Friday, September 4, 2015

The Moral Center of Capitalism and the Cornerstone of the Confederacy

"I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!" -- Harry Jaffa
Robert Reich asks, "What happened to the moral center of capitalism?":
An economy depends fundamentally on public morality; some shared standards about what sorts of activities are impermissible because they so fundamentally violate trust that they threaten to undermine the social fabric.
A few days ago Sandwichman posted a long selection from John Elliot Cairnes's The Slave Power (1862) in which Cairnes expressed similar sentiments
But it seems impossible that a whole people should live permanently in contemplation of a system which does violence to its moral instincts. One of two results will happen. Either its moral instincts will lead it to reform the institution which offends them, or those instincts will be perverted, and become authorities for what in their unsophisticated condition they condemned.
The resolution of this conflict, according to Cairnes,  "depends whether the Power which derives its strength from slavery shall be set up with enlarged resources and increased prestige, or be now once for all effectually broken."

The slave power was not broken once and for all but was reincarnated in the neo-Confederate ideology that underpinned segregation and the enduring white supremacy of the American political discourse. In documenting that the reason for the Civil War was the defence of slavery, Cairnes quoted a passage from Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens's "cornerstone" speech. Harry Jaffa, the conservative historian who wrote Barry Goldwater's 1964 acceptance speech, characterized Stephens's cornerstone speech in the following terms:
This remarkable address conveys, more than any other contemporary document, not only the soul of the Confederacy but also of that Jim Crow South that arose from the ashes of the Confederacy. From the end of Reconstruction until after World War Il, the idea of racial inequality gripped the territory of the former Confederacy—and not only of the former Confederacy—more profoundly than it had done under slavery. Nor is its influence by any means at an end. Stephens’s prophecy of the Confederacy’s future resembles nothing so much as Hitler’s prophecies of the Thousand-Year Reich. Nor are their theories very different. Stephens, unlike Hitler, spoke only of one particular race as inferior. But the principle ot racial domination, once established, can easily be extended to fit the convenience of the self-anointed master race or class, whoever it may be.
The "measuring rod" of historical "correctness" for school textbooks in the Southern States instructed school boards and libraries to "Reject a book that says the South fought to hold her slaves." These criteria, enforced by state textbook selection committees in the South, became the de facto national norm for the U.S. due to commercial expediency.

So, Reich's question, "what happened to the moral center of capitalism?" can only be answered with a question: "what moral center?"