Monthly Archives: April 2016

Woman and the Republic

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The attainment of women’s suffrage which accompanied the passage of the 19th Amendment is generally regarded as synonymous with Human Progress. Like the abolition of slavery or the passage of ’64 Civil Rights Act, I’m doubtful you’ll find many people who’ll see women’s suffrage as anything other than a badly needed step of evolutionary human progress to redress a boorish and retrograde inequity. Nor are you likely to find a history book or media depiction of the suffrage movement as being anything less than heroic and principled.  It’s difficult to even fathom the idea that there was anyone who was opposed to women’s suffrage, let alone a woman. Surely, anyone who would argue such a position is beneath contempt and unworthy of mention in the annals of history. 

As it turns out, Helen Kendrick Johnson was that woman and that’s precisely what makes her anti-suffrage treatise, Woman and the Republic, such a fascinating read. Published in 1897, Woman and the Republic is roughly analogous to Thomas Sowell’s 1984 book, Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality, in the sense that she examines the arguments and claims of suffragists and scrutinizes their claims against the historical data and the daily reality of life in late 19th century America.  At the time of its publication, the suffrage movement was fifty years old and suffragists had a very specific agenda and a set of grievances that were spelled out in the Suffrage Declaration of Sentiments and the History of Woman Suffrage among others. Johnson proceeds to demolish these arguments one by one in a very elegant and systematic fashion. You could say she was both a proto-Christina Hoff Sommers and Phyllis Schlafly. Not all of Johnson’s arguments stand up to scrutiny, but when one measures her arguments against the claims of contemporary feminists and progressives, one can certainly assert that she was correct about more than most would be willing to concede. 

The single most astonishing revelation of Woman and the Republic is that the grievances of the suffragists are exactly identical to the grievances of contemporary feminists.  This book is 119 years old, and Johnson could easily be teleported into the 21st century and would find herself exasperated that feminists are still griping about the same things as their 19th century forebears. 

The clearest example of this is Johnson’s elegant yet brutal takedown of the 19th century wage gap.  Yes, indeed.  Just like feminists of the 21st century, suffragists of the 19th century were in fact whinging about the wage gap back in 1897 and Johnson disposes of these claims like a boss.  While rational people who value empiricism over manipulative, demagogic claims have been trying to stamp out the wage gap myth for decades, Helen Kendrick Johnson was the clearly the mythbusting OG. Though largely arguing from biological determinism but always grounded in sound economics, Johnson supplies a trove of data indicating that women are properly compensated according to skill, suffer no unequal access to the labor market and that wage discrimination is largely influenced by the fact that women often leave the labor force to have children. Johnson rightfully points out the glaring absence of outrage around female representation in physically strenuous and technically challenging fields and the deafening silence from suffragists that’s exactly analogous to contemporary feminists. 

The Suffragists did not decry man’s “monopoly” of the honorable and profitable but severe professions of civil engineering, seamanship, mining engineering, lighthouse keeping and inspecting, signal service, military and naval duty, and the like. These, and the drudgery of the world’s business and commerce, man was welcome to keep.

Nowadays, feminists blame “socialization” for disparities in representation and have gamed the political system in order to feed at the taxpayer trough. Johnson was attuned to this phenomenon as well.

The influence of women upon politics, and the influence of politics upon women, have already been degrading. This is true of political intrigue in the old world, and of the “Female Lobby” in Washington. It is astonishing to what an extent it is true in our new country, with our fresh and sweet traditions.

Johnson challenges the mantle of victimhood that was a feature of suffrage, and is the hallmark of contemporary feminism. Modern feminism hinges on a theory of an all-encompassing system of male patriarchal oppression, and Johnson’s criticism feels way ahead of its time.

While the counts contain concrete statements, the closing clause—”the law in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands”—sets forth an abstract idea in justification of which they furnish no proof.

Even worse, the divisive, supremacist beliefs that are commonplace among feminists were also espoused by suffragists. The following quote from Utah State Senator and champion of suffrage, Martha Cannon, as well as numerous other examples gathered by Johnson demonstrate that these sentiments were not isolated phenomena.

Of course I am. It will help women, and it will purify politics. Women are better than men. Slaves are always better than their masters.

In another striking parallel between the 21st century feminist grievance machine and the 19th century suffragists, Johnson illustrates how access to higher education was politicized. Johnson persuasively argues that the market was already providing expanded opportunity for women, and that this was neither hastened by granting suffrage nor a matter that required enfranchisement. While the world rightfully cheers Malala Yousafzai’s heroic efforts to bring female education into the Islamic world, women of the West suffer no lack of access to higher education. If anything, the vote has only enshrined a culture of entitlement and a toxic alliance between government power, illiberal feminist activism and the entire apparatus of higher education.

The central pillar of opposition to which Johnson devotes much of the book is her contention that woman suffrage is too closely aligned with socialism and collectivist anarchism. 

Johnson devotes a significant portion of the first half of the book to failed attempts at woman enfranchisement throughout the Union.  Using a combination of hard rationalism, a dizzying deluge of voting data and razor sharp rhetoric, Johnson piles layer upon layer of scorn on the various proponents of suffrage who espoused an affinity for socialism, fiat currency, disdain for family, sexual profligacy, and disregard for Constitutional principles.  It’s easy to dismiss Johnson as narrow minded, uptight prig whose views belong in the dustbin of history, but even if you view prostitution, pornography, sexual liberation and non-traditional family arrangements favorably, it’s impossible to deny the ongoing advancement of everything else she warned against. 

Johnson insists that if women are going to agitate for suffrage, they must also share in the responsibility that accompanies the maintenance of the nation state.  In other words, be prepared to back up the law with force.  She sees no diminution of woman’s sphere of social or civic influence by honoring the traditional biological division of labor that has defined most societies through the centuries.  If anything, she argues that this traditional separation has privileged womanhood and allowed her to exert an even greater sphere of influence in the realm of private relations and family.

To give women a position of apparent power, without its reality, would be to make our Government forever unstable.

The one point where Johnson’s argument feels the most prescient is her concern that suffrage would lead to military conscription for women.  On this point, Johnson was not only Phyllis Schlafly’s philosophical progenitor, but she unwittingly exposes the rank hypocrisy of feminists.  As politicians and military leaders advance legislation that would mandate Selective Service registration for women, the silence from feminist media and blogosphere is deafening. Despite the often desperate and pathetic attempts to brainwash the public to believe otherwise, contemporary intersectional feminism has nothing to do with “equality.”  No matter how often feminists say they want to “smash the patriarchy,” it’s patently obvious that feminists are thoroughly uninterested in smashing this particular expression of “patriarchy.” If anything, the abiding lesson of Johnson’s message is that if you start treating voting as a universal “right” or use the voting booth to agitate for positive rights over the preservation of negative rights, don’t be surprised when the politicians decide to trample your liberty in order to expand their own power.  Most of all, don’t mindlessly regurgitate talking points about “equality” when there is state enforced gender discrimination which places the burden of military conscription squarely on the shoulders of men. 

Women can be seriously destructive; but no one will claim that organized military duty is really practicable for them. And the suffrage proposition does not look to anything of the kind. The Suffragists demand equal vote in sending their fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, and lovers to the military field of action, and propose to be absolutely exempt from equal share in the duty that that vote now lays upon male voters. Before the law there could be no distinction of duty on account of race, sex, or previous condition of servitude. The “emancipated” woman would be emancipated into that which the Declaration of Independence expressly called for, “the right and privilege of the people to bear arms.”

Johnson righteously attacks the dubious equivalence between the suffrage and the abolitionist movements. She devotes an entire chapter to the delta between the rhetoric of suffragists and abolitionists. It’s yet another remarkable example of a phenomenon that lives on in feminist and social justice circles alike, and serves as a potent reminder that the feminist script remains largely unchanged. To this day, feminists use the legacy of slavery to inculcate shame and guilt and claim an unearned mantle of moral authority by drawing a non-existent equivalence between the abolitionists of the 19th century and 21st century intersectionality.  Johnson opens the chapter by lauding the abolition of slavery as a triumph of human freedom, but credits the achievement to “enlightened rulers” in the federal government. She attributes the abolition of slavery to the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, but devotes no real attention to the moral argument against slavery itself.  Johnson’s views could be described in contemporary terms as paleoconservative. She consistently appeals to tradition by arguing that the United States federal government was conceived to be confined to limits prescribed by the Constitution for the express purpose of preserving liberty. From her vantage point, suffrage was granted to those who had property rights for the express purpose of upholding the sanctity of property rights as a general principle. The fact that this limited suffrage was the province of men was not only proper and just, but necessary for the preservation of liberty. Under universal suffrage, there’s an inequality of self-interest with respect to the preservation of property rights and a danger that the law could then be perverted to serve as an apparatus of plunder as it is presently. She castigates the champions of woman suffrage who used the abolition movement as a moral fig leaf, but otherwise, denigrated the institution of marriage, favored communism over property ownership, or otherwise held no principles or stake in the institutions which conferred the liberty they enjoyed even without suffrage rights.

The pauper was excluded from the ballot as not being worthy to share with freemen the honor of its defence. The unfortunate was excluded by an inscrutable decree of Providence. The criminal was excluded as being dangerous to society. The women were exempt from the ballot because it was for their special safety that a free ballot was to be exercised, from which the pauper and the criminal must be excluded. They were the ones who have given to social life its meaning and its moral, the ones who give to civic life its highest value.

Tackling yet another shopworn cliché that was commonplace among suffragists and is just as alive in progressive and feminist circles, Johnson addresses the suffragists’ contention that the Christian Church not only maintains the subjection and subordination of women, but actively cultivates bigotry, intolerance, and arbitrary authoritarianism. Johnson rightfully challenges the claim that Christian Church’s alleged encouragement of a subordinate role for women will be alleviated somehow through suffrage. If anything, it’s feminism that treats women as a class of people under perpetual assault and in need of constant special attention.  If any ideology is promoting the powerlessness of women, it’s feminism.

By far, the most burning question with which Woman and The Republic leaves the reader is what has been the true consequence of woman suffrage?  Has it wrought greater liberty and a reign of justice or a cult of obedience to the Church of Democracy and never-ending list of rights to be bestowed?  Has suffrage conferred a deeper appreciation of the principles of liberty or transferred all moral authority to the State?  Helen Kendrick Johnson argued that none of the perceived or actual inequalities in civic life for which suffragists sought redress would be solved with the ballot. After a more than a century of enfranchisement and little to no change in the feminist script, one certainly wonders if, in fact, she was completely correct.

Cure by ballot has been the one and only remedy suggested by Suffrage conventions for all the ills, real or imaginary, that are endured by women.

If nothing else, this book underscores the challenge of upholding liberty.  Those who agitate for an expansion of state power are always able to secure support from those want to expand the influence of the state. In Johnson’s time, there was arguably greater sympathy for removing the sphere of influence of the state in public affairs, yet suffragists sought to politicize everything.  Based on what you hear from your average intersectional feminist, Johnson’s warnings seem prescient.

As time goes on, this spirit becomes more injurious, because progress is carrying philanthropy into higher fields of moral action, and in so doing is carrying it away from and above the plane where rests the ballot-box. While Suffrage effort is directed toward keeping all issues in the political arena, the trend of legislation is to take them out of politics.

Helen Kendrick Johnson was not a gender egalitarian.  She favored economic liberty, property rights, educational access and equality before the law for men and women alike, but she was unequivocally what feminists would disparagingly call a gender essentialist. She held no objection to women pursuing higher education or employment in the private sector, but absolutely saw an essential role for women in motherhood and building a stable home life. She could be accused of being overly deferential towards men and insufficiently skeptical of state power, but she fundamentally saw virtue in manhood. She argued that the preservation of liberty and peace is best secured by attending to the most essential building block of human civilization: the family.  And in this role, she argued that women had a unique and critical role to play that was, in fact, largely biological.  She believed that the sexes were, in fact, different and each gender is edified by recognizing and celebrating this difference as opposed to repeating dogmatic mantras of Equality

My main objection to the Woman-Suffrage organization is this, that a wrong mode is employed to gain a right object. The right object sought is, to remedy the wrongs and relieve the sufferings of great multitudes of our sex; the wrong mode is that which aims to enforce by law, instead of by love. It is one which assumes that man is the author and abettor of all these wrongs, and that he must be restrained and regulated by constitutions and laws, as the chief and most trustworthy methods. I hold that the fault is as much, or more, with women than with men, inasmuch as we have all the power we need to remedy the wrongs complained of, and yet we do not use it for that end. It is my deep conviction that all reasonable and conscientious men of our age, and especially of our country, are not only willing but anxious to provide for the good of our sex.

When contrasted against the prevailing orthodoxy of intersectional feminism, gender neutrality and biological denialism, Woman and the Republic feels weirdly transgressive and revolutionary.  Even if Johnson was a bit of a hidebound biological determinist, her robust defense of liberty, property rights, market economics, and Constitutional principles has only accumulated strength in the years since its publication. Underneath it all, Helen Kendrick Johnson was putting forth a deeply radical notion: women do not need government in order to be powerful.  It will likely continue to be ignored or reviled purely on the basis of her opposition to full suffrage for women all by itself, but in this age of Progressive orthodoxy, this is precisely the kind of heresy that needs to be propagated far and wide. It’s imminently clear that no quantity of legislation will satisfy the grievance machine that is modern feminism. There isn’t a single argument being made today that wasn’t destroyed by Ms. Johnson back in 1897. The question is how long it’ll take for feminists to recognize that, if ever.  After all.  It’s 2016, SYSTERS

What Happened to the 80’s Anti-Apartheid Dream?

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You got to say I, I, I
Ain’t gonna play Sun City
I, I, I ain’t gonna play Sun City

Steven Van Zandt and a multiracial supergroup, Artists United Against Apartheid, created the anti-apartheid rallying cry heard around the world which played a role in turning public opinion against South Africa’s regime of racial segregation and towards full political enfranchisement for the black majority of South Africa. 

Artists United Against Apartheid was Van Zandt’s brainchild, and followed the pattern of other star-studded affairs by attracting industry heavyweights from across the music spectrum. It also distinguished itself by being tilted ever so slightly towards the edgier end of the pop spectrum by including jazz, rap and punk rockers.

As much as I might be inclined to view Macklemore’s loathsome preachiness as a phenomenon unique to our Age of Multiculturalism and Social Justice, he pales in comparison to the stadium level, globe spanning virtue signalling which occurred throughout the 80’s.  Pop music has always been a vehicle for political protest and social commentary, but the particular brand of “racial justice” grandstanding which is Macklemore’s stock in trade definitely had antecedents in the glossy megaconglomerations of the 1980’s.

Though USA for Africa, Band Aid and Live Aid captured the attention of the masses and drew widespread attention to the plight of starvation in Africa, Artists United Against Apartheid was unique in that it was a protest against the de Klerk regime, an organized boycott of the Sun City resort and a call for economic sanctions against South Africa.  While I can appreciate that the track and the project was animated by a genuine spirit of human goodwill and brotherhood, I think it’s worth taking a look of the song’s allegedly “apolitical” message and the quality of life for post-apartheid South Africans in light of recent current events in South Africa.

On the surface, the political situation in South Africa cried out for change and justice.  The repressions and abuses of the South African National Party and the facts behind the construction of the Sun City resort created a perfect subject for a protest track. State enforced segregation, violent crackdowns, and mass relocations were among the list of human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime.  Add Reagan’s policy of “constructive engagement”, and the standard narrative of the white supremacist conspiracy of capitalist state power writes itself. 

What’s more difficult to appreciate and less frequently discussed is that there was a sharp competition of economic ideas between the nascent ANC and the various militant African nationalist factions vying for political power and the minority National Party.

By his own account, Van Zandt sought the cooperation of militant group, AZAPO; a group which not only espoused socialist political beliefs, but were willing to use violence to achieve their political ambitions.  Van Zandt apparently had to dissuade them from targeting Paul Simon for assassination.

Listen, this is not gonna help anybody if you knock off Paul Simon. Trust me on this, alright? Let’s put that aside for the moment. Give me a year or so, you know, six months.

Van Zandt goes on to recount his disagreement with Simon over Mandela’s own political views. Van Zandt displays a typical leftist bellicosity towards Simon and dismisses his allegation simply because he cited Henry Kissinger as the source of his information.  But neither Kissinger’s or Simon’s claim was without foundations in fact. Mandela may not have been a communist, but he sure sounds like one.  

Today I am attracted by the idea of a classless society, an attraction which springs in part from Marxist reading and, in part, from my admiration of the structure and organization of early African societies in this country.

His association with the South African Communist Party wasn’t exactly a secret either.  While it wasn’t necessarily a carbon copy of the Communist Manifesto, the Freedom Charter was a solidly socialist program and became the guiding document of the ANC.  In his legendary 1964 Rivonia Trial speech, Mandela himself acknowledges as much.

Under the Freedom Charter, nationalization would take place in an economy based on private enterprise.

So what does this have to do with the “Sun City” track itself?

When Rolling Stone ranked “Sun City” as 100th greatest song of the 1980’s, Bono describes the message of the track in the following manner.

This is apolitical. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on — this is common sense.

See? It’s just “common sense.” But the lyrics are pretty explicit about the nature of the injustice in South Africa.

23 million can’t vote
‘Cause they’re black
We’re stabbing our brothers
And sisters in the back

Van Zandt was equally explicit about the call for economic boycott.

I thought in order to change the system, we need to enforce this cultural boycott as a means of getting to the economic boycott, which is really where the action is.

Despite winning the battle of public opinion, witnessing the release and election of Nelson Mandela, Van Zandt affected a phony posture of humility and declined to attend his inauguration and directs blame towards the Reagan administration for their alleged support of the de Klerk regime. 

Social justice warriors, artists and politicians alike agitated for economic sanctions, congratulated themselves for their moral righteousness, and went on to systematically ignore the consequences of these policies on South Africa’s already fragile economy. An economic contraction that would affect tax revenues and purchasing power for a population which depended heavily on redistribution.

One effect of this capital outflow has been a dramatic decline in the international exchange rate of the rand.  This means that imports are increasingly expensive.  It has also helped fuel South Africa’s inflation rate, which at 12-15% per year, is much higher than its major trading partners.

All of which brings us to the present. 

Longtime ANC veteran and current president, Jacob Zuma was charged with raiding the public treasury to fund improvements to his home to the tune of 246 million rand, or about $16.7 million at current exchange rates.

Where is the international condemnation of Zuma from artists?

Van Zandt and countless others agitated for universal suffrage and equal representation in the South African government, but has this made a material difference on the quality of life in South Africa?

By any objective measure, the results are negligible and have perhaps deteriorated further since the demise of apartheid.

Unemployment has remained stuck above 20% for years and certainly hasn’t improved since Mandela and the ANC came to power.  Few black children are raised by both parentsEducational performance is consistently dismalViolent crime persists, and a minority of taxpayers are subsidizing one of the world’s biggest welfare states.  Loose monetary policy has fueled the same speculative bubble in South Africa as it has throughout the developed world.  Politically motivated violence is a common feature of post-apartheid South Africa.

Everyone involved in AUAA was apparently so focused on the attainment of political power, but placed no emphasis on the necessity of economic development.  Even Bono has acknowledged that recently

But their hearts were in the right place, so why get so incensed over a pop track?

Perhaps. I would feel a little bit more charitable towards this effort if it was a one-time phenomenon, but this type of “racial justice” activism was at the very least, an early template for virtually every social justice campaign you can name.

Nowadays, if there anythng done or said that has the slightest perceived hint of a discriminatory attitude, the calls for retribution and censure from the social justice crowd is swift and immediate. With an equal disregard for economic consequences.  All that apparently matters is that egos are satiated by upholding the virtues of Social Justice prescribed by its self-appointed gatekeepers. 

But what about the track itself?

It’s pretty good.  It’s a stylistic hybrid that is a reflection of the people who recorded it; a hip-hop/Afropop flavored rave up with a fist pumping chorus.  It is propelled by its sense of righteous indignation so effectively, you can almost ignore its guilt tripping preachiness.  It doesn’t even get sunk by Lou Reed’s pretentious affectation in his laughable cameo. 

I do not doubt that Steve Van Zandt and the artists who contributed to the AUAA project had the best of intentions.  Unfortunately, we now live in a world where good intentions are often all that’s required with little or no attention given to the political consequences of good intentions. 

The standard narrative that the Reagan administration’s support for the de Klerk regime was animated by racism doesn’t stand up to scrutiny either. Not that anyone on the Left would be that charitable towards a conservative, but anti-communist sentiment was white hot during the 80’s, and even if the fears of communist global expansion were exaggerated, I don’t begrudge Reagan for fearing the rise of another socialist regime in South Africa.  Besides, if that criticism is going to be levelled at Reagan, then it should be made of his predecessors as well.

I also do not begrudge AUAA for making a bold political statement.  In fact, I would prefer to see more artists express their political convictions with such fervor.  Of all the realms of real economic cooperation, music and art is perhaps the one sphere of human activity which allows us to experience and appreciate our shared humanity and sense of purpose.  But if you are going to make a political statement like “Sun City”, don’t turn a blind eye to the consequences of your advocacy. Most of all, make sure you’re applying your criticism consistently and directing a comparable level of indignation towards the black politicians who abused their hard won political power.