Steve Bannon: Slavery should have remained legal
Peter Lynds
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The civil war was a disagreement about cotton trade, states’ rights, and representation in congress, not about slavery. Slavery was obviously a contentious contemporaneous issue, but Lincoln didn’t make the Emancipation Proclamation until we were already years into the war, and, until then, abolitionism was not a stated goal of the war. Furthermore, his order only freed slaves in rebel states, not in Maryland, etc. These are things I learned in high school, so I thought they would be common knowledge.

President Lincoln could hypothetically have negotiated a peaceful resolution to the conflict without the need for war, but that would be a very steep challenge for Bannon to issue. The volatile political landscape of the time might have made war inevitable. However, Bannon never blames Lincoln. He blames James Buchanan and the “generation of leadership before the civil war.” Buchanan failed to mediate the divisive sentiments growing in his country and allowed tensions to come to a violent head. All Steven Bannon claims here is that loss of life could have been avoided with proper leadership.

But even if he is wrong about all that, it is still dishonest to suggest that he supports slavery. Why would you assume he even considers slavery to be a “tradition”? Considering the full context of the quote, where he also invokes Edmund Burke, and the respect a citizen owes to the social contract, isn’t it more likely that the “traditions” he refers to are our treasured democratic values? The issues of slavery, or cotton, or federalism, should have been resolved without blood, which, according to the above example of Maryland, should have been democratically possible. (It’s worth mentioning that no other European nation needed bloodshed to transition to a free labor system.) Bannon believes that the antebellum political generation abandoned civility in favor of violence, shattering American society and leaving wounds that to this day have yet to mend. Thus, the “traditions” that Bannon refers to are not institutions like slavery or hegemonies like capitalism or the “Patriarchy,” but rather, simply, the foundational values of American democracy.

The point of his message, therefore, actually has nothing to do with slavery, but rather with social responsibility, which is evident from the context of the quote in situ. He goes on in the next sentence to accuse his own generation, the “baby-boomers,” of the same imminent failure. By clinging to a bygone era, he asserts, they have failed to inculcate democratic values to the future, which he believes is a failure to fulfill the “Burkean” social obligation, a failure he puts on par with the failure of Antebellum generations.