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September 17, 2007

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Old Dominion Tory

Thank you for this moving tribute, Mr. Peperium, as well as for flying the 69th's colors today. Riamh Nar Dhruid O Spairn Iann--Who Never Fled from the Clash of the Spears.

Lorraine

My father is a history buff, so we once visited Gettysburg and took a self-guided tour with a tape from the museum there. We paused between riveting first hand accounts, and trekked around the various sites. The Civil War diaries and letters reveal an incredible nobility of spirit. I believe this stirs us so deeply because it reveals a time when America possessed a culture worth preserving. At the end of the day, hedonism just isn't as inspiring.

Now, don't get me wrong, I fancy myself a monarchist of sorts and view the American Revolution with an eye not uncritical. [Try making the facts conform with Aquinas' just war principles. Just be forewarned: The gray matter will invariably end in a shattered state.] I also believe the American Constitution tended toward a certain individualism - maybe even relativism - and that our present social state is more than a horrid accident. However, that said, the early settlers brought some of the receding glories of Christendom with them when the swam the proverbial pond and we might learn a great deal from closer observation of our forefathers.

Mr. Peperium

Butchers: Thanks for the link and the post. I think the blogosphere exists primarily to reassure me that I'm not the only one who observes these melencholy and glorious anniversaries.

ODT! Thank you for the translation of the motto. For some reason I have been hard-pressed to re-discover it. One of those things I knew, but then age or something happened and...uh...what was I saying?

Lorraine, having spent the better part of my reading time over the past two years immersed in the American Revolution, I know exactly what you mean. I can't talk Aquinas like you can, but I do get a frison of dread every time I run across Tom Paine's wild-eyed rantings about the "power to begin the world over again". That, ultimately, is the spirit that leads to the guillotine and the gulag; it is the assumption of God's powers for man. The book by Gordon Woods I posted about ("Obnoxious and Disliked"--I still need to read your link on Distributism!) a few weeks back makes it plain that the revolutionary generation, solid landed conservatives almost to a man, had no idea of the tidal wave of individualism they had unleashed; an individualism which, as we know, needed only the mass-markets of the Indistrial Revolution to turn it toxic faster than it would under normal circumstances. It is one of the reasons why Washington--yes, a Freemanson, yes a tepid Christian as far as I can tell (the jury is still out) but a pillar of self-sacrificial rectitude who bore the entire contest on his shoulders in a very real pouring out of self--is my ultimate hero in the revolutionary drama.

But I would, gently, urge you to not turn your back completely on America or its culture. As Mrs. P says whenever we start talking about it, at the very least. America is still a place where we had the freedom to become Catholic, to turn our backs not on our country's culture but on what is wrong with our country's culture. America at the time of the Civil War was plenty consumerist; some in the South believed that "nation of shopkeepers" up North wouldn't fight. Many believed economic interests--fear of exclusion from the Atlantic trade--would nip the idea of Independency in the bud at Philidelphia in 1776.

I guess what I'm saying is, I am pulling rank a little on you (yes, I know it's unfair). As Bertie's Aunt Dahlia says, "I'm an older woman than you...well, you know what I mean." I lived through the Reagan years hating the man and his policies. I thought my country was going to wrack and ruin. Now I look back on those days as a Golden Era that might never be recaptured. I have seen the End of All Things far too many times to be troubled much by it. To entertain that way of thinking is to make the Catholic way of life--marriage, children, faith--pretty much pointless.

I mean this as encouragement; I hope I am being gentle, or at least you can read what I'm saying in a spirit that makes it gentle.

Lorraine

Please, pull rank at will. I find it refreshing after a life time of egalitarian rhetoric. You are perfectly right - angst is bad form. I am still learning the balance between blind patriotism and cynical idealism.

Christians may never throw in the towel or wallow in self-pity when earthly things disappoint. for we only sojourn here on our way to better things:
"Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?"
GKC

Mr. Peperium

Yes, I have those mood swings myself--just ask Mrs. P. And having children only makes them worse. Reviewing my next post I winced, realizing I was kinda sorta doing exactly what I cautioned you against. Conservatism as a political viewpoint tends naturally to make its adherents nostalgic. Or maybe it's the other way around: nostaligic people tend to become conservatives. It's a trap I fell into early and often; fighting it out in the Espicopal Church only made it worse ("If we could only get back to the '28 prayer book!") Catholicism rescued me from it because Catholicism is sanity. It is Revelation as well as Reason. It is Truth beyond our ability to grasp perfectly and perfect common sense. It looks forward and backward at once, or rather it IS forward and backward at once. It exists something like the perfect sacrifice of the mass: a single historical moment that exists and is true for all other historical moments, mine included.

Did that make any sense?

Lorraine

It made a whole lot of sense, in the way that mysteries make sense even when you don't really understand them.

Mr. Peperium

Good. I was about to go to the coffee room and stick my head in the icebox.

Lorraine

Tut,tut, Mr.P. One baptism should be sufficient for any Catholic, even a convert. Don't go ducking your head thither and yon into every puddle and drinking fountain expecting a flood of spiritual insights therefrom.

Mr. Peperium

Ha.

The Maximum Leader

As I type these words I sit not 2 miles from another place oft referred to as "The Sunken Road." It is the Sunken Road from the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862.

Old Dominion Tory

Americans often idealize other periods--e.g., the Early Republic, the Civil War, World War II--looking with open (and envious) admiration at the virtues exhibited by people in perilous or demanding times. We set them up as paragons of virtue, describing them by such terms as "The Greatest Generation." We accord them boundless courage, intense devotion to duty, and unflinching dedication to cause and then think ourselves as their unworthy sons and daughters, incapable of making the sacrifices and bearing the burndens that they did.
As any Catholic should know, this is utter rubbish. Man was as fallen in the 1780s, 1860s, and the 1940s as he was in the 1500s and is now. Among the people who we now reflexively lionize as "The Greatest Generation," they were cowards, thieves, shirkers, and schemers in uniform and on the home front. The Revolutionary generation included such problematic figures as Aaron Burr, the officers who participated in the Newburgh Conspiracy, and the nameless farmers who refused to sell food to the Continental Army because the money was worthless.
As to current American "culture," I agree it too often is the promotion of decadence and hedonism dressed up as freedom and liberation. Think back, however, to the time when the Roman Empire ebbed and all civilization seemed to have left on the outgoing tide. It was Christianity and its adherents who built an even greater civilization and led Europe and so much of the world out of darkness. If they could beat back--through prayer and work--the barbarity and despair that engulfed the old Roman Empire, if they could conquer the pagan religions, then surely we can fend off the denizens of our culture as well.

Crackie

Mr. P, I must caution you: fellows have been drummed out of RCBfA upon saying things such as: "As Bertie's Aunt Dahlia says, 'I'm an older woman than you...well, you know what I mean.'" Back in the...well...Golden Era of Patum Peperium, it would not have taken 8 hours plus for someone to call you to account.

Dan Patterson

These comments, and the original post, have me climbing a shaky ladder: There is something missing, and important something, and I cannot describe it. The something relates directly to the concept of the big picture, and forgive me but a piece is either missing or misplaced.

"Brigades enduring casualty rates that can make you literally shudder. Regiments keeping their ranks even as those ranks melted away". “The 63rd and 69th New York each lost some 60% of their numbers, most of them in these first minutes of combat.”

What do you suppose caused those men, very young and with little material support of any sort, to face death so willingly? What cause was so important to them? The average soldier of the south was no more or less a man than his northern counterpart--each side depended on different skills and resources common to their respective regions but neither side can claim an advantage in bravery. The soldiers fought for what they perceived to be a threat from an enemy; the north rightly sought to preserve the union, the south wrongly believed it was a nation-state and had a right to pursue it's own interests. A closer look into the minds of men of the time might reveal one less distracted by consumer goods but just as today, one that is welded to it's brother-in-arms no matter what their background. They responded to a threat, at first to the region or country but in ever-increasing strength, the threat was to their fellows (WWII and Korea vets would say buddies, Vietnam vets might say grunts).

One big-picture question is why did the two sides arrive at such disparate conclusions. The American Revolution was not fought to preserve a monarchy nor to found a more perfect kingdom, but to establish a place and a rule of law that would allow for individual liberty and freedom. Thomas Paine's words were not wild-eyed at all if read in the context of his day: He and others were trying to create a new nation and by force if necessary. That sort of thing demands a certain fervor from its' proponents, and is toxic mostly to the power being overthrown. The old "ox being gored" comment applies if one views the civil war or revolution from either side of the battle.

The two regions had economies that developed along different lines, partly because of natural resources and partly because there was little interaction between the two except for commerce. The cultures divided along the economic lines and there was and almost no method of connecting the people of, say, Atlanta Georgia with those of Boston Massachusetts. The men of the north were closer to their European cousins than to their relatives in the south, and drew their allegances along those boundries as well. The men of the south were similarly disconnected except by region. The American Revolution failed in that it did not unite the far-flung members under a common purpose. Instead it freed them all from the tyranny of monarchy and allowed an un-boundried development without commonly applied law and without common purpose. The failure was not in concept nor in the ability of the founders to promote their beliefs, but in the ability to use technology and communication to unite a people not united by race, religion, or cultural precendent. The American Civil War, The War To Repel The Rebellion, was necessary to create that union. Failures since then are another subject.

There is much grist for the mill regarding present cultural divides and re-unioning, fallen spirits, and failed character. Patriotism cannot be blind or it erodes into something else, and cynics become alcoholics all to frequently. History and context--the big picture--might help us answer some questions while we uncover others.

It's late, I have rambled, so I am going to have a short glass of bourbon and a short snooze.

Dan Patterson
Arrogant Infidel


Mr. Peperium

Thanks, Infidel, very much. I am going to find the time today (somehow) to respond. As always, solid, thoughtful input one can get one's teeth into.

Old Dominion, Basil, (anyone else?) if you're freer than me today, why not give us your take on Arrogant's comments. It may help me organize my own.

But right now I've gotta get into the shower.

Mr. Peperium

Mrs. P often likens this blog to a festive board where we are all eating, drinking and talking. It would be the height of bad form, in such circumstances, to ignore a comment made between bites or sips. But this is what I have done with Maximum Leader and I am rushing to repair the social gaff.

Yes, there is another Sunken Road in the Civil War (the Stone Wall figures so prominently at Fredericksburg that I always forget there was a Sunken Road behind it). Bouncing off of Arrogant's question ("Why did they do it?") I would once again ask why Burnside picked the strongest point in the Rebel line and flung everything he had at it. In this case, too, the assaults were made "in driblets", but more because of the awful logic of the battlefield: you can only get so many men into a given space before they make movement impossible. Not that, given the "plan" there was much room for that sort of thing to begin with.

Still, that doesn't answer the question, "Why?" It is a fitting subject for Stephen Sears, who has made something of a specialty of the year 1862 and has brought so much light to subjects like Lee's "Lost Order" and Hooker's (better than generally believed) generalship in the Chancellorsville campaign. (After all, he did begin that campaign doing exactly what Burnside should have done: go around a flank.)

Robbo the Llama Butcher

Maxie, I went to law school with the (however many) great grandson of the General Cobb killed at the Sunken Road.

My godparents live off 17 South about ten miles outside of Fred-Vegas. Lee fortified a good stretch of the front range of hills along the Rappahanock, and at their place you can still see the remains of trenches and artillery pits covering the river.

MCNS

Mr P, kudos on a fine post.

Re the Infidel's comment above: Callimachus at Done With Mirrors has written a very useful essay on the differing notions of liberty (both rooted in long tradition) that informed the Founders, North and South. I can't remember any college lecture on the subject as enlightening. The link is here:

http://vernondent.blogspot.com/2006/05/public-virtue.html

Lorraine

ODT,

While man has been fallen, well, since the Fall, that does not exclude the possibility that some social/political arrangements are more conducive to virtue than others. There was a dignity and a graciousness about many of the Civil War proceedings which is no longer understood or appreciated in the broader culture. And here is an example of how hedonism undermines courage:
http://www.macleans.ca/article.jsp?content=20070611_106150_106150

Infidel,
According to Thomas Aquinas, the purpose of law is to make men virtuous(ST I-II.Q92.1), and thus to direct them toward true happiness. He also claimed that real freedom is in conformity with goodness, because a man who lives in vice is a slave to his passions and to error. But the American understanding of liberty is that each person has the right to define and pursue happiness in whatever way they choose, so long as their pursuit of happiness does not physically impede that of another. A rule of law directed toward this kind of "individual liberty and freedom" fosters individualism and selfish hedonism. In its early days, America retained - through old habit- the customs of a Christian civilization and this preserved it from the excesses permitted by the Constitutional notion of liberty. However, where the Faith does not inform the law, the Christian influence on society diminishes and the corruption of custom and culture soon follows.

I am more sympathetic to the South than are you, but don't have the time or knowledge to do that topic justice here.

Mrs. Peperium

Mr. P, you failed to note Crackie's crac about the "Golden Era of Patum Peperium".

Crackie has some quick explaining to do on that one. For the life of me, I don't see how he will get out of this one intact...

Crackie

1. If Crackie can't make a crack and get away with it, who can.
2. I innocently thought that Mr. P was seeking to provoke some response of a snarky nature to his taking on the role of Aunt Dehlia. If I was wrong in this regard, then I certainly need to go to the doghouse.
3. Arf Arf.

Mrs. Peperium

Yeah, well keep barking until you produce that blockhead friend of yours. That would be the monarchist you are know to attend Mass with. All the things he loves to pound me over the head about (Thomas Paine, the errant American Revolution, the South being superior to the North) is being discussed here and where is he?

Old Dominion Tory

Arrogant Infidel makes some solid points about the different political cultures of the North and the South.
I disagree, however, with any idea that any kinship that people in the North felt toward their European cousins influenced the North's political culture. The German and Irish immigrants who came to America in the 1840s and 1850s certainly continued many of their folkways. However, they also embraced America's democratic political culture and participated in it with vigor. Outside of the cities and among the Yankee stock, the political culture also was a democratic one and the memories of the American Revolution certainly buttressed it.
If there is any “European” influence on American political culture at the time, it might have been found in the notion of a Southern gentleman’s proper place in society and politics. Even that falls apart, however, when you consider that politics in places like the Valley of Virginia was democratic—and had been since the time of Jefferson.
As to a lack of common purpose, I find that idea difficult to swallow as well. In the antebellum years, there were many people, many statesman, like Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John Quincy Adams, who thought and spoke in terms of national greatness and labored to make the Union--not their particular regions--stronger and richer.

Andrew Cusack

Hey hey! What's all this doghouse/blockhead business?

First, a few thoughts for Mr. Patterson:

"The soldiers fought for what they perceived to be a threat from an enemy;"

Also, a good many soldiers fought because they were forced to by the government and could not afford the buy-out allowed for the well-to-do.

"the north rightly sought to preserve the union, the south wrongly believed it was a nation-state and had a right to pursue it's own interests."

By fighting, the North itself destroyed the first union, which was free and voluntary, and replaced it with a new union, which was united by violence and involuntary. The South correctly believed the North was a threat to its constitutional liberties, and the North did nothing to assuage that idea; indeed, they proved it by their actions.

"[Paine] and others were trying to create a new nation and by force if necessary."

Much like, in your own words, the South?

- - -

Meanwhile, Mon chere Madame P, I don't believe I've ever said that the South is superior to the North, per se. I don't really think any region or country can be "superior" to another, while I readily admite I prefer some to others. Every place has its defects and its strong points. I admire and perhaps even envy a number of the South's better points. But on the whole, I think I prefer New York.

But, if you meant with regards to the Civil War, then naturally I concur that the South's cause was much superior to the North's.

Mrs. Peperium

Welcome blockhead. You've been missed. Unfortunately I'm not intelligent enough to address the points you have made, but you will be happy to learn that your appearance has set Crackie free from the doghouse...

Mr. Peperium

I knew if I waited long enough the answers to Mr. Infidel would happen.

Actually, I've been very busy at work, without the time or mental energy to respond to anything intelligently or persuasively. That said, I will fall back on bald, unsupported statements of my point of view, offend everybody, and leave.

I'm with Andrew on the South not being "wrong". The Union was voluntary; secession is--or rather, was--constitutional. The South was, however, wrong about slavery (you always have to say that when you defend the South; otherwise you get comments nastier than anything from my sisters-in-law or their charming offspring). But then the best minds in the South already knew that.

I'm with ODT in questioning the idea that the Union was not unified in any real sense before the War. Certainly each region was more distinct as far as folkways, etc., but not seperate. My reading, however misguided it might be, has always emphasized the cold-ish shoulder those Irish and German immigrants received in the North. They settled North of the M-D line, however, because of slavery. Former peasants with memories of enforced military service (among other factors) gladly took up muskets to fight what they preceived as yet another high-handed aristocracy. Recruiting posters for the Irish Brigade emphasized this aspect of the conflict (at least one I recall did). The rest did it because they really and truly believed in what they were fighting for. I know that sounds simplistic, but I do believe it's true. There are so many other factors that I'm leaving out. I often hear about guys fighting for their buddies, if not their cause. I always bridle at that. of course men fight for their buddies, especially in a war like the Civil War where you were in line with brothers, neighbors, in-laws, maybe even your father. But we tend to forget that, as in the Revolution, the army becomes the embodyment of the Cause. Fighting for your buddles is, by extension, fighting for the cause. Facts can be marshalled to support any argument, Andrew, but the vast majority kept at it and had nothing but disdain for the "bounty men" and substitutes sent to the front beginning really in 1864. Mostly because they destabilized a unit in camp as well as in battle. The massive vote for Lincoln on the part of the armies that election year speaks volumes. Say what you will about the war being only a mere six months away from a finish--nobody knew it back then and a vote for Old Abe kept you in the beauty spot that was the Petersburg trenches. I'm not saying here were no skulkers, deserters, faint-hearts. To eulogize the Irish Brigade is in no way to suggest any man in the unit really wanted to be there, even the ones who fought like heroes. I always recall the veteran of D-Day who, when asked by an uncomprehending reporter how he could have done what he did, pointed inland and said, "Home was that way".

The South, irony of ironies, was first to turn to conscription--reaching out the long arm of Big Government in the middle of a war to shorten that reach. But then as I just read in Almost A Miracle at lunch today, the Declaration of Independence was "only the most recent change in a war started to prevent Parlaiment from introducing change". Wars do have a way of taking on a life of their own, and neatly-held principles are among the first things to get hurt.

Lorraine, your point about Aquinas and liberty is very well taken; how could it not be here? It is another one of those instances when I realize how far we have skidded off the rails, get depressed, and then remind myself that I have to soldier on and at least--at the very least--raise my children with Aquinas' ideas. But you yourself in as many words say the flaw in constitutional liberty was by no means conscious. Everyone expected Christian norms to remain unchallenged.

I'm tired and don't really know what I've said here. So if I rubbed anyone the wrong way I really honestly didn't mean it.

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