William Porcher Miles was one of the “Fire-Eaters,” an influential faction of academics, publishers, and statesmen who advocated Southern secession in response to irreconcilable differences – cultural, economic, political, and social – with the North. Although he and his comrades have gone down in history as extremists, he was not some hothead who blindly led his people to a war out of ideological fanaticism or personal ambition, but an intellectual who thought seriously about the problems facing his people and how to preserve their established, inherited way of life.
Indeed, the neo-abolitionist historians who denounce Fire-Eaters like Miles as conspiratorial, demagogic, paranoid ranters and ravers – the self-hating Charles B. Dew and the smart-aleck William W. Freehling come to mind – contradict themselves by subscribing to the “irrepressible-conflict” school of history. If it really were true that there was an “irrepressible conflict” between the North and the South, then it was the Fire-Eaters (not to mention secessionist abolitionists like George W. Bassett, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Lysander Spooner) who saw the future the clearest.
Miles was born in Walterboro, South Carolina, on July 4th, 1822. Unlike most other South-Carolinian men of his generation, Miles was uninterested and uninvolved in politics, despite growing up in the Colleton District (the seat of the Nullification Crisis) and living through the Blufton Movement. Miles was a professor of mathematics at his alma mater, Charleston College, from 1843 to 1855, where he befriended the future editor James De Bow and the future diplomat William Henry Trescot. It was during this period of intensifying sectional conflict that Miles began speaking out and standing up for the South.
Miles’ political debut was at a celebration of the Fourth of July in Charleston, where he criticized the Wilmot Proviso for attempting to exclude slavery from territory acquired in the Mexican War. “As a Southern man,” he explained, “I was bound, on such an occasion, in honor and conscience, to express myself in the strongest and fullest manner.” While Southerners were considering the issue as an “abstract question of constitutional right,” Northerners were neither “contending for an abstract principle,” nor “influenced by a mere spirit of fanatical opposition to slavery,” but rather “are deliberately, intentionally, and advisedly aiming a deadly blow at the South.” According to Miles, such a blow was “intended to repress her energies – to check her development – to diminish and eventually destroy her political weight and influence in this confederacy.”
In 1855, Miles was elected Mayor of Charleston, thanks to the politicking of his friends back home, who publicized his volunteer work treating an outbreak of yellow fever in Norfolk, Virginia. Miles was a progressive, reformist mayor who created a number of facilities and resources for the improvement of public health, safety, and welfare (including aid for free blacks), as well as developed a schedule for the reduction of public debt.
Miles was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1856, where he served until 1860. William Gilmore Simms, the famous author whom Miles had befriended while governing Charleston, apprised him of other Southerners in the Congress (such as Mississippi’s John A. Quitman and South Carolina’s James H. Hammond), but above all, advised Simms, “Let all your game lie in the constant recognition and assertion of a Southern nationality!” By this point, Miles was already an avowed secessionist, and in the opinion of some of his more conservative friends, by taking maximalist positions on impractical issues – such as the admission of Kansas under a pro-slavery constitution – he was trying to force the moment to its crisis. “The issue has been made, the battle joined, and though it be on an abstract principle which does not at present promise to result in any practical advantage to us, I am willing to stand by the guns and fight it out,” argued Miles. “The South may not dissolve the Union on the rejection of Kansas, but such rejection would, assuredly, sever still another of the cords – rapidly becoming fewer – which the course of events has been snapping one by one.” Forcing the issue of Kansas would “at least have the effect of opening the eyes of the Southern people to the startling fact that they have no hope in the future of maintaining their equality in the Union,” as well as “compel them to ponder the question whether they will choose subjugation or resistance, colonial vassalage or separate independence.”
Miles boasted that Southern secession was imminent:
It is not on a question of dollars and cents that the South would dissolve the Union. The history of long weary years of unjust and unequal legislation has sufficiently proved that point. But when it shall be proved to the South not only that the scepter has forever departed from her; that she can never, concurrently with the North, rule the common country; but that she must forever occupy an inferior and subordinate position; that she can never expand, never occupy her just share of the common territory; that her institutions and civilization are at the mercy of a sectional majority which tolerates them only to the end that her people, as “hewers of wood and drawers of water” [a quote from Joshua 9:23 describing the Israelites’ enslavement of the Canaanites], may minister to its prosperity – then, I believe, she will imitate the example of our revolutionary sires, and take her destinies into her own hands.
In the presidential election of 1860, Miles opposed Southern support for Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, suspicious of Northern Democrats and certain that Southerners could only be represented by a strictly sectional party. Miles predicted to the Charleston Mercury (the secessionist newspaper edited by the Fire-Eater Robert B. Rhett) that the coming election would pit “power against principle – the majority against the minority, regardless of all constitutional barriers.” (Indeed, 60% of the electorate would cast a vote against Abraham Lincoln – the other three candidates being varying degrees of anti-Republican – but by carrying the Northern states Lincoln won the electoral plurality that he needed.) Even before the Democrats’ sectional schism and Lincoln’s sectional election, however, Miles pressed for preemptive secession, concluding that the North and the South neither should nor could live together under the same government. “They actually invade our borders and endeavor to apply the ‘knife’ and ‘actual cautery,’ fire and sword, to what in their folly they consider ‘a sore’ in our body politic!” exclaimed Miles. “Can the Southern people endure this without degradation and ruin?” he asked. “Impossible,” he answered. “We only desire to be let alone, and yet we are constantly told that we are aggressors and agitators.” The Southern states were “the sole judges of what is best for their own interests, and for their own peace and security,” and thus could “whenever they choose, take their destinies into their own hands.” Indeed, the South possessed “all the elements of wealth, prosperity, and strength, to make her a first-class power among the nations of the world,” argued Miles, who was “weary of these eternal attempts to hold out the olive branch, when we ought to be preparing to grasp the sword.”
After Abraham Lincoln’s election, Miles and Laurence M. Keitt (another South-Carolinian Fire-Eater) met with Pres. James Buchanan to negotiate the status of federal property in South Carolina, the secession of which was imminent. According to Miles and Keitt, they had an “understanding” with Buchanan that no military action would be taken against U.S. forts in Charleston Harbor so long as no attempt was made to reinforce them. “After all, this is a matter of honor among gentlemen,” Miles and Keitt said that Buchanan had told them. “I do not know that any paper or writing is necessary.” Shortly after Lincoln took command, however, he skillfully manipulated the officially unresolved issue of U.S. forts (namely, Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor) as a pretense for war.
Miles was elected as a delegate to South Carolina’s secession convention where the Union was dissolved, a delegate to the Montgomery Convention where the Confederate Constitution was framed, and a representative to the Confederate Congress. Miles also served, along with Louis Trezevant Wigfall (a Texan Fire-Eater) as an aide-de-camp to Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard at Charleston and the Battle of First Manassas, but found that his lack of military training made him unhelpful. It was Miles who, as the chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee, designed what is recognized today as “the Confederate flag,” which became a popular battle flag and was later incorporated into the national flag. “There is no propriety in retaining the ensign of a government which, in the opinion of the states composing this Confederacy, had become so oppressive and injurious as to require their separation from it,” Miles reported to his committee “It is idle to talk of ‘keeping’ the flag of the United States when we have voluntarily seceded from them.”
Like most Fire-Eaters, however, Miles found himself out of power in the Confederacy. Much to his chagrin, the conservatives who had always opposed disunion, such as Pres. Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee, had become far more powerful and influential than secessionists like him. Miles believed in “our great struggle for liberty, independence, and even existence as a people,” but that struggle did not seem to believe in him. The Confederate military’s last-ditch effort to enlist and emancipate slaves epitomized Miles’ disappointment and frustration. “It is not merely a military, but a great social and political question,” he explained, “and the more I consider it the less is my judgment satisfied that it could really help our cause to put arms into the hands of our slaves.”
After the war the unreconstructed Miles, disgusted with other Fire-Eaters for disavowing their secessionist politics, retreated to his original professorial life. “Politics must be more a trade and less a pursuit for an honorable man than it ever was before,” reflected Miles, and “for a time cannot be a path which any high-toned and sensitive – not to say honest and conscientious man – can possibly tread.” Miles was equally disgusted with North for the infamous corruption of the postbellum Gilded Age, believing that “Monopolists” (such as parasitic, predatory railroad tycoons) and “Demagogues” (such as anarchists, populists, and socialists) had made a mockery of “just principles of government.” (Historians rarely make the connection between the outcome of the so-called Civil War and the ensuing generation of degeneracy among the victors.) Miles applied unsuccessfully for the position of president at the new Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, but in 1880 he was accepted as president of South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina). Since all white and black men had been given the right to vote during Reconstruction, Miles believed that it was necessary for good governance that whites and blacks alike receive free primary education. “The whole population should be educated,” he recommended, “trained to the just discharge not only of the right of suffrage, but of all duties of citizenship.” Miles had married a Virginian heiress in 1863, and in 1882, after the death of his father-in-law, Miles resigned from South Carolina College to manage the extensive plantation network that he had inherited. Miles’ inheritance included sugar plantations in Louisiana, but when fellow sugar planters asked him to help them lobby for high sugar tariffs, he refused, reminding them that he was “an old-fashioned, straight-out, ‘strict-construction’ Democrat, bred in the South-Carolina school of John C. Calhoun and State Rights,” and thus would oppose anything unconstitutional on principle even if opposed his own financial interests. Miles died in 1899 and was buried at Green Hill Cemetery in Union, West Virginia, the home of his wife’s family.
In 1852, while still a mathematics professor, Miles spoke to the Alumni Society of Charleston College on commencement day. The title of his speech was “Republican Government not Everywhere and Always the Best; and Liberty not the Birthright of Mankind.” Miles’ speech was so popular that the Alumni Society requested a copy from Miles for publication. “The opinions embodied in it are my deliberate convictions, as I believe they are those of educated men and gentlemen throughout the country,” Miles wrote in reply to Henry M. Bruns, Henry D. Lesesne, and S.P. Ravenel, “although it has seemed to me that there has been rather too much hesitancy on their part in the open avowal of them.” Miles’ speech is hardly historically dated, and is, in fact, a remarkable refutation of the modern-day American civic religion of universalism and equalitarianism.
To Miles, the zeitgeist of Western Civilization in the mid-1800s was the rise of reason over tradition. “Progress is the watchword of the day,” announced Miles. “Mind rules.” In what Miles described as “restless activity of thought,” everything in life – society and politics, science and religion, and so on – had become pressing “problems” to be solved, and, as a result, “the prestige of old forms and associations is daily becoming weaker.” In other words, instead of accepting the accumulated wisdom of preceding generations and adding improvements where necessary, traditions were tested for conformity to the latest ideological fad and purged if they proved deviant.
The media (which at the time was starting to grow into “the mass-media” due to the invention of the telegraph, the formation of news-sharing syndicates, the rise of prestigious national papers, and the proliferation of localized as well as specialized publications) accelerated and amplified the propagation of new ideas and “public opinion.” Yet this new medium, which prioritized sensationalism and simplicity, was influencing the message as much as it was propagating it, with the negative result that the most ill-formed and ill-understood ideas were often the most influential. “Their daring speculations, from the almost incredible facilities of publication and transmission, are thrown out with a rapidity, and, in consequence, a crudity, which, while it prevents a healthy and proper digestion, excites a morbid and craving appetite for novelty,” explained Miles. “All is excitement and confusion, and there is little time for careful weighing and reflection.”
It was the duty of the “educated and intelligent classes” (such as the distinguished alumni society which Miles was addressing, long before affirmative action, grade inflation, curricula degradation, grade inflation, and student debt made college degrees worthless) to refute the fallacies and heresies that were influencing public opinion. Unfortunately, intellectuals had not just failed in this duty, but were actually the prime offenders. “How grievous an account will posterity exact of their memories for evils which may have arisen, whether through their mistakes or supineness,” Miles imagined, “and on the other hand, how glorious will be their reward who have manfully discharged their duty as thinking men and citizens – stemming the tide of false political doctrines and disorganizing social theories which, in these latter days, are sweeping like a torrent over the face of the earth.”
“In this country,” warned Miles, “freedom of thought, freedom of action, and freedom of the press run riot, until they often degenerate into the grossest license, and where, in consequence, the widest field lies open for sowing the seed of every hurtful weed of doctrine.” The tendency of liberty to degenerate into licentiousness had been a constant problem in Western political philosophy since Plato, and Miles had opened his address with a quote from the English poet John Milton, whose epic “Paradise Lost” could be interpreted as an allegory of that very problem: “License they mean when they cry liberty!” Miles could never have fathomed how much worse these “freedoms” would get, however, as a perusal of recent headlines will demonstrate.
Ezra Klein, the founder of Vox, either does not comprehend or simply does not care about the U.S.A.’s federal and republican form of government, and is attacking equal representation in the Senate and the electoral college as “undemocratic.” (Ironically, although the popularity of “Hamilton,” a minstrel show for white left-liberals, has convinced audiences that the eponymous hero was “woke” like them, it was he who defended the electoral college in the Federalist, and, in fact, supported a proto-“Trumpian” program against “free trade” and “open borders.”) Klein does not endorse rethinking the oversized and divided U.S.A. in order to ensure representative government for all, but rather moving aggressively to secure a one-party Democratic state by breaking apart single blue states into multiple blue states (like California) and creating new blue states out of territory (like Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico).
The New York Times recently hired Sarah Cheong, a feminist blogger who vented her spleen against white people daily on social media for years. Cheong resorted to the illiterate excuse of “satire,” but her tweets are not satirizing anything, and instead reveal a humorless hatred. Aja Romano, a writer for Vox, explains that Jeong was merely “discussing and responding to the oppressive mentality of white culture,” as well as “commenting on the idea that white people often believe they are being discriminated against when they aren’t.” According to Romano, “To equate ‘being mean to white people’ with the actual systemic oppression and marginalization of minority groups is a false equivalency.” (The sort of systemic oppression and marginalization faced by Jeong, an immigrant from South Korea – a country which American soldiers died to save from North Korea – who went on to attend two of her host country’s most prestigious universities, Berkeley and Harvard, before she was even naturalized, and who now writes for one of her host country’s most prestigious newspapers?)
Jonathan Chait, a writer for New York Magazine, unwittingly satirized the utter absurdity of “RussiaGate” in an essay that can only be described as a conspiracy theory. According to Chait, Pres. Donald Trump may be a sleeper agent turned by the Soviets back in 1987 (the year he began publicly criticizing the free ride that the U.S.A. was giving its Cold-War allies) who remained dormant until recently activated by his handler, Vladimir Putin. The evidence for Chait’s theory, like all the other evidence for RussiaGate, is nil. (RussiaGate is, on the one hand, mere xenophobic propaganda for Outer-Party proles – the “birtherism” of the Democratic Party – but on the other hand, a political ploy by Inner-Party elites to prevent the critical normalization of American foreign policy on which Trump campaigned.)
Pres. Donald Trump told The Sun, “I have a great love for countries in Europe,” and added (in reference to the mass-migration of Africans, Arabs, and Asians initiated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel) that “I think what has happened to Europe is a shame.” According to Trump, “I think it changed the fabric of Europe and, unless you act very quickly, it’s never going to be what it was, and I don’t mean that in a positive way.” At a news conference, Trump continued, arguing, “I just think it’s changing the culture…and I think they better watch themselves because you are changing culture, you are changing a lot of things.” Philip Bump, a national correspondent for The Washington Post, pronounces this to be “white-nationalist rhetoric,” and denied not only that immigration has any effect on existing culture (unless it is making it better, of course), but also that Europe even has a culture (besides mayonnaise on white bread and other bland things, of course). Apparently, Western Civilization is now nothing more than white nationalism, and anyone who wants European to remain European is nothing more than a white nationalist.
“First Man,” a true-to-life biopic about Neil Armstrong during the Apollo-11 mission, was derided by The New Yorker’s film critic, Richard Brody, as a “right-wing fetish object…a film of deluded, cultish longing for an earlier era of American life” which is “whiter than a Fred-and-Ginger ballroom set.” Meanwhile, Brody applauds “Hidden Figures” (a laughable “affirmative-action” falsification of history that looks like it should have aired on the Hallmark Channel) as “a subtle and powerful work of counter-history, or, rather, of a finally and long-deferred accurate history”), and seriously believes that “were it not for the devoted, unique, and indispensable efforts of three black women scientists, the United States might not have successfully sent people into space or to the moon and back.” At least “Hidden Figures” was trying to tell a wholesome story, however, unlike most of the degeneracy out of Hollywood. Due to the highly graphic and exploitative simulated sex scenes on “The Deuce,” HBO’s new show about the mainstreaming of pornography in the 1970s (finally, someone is telling this long-overdue story!), Rolling Stone reports that the network is hiring an “intimacy coordinator” to keep the actresses “safe.” (Remember, the U.S.A. has a holy mission to evangelize its self-evident “exceptionalism” to the heathen world.)
David Greenberg, a Rutgers historian reviewing David Frum’s Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic in Yale Alumni Magazine, is praising neo-conservatives for their integrity. “Writers like Max Boot, Eliot Cohen, Jennifer Rubin, James Kirchik, Bret Stephens, Cathy Young, and Bill Kristol have resisted the pressures of tribalism at a moment when few dare to leave their partisan tents.” (Does Greenberg not get the joke? These neo-cons are all highly ethnocentric – that is, “tribalist” – Jews who, as pundits, act as a fifth column in their host country for racial and religious hardliners in their home country, Israel.)
Kevin Sullivan, a senior correspondent at The Washington Post, is touting McAllen, Texas, as “an all-American city that speaks Spanish.” McAllen is the site of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility where “families crossing the border illegally have been separated and children have been housed under the administration’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy” (translation: adults and children are detained separately for a brief period of time while the adults are legally processed). Sullivan found that the people of McAllen, who are 84.6% Latino, cannot comprehend why anyone would worry about immigration. “Immigration isn’t a problem for this Texas town,” remarks Sullivan, “it’s a way of life.” (Perhaps because, in recent years, McAllen, supposedly a city of the immigrant future, has been ranked the least-educated city, a city with the highest poverty rate in its class, the worst city for residents feeling safe, the worst city for young people finding work, and the third most-obese city.)
Alexis Grenell, a Democratic-Party strategist writing in The New York Times, is attacking white women as “gender traitors” for not showing “solidarity” with non-white women and for making a “blood pact” with white men. According to Grenell, white women, who “put their racial privilege ahead of their second-class gender status,” are “expected to support the patriarchy by marrying within their racial group, reproducing whiteness, and even minimizing violence against their own bodies.” Grenell sneers at the traditional (or “patriarchal”) belief that women are to be “cherished and revered,” arguing that they are instead “denied basic rights.” (As evidence of this dystopia, Grenell cites “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which is a sort of feminist-1984.)
When John McCain, the U.S. Senator from Arizona who made a career out of disloyalty to party and country, died after clinging to power for a year, his public funeral became an obscene display of political grandstanding, with melodramatic and grandiloquent eulogies not just from ex-Presidents, but from the media (which McCain often described as his “base”). Tribute was paid not only to McCain the soldier (he fought bravely in the Vietnam War and then spent his life entangling new generations in new Vietnams), but also to McCain the statesman (that is, his espousal of schmaltzy, shlocky immigration myths and his advocacy of chauvinistic, jingoistic imperialist policies). “We gather to mourn the passing of American greatness,” intoned his daughter, who co-hosts The View, “the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice, those that live lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served.” (Is she talking about Donald Trump, or Joe Biden, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton?)
Amy Harmon, The New York Times’ science reporter, is criticizing advances in scientific research on DNA for “carrying with it the inescapable message that people of different races have different DNA.” Geneticists themselves are as eager to deny that their research, which demonstrates that race is based in human biology, means what it manifestly means. While Harmon’s predecessor, Nicholas Wade, once explained the politically incorrect results of genetics research with honesty, his successor cries, “Can Somebody Please Debunk This?” in response to such inconvenient truths. (When “climate skeptics” criticize scientific research which conflicts with their ideologies and policies, that is “science denialism,” but when Harmon does it, that is debunking “white supremacism.”)
As Harmon’s interviews with geneticists reveal, postmodernism is now beginning to infect the sciences, but the humanities have long been irredeemably contaminated “hot zones.” Donna Zuckerberg, the editor of the journal Eidolon and the author of Not All Dead White Men, is attacking the Classics. “Classics as a discipline has deep roots in fascism and reactionary politics and white supremacy,” argues Zuckerberg, who calls for “a Classics that is ethical, diverse, intersectional, and especially feminist.” Zuckerberg and the contributors to Eidolon are constantly struggling between the contradictory-yet-complementary goals of deconstructing or denouncing ancient Greece and Rome. “Ancient Athens, though a democracy, does not fit a narrative of openness to immigrants and refugees no matter how we try to dress it up,” frets one contributor after reading about the nativist Periclean Citizenship Law of 451 B.C. “What, then, is a woke classicist to do?” Her answer is “to stop pretending that the worst thing the Athenians ever did was to execute Socrates and openly engaged the true dark side of Classical Athens’ anti-immigration policies and the obsession with ethnic purity that lies at the heart of its literature, history, and philosophy.” (I majored in Classics because it was a way to study the founding history, literature, philosophy of Western Civilization at the same time, but now I realize that I should have majored in something that I hatred in order to subvert the subject.)
The academia and media of 1852 are paragons of intellectual integrity and responsibility next to the ideologues and partisans of 2018, who have mastered the Ministry of Truth’s practices of “doublethink,” “duckspeak,” and “crimestop.”
Miles identified two overarching fallacies and heresies which had captivated and contaminated public opinion. First? “That a republican form of government is not only the best form of government, abstractly, but that it is necessarily, everywhere and always the only good, and tolerable, and true form of government.” Second? “That liberty is the birthright of mankind.”
“Republican Government not Everywhere and Always the Best"
Miles was quick to clarify that while republican government (which he defined broadly as “self-government”) was not the only acceptable form of government and not a universally applicable form of government, it was certainly the only form of government acceptable and applicable to Americans:
And this is a notion so widely spread among us, that I fear that in stating it as an error – even before this intelligent and educated audience – I will excite at first some little surprise. But I do not fear that you will misunderstand me. As an American addressing Americans, it is hardly necessary for me to say that I believe our form of government to be not only the best possible form for us, but really the only one that could ever measurably secure to us those blessings whose security must be the prime object of all government. No thinking man, whatever abstract theory he may hold – whatever may be his predilections and prejudices – can seriously doubt this. In fact, there is little room for choice. For ruling the Anglo-Saxon race, no national constitution which does not recognize the great principles of the responsibility of the rulers to the ruled, and the right of the citizen to assist in framing the laws and to tax himself, can be available. The English Constitution and our own – parent and child historically – are really the only two which practically do this, and are consequently the only two between which even the speculative theorist would have to decide. But a government similar to that of England cannot be formed by legislative enactments and a paper constitution. We cannot create a ruling dynasty, nor, its necessary support, a hereditary nobility. They are not matters of a few generations, nor of a few centuries. A thousand years would scarcely be sufficient to give them that hold upon national sentiment which would ensure stability. No one, therefore, whatever may be his theoretic views, can believe a monarchical form of government practicable or possible in our country. It remains, then, that our republican form is, as I said, not only for us the best, but the only practicable one.
The origins of the U.S.A. as British colonies demonstrate why self-government was right for Americans. “Our own great experiment in America had everything in its favor, whether we look to the character of the people, the geographical position of the country, or the adventitious circumstances of the case.” For one, Americans, living in colonies across the Atlantic Ocean, were remote from their mother country and any sort of central government. “Three thousand miles of ocean – equivalent to almost thrice that distance in these days of rapid steam navigation – separated us from the intriguing influences of jealous and powerful governments.” For another, aristocratic and ecclesiastical orders had never been established in the American colonies, nor was there an industrial, urban proletariat. “The nice and perplexing questions involved in the adjustment of the claims of antagonistic orders and classes – of immense and conflicting social interests – of the insolent, apathetic rich on the one hand, and the hungry-eyed, desperate-minded poor on the other – all those momentous and terrible problems which impede reform and fetter progress in the old and densely crowded communities of Europe, were with us happily and entirely wanting.” As a result, Americans were accustomed to governing themselves by their own traditions and institutions, and while distance made the governmental authority of their mother country weak, Americans still strongly identified with the heritage of their mother country, and the traditions and institutions by which they governed themselves were ones which they had inherited from her. “The Anglo-Saxon race seem to possess in an eminent degree those qualities requisite for national self-government: an inflexible love of justice, great tenacity of purpose; a certain instinctive reverence for existing institutions which makes them averse to fickle changes; a constitutional equanimity and moderation; in a word, a steady equilibrium resulting from the due mixture of attributes peculiarly their own, sound judgment and practical common sense.”
By their historical experience, therefore, Americans had developed the characteristics and capacities which made self-government possible:
Never perhaps before in the history of the world had such an opportunity been afforded – never perhaps in history will such an opportunity again offer – of trying fairly and thoroughly on a noble and majestic scale, the theory which throughout all ages – from Plato to [Algernon] Sydney – had been the cherished dream of philosophers and statesmen. We have tried it. And yet even among us there are not wanting wise and good men who look upon our experiment as still but an experiment. Our existence as a nation has been but for little more than three quarters of a century (a very small fraction in the life of a people) and already there are distracting forces at work which not only threaten to break up what the founders of it regarded as the essential framework of our government, but to convert it into an absolute democratic despotism in the hands of a numerical majority!
While conceding that self-government was, indeed, optimal for Americans, Miles held that it was far from perfect in its own right (for instance, it was too prone to the instabilities of “public opinion”) and that because of those problems (which only the most enlightened people were capable of overcoming) it was far from optimal for everyone else:
But while sincerely and firmly believing this, I am by no means prepared to allow that what is best for us is always and everywhere possible. A republican form of government is morally and intellectually the highest form, inasmuch as it presupposes the highest moral and intellectual development of the people. Where, therefore, such a development exists, or rather such an approximation to it as human frailty admits – there the people are capable of self-control and self-government. But even there, from its very fundamental assumption, it lacks some of those counterbalances and checks which exist in governments founded upon a lower theory of the perfectibility of human nature. It is more liable to sudden changes. Its moral tone is more directly influenced by the prevailing modes of thought and manners of the people. It wants more of that innate, recuperative force, which after every departure can bring it back to, and make it conform with, the original type. So that waiving the discussion of the general question, as to which is upon the whole the best theory upon which to construct the constitution of a government – we are at least safe in assuming that it is not every condition of a people – nor even every people in their best condition – which admits of or can support republican or self-government.
In Miles’ opinion, the fate of France “stands out as a beacon to warn those who too rashly and enthusiastically assume that that the republican form is the truest or the simplest.” The French Revolution, which began as the long-overdue reform of the government into the First Republic, degenerated into the Reign of Terror, in which counter-revolutionary classes were mass-executed and pre-revolutionary culture was mass-purged. The Reign of Terror was overthrown by the Directory, which was less diabolical though no less dictatorial. The Directory was overthrown by the militaristic Napoleon Bonaparte, who quickly rose from consul to emperor amid the disorder and came very close to conquering all of Europe. Napoleon was ultimately defeated and deposed, and the Bourbon dynasty was restored to power. The Bourbons, however, were soon overthrown in favor of the “Citizen-King” Louis-Philippe (from another branch of the same family), who was soon overthrown in order to establish the Second Republic, which was soon overthrown by Napoleon III (the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte). “What will be the next act in the drama or the farce, no one can with any confidence predict,” remarked Miles. “The next mail may bring us information of some new emeute [riot] which has entirely overthrown the existing order of things.” (In fact, in 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, Napoleon III would be defeated and captured in battle, leading to his exile and the establishment of the Third Republic, which survived World War I but not World War II.)
No other country had contributed as much to Western Civilization as the French, though for all of their achievements, they had not developed the particular qualities necessary for self-government:
So much for the French attempts at republican government. And yet what nation stands higher than France in civilization, intelligence, and refinement? What people have contributed more to the advancement of science, philosophy, and all the social arts? Into every department of human knowledge – into every region of thought and speculation, they have pressed forward among the foremost. But they have yet to learn the art of self-government.
After Christian evangelicals and Enlightenment ideologues began forcefully criticizing slavery in the mid-1700s, Southerners responded, no less forcefully, with what they called “the pro-slavery argument.” First, they argued, slavery was a system of labor not just recognized, but in some cases protected, under the Constitution, which contained no delegated and enumerated powers over slavery. Second, they argued, slavery grew out of racial inequalities between blacks and whites, manifested in the contrast between the primitive conditions of the former in their native Africa (or American freedman communities) and the civilized conditions of the latter in their native Europe (or worldwide colonies). Third, they argued, slave societies – by making all freemen equal to one another regardless of birth or wealth, treating liberty as a privilege rather than a right, and combining capital and labor into a single class with a common interest – were morally superior to free societies. According to William Sumner Jenkins, the author of Pro-Slavery Thought in the Old South, this second “ethnological” argument for slavery was crucial to the supporting constitutional and moral arguments for slavery. Miles completely agreed, of course (this was a day and age of literal white supremacists, not the lame bogeymen of today), but that was not his point in this particular speech. Miles’ point was that even among civilized “races” (by which he meant European ethno-nationalities, such as the “Anglo-Saxons”) there were still highly determinative cultural, social, and political differences. Even though he singled out France for the instability of its so-called republican governments, Miles (who was himself of Huguenot ancestry) did not intend to be condescending. On the contrary, republican government was not necessarily better than any other form of government – just better-suited to some people more than others, like tastes in fashion or food.
For example, Miles asked, why should Italy, Spain, England, and Lapland (i.e. Finland), all much-older countries with their own unique cultures, societies, and governments, have the same form of government as the much-younger U.S.A., the form of government of which was adapted from its own unique historical experience?
There is not any one specific form of government into which, as the bed of Procrustes, you can force the body politic. The form of government is but the outward development of the inner life of a people. It not only may differ – but must differ – with different people and different social organizations. Nations have grown great and powerful, and fulfilled their missions in furthering civilization and the elevation of man’s nature under various and opposite forms of government. The social and political requirements of one people are not less distinct from those of another than their physical requirements. The Italian or the Spaniard does not need, nor would be be nourished by, the beef and beer of the Englishman, nor would the latter thrive on the train oil [whale oil extracted from blubber] of the Laplander; so, too, the clothing requisite in the one case would be insufficient or an encumbrance in the others. How irrational and quixotic, then, must be the attempt to go about the world in a spirit of political propagandization, making proselytes to republicanism among the nations?
Miles cited Lajos Kossuth as an example of this political proselytism. Kossuth was a Hungarian émigré who traveled around the North, where he was hailed as a sort of European George Washington. “We know that he is a man of fluent eloquence, of fascinating address, of potent fortitude, possessed in a remarkable degree of what is certainly a main element in all true greatness, faith in himself and in what he believes to be his mission,” admitted Miles. “But to what extent is he a true representative of Hungary – a true exponent of her national sentiment?” The Bathyani and Esterhazy families (two of the most “powerful, influential, and patriotic in Hungary…prominent for their earnest and disinterested love of their country – for their zealous advocacy of liberal and enlightened measures likely to elevate and improve her condition”) disapproved of Kossuth’s international activities, for instance. Centuries before Europeans even colonized the American continent, Hungary had been ruled by aristocratic and ecclesiastical orders, and was united by marriage with Austria. The conflict between Austria and Hungary (the former “oppressive and exacting,” the latter “unruly and unreasonable”) was utterly foreign to Americans. “Is it not downright impertinence in us – ignorant of the political relations of the two countries – of their mutual obligations – of the very gist of the dispute – to thrust ourselves forward as umpires in their quarrel?” asked Miles.
The U.S.A. did not have any responsibility, much less any right, to intervene in Europe in order to separate Hungary from Austria. (In fact, in 1867, Austria and Hungary would, without any American interference, resolve their conflict by uniting as a “Dual Monarchy.”) Miles did not believe that Kossuth was that interested in Hungarian independence, however, and that the “Red Republicans, socialists and communists, abolitionists, free-soilers, and barnburners” who hailed him in the North would not have sympathized with him if he did. What Kossuth was promoting in the U.S.A. was, rather, “to revolutionize and democratize Hungary,” which would, in Miles’ opinion, be a gross violation of the law of nations and perhaps even tantamount to an act of war.
Miles was a proponent of a sort of “Prime Directive,” if you will, opposing any interference in the internal development of a foreign nation:
The form of government of a people ought not to be determined by foreign and extrinsic influences. I do not mean to lay down the broad principle that the intervention of one nation in the affairs of others is never justifiable or even necessary. But political crusades are impolitic and dangerous, and are apt to be productive of as small permanent results as the religious crusades of the Middle Ages. The true policy of a nation is to a great degree selfish. Let her chief aim be to conserve or to perfect her own constitution; to elevate and improve the condition of her own people. The finite intellect of man is incapable of marking out for them the destinies of all races and peoples. The Supreme Ruler of the Universe “shapes the ends” of nations as of individuals. In his good time he will elevate the earnest and struggling spirit to reach the light. Let us then, while thankfully enjoying a form of popular government, which seems most advisable for us, leave other nations to work out for themselves, as we have done, the problem as to what political form is best-adapted to their peculiar growth and development.
After World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and now in this post-1991 “unipolar moment,” when any government which resists democratic capitalism and managerial liberalism can be “regime-changed,” can Americans even comprehend Miles’ opposition to the U.S.A. interfering in the politics of other countries? Indeed, Miles’ concern that merely playing host and giving voice to an exiled dissident would be out of line must, to thoroughly jingoized and chauvinized Americans, seem “unpatriotic.”
A seemingly small story, completely ignored by the American media, is an excellent illustration of the U.S.A.’s retarded and suicidal foreign policy. With all the threats to American political unity, cultural identity, economic stability, and national security – indeed, literal “caravans” of illegal aliens marching toward our border – the government is preoccupied with securing foreign borders and selling arms to foreign governments.
Pres. Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, John R. Bolton (just recently described by Rep. Jimmy Duncan of Tennessee as “far too eager for others to go to war so these chickenhawks can think of themselves as modern Winston Churchills”) has been on a diplomatic tour of the South Caucasus, visiting Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia after traveling to Russia to announce that the U.S.A. was ending a Reagan-Gorbachev arms-control treaty which had significantly reduced the risk of nuclear warfare. Bolton was there to convince countries to cooperate with the Trump Administration’s heightened sanctions against Iran. “We want to put maximum pressure on Iran because it has not given up the pursuit of nuclear weapons,” Bolton told the U.S.-funded news service in Armenia. “It remains the world’s central banker of international terrorism, and we’re concerned about its ballistic-missile programs and its active conventional operations in Syria and Iraq and elsewhere.” Armenia has been trying to lessen its dependence on Russia by deepening ties with the European Union and Iran (with which it shares a southern border). Yet now Bolton is telling Armenia to isolate itself diplomatically and undermine its national interests by joining with the U.S.A. against the EU, Russia, and Iran. Armenia’s borders with Azerbaijan have been closed due to the ongoing territorial dispute in Nagorno-Karabagh, and Turkey has closed its borders in solidarity with Azerbaijan. If Armenia closed its borders with Iran to appease the Trump Administration, then its only trade route would be through Georgia to the north. In order to open up Armenia’s borders, then, Bolton recommended that the new prime minister “show leadership” and take “decisive action” to resolve the conflict with Azerbaijan, presumably in a way which benefits the latter, if past American positions are any indication. In return, Bolton suggested that the Trump Administration would be willing to “look at” arms sales to Armenia. “If it’s a question of buying Russian military equipment versus buying U.S. military equipment, we’d prefer the later,” said Bolton. “And I think that it increases Armenia’s options when it’s not entirely dependent on one major power.” Bolton suggested the same thing in Azerbaijan, however, and, in fact, in the interest of finding any country in the area willing to support the U.S.A.’s 17-year occupation of Afghanistan, has recommended repealing legislative restrictions on aid to Azerbaijan and Turkey, which were put in place in 1992 due to their blockade against Armenia. Last, but not least, Bolton endorsed “the ongoing democratic changes in Armenia, that outline a more prosperous, freer, and more independent future,” and appraised Armenia’s chances of becoming a “stable democracy” as “really fundamental to Armenia exercising its full sovereignty and not being dependent on – or subject to – excessive foreign influence.”
Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons, and has not since 2003 (which, even then, it was pursuing for the same reason that nuclear weapons proliferated during the Cold War: “deterrence”). Yet despite the assessments of American and even Israeli intelligence (which have, in multiple “national intelligence estimates,” found no evidence of an active weapons program), American and Israeli politics demand jihad against Iran. The denuclearization accords reached at Lausanne were a triumph of old-fashioned realpolitik over Bushite “we-don’t-talk-to-evil” moralism, ensuring the dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear-weapons infrastructure in exchange for the removal of economic sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as all signatories to the deal, including even the U.S.A., had verified Iran’s ongoing compliance with the denuclearization process. Pres. Trump’s unilateral and illegal exit from the accords was a disgrace, further discrediting already-discredited American diplomacy and further destabilizing the already-destabilized Middle East. Iran is not “the world’s central banker of international terrorism,” either, which is yet another political lie contradicted by informed intelligence. Iran does support national-liberationist militias, such as Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthis in Yemen, but there is a difference between the terrorist attacks that these groups carry out against invaders in their homelands and “international terrorism” as waged by al-Qaeda and ISIS. It is, in fact, Saudi Arabia and other Arab sheikhdoms such as Bahrain and Qatar (all American “allies”), which are the world’s central bankers of international terrorism, not only providing direct support to groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, but also building Wahhabist mosques throughout Europe and North America (creating cells and lone wolves which have terrorized cities like Brussels, Orlando, Paris, and San Bernardino). As far as Iran’s military activities in Syria go, Iranian forces, unlike American forces, are there by invitation of the Syrian government, and also unlike American forces, have fought on the front lines against the international terrorists in Syria supported by American allies. In short, although Bolton accuses Iran of a “malign” role in the region, it is the U.S.A. which has been truly malign.
“After Bolton takes aim at Russia and Iran, is Armenia the collateral damage?” asks EurasiaNet. Other headlines were no less ominous, such as Asia Times’ “Trump administration plants U.S. flag in Armenia” and Asbarez’s “With Bolton’s Visit, U.S. Reasserts its Heavy Hand on Armenia.” The U.S.A. is attempting to interfere with Armenia’s national borders – Bolton warned that the Armenian-Iranian border would be “a significant issue” – and is expecting Armenia to risk reorienting its foreign policy to be subject to American priorities with little to nothing offered in return. Indeed, in his last interview, the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia took the Azeri-Turkish position that “any settlement is going to require the return of some portion of the occupied territories” – a position which Bolton, when pressed, did not disavow. That same ambassador also lectured Armenians that if they want the Armenian Genocide to be taken seriously by the rest of the world (which already takes it seriously, anyway) then they must join the U.S.A. (which is so beholden to Turkey that it refuses even to recognize the genocide) and other human-rights champions (like the House of Saud and the Likud Party) to sanction Iran (a policy which the rest of the world opposes). The possibility of arms sales to Armenia, though meant to be enticing, is instead disturbing, since the U.S.A. often uses arms sales to turn a country’s foreign policy to American interests, without any regard for whatever that country’s own interests may be. Bolton’s theory that buying arms from the U.S.A. as well as Russia would lessen foreign influence over Armenia is also incorrect: it would only increase the foreign influence in Armenia, as both countries fight for the money and the power. The possibility of accompanying American arms sales to Azerbaijan raises the alarm and could upset the parity of power in the region, as oil-rich Azerbaijan has a much bigger military budget than Armenia and would stand to benefit more from the entry of another seller in the arms market. Bolton’s warning about “foreign influence” interfering with “democracy” is meant to drive a wedge between Armenia and Russia, which are not just tied together by history and geography, but have influenced each other culturally and politically, and depend on each other militarily and economically. In response to Bolton’s criticism of “excessive foreign influence” in Armenia, the Russian Foreign Ministry quipped, “It would be good for John Bolton to ponder the meaning of his own words.” If Bolton finds Armenia resistant to his plans, however, he will not hesitate to do to what other neoconservatives did to Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan: a “color revolution,” in which American intelligence and international NGOs ally with a country’s marginalized, alienated minorities to propagate disinformation and manufacture a crisis, with the ultimate goal of regime change. “A ‘Color Revolution’ in Armenia?” asked the U.S.-funded news service RadioFreeEurope. “Mass Protests Echo Previous Post-Soviet Upheavals.” In short, Bolton’s heavy-handed overture to Armenia is utterly self-serving and would politically and economically destabilize, culturally and socially disintegrate, as well as diplomatically isolate and militarily endanger Armenia.
What would Miles have made of a man like Bolton, whose public “service” has consisted of interfering in the affairs of other countries and entangling his own country in pointless conflicts? How does Bolton celebrate Memorial Day in good conscience?
“Liberty not the Birthright of Mankind"
“But forms of government, after all,” remarked Miles, moving on to his second great fallacy and heresy, “are of less importance than that which is ostensibly the end of all government – the true interests and wellbeing of the governed.” According to the Founding Fathers, the role of the government was to uphold the “liberty” of the people, but the meaning of liberty had been degraded by the individualist and egalitarian zeitgeist. Liberty once meant “freedom…of development, each in his legitimate sphere, and equality, as far as may be, in the conditions under which it is to be put forth,” but had now come to mean “a naked and absolute freedom from all but self-imposed control, and entire and unlimited equality in social privileges and political power.” This was nothing more than “selfishness and vanity – the one tending to overthrow every barrier to personal indulgence – the other begetting a self-complacency that makes each one’s individual opinion the sole and infallible test of truth and right.” With this anti-social reinterpretation of liberty and equality, society itself would “disintegrate and dissolve,” as “the mutual concessions and sacrifices upon which its healthy organization depends would be swept away and replaced by separate, discordant, and conflicting interests.”
Miles was not a “Quark,” labeling any and every change “the end of Ferengi civilization,” as simple-minded presentists, who have never had an unapproved or original thought in their whole lives, programmatically dismiss so-called reactionaries. In order to make any collective body work, whether a tribal village or a nation-state, all of its members have to believe that they are on the same team, in one way or another – that they all follow the rules of the group and that they are all have the best interests of the group at heart/in mind. Without that sense of civic compromise and consensus, the members of the group will become atomized and isolated, and the group will decompose and collapse amid alienation and suspicion. The breakdown of society rarely ends in anarchy, however, because out of the chaos emerge revolutionary regimes which seize power, impose order, and punish their enemies. This is what happened, more or less, in 1789 France, 1917 Russia, and 1933 Germany.
“Political liberty, I say it boldly, is not an inalienable right, but an acquired privilege,” declared Miles. “To regard it in any other light is to lower its value and debase its nature.” Miles acknowledged that his statement was contradicted by the phrase “all men are created equal,” often plucked from the Declaration of Independence in lieu of an actual argument, but he rejected that phrase as a “monstrous and dangerous fallacy,” anyway. “But peace to the ashes of one who, with all his errors, still, in his day and generation, ‘did the state some service,’” Miles added, quoting Shakespeare in defense of Thomas Jefferson. Although the notion that “all men are created equal” was a fallacy “which melts away at the first breath of logic, which vanishes at the first glance of reason and good sense,” it was, nevertheless, becoming the universal standard for good government.
Indeed, the American example of self-government was “democratizing” and “revolutionizing” Europe. Classical liberals, such as the aforementioned Kossuth, were influenced by the American example and were attempting to introduce it in their own countries, albeit without much success. “Any people anywhere being inclined and having the power have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better,” declared a young Congressman from Illinois in 1848 (ironically, Abraham Lincoln). “This is a most valuable, a most sacred right – a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world.” In 1821, John Quincy Adams, serving as Secretary of State under Pres. James Monroe, gave this policy of leading by example its most famous formulation: the U.S.A. “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy,” and while she is “the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all,” she is “the champion and vindicator only of her own.” Today, of course, the soft glove of American influence has been replaced by the hard fist of American intervention: the U.S.A., drunk on victory after the fall of its international enemy, the Soviet Union, now compulsively turns to economic pressure, political agitation, and military action to “liberate” the world. To paraphrase Lincoln, Americans believe that they have the right to rise up and shake off the existing governments of any other people and form new ones that suit them better. To paraphrase Adams, Americans are monsters which go abroad in search of free and independent countries to destroy. That was the purpose of John Bolton’s aforementioned visit to Armenia, which the U.S.A. is now targeting as part of its program of global assimilation/homogenization.
As if Armenia, an ancient civilization that dates back nearly three thousand years, was the world’s very first Christian state, and has been influenced by the other ancient civilizations of Byzantium, Persia, and Russia, has anything to learn from the U.S.A., an upstart country which is, after not even three centuries, already in decline, if not collapse! Indeed, as if the Armenians, a people who outlived all of their neighbors from the ancient “Cradle of Civilization,” who survived the reigns of terror under the Ottomans and the Communists, and who just recently retook control of their government in a “Velvet Revolution,” have anything to learn from the Americans, whose dysfunctional politics are represented by the Stupid Party and the Evil Party shutting down the government – whose degenerate culture is defined by Sarah Silverman’s jokes and Nikki Minaj’s butt – whose unstable society is producing mass-shootings in schools and sanctuaries – whose imbalanced economy is built on importing “coolie” labor from the Third World and printing money by banks – and whose bloated, flaccid military cannot win wars anymore! In fact, the individualist and egalitarian ethos on which the U.S.A. was supposedly founded – which Miles knew was a mirage leading to licentiousness – is simply running its course.
The notion that “all men are created equal” was, in the classical-liberal 1800s, “the cornerstone of almost all the political fabrics which the restless imaginations of men, in so many countries, are striving to erect,” but Miles cautioned that any form of government based on the manifest myth of universal equality was doomed to end either in anarchy or tyranny. “Men are neither born free nor equal,” and while “they may, and ought to, aspire to be free – they cannot, nor is it desirable that they should all become equal.”
Equality was manifestly non-existent among every other living being, so why should it be any different among human beings?
Perfect equality is contrary to all the analogies of nature. “One star differeth from another in glory” [a verse from 1 Corinthians]. Animals of the same species vary in size and strength. No two trees or plants enjoy the same advantages of sun and soil, and they have not, in consequence, the same growth and luxuriance. Rivers differ in size and depth, and are tributary to one another. Throughout the entire cycle of the material creation we see contrast, difference, inequality. It is the connection of all the parts – the interdependence between the great and the small, the strong and the weak – that brings about the beautiful harmony of nature.
Likewise, men were born with “the most various and opposite mental and moral constitutions – all degrees of difference in ability and power – all shades of contrast in natural or acquired privilege.” Even if opportunity were equalized, outcomes would still be unequal: due to the inborn traits of men, which were not equally distributed, some would do better than others and inequality would, quite naturally, reestablish itself. “Non fit Mercurius e quovis ligno,” pronounced Miles, quoting the Roman poet Horace (i.e. “A [statue of] Mercury is not to be fashioned from just any piece of wood”). As Miles put it, just as a statesman cannot be made into a ploughman “by the magic of any political legerdemain,” so a ploughman cannot be made into a statesman.
Miles concluded his speech with a fitting horticultural metaphor. “True liberty,” he argued, “is no exotic, no hot-house plant,” but rather “must be indigenous and spring from the soil…must be rooted in the nature, manners, and habits, no less than the thoughts and affections, of a people.” Liberty cannot be artificially cultivated “under the bell-glass of a mere written constitution,” but rather “must inspire the free air of its native plains…must expand under the genial warmth of its native sun…must be fanned by the sighs of patriots and watered with their tears and blood.” Quoting the English poet Henry Taylor, Miles explained that liberty was a tree which “sucks kindlier nurture from the soil enriched by its own fallen leaves.” Liberty cannot be transplanted “to an ungenial clime without its drooping and dying, or becoming dwarfed and insignificant,” and although it may be “scarred by despotic violence,” “nipped by the frosts of faint-heartedness and treason,” and “almost prostrated by the rude blasts of popular fury and passion,” as long as “its germ was in the soil – if it is no ‘chance-sown sapling,’ but a native of the land – it will grow.”
What Miles meant was that “liberty” (which he equated with “self-government”) was a sort of historical stage to which a people must rise on their own, and that revolutions which tried to bypass the process of natural development by historical experience would backfire. (Consider the U.S.A.’s wrong-headed and heavy-handed attempts to “democratize” and “liberalize” the Middle East, despite the fact that is riven by ethno-religious tribalism incompatible with “liberal democracy.”) Some people would probably never rise to that stage of development, but that was not an injustice to be remedied by those who had. It was better to leave each people at their natural stage of development than to try and force a higher stage of development on them before they were ready. As Miles put it, “self-government” required “self-culture.”
Liberty was not just a technical matter of choosing and calibrating the right institutions, either, but required a preexisting political culture which would sustain those institutions. (Consider Liberia, a colony for freedmen founded on their mother continent, technically governed under a copy of the U.S. Constitution, yet which 199 years later, is worse off than many other African countries and is still regularly propped up/bailed out by the U.S.A.) This is true of any organization, whether a neighborhood or a nation-state: the quality of the people is more important than the quality of the institutions, and, in fact, the former determines the latter just as inputs determine outputs. Indeed, cities like Baltimore have the same institutions as ever, yet demographic shocks have, in just fifty years, transformed them into slums notorious for corruption, poverty, and violence. As Miles put it, “self-government” required “self-control.”
In short, Miles meant that propositions on pieces of paper were not going to protect liberty on their own, but grew out of and were only as good as the people themselves. To return to his horticultural metaphor, liberty must be organic, so to speak.
“The Cant Phraseology of the Day"
Miles was one of the many Americans who had concerns about mass-immigration’s effect on political unity, cultural identity, and social stability – which, as he put it, was “a serious and increasing evil” – yet who, at least according to the Sunday-School story of American history, never existed until Donald Trump came on the scene. If Miles was worried that Irish and Germans might be incompatible with American political culture, then imagine what he would have thought of Somalians and the Hmong!
Scoffing at the “cant phraseology of the day,” Miles warned that the U.S.A., supposedly an “asylum for the oppressed of every clime,” was “in danger of becoming a sort of lazar-house for all the social and political diseases of Europe.” It was not just that immigrants introduced foreign ideas to their host country (which, in small numbers, would be manageable, if not desirable), but that they came in such large numbers that they made their ideas mainstream. “What is to be the fate of a nation whose nationality is daily diluted by such copious foreign streams, many of them but the drains and the sewers of the Old World, it is difficult to say,” wondered Miles. “Whether there is good enough to leaven the mass and keep it sound and wholesome – or whether the bad will gradually vitiate and corrupt the whole – time only can show.”
Miles had nothing against immigrants who, in addition to coming for a better life, would become citizens and contribute to their host country: “the honest, industrious, and order-loving emigrant who seeks on our shores a refuge from misery and suffering in his own land, and a new field for the earnest development of his energies; who grateful for the blessings we freely extend him, works quietly and heartily with us in elevating and improving the condition of what is thenceforth for us and for him, a common country.” Yet Miles would exclude immigrants who did not care how things were done in their host country and were mainly interested in patronage for their ethno-religious group: “him who thanklessly grasps, without any feeling of gratitude, the boon of civil liberty as if it were merely his due; who, uninformed and without preparation, at once thrusts himself with clamorous bullyism into every contest; and who, while casting a revengeful scowl across the waters at the rulers who he thinks have so long tyrannically kept him out of his natural inheritance, chafes at the restraints of law and society in his new home as partaking in some sort of the same tyranny.” Given “the truckling in so many of our larger cities to what is openly and unblushingly called ‘the foreign influence,’ and the attendant bribery and corruption which mark their municipal elections” (e.g. New York City, the corrupt, violent tribal politics of which are portrayed in Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York”), Miles suspected that this latter class of immigrant – angry, entitled, and ungrateful – comprised “no small portion of those who flock to ‘the asylum.’”
If mass-immigration continued unregulated, without any qualitative or quantitative standards, Miles predicted that it would “denationalize us as a nation” and “degrade us as a people.” It was, therefore, the duty of “the educated and intelligent classes” (again, not the dopey, snarky “elite” of late-night show hosts and their audiences) to “say authoritatively these things shall no longer be.” Miles was not primarily interested in the mass-immigration of incompatible and antagonistic elements, however, but only regarded it as a contributing factor to the other problems which he had already detailed.
“Republican Government not Everywhere and Always the Best; and Liberty not the Birthright of Mankind” is a timeless speech which has a lot to say to those who are wise enough to listen to and learn from the past. Unfortunately, the two great fallacies and heresies which Miles tried to refute – universalism and equalitarianism – have, on the contrary, become dogma in the American civic religion. To presentists, such a speech must be a monument to the self-evidently backward head and heart of Miles’ time and place: such retrograde thinking – “isms” and “phobias” and “hate speech,” oh my! – must be ritually denounced and never reasonably discussed. At least since Abraham Lincoln, pointing-and-sputtering at anything which contradicts the Declaration of Independence (that is, the fatuous interpretation of that famous sentence fragment, “all men are created equal”) has been a favorite pastime in American political culture, yet it is not at all clear that the Declaration even means what it is commonly said to mean, or whether the common meaning now ascribed to the Declaration is even true.
Indeed, Abraham Lincoln’s simplistic, sentimental understanding of that famous sentence fragment can only be sustained by a decontextualized and politicized reading of the Declaration of Independence. The purpose of the Declaration was not to christen a Hebraic-Puritan “city upon a hill” and “last best hope of earth,” or inaugurate a Marxist-Leninist “permanent revolution” led by an “international vanguard” – not a single delegate in Philadelphia was so commissioned by his colony or personally conceived of the document as such – but to serve notice to the British state and appeal to the British nation. The Declaration’s purpose was to promulgate an act of secession which had already been voted on in the Continental Congress, and thus meant no more than what its antecedent, the “Lee Resolution,” meant: “Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, and that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
Anyone familiar with the intellectual biographies of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the two Founding Fathers most involved with Declaration of Independence, knows that whatever they meant by “all men are created equal,” they did not mean it literally. Throughout Thomas Jefferson’s long life of reading, thinking and writing (including his radical “libertarian” youth), he never wavered in the belief that the white and black races could not coexist freely and equally. “Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state?” he asked in Notes on the State of Virginia. “Deep-rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have suffered; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and provoke convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of one or the other race,” he answered. In addition to these “political” objections to equality, Jefferson added “physical and moral” objections, too. “It is not against experience to suppose, that different species of the same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications,” he argued. “Will not a lover of natural history then, one who views the gradations in the races of animals with the eye of philosophy, excuse an effort to keep those in the department of man as distinct as nature has formed them?” John Adams cheerfully mocked the prospect of other social revolutions invoking the supposed spirit of the American Revolution in support of their causes. “As to your extraordinary code of laws, I cannot but laugh,” he replied to his wife when she requested that the Continental Congress institute women’s rights. “We have been told that our struggle has loosened the bands of government everywhere,” he continued. “That children and apprentices were disobedient – that schools and colleges were grown turbulent – that Indians slighted their guardians and negroes grew insolent to their masters, but your letter was the first intimation that another tribe more numerous and powerful than all the rest were discontented.” While Adams was teasing his wife for her feminism, he wrote a much more concerned letter to James Sullivan criticizing equal voting rights for men alone “Depend upon it, sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation, as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters,” he argued. “It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks, to one common level.” Jefferson and Adams, in correspondence with each other years after writing and signing the Declaration, did not explore the ever-expanding interpretations of “all men are created equal,” but rather agreed that “there is a natural aristocracy among men, the grounds of which are virtue and talents.”
Fire-Eaters like Miles knew what the Founding Fathers believed in and fought for, which was why they invoked their memory and laid claim to their legacy with such confidence:
Carolinians! Will you consent to this? Will you quietly and without a determined struggle allow this seal of infamy to be set upon you? Will you allow this stab to be made at the great principle of constitutional liberty, for which our fathers struggled so hard…and not throw your whole moral weight and force as a guard before it? Or is that principle no longer as dear to us as it was to the men of the revolution? Or in this utilitarian age is all principle sneered at as a “metaphysical abstraction” – and the profoundest questions in politics and constitutional law to be settled solely on the basis of dollars and cents? If so, let us pause and reflect; for all our institutions, our liberties, nay, our very existence are endangered. If so let us pause and reflect for we are already degenerating from the spirit of ’76! (Charleston, 1849)
Americans are expected to ignore the actual intentions and objectives of the Founding Fathers, and instead give the Declaration of Independence the same reading as Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, pretending that it establishes some mystical standard by which the U.S.A. is to forever judge itself (or, for neo-conservatives like Robert Kagan, Bill Kristol, and John Podhoretz, a mystical standard by which the U.S.A. is to forever judge others).
Are all men created equal, even? Of course not! At the micro level, every individual human being is different from one another, not only in a “nature” sense (in that each person is genetically unique – or unequal), but also in a “nurture” sense (in that each person has unique – or unequal – circumstances). “Equality of opportunity” is a fallback position for so-called conservatives faced with the obvious absurdity of “all men are created equal” but who want to keep kosher in their civic religion, yet just as a boxing match between a male heavyweight champion and a female pinweight challenger would not be considered “equal,” so “equal opportunity” requires that everyone be cut down to the same size and into the same shape – in other words, “equality of condition.” At the macro level, people also differ from each other in average ways: different population groups living in different parts of the planet have adapted differently to their different environments, which is the same process of evolution to which every other animal and plant species is subject. To put it one way, if intelligent alien life ever visits Planet Earth and researches human civilization, it is certainly not going to report back to its home-world that “all men are created equal.”
Are all men endowed with natural rights, even? Of course not! Enlightenment-era intellectuals like John Locke, who felt the need to construct theoretical justifications for the state, philosophized about “natural rights” and “social contracts,” yet their theories, in spite of their systematic logic and appealing principles, were but castles in the air. An individual’s “natural rights” are mere abstractions outside of a collective community which legally recognizes such rights. In that sense, then, rights do not inhere in individuals, but rather in a people; they are the particular values of a particular people, ideally embodied in their particular traditions and institutions. There is nothing “natural,” furthermore, about “rights” such as “habeas corpus” or a trial by jury: these are not the products of reason, but of experience, and they are not enforced by nature, but by law. Rights, in other words, do not – and cannot – exist in a state of nature, but only in a state of society.
Yuval Noah Harari, a historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, sounds like he could have been channeling the spirit of George Fitzhugh this passage from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind:
Is there any objective reality, outside the human imagination, in which we are truly equal? Are all humans equal to one another biologically? Let us try to translate the most famous line of the American Declaration of Independence into biological terms…
Harari’s argument, though reductionist and pedantic at times, is a necessary corrective to the superstition and fundamentalism that surrounds the Declaration of Independence. Similar correctives exist for other American symbols clouded in miasmas of mysticism, such as H.L. Mencken’s essay about the Gettysburg Address, Thomas Bailey Aldrich’s poem about the Statue of Liberty, Mark Twain’s parody of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” as well as the critical comedy of Ambrose Bierce and George Carlin. As the great Mencken observed, “One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms.”
The Hamiltonian (de)construction of the Constitution, by writing out States’ rights, has subverted the very government – that is, the very federal republic, the very voluntary union – which its framers and ratifiers intended to establish in 1787-1789. Yet the Lincolnian (de)construction of the Declaration of Independence, by rewriting the American founding myth, has been even more subversive, mainstreaming a “Hebraic-Puritan” chiliasm and gnosticism. Combined, those twin acts of subversion have transformed the U.S.A. into a revolutionary state warring against its own nation and the world at large – a fate which Miles clearly foresaw and was willing to stop by any means necessary. “Revolution…is a serious thing, a terrible thing,” he warned, “but to noble natures there are things more serious and terrible than revolutions.” According to Miles, “The slow, undermining process by which the high spirit of a free people is sapped, their strength destroyed, their faith in themselves crushed out, their progress paralyzed, is far more appalling to the true statesman and patriot than the temporary, though critical, fever of revolution.”
James Rutledge Roesch lives in Florida. He is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Military Order of the Stars and Bars, as well as the author of From Founding Fathers to Fire-Eaters: The Constitutional Doctrine of States' Rights in the Old South.