It’s not just the near impossibility of civil discourse. Here’s the ‘thought’ the Brahmins of Facebook suggest sharing today:
OK, before we get to the meat of this, how does the phrase “the history of the past” get let loose onto a page? What other kind of history are we meant to distinguish the history of the past from? So, can we start by observing that we have reason to be concerned about the coherence of the thinker?
Next, “is but one long struggle upwards to equality” could only be believed by a lite Hegelian, after the usage established with ‘lite beer’. Looking at actual history, you know, the accounts of what has happened in the world, one does not come away with the impression that struggles for equality make up the general thrust of events. The Mongol hordes were not seeking equality when they enslaved thousands of Slavs and sold them to the Egyptians; the various Chinese dynasties were not concerned with making rice farmers their equals; the Aztecs were only rarely equal-opportunity human sacrificers. There’s no indication that the slaves revolting under Spartacus objected to slavery per se – they just didn’t themselves want to be slaves. Islam, in its 1400 years of conquest, has not improved the lot of the less equal in the places they overran.
And so on. No, one must, in the Hegelian fashion, start with one’s conclusion and retrofit like hell to get any sort of general thrust toward equality to appear in the ‘history of the past’. (1) More fundamentally, in what sense does Stanton mean ‘equality’? We in America used to think that meant ‘before the law’, allowing that there wasn’t any sort of equality evident anywhere else. We’re a stubbornly and often spectacularly unequal lot, we humans. Mostly, we seem to like it that way: Hooray for Thai food, power forwards and jockeys, men and women… These differences were considered – are still so considered by many of us – to be what made life interesting and fun. We wanted them ignored only if and when we get dragged before the Law. Otherwise, viva la difference!
But then, we lost our minds. Ms Stanton is right there in the thick of it. The weird blend of Calvinism, Enlightenment philosophy, hard-headed practicality and evangelical zeal that characterized our Founding Fathers and the American population at large resulted in this new thing under the sun: an actual government built on the idea that Law provides the fundamental framework within which individual rights can be exercised – in fact, government exists in its essence for this purpose.
This should sound familiar, right? Isn’t this what we all believe? What’s missing is a society, a culture: no man exercises rights in a vacuum, nor does any government spring Athena-like fully formed from the mind of Zeus. We inherited traditions – and laws – that recognized and protected families and culture, and built our ideas of individual rights on top of them. Then, along comes Stanton and her besties, and they read the Declaration of Independence, and use it to attack those familial and cultural foundations upon which the very concept of individual rights are built. Ouroboros. (2)
And it all sounds so good! Just like the idea that drunkenness is not a problem best addressed by family and culture but one that should be OUTLAWED by CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT! Yea, that ought to work. Thus, the intellectual and often physical descendants of the Calvinists who fled England to escape religious liberty and set up their own theocracy exercise their righteous zeal to fix the rest of us.
Stanton was a great feminist leader, and seemed at least suspicious of any differences. She is another ideological offspring of the Calvinists (she was raised a Calvinist Presbyterian) she seemed to believe she could fix the world if only she had enough power. Thus, she became an Abolitionist and Temperance leader and, ultimately, a Fabian Socialist. The common thread: the Law and the Government exists to fix EVERYTHING! Slavery, drunkenness and all economic inequality must be solved through law. The power of the Law – ultimately, the power of those who wield the Law – is infinite (3). Divine, even.
So, no, Facebook, I will not be sharing the fine thoughts of Elizabeth Cady Stanton this day. In fact, you’ve given me yet another reason to never open your app again.
- Surfing Wikipedia, came across this gem in reference to Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible: “Lucy Stone determined for herself that the male-dominant interpretations of the Bible must be faulty—she worked to learn Greek and Hebrew and thereby gain insight into the earlier Bible translations which she believed would contain wording more favorable to women’s equality.” So, if the Bible doesn’t say what you want it to, it’s only a matter of getting down to the root to find that, no, it *does* say what you want it to! Start with the conclusion you want, and retrofit. Hegel and Marx would be so proud.
- The idea that voting for external political ends isn’t the most important thing in life is totally lost these days. Depriving someone of a family or destroying their culture in a thousand little ways: perfectly OK and enshrined in the law (divorce, farcical government interests trumping free association); Denying anyone the vote: horror of horrors greater than which little can be conceived!
- Stanton’s dad was a famous lawyer, judge and politician. As Oliver W. Holmes, Jr., an atheist who never married and another scion of those Puritan Calvinists, said in so many words: the law is whatever the judges say it is.