28 June 2016

Four Points on the Brexit Compass

I found I had to write a very different post to the one I expected to write. While I dashed off a few paragraphs almost straightaway, I have also had to revise this post on an almost daily basis. 28 June was the first time in five mornings that there was not some kind of new fact to take into account when I looked at some of the British news web-sites. As the day wore on, however, some of what I had intended to say was overtaken by events, and I have tried to write around this still developing historic happening. I offer five points to help interpret, in an historical context, what is going on in the United Kingdom.

The first point is that the political map of England has ventured on new historical territory. Traditionally, London and the Southeast offer a solid bedrock of support for a ‘Court’ party, rooted in Westminster, to which supporters in other parts of England then attach themselves. By contrast, look for a map of the votes from 23 June, and you will see that London and its educational and ideological colonies in Oxford and Cambridge -- the ‘Court’ party -- stand out quite dramatically from the rest of England. The ‘Country’ party -- in the past the King’s party in the Civil War, the Tories in the Glorious Revolution and its aftermath, the Labour party from 1918 -- has won what is possibly its first lasting victory in English history.

The second, and crucial, point is that the United Kingdom's political class has blundered on a massive scale, calling into question the legitimacy of their right to rule. The whole process was structured in such a way as to make the transition to the consequences of a Leave victory as awkward as possible. This was not a general election, in which an alternative government stands ready. Thus, complaints by people that ‘there is no plan’ are somewhat unwarranted. Blame the people responsible for the way the referendum was posed, not the winners. One could single out David Cameron, but that would be unfair. The referendum was held under a parliamentary act that MPs debated and could have amended. As a consequence of that it is going to take several years for the new dispensation to emerge from the grind of daily politics, foreign and domestic. Leave’s victory constitutes a revolutionary moment. Both the French and Russian revolutions demonstrate that this opens up several possibly pathways for the UK state, and no-one knows with any certainty where they will lead. What is being fought over now is control of the opening gambit in this process. There is no guarantee that by the time the process ends, the same people will be in charge.

The third point is that Europe is a fault-line that has run through both Britain’s major parties since the 1960s. Labour suffered the most from it at first, leading to the split that created the Social Democratic Party. The Conservative split may have cost them a majority in February 1974, but they closed ranks and it was not until the Maastricht treaty in 1992 that they split again. Meanwhile, Labour retreated from its anti-EU position very rapidly, and gradually the anti-EU wing was reduced to a tiny group in the parliamentary party, assisted by a somewhat larger one outside. But now the original split is appearing again. The problem for the UK is that the organisational structures underpinning its political system largely try very hard to avoid accommodating this divide. This is the fundamental cause of the current instability in both political parties, and result in the abdication of the political elite from government.

The fourth point is that what we see on display in the result of the referendum is the fundamental trend governing world politics today -- the emergence of the city-state network. Certain cities have reached a stage where they can transcend national borders and exist as part of a network of communities that is almost, but not quite, self-sufficient. Imagine a global polity that consisted of London, New York, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Shanghai, Hong Kong and other places. Might these cities have more in common with each other in the pursuit of economic and social policies than with their hinterland? I suspect so. That leaves Boston in Lincolnshire, Sunderland and other similar places in the awkward position of being ruled by this polity but having no effective political representation within it.

The life of the late Jo Cox is itself worth of a Greek tragedy on the theme of what is happening. She grew up in a community that has converted its old textile mills into shopping complexes. She educated herself, being the first in her family to go to university, and left to find more opportunities in London. There she did good work on behalf of an international charity. There, her connections to the Westminster ‘bubble’ enabled her to return home and win selection as a Labour candidate and, in due course, election as a member of parliament. Her assassination by a neo-Nazi who was left behind by the Global Polity illustrated how their share community experience a very real problem. The Global Polity draws away many of the best and brightest from places that desperately need leadership and investment to find some sort of peaceful accommodation with the future. If this is not done, the United Kingdom -- and the world -- may get a lot messier than they are today.

22 June 2016

Why I Am for #Brexit

Tomorrow will see the British people being given the same chance as they had in 1975 to vote on membership of the European project that began life as an attempt to co-ordinate economies in order to reduce the risk of yet another European-wide war and has been transformed over two-and-a-half generations into a superstate. The thing that they voted for in 1975 has changed dramatically over the subsequent forty years. It is a very different decision.

The campaign, on both sides, has been a disgusting display of fear-mongering and prejudice, punctuated by the assassination of a member of parliament by a neo-Nazi. We are all the poorer for what has happened.

The choice is whether the people of the UK want to be part of the EU under the terms negotiated by David Cameron, or whether to leave the EU altogether. Do not pretend that these new terms put the UK at the heart of Europe. Cameron has negotiated away much of the ability of the UK to influence the future direction of the European Union. There is no chance that this will change for the foreseeable future unless you believe that the Conservative Party will lose its majority in the next election, and a pro-European alternative emerge.

It gives me no pleasure to say that in my opinion the best choice for future generations of Britons is to vote for #Brexit. I am forced to associate with people whom I frequently regard as wrong. But in this case, whatever their reasons for agreeing with me in this binary choice, theirs is the correct position when the matter is viewed as a whole. I will briefly explain why.

The campaign to vote Leave has been a fearsome display of 'othering' that conceals the fact that the United Kingdom needs immigration. But the reality is that the UK can control that immigration more easily if it does not contend with the free movement of people throughout Europe. Having left, the UK will be in a position to improve access for people from Commonwealth countries.

Let us be realistic -- the people of the UK will tolerate a number of immigrants. But this number is an absolute one. If you want a whiter, more culturally Western population, vote for Remain. A victory for Leave will mean UK immigration will be browner and more likely to include those of non-Christian faiths. But in this the UK will look more like its kin in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

As a part of Europe, the UK government has allowed those connections to diminish, although the people of the UK have done a better job of keeping them going. This is exactly the point that was made at the beginning of the UK's long debate over the EU in the time of Harold Macmillan's government (1957-63). The postman arriving at the homes of Britons brought letters from family in those former settler colonies on a frequent basis, while the emerging economies of newly independent countries in Africa and Asia would suffer from joining a Common Market that would place tarrifs on their agricultural goods. We cannot exactly go back to those days, but these links are not extinct, merely atrophied because of the UK's membership of the EU.They can be reactivated, but it will take time. They will not replace the EU. It is a politico-cultural community, not an economic one.

Meanwhile, the campaign for Remain has created a horror story about the economic future for a UK outside the EU. Much of this is grossly exaggerated, and neglects the fact that the UK, by not being part of the single currency, is already not at the centre of European economic decision-making. Because the UK remains part of the World Trade Organisation, and because the UK is an important market for the EU, trade with the EU will continue under no worse trading conditions that the UK has with any other country that is part of the WTO, but not part of the EU.

The EU will do all in its power to make the UK suffer the worst possible terms of trade, because it is the EU that is afraid of its future should the UK leave. If the UK makes a successful transitions within the WTO but without the EU, then other countries will certainly follow. We only need to look at poor Greece, whose citizens attempted to defy the EU within the single currency, to see how frightened the EU leadership is of members trying to adjust the terms of their relationship with this ugly economic monolith.

We also hear about how workers will lose all their rights, and how the NHS will go unfunded. Well, these are political decisions, and asking a foreign authority to guarantee your rights or the funding of your health service seems to indicate that you don't deserve them. These are things I am in favour of -- the rights of workers to minimums standards and a well-funded national health service free at the point of access -- and I am willing to take the risk that the British people can be convinced these are valuable things in and of themselves, and not just because of a treaty with foreign powers. And, let's not forget, what the EU gives to workers in the social chapter, it can also take away when it adopts measures to protect the interests of big business.

The rest of the Remain argument can be boiled down to 'the EU is not that bad, really, in terms of democracy'. Oh, but it is. The one time the EU project was derailed was when the French and the Dutch voted against the proposed European Constitution in 2005. And all the EU leaders did was to negotiate a treaty at Lisbon to impose much of the constitutional arrangements anyway. The EU is not democratic in any meaningful way, but a conspiracy against the ordinary people of Europe by their own governments in order to facilitate a continental economic policy because it suits big business.

Let us not fool ourselves. There are people working to reform this appalling entity, but there is no mass movement to do so, and there hasn't been since the 'democratic deficit' became an issue a generation ago. Anyone who thinks the EU can be meaningfully reformed from within is ignoring the dynamic of history.

The one strong argument deployed by Remain is the constitutional one. There is a grave risk that a vote for Leave will cause Scotland to go its own way, in the hope of staying part of the European project, and a lesser one that Northern Ireland might follow suit. But the Union is already in doubt, and there is no guarantee that Scotland would vote to continue the Union in five or ten years. I will say this: if a vote for Remain would guarantee the Union would continue for another ten generations, then I would set aside all my doubts and vote Remain. I do not believe this is so.

The world is a very different place than it was in the 1950s, when the Soviet Union and the United States threatened to turn Europe into an atomic battlefield. The EU is having far more trouble with coping with this change than the UK could acting alone.

Voting Leave is to take a tremendous risk. But voting to Remain is to lock the UK away in a cage that will see it continue to lose touch with its historical relations, to risk seeing the economy trapped in the disaster that is the single currency's austerity regime, and to distort the relationship between UK Labour and UK Capital by placing a higher referee over them that is not subject to direct democratic accountability by the people of the UK. This is probably the last chance the UK will have to withdraw in my lifetime. I hope it takes it.

03 March 2016

The 1st March of Donald Trump

I have been watching the progress of Donald Trump with interest since August 2015, when polling piqued my curiosity about his chances of success. I have written about it at increasing length in a private corner of the Internet populated by exiles from a web site about baseball. Some of what I write here was originally written there. However, now that the phenomenon which Trump represents has triumphed in a fashion that might have seemed unimaginable six months ago, it seems time to push some of what I have learned into the slightly less private corner that is my blog. (I apologise for the paucity of references, and ask that readers assume I can back at least most of my points up with links.)

The first thing is to understand what Trump isn't. He did not receive much in the way of endorsements at any point in the campaign, and in fact was shunned by the Republican party's elected representatives at both national and state capital levels. (I cannot speak of county or municipal ones.) He was spurned by the bigger donors of the party, even when he took the time to approach them. Trump at first didn't embark on a crusade to challenge the authority of these two pillars of the GOP. He offered to work with them, not against them.

So let us move on to what Trump is. Above all else, Trump is a Republican. He endorsed John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. It is not hard to fit his campaign against the Democrats into the mainstream of Republican political positions of the past eight years. The 'insurgent' qualities of the Trump campaign always have been something of a media invention. Trump was expressly running against Washington, but it was a Washington in which a Republican Congress had raised annual objections to working with a Democratic White House, a Congress that sought to obstruct executive action as much as to legislate. In theory, at least, Trump could praise their efforts, could exclude them from rhetoric that portrayed government as doing nothing for the American people.

The second thing is that Trump speaks about policy options in a way that has, shall we say, a degree of frankness unusual for twenty-first century discourse, yet still leaves plenty of room for manoeuvre. He will end Obamacare, but not at the cost of people dying in the streets. Moslems need to be kept out of the country, but only temporarily. Other countries need to be held to account for their self-interested economic policies, but the treaty framework is fundamentally sound. It is a rare statement by Trump that does not include wiggle room. Examples are a reduction in the corporate tax rate to 15 per cent and that he will make the Mexicans pay for the wall (but all of it?). In this context, there is enough evidence that Trump supporters, unlike his opponents, do not take his statements at face value. In fact, they remember Trump as the author of The Art of the Deal, and regard his approach as that of a negotiator at first asking for everything.

The third thing is to understand the forces that have kept the Trump campaign afloat in spite of the hostility towards it on the part of the Republican party's paymasters and their servants in the government. The first of these is the media. Trump has received a great deal of coverage from Fox News and from MSNBC. The other force that has propelled Trump to front-runner status is his consistent success with a specific set of voters. Analysing his results by county in places like Iowa and New Hampshire showed Trump running strongly in economically depressed areas and in smaller cities lacking large universities or state government bureaucracies. He runs behind Cruz in areas that went for the ideological conservative Rick Santorum in a big way in 2012, but ahead of Cruz in areas where Santorum underperformed and Romney and Newt Gingrich ran better. Trump has picked up a significant portion of the Romney coalition (the non-elite parts) and added a lot of Gingrich's. The Super Tuesday states Trump did well in were very similar to those won by Gingrich and Romney, and not so cloe to those won by Santorum.

One Iowa county in particular caught my interest. In 1960 and 1968, Carroll county in Iowa was solidly Democratic. In 1976 it went for Jimmy Carter. But in 1980 it swung to Reagan by a pretty substantial percentage, but Reagan only squeaked out a win there in 1984, and it returned to its Democratic ways until George W Bush took it in 2000, and only Senator John McCain in 2008 lost it from the Republican column since. Could it be a marker for the old-time Reagan Democrats? One county is not enough foundation on which to base such a hypothesis, but it is a fact that Trump had a narrow lead over Ted Cruz there, whereas Marco Rubio finished firmly in third place, his elite-sponsorship doing him no good at all. There may be signs that supporters of Cruz are swinging to Trump, as recent polls in Florida show Trump gaining as Cruz' percentage falls. The bedrock of Trump's support rests on what one might call 'rank-and-file' GOPers. The message from the party Establishment has so far fallen on deaf ears.

The other factor here is turnout. Turnout for GOP caucuses and primaries has been way up this year compared to 2008 and 2012. Some of these people are coming out to vote for Trump, and it appears some are coming out to vote against him. So far it is not so clear how many of the new Republicans are voting for Trump. Initially, at least, late deciders voted against him. In national polls his 'negative value' among Republicans has been fairly stable throughout.

The dilemma confronting the GOP leadership hasn't really sunk in, by all appearances. They are acting as if they believe they will lose down the ticket if Trump is at the top of it. They are trusting that if they block Trump's bid for the nomination by any means possible, their supporters will still turn out to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House. But what if they don't? What if they are so angered by the shenanigans of a party leadership turning on the voters' choice that they stay home? I did a calculation that suggested, using evidence from Quinnipac University polls, that Trump might cost the Republicans about 15 per cent of their base vote, but it is impossible on the basis of that data to calculate how many of Trump's supporters are voting Trump or nothing.

American political parties are built on a 'strategic triad' of elected politicians, donors and voters. Each has a vital role to play in the electoral process. It has been a long time since we have seen the kind of civil war now going on among Republicans in an American party, and the reality is that these outcomes never end well for the victims. The Democratic party ran against both George McGovern in 1972 and, to a lesser extent, Jimmy Carter in 1976 and again in 1980. The result was twelve years of Republican control of the White House, and it could have been longer had it not been for Ross Perot's quixotic tilt in 1992. Unless this civil war is rapidly brought to an end, or some unforeseen event occurs between now and November, it looks like the Republicans will basically be a Congressional and state-house party for some time to come.

07 January 2016

Did Americans Invent the Commonwealth of Nations?

Eric Nelson is a professor at Harvard University who has written a book that examines a neglected aspect of the ideologies underlying the American War of Independence. If you want a taster, you can listen to an interview with him that is part of a series of podcasts under the rubric 'Ben Franklin's World'. It is about an hour long.

During the course of the podcast, he reminds us that the political problem the war of independence solved was more than one of the relationship between the colonies and the government in London. In fact, it was as much one of an Anglospheric one in that the Colonists tried to raise questions about the relationship between the British monarch and parliament. Nelson explains the constitutional history of Britain either side of the civil wars that took place in the British Isles in the middle of the seventeenth century. Nelson has reminded us of the fact that some colonists perceived the struggle not to be one between colonial assemblies and King George, but in fact as one between colonial assemblies and parliament. The colonists, in other words, saw the colonial assemblies as equals to the parliament in London.

In this sense at least some of the colonists were enunciating a version of Responsible Government, avant la lettre. Responsible government, of course, was the basis for the granting of dominion status within the empire, and the ideology of the British Commonwealth of Nations holds that present or past loyalty to the Crown unites free and equal polities. While pre-1776 British North American colonial administrations did not assert an authority to conduct an independent foreign policy (except in regard to American Indians, perhaps), the Patriots who blamed parliamentary over-reach for the crisis did assert the authority for their assemblies and governors to conduct an independent domestic fiscal policy.

The answer to my headline question, of course, is a definite 'no'. But the ideological debate during the American crisis does appear to foreshadow subsequent constitutional developments within the British Empire.

06 January 2016

The Spectre of Nativism

Few things get my historical scholar's goat more than a post like this one, about Trump the Nativist.

Nativism was a complex phenomenon throughout American history, and a very mutable one. In this case, I would like to look at what might be considered a Janus-faced component of the old-time Nativist like George Bourne, whose Abolitionist views were inseperable from those attitudes he shared with Trump. Let's take a closer look at Robin Dale Jacobson's commentary.

While many pundits have looked to former regimes in Germany or Italy to explain the dangers they perceive Trump to embody, we need to understand him and his following as an American phenomenon. . . . John Higham, in the canonical book Strangers in the Land, wrote that nativism is “an intense opposition to an internal minority on the ground of its foreign (i.e. ‘un-American’) connections.” This opposition can have a wide range of targets in “response to the changing character of the minority irritants and the shifting conditions of the day; but through each separate hostility runs the connecting, energizing force of modern nationalism.”

Certainly American Nativism is rooted in the idea of nationality. The problem is that nationality is another of those mutable ideas that in a political discourse conceals much more than it reveals. What is the basis for a nation? The first naturalisation act, passed in 1790, defined a potential new American as a 'free white person'. It then asked them to live in the country for two years. It is this residency period that is of interest here, and is a commonplace in naturalisation legislation around the world even today. The final step in the process was to swear an oath of allegiance to support the Constitution. Today's historians focus on the whiteness requirement, but at the time that was barely discussed. In fact, it certainly seems that the residency requirement was seen as crucial.

Mr Hartley said...he thought some security for their fidelity and allegiance was requisite besides the bare oath that is, he thought an actual residence of such a length of time as would give a man an opportunity of esteeming the Government from knowing its intrinsic value, was essentially necessary to assure us of a man's becoming a good citizen.

from the House Journal, 1st Congress, pp 1147-8

Thus, from the very first piece of federal legislation concerning immigrants, we see that there are important political considerations involved in the question of nationality. The key element turns out to have been the residency requirement, as opposed to the 'bare oath' This is further illustrated by later debates on the 1798 act that sought to extend the residency period to fourteen years.

Mr Bayard said...Every principle of policy, in his opinion, required this regulation to be made general; for he believed there was many Jacobins and vagabonds come into the United States during the last two years, as may come for ten years hence; so that these very persons against whom this law was intended to operate, will become citizens, and may be chosen into the government.

from the House Journal, 5th Congress, p 1780

Again, here we see a political issue. At the time of the French Revolution, Jacobins were seen as having the potential to subvert the Constitution, given their unhealthy enthusiasm for the will of the people, as opposed to the kind of solid bourgeois republicanism that defined the American. But it was also the moment of the Quasi-War, which could easily have turned into a proper one.

Mr Varnum said...there was no necessity for any measures being taken with respect to foreigners, except such as belong to the nation with whom we expect to be at war.

from the House Journal, 5th Congress, p1782

I can easily imagine how a Trump supporter might see the United States as a nation at war with Islam, or at least those of its Radicals who have in practical terms declared war on it. The fact that a significant majority of Americans polled are opposed to a ban on Moslem visitors should give us some comfort. Let me return to Jacobson's text.

The durable American nativist tradition has an additional common feature: a racial religious othering. Throughout history we see religious differences being blended with racial differences; groups of people perceived to be sharing a religion are characterized as having innate immutable differences that threaten the native citizens or the nation as a whole. ... Nativist responses to new immigrants from southern and eastern Europe in the early twentieth century were also centered at the intersection of race and religion. Advocates who opposed immigration argued that these newcomers from sending areas in Europe, including Italian and Irish Catholics as well as eastern European Jews, threatened to overwhelm the U.S., and to damage the racial and religious character (read: white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant) of the country.

Here Jacobson is guilty of condensing two distinct moments in Nativism. In the 1830s through the 1850s, hostility towards immigrants was mostly rooted in their Catholicism. The hostility that emerged in the 1890s and carried on into the quotas of the 1924 immigration legislation did identify nationality or, if one prefers, ethnicity in relation to religious hostility. Tellingly, this covers the period that Higham does. He gives only a few pages over to the earlier manifestations of Nativism, and does not reflect at length on the process by which ethnicity became attached. But I would like to focus on the earlier response. Why did Roman Catholicism seem to present a threat?

This shameful font of indifferentism gives rise to that absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs, though some repeat over and over again with the greatest impudence that some advantage accrues to religion from it.

Para 14 of the Papal Encyclical Mirari Vos, issued in August 1832

Here We must include that harmful and never sufficiently denounced freedom to publish any writings whatever and disseminate them to the people, which some dare to demand and promote with so great a clamor. We are horrified to see what monstrous doctrines and prodigious errors are disseminated far and wide in countless books, pamphlets, and other writings which, though small in weight, are very great in malice.

Para 15 of the Papal Encyclical Mirari Vos, issued in August 1832

These two paragraphs suggest that 1830s Americans had cause to be suspicious about the threat posed by the Roman church to proverbially American values enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Nor were Americans shy about taking these comments aimed at liberty of conscience and freedom of speech and expanding them to encompass much more.

Romanism, in its merely secular attributes and political and social effects, ever and immutably is opposed to civil and religious freedom; and is destructive of all those rights of man with which our Declaration of Independence proclaims to be inalienable.

p6, The Text-Book of American Popery, George Bourne's Nativist book

And, of course, as immigration from Catholic countries grew, it was associated with this political threat to the American political order.

This danger from uneducated mind is augmenting daily by the rapid influx of foreign emigrants, the greater part unacquainted with our institutions, unaccustomed to self-government, inaccessible to education and easily accessible to prepossession, and inveterate credulity, and intrigue, and easily embodied and wielded by sinister design. In the beginning this eruption of revolutionary Europe was not anticipated, and we opened our doors wide to the influx and naturalisation of foreigners. But it is becoming a terrific inundation...what if this emigration, self-moved and slow in the beginning, is now rolling its broad tide at the bidding of the powers of Europe hostile to free institutions, and associated in holy alliance to arrest and put them down?...Are not the continental powers alarmed at the march of liberal opinions, and associated to put them down?

pp 51-2, Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States, by Samuel Morse (unlike Bourne, a defender of slavery).

Morse chooses his words with care there, as the 'holy alliance' was indeed a real thing, lasting from about 1815 to 1820. And the Papacy was seen as in league with the Austrian Empire, itself in the care of Prince Klemens von Metternich, a particular bogeyman of those 1830s Nativists, as can be demonstrated by a citation from this 1836 article.

Austria is now the only temporal support of the Papal power in Europe. Under the ministry of the most tyrannical Prince Metternich, she continues her support to the Court of Rome. This Prince Metternich is one of the greatest enemies of mankind now living; a man who has done more for the support of despotic principle, and to enslave the masses of Europe, than any other man.

p178, Methodist Magazine, April 1837, from an article on the Papacy's prospects by a New England divine named S W Coggeshall who was possibly the author of this letter to Lincoln supporting a more radical approach to war against the Confederacy.

Those masses fleeing Metternich's slavery, however, showed little sign of embracing Protestant religion, despite spending several years breathing liberty's air in the United States. Instead, they were building up a Catholic presence in the United States, which people like Bourne, Morse and Coggeshall thought clearly alien to American political values. While Coggeshall mentions Irish immigration, it is only a reference to its scale (see p 180). His invective says nothing about race but everything of his fears of Catholic institutions being founded in the United States, and the conspiratorial efforts of a mysterious St Leopold Foundation, directed from Vienna and in receipt of papal approbation.

Whatever changes might arise for historians to argue over in its later manifestations, history shows us that the man concern Americans initially had about immigrants related to their politics. In this case, the internal minority was a religious one and, further to remove race from the equation, one that drew its membership from multiple states, and thus possessed loyalty (or antipathy, in the case of the Irish) towards different regimes that might, in fact, find themselves at war with one another.

It is without question that American Nativism was from the first about protecting more than the political character of the United States, and that initially race was a less significant factor since not many sought to emigrate here willingly from Africa or Asia. Slavery was, however, seen as a blot on the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence by many Americans. It was Lincoln himself who put forth that the civil war was 'testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived [in Liberty] and so dedicated, can long endure'. For Americans of his time and the few decades earlier, American liberty seemed a precariously planted tree in a world where monarchs ruled China, India, Russia, Prussia, Austria, Brazil, Turkey, Persia, Morocco, Zululand and Madagascar. Those ideas of liberty were rooted in an Anglo-Saxon, Protestant outlook that was a smaller set than the word 'white' might imply in naturalisation acts passed by Congress. It was this day-to-day 'Anglo' culture that was seen as defining Americans. To reduce these fears to race alone does a disservice to that generation of abolitionists, unsympathetic toward 'papist' religion, who fought more successfully to end race-based slavery.

(P.S. -- By the way, if you didn't follow the Wikipedia link, George Bourne, abolitionist and nativist, was himself an immigrant from England.)

30 December 2015

Locating Gay Marriage

This map, courtesy of a tweet by the ever-fascinating @LindaRegber, brought home a point I had never really considered before.
Britain, the core country of the Anglosphere, allows it. It is joined by the settler colonies of Canada, New Zealand and South Africa and, as the caption on the map indicates, parts of the United States. By contrast, the Francophonie has little place for gay marriage outside the metropolitan area. Hispanohablantes are a little bit more enthusiastic. And, of course, in the Scandinavian world it appears to be almost universal.

Gay marriage at the moment is very clearly a marker for Anglospheric culture, which itself has roots drawn from a Scandinavian planting, as Norse and Danish influence on the British Isles was considerable, for a time. This will probably change sooner rather than later, but at the moment, tolerance for gay marriage sets English-speakers apart.

14 December 2015

You're welcome, high-school students

My high-school daughter asked me to help her revise for a history test, one question of which will ask her about the causes of the War Between the States. So I reproduce here the brief analysis we constructed.

The immediate cause of the War Between the States was the bombardment of Fort Sumter, in the harbour of Charleston, SC, in April 1861. As a result of this, President Abraham Lincoln of the United States called for volunteers to serve three months in the militia, in order to suppress the insurrection. A military conflict with the seceding states became inevitable at that point.

But why did Fort Sumter have to be bombarded?

Between December 1860 and February 1861, seven states seceded from the United States, as they saw it reclaiming their sovereign rights. However, the federal government controlled things like the naval, military and postal services. The question of to whom these belonged would obviously be controversial. In the case of military installations, the presence of a garrison meant that attempts by local or new authorities could be resisted, at least for a time. This is what happened at Fort Sumter.

But why did these states secede?

In November 1860, a split in the Democratic party between northern and southern wings assisted in the election of the Republican party's candidate for president, the aforementioned Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's party had a plank in its platform stating 'we deny the authority of congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States'. The question of whether slavery could be permitted in the parts of the United States that had not yet acquired statehood, much of which had been organised into territories, had been extremely controversial before the election/ In the case of Kansas, a mini-civil-war had raged for some years. All the parties took a position on this. The Democrats split over the question of slavery in the territories, with the Northern faction wanting to limit it on the basis of 'popular sovereignty': if the representatives elected to a territorial convention voted to abolish slavery in its territory, slaveholders would have to abide by that. By contrast, the Southern Democrats wanted the right of slaveholders to their human property to be respected in all territories, regardless of local sentiment. Lincoln's election, and even more significantly the election of Republican majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, gave slaveholders little hope that in future their right to human property would be respected in the territories. Inevitably, as 'free soil' territories became states, Slaveholding power within the legislature as represented by members of Congress would dwindle. This would open the way for abolitionists to end slavery altogether in the United States.

Thus, the fundamental cause of the civil war was slavery. However, one can argue a secondary cause of state's rights, on the basis that the outcome of the civil war established, by main force, that states have no right to secede from the Union unilaterally. They can only secede if the federal government assents to their departure. But, in the absence of the controversy over slavery, it is hard to see why that right of state sovereignty would have been asserted. Given an opportunity to claim it over tariffs in 1832-3, no state considered that issue significant enough.