Monday, January 21, 2008
Glenn Reynolds expresses his hearty agreement with a William Kristol editiorial that attacks conservative (and presumably all non-leftist) commentators for their justifiable disillusionment with this year's Republican field as follows:
A.But you advise people not to vote for pro-slavery candidates, and not to join the liberty party; if this isn't non-resistance in politics, I don't know what is.Child goes on to elaborate more on how the formation of an anti-slavery political party actually hindered the cause of the abolitionists and how it did so, stating at one point that, "Moral influence dies under party action," and noting that on top of moral principles being vitiated by political maneuvering within a party, the party itself ends up depriving its cause of allies.
B. The difficulty in your mind arises, I think, from want of faith in the efficiency of moral influence. You cannot see that you act on politics at all, unless you join the caucus, and assist in electioneering for certain individuals; whereas you may, in point of fact, refuse co-operation, and thereby exert a tenfold influence on the destiny of parties. In Massachusetts, for instance, before the formation of a distinct abolition political party, both parties were afraid of the abolitionists; both wanted their votes; and therefore members of both parties in the legislature were disposed to grant their requests. All, who take note of such things, can remember how the legislature seemed to be abolitionized, as it were, by miracle. "The anti-slavery folks are coming strong this session," said a member to a leading democrat; "they want a hearing on five or six subjects at least." "Give 'em all they ask?" replied the leader; "we can't afford to offend them." When a similar remark was made to a whig leader, the same session, his answer was, "Concede everything; it wont do to throw them into the arms of the democrats." Now [that] there is a third party in Massachusetts, the two great parties have much less motive to please the abolitionists. Last year, the legislature of that State seemed to have gone back on anti-slavery, as fast as it once went forward. In Vermont, the system of refusing co-operation produced the effect of inducing both whigs and democrats to put up an abolition candidate, in order to secure the abolition votes; neither party was willing to give its opponent the advantage that might be gained by pleasing this troublesome class. Had we never turned aside from this plan, I believe the political influence of anti-slavery would have been an hundred fold greater than it now is. [Antislavery Political Writings, 1833-1860: A Reader, edited by C. Bradley Thompson, pp. 99-100, bold added]
[B]y what superior magic does the "liberty party" expect to keep its allies more closely rallied around her, in time of tempting emergency?Will the two-thirds abolitionized democrat, who has joined them to defeat a whig, stand by them when his vote is greatly needed to secure a triumph to his own party, at the polls? Will the half-abolitionized whig, who has been drawn into their ranks, pass safe though the fire of a similar temptaion? I trow not. (102)How does this bear on the problem of a Republican field which is wholly unacceptable to the advocate of individual rights? In two ways.
First, those who favor individual rights and are able to see that the Libertarian party has already lost whatever better influence it might have had -- and so ally themselves with the Republicans -- are doing worse than making the mistake of joining the Libertarian Party. They are allowing themselves to see their values compromised by antithetical religious values when they are not being completely taken for granted and ignored by the Republican Party. And the Democrats write them off altogether. (The same diminution of political influence, incidentally, happens to blacks, because they bloc-vote for Democrats.)
Second, note that Child is speaking of advancing her goal, the abolition of slavery, precisely through "the politicians she has", as Kristol might put it. The genius of founding a nation of "laws, and not men" lies in the truth that the more constrained by the law our public officials are, the less able they are to victimize the people through their moral flaws and personal weaknesses. Similarly, the genius of not pledging one's support to a politician whose goals are at major odds with your own by joining his party, is that it makes possible a politics of "principles, and not men", as it were, when the "men" aren't principled. This is because most politicians by nature value power, which they know they need your vote to obtain. The moment you pledge your support to the man, you have lost whatever measure of power you once had to cause him to act to further goals in accordance with your principles.
Where would we be today if, instead of principled abolitionists like Lydia Maria Child, we had the likes of William Kristol telling everyone to pick a party, accept a candidate, and shut up their nit-picking about slavery already?