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Originally posted at Talk to Action.

In the last several posts we have examined an element of the Catholic Right  comprised of neo-Confederate apologists who openly advocate both the state nullification of federal court decisions and statutes as well as secession.  The name that most commonly comes up when conservative Catholics discuss these things is Thomas E. Woods, Jr., who may be the leading modern confederate, intending to win what Jefferson Davis lost.  But a major difference today is that certain Catholic Right players would use the neo-confederate disruption of popular government to impose theocracy-even at the expense of national unity.

Thomas Woods is a well-educated man. He has earned a B.A. in History from Harvard as well as a Ph.D. in the same subject from Columbia from which he also holds a Masters in Philosophy. But Woods' elite education is not reflected in his writing which is devoted to the agenda of nullification and secession. To that end, he serves as not only as a senior fellow to the über-libertarian Ludwig von Mises Institute, but also as an associate scholar with Abbeville Institute, an institution that promotes a revisionist view of the Confederacy.

Wood is no ordinary academic not only because of his agenda but in his method of advancing his views, which often includes tactical omissions, mischaracterizations and even outright mendacity.  He is often quick to resort to hyperbole (describing those who warn of the dangers of secession as engaging in "hysterics" while describing them as "bizarre and creepy") and name-calling (describing those who believe that the Civil War settled the issues of nullification and secession as having a "moral compass deeply deformed by government propaganda").

He is prone to misleading statements. For example, in defending his call for the nullification of federal court decisions and legislation, he argues:

Nullification was never used on behalf of slavery.  As I show in Nullification, it was used against slavery, which is why South Carolina's secession document cites it as a grievance justifying southern secession, and Jefferson Davis denounced it in his farewell address to the Senate.  Thus Wisconsin's Supreme Court, backed up by the state legislature, declared the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 unconstitutional (the mere existence of the fugitive-slave clause in the Constitution did not, in its view, suffice to make all the odious provisions of that act constitutionally legitimate).  In Ableman v. Booth  (1859), the Supreme Court scolded it for doing so.  In other words, modern anti-nullification jurisprudence has its roots in the Supreme Court's declarations in support of the Fugitive Slave Act.  Who's defending slavery here?

This is a straw-man argument that completely sidesteps the main issue. Woods may rhetorically ask, "Who's defending slavery here?" The obvious reply is, "Who here is approves of nullification under any circumstance?" The Wisconsin Supreme Court was clearly on the moral high ground in voicing its disapproval of the Fugitive Slave Act. But with that said, the proper remedy was still the Thirteenth Amendment. That is immutable. More importantly, Wisconsin ceded to the decision of the Supreme Court, thus honoring the Supremacy Clause.

Likewise, when discussing nullification and the Founders, Woods plays fast and loose with the facts of history. For example, he recently wrote:

"Nullification" dates back to 1798, when James Madison and Thomas Jefferson drafted the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, respectively.  There we read that the states, which created the federal government in the first place, by the very logic of what they had done must possess some kind of defense mechanism should their creation break free of the restraints they had imposed on it.  Jefferson himself introduced the word "nullification" into the American political lexicon, by which he meant the indispensable power of a state to refuse to allow an unconstitutional federal law to be enforced within its borders.

Woods' omissions are all-too-convenient.  First, in response to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions (declaring the Alien and Sedition Acts unconstitutional) nine other states expressed either disapproval or outright rejection of the Resolutions. Secondly, Jefferson was always an anti-Federalist. Beyond that, Madison would conclude that determining unconstitutionality was to be decided by the federal courts. For Madison, nullification was a means of registering protest, not acting upon it.

Much like his fellow Catholic neo-Confederate, Thomas DiLorenzo, he is obsessed with tearing down President Lincoln's legacy.  He cites Lincoln's early views on the issue of slavery -- initially supporting the resettlement of former slaves -- in order to paint him as a hypocrite. Yet no serious student of Lincoln denies his earlier views on race relations. But most serious pro-Lincoln also understand that his views evolved over time to a higher and better place.  Still, Woods, DiLorenzo and their ilk point to early stations in Lincoln's life journey as a final judgment.  In fact, Lincoln's journey was marked by an open mind, unafraid of where the application of core beliefs would lead him.

Why is a discussion of Lincoln's legacy pertinent to confronting the Religious Right?  Simply because the Sixteenth President's stand against nullification and secession epitomizes the defeat of those twin concepts of national disunity and selfishness.  Destroy Lincoln's legacy, and the door is thrown wide open to the view that an individual state is in itself a mini-sovereign, free to adopt one religious view as that state's established faith. This in turn, opens the door to criminalizing women's' reproductive rights, stem cell research, and marriage equality.

Does this sound far-fetched? As it bears repeating over and over again, not to the likes of Woods ally and Opus Dei firebrand Rev. C. John McCloskey, who idealizes a future marked by secession and civil war:

The tens of thousands of martyrs and confessors for the Faith in North America were indeed the "seed of the Church" as they were in pre-Edict of Milan Christianity. The final short and relatively bloodless conflict produced our Regional States of North America. The outcome was by no means an ideal solution but it does allow Christians to live in states that recognize the natural law and divine Revelation, the right of free practice of religion, and laws on marriage, family, and life that reflect the primacy of our Faith. italics added

Is such an outcome an exaggerated fear? Hardly. Nullification is spreading like an out of control fire through the national edifice. A bill designed to nullify the Affordable Care Act is on the South Carolina Senate's current agenda. Earlier this year Mississippi Tea Party legislators unsuccessfully attempted to set up a nullification panel to review which federal laws to ignore (in typical Woods fashion, he described those who disapproved as "thought controllers"). And in North Carolina a group of Republican legislators recently attempted to nullify The Establishment Clause by declaring Christianity the Tar Heel State's official religion. Woods' Brigade is on the march.

Historian Barbara Fields warned in 1990, that the Civil War can still be lost:

I think what we need to remember, most of all, is that the Civil War is not over until, we today, have done our part in fighting as well as understanding what happened when the Civil War generation fought it.

William Faulkner said once that "history is not was, it's is." And what we need to remember about the Civil War it is that the Civil War is in the present as well as in the past. The generation that fought the war, of the generation that argued over the definition of the war, the generation that had to pay the price in blood and had to pay the price in blasted hopes and a lost future also established a standard that will not mean anything until we can finish the work.

You can say there's no such thing as slavery anymore, we are all citizens; but if we are all citizens then we have a task to do, to make sure that too that is not a joke; that if some citizens live in houses and others live on the street, the Civil War is still going on; it's still to be fought; and regrettably can still be lost.

Let us imagine for a moment that Woods and his ilk  can succeed where other states' rights advocates have failed.  One of the obvious consequences would be that tyranny would not be abolished but locally established in the form of laissez-faire economics and theocracy. Indeed, the only "freedom" that would be expanded would be the freedom to oppress - the concept that is at the very heart of many Catholic neo-Confederates and economic libertarians alike. This underlying notion of the right to oppress others is the common thread that runs through both slavery and contemporary theocratic visions.

Woods is correct on one point: Nobody is talking about slavery. But with that said, some of us are still talking about the right to oppress others and one of those doing so is Woods.

UPDATE: To read the related posts in A Talk to Action Anthology on Nullification and Secession, click here.

Originally posted to Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 03:01 AM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  For some people, the nation is the artificial (4+ / 0-)

    creation whose "interests" justify their domination of their fellow man. For others, who don't perceive the nation as sufficiently authoritarian, the several states represent their last best hope. The issue is which regime is most suited to letting some people tell other people what to do.
    The United States Constitution, despite having only given lip service to individual rights at the start, aims for the people, the body of the whole, to govern and for the agents of government to do what they are told. This is a profoundly disappointing arrangement because it leaves no role for a self-designated hierarchy, akin to the "natural" hierarchy of the male-dominated familial regimen, to be sustained by the labor and productivity of the general populace.

    In a sense, these unproductive authoritarians are hoist on their own petard. Because, even as they argue that each man must labor to earn his/her daily bread, they themselves are incapable of doing anything that anyone else considers worth while and worth reciprocating with what they produce.
    Authoritarians are practically incompetent, perhaps because their hands are hinged backwards or they are out of touch with material reality. This is a particular problem for them because their ideology does not accommodate people who can only take and not give anything back. So, if they can't talk the producers into sharing their surplus, they have nothing to fall back on but threats. They are the bully in the school yard threatening to hurt those whose lunch money is not forthcoming. Catholicism has thrived by assigning the execution of threats to a third party and to be carried out at a later time.
    "Give us your money (and your surplus off-spring) or burn in hell."

    In comparison, the secular state, well-armed with the tools of physical destruction on the spot of the con-compliant, poses a greater threat. Which probably accounts for, given their druthers, people all around the globe opting for the theocratic version. All things considered, being punished in the after-life is better than being punished in the here and now.
    That punishment is not inevitable has not yet registered widely. Then too, authoritarians are doubtless creatures of habit and the habit of issuing threats is, like all habits, hard to give up. Witness John McCain threatening to bomb Iran, even though Iran has nothing to do with his lunch.
    Threatening aggression is obviously a bad habit. When an organization such as the Catholic hierarchy perversely turns threats into virtue, there's no incentive for giving the habit up.

    Nevertheless, threats from the useless are totally unnecessary. Indeed, our ability to sustain millions of non-human pets in physical comfort and health proves that. Some of us may exact obedience from our pets in exchange for meeting their needs, but even that is not necessarily so. A leash for the unruly serves well. So, there is nothing to prevent us from turning incompetent humans into pets, especially since it would save us from being (metaphorically) held up and misdirected by people who really don't know how to do anything useful for anyone.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 04:27:03 AM PDT

    •  Hannah, You Entirely Miss The Point (10+ / 0-)

      And the point here is actually quite simple: people like Woods and McCloskey are using nullification and secession to cloak their desire to limit the freedoms of others -- including that of many of their fellow Catholics -- in a guise of false liberty.

      What they are willing to do is destroy a great country and its popularly elected representative government solely to attain religious supremacy, nothing more or nothing less.

      •  Freedom of religion=freedom to oppress (12+ / 0-)

        For a certain type of mind, the ability to practice their religion requires making society over in the image of that religion and removing secular influences.  We see this in Orthodox communities as well as Woods-type Catholics and conservative fundamentalists.  Of course that means denying everyone else the ability to practice their religion, or no religion, but that is ok because by definition those are all false faiths.

        Pluralism, especially democratic pluralism, requires an ability to accept ambiguity and difference without losing ones own identity and beliefs.  Our society does not foster these qualities; in fact there are many forces like the GOP and marketers of all kinds that deliberately foster fear and helplessness to control people and sell products.  And for many people a rigid, all-explaining religion or ideology is needed to get through the day.

        We need real civic education if we are to save our democracy.  But that would go against God's will as interpreted by these fanatics, so it can't happen.

        Don't bet your future on 97% of climate scientists being wrong. Take action on climate now!

        by Mimikatz on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 07:26:15 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Didn't miss the point - A tangential observation (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NancyWH, devis1, bluezen

        In the end, it's just assholes who want power over others.  

        Religion is just a handy excuse to fool the sheeple.

        These assholes aren't satisfied with leaving threats to the afterlife - They're more than willing to 'do God's work' in the here and now.

        What kind of psychopath want's to bring back the inquisition?

        They should be called out at every opportunity.

        The Fail will continue until actual torches and pitchforks are set in motion. -

        by No one gets out alive on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 07:36:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, point missed (7+ / 0-)

          in the course of a long tangential rant.  

          Frank is writing about one important Catholic neo-Confederate. Not all neo-Confederates are Catholics and not all Catholics are neo-Confederates.  

          What is important here is not so much capital R religion or capital C catholicism, but what passes for libertarian Republicanism.  Nullification bills are sailing through conservative Republican controlled legislative chambers throughout the U.S. right now. Just the other day a what appears to be one of the model gun law nullification bills was  introduced in the Wisconsin House. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was all over it, wriiting  Wait for it: Secession is next.

          •  What Frank & Fred (2+ / 0-)

            always try to show is that ideas, good & bad ones, have legs. Just because one cannot directly trace, say, some idea expressed by the Governor of Texas directly back to R.J. Rushdoony, & that idea is now cloaked in acceptable Christian-States Rights rhetoric, it can be traced through a few steps of separation. We know where it came from. The Governor of Texas himself may not know where it originated, so he denies the connection.

            "There ain't no sanity clause." Chico Marx

            by DJ Rix on Wed Jun 19, 2013 at 01:55:07 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  "What kind of psychopath (0+ / 0-)

          want's to bring back the inquisition?"
          I wouldn't kno how to classify the sub classes of the species of humans that are psycopathic but I am amply convinced that many, also including the simply distorted thinking humans who would delight in seeing some version of the inquisition brought back & applied to those that they hate.

  •  The Union forever! (8+ / 0-)

       "The Union forever! Hurrah, boys, hurrah!
        Down with the traitors, up with the stars."

  •  When states legalize Pot, isn't that a form of (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Frank Cocozzelli


    The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

    by nextstep on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 08:06:27 AM PDT

    •  Depends (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sfbob, SeaTurtle, Aaa T Tudeattack

      If the local police choose not to prosecute while obstructing federal authorities from doing so, yes, that is nullification. Indeed, Woods and his Tenth Amendment Center is using the drug legalization issue as bait to lure in folks who would otherwise reject nullification.

      It is very much a dangerous trap. Is the fraying of the Union worth pot legalization? I, for one, don't think so. But that is why I believe that if the drug war is to end it must be done on the federal level.

      Sometimes self-discipline must carry the day.

      •  But states don't have to enforce federal laws (0+ / 0-)

        New York State repealed it's state prohibition law before the 21st Amendment passed and was within it's rights to do so as long as they didn't obstruct the federal Prohibition Bureau. And yes that let the NY speakeasies operate with relative impunity.

        “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Lyndon Baines Johnson

        by spacecadet1 on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 02:09:18 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Not necessarily (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      spacecadet1, Ahianne

      Remember, not everything that is illegal at a federal level is (or can be) illegal at the state level.

      When Colorado legalizes pot, they are saying 'there are no longer any state laws against it'. And they may also be saying 'we don't think there should be federal laws against it'. But unless they are saying 'the federal government is prohibited from enforcing marijuana laws in Colorado, and any federal official who does so will be arrested' or something like that, it's not nullification.

      Another example would be hate crime legislation. Lots of states don't have it, but the federal government does. That doesn't mean that the states are nullifying the hate crimes law, it just means that it is illegal at a federal level but not at a state level.

  •  a most excellent diary. tip'd & rec'd. e/m (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Frank Cocozzelli, Kombema
  •  Main weakness of arguments on Federal supremacy (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We have a dozen or so states whose residents clearly seek a government fundamentally different than the one envisioned in our constitution and built through our nation's history.  

    The people living in these states, given a chance, would freely elect an evangelical Christian theocracy.   At some point, we either let them have such a government for themselves or we will all be living under it.  


    •  Disagree. We can't open that barn door, or we (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Frank Cocozzelli, Ahianne

      imperil the Republic. If we have to fight another civil war, we have to stop these anti-modernist, American "Christian" Taliban extremists from winning their war for Christian fascism.

      "Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

      by Kombema on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 08:54:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It can be subtle (3+ / 0-)

    Reading James I. Robertson's bio of Stonewall Jackson, which is mostly enhanced by the author's admiration for the man (an admiration I do not share, I believe he was demented), I noticed  when he used the word "servants," he meant "slaves.' Must be vigilant, always.

    "There ain't no sanity clause." Chico Marx

    by DJ Rix on Wed Jun 19, 2013 at 01:40:21 AM PDT

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