Saturday, April 16, 2005


The usual suspects are all denouncing DeLay, Cornyn, and others for remarks supposedly threatening, urging, or at least excusing retaliation, even violence, against judges that don't knuckle under to their agenda. This would be much more convincing if they would first search their own house for similar vigilantism. They might begin by considering the April 17 New York Times, where the ever anti-capitalist Barbara Ehrenreich cleverly uses a book review to sneak in a calculatedly fingerprintless condoning of righteously wrathful action against her own favored targets. Watch how she sets up her serpentine argument:
This may not be the most auspicious time for a sympathetic biography of a religious fanatic who repeatedly sought to advance his cause through violence.
And exactly what time would be proper to praise faith-based murder?
So it takes courage, if not a touch of Brownian madness, to argue, as David S. Reynolds does in his absorbing new biography, ''John Brown, Abolitionist,'' that Brown was not the Unabomber of his time, but a reasonable man, well connected to his era's intellectual currents and a salutary force for change.
It takes not courage, but ivory tower chutzpah, to call an axe murderer "salutary". The Unabomber himself was all too well connected to his own era's anti-industrial ideologies, and his infamous declaration has been defended by radical eco-fools; that does not justify his crimes. The abolitionists were fiercely hated in both North and South by all but a tiny fringe. If they had been the majority in the country and had all supported Brown's cold-blooded killings, that would no more justify those murders than a similar moral obtuseness by the majority would have excused the Unabomber. In fact, Brown was denounced as impractical or worse even by some others in the abolitionist movement.
To those who argue that Brown's commendable goals were sullied by his bloody methods, Reynolds retorts that violence was in fact central to his message and his legacy.
Yes, it was, and that is why he has been condemned for almost a century and a half as a dangerous criminal.
It was Brown's killing of five Pottawatomie, Kan., pro-slavery men -- dragged from their beds and hacked to death -- that has made commentators queasy ever since, Reynolds included to some extent.
As well it should. Nothing else needs to be said about him. He was a premeditated murderer who should have been dealt with like any other killer. His motivations might be relevant to an insanity defense (if one believes those should be allowed at all), but have nothing to do with his moral status. That should be condemned by everyone, and was, except for those with a hidden agenda of their own.
He offers the rather feeble judgment that it would be ''misleading'' to compare the Pottawatomie attack to modern terrorism. Yet if terrorism is defined as the random killing of civilians to make a political point, then it is not just misleading to call Brown a terrorist, it is flat-out wrong.
Here she departs from the book's evaluation to smuggle in her own subtle redefinition of "terrorism". Check out the media and observe that the bombers of coalition troops or provisional government police and officials in Iraq are still referred to as terrorists. The hijackers of the 9-11 plane which hit the Pentagon were not excused as non-terrorists because they struck a military target. It is not the victims, but the method, of bombings or mass shootings or poisonings -- or hackings, which makes a crime an act of terrorism. Ehrenreich wants to be able to imply later that you are not a terrorist if you only kill people she considers guilty. She pushes the point further here.
Brown selected his victims carefully; all had reportedly threatened abolitionists and the Brown family in particular.
That would certainly seem to justify Bush taking out Saddam, or Osama, who had both definitely threatened Americans and the Bush family in particular. But that is not the application she has in mind for this tolerance for preemptive strikes against potential threats.
How do we judge a man of such different times -- and temperament -- from our own?
By the same moral standards we would use to judge anyone else today. What is eternally right and wrong does not change, whatever verbal gobbledygook about "cultural relativism" which any particular society, or author, may spew forth. If it is denounced as wrong for Bush, then it must also have been wrong for Brown.
If the rule is that there must be some proportion between a violent act and its provocation, surely there could be no more monstrous provocation than slavery.
This means Brown was justified to slaughter those men, because slavery was so awful, and those men supported it. Totalitarian communism is even more awful; would we be justified to slaughter college professors or book writers that support it? Logically, her answer would have to be yes, but, not being a "small mind", that hobgoblin does not deter her, and they are not the targets she is thinking of.
In our own time, some may discern equivalent evils in continuing racial oppression, economic exploitation, environmental predation or widespread torture.
Don't be fooled by that "some may discern". This is an old rhetorical device perfected by Nixon, with his "Some might say that's voting the communist line ...." style of slimy non-accusations. Here, in the discernment of "some", she finally reveals her intended sacrificial lamb: those awful big businesses that don't hire enough people of the shades of skin that she wants, don't pay wages she considers high enough, don't provide all the health care she thinks they should, or don't leave standing all the trees she likes. Those rhetorical "some" think this is just as evil as slavery, which she has just said is evil enough to justify brutal slaughter. But that's just high-flown rhetoric telling her leftist readers it is okay for them to feel that way. Does she actually want them to do anything about it?
To them, ''John Brown, Abolitionist,'' for all its wealth of detail and scrupulous attempts at balance, has a shockingly simple message: Far better to have future generations complain about your methods than condemn you for doing nothing.
There it is: the end justifies the means, preemptive violence is justifiable, and you are a cowardly wimp if you sit quietly by while the big corporations do all those awful things. What's the address of that evil CEO....

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