Claude Bowers on Revolution

[Wednesday March 8, 2006]


(11:40) I was thinking about what at first seemed obvious – politics follows your interest – and realize it isn’t as simple as it first appeared. I am sort of residually a Democrat. I don’t like them much but I detest so much of the Republican rhetoric and adventurism. But if I were to decide which party to belong to (assuming I had to choose either one!) and wanted to decide it on my economic interests, I don’t know where I should be! I believe the Republicans are ruining the economy, so I can’t see any advantage to me of being with the party that is presiding over ruin – but I don’t see that the Democrats have actually done anything different even when they had power, so where are we? We need a new party but I find it hard to believe that will solve anything.

You are learning. Look at what you just derived simply from asking yourself which party lay closer to your economic interests. Your time has been overshadowed by its own version of the bloody flag – social issues. Abortion, the flag controversies, all the social controversies that have polarized you into units not primarily rooted in your economic interests. Civil Rights among them, I would remind you. This serves certain background groups very well, as they would be seriously outnumbered if people were voting their economic interests.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that social issues are less important than financial interests, but they are different, and it is always as well to recognize reality.

You say you need a new party – but if it were to be organized around you, would you recognize it? Or would you judge it by its rhetoric? Did you hear what George Wallace was saying about federalism, or only what it [his message] said about racism? Did you hear what any of the other parties of your time have said? So why expect things to change that way? What you need is not a new party, but a new consciousness. Honest men and women can find a home anywhere – if that home is able to be swept clean. But how is the sweeping to proceed in the absence of light showing where to sweep?

Franklin Roosevelt’s revolution – and it was a revolution – came not because he pushed it or even particularly desired it, but because he responded to it! The revolution, as all revolutions, happened in the minds of the people, and then had to be translated or resisted. Hoover resisted, Roosevelt translated. One could argue that either man had some right on his side – of course he did! And one could argue that either man could have done this or that, and would have been better not to do this or that other thing – but that is true of God himself! The point to be taken is that revolutions are not created by parties but by people changing their views.

Given that people are slow to revolutionize their mental world, one or both of two conditions is required: massive sudden change, shocking in extent and traumatic in effect, or long-term stress.

That is why the world produces stress, and shocks, and trauma. Enough for now.


(3:30) All right, I am very mindful that what you are talking about is to apply to our situation, so – say on.

You may not have it quite figured out, for remember this little conspiracy includes Mr. Lincoln. In other words, this is less to do with politics than you think. Certainly it is not to do with party politics, even a denunciation of the radical Republicans whose doings continue to shock and amaze you.

Hatred as the enemy

Point Number One. You read my description of Thaddeus Stevens. You know I saw that he was an honest man, no hypocrite, no fool – but if there was one man above all others who brought on the postwar trouble, he was the man. And why? – not greed, not avarice for power, not even revenge of anything personal he had ever suffered. None of these. Hatred. And here is your enemy.

Thaddeus Stevens hated the men who had caused the Civil War. He hated the slave-owners who for 15 years and more tried to make slavery national. He hated the whole system of slavery, and then those who advocated and practiced it, and then those who defended it. Living for many years in the shadow of the triumph of slavery – for so it appeared to many and many a man prior to the election of 1860 – and living then through four years of slaughter and destruction unprecedented on the American continent, living through years in which defeat seemed all too possible – he came through to the other side determined to take his revenge upon evil.

Abraham Lincoln could not be depended upon to hate enough; perhaps it was as well that he was gone. Chamberlain’s magnanimous gesture at Appomattox, Sherman’s lenient terms to Johnston – Grant’s lenient terms to Lee, for that matter – were just short of treason. For what if the enemy’s seeming defeat was actually a sham, a biding of time? Lee in the mountains instead of prison? Criminal leniency! Nor was he alone in these thoughts.

The arch fiend in this tragedy was not a man or a faction or a party. It was not even the human scavengers who preyed upon the helpless. The fiend was – hatred. And Abraham Lincoln knew that. My friend Joseph Smallwood learned it. Hatred is the enemy of all, and no one ever embraced it without paying the full price – if not sooner, then later. In the case of reconstruction, it was paid by all concerned – by the south initially, by the entire country for generations ultimately. It may be looked upon as a sardonic commentary to Mr. Lincoln’s approach.

Look – in the light of the brutal occupation that unnecessarily humiliated, bilked, and demoralized the defeated south, and set up puppet governments to assure Republican majorities in the national legislature, for the better and surer plundering of the national treasure – look by contrast at Mr. Lincoln’s golden words: “with malice toward none, with charity toward all.” Is it not obvious that Lincoln would have been a great obstacle to this gigantic crime? And – this is a rhetorical question, yes, but it needs to be posed – which of the two approaches made better policy? Which fostered better citizenship? Which sooner bound the nation’s wounds?

Ah, but there wasn’t the money in Mr. Lincoln’s approach that there was in the radicals’ – so, away with mercy and in the name of the bloody flag – revenge!

It is as simple as that. Joseph has given you the point of view of a simple soldier doing his duty and fighting for two causes he deeply believed in – preservation of the union and abolition of slavery. And I have presented the view of those who saw that vision betrayed and perverted, generating generations of hatred and strife.

So, point number one – the enemy was hatred; the danger was hatred; the temptation was hatred, and the serpent in the garden, day and night, was hatred, and appeals to hatred, and the stirring up of hatred.

I suggest that you cultivate the habit of looking at your “statesmen” and see which of them wholesales hatred – and eschew them. Look at your newsmen and your celebrities and your molders of opinion. If they hate, if they preach hate, if they even condone hate – go another way. There is only death in following hatred. It doesn’t matter if they are on “your” side or “the other” side of some opinion—if they preach hatred you don’t want to stand with them, or, if you do, God help you.


Point Number Two. Don’t be a sap. Don’t allow yourself to be hoodwinked by fine words or appeals to your prejudices. Don’t jump on the team bobsled if you don’t know where it is being taken – and why it is being taken, and who is taking it there.

In your time it is so easy to deceive you, it is amazing. What ever happened to a little discerning cynicism? You save all your cynicism for “the other side” and none for “your side” and then are repeatedly surprised to be repeatedly betrayed. How often does this need to happen before you begin routinely to look behind the scene?

Stand on solid ground

Point Number Three – and here is the bell-ringer, we hope, or if not, we have several of us been wasting a good deal of time and preparation! You cannot overcome treachery and even imbecility by matching wits against money, or integrity against entrenched corruption, or even information against systematic deception – but you can do better than that, and stand upon ground that cannot be shaken.

If you knew what was going on behind the scenes

If you were part of an organization for righteousness

If you were incorruptible because transparent

If you could affect matters without overt action

If you could be powerful for good, and powerless for evil

And if you could have all this today – would you have it?

Enough for now.

What is this, “the perils of Pauline”?[That’s the name of the first cliff-hanger silent movie series.]

There is too much to say to just smooth off in a sentence or two, and this is enough for you for today.

All right.

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