An Open Letter to Cathy Young

I received the June issue of Reason magazine in my mailbox this past weekend (as a subscriber I generally get the latest issue before it hits most newsstands), and not surprisingly, I discovered yet another egregious example of the magazine's pretentious liberposing, yet another attempt to offer a rationalization for the expansion of government power under the facade of protecting 'freedom.'

This time it came in the form of columnist Cathy Young's review of Thomas Woods' controversial New York Times best-seller, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. In her piece, which is obnoxiously titled 'Behind the Jeffersonian Veneer: The author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History is no libertarian,' our Ms. Young expresses some dismay over Professor Woods' interpretation of American history, mainly the 'Civil War' and the Second Battle of the Endless World War, a.k.a. 'World War II,' and being the self-anointed guardian of liberposing orthodoxy that she is, she endeavors to set the record straight . . . only it soon becomes clear once one begins reading her diatribe that she is seriously misinformed.

For example, she bemoans the fact that upon seceding from the Union , the Confederate Southern states declared a close identification with the institution of slavery, something that I thought most Americans were already aware of, but she scolds Woods because in her view his narrative 'dances around' this 'basic fact.' At the same time, she makes the spurious assertion that Lincoln supported the 'gradual emancipation' of slaves, which is simply not true--he never proposed or supported the outright emancipation of slaves at any period of time, not until the middle of the War Against Southern Independence, a time when things looked their bleakest for the North--in economic and military as well as political terms (Northerners were becoming more and more critical of Lincoln's costly war as it wore on). It was only then, when the Mighty Railsplitter sensed the great need for a tactical political maneuver, that he issued the dubiously titled 'Emancipation Proclamation'--a document that did not in itself free a single slave but was a masterpiece of political propaganda in that it offered a Great Moral Crusade to rationalize the prosecution of a war that would ultimately leave more than 500,000 dead, and many thousands more maimed and crippled for life.

As I write this, Ms. Young's piece is not yet posted on the Reason web site, so unfortunately I cannot provide a link for STR readers who cannot yet get their hands on the magazine. Suffice it to say that it closely resembles another column Ms. Young wrote on the book, published in the Boston Globe some weeks ago. It appears that she has made hounding Professor Woods her new mission in life.

Not content with simply challenging Professor Woods' theses on the merits of the arguments set forth (which she ignorantly refers to as 'propaganda'), Ms. Young also brings up the fact that Woods is a co-founding member of an organization that calls itself the League of the South, and for this she fully intends to call him up before the Liberposers Truth Commission. Professor Woods is now not only obliged to merely answer for what he writes, he must also answer for whom he freely chooses to associate with as well.

She notes that in 1997 Woods wrote an article titled 'Christendom's Last Stand' for a magazine called The Southern Patriot. She quotes Woods' article as portraying the South's side of the Civil War as a 'struggle against an atheistic individualism and an unrelenting rationalism in politics and religion, in favor of a Christian understanding of authority, social order and theology itself.' Southern culture was at that time (and to a great extent still is) deeply rooted in Christianity? How shocking! Oh, horrors!

Certainly reasonable people with different perspectives may find cause to debate the ideas argued by Woods in articles such as the one quoted above, but his holding the views that he holds does not in and of itself make him guilty of thoughtcrime, as Ms. Young implies, but you get the idea. We are to conjure up mental images of Woods and other League of the Southers meeting in secret to don white robes and hoods and pine away for the good ol' days when Southerners could lynch them thar negras and nobody'd a-say nothin' 'bout it. Never mind that Woods is well known as a devout and committed Catholic--and last I checked the papists were near the top of the KKK's hit list of designated undesirables--but Cathy Young is never one to allow facts to get in the way of a perfectly good blackballing.

In short, Young resorts to offering the most twisted misinterpretations of Woods' older writings by lifting a couple of quotes out of context and tainting them with the implied smear that they're the work of some white supremacist bigot. Her tactics are pathetic and shameful, though I doubt she is possessed of enough self-awareness to realize how truly low she has sunk in her Lenin-like zeal to tar and feather a very learned and highly accomplished scholar, simply because she has a difference of opinion.

And so I felt inspired to sit down and compose a letter in response to Ms. Young's article, which I will soon e-mail to Reason's editors. Upon completion, however, I realized that it was much too lengthy for them to publish in the 'Letters' section of the magazine, and so I felt obliged to revise and cut a great deal of it for space, which the editors may yet decide to cut even further.

(I'm not so presumptuous as to assume that they would publish the letter at all, as I would expect that a great many responses will come from far more distinguished folk than me. Hopefully, Professor Woods himself--who previously issued a response to Cathy Young following her Boston Globe piece that was posted on be asserting his own defense, at which he has already proven to be quite eloquent and adept.)

Thus, I would like to share with you, dear Strike The Root reader, the complete, unexpurgated, unedited original draft of my letter to Reason magazine on the topic of Cathy Young's analysis of Thomas Woods' Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. (Though the version sent to Reason is addressed to the editors, you will see that I've taken the liberty of openly addressing the following draft to Ms. Young herself.)


Dear Ms. Young:

Far be it from me to point out the flaws in your critique of Thomas Woods' Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, in which you are so kind as to point out what is 'right' and what is 'wrong' with this best-selling book, but I do feel that your piece begs a few clarifications.

First, in your criticism of Woods' treatment of the so-called 'Civil War' (can any war ever rightly be called 'civil'?) you write that 'It is hardly a secret' that Lincoln was a 'pragmatist' who wanted to emancipate slaves gradually, or that he 'made the preservation of the Union his top priority.' The first half of your statement is an outright fallacy, while the second half has to be one of the grossest understatements ever set down on paper.

I wonder if you could cite for us a single shred of historical evidence or a single fact that supports your claim that prior to the war Lincoln ever proposed emancipation of slaves at all, let alone gradually. I would suggest that your search for such evidence would be very much in vain, as there isn't any. Lincoln biographer Robert W. Johanssen, in his book Lincoln, the South and Slavery, quotes Lincoln himself as saying that his own position could best be described 'by quotations from Henry Clay,' which Johanssen says can most accurately be summed up as 'opposition to slavery in principle, toleration of it in practice, and a vigorous hostility toward the abolition movement.' Hardly the attitude of someone who had any strong moral conviction to ever end slavery at any point in time, and this is not surprising coming as it does from someone who in 1858 publicly declared himself a white supremacist. Lincoln opposed the spread of slavery into non-slave states, but his objective was to curtail the migration of black people into Northern states, not to end slavery. (Your quoting Lincoln as benevolently declaring out of the kindness of his heart that a black woman has the 'natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands' is hardly evidence of any support for emancipation, gradual or otherwise.)

The spuriously titled 'Emancipation Proclamation' itself did not liberate a single slave, as it conspicuously omits any mention of those slave states that elected to stay in the Union during the war. It's clear that the Proclamation was largely an effort to propagandize some kind of twisted moral justification for the senseless slaughter that would ultimately claim more than 500,000 lives. It's no mere coincidence that it came at a time when things looked bleakest for the North.

As for the preservation of the Union being Lincoln 's top priority, I would ask your libertarian readers to consider that it wasn't merely 'preserving the Union ,' but asserting Washington 's dominance over all domestic considerations that was Lincoln 's true agenda, especially pertaining to the issue of free trade. Lincoln's fellow Republicans passed the Morrill Tariff Act shortly before his election, which effectively doubled the average rate of tariffs on imported goods, and these tariffs were largely paid by Southerners, which in turn subsidized politically-connected Northern industries for the purpose of 'internal improvements' in those states. In his First Inaugural Address, Lincoln threatened the use of violent force against anyone who refused to pay this sharply increased rate of taxation. What other U.S. president has threatened violence against his own fellow citizens over the issue of tax collection in his first address to the people?

I would also like to add here that I find your criticism of Mr. Woods' failing--by your standards--to point up the many injustices of the slave system to be a bit odd, considering the fact that there are volumes and volumes of the historical record that narrate the many egregious abuses of individual rights within that system. I have no doubt that a short trip to your local library or the history section of the nearest bookstore would yield you a plentiful supply of such narrative.

What may be a bit more difficult for you to find amidst such 'mainstream' and conventionally accepted versions of Civil War history, however, is the complete record of Lincoln 's many horrifying abuses of State power during that period. A U.S. Congressman from Ohio , Clement L. Vallandigham, was arrested and deported merely for publicly criticizing Lincoln 's wartime polices. Scores of Northern newspapers were either censored or shut down by government authorities for publishing criticism of Lincoln and the Federal government. Tens of thousands of Northerners were arrested without a warrant and held without a trial for expressing anti-government or anti-war views. In 1861, Lincoln ordered the arrests of every member of the Maryland state legislature that hailed from Baltimore, as well as that city's mayor and U.S. Congressional representative, so that they couldn't convene to discuss the possibility of secession. These are but a very few examples of Lincoln 's assertion of dictatorial powers.

You write in your piece that Mr. Woods' assertion that the Republic's founders regarded secession as an inherent right of the states may very well be true, 'But just as clearly, the historical effect of the Confederacy was to discredit the idea of secession.' You have it the wrong way around. The 'historical effect'--regardless of your failure and that of many other Americans to recognize it--has been to discredit the idea of the Union, due to the fact that the Union preserved itself by violent force and mass slaughter, whereas prior to the war the commonly held constitutional interpretation was that it was held together by voluntary association, not by force. What generations of Americans have experienced ever since is an explosion in the size, power and cost of the Federal government, becoming ever more intrusive not only in the lives of its own citizens, but in the lives of foreign individuals as well. Call this interpretation heresy or unorthodox if you wish, but the facts are what they are.

As for Mr. Woods' views on the seemingly endless litany of the U.S. government's many and varied foreign military interventions--including World War II--I can only say that as difficult as it is for you to believe, Ms. Young, or for anyone else who isn't acquainted with a version of American history outside of a State-approved high school textbook, yes, there are many libertarians beyond the East Coast who can open their eyes and plainly see the folly and waste of combating violence by initiating more violence, or fighting socialism with the U.S. government's own brand of Big Government socialism (as was the case with the Marshall Plan, or with LBJ's Marxian 'Great Society,' implemented at a time when the U.S. government was bombing and shooting Third World peasants in Southeast Asia in the name of combating communism).

As for your mention of Professor Woods' membership in an association called 'League of the South,' and his writing for a magazine called The Southern Patriot, I think it's time for you to check your integrity and ethics. Your lifting a couple of quotes of Mr. Woods' mid-1990s writings out of context to smear him with the implication of thoughtcrime--it is quite apparent that you wish your readers to believe that this very learned and highly accomplished scholar is some sort of frothing-at-the-mouth racist bigot--is one of the most pathetic and abominable tactics I have ever seen a journalist resort to in print.

But what else should one expect from a 'libertarian' of your stripe, who in a September 19, 2001 column posted at ReasonOnline offered up half-baked rationalizations for the Federal government to randomly search people at airports, intercept e-mail correspondence and generally conduct anti-terrorist activities in complete and total secrecy? You even wrote, 'It is said that there are no atheists in foxholes; perhaps there are no true libertarians in times of terrorist attacks.'

In other words, just so long as the U.S. government declares that all Americans are collectively threatened by terrorism, it can violate their individual civil liberties as it sees fit--just so long as such violations of liberty are all declared to be in the name of fighting terrorism. One must give up some freedom to the State in order to stay 'free,' or so you suggested. If most Americans were to adopt such an attitude, we would have on our hands (as I believe we already do have on our hands) an ever more boundless expansion of government power at the expense of individual rights.

Perhaps someone should write a piece on you, Ms. Young. A good title might be 'Behind the Libertarian Veneer: The Reason and Boston Globe columnist is no friend of individual freedom.'

Robert Kaercher

Chicago , Illinois

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Robert Kaercher is a stage actor and freelance writer residing in Chicago, Illinois.  He has been known to bless the reading public with his opinions and analysis at Strike The Root's blog and his own Postmodern Tribune.