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Dred Scott's Revenge: A Legal History of Race and Freedom in America Hardcover – April 14, 2009
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About the Author
Andrew P. Napolitano is Senior Judicial Analyst for Fox News Channel and the author of Constitutional Chaos, The Constitution in Exile, A Nation of Sheep, Dred Scott's Revenge, and Lies the Government Told You. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Further, there are unnecessary repetitions of opinion and fact that lead one to owner whether the original draft received attention from an editor with the authority to recommend revisions. The entire text just does not read smoothly.
Yes, there are interesting assertions in the book, and some are fairly well supported by background and reasoning. Others lead one to wonder whether the justice fully understood the challenges and problems of a chief executive. For instance, the concluding, somewhat unrealistic nod to Mr. Obama's assumed goodness leads one to conclude that either the writer was insincere at the end or the note of tribute was ill considered.
Mr. Napolitano might have done so much more if he had developed just one of his book's sections into a well written text. A revisionist history of Abraham Lincoln as the Civil-War President that was even handed, yet hard-hitting, would have been an interesting book. Reconstruction is a similar area, waiting for a new interpretation. Why did it take so long? Why did the government allow things to get so bad? The truth is in the details. Ditto for the era from the 1960s to the present.
One value of Mr. Napolitano's book is its revelation of how natural desires for personal rights cut against positive law, and thus against political forces. Although the book seems to take a slightly Republican slant toward the end, clearly the conflict between natural and positive law respects neither political party, especially if time and geography are taken into consideration. Rather, that conflict stands before us and within us as we blunder about, asserting our individual, often amoral preferences, yet occasionally trying dearly to create a democracy. For showing us that way of understanding what we are about, Justice Napolitano has made a significant contribution.
I'm a fan of Judge Napolitano's views, writings and passionate support of the Constitution, but I found this book somewhat of a let down. I like his distinction here between Natural Law and Positivism (although it is confusing to see how it can be applied in practice), and his retelling of the history of slavery in America, but I felt it also was inconsistent and partial and sometimes showed a distinct bias against the South (and understanding of the larger context of slavery in the world). It seemed to change course drastically at times as if whole parts were edited out, and so his attempt to convey the subtle and difficult reality was lost. I'd still recommend reading this book (the last chapter on the racial integration of baseball in the 40's is especially good), but I'd really like to see him go back and revise his thesis with a little more care to nuance.
Mainly I found this book a disturbing telling of America's history of race relations (this is the good part). It is like "we" have faced several options in our attempt to compromise all along the way and have consistently chosen the worst option, and so made it worse at every step. Judge N. makes this clear with his explanation of the compromises required to ratify the Constitution (somehow legitimizing and enshrining slavery and racism in a document of such lofty ideals), then made much worse by going to war to force the South to remain in the Union, and then vindictively alienate and punish them afterwards. What could have been a principled, gradual and peaceful transition from slavery to freedom (as it was in the vast majority of nations, including the Northern US), instead became a prolonged and tortuous process. At least in America today the ugliness of Jim Crow era race laws are gone, and it is quite amazing what has been changed and accepted in just the past 4 decades, but it also seems we have gone far into the other extreme of preferential racism which also just perpetuates the victim mentality and reality (and the not so unintentional consequence of dependency). Judge N. makes it clear at least that this has been an ugly and complex reality.
The problems I have with this book are mostly stylistic - that he gives a selective and compressed history, and sometimes is reduced to clumsy and abrupt changes in the flow of his argument. It is a fine line to walk between upholding natural law and the exercise of government power, State's Rights and the righting of wrongs inherent in slavery (which sometimes means directly violating the Constitution), and Judge N. should be commended for trying (and largely succeeding in clarifying the distinct issues here), but he also is mostly just making a symbolic attempt at reconciling these very difficult (and subtle points), and this becomes clear at the end of the book when he expresses hope that the election of Barack Obama will somehow be the beginning of a new era. It is obvious he knows better as he is writing it in 2008, but still he wishes...
It is clear now in 2013 that America is as polarized as ever and that Obama's election, while historic and symbolic, was only different and hopeful for about 15 minutes, and that Obama himself is just another wily politician really no different or better than someone like Lincoln (appropriately enough also from Illinois). I'd like to see Napolitano revise this book from the perspective of a post-Obama America, and the deeper and more powerful influences dividing Americans today irregardless of race. These conflicts of interest are the very ones the so-called Federalists and Anti-federalists grappled with 225 years ago. I guess what I'm trying to say is that now that we have the ground for a color-blind society (if not true racial equality), lets get past race, and get on to the subjects that can really awaken and unite Americans today.
As he quotes in that final inspirational chapter on Jackie Robinson's "one-man civil rights movement";
He that will not reason is a bigot
He that cannot reason is a fool
He that dares not reason is a slave
Obviously, there are still many slaves in America today.