Dec 25

DiseaseFleminghA Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War, by Thomas Fleming ★★★★★

I really didn’t wish to read another book about why the civil war was fought, but I loved the other books by Thomas Fleming that I had read, including The New Dealers’ War and The Illusion of Victory on the 2nd and 1st world war respectively. One grows weary of the discussions over the true reason for the civil war. Those with a southern sentiment with argue with religious conviction that it was not about slavery. Others will argue that it was about state’s rights. The most recent study by a well known tax historian made a very plausible account that it was about unfair taxation. Fleming addresses all of these issues, but mostly maintains a persistent thread through the historical accounts as to issue of slavery. Interestingly, Fleming seems to take neither a Northern nor Southern stance, but notes that both groups had lapsed into a spiteful sentiment towards the other, coupled with a religious fervor that disallowed compromise or discussion or resolution.  The preface paints the real dilemma of assigning a war clause, since neither the North nor the South had a large population eager to go to war to either abolish or maintain slavery. But, the issue of slavery became a form of public insanity, a disease of the public mind.

Fleming notes that slavery was a contentious issue from well before the Revolutionary war.  Slavery had no geographical boundaries, and both North and South at one time had slaves. The founders of the constitution realized that slavery would become a contentious issue, and some of the fathers of the Republic set their slaves free voluntarily. Everybody in the few years following the grounding of the constitution felt that slavery was inconsistent with the constitution, and wished for its eventual demise. Yet, over time, “religious” fervor in the north maintained an uncontrolled vitriolic tongue, while southern politicians hardened their once pliable stance on the right of slavery. The Senate and House became hotbeds of contention, with extensive discussions about nullification and the extent of federal power (but, all related to the ultimate issue of slavery), with the New England states first expressing the idea of succession. Over time, the radical abolitionists became irrationally cruel towards the south, all in the name of the Christian god. Conversely, the south developed the irrational fear of a race war similar to that which was experienced in Haiti, even though the circumstances in that island were much different that in the south. Even headed thinkers predominated on both sides, who refused to accept that the war was over slavery—for the north, it was the preservation of the union, and for the south, the preservation of their homeland. Both sides retained a pompous arrogance in the correctness of their part of the struggle at the war’s end. The anguish of the war stood largely on a few people, Abraham Lincoln and Robert Lee being the two most spoken of in this book, both wishing a benevolent resolution of the conflict and of the anger that generated the war. The apotheosis of both men, Lincoln and Lee, by the north and south respectively, would probably have been greeted with disapproval by both men, who were greater than the prevailing thought of the time.

This book also adds some food for thought, that I’d like to add as a side note to the book review. It is interesting that the strict Libertarian camp (e.g. as found in the Lew Rockwell webpage) unrelentingly attacks Lincoln for diminishing the constitution and strengthening big government. The Libertarian blindness to unrestrained capitalism without a strong Christian moral base leaves for the naive thought that man is intrinsically good, and will always make consideration for the betterment of his fellow man. Unfortunately, such is not the case, and the wealthy will tend to dominate the weak at the expense of the weak. Libertarians will also argue that the constitution never demands the preservation of the union, yet it has always been interpreted as such, starting with George Washington himself. The constitutionalists bewail the notion that all we need to do is to return to the first principles of the nation—yet, the founding fathers clearly understood the defects in the constitution, and how decisions contrary to the strict interpretation of the constitution were made very early in the nation’s history. Theonomists will acclaim that the rule of God as stated in Scripture give the only laws that should exist in a nation, and that no laws should be added and no laws should be subtracted. While it is true that the law of God is perfect, the universal application of the civil laws of the OT in a godless society is a grand fantasy. Much more could be said about what would make a perfect government in an imperfect world, but the answer would always be that there is no perfect government either prescribed in Scripture or experienced in the history of mankind.

In the Civil War, both sides were fighting in the name of the same Christian God. Both sides used Scripture to defend their actions. Both held contempt for the other side as being evil and moral deviants. Both sides refused to acknowledge the Christian standing of their “opponents”. Our generation is noting the destructiveness of “love” without orthodoxy. The civil war generation showed a seeming opposite, the desire for “orthodoxy” without love. Though the disease changes, the USA persists with diseases of the public mind that cloud our ability to be true Christians. The civil war is a war that should have never been fought, but brought on by extremist zealots actions north and south in the nation. But, isn’t that true of every war that the US has fought? The war of 1812, the Mexican-American war, the Spanish-American war, WWI and WWII, the Korean War, the Viet Nam war, The Afghani and Iraqi wars; all of these represent the cry of a very few people for armed conflict. “Let us do evil, that good may come of it” is the equivalent of “the War to end all wars” or “glory, glory, hallelujah, His truth is marching on” as soldiers slaughter their fellow Christian man for not thinking exactly the same way as they do.

Read the book. It is interesting history, and an interesting perspective on the Civil War, that is essentially not a “new understanding” but a well articulated stance of the possibility that is was nothing than widespread (north and south) public insanity that led to the war.


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5 Responses to “A Disease in the Public Mind”

  1. Onkel Dennis says:

    A few comments on your extensive review:

    “… it was not about slavery. Others will argue that it was about state’s rights. The most recent study by a well known tax historian made a very plausible account that it was about unfair taxation.”

    It was quite clearly not about slavery. Lincoln’s presidential campaign stump speeches showed he supported slavery. The only reason this comes up is that it has been used as propaganda by the winners (the Northern banksters) to deflect popular attention away from the second and third reasons, which are related. The North was attempting to levy burdensome taxes on the cotton industry of the South, which had a thriving trade with the textile industry of Britain. At some point, the southern states had enough and wanted to succeed from the Union. The US Constitution makes no provision for secession of States in the Union – hence the issue. Lincoln never acknowledged that the Confederate States had seceded and consequently considered the conflict a “civil war”. The Confederacy considered that they had seceded and called it the “war between the states” or more often, the “second American revolution”.

    Lincoln said that he had two enemies, the Southern army in front of him and the bankers behind him. He considered the latter the greater of the two enemies and they were the root cause of the War. The cause(s) for the War of Northern Aggression (a more virile expression for it by Southerners) are not nearly as hard to settle as who killed JFK. The biblical book of James even tells us who is the cause of wars, for those who can hear; in other words, “the wealthy will tend to dominate the weak at the expense of the weak.”

    “,,, the founding fathers clearly understood the defects in the constitution,” – in the limited context of a nonbiblical contract theory of government, or whatever the Philosophes had written that influenced the British empiricists like Locke and Hume. They certainly did not understand its glaring affirmation of rebellion against Jesus as Lord by declaring as the highest authority “WE THE PEOPLE ***” (written in Ed Vieira fashion).

    Most American Christians have not thought this through deeply enough to notice the one simple, obvious elephant in the sanctuary: the US Constitution is an apostate document that contains some biblical principles. Its root is that of rebellion against God – exactly what Israel did while Moses was on the mountain. The US Constitution makes the people themselves the ultimate authority for right and wrong (the law of man), not the law of God. Adam and Eve were following the US Constitution, so to speak, in the Fall.

    “… the universal application of the civil laws of the OT in a godless society is a grand fantasy.” That grand fantasizer, the apostle Paul said that the Law was given, not for the righteous (who obey it) but for the lawless – those in a godless society. The Law of the Lord is perfect and applies universally to human society. If you don’t believe this, take one of your surgical knives and make a clean extraction of the book of Psalms from your Bible. It is loaded with such praise for the universality of God’s Law. Jesus said so too.

    The American Christian herd nowadays has, in their human wisdom, concluded that God’s Law is not relevant to real life (in Disneyland America) and that God leaves it to us to make up our own form of government. Jesus is consequently Lord but only if we give him the authority to be – but that might also be an imperfect government in America. Such is enlightened Christian thinking nowadays.

    “… the answer would always be that there is no perfect government” I will side with the plain teaching of Yahweh on the topic instead. The whole of scripture revolves around the covenant of God with man. That is the only real constitution of God’s rule over humanity.

    Neither the northern or southern warmongers were following scripture. The banksters were driving history. For another book – one I recommend – on the topic: Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War, by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, Open Court Press, 1996

  2. We must reject the childish mentality which seeks to engage in mindless partisanship at the expense of truth. All attempts to say that the North represented nothing good, and that the South contained nothing sinful are examples of this kind of infantilism. R.L. Dabney, a godly man who fought for the South, made the point that the South lost the war because she was under the judgment of God. When northern Israel led the way in rebellion against God, the conservatism of southern Judah did not avoid final apostasy, but simply traveled that path more slowly than Israel to the north. In a similar way, the South had not been entirely free from the various currents of unbelief. Although the South stood for much that was admirable, the biblical principle remains — to whom much is given, much is required. And although the South was correct about the central issues of that War, southern diehards must learn the hard lesson of Habbakuk, who had to accept that God can use an ungodly nation to judge another nation which is “not as bad” (Hab. 1:13).

  3. Dennis; Your unwillingness to read the book or pay close attention to my comments lead to remarks on your end that simply do not relate either to the book or to my commentary on the book. “It was clearly not about slavery” is a silly comment at best, especially given your arguments. Neither am I saying that the book felt that slavery was the ground issue; it was rather public insanity. Slavery happened to be a prevailing theme in all North/South discussions, but in and of itself did NOT cause the civil war. Conversely, if slavery did not exist, there never would have been a civil war, though there still would have been serious North/South tensions.

  4. Onkel Dennis says:

    I am not unwilling to read the book; I simply have not read it and am responding to your review.

    I do not see how my arguments make silly an agreement with you (or the author) about slavery not being the cause of the war.

    What prevails in discussions depends on which discussions are being heard. Hummel’s book makes that clear. The Southerners who started the war (the shooting phase, that is) were the landed aristocracy who had much to lose from not being free of the taxing power of the North. That is what they were discussing. Jefferson Davis, as Confederacy President, represented this viewpoint.

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