Friday, August 8, 2008

Answering Kevin Craig: on the misuses of history

Recently I posted about Missouri Libertarian Congressional candidate Kevin Craig, whose view that God hates homosexuals scares the crap out of me, and Tom Knapp corrected some factual inaccuracies about how Kevin got on the Libertarian ballot.

In the course of commenting on that, Kevin posed the following question:

Here's my question to you and the LP in general:

On what grounds would someone oppose my candidacy and not ALSO oppose the candidacy of Thomas Jefferson, and (assuming he were a libertarian) George Washington? Both believed homosexuality was contrary to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." id=101

Any party that would refuse Jefferson's filing fee doesn't have a future, it seems to me. Certainly it doesn't have much of a future with the majority of Americans (especially Christians) who agree with me (homosexuality is sinful, but violent criminal sanctions are not appropriate, and those who believe homosexuality is sinful should not have their civil liberties abridged).

It certainly appears (at least to me) that my critics believe that the only true libertarian is one who believes that homosexuality and heterosexual marriage are moral equivalents. That's going to be a tough sell with lots of voters.

To buttress his argument, Kevin calls on a purported historical essay by David Barton, Homosexuals in the Military, and we'll get to that in just a second.

But first, let's revisit Kevin's opening line: On what grounds would someone oppose my candidacy and not ALSO oppose the candidacy of Thomas Jefferson, and (assuming he were a libertarian) George Washington? Both believed homosexuality was contrary to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God."

This is a neat fallacy: we venerate Jefferson and Washington as great patriots, founding fathers, and political thinkers; Jefferson and Washington both believed homosexuality was wrong/sinful; therefore if you venerate Jefferson and Washington you are a hypocrite for slamming Kevin, who believes the same thing they did about homosexuality.

Kevin: Jefferson and Washington also believed that (a) African-Americans were mentally and physically inferior; (b) that it was acceptable to have a society in which some humans owned others as chattel property; (c) that women did not deserve the right of political participation; and (d) that it was acceptable to profit personally from land speculation deals that only became profitable because of their government connections.

Thus, by Kevin's logic, Libertarians should not oppose a candidate who is an outright racist (like Sonny Landham); believes in slavery ("Slavery: it gets shit done"); or who opposes equal rights for women; or who believes that personal profiteering in Iraq is OK (can you say Haliburton?).

The fact that one venerates Jefferson, Washington, or any other historical figure for their contributions to America should neither blind us to their anachronistic or undesirable beliefs, nor serve as a blind to continue those prejudices in the present day.

As for the article you cited on homosexuals in the military, it is a blatant case of creating a usable past through misdirection and selective quotation.

The article claims that it will address three questions:

This monograph will explore the issue via three questions:
1. Has homosexuality always been incompatible with military service?
2. Why should the military be concerned with a person's morality?
3. Why should homosexuality concern us as a society?

In reality it does no such thing. For the first question Mr. Barton relies primarily on two quotations: one of a case of an officer accused of sodomy with an enlisted man, and the second a reference by the Continental Congress calling for high moral character in the army. To buttress the second, we are given a back-reading of an early 19th Century set of definitions into a mid-18th Century context, and a list of sodomy laws throughout the colonies.

Now consider Mr. Barton's question: Has homosexuality always been incompatible with military service? This case addresses nothing of the sort. Instead it addresses the inappropriate relationship of an officer to an enlisted man and the perjury that the officer committed in an attempt to cover up the enlisted man's victimization. It says absolutely nothing about consensual homosexual sex, but the author is more than willing to infer that.

As for the Congressional resolution (which carried as much legal weight as modern resolutions do), and the sodomy laws of the different colonies, Mr. Barton neglects to tell us that the term sodomy was a pretty elastic one in those days, and incorporated a great number of other sexual practices beyond male-male anal sex. In some colonies sodomy included all forms of oral sex (male-male, female-female, male-female, or even sheep to sheep); likewise, most colonies actually outlawed sexual relations between people of different ethnicities (a Black man could be executed for intercourse with a White woman in Georgia and South Carolina, although the same penalty did not apply to a White man having sex with a Black woman). Likewise, in some colonies, adultery or consensual sex out of wedlock was punishable by imprisonment or public humiliation.

Point one: citing the mores of a society over 225 years ago in one sexual particular (homosexuality) without providing the full spectrum for comparison is intellectually dishonest and destroys any validity in the comparison.

Point two: the author has made no case whatsoever for the incompatibility with military service of either consensual heterosexual or homosexual sex.

As for Mr Barton's second issue: what does the military have to do with the morality of the soldiers, Mr Barton cites what historians know as "liberty and virtue" rhetoric that was as common during the 18th century as the equally inane "diversity-is-strength" rhetoric today. Successful political rhetoric demands that you stick to a particular script. War demands that you create an army of effective killers. Very few soldiers of the Revolutionary War, or sailors in the Quasi-War with France, or both in the War of 1812 represented these ideals of military and civic virtue--and their generals knew it.

Point three: Mr Barton asserts his point by conflating political rhetoric with historical reality, and claiming he's made his point.

Mr Barton's final question about why homosexuality should concern us as a society, does nothing but cite the opinion of three legal scholars between the 1790s-1814, and then assert that the opinions of these three individuals makes the case that homosexuality was a subject of disgust for all Americans, and is considered among the vilest of moral crimes in American jurisprudence.

The only people Mr Barton will convince with this sort of poorly constructed argument based on the prejudices of three individuals are people who already agree with him. That's the point of cherry-picking your evidence.

So, Point Four: Mr Barton has utterly failed to deal with public views of sexuality in the 18th and 19th Century, and has in fact produced only ONE relevant military quotation, which does not deal with consensual homosexual sex at all.

This is not history in any academic sense of the word. This is an ideologue cherry-picking through sources for bits and pieces to support his own pet beliefs, who then publishes them in a religious and not historical venue.

I would also point out that Mr Barton either ignores, discounts, or is completely unaware of a huge body of actual academic scholarship of sexuality during the period, presumably because none of it would support his rather ridiculous claims.

Kevin, I freely admit that I have not taken the time necessary to source every comment I have made here, but if you'd like to challenge any specific statement (for example on the difficulty in definitions of sodomy or the wide variety of laws on sexual relations in the colonies) I'd be happy to do so.

And if you've actually got something to support your viewpoint that actually meets professional standards for historical research, please let me know.


Waldo Lydecker's Journal said...

People like Mr.Craig are one of the main reasons gay people get, to borrow a phrase from the McCain campaign, so uppity.

It's apparent Mr. Craig doesn't view gay Americans as three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood humans. To him they seem to be sexual Dalaks intent on destroying our way of life on this planet.

Abstractions, in other words.

I wonder what he'd think about a man in his 50s: community leader, churchgoer. In high school when he turned 18 he registered for the draft. Had his number come up, he'd have gone to Vietnam. It never occurred to him to do otherwise.

He was a good Republican when the term meant a rather different set of views than it does today. The Delaware Libertarian can testify to his cheerful hopefulness in the face of the most hopelessly liberal campus this side of Harvard.

He was an Eagle Scout back when that meant something. He was a regular, church-going, Presbyterian.

He was devoted to his sprawling, multigenerational family.

He felt- and still feels- being gay and being a conservative are not, classically- rather than opportunistically-defined, opposing forces.

Coming meant being handed his hat by most of his family; the Boy Scouts of America; the Republican Party; and the Presbyterian Church. By Mr. Craig's lights, I guess that's exactly what I deserve, although he does seem to feel I am exempt from gratuitous public beatings.

It would be interesting to see the candidate Craigs of the world test their fortitude, and the courage of their convictions, by assuming the life of those they abhor.

I'd like to think being dumped on by family, friends and colleagues might be illuminative. Realistically, I rather doubt it. Mr. Craig is simply betting that you never lose money gay-bashing, and, in large swaths of the country, he's right.Certainly in Babar's vision of the Libertarian Party, he should be a shining light.

Just don't be surprised when people like me tend to be censorious in their comments.

Jim Fryar said...

On checking his site I am left with the opinion that he is a nutter who I could not support or vote for if I were there.

It is not however unlibertarian to dislike homosexuality, we are all entitled to our prejudices. It is against our principles to use the power of the state against them, initiate violence against them or advocate those actions.

I find the views he expresses disturbing in that it is difficult to see where he is coming from in pushing this line if in fact he sees no role for the state in doing something about it especially as he is presenting those views in a political context.

I have no reason to doubt Tom Knapp in his statement: - Craig is an anarcho-capitalist who wants to abolish the state altogether, not use it to enforce his religious views or kill people he doesn't like.

Tom appears to know him better than we do, so I'll take his word on it, but even so, he appears to disagree with his candidacy.