavery for the North but a great deal to do with it for the South (Apostles of Disunion I’d say makes the most succinct case here), to say of the man who is for most Americans the defining symbol of the winning side in that war – the very man murdered by a confederate havinga hard time “getting over things” in the wake of the war – that the people of his state bear him an enduring grudge is shamefully reckless. Whatever Graham’s intentions, it suggests something to the listener – be he Pennsylvanian or South Carolinian – other than disagreement with military tactics. And one can’t help but wonder whether, when Graham constructs the “We” who don’t do dinners for Lincoln, he means to speak for the descendants of slaves who worked and died in bondage in South Carolina as well.