Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Paul Craig Roberts has an excellent excerpt from his book, The Return of the Robber Barons, at Economy in Crises -
titled "Do You Want Fries With That?" directly admonishing a counter-paradigm shift away from the McJob/ Wal-Mart Uber Alles,scanty productive service morass. Roberts was one of the architects behind Reagan's supply-side fantasies, but he has obviously turned a corner in his economic worldview since the early 80s, and I'm somewhat fond of the gent though he goes a wee bit too far in his rhetoric castigating the NeoCon's and NeoLibs empire building: Roberts recommendation that the US Army mutinies instead of deploying to Iraq....that crosses the line. Alas, Roberts can be a poster-child on how paleoconservatives like he is,industrial unionists, National Liberals and some libertarians(except the Free-Market Bolshevik faction),are basically stating the same macro thing; it's indirectly another call & a pressing necessity for a creation of a coalition of the above - what Howard J. Harrison is trying to educate his fellow conservatives at 'The Economic Nationalist'. I'll re-register as a 'Republican' if that party can get this way, take this hue of above characters, and return to the protectionist roots that at one time defined the Republican Party, who they were. The GOP needs a National Liberal wing - not the fuzzy-wuzzy chicanery of the old globalist Rockefeller liberalism of yesteryear(I never liked Nelson Rockefeller either). If the Democrats let their cultural-Bolshevik/ social issues obsessed West Coast cadre set the paces instead of focusing on where they and the economic infrastructure of the Republic needs to be( "it's protectionism, stupid!"), they shan't get any of my loyalty in name, either. The Democrats need more Dick Gephardt types and less Thomas -"the world is flat"- Friedmans, Clintons, and phony slobs like Al Gore(and is anyone besides me getting sick of Barak Obama mentioning 'hope' every other sentence?). Whatever one will say about Dennis Kucinich (he does physically and verbally wax like he has been transported from another galaxy), at least on economic issues he is the only genuine old New Deal Democrat in the race, and he's a solid trade protectionist who dares utter the T-word. Why can't the less weird Democrats take a page from his book on this?

Just completed a forgettable bio, "Aaron Burr - Fallen Founder" by a Nancy Isenberg. Isenberg commences patting herself on the back by stating that not a genuine biography of Aaron Burr has ever been written and it is high time that one has. Reading her revisionist take on the third Vice President, killer of Alexander Hamilton, and probable traitor, one firstly grasps that this historian is hardly penning an objective biography. Isenberg fails to convincingly present Burr as a misunderstood and vilified person by jealous rivals and I think that her actual notes were from Gore Vidal's totally fictional account, Burr. Her take on Burr is that he was an outsider not because of his sleazy personality, money-grubbing debt-ridden existence,unprincipled pursuit of political power for the sake alone - but because Aaron Burr was a feminist. Yes. Burr did believe in rights for women and thought that women were just as intelligent as men, but this stance was not that unique among men of the 18th Century Enlightenment, and Burr's views were just that of Rousseau's. None of his detractors such as Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, ever wrote or said a thing in disparagement of Burr because of his 'feminist' stance(they probably didn't know about the extent of it or care if they did),but because he was deemed untrustworthy in the political arena. Isenberg doesn't reflect that if both Hamilton and Jefferson could agree in their judgments concerning something and someone - there must be something to it. Washington himself couldn't abide Burr, and just about every historian of the Early Republic concedes that Washington was an excellent judge of character and was not known to carry grudges long-term without a valid reason for it.

Isenberg believes that Hamilton was totally at fault for the duel and dismisses the accepted fact that AH intended to throw away his shot, as was a common practice in dueling(few duels ever resulted in death or even injury in those days;it was a 'save face' ritual of honor:if a duelist could just prove his manhood by merelyshowing up it was regarded as satisfaction.Most duelists ended up shaking hands and repairing to a pub.) Isenberg asserts that Burr used the challenge to a duel as a last resort based on personal attacks by Hamilton. The real reason is that Hamilton prevented Burr from being President in 1800 and later Governor of New York. With Jefferson dropping his name from the ticket in 1804, Burr's political career was finished, and he took his vengeance out on the man who did the most to check his pursuits. I think that there is no question that Burr issued the challenge with the intent to kill. Isenberg insists that Hamilton was the one who sought to maim Burr and Burr's mortal wound on AH was 'defensive'. That Hamilton put on his spectacles and practiced aiming in the sunlight is proof to Isenberg that Hamilton was not intending to throw his shot. Again, this was part of the dueling ritual play : one had to act as if the duel was going to be carried out to full extent to save face, though usually the challenger and challenge would throw their shots. Isenberg's revisionist take on the Duel can easily be refuted by the fact that Hamilton did not set the hair-trigger on his pistol - something that gave the duelist an advantage to get off the first shot. Isenberg also doesn't cover in Burr, that Hamilton confided in friends before the duel that he was going to throw his shot away, and many counseled him against this, knowing that Aaron Burr meant business. The author's attempts to paint Burr as a benevolent fellow gets really cavalier when she discusses the Duel. Nancy Isenberg also does not mention that following Burr's mortal wound on Hamilton, Burr returned home and had a nice celebratory breakfast and carried on about his business as if it was just another day - hardly the behavior of someone who felt remorse of his actions. Aaron Burr himself never expressed remorse over killing Hamilton; into his old age he loved to narrate his account of the Duel to any who would listen. People with guilty consciences usually do not like to be reminded of their past and certainly do not voluntarily talk about them. Burr's panache was close to that of a sociopath, and he probably was one.

Hamilton and Burr had cordial relations until 1800, and shortly before their infamous duel Hamilton had even loaned Burr money. Though Burr belonged to the Republicans, he was not an ideologue and could had just as easily had been a Federalist(he even began making plays for them after Jefferson had dropped him from the ticket).One may ask, why did Hamilton have such a sudden ax to grind with Burr, and why did he support his hated foe Jefferson over Burr for President in 1800, then? Hamilton revealed in 1800 to a correspondent two conversations that he had had previously with Aaron Burr that made him dead-set against Burr attaining the pinnacle of political power: when AH was Treasury Secretary, Burr admonished Hamilton to take advantage of his power of the nation's money supply and use it for his own needs and wants instead of living in a rented house like a pauper. Later, during the 'XYZ Affair', when Washington vetoed AH's request that Burr be made a Brigadier General, Burr in a fury visited Hamilton and suggested that he use the Army for a coup. This clearly demonstrated to Hamilton or anyone else that even Jefferson would be a better man as chief executive.

Isenberg does also cast Jefferson in a unfavorable light as opposed to Burr and she's on par that the person who benefited from the Duel was TJ himself: one perennial political rival dead, the other's political career finished. Following Burr's killing of Hamilton, Jefferson wined and dined his outgoing Vice President at the White House when beforehand he avoided AB as much as possible. If it wasn't for Hamilton, Burr probably would had been sitting in the Presidential chair, but never would the Sage of Monticello acknowledge this. Later, Jefferson turned on Burr and tried to get a treason conviction on him(I concur that it was not proven that Burr intentionally set-out to create his own country on the Western frontier;too many bad witnesses and too murky what Burr was up to) to no avail.

Aaron Burr may not have been quite the genuine-article psycho, but the man was both privately and publicly corrupt. Burr the Feminist doesn't change these facts, and undoubtedly Isenberg lets her own feminism dictate her narrative of Burr? Not a good biography of Burr at all, and some more objective historian needs to give it a shot. Wait for Isenberg's bio of Burr to hit the library if you want to read it.
Or better yet - buy my copy, please.


Howard J. Harrison said...

I had known nothing about the duel save that it occurred. Certainily I had known nothing of hair triggers and the throwing away of shots. Thanks for the fascinating narrative.

So, if I do not want to buy your copy of Isenberg's book, then when can I buy Isenberg's copy of your book? What book, you ask? Why, the book on Hamilton and the federalists, which you have not yet written.

Regarding Paul Craig Roberts, I am glad that you have brought up his name, because I have been avoiding doing so in my own blog. I find it dishonorable to attack political allies one thinks too extreme; better just to ignore them. Clearly Mr. Roberts is on my side (and to a significant extent on your side) politically, but, is it just me or is old age gradually destroying his mind, the way old age destroyed Barry Goldwater's mind in the years before Goldwater died?

Old men I have known tend to at first to have many lucid days interspersed with the occasional muddled day, followed later by many muddled days interspersed with the occasional lucid day. They tend to be irritable on the muddled days. You and I will both reach these stages all too soon, I am afraid. One does not want to play amateur psychiatrist, but do not Mr. Roberts' columns in recent years seem to be following precisely this arc?

If I am right about the arc, then maybe you had better get to writing that book, eh, while there is still time.

Redoubt10 said...

Recently there has been a revival of texts on the Early Republic by professional historians and I doubt that autodidacts such as myself have much to add to the publishing world, or would be accepted if one such book is completed dealing with the Federalist- Republican fight of the 1790s. I believe that I would also have a bias slant, but unlike Nancy Isenberg's own bias, I'd narrate the 'dark side' of Hamilton/Federalism to give such a text balance. Frankly,there were a lot of good things about the Republicans that the Feds were lacking in - it's their heavy petting of leveling Jacobinism, TJ's blatant hypocrisy that I object to. But it turned out okay: Jefferson as President turned out to be be quite 'Hamiltonian' and AH had the last laugh on the Sage.

Mr. Roberts' crankiness may be that he is old enough to remember when the USA was a better place and he's getting sick of seeing it waste away before his eyes. I like his current economic/trade views though I can't stand the younger Paul Craig, for irony. Perhaps these old men who seem to be surlier and more radical than they used to be may be more indicitive that they have been here longer and have more experience(rather than entirely due to breakdown of nerons that accompany old age.)?
That one proverb - "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" - is balderdash, imo.