Breaking Glass

By Any Means Necessary

Was there a point at which American liberals consciously adopted Jacobinism, or did it just creep up on them gradually?  This question was brought into rather sharp focus earlier this year when the PBS series American Experience presented an expensive two-part documentary entitled “Reconstruction: The Second Civil War.”  The series recounted the story of Reconstruction, but with such a ferociously partisan emphasis that a Radical Republican of the 1860’s might have blushed.  Normally, we need not worry too much that even learned people sometimes get their history dead wrong—don’t get me started on the demonization of the Middle Ages—but, in this show more than most, the implications for present-day policy were starkly, frighteningly obvious.  The good people at PBS, together with a substantial section of liberal academe, evidently believe in their hearts that they are absolutely, infallibly right about the directions that American society should take, and they would like to see their preferences enforced with bayonets, if necessary.

The documentary repays careful watching, but the main themes that emerge can be easily summarized.  The story as told is utterly free of complications or ambiguities.  After the Civil War, we are told, the legal, civil, and social equality of former slaves had to be recognized and enforced, totally and immediately, without considering...

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