“Lord Acton and the American Civil War” The Imaginative Conservative


"… if we take for granted that Acton would be infatuated with twenty-first century Americanism we might think again, for, as much as Acton thought of Jefferson and Adams, out of all American political theorists he reserved the highest praise for a man now deemed anathema: John C. Calhoun. To Acton, it was Calhoun rather than Daniel Webster who “was the real defender of the Union,” for Calhoun’s theory of nullification represented “the very perfection of political truth.” What Acton found compelling was Calhoun’s idea that in the modern age the distinctions between monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy are less significant than the distinction between centralized regimes, which stifle communities and individuals, and decentralized regimes, which accord considerable agency to various quasi-sovereign actors.

Having observed Acton’s esteem for Calhoun, it is worth adding that Acton also deplored slavery, and that in the coexistence of these two seemingly incompatible sentiments we find ourselves brought up against one of the many unexamined assumptions of contemporary America. Not only is it logically possible to find slavery objectionable without regarding Southern political culture with unmitigated hostility, it is possible to oppose slavery while positively admiring Southern political culture—or at least while preferring said culture over the one which prevailed among New England Puritans.  Salyer


Enjoy  pl


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10 Responses to “Lord Acton and the American Civil War” The Imaginative Conservative

  1. blue peacock says:

    Col. Lang,
    I’m not certain that any current political leader from Trump to Biden, Nancy and Schumer have spent even 30 minutes reading and contemplating the debates surrounding the Declaration of Independence and the constitutional convention.
    Contemporary politics is all about faux rhetoric and ideology with the simple intent to acquire power to profit from it personally.
    While not condoning the looting of stores by anarchist mobs, I am wondering where all the voices for “law & order” went when the real looting to the tune of trillions of dollars by the 0.1% has taken place over the past decades?

  2. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Perhaps I have misread you, but the impression I have gotten from your writings over the years is that you are not exactly positive towards “the [culture] which prevailed among New England Puritans”, nor towards that of Puritans and Calvinists in general and the Mathers in particular.
    However, to my knowledge, you have never stated explicitly just WHY you view them negatively.
    I agree with you on many issues, but not on this one.
    Could you state explicitly why, if you do, view such Protestants so negatively?
    I seem to recall you stating your wife’s family had suffered at the hands of Protestants. (Pardon an imprecise recollection.)
    If so, simply to better understand at least one view of past history, would it violate privacy to give some clues on the issues there?
    Let’s get real.
    There were wars of religion in Europe following the Protestant Reformation.
    Is all the blame to be put on one side?
    I find that impossible to believe.
    BTW, speaking about wars in Europe,
    Arnold Toynbee arranged those wars into four cycles each of which bore a structural similarity to the others:

  3. Brutus canneloni says:

    So,just when a nice head of steam,so to speak,was building up,against China,out pops the riots.There is absolutely no doubt covid 19 was developed and released in China and yet all the anger has been turned inward against American citizens.When are western countries going to wake up and burn down Chinese businesses.
    Failure to keep an eye on the ball
    A cucked nation now erasing its historical memory is one thing but turning a blind eye to China’s aggressive strategy is shameful.Send them home.Break there chains of influence.Wake up.

  4. turcopolier says:

    Keith Harbaugh
    You either have a failing memory or are being disingenuous. We have discussed this matter several times. My father’s family were in both the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies. This has nothing to do with my wife and it does not have anything to do with my Catholicism. IMO Calvinist Puritanism is a grim, dark, view of Christianity based on the idea of pre-destination and an overwhelming belief that if anyone, anywhere is having a good time, he must be a sinner who is condemned in God’s mind as not being among the elect. My ancestors sat in the pews and listened to Puritan divines lecture them about things like “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” To hell with the Puritans and their modern admirers.

  5. Barbara Ann says:

    Dangerously uncontextualized heretical thinking – I couldn’t agree more with Lord Acton’s positions.
    Lee may be gone and the principals of limited Federal government may no longer be embodied geographically in the South, but those “fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization” are still doing so – against formidable opposition. And the fate of “all the races of mankind” still depends on the outcome.
    I am hopeful the American project will yet prove a success and so keep the beacon of true liberty burning for all to see. The alternative is unthinkable.
    What a great read, many thanks for posting this Colonel.

  6. Fred says:

    “emancipation. It has been an act of war, not of statesmanship or humanity. They have treated the slave-owner as an enemy, and have used the slave as an instrument for his destruction.”
    BLM is being used as an instrument for the destruction of what is left of the constitutional republic. “The North has used the doctrines of Democracy to destroy self-government.” Governor Whitmer ordered business closed for months, yet today she says it is safe to walk side by side to protest the “police brutality” – yet don’t get a haircut, that is still forbidden and the State is still after the 70 y.o. barber who opened his business.
    Governor Whitmer is also one of democratic politicians who ordered covid19 infected patients be readmitted to nursing homes, ensuring the infection and death of hundreds, mosly black, residents of Michigan. “…the State as an instrument to mould as well as to control society.” as Acton put it. I think he would be expecting another war for independence given what is being done by the State(s).

  7. akaPatience says:

    I’m with you colonel. I absolutely abhor the censorious neo-Puritan control freaks of today. The only nonconformists they seem to tolerate are transgender people. Others are likely to be shamed, hounded, harassed and/or ostracized. That a person can’t even express a simple love for our flag and country anymore without being vilified by smug, self-righteous assholes is beyond insane. They mock people of faith yet practice their sense of moral superiority with religious zeal that far exceeds most churchgoers. And without the least sense of irony, THEY have the nerve to label people who disagree with them Nazis. SMH…

  8. Stephanie says:

    “Whatever the case, the bare fact stands: Acton believed that the wrong side won the American Civil War, and his judgment was shared by many prominent English Catholics.”
    English Catholics in general did sympathize with the Confederacy, and it is interesting that this sympathy showed itself across the spectrum from liberal to conservative.
    Pope Pius IX spoke firmly to Confederate envoys with regard to the importance of emancipation but also sent Jefferson Davis consoling words and gifts during the latter’s postwar imprisonment.

  9. English Outsider says:

    From the essay –
    ” Would Americans recognize and correct their system’s creep toward a monolithic, unitary nation-state by emphasizing constitutional limits upon the central government’s authority? Or would the American project degenerate into a “consolidated” mass democracy, which is to say one whereby a few select mandarins unrestrained by legal limitations dictate life to unseen, unknown subjects far and wide?”
    Not only a question for Americans, Colonel!
    But after 2016 I no longer place much store in those “constitutional limits”. Those “limits” might be a composite of accepted precedent and written prescription, as in the English case, or they might be based, at least formally, on written prescription, as in the American case. In neither case are those “limits” worth a rush, nor the “Constitutions” they derive from, if they do not represent living tradition.
    Failing that they are merely scraps of text for lawyers or the unscrupulous to play with as they please. As we saw with the constitutional aberrations in the UK parliament after 2016 and, more dramatically, with the partisan manoeuvres in the States aimed at overturning or at least crippling the new President.
    No living tradition there. Merely manipulation and special pleading. The Constitution, Law itself, becoming merely a screen for clever rogues to hide behind.

  10. turcopolier says:

    Acton looks pretty good, eh?

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