In Defense of the True Civil War Narrative

Introduction

One unfortunate side effect of the tragedies at Charlottesville is that many people have decided to go back and re-interpret historical events to fit their political narratives. I’ve seen numerous people making the simplistic claims that “all Southerners were racists” or “North=good, South=bad,” implying that the Civil War was some sort of humanitarian struggle to abolish slavery. While these arguments are convenient and succinct, they are also predominantly false and lack any sort of nuance. Therefore, I am going to attempt, through the rest of this post, to offer a balanced and accurate perspective of the Civil War that places blame where it is legitimately due.

Disclaimer

Let it be known that I am not a Southerner and do not really care about Southern Heritage. I am not a neo-confederate, a part of the Lost Cause movement, or a white supremacist. On the contrary, my family is predominantly from the North and I grew up considering the North the good guys and the South the bad guys. However, as I’ve learned more about the historical facts surrounding this struggle, I’ve coming to realize that this simplistic narrative is simply untrue. From my perspective, it seems that both sides were at fault and I am going to try to clarify some of these issues in the rest of this post. I do not have any sort of agenda, rather, I believe that horrific current events do not necessitate the perpetuation of historical inaccuracies. Racism is evil and should be condemned. However, we can denounce racism without going back in time, misstating history, and unnecessarily vilifying millions of people.

Racial Beliefs in America in the Early 1800’s

The perspective that all the racists and white supremacists in America in the 1800’s lived south of the Mason-Dixon line is patently false. As historian, Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, notes, “with respect to race, both [North and South] practiced the same white supremacy, the black minority being either enslaved [in the South] or legally discriminated against [in the North].”

In the North abolitionists were a vocal minority. Individuals such as William Lloyd Garrison argued against slavery from a moral perspective and advocated that the North secede from the Union so as to avoid association with such an evil institution and to become a haven for runaway slaves. His views were so unpopular that a Boston anti-abolitionist mob dragged him through the streets and almost lynched him.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French commentator on 1830’s America, noted that “race prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known.” This prejudice was codified in various Northern laws that discriminated against blacks voting or prohibited free blacks from entering various Northern states. As Hummel notes, “Most northern locales had legally mandated discrimination of some sort.”

In addition, the United States government actually subsidized slavery as an institution through the Fugitive Slave Act, passed in 1793. This law compelled Northern, free states to return escaped slaves to their masters and, for the most part, the free states willingly cooperated with this legislation. Thus, even the Northern states were complicit in slavery’s continued existence in the 1800’s.

Northern Opposition to Slavery

Although few Northerners opposed slavery on grounds of racial equality, many opposed its spread into new states for other reasons. Hummel again notes,

“The single issue that commanded for abolitionists the greatest northern sympathy was slavery’s extension into new territories. Here was an antislavery position that carried no taint of disunion. It allowed Northerners to take steps against slavery in a distant sphere while honoring their constitutional obligation to leave the local institutions of the southern states alone. Here also was an antislavery position that could be made consistent with Negrophobia. Keeping slaves out of the territories was an excellent way to keep blacks out altogether.”

Antislavery Pennsylvanian David Wilmot represented a common Northern perspective on race and slavery. He authored the Wilmot Proviso, which sought to outlaw slavery in all newly acquired territories, and identified with the Free-Soil Party, which sought to keep the western territories available for free white laborers. Arguing for eliminating slavery in these new territories, he said, “The negro race already occupy enough of this fair continent. Let us keep what remains for us and our children.”

Thus, the idea that the North opposed slavery and its expansion on pure, moral grounds is incorrect. On the contrary, most Northerners were fine with allowing slavery to remain untouched where it currently existed. Hummel characterized the two extreme positions on slavery in this manner, “In one [the North], slavery was stigmatized at the national level and legally permitted only at the state level. In the other [the South], slavery was a national institution sanctioned and protected by the central government.”

Abraham Lincoln on Slavery

The beliefs on slavery expressed by Abraham Lincoln are a good example of the sorts of opinions held by Northerners at this time. Many people believe that Abraham Lincoln was a civil rights activist of sorts, who started the Civil War in order to eradicate slavery. On the contrary, Lincoln was a moderate on the issue of slavery who desperately tried to disassociate himself with the seemingly radical abolitionists.

During a debate in 1858, Stephen Douglas, a Northerner from Illinois, tried to discredit Lincoln as a radical abolitionist saying, “I do not question Mr. Lincoln’s conscientious belief that the negro was made his equal, and hence is his brother.”

Lincoln, rather than accepting Douglas’ accusation, defended himself,

“I will say that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they can not so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

This is not to say that Lincoln was uniquely villainous for holding these white supremacist views. Rather, these despicable beliefs made up the predominant opinion of this time.

While Lincoln opposed slavery’s expansion, he primarily criticized slavery based on its potential to divide the country and dissolve the Union. In addition, he agreed with some of the sentiments put forth by the Free-Soil Party saying, “The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these territories. We want them for the homes of free white people. This they cannot be, to any considerable extent, if slavery shall be planted within them.”

Similar to the views held by Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln believed that white and black individuals could never live in harmony. This lead him to advocate colonizing freed slaves in areas such as Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, and Ecuador.

Southern Arguments for Slavery

My purpose thus far has been to show that racism existed in the North in the 1800’s and that Northern opposition to slavery was not primarily based on moral grounds. This is not to say that the South should be absolved of all moral responsibility for the institution of slavery. However, I have not chosen to focus on these matters as much since they are more commonly known and are not currently being debated by many individuals.

That being said, slavery (as seen in America in the 1800’s) was a fundamentally evil institution that rejected the right of self-ownership and the idea that all men are created equal (and in the image of God). While there were differing degrees of treatment of slaves in the South, it is important to not attempt to excuse this evil institution by saying that some of the slaves were treated civilly. Regardless of whether or not some slaves were treated satisfactorily by their masters, this institution, by definition, violated the natural rights of the slaves and was thus, wrong.

In addition, the reasoning that many Southerners would use to justify slavery was truly horrific. Senator James Henry Hammond of South Carolina stated, “In all social systems, there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. It constitutes the very mud-sills of society and of political government. [This class demands] but a low order of intellect and but little skill, [but] fortunately for the South, has found a race adapted to that purpose to her hand.”

Similarly, Virginian lawyer, George Fitzhugh, defended slavery as a sort of socialism, “Liberty is an evil which government is intended to correct.” Denying the equal rights of all men, Fitzhugh stated, “It would be far nearer to the truth to say, ‘that some were born with saddles on their backs, and others booted and spurred to ride them’ — and the riding does them good. They need the reins, the bit, and the spur.”

Why Did the South Secede?

Clearly, the majority of Southerners supported the institution of slavery, but did they secede primarily to protect this institution? We must first note that there were many political, cultural, and economic factors that lead the eleven Southern states to secede from the Union between 1860 and 1861. While it is beyond the scope of this post to outline the decades of strife between the North and the South that lead up this point, it is important to be aware that this act of secession did not come out of nowhere. For decades the North had been exploiting Southern production through tariffs, and the election of Lincoln in 1860 was seen as the final straw in a long list of injustices.

People will often claim that the South seceded over the issue of slavery. This statement is correct, for the most part, but requires some nuance. For one thing, there were two waves of secession, each of which took place for different reasons. South Carolina began the first wave of secession and stated that they seceded because the country had elected, “a man to the high office of President of the United States whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery … The Slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.”

The other six states from the Deep South (Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas) seceded for very similar reasons. Therefore, it is correct to say that slavery was the primary, but not the sole reason for this wave of secession.

That being said, the four states from the Upper South (Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas) seceded for very different reasons. They remained a part of the Union until after the conflict at Fort Sumter, which lead Lincoln to call the national militia to arms. Virginia’s governor, John Letcher, blamed Lincoln for the altercation and said that Virginia would not go to war against the other Southern states,

“The militia of Virginia will not be furnished to the powers at Washington for any such purpose as they have in view. Your [Lincoln’s] object is to subjugate the Southern States, and a requisition made upon me for such an object — an object, in my judgment, not within the purview of the Constitution or the [militia] act of 1795 — will not be complied with. You have chosen to inaugurate civil war, and having done so, we will meet it in a spirit as determined as the Administration has exhibited toward the South.”

Thus, while it can be said that the first seven states seceded primarily over the issue of slavery, this assertion cannot be made regarding the following four states. As Hummel notes, “Previously unwilling to secede over the issue of slavery, these four states were now ready to fight for the ideal of a voluntary Union.”

Lincoln’s Assurances

It was noted previously that the first seven states seceded upon the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency. This is still a bit of a confusing rationale since Lincoln was not an abolitionist and clearly stated that he would not interfere with slavery where it already existed. Hummel notes, “Between his [Lincoln’s] election and his inauguration, he refused to compromise on keeping slavery out of the territories, but throughout his campaign he had steadfastly opposed any other antislavery policies. He promised to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law and respect slavery in the existing states.”

Lincoln reiterated these sentiments during his inauguration and assured the Southern states that he would not seek to eliminate the institution of slavery,

“Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property [i.e. their slaves] and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you … I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

After some of the initial Southern states seceded, Congress desperately tried to entice these states to remain in the Union through a variety of compromises. One such effort, which Lincoln approved of, was a constitutional amendment that prohibited interference with slavery where it existed and was unamendable.

Why Did the North Fight?

Clearly then, Lincoln and the Northern states did not confront the Confederacy over the issue of slavery. On the contrary, they were willing to compromise again and again on the issue of slavery in order to keep the Union in place. After all, why would the Northern states all of a sudden go to war to try to overturn an institution that they had been largely apathetic towards for the past fifty-plus years? It is not as if the South seceded so that they could set up an institution that had previously been disallowed by the United States government.

Furthermore, Lincoln allowed slavery to remain untouched in the four slave states that did not secede (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri). If Lincoln primarily cared about the inherent immorality of slavery, he would not have continued to allow it to exist in these four states.

That being said, if the North did not fight to end slavery, why did they fight? Lincoln made his purpose clear in a 1862 letter,

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union, and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

Again, Lincoln showed his willingness to compromise on the issue of slavery in order to keep the Union together. At times throughout the war, Lincoln even hinted that he would allow the Southern states to keep their slaves if they rejoined the Union.

The United States Senate reiterated many of these sentiments,

“This war is not prosecuted upon our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of over-throwing or interfering with with the rights or established institutions [i.e. slavery] of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and all laws made in pursuance therof; and to preserve the Union.”

It is clear, then, that the North did not view this war as a heroic effort to abolish slavery, but rather, sought to preserve the unity of the states.

Even the Emancipation Proclamation, which is commonly viewed as a definitive piece of anti-slavery legislation, only freed slaves in the Southern states (specifically exempting Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Northern-controlled counties in Virginia). Overall, it was more of a “war measure” designed to garner support from European countries, which would have potentially supported the South, then a statement on the inherent equality of all races.

Thus, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, criticized the proclamation stating, “We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.” In terms of actually improving the plight of slaves, this proclamation did close to nothing.

In summary, while it can be said that the abolition of slavery was a positive, secondary effect of the Civil War, it was undoubtedly not the original, primary purpose.

Massachusetts abolitionist, Lysander Spooner, summarized the purpose of the war in this manner, “The principle, on which the war was waged by the North, was simply this: That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want; and that resistance, on their part, makes them traitors and criminals.”

Conclusion

There is a lot more that could be said on these issues, but I’ve already said more than intended to. I’ll summarize my perspective through the following points:

  • The majority of Americans in the both the North and the South in the early 1800’s held white supremacist views.
  • Most Northerners who opposed slavery did not oppose it based on moral grounds.
  • Slavery was a horrific institution and was excused by many Southerners based on terrible, immoral reasoning.
  • The first seven states seceding primarily, but not solely over the issue of slavery and the next four states seceding primarily over the issue of self-governance.
  • The North fought to preserve the Union and not to abolish slavery.

Thus, I would say that the Southern states who seceded over the issue of slavery were in the wrong, due to their reasoning for secession. And while it is beyond the scope of this post to deal with the constitutional right to secede, I would tend to affirm the compact theory which would legitimize the act of secession. Therefore, I would say that the North was in the wrong for not allowing the Southern states to secede.

Even if one rejects the compact theory and argues that the North was justified in their retaliation, I do not think that the North can unequivocally be labeled “the good guys,” based on the manner in which they conducted the war. From Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and other clear constitutional violations to General Sherman’s use of total war, the North undoubtedly employed immoral means to achieve their ends.

I want to add that, although it is easy to place all of the blame for slavery and past injustices on the Confederacy, in reality, slavery was at least implicitly condoned by the entire nation. And, while it is wrong to hold every individual from this time period responsible for slavery, my point is that the North repeatedly compromised on the issue of slavery and directly allowed for its continuance. Therefore, if you want to indiscriminately condemn people for the institution of slavery, at least be consistent and blame the entire country and not just the Southern states.

In summary, this is a complicated topic which requires nuanced analysis. Even if you do not agree with all of my conclusions, I hope that this post has given you a more refined perspective on the Civil War that moves beyond the simplistic narratives being perpetrated by individuals and news sources in lieu of current events.

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Thanks for reading this post! Please feel free to leave me a comment or send me an email with your feedback to this post.

For further reading check out Jeffrey Rogers Hummel’s book “Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men” and Ben Lewis’ articles “Did the South Secede Over Slavery,” and “Did the North Really Fight to End Slavery.”

 

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Paternalism, Utility, & Choice

When you were a child, it is likely that your parents told you to behave in certain ways “for your own good.” Out of concern for your safety, they directed you to avoid playing in the streets and sticking your fingers in electrical sockets. Out of concern for your future relationships, they instructed you to avoid unruly behavior at the dinner table and to learn basic manners.

As you grew up and became an adult, maybe the thought of living in a world without this sort of benevolent, careful direction intimidated you? Let me ease your mind and inform you that the friendly federal government is more than willing to take on some of these parental burdens and instruct you on the best possible way to live.

Since you are not able or motivated to adequately plan for your future, you should be encouraged that the Social Security system exists to involuntarily take a portion of your earnings and put it aside for your retirement. Since you may or may not care about preserving your life, you should be relieved that laws exist to force you to wear seatbelts while driving. Since you are quite likely to blow all of your money on lotteries or other betting activities, you should rejoice that the government severely restricts gambling. Since you could seriously damage your health through the use of certain drugs, you should be encouraged that the government has outlawed all sorts of narcotics.*

This sort of behavior on the part of the government is known as paternalism, which can be defined as the practice of subordinating individuals for their own best interest.

According to many economists, however, it is assumed that individuals are rational and already able to make decisions based on their own interests, without additional direction. Individuals maximize their utility (basically their satisfaction, happiness, etc.) by making choices based on a particular set of unique tastes and preferences. This view assumes the following:

a) individuals act based on their self-interests and try to maximize their utility
b) each individual has unique preferences, which means that optimal decisions vary depending on the person involved
b) because of these unique preferences, utility is maximized via choice
d) because of the previous three assumptions, individuals (as opposed to outside forces such as the government) are best able to maximize their own utility**

These assumptions lead to a number of questions/concerns regarding the paternalistic behavior of government.

  1. If people are already motivated to look out for their own interests, why does government need to step in and command individuals to behave “for their own good?” It seems that most people value their lives and would use seatbelts and/or drive carefully without government mandates. Similarly, if saving money for retirement is a wise, self-beneficial thing to do, it seems that most people would do this on their own. If people chose not to put money aside for retirement, this would reflect unique utility-maximizing preferences on the part of the individuals involved. Maybe these people do not expect to live into retirement, see no purpose in saving money for the future, and thus, have a very different idea on how to maximize utility than the government. This leads to the next question.
  2. Assuming the government’s view of an individual’s “best interest” is different than the individual’s view, what qualifies the government to make this distinction? Do we believe that a small, elected group of people have somehow been enlightened to know how millions of others should live for their own good? For example, drinking a large soda will likely have negative effects on my health in the future. But maybe I value the present benefits of this decision over the future costs. The government is free to say that my decision is unwise and inform me of the consequences of my action, but can they legitimately say that my decision to drink a large soft drink is not out of my own interest? Can they truly say that I would be happier foregoing the soda in order to (potentially) live a longer, healthier life?
  3. If individuals maximize their utility through choice, how do inflexible mandates really allow individuals to act “for their own good?” If unique preferences and situations dictate differing decision-making criteria, how do one-size-fits-all commands allow individuals to maximize their utility? Let’s say that preventing an addict from gambling actually works. Due to legal restrictions, this person no longer wastes his/her money and makes more prudent financial decisions. What about the person who has the self-control to place a few bets here or there without causing complete financial ruin? The inexact, unnuanced nature of the law forces all people to behave in ways that might benefit some, while simultaneously hurting others.
  4. Do these paternalistic laws actually work to benefit people?
    – I will probably never see any of the Social Security tax that is being withheld from my paycheck. In terms of aiding me in planning for my retirement, the mere non-existence of the Social Security system, which is a drain on my income, would be incredibly beneficial. If I did not have to pay into such a broken system, I would have additional money to set aside for the future, invest, and earn interest.
    – On another note, do seatbelt laws actually help promote safety? Research has shown that these laws have no effect on driver safety and have a negative effect on pedestrian safety.
    – In terms of gambling, it seems that if I’m determined to blow my paycheck, I have many other opportunities besides betting. That’s not even considering the moral inconsistencies that come into the picture when outlawing certain types of gambling, while only allowing government-regulated gambling activities. If the government is truly concerned about the dangers of gambling addiction, why do they even allow any forms of gambling?
    – It seems that even if the answers to the first three questions necessitate government involvement, the actual results of these paternalistic laws show that this type of intervention has been far from effective.
  5. Does government actually have the right to order people to act “for their own good?” This is a complex question, which would take a considerable amount of time to answer fully. To briefly deal with it, I would argue that people have a right to use their life and property how they see fit and government infringement on these rights necessitates substantial justification, in order to be deemed appropriate (if ever). Furthermore, small paternalistic steps to micromanage and shape certain aspects society can lead to increased government power and future abuses and injustices. Along these lines, economist and historian, Murry Rothbard, argues that paternalism “leads straight down the logical garden path to [a] totalitarian cage, where people are prohibited from eating candy and are forced to eat yogurt ‘for their own good'” (from “For A New Liberty,” page 136). As noted earlier, one’s own good (from an economic standpoint) can be quite subjective and by allowing the government to legislate utility-maximization, we create numerous opportunities for tyrannical, unnecessary legislation.

Let me conclude by clarifying that I am not advocating moral relativism of any sort. I believe that moral absolutes exist regardless of personal feelings. However, analyzing actions from a moral perspective is different than analyzing them based on the amount of personal utility derived from the action. A murderer can derive significant satisfaction from a blatantly immoral action, making it easy to label this action as immoral, but impossible to say that this individual failed to maximize self-interest.***

And even if a person makes a decision without fully realizing some of the benefits or costs, it makes much more sense to use persuasive means than coercive means to attempt to alter behavior. For if a person is rational and an action will truly be self-beneficial, why would that person need to be forced to perform the action?

This gets to the heart of paternalistic legislation, which revolves around the government’s arrogant assumption that individuals cannot make rational, self-beneficial decisions for themselves. To end where this post began, good parents order their children to do things for their own benefit when they are young. But as these children grow up and become adults, parents tend to take on advisory roles, rather than purely authoritarian positions, allowing their children to make their own decision. The federal government, on the other hand, does not affirm individual rationality and capability and continues to treat individuals as children, even into adulthood.

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Hopefully, this post made you think a little bit. I did not intend to fully deal with all of the topics mentioned, but rather, give a brief overview of a few issues that I have been thinking about lately. Whether you support government paternalism or agree with my critiques, I’d love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to send me an email or leave a comment below. Thanks!

NOTES:

*Some of the laws mentioned here may have other non-paternalistic motives behind them. For example, prohibitions on drug use may be motivated by protecting society or limited some of the negative externalities created by drug use (i.e violence). However, in this post, I am limiting my analysis to the area of paternalism. Therefore, any analysis of these other issues/motivations will have to be dealt with at a later time.

**I’ll try to illustrate these four assumptions using a real world situation. When going to an ice cream parlor individuals act based on their self-interests and try to maximize their utility by choosing their favorite flavor of ice cream. If you’ve been craving cookies and cream ice cream, it makes sense that you would choose that flavor. Additionally, each individual has unique preferences, which means that optimal decisions vary depending on the person involved. So although you might desire cookies and cream, not everybody will share that preference. Therefore, because of these unique preferences, utility is maximized via choice. If you are not able to choose the flavor that you prefer, chances are you will be unhappy, or at least less happy than you would have been if you were allowed to choose. Because of the previous three assumptions, individuals (as opposed to outside forces) are best able to maximize their own utility. If your friend has to pick your ice cream for you, he/she may not choose the flavor that you prefer. Even worse, if someone who doesn’t know you chooses the flavor for you, you are even more likely to be disappointed by the ice cream selection. The worst situation, however, would be someone, without intimate knowledge of the individuals involved, choosing one flavor that everybody has to consume.

***Hopefully it is clear that when I refer to individuals acting “for their own good,” I am referring to an economic weighing of benefits and costs that vary depending on the individual and the situation. This is not to discount the existence of moral/spiritual absolutes which would declare certain actions “good” and other actions “bad.” And if, in the cases discussed, the government were legislating purely based on these moral absolutes, that would be one thing (and that would lead to questions about government’s role in legislating morality, etc.). However, this post is limited to analyzing legislation that forces individuals to act “for their own good.”

My Political Ideological Journey Part #2: Civil Disobedience

Another book that shaped my initial thoughts on government was “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau. Now I definitely disagree with Thoreau on a number of points, but I appreciate the fact that he implies a higher standard of justice than human law.

“Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right […] Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made agents of injustice” (Page 4).

While this quote could be taken as an argument for moral relativism (and maybe that was the intent?), I think it is helpful in noting that the law does not always equal justice and that there are higher standards (the conscience, according to Thoreau), which should enable us to critique the justice and validity of various laws.

In terms of the role of government, Thoreau practically argues “that government is best which governs least,” but ideally “that government is best which governs not at all” (Page 3). It’s unclear if Thoreau is legitimately advocating anarchy, but it seems clear that, at the least, he is advocating an extremely limited government. The more limited, the better, according to him.

Thoreau is also helpful in explaining that there is a point where citizens must be willing to resist and fight against government injustices. He writes, “Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? ” (Page 11). And while he would probably advocate a greater level civil disobedience than I would, I think this is an important issue to consider. Most principled individuals would say that if government did “X” or outlawed “Y,” they would have to disobey. It’s interesting, therefore, to think through where that line should be drawn and what level of injustice or tyranny would necessitate civil disobedience.

While I definitely don’t agree with Thoreau on every point, this book was helpful and formative in the process of my political ideological journey.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on Thoreau’s ideology and my interpretations of his ideas. As usual, leave a comment or send me an email, if you’d like. Thanks for reading!

The Second Amendment and the Right to… Hunt?

I was blessed to be able to travel over to England a few years ago. Among many other unique characteristics of this trip, my Father, Grandmother, and I were able to stay with a few hospitable English families during our travels.

These visits were largely pleasant and good natured but at one point a divisive topic came up. Out of nowhere, our kind, elderly host asked something along the lines of, “Why in the world do you all insist on owning automatic weapons? Couldn’t you hunt just as effectively with far less dangerous weaponry?”

We laughed the question off without really answering it, but in my head I was thinking, “If that’s what you think the Second Amendment is all about, your government has brainwashed you all very effectively.”

I kid to some degree but at the same time this is quite a serious issue. It is no secret that many tyrannical dictators have succeeded in their endeavors by disarming their subjects. Chinese dictator Mao Tze Tung blatantly admitted this fact when he said, “All political power comes from the barrel of a gun. The communist party must command all the guns, that way, no guns can ever be used to command the party.”

Nazi tyrant Adolf Hitler expressed similar ideas, “The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms.  History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing.  Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty. So let’s not have any native militia or native police.”

This is not to say that all disarming of citizens undoubtedly leads to tyrannical behavior. However, it is far easier for dictators and tyrants to achieve their nefarious goals when they do not have to worry about resistance from their people.

This type of resistance against overreaching government was exactly why the Founding Fathers emphasized the right to bear arms. It amazes me when people say that the Second Amendment is “merely about hunting” or “was written with muskets in mind and doesn’t apply to modern guns.”

President Thomas Jefferson said, about this issue, “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” George Washington, Patrick Henry, George Mason, John Adams, James Madison, and many other Founding Fathers echoed this same sentiment repeatedly. The right to bear arms is certainly about self defense, but it also serves to dissuade government from despotic behavior.

Based on that idea and the fact that Colonial revolutionaries had weapons identical to the arms of  the British military of the day, one could make the argument that, rather than having their gun ownership limited, modern Americans should actually be allowed much greater access to military-grade weaponry?

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If you have thoughts or questions on this important issue, please leave a comment or shoot me an email. Thanks for reading!

Best Economics/Business/Public Policy Books of 2016

In this spirit of “end of the year lists,” here is a list of the best Economics/Business/Public Policy related books that I read this past year:

 

Turn Neither to the Right Nor to the Left: A Thinking Christian’s Guide to Politics and Public Policy by D. Eric Schansberg

Having studied under Dr. Schansberg this past semester I was especially eager to read this book. And after reading it I can honestly say that I don’t know of another book that attempts and succeeds at describing how Christians ought to think about Public Policy from a Biblical perspective. Schansberg maintains a unique level of consistency and subordination to the doctrines of scripture. While you may or may not agree with every single argument, I believe this book brings up issues that are very necessary for believers to consider.

 

Specialization and Trade: A Re-Introduction to Economics by Arnold S. Kling

Dr. Kling uniquely describes Economics as a focus on how specialization and trade impact decisions and outcomes. This book is refreshing in how it states that Economics is not a magic formula that can give correct results based on proper data. Rather, it is a process of looking at historical outcomes and realizing patterns and similarities that might continue into the future. Overall, a unique and interesting take on the study of Economics as a whole.

 

The Law by Frederic Bastiat

This book does a fantastic job of diving into the issue of the purpose of law and how law is often perverted from its proper goal. While dealing with philosophical issues at times, it also looks at a handful of real life examples of government successes and failures. I highly recommend this book for anybody interested in the issue of liberty and the role of government.

 

Financial Shenanigans: How to Detect Accounting Gimmicks & Fraud in Financial Reports by Howard Schilit

While the study of Accounting can be quite dull at times, this book is probably the most interesting and non-boring Accounting-related text that I’ve come across. It deal with common fraud schemes that individuals have used over the years and gives its readers advice on how to detect businesses that are being deceitful. This book is definitely geared towards those who are interested in Accounting or investing and it does a phenomenal job of pointing out which areas of the financial statements individuals should pay attention to.

 

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt

Written in the form of a novel, this book describes Goldratt’s well-known concept of the Theory of Constraints. For those interested in Operations Management or just Business in general, this book presents the Theory of Constraints in a very interesting manner, which is informative but also easy and exciting to read.

 

All Marketers are Liars: The Underground Classic That Explains How Marketing Really Works–and Why Authenticity Is the Best Marketing of All by Seth Godin

Marketing is a fascinating topic to me and this book does a good job of outlining Marketing principles in the context of story-telling. It describes marketing as telling stories that people want to hear and believe, but that do not take advantage of people. There is still a lot that I’d love to learn in this field of study, but this book was a really good start.

 

The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life by Steven E. Landsberg

This is certainly a good book to read whether or not one has formally studied Economics at all. Each chapter deals with a different real-world issue and shows how the issue at hand relates to the study of Economics. Definitely a riveting read but also very informative and beneficial.

 

Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business by Wayne Grudem

While not really ground-breaking in the ideas it presents, this book deals with common myths and misconceptions about Business as it relates to Christianity. Using Biblical evidence it shows that Business goals can often be in accord with the goal of glorifying God. This is a helpful book if you are struggle with reconciling Scriptural evidence with the way businesses operate or if you are engaging with someone who is wrestling with these issues.

 

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As always I’d love to hear what you think about this post and/or these books. If you read other books this year, I’d love to hear about those as well. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. Thanks for reading!