Saturday, August 7, 2010

p. 77 A New Birth of Freedom, Jaffa

What is the difference between the old revisionists (circa 1920) who said the Civil War was unnecessary, and the new revisionists who are all modern-day abolitionists? And what is it that joins the modern-day revisionists with Justice Taney?

Relevant Passages: The earlier revisionists, whose hero was Stephen A. Douglas, thought that sensible statesmanship would always work for the subordination of moral questions to matters of interests, and consequently for the peaceful accommodation of conflicting interests. In this respect, they preserved something of the rationalist tradition they otherwise rejected.

Their successors, however, have substituted commitment for reasonableness (in any sense of that word) as the norm by which human actions are to he judged. Our latter-day writers, who generally detest Douglas, are by and large committed to the moral superiority of the antislavery cause. For them, the impotence of reason to decide moral questions does not mean, as the earlier revisionists concluded, that moral questions should be ignored, bypassed, or compromised. It means rather that a full-blooded and passionate commitment should he made to the position one regards as moral. Since reason cannot speak against their moral commitment, there is no reason for them to moderate their passionate feelings about slavery.

They have much in common with Chief Justice Roger Taney, who in the Dred Scott decision of 1857, declared that the Signers of the Declaration of Independence could not have regarded slavery as wrong, since they did not abolish it-ignoring the fact that, in any event, they had no power to abolish it! For such historians as these, the portrayal of a "racist" American Founding is a necessary preamble to the disavowal of any authority to the principles of the Revolution, notably those enshrined in the Declaration.

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