Google analytics

Friday, August 28, 2015

On undemocratic representation and the 3/5 Compromise

by John MacBeath Watkins

When the founding fathers wrote the constitution of the United States, one of their models was the Roman republic. Another source of information for them was Aristotle's Politics, which advocated the republic over pure democracy.

But here's the problem. The Roman senate was, for the most part, not democratically elected. It was
more like England's House of Lords than the House of Commons.

And the story of the evolution of American government has been one of the battle between those who want to restrict who chooses representatives and those who want to widen the franchise.

Qualifications for voting are largely left up to the states, or were, until after the Civil War. Women could not vote, in many states, felons still cannot vote.

But the thing is, women and felons were counted in the census, and contributed to the number of representatives states had in the House and how many electoral college votes states had for electing a president.

The founders supposed that we would elect wise men to gather and decide who the president should be. As far as I can tell, the system never actually worked that way.

Slaves could not vote, but were counted for census purposed as 3/5 of a human being, so they increased the leverage of slave-state legislators and electoral college representatives, who represented them by opposing the abolition of slavery.

Following the Civil War, federal troops during Reconstruction enforced the right of former slaves to vote. But when Reconstruction ended, Jim Crow laws ensured that blacks could be denied the vote.

This led to a long period when blacks were counted for census purposes as full human beings, but were not allowed to vote as such in many states. The result was a Southern congressional delegation strengthened by the number of black voters in their districts, but elected to work against their interests.

The civil rights movement sought to end this, and with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, it looked as if the Justice Department was back in the business of defending the right of African Americans to vote.

That sparked anger in the South, and when Richard Nixon set out to remake the Republican Party in his image, his genius for exploiting resentment came to the fore. The Republican Party now dominates the South, and the South dominates the Republican Party.

So, it's not too surprising that the Republican Party is now in the forefront of trying to limit the voting franchise, just as Southern Democrats used to. Their anti-government message isn't what the Republican Party has always represented. Most of the rhetoric about small government started with the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater, who opposed it.

Republicans worked for years to get enough conservative Supreme Court justices to pull the teeth of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Their most notable success to date was the 2013 Shelby County, Alabama, decision which removed the provision requiring districts and states with a history of racial discrimination in voting which required them to get prior approval from the Justice Department for changes in their voting laws.

Texas immediately went forward with a voter identification law which experts said would mainly make it harder for African  American and Hispanic voters, and to some extent students.

Texas was allowed to use this law in the 2014 election, but it is still going through a long process of legal challenges. The law has plenty of imitators, particularly in the South.

The rapid population growth in Texas is something its government brags about, but the problem is, its government is dominated by a party that is not the choice of the group of people driving this increase -- Hispanics. So, they attempt to gain that tempting goal, representing people who aren't allowed to vote.

Voter ID laws are sold on the thin premise that there is a plague of vote fraud in the form that this would address, but those pushing such legislation have not produced evidence of anything of the sort. The intent is clearly to get back the old advantage the South had when the 3/5 Compromise gave them disproportionate clout in proportion to the number of voters they had.

Garry Wills, writing in his 2005 book, "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power, said without the 3/5 Compromise,
"slavery would have been excluded from Missouri ... Jackson's Indian removal policy would have failed ... the Wilmot Proviso would have banned slavery in territories won from Mexico ... the Kansas-Nebraska bill would have failed"
In addition to the slavery issue, men were expected to represent women when the nation was founded. The notion that women should be allowed to vote, as well as being counted in the census for purposes of deciding how many House representatives and electoral college votes a state would have, gained some ground by the late 19th Century, with several Western states allowing them the franchise, but the 19th Amendment, which gave all women in America the vote, did not become law until 1920.

The cultural context is that men were considered to represent their households. Under the doctrine on feme covert, women were considered for property purposes to be one with the man's household, and subordinate to him. The wife therefore had no property of her own, and if she divorced, all property of the household, even that which she brought to it, would stay with the husband.

Husbands representing households was about property and subornation. When the nation was founded, only holders of sufficient property could vote. The property qualification for voting did not entirely disappear until 1856 in the U.S. It does not seem like any sort of accident that women got their property rights before they got the vote. Some things are deeply embedded in the culture.

In general, the policy of assuming that some classes of people, such as slave owners or husbands, should represent other people has run aground on the simple fact that they represent their own interests, not those of their slaves or wives.

But that's the point of restricting the franchise. Those who wish to limit the voting franchise usually want to do so in order to use the legislative power granted by a population against its interests.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Reflections on the revolutions in America, and France

by John MacBeath Watkins

Reflections on the Revolution in France, published in 1790, is one of the core documents that defines conservatism. Edmund Burke wrote it in 1790 in response to the chaos he saw happening across the English Channel.

But why did he not write this sort of thing about the American Revolution, which had happened earlier?

One reason is that the American Revolution was a kinder, gentler, sort of war. In France, anti-clerical and anti-aristocracy feeling was part of the source of the problem. In America, there was no national established church, and no hereditary aristocracy.

In France, the clergy and the aristocrats had so many tax exemptions, most of the taxes fell on
Louis XVI:Hero of the American Revolution,
guillotined in the French Revolution
everyone else, the merchants, artisans, farmers, and laborers. This was a reflection of their power in the country. If you were rich enough, you could buy into this power by purchasing a title. The way this worked was, you bought a position in government that came with a title. The position could not be revoked, and the titles tended to become hereditary. Hard-up French monarchs tended to create such positions and sell them for a high price. As a result, it was the smaller merchants and the peasants and working class that paid the taxes, many of which went to the aristocracy.

And France was badly in debt, mostly because its kings liked to fight wars. The Seven Years War, known in the United States as the French and Indian War, dragged on from 1756 to 1763, and losing cost France many of its colonies, including Quebec. Louis XV did a lot of the damage, but when he was succeeded by his grandson, Louis XVI, the latter decided to get a bit of France's own back by helping deprive the Enlish of some of their New World possessions.

He backed the American Revolution. Without the rather expensive aid of the French Navy, there might not be a United States of America. It was the French fleet that prevented the British from relieving the troops commanded by Charles Cornwallis at the siege of Yorktown, resulting in his surrender.

But that aid to the colonies had to be paid for. One of the ideas that came to the French regime was a tax on salt. Everyone needs salt to survive, so it was in part a tax on being alive, sort of like a poll tax. But this was worse. The more you sweat, the more salt you need to keep moisture in your body. As a tax on sweat, it was a tax on labor: Those stuck with the hardest physical work would pay the most salt tax. The aristocrat sitting in the shade would pay less than those who labored in his fields.

The American revolution did not involve overthrowing the local power structure. Instead, it relieved them from outside influence.

This is the source of the notion of American exceptionalism. The idea, at least the way the phrase was first used, is that we never had a hereditary aristocracy to rebel against, so some of the more potent sources of working-class resentment that made Communism popular in Europe simply are not here. In fact, American Marxists coined the term in the 1930s to explain their lack of success.

The French Revolution was violent, and not particularly democratic. Their motto was liberté, égalité, fraternité. Démocratie wasn't a core value. Interestingly, the most famous liberal philosopher writing in French was a Swiss, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who argued that even a dictator could represent the will of the people. A country the size of France, he said, should be ruled by an aristocracy. The word aristo is Greek, and means "best." So he wasn't arguing for a hereditary aristocracy, it could be the Committee for Public Safety, if they were the best.

And who would argue the question of whether they were the best with those who decided which heads rolled off the guillotine?

The French Revolution eventually produced the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Now, one might think that an emperor would be regarded as an old-fashioned sort of ruler, but Napoleon had replaced the old power structure. Monarchs had relied on force, faith, and custom for their legitimacy. Napoleon had the force, but he was not a hereditary monarch, so he could not rely on custom, and he did not rely on the support of an established church.

For faith and custom, he substituted nationalism and victory in war. This is an unstable formula. Fist, you stir up the nationalism, and nothing does this better than a good, old-fashioned war. Then you have to win.

But if you fight for long enough, eventually you will lose, as Napoleon did at Waterloo. Nationalism is a dangerous tool for any regime, because the implicit bargain puts the ruler in a position that is difficult to maintain, the position of keeping the people stirred up against other countries but not being defeated and removed from office, either by popular revolt or by victorious enemies.

What made the French Revolution part of the enlightenment project was its reliance on reason to restructure society. The French foot, which was slightly longer than the English foot, found itself in the dustbin of history, replaced by the metric system. Celsius, a more rational system, replaced Fahrenheit This was a new world, replacing matters which had been adjudicated by custom with reasoned solutions.

Napoleon himself became a symbol of the Superman. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov muses about his notion of the superman:

"...The real Master to whom all is permitted storms Toulon, makes a massacre in Paris, forgets an army in Egypt, wastes half a million men in the Moscow expedition and gets off with a jest at Vilna. And altars are set up to him after his death, and so all is permitted. No, such people it seems are not of flesh but of bronze!"

In the secular world, God is dead, Nietzsche would later tell us. This leaves a God-shaped hole in our heads, and who steps forward to claim the plinth on which he loomed over our minds?

The Superman, exemplified by Napoleon, steps up to the plinth. Hobbes, a dedicated materialist, had said that God had to be a material being, simply one of exceptional power. By the time Dostoevsky was writing, people were postulating men of exceptional power to whom ordinary rules did not apply, a sort of God-like man (and it always was a man.)

In a way, this might be seen as a return to the God-king, expected to deliver victory rather than rain for the crops.

And we see it still today, when we credit or blame the state of the economy on presidents. Jimmy Carter, for example, presided over some very good economic years in his term in office, but a recession at the end of his four years was one of the reasons for his narrow defeat.

The French went through a series of evolutions and finally settled on a democratic way of governance, but not without such experiments as the reign of Napoleon III. But the fact that the revolution itself had not been democratic was a warning sign. While the logic of liberalism leads to democracy, not all attempts to replace custom with reason in the ordering of society are democratic in nature.

Karl Marx, for example, tried to come up with a rational way to make society better. But most of the attempts to apply his ideas have been authoritarian. Marxism has replaced the role of faith in these societies, and combined with force to form the governing class. Those societies returned to faith and force as their formula for the legitimacy of their rulers substituting the Communist Party for the church. It is not an accident that in post-Soviet Russia, Vladimir Putin has come to rely upon the Russian Orthodox Church for support, and stir up nationalism to get the public to rally around him.

The Nazi movement made a cult out of race, claiming it was scientific. The doctrine of blood and soil (blut und boden) emphasized “blood” in the sense of descent (race), and romanticized nationalism and rural living. The link between race and territory was essential to the ideology. Because people were bonded together by race, the social contract Locke and Hobbes postulated was not needed. And because they preached biological determinism, there was no need for democracy. Certain people were born to lead (this was called the fuhrerprinzip, or leader principle) and the rest were born to follow. Fuhrerprinzip dictated that the fuhrer's word was above all written law, and a leader demanded absolute obedience to those below them. The supreme leader answered to God and the German people, the lesser leaders answered to those above them and demanded complete obedience from those below them.

Nazism was on odd hybrid. It had the trappings of science, but its biology was bogus, merely a disguise for old attitudes. Germany had pogroms in the 1500s and in the 1920s. The Holocaust could be seen as the culmination of attitudes that had been around for centuries, simply carried out on an industrial scale and by the government rather than by mobs. It's “scientific” racism was so lacking in any actual science that German authorities could not detect a number of Jews who went through the war with fake papers claiming they were of German descent. And in fact, by any rational standard, they were, since their ancestors had been living in Germany by that time for longer than there had been a German state.

Marxism began with the best of intentions, and spread tyranny and suffering from the purges of the Ukraine to the killing fields of Cambodia. Fascism exploited existing hatreds and a desire for order while adopting the trappings of science. Both demonstrated that attempts to remake society based on reason can be disastrous when reason starts with flawed premises.

Both ideologies lacked a notion of the social contract. For Marx, you were born into your class. For the Nazis, you were born into your race and class. The Nazis thought you should remain in your class, while the Marxist thought you should fight to abolish all but the working class. Neither ideology reasoned its way to a democratic form of government, because each was intent on defeating a demonized enemy, capitalists for Marxists and Jews and other “lesser” races for the Nazis. In war, command and control are far more important than discovering the desires of the people. Nations which adopted these ideologies were not democratic because they did not value democracy, and they did not value it because they had different ideas about the origins and purpose of society.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Used bookstore, threat or menace?

by Jamie Lutton

I found out that not every Chamber of Commerce in the Greater Seattle area like the idea of having a used bookstore in the their neighborhood.

I was discouraged directly via email by a member of the Chamber of Commerce of a that is community part of the greater Seattle a few days ago, as a follow up to an email inquiry I had made.

My company was considered too great a threat to the neighborhood's new book shop, and besides that I am an ''outsider' This is how it went: This Chamber of Commerce of this neighborhood was emailed by me asking if they thought that a used bookshop similar to the one I run and own on Capitol Hill would be welcome in their neighborhood. I was hoping for leads on buildings or landlords who would welcome a tenant like me. Also, wanted to be 'friendly' and get to meet the Chamber of Commerce. I got a swift reply back saying that the Counsel member had been in my bookstore.and that because they had a new bookstore, they did not need a used bookstore: here is the reply I got,verbatim with the names of the location and the agent redacted.

"I’m not sure how much you know about our local bookstore, but I would suggest you talk to (xxx) the current owners. You’ve probably met (xx) They know the business and the xxxx very well. While they don’t have a used book section, they do rare book searches for customers and have a very loyal client base for that service. XXXX is masterful at searching and tracking down books for people. 
As a resident, you’re aware of the on-going efforts to keep people shopping locally, i.e. X Books  has worked hard to promote that philosophy, establishing long-standing relationships with the schools, non-profit organizations and the residents. It has been very supportive of community and the community is very loyal to X Books."

So, basically.....go away. We don't want you here! you are not one of us. My business partner, John Watkins, helped draft a satirical response:
"Dear Xxx, 
Thank you for your response encouraging me to start a used bookstore in XXX. Yes, I have met X, and liked her a lot. I hope I can have as good a relationship with her as I do with other booksellers in the area. 
I'm encouraged to hear that X Books has a good relationship with the community, and hope to be at least as warmly welcomed by other as I have been by you. Chambers of Commerce typically do welcome new businesses, but I'm sure I'll have to win the loyalty of new customers by providing good service and filling needs not currently filled.
As an xxxx resident, of course I want to help people shop locally. That's why I'd like to start a store that, as you point out, is in a niche not currently filled. Thank you for confirming that Xbooks does not have a used book section. I'm sure customers will be delighted to be able to buy out of print books off the shelf rather than waiting for them to be ordered, which, as you have pointed out, they must now do.
You said the community is very loyal to xxxx books. That seems to imply that I should locate my store close to it. This is the sort of valuable advice I came to the chamber to seek. The suggestion is welcome.


This is what I got back:

                I’m afraid you may have misunderstood my note.  I was neither encouraging or discouraging you from starting a bookstore on the Island.   That is a decision you must make.  I was also remiss in not including information about sources of used books on the Island.  I was thinking in terms of X Books, but after I sent you the note I remembered that the (name of the local thrift shop) sells used books and a great many of them.   They even sell them on E-Bay.   Additionally, the Friends of the Library has quarterly sales of used books and raises  quite a bit of money at those sales.    I’m not sure how large the niche for used books is on the Island but there are already two well established sources for them and sales from both sources benefit Island non-profit organizations.   
                  I apologize for any misunderstanding.

So, I note again that she came into the Capitol Hill Twice Sold Tales and met me, looked around.

I jokingly surmised Xxx must have though I was a "lesbian, anarchist or a socialist" something
threatening to xxxx middle class values, and both prospects xxx felt were a menace to her neighborhood.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Polygamy, gay marriage, and the liberal mindset

by John MacBeath Watkins

For a lesson in traditional marriage, we should, I suppose, look to the Bible.

King Solomon is said to have had 300 wives. I have, in a previous post, pledge to settle down and get married as soon as I find the right 300 women to allow me to marry in the traditional style (that is, always outnumbered, always outgunned,.)

But although the Bible is replete with references to polygamous marriage, modern Americans are more comfortable with the notion of gay marriage, which is mentioned nowhere I know of in the Bible.

There are practical reasons for this. Conservatives fighting against gay marriage found it difficult to find proof that children raised in such households are harmed by this. Opponents of polygamy seem to suffer from no such difficulty. Communities that practice polygamy have been accused of forcing under-aged girls into marriage with older men, exploiting children and having them do unsafe work, being abusive to children, and kicking teenage boys out of the community when they start showing an interest in girls so that the girls will be available to older men. The boys are shunned by their families and forced to live in a world they know almost nothing about outside the community.

But I don't think such practical matters are really the key to why polygamy is less acceptable than gay the modern Western mind.

The key is a revolution in how we think of people, codified by the philosophers of the Enlightenment, and especially the thinkers of liberalism.

Thomas Hobbes laid out a new system of value in Leviathan, published in the mid-17th century. He said that " The ‘value,’ or ‘worth,’ of a man is, as of all other things, his price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power; and therefore is not absolute, but a thing dependent on the need and judgment of another."

That sounds horribly philistine, but what was revolutionary was the last clause in that complicated sentence, in which he proposed a subjective system of value. We were now to be valued by each other, not by the priest or by the position of our birth.

John Locke, writing at the end of the 17th century, noticed that not only did we value each other, our relationships were often subject to the rules of property. The master of a household had something like a property right to those within it under the law of his time.

A married woman, for example, was regarded as a "feme covert," that is, she became, for property purposes, one with her husband, and subordinate to him. (A widow would be a "feme sole," in charge of herself.) If a woman at that time (and in fact until the late 19th century) in England held, for example, a copyright, it passed to her husband when she married and would not be returned to her if she divorced. In fact, all of the household's property remained with the husband, and a divorced woman would usually be impoverished unless a very good prenuptial agreement were negotiated.

Property was also connected intimately with the notion of citizenship. To vote in England at the time, you had to own property.

Locke's Second Treatise of Government contained a ticking time bomb. He proposed that we all own property in our own person, and cannot alienate -- that is sell -- that particular property. Every person, therefore, had inalienable property rights to themselves, that is, we are each of us our own master.

All that remained was to decide who was a person. A dawning realization that slaves are people meant that they must logically be their own masters, and slavery must be immoral. The Women's Rights movement brought about property rights for married women before it brought them the vote. The Married Women's Property Acts were not completed in England until 1882, though earlier acts had set the pattern.

But polygamous marriages worked, to the extent they did, because women and children were regarded as property of the master of the household. If wives are recognized as their own "master," this relationship no longer exists.

The term "feme covert" seems at first glance to have promise. One pictures a Thurber cartoon, with the wife in ninja clothing and the ineffectual husband looking on, the caption reading, "When you married me I was a blushing maid, but now I am a feme covert, Mr. Johnson!"

One of Thurber's main themes was "the war between men and women," which he seems to have lost to his domineering first wife. But by then, the feme covert was a thing of the past, community property was the future.

We still see conflict over the nature of marriage. Traditionalists still advocate "traditional marriage,"
sometimes even polygamous marriage. What they mean by this is a return to the concept of the feme covert, subordinate to her master. It is no coincidence that the same people often worry about keeping control of their children, worried that exposing them to public schools would cause them to learn things they shouldn't know, like evolution, and expose them to a system of values that would be distressingly modern. This could give them dangerous ideas of autonomy.

Birth control has meant that marriage doesn't have to be about child rearing, and many of the tasks of the household that used to consume a great deal of women's time, like spinning and weaving and sewing clothing, have been moved outside the home. Marriage is less about property and child rearing than it has ever been before, and more about love, and a partnership between equals.

As people are recognized as equals, old barriers have fallen. Miscegenation laws fell because, if African Americans are not a lesser race, why should they not marry whites? As the humanity of homosexuals has been recognized by society at large, the question comes up, why should they not marry who they love?

What was once common knowledge, that the master of the household is the master of all within it, has fallen before the revolutionary idea that we are all our own masters. Few people have read Hobbes or Locke, but their ideas permeate our society and are still reshaping it. Ideas travel though a society less by formal indoctrination than by a sort of mimetic contagion. It is :"common knowledge" now that we are our own men and women, when in an earlier age, it was common knowledge that this was not the case.