For the past week I have been reading Battle Cry of Freedom by James M McPherson and I was struck by what he has to say about the politics of the 1840’s and 50’s. I think what went on then can give us some insight into what is happening now in the early 21st century.
What struck me was how much the southrons felt that they were being attacked by the abolitionist. Not just the institution of slavery was attacked, but the individual people of the south felt they were being attacked. Also the reasoning of the south was locked into feeling that if they gave so much as an inch to the Abolitionist they, the supporters of slavery, would soon loose everything. Not only that, they felt that slavery needed to be allowed in the north. Here is one of the earliest examples in American political history of the one sidedness of ‘States Rights’.
Conservatives have often be the most ardent users of ‘States Rights’ to defined what currently is in a state or states, such as Slavery. But the are equally aghast at the use of ‘States Rights’ to change things. That is, a state has the right to keep slavery legal but a state does not have the right to make it illegal. We see this same problem now. In the modern age we now see this same class of argument with some saying a state has the right to enforce federal immigration law, but other states can not decline to co-operate with the federal government in inforceing that same law. We see the same thing with the Gun debate.
State’s Rights were much more important before 1868 and the ratification of 14th amendment and the supremisy of Federal law was clearly established. What is emportant here is the two kinds of illogic being demonstrated. The first is that Conservatives, because they see themselves under attack, have taken on the mantel of ‘victim hood’ they decry in others. Next is the illogic of decrying the use of the same reasoning or principle, like States Rights, used by their opponents. This is not to say that ‘Liberals’ and/or moderates don do the same thing .
It’s just that the Left has a much hard time defending the illogic. This is fundimintally because the Left is well and truely based in the Rationalism of the ‘Enlightenment’. For those of you who really don’t know anything much about the ideals of the ‘Enlightenment’ one of its more fundamental principles is the rational debate to resolve issues/conflicts. The Left accepts as a given that use of debate where both sides use the same rules and that logic trumps rhetoric. The right , not so much. The those who believe winning is not just everything but the only thing have currently found a home in the political right.
”But there are people on the Left who believe the same thing”. True, but if you ever follow the internal and lower level debates of the Left you will see that often as not the people who say ‘wining is all’ often get slapped down by those listening. It doesn’t go far now, “or play well in Preoria’. Not so with the Right. Because of the long standing tradition of victim hood, the ‘lost cause’, and/or no compromise rhetoric is much more emportant in their debates. Right now, this day winning is what counts, not winning the right way.
So what now? How does the Left deal with a Right that enters the debat with the preconceived notion that the Left is attacking them, by the simple act of disagreeing. How does the Left deal with the Right who holds that left is fundamentally evil and therefor can not be compromised with? How do you have a calm discussion with someone who can not consive of the possibility of their being wrong?