Ilana Mercer, December 25, 2002

But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.—Genesis 19:25-27

It’s all over now: Senator Trent Lott fleetingly looked back in time and turned to salt, much like the wife of the biblical Lot, who gazed behind her at Sodom and Gomorrah as “the Lord rained down burning sulfur” on the sinful cities, and was terminated for her disobedience.

For his disobedience, albeit to a different Ministry, Trent Lott was also terminated.

Only seasoned and cynical opportunists could suggest that it was for segregation that Lott was pining, when he praised Strom Thurmond’s 1948 party platform at the octogenarian’s 100th birthday bash. That the cries of “racism” from the nation’s professional pointy-heads are so successful demonstrates the power of the race card. Leveled at innocent white Americans, race is like stigmata. The custodians of consensus have only to say the word and most whites obediently welt and bleed.

Or so Trent Lott discovered.

To express a yearning for barbaric lynchings and segregation is by any standard tacky and tasteless. Southerners, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, may have been drained of their best blood by the War of Northern Aggression, but vestiges of good breeding, charm, and civility remain in many a Southern man. As a Gallup poll duly confirmed, most Americans believe Lott’s praise for Thurmond did not indicate that he endorsed segregationist policies, “but rather that he made a poor choice of words.”

A courageous individual might have summoned the strength to state openly what exactly he was praising. Instead, Lott dissolved into an apologetic puddle.

Admittedly the Many Ministries of Truth make truth telling a difficult task. In fiction, the Orwellian Ministry of Truth is a reified entity. In reality, there isn’t one concrete ministry that decides how the nation thinks—there are many such entities. They’ve evolved over time, and they issue countless subliminal edicts.

One type of aversion treatment is to call the unhappy victim a racist. It’s the contemporary version of fingering a witch during the Salem witchcraft trials. This treatment awaits any and all who fail to conform to the correct thinking, transmitted by the education system, the churches, and the intellectuals.

When the Many Ministries of Truth—the media, G.W. Bush, and phalanxes of politicians, stakeholders, and activists—say that Trent Lott’s remarks were emblematic of the eternal Mark of Cain whites must bear, most accept culpability. After all, older folks excepted, not many remember what Strom Thurmond voters were voting for.

Again, Gallup to the rescue: A 1948 poll exposes the issue the Ministries labor to conceal. It was not race that was on the minds of Thurmond voters and the average American voter for that matter, but increasing federal involvement in states and, by extension, in individual affairs.

In 1948, Americans didn’t want the government to be involved in general, Frank Newport of the Gallup Poll Tuesday Briefing told an unreceptive Jerry Nachman of MSNBC. When asked, the majority polled insisted, for instance, that issues revolving around employer “discrimination” be left to employers and the states. The same goes for the adjudication of lynching. Nothing in the poll suggests an approval of the crime. Rather, Americans were emphatic about keeping the federal government out of state affairs.

When Strom Thurmond went up against Harry S. Truman and Thomas E. Dewey in 1948, it was about states’ rights. Dixiecrats was the derogatory name the Media Ministry gave to what was really the States Rights Democratic Party. Considering that the Constitution consigns law enforcement to state and local governments, the position the Dixiecrats took was hardly subversive.

The issue of segregation or racism, moreover, is intellectually independent of states’ rights. The reason for the mistaken conflation of states’ rights and segregation resides with the same propagandists who successfully equate, for the purposes of discrediting, the right of secession with an alleged support for slavery.

States’ rights are an obstacle to ridding the nation of racism only in as much as the First Amendment is such a barrier. So long as property rights and free speech are respected, individuals are bound to exhibit preferences or express tastes that others will find displeasing. At best, one can make the case that a support for states’ rights correlates with an appreciation or love of freedom, perhaps even with a belief that otherwise peaceable people with unpopular beliefs should be left unmolested, at least on their own property. Abolish states’ rights and one does away with a measure of freedom and property rights, not racism.

The point, of course, is moot— states’ rights no longer exist in any meaningful way. The drive behind discrediting so much as a nostalgic yen for rights that existed for almost a hundred and fifty years before the Constitution has more to do with an aversion to freedom than to racism. For the doctrine of states’ rights is synonymous with decentralization, devolution of power, and local sovereignty—it’s antithetical to concentration of power in the central government.

A fact that was not lost on Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler; both were great centralizers. Lincoln hagiographers would protest to the contrary, but it isn’t incendiary to point out that he and Hitler shared very similar views on states’ rights—Lincoln’s unfavorable views of such rights are seconded by Hitler in Mein Kampf.* Both invented a constitutional theory which flew in the face of the natural law, and according to which pre-existing states were to be forcibly subordinated to Union. Both led violent political revolutions aimed at consolidation. The one got away with murder, at least in the historical sense; the other didn’t.

Reinvigorating states’ rights would require the federal government to cede much of its power, becoming no more than a night watchman in its inconspicuousness. Consider this and it becomes clear why a great deal is staked on blotting-out such rights. How willing, after all, would an empire be to downgrade to the status of a foreign ministry and a defense department?

Steeped as they were in the Lockean tradition of natural rights and individual liberty, the founders felt the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property were best preserved within a federal system of divided sovereignty, where the central government was weak and where most powers devolved to the states, or to the people, respectively, as stated in the 10th Amendment. If a state became tyrannical, competition from other states, and the individual’s ability to exit the political arrangement and switch loyalties, would create something of a free market in government. This was the framers’ genius.

If anything, the racism and slavery-related libels are belated excuses for sundering states’ rights and secession. And if anything, our poll reflects the views of a more enlightened population in whom, as recently as 1948, the flames of federalism—and freedom—still flickered.

* See Felix Morley’s Freedom and Federalism (Indianapolis: LibertyPress, 1981), pp. 142-147, as well as Thomas J. DiLorenzo’s “Jaffa’s Hitlerian Defense of Lincoln.”

December 25, 2002

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CATEGORIES: Abraham Lincoln, Bush, Democracy, Federalism, Hebrew Testament, Racial issues, States' Rights