This note was originally prepared for The Fourth Turning web site. I am withholding it for the moment in hopes of finding a more succinct rending. The Fourth Turning is a cyclical theory of history that suggests (among many other things) that every four score and seven years a gray champion rises and leads the nation to a new birth of freedom. By the calendar, the next crisis is due early in the new millennium. However, one of the authors who created the theory of gray champions and many of his cyberspace fans have since come to fear dangerous men like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. They are sounding warnings that such a dangerous leader may come again...
I have tried not to get deeply into the liberal against conservative argument. On some issues - defense, gun control, reduced government - I side with the conservatives. Still, if the government isn't serving the people, what is it good for? I may be a liberal at heart. Issues like reducing government against providing services or domestic spending against defense spending are questions where honest differences of opinion are the norm. As a defense engineer living alone on a decent salary, I can recognize some of my own biases, and quite understand sincere disagreement.
This mellow attitude holds for three turnings out of four. Most of the time, the potential for fundamental change is about zero. Maybe one can yell and scream during an awakening such as the 60s, but not much actually gets done. One can only lay groundwork. During a crisis, the probability of fundamental change may not be 100%, but it is very high. The nature of the issues debated changes dramatically. Words like 'evil' might come back into play. Time honored injustices protected by law and tradition are attacked with vigor and intensity. This is the only way issues of such magnitude can be approached with any hope of success.
The single crisis I have been most interested in is the US Civil War. Visiting the Causes of the Civil War web page is a worthy exercise for those curious about the type of debate that leads up to a crisis. I wrote a shorter, smaller, more focused site, Recognizing the Battle Flag. The flavor of T4T's "next war" thread is beginning to remind me of the slavery debate. A humorous tale by Abraham Lincoln, from his New Haven presidential campaign speech hits the nail on the head.
Look at the magnitude of this subject! One sixth of our population, in round numbers -- not quite one sixth, and yet more than a seventh, -- about one sixth of the whole population of the United States are slaves! The owners of these slaves consider them property. The effect upon the minds of the owners is that of property, and nothing else - it induces them to insist upon all that will favorably affect its value as property, to demand laws and institutions and a public policy that shall increase and secure its value, and make it durable, lasting and universal. The effect on the minds of the owners is to persuade them that there is no wrong in it. The slaveholder does not like to be considered a mean fellow, for holding that species of property, and hence he has to struggle within himself and sets about arguing himself into the belief that Slavery is right. The property influences his mind. The dissenting minister, who argued some theological point with one of the established church was always met by the reply, "I can't see it so." He opened the Bible, and pointed him to a passage, but the orthodox minister replied, "I can't see it so." Then he showed him a single word - - "Can you see that?" "Yes, I see it," was the reply. The dissenter laid a guinea over the word and asked, "Do you see it now?" [Great laughter.] So here. Whether the owners of this species of property do really see it as it is, it is not for me to say, but if they do, they see it as it is through 2,000,000,000 of dollars, and that is a pretty thick coating. [Laughter.] Certain it is, that they do not see it as we see it. Certain it is, that this two thousand million of dollars, invested in this species of property, all so concentrated that the mind can grasp it at once -- this immense pecuniary interest, has its influence upon their minds.
Financial interests can alter perspectives on morality. If one has a vested interest in evil, it is entirely possible to support evil with great intensity, conviction and sincerity. It is no longer a question of liberal and conservative, though you could apply the terms if you insist. Lincoln was a radical, not a liberal. He was overthrowing the laws and traditions of his time, and was quite willing to use force on a massive scale to achieve this end. I would not stain the word "conservative" by associating it with slave holders. There must be another word. Perhaps 'evil' is appropriate. Again, visit Causes of the Civil War or Recognizing the Battle Flag to get a feeling for the sincerity and conviction with which evils long practiced can be defended by those who profit from it. Alexander Stephens, just prior to becoming vice president of the Confederacy, summarized the debate quite well in his Cornerstone Speech.
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind-from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just-but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.
Today the entire United States, not just the South, has a vested interest in the status quo. With this interest comes a blindness to basic moral values. I have heard with great sincerity and conviction some truly ugly arguments. With a mere 10,000 dead, it is improper to use inflammatory and emotional words like "genocide." This only heats up the issue so it cannot be spoken of with calm detachment. If an army has a policy of institutionalized rape of minority groups, this is an internal affair of that country. Outside nations should respect the right of soldiers to rape minority women. Ethnic cleansing has happened in the past. We did not stop it then. We should not stop it now. Governments have the right to ethnically clean without international interference. FDR's Four Freedoms speech was mere propaganda and posturing, with no real moral values or policy statement intended or implied. The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are values entirely unique to the United States of America. Assisting others abroad that are seeking happiness, seeking liberty or attempting to prolong their own lives is a gross and entirely immoral interference with outside cultures. The international treaties of human rights signed after World War II were never enforced, cannot now be enforced, should never be enforced, and shall never be enforced. Military force should be used only to secure the vital interests of the Unites States. The profits of US corporations should be the primary consideration when considering foreign intervention.
Status quo eternal? Can't we make an exception every four score and seven years? If we do not make an exception, should we not fear the exception might remake us?
All morality aside, if one cannot empathize with the pain of others, consider that in recent crises the faction favoring human rights and radical change have soundly handled the faction favoring status quo and continued privilege. This is not to say morality leads inevitably to victory, or that the upcoming decades will be easy. However, I believe it was Napoleon who placed the importance of the moral to the physical in conflict at a ratio of 3 to 1? An army that believes in its cause finds victory. The generals just get the credit. This would be as true in a war of nukes smuggled across borders as in the days of bayonets and muskets.
In the interview opening this thread, William again sounds the warning of the Black Champion. We have forgotten the intensity and horror of a fourth turning war. We are entering a time when the people are apt to follow men who are ready to spend the lives of the nation's youth for a mere vision of a better future. The safe laissez faire attitude towards traditional institutionalized injustice may for a time fade. Some may fear the Black Champions. Some may fear that the boomers and millennials will listen to the call of the future. I fear just as much a Black Champion who will attempt to cling to the sins of the past. I fear we will try to fight the tide. Worst yet, we might try to ignore the tide, thinking the tide could not possibly sweep us away.
I am a believer in that portion of the Declaration of American Independence in which it is set forth, as among self-evident truths, "that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Hence, I am an abolitionist. Hence, I cannot but regard oppression in every form - and most of all, that which turns a man into a thing - with indignation and abhorrence. Not to cherish these feelings would be recreancy to principle. They who desire me to be dumb on the subject of slavery, unless I will open my mouth in its defense, ask me to give the lie to my professions, to degrade my manhood, and to stain my soul. I will not be a liar, a poltroon, or a hypocrite, to accommodate any party, to gratify any sect, to escape any odium or peril, to save any interest, to preserve any institution, or to promote any object. Convince me that one man may rightfully make another man his slave, and I will no longer subscribe to the Declaration of Independence. Convince me that liberty is not the inalienable birthright of every human being, of whatever complexion or clime, and I will give that instrument to the consuming fire. I do not know how to espouse freedom and slavery together. I do not know how to worship God and Mammon at the same time. If other men choose to go upon all fours, I choose to stand erect, as God designed every man to stand. If, practically falsifying its heaven-attested principles, this nation denounces me for refusing to imitate its example, then, adhering all the more tenaciously to those principles, I will not cease to rebuke it for its guilty inconsistency. Numerically, the contest may be an unequal one, for the time being; but the author of liberty and the source of justice, the adorable God, is more than multitudinous, and he will defend the right. My crime is that I will not go with the multitude to do evil. My singularity is that when I say that freedom is of God and slavery is of the devil, I mean just what I say. My fanaticism is that I insist on the American people abolishing slavery or ceasing to prate of the rights of manWilliam Lloyd Garrison, 1854