A GAP TOO WIDE AND TOO DEEP TO BRIDGE

bridge.pngI 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.

4 thoughts on “A GAP TOO WIDE AND TOO DEEP TO BRIDGE

  1. I believe that we tend to idealize how unanimous our country was in the past. We see how fractious is the debate and how hardened are the positions, and naturally think that it could never have been this bad in the past. It isn’t usually in the history books how partisanly divided the country was.

    A third of the citizens did not want to fight the war of independence. Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel by a former Vice President. Over politics. Geo Washington was the only President to lead an army (to quash “the Whiskey Rebellion”); the quashees hated him. Opponents of Thom Jefferson hounded him for his alleged negro mistress. The Sedition Act made it a crime to publish “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government or its officials. Why need such a law unless such was being done at the time. Southerners called Abraham Lincoln a monkey etc.

    I’m not disagreeing with you, Tom, I wish we had more bridge building. But it is hard to build a bridge to people who are, for instance, militantly pro-choice, anti-capitalist, pro-big government or anti-God ACLU types. Part of the problem is that there are such extreme positions out there that are accepted as mainstream. It used to be that the people who hated our country and who wanted to change our form of government were outcasts. Now they are in the highest seats of power in the Democrat Party and in our Federal Government.

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    1. John Doe – I don’t think I have idealized the people who founded our nation. I merely think Providence rewarded their religious faith and humility. The Founders understood that when given the opportunity to abuse power there will be too many people inclined to abuse the opportunity. Moreover, they did not refer to those People in the third party using some derisive phrase such as the “starving masses.” They knew each of themselves to be one of the People.

      What we have done is allowed our government to educate and mold our character. Thus, instead of being individuals, too many of us have become puppets, puppets that strangely regard themselves as noncomformists wiser than our forebears. Such a conformity of mindset can lead to problems.

      Consider this excerpt from one of Adam Smith’s works.

      But if politics had never called in the aid of religion, had the conquering party never adopted the tenets of one sect more than those of another, when it had gained the victory, it would probably have dealt equally and impartially with all the different sects, and have allowed every man to choose his own priest, and his own religion, as he thought proper. There would, and, in this case, no doubt, have been, a great multitude of religious sects. Almost every different congregation might probably have had a little sect by itself, or have entertained some peculiar tenets of its own. Each teacher, would, no doubt, have felt himself under the necessity of making the utmost exertion, and of using every art, both to preserve and to increase the number of his disciples. But as every other teacher would have felt himself under the same necessity, the success of no one teacher, or sect of teachers, could have been very great. The interested and active zeal of religious teachers can be dangerous and troublesome only where there is either but one sect tolerated in the society, or where the whole of a large society is divided into two or three great sects; the teachers of each acting by concert, and under a regular discipline and subordination. But that zeal must be altogether innocent, where the society is divided into two or three hundred, or, perhaps, into as many thousand small sects, of which no one could be considerable enough to disturb the public tranquillity. The teachers of each sect, seeing themselves surrounded on all sides with more adversaries than friends, would be obliged to learn that candour and moderation which are so seldom to be found among the teachers of those great sects, whose tenets, being supported by the civil magistrate, are held in veneration by almost all the inhabitants of extensive kingdoms and empires, and who, therefore, see nothing round them but followers, disciples, and humble admirers. The teachers of each little sect, finding themselves almost alone, would be obliged to respect those of almost every other sect; and the concessions which they would mutually find in both convenient and agreeable to make one to another, might in time, probably reduce the doctrine of the greater part of them to that pure and rational religion, free from every mixture of absurdity, imposture, or fanaticism, such as wise men have, in all ages of the world, wished to see established; but such as positive law has, perhaps, never yet established, and probably never will establish in any country; because, with regard to religion, positive law always has been, and probably always will be, more or less influenced by popular superstition and enthusiasm. This plan of ecclesiastical government, or, more properly, of no ecclesiastical government, was what the sect called Independents (a sect, no doubt, of very wild enthusiasts), proposed to establish in England towards the end of the civil war. If it had been established, though of a very unphilosophical origin, it would probably, by this time, have been productive of the most philosophical good temper and moderation with regard to every sort of religious principle. It has been established in Pennsylvania, where, though the quakers happen to be the most numerous, the law, in reality, favours no one sect more than another; and it is there said to have been productive of this philosophical good temper and moderation. (from the AN INQUIRY INTO THE NATURE AND CAUSES OF THE WEALTH OF NATIONS)</blockquote>When we put our government in charge of our education system and allowed it great influence over the mass media, we found ourselves “more or less influenced by popular superstition and enthusiasm” that has over time increased. That is, our government leaders selectively encouraged the popularization of those beliefs that excuse giving them ever greater powers. No big plot was required. That was just politicians doing what comes natural.

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  2. Actually no Democrats could be found to vote AGAINST IT. That, too, would be bi-partisan. And the North did not see a need for slavery, as the culture and nature of industry in the North, did not find it necessary. It was not just a moral abhorrence.

    A common people are divided as we are when a central government is given enough power to affect the entirety of the people in ways that a large portion find abhorrent. It is not opposing morals, opinions, or principles that divide us. It is that those morals, opinions, and principles are then put into place by force of law. We can no longer leave an area to find common cause with fellow men elsewhere. Leviathan is everywhere. If we remove the overreaching power of our current central federal government, our divisions would not be so important.

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    1. Good comments. I wish I had a good editor.

      I suppose some clarification is needed.
      1. Some Democrats would have voted against the bill. That is why they had to be bribed.
      2. According to De Tocqueville, Northerners were prejudiced against the Negro. Because the Negros were not enslaved, some felt compelled to degrade the Negro with abuse. Since there were relatively few Negros in the North, they did not have the numbers required to do much about this abuse.
      3. De Tocqueville provides an interesting explanation of how slavery affected the crops grown in the South. Consider that free men need only be paid when they work. Slaves have to be fed, clothed, and housed year around. As a result, Southern planters favored crops that required attention year around. The cost of slave labor drove the crop decision. Northerners, on the other hand, selected crops and industries based almost purely upon sales profitability. In dozens of ways, slave labor burdens the master, but Southerners did not know what to do about it. Their dilemma, however, is the subject of another post.

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