Home Bruce Bawer Reviews 'Domestic Enemies'
Home Bruce Bawer Reviews 'Domestic Enemies'

Bruce Bawer Reviews 'Domestic Enemies'


That there’s always more history to learn is one of the many lessons of Daniel Greenfield’s truly magnificent new book, Domestic Enemies: The Founding Fathers’ Fight against the LeftIn six riveting, eye-opening chapters, Greenfield guides us through untold or little-told stories of leftist perfidy beginning in the days prior to the ratification of the Constitution and concluding in the last years of the Civil War. It is a genuinely remarkable work, which even for many people who consider themselves relatively well-informed students of history is full of one revelation after another – all of which serve to underscore that the far-left phenomena that today seem to portend nothing short of apocalypse (from BLM riots to outrageous election irregularities to the breathtaking efforts by New York officials to destroy Donald Trump’s financial empire) are in fact nothing new.

The late writer Howard Zinn, in his appallingly successful People’s History of the United States (1980), pushed his far-left agenda on naive young readers by, at every turn (and here I adapt from Johnny Mercer’s immortal lyric), fanatically accentuating the negative aspects of American capitalism and liberal democracy and utterly eliminating the positive. Greenfield is the anti-Zinn: whereas Zinn besmirched American liberty at every turn, Greenfield tells the plain truth about far-left challenges to that liberty that have either been whitewashed in most history textbooks, given very short shrift by them, or scrubbed from their pages entirely. The result is a superbly illuminating book that has the drive and urgency of a great political pamphlet as well as the density and detail of a distinguished three-volume historical opus.

To recount these far-left challenges is to touch time and again on the early history of the Democratic Party, which began as Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans and whose founding was inspired, in very large part, by the French Revolution. We all learned in school about Jefferson’s support for that uprising – but many of us, I suspect, were spared the news that his enthusiasm extended, as Greenfield underscores, even to some of that revolution’s more sanguinary aspects. We were also assured that Americans were universally fond of George Washington, who had no serious challenger for president, and whose sheer popularity and force of character are said to have kept his administration from being fractured by partisanship; the full truth, as Greenfield reveals, is that during Washington’s tenure there were a good many Americans who actually talked about guillotining him for not marching in lockstep with Robespierre and company. “Ten thousand People in the Streets of Philadelphia, day after day,” a rightfully alarmed Adams wrote to Jefferson, “threatened to drag Washington out of his House, and effect a Revolution in the Government, or compell it to declare War in favour of the French Revolution.”

If those crowds in Philadelphia hated George Washington, they loved Edmond Genet, an agent of the French government who was dispatched to America with the goal of uniting the two countries in an “Empire of Liberty”(as Greenfield points out, this scheme “foreshadowed the globalism” of today’s Democratic Party) and who in 1793 – the year Washington began his second term and the Reign of Terror got underway – took part in the establishment of a “political network that…helped to usher in the era of the Democratic Party.” Far from being scared by what was going on in France, Genet’s American fans wanted to copy it at home. Amusingly, as the French Revolution proceeded to devour its own, Genet, who had come to America to promote it, ended up begging to be saved from it. Fortunately for him, the leaders whom he would gladly have guillotined took pity on him: at Hamilton’s urging, Washington granted asylum to Genet, who lived out the rest of his life as a farmer in New York State.

Another key chapter in the story of the early American left concerns the utopian communes. My school textbooks treated them as the essentially benign creations of virtuous idealists; in truth, they were nothing less than laboratories in totalitarianism. For example, Nashoba (1823-6), in Tennessee, which is now “remembered as a feminist interracial commune where freed slaves and white progressives built a new kind of society that was too modern for the era to tolerate,” and whose founder, Fanny Wright, was praised by the New York Times in the 1980s as “the first woman in America to act publicly to oppose slavery,” was in reality “a hideous prototype for the socialist experiments on black people that continue today.” Nashoba was appalling, indeed, in a number of ways. It banned marriage, property, religion; it even forbade contact between parents and children. Reading about these communes in school, we may have pictured the members laboring in the fields all day to keep them going; in reality, the work at Nashoba was done by slaves, whom the white idealists “whipped and sexually exploited.” Indiana’s New Harmony (1814-27) operated pretty much the same way: its socialist founders were “eager to build a new society but unwilling to get their hands dirty.” And the Oneida Community (1848-81) in New York was “a eugenics sex cult complete with free love and the sexual abuse of young girls by cult members in the name of socialism and equality.”

Then there were the urban political machines, notorious for their innovations in the fields of graft and patronage. In one history class we read Plunkitt of Tammany Hall (1905)the highly revealing memoirs of George Washington Plunkitt, a cheerfully cynical cog in New York’s Democratic machine. But the picture of Tammany Hall painted by Greenfield is far darker than anything I remember from that little book, which made political corruption look almost quaint and charming. As Greenfield records, Tammany Hall started out as one of the many secret societies (complete with its own “costumes, rites, and rituals”) that “played a fundamental role in the rise of the Democratic Party and the Left.” Tammany’s influence extended far beyond New York: it swung the 1800 election and engineered the 1836 presidential victory of its then boss, Martin Van Buren. Another key Tammany Hall figure was Aaron Burr, whose “vision of urban political machines controlling elections, stuffing the voter rolls, and exploiting crises came to define the country, the Democratic Party, and the 2020 election.”

One of Greenfield’s chapters is about the state of Rhode Island. What did you ever learn about Rhode Island? All I remember is that it was founded in 1636, in the name of religious liberty, by an American hero named Roger Williams. What I never learned was that by the late eighteenth century it was a “fanatical, insular, and strange” little corner of the union, “rife with intrigues, grand schemes, and the fanatical conviction of its exceptionalism” and boasting an “explosive combination of cults and political radicalism, utopian idealism, and greed.” During the years when the Articles of Confederation were in force, the state, under the strict rule of the Country Party, devolved into agrarian socialism, and thence into outright feudalism of the sort that Klaus Schwab apparently has in mind for you and me. The key to it all was paper money, which, issued by the state in massive amounts, was constantly depreciating, and thereby enabled the ruling landlords to pay ever-struggling merchants in a way that cheated the latter while preserving the wealth of the former. When merchants balked at this systematic ripoff, the Rhode Island legislature passed the 1786 Forcing Act, under which those who refused to accept the state’s increasingly worthless currency as legal tender could be fined, imprisoned, and denied trial by jury; when the state’s highest court found the Forcing Act unconstitutional, the legislature called the judges in on the carpet and had most of them removed from office.

By this point, political dissent was effectively banned in Rhode Island. When the Constitutional Convention was called in 1787, the state refused to take part, and consequently the new Constitution was ratified without its participation. This, notes Greenfield, raised the question: “Was Rhode Island part of the United States, or wasn’t it? The smallest state hadn’t formally seceded from the United States, nor had it joined.” During the next three years, its ports prospered because they didn’t charge duties on British imports, which could then be transported without tariff to other states. Then the U.S. Senate passed the Rhode Island Trade Bill, which forbade Rhode Island’s ships to land at U.S. ports and barred Rhode Island’s products from entering the rest of the country. In response, the port cities of Providence and Newport “announced that they would secede and join the United States if Rhode Island did not ratify the Constitution.” Only then did the state’s rulers cave in and join up – thus spelling the beginning of the end of an exceedingly disturbing experiment in autocracy.

There’s more – much more – in Greenfield’s book, but let’s leave it at that: a few morsels from an extraordinary smorgĂ„sbord. It’s all fascinating stuff, and deeply sobering. And let me add this: as Adams famously wrote about Jefferson, Greenfield possesses “a peculiar felicity of expression”; even as he makes clear just how deadly serious these stories are, his style is lively and entertaining. Put it this way: reading this book, you feel as if you’re gorging on pistachios, only to feel at the end as if you’ve had the heartiest of meals. And it’s a meal with a vital lesson: namely, that while we can sometimes feel overwhelmed these days by “the scale of the leftist subversion, treason, and violence” all around us, today’s perfidious attempts by the left to undermine our liberty are nothing new. Two centuries before Antifa arson and let-’em-loose Soros DAs and the deliberate flooding of the country with illegal aliens, America faced equally formidable assaults by an aggressive, unprincipled left that was determined to see our streets flow with blood like the Place de la Concorde. Bottom line: to view our nation’s history through rose-colored glasses is absolutely historyless – and a formula for defeatism. For there was, as Greenfield puts it, always a snake in the garden. What matters is that we routed it – repeatedly. Which means that we can rout it again. At this moment in American history, it’s a message that urgently needs to be heard.

See Bruce Bawer's original review here at Front Page Magazine.