John Calhoun and the American left

John Daniel Davidson of the Federalist explores a major media outlet’s renewed focus on race.

It’s impossible to understand The New York Times’ 1619 Project as anything but sweeping historical revisionism in the service of contemporary left-wing politics.

The gist of the project, named for the year the first Africans were brought to North America to be sold as slaves, is that everything about America, from our capitalist economy to our politics to the food we eat, can be explained by slavery and race. In other words, America was conceived in sin, born of evil intent, and all its lofty ideals about equality and liberty are nothing but a sham—the hypocritical stylings of slavers and white supremacists bent on the subjugation of their fellow man. …

… But why ascribe ordinary political motives when you can contort history to support an accusation of racism and “slaveholder ideology”? Consider … treatment of Calhoun, a figure the left desperately wants to associate with Republicans but whose legacy is alive today nowhere so much as in the far-left wing of the Democratic Party. …

… As early as the 1820s, Calhoun was trying to correct what he saw as a monumental error by the Founders. To Calhoun, it was folly to base the republic on universal ideals like “all men are created equal,” or to suppose that something like the Bill of Rights could protect the rights of a minority from the “tyranny” of the majority.

He believed instead that politics was the exercise of pure will, and that the scope and exercise of political power should be based on “scientific” principles, not natural law or inherent human rights. In that sense, he has far more in common with the modern-day left and the champions of leftist governance than he does with the GOP.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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