Can “Press the Battle” Be This Era’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”?


When I was running for Congress, I often expressed my desire to be this era’s Harriet Beecher Stowe. By that I meant that I hoped that my message would do for the latent power of Liberal America what Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, did for the North in the first half of the 1850s.

The idea that slavery was a moral wrong had been getting an increasing foothold in the North in the decades before Harriet Beecher Stowe’s best-selling book was published. But in the political realm, the the anti-slavery (and anti- Slave Power) force was still out-fought by the pro-slavery forces from the South abetted by many Northern politicians.

Then came Stowe’s book, dramatizing — or melo-dramatizing — the pernicious character of the institution of slavery. The book caught on like wildfire (“Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a runaway best-seller, selling 10,000 copies in the United States in its first week; 300,000 in the first year; and in Great Britain, 1.5 million copies in one year,” reports the Harriet Beecher Stowe center). And the fire that was lit in the North played a role in the stiffening of the Northern backbone among the people of the North, galvanized greater willingness in the region to stand and fight against the Slave Power which — in its persistent and overreaching efforts not just to protect but to expand the dominion of the economy based on human bondage– acted the bully in the American power system.

It was because of that fire that Lincoln, upon meeting Stowe during the Civil War, is said to have declared: ” “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!”

Here we are once again in a situation with some important parallels with the North in the early 1850s.
Once again the side that, however imperfect, is tasked to defend Wholeness is being bullied, and is responding in a weak, ineffectual fashion. Once again, a destructive force is dividing the country into antagonistic elements, and thereby damaging the ability of our democracy to navigate its way through our challenges in a wise and constructive way.

And so I aspire to be the little man who helped rouse Liberal America to fight the same spirit against which Harriet Beecher Stowe kindled the fire with her book.

That’s the hope that drives my current campaign to use my message to change the national conversation in order to drain power away from this destructive force– the re-emergence of the force that, a century and a half ago, used the Slave Power to damage, and nearly destroy, this nation.

Could that aspiration be realistic? Is it possible that this Series — “Press the Battle” — could light a fire as Uncle Tom’s Cabin did?

A strong argument against that possibility rapidly comes to mind. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a novel, which means it worked by means of a narrative that brought its readers through a well-orchestrated set of experiences.

By contrast, “Press the Battle” is a series of pieces that present an interconnected set of ideas to explain the meaning of the facts before us.

Can the mode I’m using match the power of the medium Stowe used to carry her message?

The experiential dimension of a story (whether on the page, or in a film) has an elemental power to move people. Moreover, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote in a sentimental and melodramatic fashion that was especially powerful, in that era, in generating an emotional impact. The death of Little Eva, the cruelties of Simon Legree, the nobility and Christ-like self-sacrifice of Uncle Tom– all these were indelible images and spoke directly in the powerful mode that mimics our lives as we live them.

When people are engaged at the intellectual level, the passions are not so readily evoked. The big role played by ideas in “Press the Battle,” it might be argued, make it an inappropriate match to light the fire.

There’s validity to that argument. But there is also an important counter-argument:

At the time that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published, Stowe’s readers already knew a basic truth — that slavery was an immoral and unjust system — and what was needed was for them to feel the compassion, the outrage, the yearning for justice called for by the truth that they knew.

In America in our time, the situation is different.

Yes, we in Liberal America need to feel more of the outrage and the resolve to fight that our situation calls for. But what’s lacking in our times is an adequate understanding of the truth of our situation. And to change people’s understanding to embrace some important truth, it is good ideas that are called for.

The first half of truth of our situation is that we are up against an “evil force” which has made today’s Republican Party its instrument. I have sought in this series drive home this truth by doing two things: 1) showing that reality, and explaining how such a thing as an “evil force” can be a vital part of the dynamics of the human world.

The need to explain how an “evil force” can exist points to the second half of the truth of our situation: that the response from Liberal America has been woefully inadequate.

That “the response from Liberal America has been woefully inadequate” is beyond doubt. That much of Liberal America does not believe in the reality of anything that warrants being called an “evil force” I know from years of experience talking with liberals about evil. That the liberal worldview that excludes any important concept of “evil” and evil forces is an important source of the weakness and blindness of Liberal America in our present national crisis — that I believe on what looks to me like a sound basis.

So lighting a fire in the part of America that needs to stand up and fight against an evil force is a different task in this crisis than it was in the crisis over slavery in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s day.

She made people contact deep feelings about a truth they already knew– a task for which a tear-jerker of a novel was the perfect instrument.

I want to make people see a truth that will help people respond appropriately — WE ALL KNOW HOW TO RESPOND TO AN EVIL FORCE… — and for that task, particularly with people who think, a compelling argument embedded a plausible model of the workings of the world seem to me the right instrument.

Of course, the passions must be engaged. It’s essential that we change the dynamic of “the best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are filled with a passionate intensity.”

But, as I’ve said from the outset, that passionate intensity will come from contacting our moral and spiritual passions in response to a crisis that appears to be political, but is really more fundamentally moral and spiritual at its heart. And it seems to be necessary to adjust the worldview of much of liberal/intellectual America for the connection to that part of our humanity from which our deep moral and spiritual passions spring.

So “Press the Battle” makes an intellectually coherent argument intended to help people see that vital truth: we are up against an evil force, and “the battle between good and evil” is a dynamic that’s embedded at the core of the challenge facing the creature whose made the breakthrough into civilization.

Understanding this, I think, is key to winning the battle in America today, and key to creating a civilization in which the forces of wholeness, and not those of brokenness, govern our destiny.

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7 Comments

  1. Richard H. Randall

    I think the caliber of your writing is such, and with emphasis upon how the gopers and their supporters are destroying the nation, its infrastructure, it’s environment, it’s government, and it’s future as a representative democracy, and any kind of ‘open future’ for the coming generations (which the one percent may care about-an ‘in-house skull and bones kind of thing, you know) but the many must struggle to preserve, the answer is yes.

  2. Richard H. Randall

    We need to field candidates, with brass balls, regardless of their gender. While I think Hillary Clinton may have the courage, she also has the baggage, part of which is Bill, good and bad, and part is the inevitable response from the largely vicious right and media, which will make the 4 or 8 years about getting Hillary and Bill, and not about fixing America. I again propose Elizabeth Warren, and former General Hugh Shelton, former Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Neither are pals with huge corporations, nor does either make millions of dollars in speaking engagements, and glad handing the 1%. If I had the money, I’d start a draft Elizabeth and Hugh for president and vice president.

  3. Richard H. Randall

    And if anyone is curious, as to my reasoning, these people are bright, patriotic, educated, tough, honest and caring. Elizabeth Warren pushed through the Consumer Protection thingy, much to the consternation of the Gopers, but much to the good of the nation. Hugh Shelton is a man’s man and a soldier’s soldier.
    The Obama administration just fired one like Shelton: Obama, great family man, loyal American, the only President who actually tried and gave orders to get Bin Laden, has unfortunately got too much of a weeny factor going–and the nation knows this. The Right counts on it. And they have gotten away with it since February of 2009. They nail Credit Suise-GREAT- and don’t get the names of the thieves who have been hiding taxable income for God-knows-how-long? They invent and propose the sequester, which is a catastrophe, and a total excuse for NOT doing what they are paid for, that is, political work. The last thing the Democrats need to do, is select Hillary Clinton, and/or another person like President Obama. And I sincerely wish him the best after he leaves office.
    And why a military man-one the stature of General Shelton? Volunteer, Special Forces, USA, university and military school degrees, and experience of the rest of the world neither Clintons had, or will have, and if any one is keeping up with the world news, it is really obvious that the age of Aquarious has certainly not arrived. Nor does it look too likely, any time soon, either. We will not survive as democracy with another president who will not take on a treasonous crew whose intent is to destroy the Government of the United States, and replace it with a Plutocracy. Somehow, he didn’t seem to understand to this very day, that it is the People of the United States as well as his administration and it’s survivability that he should be defending. When he retires, the problems will still be there, if not worse. Certainly worse if Romney, that missionary to save France -draft dodger, hater of the 47 %-actually it is probably anyone who can’t afford elevators for his cars-if he and the shot-callers for the 1%-are shooed in. I’d like to hear some constructive responsive to this if possible.

  4. Richard H. Randall

    Sunday, 2 June: Washigtonpost has good article on the flooding which has arisen in SE Virginia due to global warming. Norfolk hit especially hard.

  5. Richard, I think you know I agree mostly with your posts. However difficult it would be to see a Hillary Clinton Presidency, the one plus would be that Hillary would call them out and anyone who is not totally impervious to the truth would likely see it and recognize what the Republican Party has become at least I believe this to be true. On top of that, I doubt very much that Hillary will have an affair or anything else like Bill Clinton had or feel a need to parse words like did.

    The VA Scandal is as much a scandal for the Republicans and has proceeded via their standard modus operandi. It is unfortunate General Shinseki who served honorably has been caught in this scheme. Will the Democrats every learn? They should have been beating the Republicans over the head for underfunding the VA for many years rather than going along with it as a way of budget cutting. This is the one mistake General Shinseki made is not alerting and fighting for more funds to provide for our veterans when they returned at making it obvious what was going on.

  6. Richard H. Randall

    Hi Robin, and I agree. My trust factor for the Clintons is not up there, e.g. their ties-deep ties to Monsanto. I’d like to think she would fight them tooth and nail if she is elected: if she is the democratic nominee, I certainly will vote for her. It is just that I think the race will be close and there will be ready made controversy for the right. I think there are two better candidates at least, though the decision makers may not think so. In fact, I don’t know if she is running yet.
    You are right: and had Obama had some fire, he’d have been at every VSO meeting, and at least once a week talking about the shame of what the country went through with the Bush administration.
    Good to hear from you. Have a good work week.

  7. Robin M. Pettit

    Here is an article on a filibuster by Republicans for a bill to fund the VA for more facilities and more staff. This was fairly recently, i.e., earlier this year. It appears to have been filibustered with no Democratic support.

    http://www.pensitoreview.com/2014/05/29/should-u-s-senators-who-voted-against-additional-funding-for-va-hospitals-in-february-2014-also-resign/comment-page-1/#comment-850028

    This illustrates the duplicity of Republicans in this scandal.

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