January 21, 2013

The civil rights movement as an insurgency

Filed under: History, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:38

Mark Grimsley explains why the 1960’s civil rights movement should properly be considered an insurgency:

Labeling that movement an insurgency flies in the face of the common perception of what constitutes an insurgency. Three objections spring to mind. One is superficial, though perhaps understandable in the post-9/11 era: Isn’t it outrageous to call the movement an insurgency? Aren’t insurgencies evil? Such a reaction fails to recognize that the term “insurgency” is value-neutral. Insurgents have also fought for noble causes. The United States itself was the product of an insurgency.

The remaining objections are more substantive. First, the movement was nonviolent, so how could it have been an insurgency? After all, even the official U.S. Department of Defense definition of insurgency assumes “armed conflict” as a basic tactic. Second, it is often thought that the civil rights movement received unstinting support from the U.S. government. Popular films such as Mississippi Burning (1988), whose protagonists are Federal Bureau of Investigation agents hell-bent on defeating the Ku Klux Klan, reinforce this interpretation. If so much pressure on segregationist governments emanated from above, then using the term “insurgency” — a challenge to the existing power structure from below — seems preposterous.

These objections, however, hinge on serious misconceptions about the nature of the civil rights movement, about the stance the federal government took toward civil rights, and above all about the scope of the “insurgency” concept. Once these are cleared away, the notion of the movement as an insurgency becomes more plausible. Ultimately, it becomes inescapable.

Typically, groups excluded from power wage wars of insurgency, and Southern blacks certainly fit that description. Before 1965, few blacks in the Deep South could even vote. Nowhere in the South were they able to influence legislation and law enforcement through the normal political process. The civil rights movement attempted to gain access to political power by coercion. Had it been done with guns, no one would hesitate to think of it as an insurgency.

Should Bilbo have consulted his solicitor?

Filed under: Books, Law, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:23

In Wired, James Daily analyzes the contract between Bilbo Baggins and Thorin’s company:

Ordinarily I don’t discuss legal issues relating to fictional settings that are dramatically different from the real world in terms of their legal system. Thus, Star Wars, Star Trek, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, etc. are usually off-limits because we can’t meaningfully apply real-world law to them. But the contract featured in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was just too good a topic to pass up, especially since you can buy a high-quality replica of it that is over 5 feet long unfolded.

First, it seems fairly clear (to me, anyway) that Tolkien wrote the Shire (where hobbits live) as a close analog to pastoral England, with its similar legal and political structures. For example, the Shire has a mayor and sheriffs, and there is a system of inheritance similar to the common law. The common law fundamentals of contract law have not changed significantly since the time that the Shire is meant to evoke, so it makes sense that the contract would be broadly similar to a modern contract (and likewise that we could apply modern contract law to it).

So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Orwell Day

Filed under: Books, Britain, History, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:04

To mark Orwell Day, History Today posted a short account of the publication of Orwell’s last book, 1984:

George Orwell’s forty-sixth birthday was less than a month off when his last novel was published in London by Secker & Warburg, and five days afterwards by Harcourt Brace in New York. The socialist author of the twentieth century’s most devastating critique of left-wing totalitarianism had less than a year left to live. The idea for the book had come to him in 1943 and themes in an early outline included, ‘The system of organized lying on which society is founded, the ways in which this is done (falsification of records, etc), the nightmare feeling caused by the disappearance of objective truth, leader-worship, etc…’. No one who knew London in the years immediately after 1945 will need to be told where the appalling shabbiness of the book’s setting came from. The shortages, the bombsites, the regular failure of things to work properly, the prevailing dreariness — were drawn from real life.

Update: History Today also posted a link to an earlier article comparing Orwell to Edmund Burke:

Both Orwell and Burke consistently mistrusted their fellow intellectuals. Orwell wrote, in his great wartime essay The Lion and the Unicorn, that ‘the Bloomsbury highbrow with his mechanical snigger is as out-of-date as the cavalry colonel’. His was not just an abstract dislike — he had seen how the blind worship of Stalin’s Russia by many on the left had given credence to the purges, paving the way for Communist repression of the non-Stalinist Left in Barcelona, to which he is a blistering eyewitness in Homage to Catalonia (1938).

[. . .]

Orwell hymns it differently. In Nineteen Eighty-Four history and memory are the subversives of a totalitarian order that has made grim flesh of the old Soviet joke ‘only the future is certain … the past is constantly changing’. But as Simon Schama has recently reminded us, ‘For Orwell, to have a future, at least a free future, presupposes keeping faith with the Past’. It is to the Past’s potential to undo Big Brother that Winston Smith proposes his rebel’s toast.

In The Lion and the Unicorn Orwell writes that it is patriotism that is ‘the bridge between the future and the past’. Bernard Crick’s description of him as a ‘revolutionary patriot’ whose ‘socialism embraces both memory and nature’ is spot-on. And in Orwell’s sense that the ‘privateness of English life … this strange mixture of reality and illusion, democracy and privilege, humbug and decency’, would eventually win through to victory over Fascism and a better world he is not all that far from Burke’s ‘idea of a liberal descent which inspires us with a sense of habitual native dignity’ — an untidy Britain but one where ‘the species is wise, and when time is given to it, as a species it almost always acts right’. Orwell saw his future Socialist Britain as an inconsistent Utopia: ‘it will not be doctrinaire, nor even logical … it will leave anachronisms and loose ends everywhere … but it will never lose touch with the tradition of compromise and the belief in a law that is above the State’. Burke might not have approved the Utopia but he would have appreciated its untidiness. In his view, ‘the circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind’.

Reason.tv: It’s not what he said, but how he said it

Filed under: Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:50

“And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

Reason TV looks back at Obama’s 2009 inaugural address to see how well his rhetoric compares to his first four years in office.

Produced by Meredith Bragg.

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