On April 2, 1861, the New York Times reported on a speech given by Alexander H. Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy. The speech has gone down in history as “The Cornerstone Speech” because in it, Stephens described the “cornerstone” of the Confederacy and the key cause of the coming Civil War:
They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails.
I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.
The twisted logic and faulty reasoning of Alexander Stephens are the exact same tools that the modern followers of the Confederate train of thought–be they self-described as Republicans, conservative or Tea Party–use to argue anything and everything. You could replace the issue of slavery with the rights of workers, or climate change, or Health Care reform, or budget cutting or anything else and the argument still follows the same script, rhetoric and magical thinking. Then as now, their views are always rooted in a fantasy world. And they always react with hostility to anybody who dares offers an opinion, cites a fact or presents evidence that their POV is groundless.
150 years ago the New York Times wrote about the clear madness of Stephens and the Confederacy:
It would indeed be impossible to manifest more palpably the utter impotence and suicidal character of this movement than is done by the spirit of the articles of faith with which this “model nation of history” comes before the world. In such spirit nothing was even devised, planted or built by man: Success on such terms is possible only on condition that all that makes history illustrious ina cheat, Progress a mockery, and the world without a God. The records of humanity are not without similar tragic episodes of national delirium, which assume, on the pages of History, the character of a sort of irony of the Fates.
With a few word changes the NYTs could almost write the same paragraph about today’s modern fantasy based conservative movement.
The more things change, the more that some things remain the same.