Movements are always based on lies, and the lies begin with the titles and slogans that are chosen to advance “the cause.” Here in the United States, so-called liberals are really nonrevolutionary Marxists, while the people who call themselves conservatives are, at one extreme, libertarian capitalists who reject any principle or experience that cannot be sold for a profit or, at the other, monomaniacs engaged in a desperate search for a leader to tell them which cliff to jump off. How else does one explain the willingness of some people to trust the fortunes and sacred honor of themselves and their country to such implausible pretenders as Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich?
I could use up my allotted words by filling in the blanks: feminists who want to turn women into men; peace activists who would surrender global authority, first, to the bellicose Soviet Union and, second, to the equally ruthless “international community”; the professional superpatriots who see nothing wrong in sending Americans out to die to impose American “values” on Muslims who manifestly do not want them.
In strawberry-fields-nothing-is-real America, “Dr.” Martin Luther King, Jr., deserves his status as the refounder of the American “project” as a Potemkin village. The only national hero to whom a day of national celebration is dedicated, King was, as even his defenders are now forced to admit, more or less an impostor. A supposed scholar and intellectual, he was actually an incessant plagiarist; a supposed Christian moral leader, he was a relentless womanizer; a supposed American democrat, he was actually a willing associate or pawn of known Marxist subversives.
This is old hat. Everyone now knows of King’s weaknesses, which even Jackie Kennedy acknowledged in private. The staunchest defenders of the American demigod cannot deny the facts, but they say they are trivial when weighed against what he accomplished, not just for his own people but for the entire country. This argument will not bear much scrutiny. Affirmative action has indeed provided some black Americans with lucrative careers, often in the government or other nonproductive economic sectors. However, this rather dubious benefit is offset by a more obvious result: a ghetto culture of violence, stupidity, and filth that has overwhelmed the black community. King and his colleagues have to bear some of the responsibility for this: In portraying responsible black Americans as Uncle Toms, they deliberately stripped the black middle class of authority in their communities, which entered into the downward spiral of welfare dependence, drug addiction, and criminal violence. They also helped to drag the public schools of the United States into the hopeless state from which they will probably never recover.
Perhaps his intentions were good. If they were, then his naiveté bordered on insanity. America post-1964 is infinitely worse than America pre-1964. Our pop culture is unspeakably more vile, our politicians are manifestly more stupid and incoherent, our social and cultural institutions all working to destroy what little is left of civilization. The United States of the New Millennium has outstripped the grimmest prophecies of 20th-century satirists. I only wish Mencken had lived to see it, though what he could say more comical than the campaign speeches we are hearing from both parties, I cannot imagine.
As appropriate as “Dr.” King may be as the American icon, he may have outlasted his usefulness as America’s official plaster saint, and we might consider taking the next step of stripping him of his laurels and transferring his day to the one American who best sums up all that is salient in our national character: P.T. Barnum. His face should be on the virtually worthless dollar bill, and jettisoning the motto “In God We Trust,” we should adopt Barnum’s immortal insight into our national character: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
In the meantime, though, King and his cronies will do perfectly well. If there is nothing liberal in liberalism and nothing conservative in conservatism, what are we to say of “civil rights,” except that whatever good or evil the movement might have done, it had little to do with civil rights and everything to do with empowerment of a hitherto underachieving minority in order to subjugate the dominant majority?
The civil-rights movement was truly a revolution, but not against the dominance of the white middle class. It was a revolution against the rule of law and against republican government, terms that civil-rights leaders and other leftists have stripped of all meaning. We are so degraded we cannot admit, perhaps not even take cognizance of, what we have done to ourselves. It would not be fair to blame all our woes on the civil-rights movement, which was only one phase of an ongoing revolution, but even johnny-come-latelies deserve some credit.
As the revolution progressed, we have had to make up a history, along the way, to adjust the facts to the new theories generated before and after the French Revolution. Thugs, bandits, and butchers—Robespierre, Napoleon, Lincoln, Garibaldi, Lenin—become heroes, so long as they are on the right side of history, while decent quiet men who did their jobs honestly are demonized. Franklin Pierce goes down as the worst president in American history, while maniacs who dragged us into bloody wars, as Woodrow Wilson did, are lionized.
Sicily, which was brutally subjugated by Garibaldi, pays tribute in every village to the greatness of Italy’s Pancho Villa. The other day in Enna, where Hades snatched Persephone and took her to be queen of the underworld, I came across a plaque commemorating Eunus, the leader of a slave uprising. The inscription reads, roughly, “2,000 years before Abraham Lincoln freed the wretched mass of Negroes, from this fortress the humble slave Eunus sounded the cry of liberty,” etc., etc.
As a matter of fact, Eunus made himself (for a short time) a brutal Hellenistic monarch who robbed, raped, and enslaved or killed the unfortunate free men and women who came his way. Even I would not go so far as to compare this tyrannical brigand with Lincoln, but Enna’s city fathers can only view local history as a morality play of evil Romans pitted against virtuous slaves yearning to breathe free. Facts do not matter; truth does not matter. All that matters is what side you are on, and it had better not be the side of your ancestors, religion, or civilization.
As I said at the beginning, all movements are based on lies, and the lies begin with the names the movements assume. What is a civil right? It is not a natural or universal human right belonging to everyone everywhere at all times, but a right we enjoy as citizens—that is, enfranchised members of a particular commonwealth. The civil rights of a Frenchman are not the same as the civil rights of an American, and the differences become rapidly more marked as we compare our own institutions with those of more exotic cultures.
Civil rights may overlap with political rights, but they are not the same. In the America of 1800, for example, neither women nor children could vote, sit on juries, or in most cases make contracts, but they were not treated as foreigners or chattel. They had a legally defined status that did not make them equal to the husband-father in political and legal matters but did secure them the civil rights that were believed to be appropriate to their position in life.
Civil rights are not static; they are forever expanding or contracting in response to changing necessities. It was not feminist ideology that gave married women rights to make contracts and write wills, but the practical needs of 19th-century American families. The proper means of expanding rights is through legislation. It is an obvious truism that real civil rights—rooted in law and respect for the constitutional order—cannot be legitimately secured by violence, intimidation, or revolution. One cannot, in other words, plot against one’s own country in order to secure or expand civil rights, because revolutionary disorder may overthrow a regime, but it cannot reform it legally.
Plato made the case in his Seventh Letter. He argued that we had to respect the autonomy of commonwealths as well as of persons. If it is wrong (as it is) to try to force our parents to live the way we think they ought to, then it is equally wrong to try to reform our fatherland by practicing revolutionary violence or by killing and exiling those who oppose our schemes.
The liberal historian Herbert Storing made a related point in condemning Martin Luther King, Jr.’s demonstrations. Storing endorsed the political agenda of the civil-rights movement, but he pointed out that King’s civil disobedience, which was in fact an organized program to violate the law, set the stage for anarchy. It was worse than Storing realized. Some social-protest movements had employed civil disobedience in the past, but they were either violent revolutionaries, syndicalists, anarchists, and reds, who did not even try to disguise their agenda, or else mentally disturbed cranks like Henry David Thoreau, whose friends could barely take him seriously. But strip the veneer off Thoreau’s knock-off Hinduism, and you find the effeminate intellectual’s predictable infatuation with anarchy and violence. Like Emerson, Thoreau adored the terrorist murderer John Brown, whom he put on a level with Christ.
Decent ordinary Americans outside New England saw through Thoreau’s pose, and, if they had heard of the syndicalists’ call to violence, they would have been appalled. But the civil-rights movement taught revolutionary leftists the value of playing the race card whenever they could, and, more than that, it gave a patina of virtue and American patriotism to every movement aimed at overthrowing the social order. When the Wobblies were unfairly prosecuted for treason in World War I, their violent strikes and willingness to violate the law forfeited the respect even of working-class Americans, but since the 1960’s we have learned to tolerate, admire, and grovel before every unwashed trespasser carrying a sign. There was a time when property owners would have turned the dogs on the rabble claiming to represent the 99 percent, and if the dogs failed, General MacArthur could be sent in to clean up the shanty towns of protestors seeking a free ride from the American taxpayer.
There is no motive too small to justify these disruptions of everyday life. Our progress from Enna to Agrigento was several times interrupted by the Forconi, an agricultural-protest movement which, along with Marxist students, government workers, and assorted parasites, is currently protesting the economic-reform measures being imposed by Prime Minister Monti, who is merely the puppet of E.U. creditors. The Forconi blocked key points on the highways, and, to make matters worse, gas-station attendants went on strike to prevent working men and women from going to their jobs. Just when you thought you might escape by going to the airport, the taxi drivers struck to protest the infamous proposal to issue more taxi licenses and subject their monopoly to a little market freedom. They want more money and more privileges, but do not expect them to put in a day of real work or compete in a free market.
I almost prefer the crooked drivers who took me to the airport. We had hired them the day before to take two-dozen people to Monreale and back. When we settled up, they tripled the agreed-upon price. Although we had agreed verbally to hire them for part of our airport shuttle the next day, we arranged for another set of drivers. But, when the taxis came the next morning, it was our old friends the highway robbers, who increased the rate from 120 to 160 euros. They missed my computer bag—mostly my fault, but though I insisted on having the hotel send it, the driver refused to entertain the possibility. No, he had to go back and forth for the low low price of 150 euros.
In Sicily, this is how the free market works, and I almost understand the driver’s parting shot: “I’m sorry for your trouble, but you should be more careful.” Indeed. I shook his hand because I have some respect for an enterprising crook who was willing to cross a picket line in order to stick it to a foreigner. However, I have no respect for hooligans who occupy property, intersections, public parks, or the Wisconsin State Capitol, allegedly to protest the government by preventing other people from going about their business. If you take a close look at most of these protest movements, they are made up of tax-consumers extorting more and more money from taxpayers. Our willingness to tolerate these pranks is one small part of the legacy of the civil-rights revolution.