Category Archives: History

Rule Five Second Secession Friday

The dust-up over gun control in Virginia has several counties looking to leave Virginia and join the decidedly more Second Amendment-friendly West Virginia.  Excerpt:

West Virginia lawmakers are scrambling to let rural Virginia counties join the Mountain State amid conservative voter anger with the new Democratic majority in Richmond and its push for gun control and other liberal initiatives.

In a building fight that echoes the Civil War-era split of the Old Dominion that created West Virginia in 1863, 40 of 100 West Virginia House delegates have signed on to legislation that would accept revolting Virginia counties and towns.

The effort began after the November elections when urban and suburban voters put the Virginia General Assembly into Democratic hands. Many of those Democrats ran on a platform of restricting and banning guns.

“We’re starting to get some phone calls from friends on the border who say these folks want to leave,” said West Virginia Del. Gary Howell.

Howell, a Republican, told Secrets that what started off as a long-shot effort “has turned into a real thing.”

He said that Virginia lawmakers and officials along the West Virginia border have cited the Democratic drive for gun control and desire to shift spending to the urban areas near Washington as reasons to leave for West Virginia.

In his bill, HCR 8, Howell and his team wrote about the urban-rural battle: “These tensions have been compounded by a perception of contempt on the part of the government at Richmond for the differences in certain fundamental political and societal principles which prevail between the varied counties and cities of that Commonwealth.”

He also cited gun control, a huge fight on display in Richmond Monday when some 22,000 gun owners protested restrictions sweeping through the state Senate. There is no new push for gun control in West Virginia.

Note that Gary Howell cites the “urban-rural battle” that I’ve mentioned before in these virtual pages.

The thing here is this:  A secession into a neighboring state might be the best thing for everyone concerned here, and it could certainly set an interesting precedence.  This move would relieve some pressure on Richmond, where the state government is increasingly blue, driven by the huge NoVa enclave of Imperial workers, who tend to see government and more government as the cure to all that ails us.  It would make the pro-gun folks in the western counties happier, and would increase West Virginia’s tax base and Congressional influence.

Now apply that to some other places.

What about our own Colorado?  Say some of the northeastern counties joined Wyoming or Nebraska?

What if the southeastern California counties moved to join Arizona?  Or the northernmost ones and some on southern Oregon realized their goal of a State of Jefferson?

What if eastern Washington seceded and joined Idaho?

How about farther east?  Would the counties of southern Illinois, notoriously conservative, be more comfortable as part of Indiana or Missouri?

People can vote with their feet.  But moving or not moving isn’t the point; people should also be able to choose the government that suits them.  Bear in mind this would exacerbate the “urban-rural battle” in some ways, by redrawing state lines that would exaggerate those divides even further, because, as you may have noticed, the examples I cite mostly involve rural areas separating from urban ones.

Maybe this time we’ll be able to have our secession a little more peaceably, since no one is (yet) agitating to start a whole new nation.

Rule Five Cultural Regions Friday

Ever wondered what the United States would look like if it was broken up into several different nations, by cultural and not necessarily geographical lines?  Well, and of Business Insider may have some thoughts on that.

I found this interesting; this is the article’s map of North America, broken down by cultural regions (image taken directly from the linked article).

Excerpts, with my comments:

In his fourth book, “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures in North America,” award-winning author Colin Woodard identifies 11 distinct cultures that have historically divided the US.

“The country has been arguing about a lot of fundamental things lately including state roles and individual liberty,” Woodard, a Maine native who won the 2012 George Polk Award for investigative reporting, told Business Insider. “[But] in order to have any productive conversation on these issues,” he added, “you need to know where you come from.”

You also have to have some idea where you’re going and why; differing visions on that score are a big part of what the authors point out next.

Woodard also believes the nation is likely to become more polarized, even though America is becoming a more diverse place every day. He says this is because people are “self-sorting.”

“People choose to move to places where they identify with the values,”  Woodard says. “Red minorities go south and blue minorities go north to be in the majority. This is why blue states are getting bluer and red states are getting redder and the middle is getting smaller.”

Which self-sorting, I might point out, is a right guaranteed by the Constitution.  But here’s what’s interesting; here are the summaries of the upper Midwest, where I grew up, and the Mountain West, where I live now:

Settled by English Quakers, The Midlands are a welcoming middle-class society that spawned the culture of the “American Heartland.” Political opinion is moderate, and government regulation is frowned upon. Woodard calls the ethnically diverse Midlands “America’s great swing region.” Within the Midlands are parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska.

I have to strongly question any cultural grouping that can claim Iowa and New Jersey share much of anything, culturally.  Iowa is as the article states; mostly moderate politically, and government regulation is mostly frowned on (except where farm subsidies are involved.)   But New Jersey?  Government interference in all matters is welcomed and celebrated, and political opinions are anything but moderate; as evidence, just look at most of their laws and elected officials.

The conservative west. Developed through large investment in industry, yet where inhabitants continue to “resent” the Eastern interests that initially controlled that investment. The Far West spans several states, including Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Nebraska, Kansas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, Oregon, and California.

In the article, the authors point out that “California” as described herein does not include what is called “the Left Coast,” which encompasses Los Angeles, San Francisco, and indeed most of the west coast.  That being the case, this grouping I would broadly agree with; the West in this case also includes Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska.

What all this points up is something I’ve been saying for some years now: The differences dividing the nation today are cultural, and geographical, but not in the sense they were before the 1860-65 war.  Our differences today are geographical in a much finer-grained sense; look at the map, and you’ll see that the divides are largely major urban centers vs. everyone else.

If things ever got really nasty in this cultural clash, the major cities might have some hard lessons coming in how easy it is to eat when the outlying areas get pissed off enough to block trade.  That, folks, would be a damned unpleasant time, and while I think it’s unlikely in the extreme that things escalate to that point…  Well, I wouldn’t want to be in New York, Chicago, Detroit or San Francisco if it did.

Rule Five Civil War Friday

The American Conservative’s Michael Vlahos, earlier this week, had some interesting thoughts on the possibility of a second Civil War.  Excerpts, with my comments, follow.

A Georgetown Institute poll finds that two-thirds of us believe we are edging closer “to the brink of a civil war.” Yet Americans cannot properly analyze this “gathering storm.” We lack a framework, a lexicon, and the historical data (from other civil wars) to see clearly what is happening to us.

Here is a quick template for how we might more usefully decipher how this nation gets to another civil war. It is arranged as a short series of questions: 1) What is civil war? 2) Why do political-constitutional orders sometimes breakdown, rather than simply transform in response to change? 3) How is violence essential to constitutional and political resolution? 4) How close is the U.S. to such a break down, and its consequences?

My thoughts:  1) A civil war is two factions fighting for control of one nation; and yes, I’m aware that what we call the Civil War, wasn’t.  2) I think it’s likely inevitable, when you have two factions (we call them parties) competing for control, that eventually friction will build to the point of open hostility.  3) I don’t know that it’s essential, but Thomas Jefferson thought so.  4) I suspect something bad will happen in the next 50 years.

Now, the article on these four points; I’ll just give you a few words and let you read the rest:

What is civil war? 

Civil war is, at root, a contest over legitimacy. Legitimacy—literally the right to make law — is shorthand for the consent of the citizens and political parties to abide by the authority of a constitutional order. Civil war begins when this larger political compact breaks down. 

Why do some constitutional orders breakdown rather than transform?

Our political stability has depended on the tenure of periodic “party systems.” Legitimacy flows from the give and take of a two-party relationship. American party systems have had dominant parties or states.

How is violence essential to constitutional and political resolution?

Violence is the magical substance of civil war. If, by definition, political groups in opposition have also abandoned the legitimacy of the old order, then a successor constitutional order with working politics cannot be birthed without violence. Hence violence is the only force that can bring about a new order. This is why all memorable civil wars, and all parties, enthusiastically embrace violence.

How close is the U.S. to such a breakdown—and its consequences?

American constitutional order has not broken down, yet. Constitutional legitimacy still rules. Recent tests of legitimacy confirm this. A presidential impeachment in the 1990s did not lead to conviction in a trial, nor did anyone expect it to. The Supreme Court decided a contested presidential election in 2000, and the decision was everywhere accepted. 2016, in contrast, was bitterly accepted. Yet even the relentless force to depose the president that followed, through a special prosecutor, was spent by the spring of 2019. 

Yet if these are tests of robust legitimacy they are hardly reassuring.  A daily torrent of unfiltered evidence suggests that our constitutional order is fissuring before our eyes. That we have skirted constitutional crisis for the past quarter century is no reassurance, but rather an alarm of continuing erosion. Each new test is yet more bitterly contested, and still less resolved.

So, not too different than my preliminary thoughts.  But here’s the part that I find worrisome:

The issue here is not “What if?” but rather, “What then?” It is not about the authenticity of conflict scenarios, but rather about how contingencies we cannot now predict might bring us to a breaking point, and the breakdown of legitimacy.

Already, warring sides have hardened their hearts so that they will do almost anything in order to prevail. The great irony is that their mutual drive to win—either to preserve their way of life, or make their way of life the law of the land—means that the battle has already become a perverse alliance. Today they refuse to work together in the rusting carapace of old constitutional order. Yet nonetheless they work shoulder-to-shoulder, together, to overthrow it. For both sides, the old order is the major obstacle to victory. Hence victory is through overthrow. Only when constitutional obstacles are toppled can the battle for light and truth begin.

Here’s where I part ways with Mr. Vlahos.  I don’t see any “battle for light and truth” resulting from such a conflict.  I can see only the end of my country, the end of a nation that has been a beacon of freedom.  Some kind of tyranny or dictatorship will be the likely result; either that, or utter anarchy.  The best we can hope for is a balkanization, with several smaller countries arising where a superpower once stood.  This will result in a global power vacuum – and who will step into the void?  Russia?  Not likely; they are a dying giant.  China, perhaps?

Any civil war will be fought among us, in the fields, the streets, on the highways and in the neighborhoods of our country.  It will be brutal and deadly, and it will be the end of the United States.  Some folks on the right and on the left seem to think it would be a rebirth; it won’t.  It will be a death.  The death of our nation, and the death of a world of peace and order.

Rule Five Cato’s Letters Friday

I’ve been re-reading Cato’s Letters, or Essays on Liberty Civil and Religious and Other Important Subjects (Complete), a series of essays  published by “The Library of Alexandria” and compiled by two characters using the nom de plumes John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon.  The essays were first published from 1720 to 1723 and formed a strong influence on the thinking of many of our Founding Fathers.

Named for the famous Roman statesman Marcus Porcius Cato, he of the staunch republican opinions, the notorious Stoic who opposed the tyranny of Caesar unto his last breath, the Letters are a pioneering set of statements in favor of the principles of liberty, and of limits on and accountability of government.

From Wikipedia:  The Letters are considered a seminal work in the tradition of the Commonwealth men. The 144 essays were published originally in the London Journal, later in the British Journal, condemning corruption and lack of morality within the British political system and warning against tyranny.

I can’t recommend this work strongly enough.  A statement you’ll see just over to the right, one of the two founding sentiments of this blog, is from the Letters:  Nisi forte non de serveitute, sed de conditione serviendi, recusandum est a nobis or, in English, “We do not dispute about the qualifications of a master, for we will have no master.”

Damn right.

A few interesting excerpts follow.

From No. 11, The Justice and Necessity of punishing great Crimes, though committed against no subsisting Law of the State. 

Laws, for the most part, do not make crimes, but suit and adapt punishments to such actions as all mankind knew to be crimes before. And though national governments should never enact any positive laws, never annex particular penalties to known offences; yet they would have a right, and it would be their duty to punish those offences according to their best discretion; much more so, if the crimes committed are so great, that no human wisdom could foresee that any man could be wicked and desperate enough to commit them.

In other words, one of the few legitimate roles of government is protecting citizens from being deprived of their property by force or by fraud; but, should government fail in that task, the citizen has a moral right to redress by other means.

From No. 15, Of Freedom of Speech:  That the same is inseparable from publick Liberty.

Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as publick liberty, without freedom of speech: Which is the right of every man, as far as by it he does not hurt and control the right of another; and this is the only check which it ought to suffer, the only bounds which it ought to know.

The only limits to freedom of speech, then, are that one may not cause physical or financial harm to another.  Thus incitements to violence are not protected, nor is slander or libel.  But “hate speech,” by which term many today choose to define as “speech I don’t agree with” not only is protected, but must be protected, else the very concept of freedom of speech is meaningless.

From No. 33, Cautions against the natural Encroachments of Power.

It is nothing strange, that men, who think themselves unaccountable, should act unaccountably, and that all men would be unaccountable if they could: Even those who have done nothing to displease, do not know but some time or other they may; and no man cares to be at the entire mercy of another. Hence it is, that if every man had his will, all men would exercise dominion, and no man would suffer it. It is therefore owing more to the necessities of men, than to their inclinations, that they have put themselves at last that he might do what he would, he let loose his appetite for blood, and committed such mighty, such monstrous, such unnatural slaughters and outrages, as none but a heart bent on the study of cruelty could have devised.

To simplify:  Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It’s important to remember the context of the times in which these essays were written.  The early 18th century was a time when slavery was broadly accepted, when pirates were hanged without trials, when women were excluded from government altogether.  But the Letters are nonetheless an opening shot in the battle which continues today, here in the United States, where encroachments on liberty are daily proposed.

Go, then, and read these works.  You can get a free Kindle app for a PC and the Kindle version (linked above) is only four bucks.  You could hardly find a better way to spend four bucks.

Animal’s Daily Stoned Vikings News

A recent find makes one wonder if Vikings in a Newfoundland settlement may have been getting high.  Excerpt:

The discovery of cannabis pollen near a Viking settlement in Newfoundland raises the question of whether the Vikings were smoking or eating pot while exploring North America.

The researchers also found evidence the Vikings occupied this outpost for more than a century, way longer than previously believed.

Located in northern Newfoundland, the site of L’Anse aux Meadows was founded by Vikings around A.D. 1000. Until now, archaeologists believed that the site was occupied for only a brief period. The new research, published today (July 15) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the Vikings lived there possibly into the 12th or even the 13th century.

In August 2018, an archaeological team excavated a peat bog located nearly 100 feet (30 meters) east of the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. They found a layer of “ecofacts” — environmental remains that may have been brought to the site by humans — that were radiocarbon dated to the 12th or 13th century.

These ecofacts include remains of two beetles not native to Newfoundland — Simplocaria metallica, from Greenland, and Acidota quadrata, from the Arctic. The layer also held pollen from Juglans (walnuts) and from Humulus (cannabis), two species that don’t naturally grow at L’Anse aux Meadows; rather, the Vikings could have picked up all of these plant and animal species when they sailed south.

Now, color me skeptical.  While this find is amazing – actual, hard evidence of repeated Viking occupation in the New World, predating Columbus – the headline is sensationalist nonsense.  The presence of hemp pollen isn’t any sort of evidence at all that these Norsemen were smoking or eating marijuana.  All plants of the hemp family have a variety of uses, not least of which are rope and clothing, two things that a pioneer settlement needs plenty of.

It’s too bad; LiveScience does this fascinating story a disservice with an unsupported, sensationalist headline.

Still, the story itself, that’s interesting stuff.  Two hundred years before Columbus, men and women in open longboats, with no sextants, no compasses, no clocks, crossed the Atlantic and established a settlement in what is now Canada.  And, they did it more than once.  That’s courage you have to admire.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Here’s a really neat model of Imperial Rome, circa 4th century AD.  Excerpt:

Rome was not built in a day and the ‘most accurate’ model of Ancient Rome is testament to this as it took archaeologist Italo Gismondi 35 years to build.

The Plastico di Roma imperiale (model of imperial Rome) was actually commissioned by Mussolini in 1933 and is so realistic that a few shots of it were used in the film Gladiator.

The model can be viewed today in the Museum of Roman Civilisation in Rome, Italy.The Roman Empire began shortly after the founding of the Roman Republic in the 6th century BC and reigned for thousands of years until the fall of the last Western emperor in 476 AD

It is so useful because it helps a lot of academics visualise Rome to aid their studies and gives a lot more context to famous structures, like the Colosseum, which we are used to seeing as stand alone buildings.

Roman cities were laid out so efficiently that it can also teach us more and inspire us about infrastructure in modern society.

But here are a few things the article gets wrong:

The Roman Empire began shortly after the founding of the Roman Republic in the 6th century BC and reigned for thousands of years until the fall of the last Western emperor in 476 AD.

From the 6th century BC until 27 BC, when Julius Caesar’s adopted son Octavian became effectively the first Emperor, is hardly “shortly after.”  And even then, Octavian, later Caesar Augustus, never called himself Emperor, only princeps, or First Citizen.

It evolved from a monarchy to a democratic republic and finally to a military dictatorship.

Rome was never a “democratic” republic.  While it did claim republican principles, in fact, the Roman Senate was selected from the nobility; the common people had very little say in affairs of state.

One of the most well-known Roman emperors is Julius Caesar, famously assassinated in 44BC, who is largely credited for his military mind and laying the foundations for the Roman Empire.

Caesar was never emperor.  He never used the title himself and never was referred to as such by his contemporaries.  He was Dictator, a position spelled out in and legal under Roman law.  While he was largely responsible for the fall of the Republic and the descent of Rome into tyranny, the title should not be applied to Julius Caesar.

But none of that should detract from the wonder that it took Italo Gismondi 35 years to build.  It was an amazing feat, this gifted man’s life’s work, and I’ve added it to my bucket list of items I must see when one day I visit Rome, that wellspring of Western civilization.