I use to have a page I called Bridge Makers, and I even identified a couple of Bridge Makers: Bridge Makers: Coming Together to Face the Next Crisis and Bridge Maker Post at the Virginian Federalist. On this page I acknowledged those bloggers who set aside partisan differences to come to the aid of a neighbor. My goal was to encourage my fellow bloggers to see other bloggers as neighbors as opposed to Conservatives, Democrats, Liberals, Republicans, and so forth. Unfortunately, it has been awhile since I saw a blog post I could call a Bridge Maker. The last I saw was on August 5, 2007.
What is the problem? Why have Bridge Makers become so rare? I fear ideological lines have hardened. Congress’ latest activities illustrate this all too well. The health care bill the Senate just passed (see here), can hardly be described as bipartisan legislation. Not one single Republican could be found willing to vote for it.
When do nations become so divided against each other? Generally, I think the problem starts when one group of citizens adopts beliefs and practices that set them at odds with their neighbors. The problem becomes insolvable when this group of citizens demands that their neighbors also adopt those beliefs and practices. Then we have cultural warfare.
What are the implications for the future? Because we tend to repeat the same mistakes as our forebears, we study history. When was the last great American Cultural War? That war occurred over slavery and resulted in the Civil War. In Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville described the effects of slavery in 1831 and 1832 America. He observed racial prejudice against the Negro in both the free state of Ohio and the slave state of Kentucky. Nonetheless, the North wanted no part of slavery. Why? The North understood slavery as harmful to the moral fiber of the master.
The influence of slavery extends still further; it affects the character of the master, and imparts a peculiar tendency to his ideas and his tastes. Upon both banks of the Ohio, the character of the inhabitants is enterprising and energetic; but this vigor is very differently exercised in the two States. The white inhabitant of Ohio, who is obliged to subsist by his own exertions, regards temporal prosperity as the principal aim of his existence; and as the country which he occupies presents inexhaustible resources to his industry and ever-varying lures to his activity, his acquisitive ardor surpasses the ordinary limits of human cupidity: he is tormented by the desire of wealth, and he boldly enters upon every path which fortune opens to him; he becomes a sailor, a pioneer, an artisan, or a laborer with the same indifference, and he supports, with equal constancy, the fatigues and the dangers incidental to these various professions; the resources of his intelligence are astonishing, and his avidity in the pursuit of gain amounts to a species of heroism.
But the Kentuckian scorns not only labor, but all the undertakings which labor promotes; as he lives in an idle independence, his tastes are those of an idle man; money loses a portion of its value in his eyes; he covets wealth much less than pleasure and excitement; and the energy which his neighbor devotes to gain, turns with him to a passionate love of field sports and military exercises; he delights in violent bodily exertion, he is familiar with the use of arms, and is accustomed from a very early age to expose his life in single combat. Thus slavery not only prevents the whites from becoming opulent, but even from desiring to become so.
As the same causes have been continually producing opposite effects for the last two centuries in the British colonies of North America, they have established a very striking difference between the commercial capacity of the inhabitants of the South and those of the North. At the present day it is only the Northern States which are in possession of shipping, manufactures, railroads, and canals. This difference is perceptible not only in comparing the North with the South, but in comparing the several Southern States. Almost all the individuals who carry on commercial operations, or who endeavor to turn slave labor to account in the most Southern districts of the Union, have emigrated from the North. The natives of the Northern States are constantly spreading over that portion of the American territory where they have less to fear from competition; they discover resources there which escaped the notice of the inhabitants; and, as they comply with a system which they do not approve, they succeed in turning it to better advantage than those who first founded and who still maintain it. (from here)
The labor of the free man is much more effective and efficient than that of a slave, but slavery undermines the disposition of men to respect the value of their own labor. This attitude towards labor eventually affected the manners of the different regions.
I have already explained the influence which slavery has exercised upon the commercial ability of the Americans in the South; and this same influence equally extends to their manners. The slave is a servant who never remonstrates, and who submits to everything without complaint. He may sometimes assassinate, but he never withstands, his master. In the South there are no families so poor as not to have slaves. The citizen of the Southern States of the Union is invested with a sort of domestic dictatorship, from his earliest years; the first notion he acquires in life is that he is born to command, and the first habit which he contracts is that of being obeyed without resistance. His education tends, then, to give him the character of a supercilious and a hasty man; irascible, violent, and ardent in his desires, impatient of obstacles, but easily discouraged if he cannot succeed upon his first attempt.
The American of the Northern States is surrounded by no slaves in his childhood; he is even unattended by free servants, and is usually obliged to provide for his own wants. No sooner does he enter the world than the idea of necessity assails him on every side: he soon learns to know exactly the natural limit of his authority; he never expects to subdue those who withstand him, by force; and he knows that the surest means of obtaining the support of his fellow-creatures, is to win their favor. He therefore becomes patient, reflecting, tolerant, slow to act, and persevering in his designs.
In the Southern States the more immediate wants of life are always supplied; the inhabitants of those parts are not busied in the material cares of life, which are always provided for by others; and their imagination is diverted to more captivating and less definite objects. The American of the South is fond of grandeur, luxury, and renown, of gayety, of pleasure, and above all of idleness; nothing obliges him to exert himself in order to subsist; and as he has no necessary occupations, he gives way to indolence, and does not even attempt what would be useful.
But the equality of fortunes, and the absence of slavery in the North, plunge the inhabitants in those same cares of daily life which are disdained by the white population of the South. They are taught from infancy to combat want, and to place comfort above all the pleasures of the intellect or the heart. The imagination is extinguished by the trivial details of life, and the ideas become less numerous and less general, but far more practical and more precise. As prosperity is the sole aim of exertion, it is excellently well attained; nature and mankind are turned to the best pecuniary advantage, and society is dexterously made to contribute to the welfare of each of its members, whilst individual egotism is the source of general happiness.
The citizen of the North has not only experience, but knowledge: nevertheless he sets but little value upon the pleasures of knowledge; he esteems it as the means of attaining a certain end, and he is only anxious to seize its more lucrative applications. The citizen of the South is more given to act upon impulse; he is more clever, more frank, more generous, more intellectual, and more brilliant. The former, with a greater degree of activity, of common-sense, of information, and of general aptitude, has the characteristic good and evil qualities of the middle classes. The latter has the tastes, the prejudices, the weaknesses, and the magnanimity of all aristocracies. If two men are united in society, who have the same interests, and to a certain extent the same opinions, but different characters, different acquirements, and a different style of civilization, it is probable that these men will not agree. The same remark is applicable to a society of nations. Slavery, then, does not attack the American Union directly in its interests, but indirectly in its manners. (from here)
Thus, Southerners bequeathed to their children the sin of slavery and the desire to spread the institution of slavery to other states. Thus also, Northerners bequeathed to their children an abhorrence for slavery. Eventually, the dispute descended into violence.
Do we today have a similar problem? It seems to me that we do. We have leaders intent upon dividing us into two camps: those who receive welfare of the state and those who pay taxes. Much like the slaveholders of the past, these leaders pay no attention to either the constitutionality or the morality of the peculiar welfare institutions they have devised. All that matters to these leaders is convincing enough parasites that it is their personal interest to enslave their tax paying neighbors. Of course, this sort of attitude towards taxation is not healthy.
When the people find they can vote themselves money; that will herald the end of the republic. — Benjamin Franklin
When we give our leaders such power, they cannot be trusted with it. There is no honor among thieves. And when any excuse can separate a man from the fruit of his labors, an honest day’s work loses both its value and honor. Then the villains impoverish us all.