Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Authority vs. Power: Leaving the Lincolnian Neverland

 

This morning a good friend sent me an article from The Imaginative Conservative (easily one of the best “blogs”) that outlined Robert Nisbet’s ten conditions of revolution. The piece is excellent and very worth reading in its entirety.

I’m not going to comment on all of the conditions, or even discuss revolution really, but what stuck out to me was Nisbet’s famous distinction between power and authority.

“By authority, Nisbet meant not power (which is presumed and assumed), but a mutual and consensual understanding of respect both given and earned. An example would be a professor who earned the respect of his students and thus has established his authority by teaching well, knowing his subject, and treating the students with dignity. Opposed to this, as an example of power, would be the professor who wields grades over his students as a weapon.”

This distinction is something that is always good to have in hand because it applies to so many things. For instance men have power, well most men, by virtue of being male. The Second Season of True Detective (which was not nearly as inferior as it’s made out to be) demonstrates this brutally:

“The fundamental difference between the sexes is that one of them can kill the other with their bare hands.”

That is power. Not authority, but power. The ability to subdue. Authority on the other hand is a two way street. There must be submission if there is to be authority. Jailers don’t have authority over their prisoners de facto, they have power over them. A prison can become a place where authority exists but only if it is mutual.

The two things are extremely difficult to disentangle within our contemporary experience because, at least for Americans, we don’t really recognize the authority of the Federal Government anymore. All we recognize is it’s power, or maybe it’s usefulness, which makes us a kind of slave society. If power is what obtains your submission, and not authority, then you are truly enslaved. There are secession movements all throughout the “union” for this very reason.

Slavery can be mutual, and it can be mutually beneficial. It can be based on authority, but that requires a very righteous master and very virtuous subservients. That situation has rarely obtained in the history of the world. Most forms of slavery, and all forms of permanent slavery, were reliant upon power of some kind that in many cases created the illusion of authority. As Eugene Genovese pointed out powerfully in Roll, Jordan, Roll this horrific dance played out in the Southern United States very delicately. There was authority granted by the slaves to the masters but there was also power that kept the masters in control. The masters violently suppressed slave revolts and also increased “benefits” in response to them. And as Genovese brilliantly observed the “peace” between the two sides was not understood in the same terms. The paternalism of the master class was interpreted differently by the slaves and they were the ones who really kept the “peace” and were gradually emancipating themselves. Sadly that peaceful process was interrupted and we’ll never know the America that could have been, if only the South had been granted the permission to organically enter an emancipatory period like every other western society (except the disastrous, but very understandable, revolt in Haiti).

And it is one of the supreme ironies of history that since official slavery was made illegal in the Union in 1865 another form of slavery became applied to the rest of the Federated Republic. Ever since Lincoln violently and horrifically suppressed legal secession and the organic devolution of the Union, Americans have been under the impression that we were under the authority of the Federal government. But that is power speaking, not authority, and we are now finding our ears closing.

We are in the middle of a great devolution, I tend to think of it as the industrial devolution. Over the last century and a half the fallout from Lincoln’s violent Napoleonic war of unification, which destroyed the voluntary union and created an involuntary union, Americans have become increasingly enmeshed in what Lincoln called “civic religion.” The masters have continued to grant us more and more “benefits” as democracy has increased in order to keep the Federal subservients happy. Public education became public day care. The schools do not educate, they are a way station for our children. Then there’s Medicaid. The US department of “defense” (we’re surrounded by water with friendly countries to the North and South, even the Tyrant Lincoln understood that we had no need for National Defense, read his Lyceum speech) is the world’s single largest employer. This is why we put up with Federal tyranny. There is no two way street of genuine authority, we believe we cannot leave the union and we are willing to accept the benefits granted to us.

But that is coming to an end. Slowly, but surely it is coming to an end. And I pray that the process is both successful and peaceful this time.

The election of Bernie Sanders would have likely been the Lincolnian zenith but the DNC wisely rejected outright democratic socialism, probably because they knew it might literally lead to another war between the states.

And during Coronavirus we’ve seen that the Lincolnian structures are extremely weak. Civic religion cannot save us. What is emerging during this devolution is the more natural state of man. Rioting and looting, and books written in Defense of such atrocities. But most importantly families and community are becoming seen for what they are: the true essence of life. We don’t need the involuntary Empire of Lincoln, Wilson, and the Roosevelts. We need the same things we’ve always needed. A hand to hold, food to share, and faith in a good God who remains in control when everything around us seems insane. Living under the authority of God is the greatest protection against insanity, it is the only thing that has ever been able to save us.

The best defense against the Paternalism of the Federal government are the words “Our Father who art in Heaven.” A father is someone who provides freedom to his children based on genuine authority, paternalism seeks to make children live in Neverland forever. It won’t be easy, and pain is in our immediate future, but Coronavirus is forcing us out of the Lincolnian Neverland. The “peace” we’ve made with Federal paternalism is coming to an end, and growing up is painful and scary but it’s our only option in light of the current crisis.

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  1. Hank Rhody, Freelance Philosop… Contributor

    A.C. Gleason: The paternalism of the master class was interpreted differently by the slaves and they were the ones who really kept the “peace” and were gradually emancipating themselves. Sadly that peaceful process was interrupted and we’ll never know the America that could have been, if only the South had been granted the permission to organically enter an emancipatory period like every other western society (except the disastrous, but very understandable, revolt in Haiti).

    Do you really think so? It takes a good man who, having power over his fellow man, relinquishes that power and names that man his brother. Good men, as you’ve noticed, are in short supply.

    • #1
    • September 19, 2020, at 11:29 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. GrannyDude Member

    Hank Rhody, Freelance Philosop… (View Comment):

    A.C. Gleason: The paternalism of the master class was interpreted differently by the slaves and they were the ones who really kept the “peace” and were gradually emancipating themselves. Sadly that peaceful process was interrupted and we’ll never know the America that could have been, if only the South had been granted the permission to organically enter an emancipatory period like every other western society (except the disastrous, but very understandable, revolt in Haiti).

    Do you really think so? It takes a good man who, having power over his fellow man, relinquishes that power and names that man his brother. Good men, as you’ve noticed, are in short supply.

    Yes. 

    That is, I think I grasp A.C.’s point, and am not about to accuse him of apologizing for American slavery—indeed, I appreciate the attribution of genuine human agency to slaves “freeing themselves.” 

    Still, it is my impression that the gradual evolution away from slavery that was, broadly speaking, already underway at the time of the Revolution, bumped up against new obstacles in run-up to the Civil War. First, the invention of the cotton gin allowed slavery to be/appear, at least temporarily, economically viable within the context of industrialization. Second, “science” was busily coming up with human taxonomies that affirmed, explained and justified what Christianity had long-denied, namely the separation of the human species into lesser and greater sub-species. A Darwinian resolution of Christian cognitive dissonance might not have lasted long, but it outlasted slavery itself—so, plenty long enough to see justice denied for a few more generations.

    It was (and, I suppose, is) clearly possible for slavery to “better” or “worse.” The anti-racist Historical Guilt crowd implicitly concede as much when you confront them with all the abundant evidence that slavery was ubiquitous and universal and practiced with enthusiasm in Countries of Color. “Oh, but slaves were treated well in X” they will say. Or, if they’re a little more sophisticated, “but slavery wasn’t about race.” 

    Not always true—Arabs, to name one group, enthusiastically enslaved, and used race to, shall we say, determine what use to make of their human possessions. There’s a reason that Arabs of upper-class heredity have fairer skin and sometimes even blue eyes rather than dark skin and kinky hair. 

    Countries of Color did not (have not) given up slavery voluntarily, but have had abolition imposed from without. Countries of No Color (e.g. Europe) experienced resurgences of slavery under Nazism and Communism. In the case of the Nazis, the plan was for race-based slavery, with Poles, Russians, Ukranians and other untermenschen subbing-in for Africans. (Hitler rather liked Arabs, as it happened, even if Arabs are genetically closer to the Jews he hated; Hitler was a genius, but also an idiot). In any case, the actual and planned slaveries of Europe, too, were ended by force from without—that is, from America. 

     

     

    • #2
    • September 20, 2020, at 5:52 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  3. GrannyDude Member

    By the way, I came across this description of a course on Race and Slavery: 

    “There are many challenges and problems in teaching slavery and race. There is no clear historical narrative linking all the case studies we are exploring. But what we do have in each case is the acceptance of slavery and inequality as a given. The course is not polemical, we often refrain from making judgments, at the same time we try to not overly historicize and overlook the brutality of human bondage. But by looking at the ways we can reconstruct the voices of the enslaved, understand how …elites and literati thought about slavery and race, and explore the debates and contestations that centered around servitude and community identity, we can better understand these societies. Looking at slavery does not tell us everything about a particular society, but it provides an important view into the ways in which people saw themselves, the ways they asserted their power over their lives and/or over others, and the relationship that individuals had with power. “

    A fascinating course…do I need to explain, here, that the course was about Race and Slavery in Islam?

    It seems that if you’re examining a human phenomenon as it played out in the non-Western world, it is permitted to view all participants as fully human. An intellectual luxury.

    • #3
    • September 20, 2020, at 7:35 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  4. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    A.C. Gleason: the professor who wields grades over his students as a weapon.

    That analogy was not helpful to me. I think grading is important.

    • #4
    • September 20, 2020, at 7:37 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama ToadJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):

    A.C. Gleason: the professor who wields grades over his students as a weapon.

    That analogy was not helpful to me. I think grading is important.

    It seems to me the point of the OP is not that grades are unimportant, but rather that there are some professors who punish students for their viewpoints by grading them unfairly. That is a criticism of the corruption of grading, not a criticism of grading per se.

    • #5
    • September 20, 2020, at 9:24 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  6. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    GrannyDude (View Comment):

    Still, it is my impression that the gradual evolution away from slavery that was, broadly speaking, already underway at the time of the Revolution, bumped up against new obstacles in run-up to the Civil War. First, the invention of the cotton gin allowed slavery to be/appear, at least temporarily, economically viable within the context of industrialization. Second, “science” was busily coming up with human taxonomies that affirmed, explained and justified what Christianity had long-denied, namely the separation of the human species into lesser and greater sub-species. A Darwinian resolution of Christian cognitive dissonance might not have lasted long, but it outlasted slavery itself—so, plenty long enough to see justice denied for a few more generations.

    Exactly so. There was no gradual self-emancipation in progress, or possible, and the white supremacist elite controlling the south were already successfully keeping poor whites “in their place” by playing the true and original “race card.” It was not Lincoln who Lincoln violently and horrifically suppressed legal secession and the organic devolution of the Union” but white supremacists who violently revolted against the outcome of a presidential election. It was Democrats resorting to arms in response to the election of the very first Republican.

    • #6
    • September 20, 2020, at 3:41 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  7. Saint Augustine Member

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    It was Democrats resorting to arms in response to the election of the very first Republican. 

    What luck none of them are ever going to do that again.

    • #7
    • September 20, 2020, at 3:51 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. A.C. Gleason Coolidge
    A.C. Gleason

     

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    It was Democrats resorting to arms in response to the election of the very first Republican.

    What luck none of them are ever going to do that again.

    Hah! Seriously though pray for America. But the South only resorted to Arms because their land was invaded. It wasn’t a civil war, it was a Napoleonic war of unification. The South was forced into an involuntary union. Their reasons are separate from that issue, but I think even their reasons understood in context are far more morally justified than NeoConservative dogma allows. And as someone kindly commented above, I am not apologizing for slavery. It’s just far more complicated than we are allowed to believe.

    • #8
    • September 20, 2020, at 5:33 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. A.C. Gleason Coolidge
    A.C. Gleason

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    GrannyDude (View Comment):

    Still, it is my impression that the gradual evolution away from slavery that was, broadly speaking, already underway at the time of the Revolution, bumped up against new obstacles in run-up to the Civil War. First, the invention of the cotton gin allowed slavery to be/appear, at least temporarily, economically viable within the context of industrialization. Second, “science” was busily coming up with human taxonomies that affirmed, explained and justified what Christianity had long-denied, namely the separation of the human species into lesser and greater sub-species. A Darwinian resolution of Christian cognitive dissonance might not have lasted long, but it outlasted slavery itself—so, plenty long enough to see justice denied for a few more generations.

    Exactly so. There was no gradual self-emancipation in progress, or possible, and the white supremacist elite controlling the south were already successfully keeping poor whites “in their place” by playing the true and original “race card.” It was not Lincoln who Lincoln violently and horrifically suppressed legal secession and the organic devolution of the Union” but white supremacists who violently revolted against the outcome of a presidential election. It was Democrats resorting to arms in response to the election of the very first Republican.

    This is inaccurate. Read Genovese. The master class had doubled down repeatedly on their slave holding ideology, and it was of course explicitly racist. But the ideology evolved decade by decade and was essentially legally unjustifiable by the time of the War for Southern Independence. They were granted all sorts of legal and natural rights in Southern society that they were being denied in the North (and had essentially grown extinct up there due to cradle Jim Crow laws and Northern racism which was radically different from Southern racism and came to dominate the whole country after Southern Freedom was violently repressed by the Tyrant Lincoln) and this was in no small part due to their own agency and persistence, indeed their revolts were part of it. They were able to defend themselves against violent overseers, their deaths were prosecutable as murders, they were seen as humans with natural rights. You are presenting a caricature that fits in with moral justifications for the destruction of about a million American lives in an unnecessary war. Southern slavery was the only new world slavery that did not require new slaves because the Masters were responsive and did care about their slaves, in explicitly paternalistic and racist terms. The CSA even outlawed the trade while it persisted in the North till Brazil ended slavery. Virginia came within a few votes of emancipation after Nat Turner. Every other western society emancipated, the claim that the South wouldn’t have and that the deaths of 10 million Americans (adjusting for population today) was necessary needs real justification that simply isn’t available. Read Genovese. I can’t stress that enough.

    • #9
    • September 20, 2020, at 5:46 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. Saint Augustine Member

    A.C. Gleason (View Comment):
    And as someone kindly commented above, I am not apologizing for slavery. It’s just far more complicated than we are allowed to believe.

    A.C. Gleason (View Comment):

    This is inaccurate. Read Genovese. . . . Read Genovese. I can’t stress that enough.

    But what about the rest of us losers who don’t even have time to read all our Augustine? Maybe there’s a good podcast that can introduce Genovese to the rest of us.

    • #10
    • September 20, 2020, at 6:43 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. Saint Augustine Member

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    But what about the rest of us losers who don’t even have time to read all our Augustine? Maybe there’s a good podcast that can introduce Genovese to the rest of us.

    Seriously, though, everyone else: Aaron Gleason and his friend Kyle do a podcast with 47 episodes a year or something like that.

    So the podcast is called AK-47, but it’s not about guns.

    It’s good theology, good philosophy, good cultural commentary. I recommend it. Don’t hold it against them that I’ve been on the podcast a few times.

    • #11
    • September 20, 2020, at 6:46 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    A couple of historical points to clarify.

    You write:

    Southern slavery was the only new world slavery that did not require new slaves because the Masters were responsive and did care about their slaves, in explicitly paternalistic and racist terms. The CSA even outlawed the trade while it persisted in the North till Brazil ended slavery.

    This is inaccurate. The U.S. Congress banned the importation of slaves in 1808 so it was not a matter of requiring new slaves (though you are correct they had a longer life expectancy than those in Brazil and the Indies) but simply because importation was illegal, though there were many attempts at illegal importation because it was very profitable. Moreover, the slave states continually agitated for expansion of slavery through annexation of Cuba and Mexico. The Confederate Constitution continued the ban on importation from most foreign sources but allowed the importation of slaves from the slave states still in the Union. It is important to note that the Confederate Constitution was adopted in March 1861 when only the seven states of the Cotton Belt had seceded. The importation clause was a political move to entice the remaining eight slave states to join the Confederacy because the Constitution also gave the Confederate Congress a threatening hammer, the power to ban all slave importation in the future. As an economic matter, in the remaining states, four of which (ARK, TN, VA, NC) were to eventually join the Confederacy, slaveholders profited by the breeding and selling of slaves to the cotton states where demand was high. It was this economic tie that the seceding states believed was a powerful incentive for the remaining slave states to join them.

    Your argument about paternalism ignores the internal trade market between the slave states that led to the breakup of families; the sale of siblings, parents, children (for more on the aftermath read Help Me To Find My People by Heather Andrea Williams).

    You also write “They [slaves] were granted all sorts of legal and natural rights in Southern society that they were being denied in the North” which is incorrect as they were denied in the South their most basic natural right, a right to the property of their own existence and freedom. Moreover they weren’t denied rights such as being taught to read or to travel without a pass from their owner as they were in the South because non-slave states had no reason to pass such laws.

    And I can’t figure out what you are referring to with this statement:

    “The paternalism of the master class was interpreted differently by the slaves and they were the ones who really kept the “peace” and were gradually emancipating themselves. Sadly that peaceful process was interrupted and we’ll never know the America that could have been, if only the South had been granted the permission to organically enter an emancipatory period like every other western society . . ”

    There was no gradual emancipation going on in 1860. In fact, as a result of the doctrine of Calhounism and the reaction to slave insurrections in the 1820s and 30s, southern states had become increasingly repressive regarding protection of slavery, including bans on teaching slaves to read, travel restrictions, and requiring freed slaves to leave states. In fact, the Dred Scott case is a good example of these changes. If Scott’s case had come trial even five years earlier in the late 1840s he might have gained his freedom but by the 1850s the legal tide had changed and he lost his case in Missouri state court. Things were getting worse, not better.

    There is simply no evidence that in 1860 a feudal aristocracy, that like many Democrats today, was proudly anti-capitalist, was going to change its course, when to do so it would betray the very reason for establishing the Confederacy – to correct the fatal flaw in the American Founding; the declaration that all men are created equal. To emphasize this distinction that Confederate Constitution took an existing U.S. Constitutional provision, “No bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed” and changed it to read, No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed”.

    • #12
    • September 22, 2020, at 11:19 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
    • This comment has been edited.