Saturday, February 03, 2007

George Fitzhugh – Taking the trouble to write the truth

George Fitzhugh is, in my opinion, the greatest of the native-born American thinkers. R. L. Dabney and Richard Weaver certainly deserve honorable mention, but George Fitzhugh is my hero. On a wide range of topics, including slavery, the Reformation, Shakespeare, and the French Revolution, George Fitzhugh speaks with wisdom.

His defense of the segregated, slave-holding South of the 1850’s is particularly inspired and irrefutable. And yet Fitzhugh’s defense of the South did the South no good. Those without wisdom and without the correct arguments won. Why? I don’t know why truth never wins. Maybe our Lord meant it to be that way. After all, he was the Truth Incarnate and he was crucified.

It is difficult not to just give up any attempt to articulate a coherent true refutation of modernity. “If they didn’t listen to someone like George Fitzhugh, why should I, lacking his eloquence, bother to try to convince the inconvincible?” In other words, why should a man write to mere oblivion? I think a man writes in the hope that in the metaphysical realm his voice is heard. It is a form of prayer, which, as Shakespeare says, “pierces so that it assaults Mercy itself and frees all faults.”

From Fitzhugh:

Our Revolution, so wise in its conception and so glorious in its execution, was the mere assertion by adults of the rights of adults, and had nothing more to do with philosophy than the weaning of a calf. It was the act of a people seeking national independence, not the Utopian scheme of speculative philosophers, seeking to establish human equality and social perfection.

But the philosophers seized upon it, as they had upon the Reformation, and made it the unwilling and unnatural parent of the largest and most hideous brood of ills that had ever appeared at one birth, since the opening of the box of Pandora. Bills of Rights, Acts of Religious Freedom and Constitutions, besprinkled with doctrines directly at war with all stable government, seem to be the basis on which our institutions rest. But only seem to be; for, in truth, our laws and government are either old Anglo-Saxon prescriptive arrange-ments, or else the gradual accretions of time, circumstance and necessity. Throw our paper platforms, preambles and resolutions, guaran-ties and constitutions, into the fire, and we should be none the worse off, provided we retained our institutions - and the necessities that begat, and have, so far, continued them.


We may be doing Mr. Jefferson injustice, in assuming that his "fundamental principles" and Mr. Seward's "higher law," mean the same thing; but the injustice can be very little, as they both mean just nothing at all, unless it be a determination to inaugurate anarchy, and to do all sorts of mischief. We refer the reader to the chapter on the Declaration of Independence," &c., in our Sociology, for a further dissertation on the fundamental powdercask abstractions, on which our glorious institutions affect to repose. We say affect, because we are sure neither their repose nor their permanence would be disturbed by the removal of the counterfeit foundation.

The true greatness of Mr. Jefferson was his fitness for revolution. He was the genius of innovation, the architect of ruin, the inaugurator of anarchy. His mission was to pull down, not to build up. He thought everything false as well in the physical, as in the moral world. He fed his horses on potatoes, and defended harbors with gun-boats, because it was contrary to human experience and human opinion. He proposed to govern boys without the authority of masters or the control of religion, supplying their places with Laissez-faire philosophy, and morality from the pages of Lawrence Sterne. His character, like his philosophy, is exceptional - invaluable in urging on revolution, but useless, if not dangerous, in quiet times.