22 April, 2011

Another Compelling Argument against Secession

Again from Lincoln's first inaugural address:

From questions of this class spring all our constitutional controversies, and we divide upon them into majorities and minorities. If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the Government must cease. There is no other alternative, for continuing the Government is acquiescence on one side or the other. If a minority in such case will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which in turn will divide and ruin them, for a minority of their own will secede from them whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy a year or two hence arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it? All who cherish disunion sentiments are now being educated to the exact temper of doing this.

Is there such perfect identity of interests among the States to compose a new union as to produce harmony only and prevent renewed secession?

Plainly the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible. The rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left.

20 April, 2011

Historical Precedent for Secession

One must be fair to the South in all of this; they were not the first to agitate for secession. Actually, New England had done so as far back as the War of 1812. Now, when the Federal government is creating trade embargoes left and right and going to war with a foreign nation that many states don't even consider much of a threat, there's a little more basis for the claim that that government is overstepping its legal bounds than there is for the claim that a government is overstepping its bounds merely by the legal election of a moderately anti-slavery president. Be that as it may, it's interesting to note that the Founders who were alive back then were vehemently against this proposal. They thought it a "foolish bid by petty minds who put selfish and regional interests over national good." Not a comment about the legality of secession, of course, but interesting to note that these men who were actually involved in the formation of the country were not ready to jump on board with a secession program that was much more justifiable (for all the claims about the Southern economy, notice that the North's economy was the one being harmed in this squabble) than that which would occur half a century later.

18 April, 2011

The Declaration of Independence on Secession

Here's how the Founders justified their own rebellion:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Is a government that
just might
someday legally abolish slavery "destructive of these ends"?

16 April, 2011

Locke on Secession

It is a truism that the American Founders were heavily influenced by John Locke, the English political philosopher of the past century. While the extent of his influence is constantly debated, here's what he has to say about secession:

"... whenever the Legislators endeavour to take away, and destroy the Property of the People, or to reduce them to Slavery under Arbitrary Power, they put themselves into a state of War with the People, who are thereupon absolved from any farther Obedience, and are left to the common refuge which God hath provided for all men against force and violence. ... [Power then] devolves to the People, who have a Right to resume their original Liberty, and, by the Establishment of a new Legislative (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own Safety and Security, which is the end for which they are in Society."

--Second Treatise of Civil Government [1690], #222 (Lasslet Edition, Cambridge University Press, 1960)

Referring back to a previous post: is is "Slavery under Arbitrary Power" for a government to, by all due legal means, proclaim that it is unconstitutional to treat human beings as animals?

14 April, 2011

Lincoln, and some of the more Practical Arguments against Secession

One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute. The fugitive-slave clause of the Constitution and the law for the suppression of the foreign slave trade are each as well enforced, perhaps, as any law can ever be in a community where the moral sense of the people imperfectly supports the law itself. The great body of the people abide by the dry legal obligation in both cases, and a few break over in each. This, I think, can not be perfectly cured, and it would be worse in both cases after the separation of the sections than before. The foreign slave trade, now imperfectly suppressed, would be ultimately revived without restriction in one section, while fugitive slaves, now only partially surrendered, would not be surrendered at all by the other. 27

Physically speaking, we can not separate. We can not remove our respective sections from each other nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other, but the different parts of our country can not do this. They can not but remain face to face, and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible, then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens than laws can among friends? Suppose you go to war, you can not fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical old questions, as to terms of intercourse, are again upon you.

--First Inaugural Address

12 April, 2011

On a Fundamental Question of the Civil War

Can a government legislate morality? The Saint Superman blogger articulates the question using an analogy I've always thought of as the natural one, comparing the slavery issue to the current abortion debate.

Of course, one can very legitimately argue that the Civil War was not about slavery at all. And I'd be the last starry-eyed idealist to suggest that the North had entirely pure motivations in going to war. Politicians are politicians, and on both sides, idealism was pretty much confined to the individual soldiers dying for a cause.

The North's reason for going to war was an interpretation of the Constitution that, right or wrong, considered (as one sees in Lincoln's address) secession to be an act of rebellion against a legal government. I believe Locke would support that interpretation, but more on that later.

However, whatever the North's reasons for going to war, it is very difficult to take seriously any argument advancing the idea that the South was indifferent to the slavery question in seceding. For one thing, if they were not remotely afraid that Lincoln was interested in abolishing slavery (remember, KA-NB act man), why does he spend the first seven paragraphs of his inaugural address reassuring the South that he does not believe he has the legal right to abolish slavery?

Interestingly enough, Lincoln's address seems to suggest initially that the federal government has no right to legislate morality, which makes one wonder what his policy might have been in the current debate. On the other hand, his closing comments actually clarify this original position, suggesting that while he as president does not have the authority to interfere with slavery, he recognizes the right of the union as a whole to ratify amendments to the Constitution that would, logically, include any aiming to do what most of the Founders had wanted to do in the first place: make slavery as taboo in political law as it is in moral law.

For reference, here's the quote, though it would behoove anyone interested to actually read the address and note the movement he makes over its course:

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. I can not be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the National Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amendments, I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself; and I should, under existing circumstances, favor rather than oppose a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act upon it. I will venture to add that to me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions originated by others, not especially chosen for the purpose, and which might not be precisely such as they would wish to either accept or refuse. I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.

The point is, Lincoln reminds the South that he is not attempting to overstep his own legal limitations and abolish slavery. Yet the interpretation of the Constitution that he presents also reminds them, implicitly, that they are as bound by the Constitution as he is, and must be willing to adhere to that Constitution whether it abolish slavery or no.

On the other hand, the South, was attempting to counter what they assumed to be necessarily unconstitutional--that is, the federal government finally confirming that human beings are not property, nor can they be in any legal sense so. In objecting to Lincoln in particular, they were, in the first place, presupposing an unconstitutional act on the president's part that had not taken place; and surely one can't justify secession (again, I'm assuming Lockean terms for the purposes of this post) based on the idea that the government might do something illegal. The underlying, and probably much more deeply-rooted objection was to the idea that the government can make any laws at all regarding morality. In a democracy, is principle to count at all (as Lincoln had argued in the KA-NB affair), or is legality simply a matter of majority rule?

If the latter, I think we all need to have a problem with trying to outlaw abortion. Don't want to start getting ahead of ourselves here. I mean, we couldn't actually have the federal government confirm basic ideas like "Thou shalt not steal" and "Thou shalt not kill", could we?

From Lincoln's First Inaugural Address

A very intelligent, if brief, argument against secession.

"It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a President under our National Constitution. During that period fifteen different and greatly distinguished citizens have in succession administered the executive branch of the Government. They have conducted it through many perils, and generally with great success. Yet, with all this scope of precedent, I now enter upon the same task for the brief constitutional term of four years under great and peculiar difficulty. A disruption of the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted.

I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.

Again: If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it—break it, so to speak—but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?

Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that in legal contemplation the Union is perpetual confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was "to form a more perfect Union."

But if destruction of the Union by one or by a part only of the States be lawfully possible, the Union is less perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of perpetuity.

It follows from these views that no State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and that acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.

I therefore consider that in view of the Constitution and the laws the Union is unbroken, and to the extent of my ability, I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my part, and I shall perform it so far as practicable unless my rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold the requisite means or in some authoritative manner direct the contrary. I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared purpose of the Union that it will constitutionally defend and maintain itself."

10 April, 2011

Peter Walsh

Because I sadly won't be able to talk about this rather excellent character in my final essay. Time constraints in the presentation and all that.

Of the novel's central figures, Peter Walsh is the most directly related to Clarissa herself; he is in fact one of her former suitors, and has essentially wasted his life in a restless quest to recover in other women what he lost through her rejection. He is treated with a good deal more sympathy than the narrative is willing to grant Bradshaw, yet in some senses, he is the physician's most obvious counterpart,with his attitude similar in kind, if not in degree, to his. He is to Clarissa, “dear Peter,” and to the reader he is a man whose honesty regarding his own weaknesses—women and sentimentality—makes him a rather charming figure. All the same, he has several unsettling habits—such as that of stalking women down city streets. Admittedly he does this with no harmful intent. Upon noting that the unknown young woman passing him by is “extraordinarily attractive,” he casually pursues down the street, and pursues her mentally by filling out an imaginative picture of her (210). The picture is harmless enough: he simply imagines that he might invite her to “come and have an ice,” that she would answer, “perfectly simply, Oh yes” (211). Yet though his physical pursuit comes to an uneventful end when she opens the door of her lodgings and walks in, his mental pursuit locks her into an ideal that exists entirely within his own imagination. He conceives of himself as a “romantic buccaneer”; yet his adventure is only this banal response to experience that attempts to capture it in his imagination and to redefine it in terms that he has preordained: “young, but stately; merry, but discreet; black, but enchanting” (211).

A bit of Bradshawian aggression though this may seem, Peter's project ends up being harmless, and within the next four paragraphs Peter dismisses it as a bit of “fun.” “One makes up the better part of life, he [thinks]. . .creating an exquisite amusement” from experience, but nothing more (212). Something compels him to realize the insufficiency of this self-imposing approach to the world, and one is led to believe that this may be in part due to Clarissa herself; she interrupts his thoughts here with her injunction to “remember my party” (212), and dominates his consciousness throughout the novel. He is inclined to pursue and to layer his ideal order over the independent nature of those outside him; he is disposed to make them, at least as they appear to his consciousness, dependent on him for their definition. Yet his love for Clarissa, we sense, has raised the bar for this ideal too high. This girl is not Clarissa. Neither is his first, hastily-married wife. Even Daisy, his object of infatuation at the time this story takes place, fades into the background when he returns from India to Clarissa's London. “All this [making things up] one could never share,” he realizes (212). Clarissa's independent existence constantly returns to “smash to atoms” every attempt to concoct an artificial order out of the elements of experience (212).

Peter is not, however, simply a threat rendered harmless by the tempering effect of his memory of Clarissa. By the end of the novel he has become a visionary who, in sharp contrast to both Septimus and Bradshaw, affirms being-as-it-is. The moment when the threat of his potential destructiveness finally disappears is that when he is able to open himself up to enjoyment of life as it is, not as he would like it to be. He is at last able to let go of his pain at Clarissa's rejection and to accept her—and by extension her husband and way of life—as she is: by the end his life has been justified through this reorientation of perspective as one truly worth living despite his failures as an Indian official or in romance. Towards the end of the climactic party, a brief interaction between Peter and his old friend, Sally Seton, highlights the change that has occurred in his disposition that allows him these visionary moments. “Living in the world as she did,” the narrative comments, Sally “had an insatiable curiosity to know who people were”; accordingly she glances around the room, analyzing and caricaturing in a manner reminiscent of Peter's earlier aggressive categorization of people within his own subjective schema. “Clarissa was at heart a snob,” she judges, and then pronounces with assurance that “Clarissa had cared for [Peter] more than she had ever cared for Richard” (337, 339). In his earlier visit, Peter had similarly found that Clarissa “talked nonsense”and that she and her husband led a banal existence centered around “the most appalling bores in Europe”; moreover, the “truth” as he then saw it was indeed that “now [Clarissa] was in love with him” (235, 235). Yet now he admits in response to Sally's declarations that “he had not found life simple” (338). Richard Dalloway may indeed come off as a dull fellow, but Peter can now see more in him: the man who has just too little cleverness to quite make it to the Cabinet now “seem[s] to [Peter] the best,. . .the most disinterested” of men, and he chides Sally for claiming that Clarissa preferred Peter Walsh to such a figure (339). Throughout the passage he acknowledges alternatives to his earlier preconceptions and moves away from envisioning the world entirely in terms of his rejected love for Clarissa.

It is true that at the close of this exchange, Peter returns to asserting that “we know everything. . .at least, he did” (339). But this assertion now appears within the context of Sally's “despairing of human relationships”; her idea that life is just a process of “scratch[ing] on the wall of [one's] cell” in continually ineffective attempts to communicate, is one that Clarissa had long ago left behind and that Peter is now abandoning as well. “It was unsatisfactory, they agreed, how little one knew people” (302). “But,” they discover, if one sort of knowledge is impossible, another is. You cannot simply fit a person into a definition. What you can know, not rationally, but experientially, is “the unseen part of us, which spreads wide, [which] might survive, be recovered somehow attached to this person or that” (302-3). Thinking back on this conversation, Peter has a revelation: this is precisely the sort of knowledge he has of Clarissa. “You were given,” he muses, “a sharp, acute, uncomfortable grain—the actual meeting. . .yet in absence, in the most unlikely places, it would flower out, open, shed its scent, let you touch, taste, look about you, get the whole feel and understanding” (303). Peter's idealism has not died out: he still looks to Clarissa as an ideal by which he can “understand” life, but this is no longer an ideal limited by his past disappointment and imposed upon others. Only when his impulse to pursue and promulgate his vision of “order” has been tempered with the receptivity necessary to respect the inviolability of the individual other is he prepared for the final vision of the novel: “It is Clarissa, he said. For there she was” (341).

Art in Relation to the Social in Woolf: A Brief Comment

Basically all of the critics I've read so far recognize that Mrs. Dalloway is a novel sensitive to the difficulties of preserving individuality within a rigid social order. Yet as an artist, Woolf shies away from attempts to entirely subvert the standing order. Art, as we see in her depictions of Mrs. Ramsay and Lily in To the Lighthouse or even of Rachel in The Voyage Out, is primarily an attempt to communicate a subjective vision of what is worthwhile in life to others. In order to accomplish this communication, however, it must have recourse to social forms such as a dinner party, a painting, a sonata, or even words: it would be useless to express a vision if it were to be expressed in terms that mean something only to the artist. In Mrs. Dalloway, art is not the focus; rather, life is imagined as art, as an act of balancing the individual with the social, the particular with the general.