Monday, April 18, 2005

Hitch on John Brown

Hitchens' review of David S. Reynolds' John Brown, Abolitionist in the recent Atlantic leaves a lot to be desired. OK, this is not surprising. I am amused by Hitchens' saying about the need to understand Brown, "The critical thing here is context."

But the real reason to write here is not to slam on Hitchens, something that others can do more effectively than I. It's to raise the alarm about the rehabilitation of John Brown as a central figure in America's progression for human rights. Because like Bush's reference of the Dred Scott case during the presidential debates and Terry Schiavo, talking about John Brown is all about abortion. For people who believe that the Republican Party is the holder of moral values for America and the world and that violence is acceptable when it is attacks evil, John Brown is the model.

Brown was a lunatic. He butchered a family in Kansas for supporting slavery. Literally. With axes and such. His plot to take Harpers' Ferry was insane and only managed to kill one of the slaves he purported to free. He did play a role in launching the Civil War but not nearly as big of one as Hitchens and evidentially Reynolds claim.

But if you see John Brown as a hero and if you connect slavery and abortion as the two greatest sins in the history of the United States, Brown's actions justify attacks upon abortion doctors. This justifies physical and mental violence against women seeking an abortion. This justifies bombing abortion clinics. This justifies any conceivable action taken to cause a violent clash between the sides of the abortion debate.

Thus not only does such a discussion of John Brown inflate his historical importance, it makes him yet another misunderstood historical figure for the Right to use in their attacks upon America's liberal humanist culture.

And this is very scary.