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The Moral Justification of the Civil War by David Arthur Walters

The Moral Justification of the Civil War by David Arthur Walters

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08/17/2011

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The Moral Justification of the Civil War 
Wrestling with Arthur Schlesinger’s logjamMonday, May 19, 2003Honolulu, HawaiiBy David Arthur WaltersAn authoritative example favoring the popular evolutionist argument in favor of thenecessity of pain for the moral gain of mankind was provided by the eminent Americanhistorian, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in his essay ''The Causes of the Civil War, a Note onHistorical Sentimentalism (Partisan Review, October 1949).''Sentimental'' historians had revised the received interpretations of the facts leading up tothe Civil War, and concluded that the pain could have been avoided. Their revisions of the Civil War justifications were especially painful to those who had recently suffered thehorrors of the subsequent world wars. They did not appreciate the implication drawnfrom the Civil War revisionist argument that their own suffering was unnecessary; thatmillions had died in wars for nothing; wherefore war has no end but destruction, hencewar is for naught.However, Christian authorities had insisted for many centuries that war, even in the nameof the same god of love, was preordained and was necessary to discover who is right andwrong; war was needed to sort out which persons are entitled to eternal life in Heaven or eternal damnation in Hell. God was then a sort of Divine Piñata to be filled with goods to1
 
 be beaten out of Him by blind men wielding clubs - if He was nowhere to be found onEarth, men would just have to beat the goods out of each other for their own good.Organized or mass-murder is hate-based group-love. After all, love cannot stand alone,not without its contrary, hate. The religionists were ironically joined at the hip by certainevolutionists who impartially worshipped an impersonal power effecting a similar butmuch more gradually realized aim on Earth, at the cost of many generations of mortalindividuals, individuals who were not saved for the selfishly desired personal hereafter, but were unselfishly sacrificed for their progeny; thus the survival of a species by virtueof species-love operating through the struggle of its fittest warriors. There really was noquestion of rational progress: a few are chosen by god or were randomly selected byevolution - god's decision was a matter of chance in ancient times, revealed by rollingdice, cracking turtle shells, throwing bones, drawing lots, and so on. Nonetheless, sentimental and weak people were insisting that war in itself is unnecessaryand immoral, and their opinion was being affirmed by revisionists, particularly by thesocialist historians who believed wars were economically determined and could be prevented by a better distribution of goods. They were suspected of being or known to be pink if not red, and therefore of harboring a secret wish to see all capitalists draped intheir false flags and hung by their necks from their respective flagpoles until dead.However that may be, certain heretical historians repudiated the holy writ laid down inrivers of blood, that war is necessary to resolve moral conflicts and is needed to dislodgethe log-jammed mores of an inherently disagreeable and originally evil people - so theymay realize downstream, if not Progress, then X. But belay the rhetoric and ask, How canthat be? As every laboring woman and every fighting man who survives knows very well,without excruciating pain there can be no worthwhile gain. Schlesinger had this to sayabout the pain without which there is no moral gain:"Man generally is entangled in insoluble problems; history is consequently a tragedy inwhich we are all involved, whose keynote is anxiety and frustration, not progress andfulfillment. Nothing exists in history to assure us that the great moral dilemmas can beresolved without pain...."On the one hand, history is a painful experience which does not lead to progress. On theother hand, history teaches us that even more pain is necessary to relieve that pain. Nowit stands to reason that the relief of pain is in fact progress albeit the peace may betemporary. We should draw a distinction between moral or mental anxiety and physical pain in respect to Schlesinger’s statement, and say that history teaches us that our moralor mental anxieties cannot be resolved except by physical pain. Schlesinger offers thequestion of slavery as the great moral dilemma leading to the Civil War. Pain is necessaryto resolve it, therefore he goes on to say:"We cannot therefore be relieved from the duty of moral judgment on issues so appallingand inescapable as those involved in human slavery; nor can we be consoled bysentimental theories about the needlessness of the Civil War into regarding our ownstruggles against evil as equally needless."2
 
Although Schlesinger would have people progress against evil by doing their duty, progress for him is not the "keynote" of human history, but is rather "anxiety andfrustration", hence he did not believe such progress would ever eliminate the necessity of doing that duty via social paroxysms of mass murder and mayhem. His progress seemsrather like a tragic, vicious cycle of a revolving-door justice system, instead of rehabilitation and the end of the criminal record. From Schlesinger’s perspective, theinevitability of war is no problem: the problem is the sentiment of those who think it isnot inevitable:"The problem of the inevitability of the Civil War, of course, is in its essence a problemdevoid of meaning. The revisionist attempt to argue that war could have been avoided by''any kind of sane policy'' is of interest less in its own right than as an expression of manand of history. And the great vogue of revisionism in the historical profession suggests, inmy judgment, ominous weakness in the contemporary attitude about history. We deludeourselves when we think that history teaches us that evil will be ''outmoded'' by progressand that politics consequently does not impose on us the necessity for decision and for struggle.... Sometimes there is no escape from the implacability of moral decision. Whensocial conflicts embody great moral issues, these conflicts cannot be assigned for solutionto the invincible march of moral progress...."But moral progress proceeds historically, and we might hope to render war obsolete. If there is no such historical ''progress'', if moral progress is to be divorced from history,why, there is no human history at all: without the application of human intention, historyis a chronology of meaningless events. If there be no progress either real or imagined,why bother to fight? Simply to do one's duty as a soldier, a soldier who has the moralityof a loaded gun, the trigger of which may or may not be pulled by politicians who mustdo their duty according to the theory that war is inevitable, so that what has been useful tosolve moral dilemmas in the past, namely war, can forever be the solution?Schlesinger’s choice of words such as "weakness" and "struggle" in the context of hisargument leads us to believe he may be an admirer of the latest popular justification for mutual homicide, the "Darwinian'' argument for the necessity of war. That is, perpetualviolent struggle is necessary for the continuous evolution of the fittest who are randomlyselected by chance environmental factors or accidental mutations to survive. Of coursethe confounded struggle must go on forever in order for the theory to be maintained;otherwise, we would evolve beyond evolution, just as the Marx's noble laborer wouldeventually be freed of labor by his theory and society would be deprived of Marxisttheory.Following that perverse, hopeless line of thinking, we might say that, whatever progressmight be, it must not obviate the need for progress; if there is too much of it, we mustdeclaim, "To hell with ''progress'', let us return to jungle warfare and fight like real menrather than be weak sissies!" Indeed, prominent men occasionally propose that the liberalmeasure of the degree of civilization, the extent of female liberation, is not progress at all, but is rather an feminization of men which is indicative of civilization’s degeneration anddecline. But society may solve that by putting its women into business and combat; that is3

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