Saturday, June 23, 2018

Among the Dead Cities by A. C. Grayling

I thought I was going to like this one much more than I did. At this point in my life, I’ve pretty much established for myself an anti-war political philosophy. The true challenge for political leadership in today’s world, in my opinion, is figuring out how to stay out of wars, not get into them. So a book by a renowned philosopher, dissecting the subtitular question “Is the Targeting of Civilians in War Ever Justified?” should be right up my alley.

And there is plenty of ammunition here for arguments against war. Here’s a description, for example, of the firestorm that resulted from the dropping of incendiary explosives on the city of Hamburg on the night of July 27, 1943.

Fires in different streets progressively joined together, forming into vast pyres of flame that grew rapidly hotter and eventually roared upwards to a height of 7,000 feet, sucking in air from the outlying suburbs at over a hundred miles an hour to fuel their oxygen hunger, creating artificial hurricanes ‘resonating like mighty organs’ as W. G. Sebald put it, which intensified the fires further. It was the first ever firestorm created by bombing, and it caused terrible destruction and loss of life. Its greatest intensity lasted for three hours, snatching up roofs, trees and burning human bodies and sending them whirling into the air. The fires leaped up behind collapsing facades of buildings, roared through the streets, and rolled across squares and open areas ‘in strange rhythms like rolling cylinders’. The glass windows of tramcars melted, bags of sugar boiled, people trying to flee the oven-like heat of air-raid shelters sank, petrified into grotesque gestures, into the boiling asphalt of the streets.

Horrors like these are seldom discussed or contemplated in the build-up phase towards war, but from my reading of history, they are inevitably the result. Whether it’s the Mule Shoe in Spotsylvania during the American Civil War or the firebombing of Hamburg during World War II, the wholesale destruction of human beings never seems the enter into the preliminary calculations.

And, of course, the damage to human life is only the first awful effect of these atrocities.

In the ‘pan of a gigantic oven’ that Hamburg had become, the searing winds changed direction violently and unpredictably, sweeping the walls of fire along with them. Women found their light summer frocks bursting into flame, and tore them off to run naked from the inferno. In the cellars, otherwise unscathed people suffocated to death. Police reports and eyewitness accounts later confirmed many of the horror stories told ‘of demented Hamburgers carrying bodies of deceased relatives in their suitcases -- a man with the corpse of his wife and daughter, a woman with the mummified body of her daughter, or other women with the heads of their dead children. One of these shocking details is to be found in an account, quoted by W. G. Sebald, given by someone who saw refugees from Hamburg trying to board a train in Bavaria, in the struggle dropping a suitcase which ‘falls on the platform, bursts open and spills its contents. Toys, a manicure case, singed underwear. And last of all, the roasted corpse of a child, shrunk like a mummy, which its half-deranged mother has been carrying about with her, the relic of a past that was still intact a few days ago.’

It’s the psychological damage of war. This, in my opinion, is the real moral crime of these activities. Its psychological scars, like those of fire on human flesh, are permanent, and radiate relentlessly down through the generations. How, I think it is fair for someone to ask, can we ever have peace when so many have been so damaged by war?

Is It Just?

But that ammunition for the anti-war argument isn’t enough to keep Among the Dead Cities from being a frustrating read for me. A lot of that frustration might be my own fault because, in reading the book’s subtitle, “Is the Targeting of Civilians in War Ever Justified?” I assumed that Grayling was going to examine arguments for and against that proposition that the targeting of civilians in war is immoral. But that’s not the definition of “just” that Grayling decided to adopt.

To anyone of humane and pacific instincts, the phrase ‘a just war’ looks like a contradiction. But a moment’s thought shows otherwise. The idea that war, however ugly in itself, is sometimes unqualifiedly just is amply demonstrated by the example of Allied opposition to militaristic Fascism in the Second World War, a struggle which provides the focal case of a legitimate use of armed force to defend against aggression and to put an end to oppression and genocide. In this case the just war was the one waged by the Allies, not of course by the Axis, whose instigation and prosecution of war constituted aggression of an egregious kind, which few apart from the lunatic fringe of neo-Nazi apologists would regard as anything other than criminal and immoral.

Yes, Grayling is going to venture in the territory of “just war theory,” and draw from it -- not from anyone’s humane and pacific instincts -- the definition of “just” that he will apply to the targeting of civilians in war.

So the question before us is not what makes a war a just war, not whether the Allies’ reasons for going to war in 1939 and 1941 respectively were such that their war was just or not; we can take that point as settled in the affirmative. In a different book questions might arise about a later matter -- the Allied determination to settle for nothing less than unconditional surrender, thereby prolonging the war considerably, with consequent great destruction and loss of life. That topic might itself raise problems about the justum ad bellum. But in this book area bombing -- a jus in bello point -- is the focus, and the question being asked about it is whether the Allies, in carrying out area bombing, acted justly once engaged in their just war.

I was not previously familiar with the Latin phrases justum ad bellum and jus in bello, but they are evidently an intrinsic part of the lexicon of just war theory, the former dealing with the determination that the reasons for fighting a particular war are just and the latter dealing with the determination that the methods for prosecuting war -- whether that war itself is just or not -- are just. In other words, justum ad bellum helps us decide if our end is good. Jus in bello helps us decide if our means are good.

Except not really. Because as I read through Grayling’s otherwise lucid prose, I found myself getting tripped up again and again on the unconscious translation I just made. Although I guess I can’t be certain of this, in language of just war theory, it is not appropriate to equate ‘just’ with ‘good’ or with ‘moral’, and ‘unjust’ with ‘bad’ or with ‘immoral’. I get the decided sense that the terms ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ mean something qualitatively different that our day-to-day understanding of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’.

And Grayling is not going to help me understand if there is and should be, in fact, a difference in these terms. Sometimes he sticks with ‘just’ and ‘unjust’.

Consider again the thought that it is not only the ends but the means which settle whether or not a war is just. Reflection suggests that questions of ends and means can and sometimes should be considered apart, as when for example one argues that ends do not justify certain means -- as we are here considering in the case of area bombing. But even if we take it that means and ends must always be considered together, are we bound to say that if the area-bombing campaign turns out on examination to be unjust, that detracts from the justice of the Allied cause?

There’s a lot to dwell on in that paragraph, but for a moment, just focus on Grayling’s use of ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ -- and their implicit association with the concept of justice. Now assess this paragraph.

One standard view offered in philosophical discussions about war is that if the practice of war is governed by rules, then whatever the rules are they must at least dictate what can be attacked and how it can be attacked (unless the rules are so permissive that they say ‘anything’ and ‘anyhow’ respectively, thus not really being rules at all). A straightforward principle might apply both to what counts as a legitimate target and what counts as a legitimate weapon or method of attack, namely, that whatever damage or loss of life is caused by military activities, it should be necessary to the attainment of the war’s aims, and it should be proportionate to them. Thus, the definition of a just military action is any action necessary and proportionate to winning the war. By the same token, any unnecessary and disproportionate act is wrong.

Notice how Grayling, intentionally or not, smuggles morality into the discussion with his use of the word ‘wrong’ at the end of this paragraph. The opposite of ‘just’ is no longer ‘unjust’. Now, it is ‘wrong’, meaning, of course that ‘just’ can be considered a synonym for ‘right’.

But is that the fair and accurate way to parse these painful and difficult decisions? I think not. Justice, and the actions that bring it about are, in my view, accurately seen as neither ‘right’ nor ‘wrong’. They are ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ precisely because one often has to employ means that are objectively ‘wrong’ or ‘immoral’ in order to bring about just ends. This is a distinction that Grayling is never explicit about, so I can’t tell if he believes it, and is therefore being sloppy with his language, or if he doesn’t believe it, and is perfectly fine with equating ‘just’ with ‘good’ and ‘moral’.

All War Is Immoral

But all war is immoral. Is it even necessary to debate this? After all, throughout history, even the people in charge of fighting wars seem to understand their inherent immorality.

General Curtis LeMay, in charge of the area bombing of Japan … described the firebombing of Tokyo in uncompromising terms: ‘We scorched and boiled and baked to death more people in Tokyo on that night of March 9-10 than went up in vapour in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.’ He is famous for saying, ‘Killing Japanese didn’t bother me very much at the time … I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal … every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you’re not a good soldier.’

I think it is this cavalier dismissal of immorality that bothers me the most. And in a way, I see Grayling’s exploration of “justness within a just war” as a framework a little too much like LeMay’s treatment of the moral aspects of what he is doing. Just as a moral conscious may prevent LeMay from being a good soldier, perhaps a moral perspective on war prevents Grayling from being a good philosopher.

Of all the people mentioned in the book, it is George Orwell who seems to speak the loudest for the point of view I’m trying to express. Grayling quotes him at length, especially as he reacted to a famous pamphlet that was published during the war.

Miss Vera Brittain’s pamphlet, Seed of Chaos, is an eloquent attack on indiscriminate or ‘obliteration’ bombing. [She is] not, however, taking the pacifist standpoint. She is willing and anxious to win the war, apparently. She merely wishes us to stick to ‘legitimate’ methods of war and abandon civilian bombing, which she fears will blacken our reputation in the eyes of posterity …

Now, no one is his senses regards bombing, or any other operation of war, with anything but disgust. On the other hand, no decent person cares tuppence for the opinion of posterity. And there is something very distasteful in accepting war as an instrument and at the same time wanting to dodge responsibility for its more obviously barbarous features. Pacifism is a tenable position; provided that you are willing to take the consequences. But all talk of ‘limiting’ or ‘humanising’ war is sheer humbug, based on the fact that the average human being never bothers to examine catchwords.

I think I agree. If you feel that a war is just, then the best course may be to make it as barbarous and as destructive as possible. The idea that a just war can be fought morally is about as counterintuitive as trying to mop the kitchen floor with tapioca pudding. You have to decide. War is either an immoral but necessary tool, or an abomination that is to be avoided above all else. I can respect both positions. But defining certain actions within war as moral and others as immoral is a recipe for ongoing disaster and atrocity.

Doing Wrong to Achieve Right

Which brings us back to the difficult proposition that, sometimes, and perhaps especially in war, the ends do justify the means.

Now, to be fair to Grayling, he does eventually come to the conclusion that the area bombing campaigns of the Second World War were unjust actions within a just war, presuming it is safe for me to adopt the precise terminology of justice that Grayling too often confuses with more common terms with more diffuse meanings. But in getting there he allocates a lot of pages to a careful dissection of both the motivations and actions of the Allies conducting the area bombing campaigns. He’s trying to determine if their targeting of civilians was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, given the premise that the cause the Allies was fighting for was ‘just’. In doing so, he becomes focused on the somewhat irrelevant question (from my point of view) on whether area bombing was necessary in order to win the war.

But there are other questions about Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They fall into a category made special not just by their character but by their timing. The bombing of Hamburg in Operation Gomorrah took place at the height of the war, when the outcome of the struggle was not yet certain, even though the Allied powers knew that they had industrial and manpower advantages that so far outstripped those of the Axis states that the balance of likelihood already lay well on their side. These other, later, bombings occurred when almost everyone involved could see that the war’s end was approaching. One can seriously ask for their justification even if one is already persuaded that such area attacks as Operation Gomorrah, conducted at the height of the war, were necessary or at least warranted by the circumstances of the time.

You might as well ask if General Sherman, marching to the sea in late 1864, was ‘justified’ in doing so when the Union ‘knew that they had industrial and manpower advantages that so far outstripped those of the [Confederate] states that the balance of likelihood already lay well on their side.’ Those assessments are easy to make in hindsight, when the outcome of each war is known. But when you’re in the middle of the fighting a determined foe, most warriors understand and follow the brutal logic of not letting up until the war is actually won.

This is a view that Grayling disputes.

These points -- the the defeat of Germany and Japan were seen to be inevitable, months if not indeed years before they actually happened -- is vigorously contested by some, who say that the outcome of the war was in doubt in both theatres until close to the end, and that continued assault from all quarters on all aspects of the military, civil and administrative organisation of the Axis powers was required to realise the overwhelming necessity of the war, which was to defeat them.

Does this objection have weight? On the question whether it was unclear that the Allies had won until close to the end, one need only quote the agreement of the historians. Robin Neillands says that by September 1944 ‘Germany was going to lose the war, and quite soon -- that much was clear’. John Terraine agrees; ‘By the end of August, 1944, Germany was palpably defeated.’ One could quote the same from many sources, and for Japan too.

Good. Historians, writing in 1985 and 2001, say that Germany was ‘palpably defeated’ by September 1944. Forget, I guess, that the Battle of the Bulge happened in December 1944, in which the Allied armies suffered somewhere close to 90,000 casualties. Even if Germany was a cornered animal at the time, it was clearly a dangerous one. It’s not at all surprising to me that the logic of letting up on a ‘palpably defeated’ enemy escaped the war planners and purveyors of the time.

Is the targeting of civilians in war immoral? Of course it is. And frankly, it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not the targeting of civilians was necessary and proportionate to winning the Second World War. If you adopt the perspective that war is an immoral tool that can nevertheless be used to achieve a just cause, then anything and everything you do in the prosecution of that war is de facto immoral. That’s a hard concept for many -- that the ends can justify the means -- which is why I would support the clear and careful adoption of a whole new lexicon in talking about these issues. War is immoral. It can never be right, but under certain circumstances is can be just or unjust.

But dealing only with the targeting of civilians also kind of misses the point. Because it seems that the Allies in World War II may have been engaged in something even more immoral than that.

For alas, responsible individuals in Roosevelt’s government did indeed put forward a plan for post-war Germany that, if not quite [the fantasy of German war propagandists], was uncomfortably close to it. The area bombing of Germany’s cities meant destroying its libraries, schools, universities, theatres, museums, art galleries, shops, monuments, architectural treasures, clinics, hotels, workshops, studios, concert halls -- in short: its cultural fabric, its embodied memory and character. And this was in addition to the destruction of its houses and factories, municipal offices and waterworks, roads and bridges, to say nothing of its people -- in short: its capacity to function. This pulverisation of the physical, cultural and human fabric of Germany was allowed to continue on a massive scale until the very last month of the war, not just unabated but with increasing intensity; which makes it natural to wonder whether it represented an intention to so cripple Germany that it could not revive to become yet again, as it had twice been in the preceding thirty years, a dangerous and oppressive destroyer of world peace.

That’s not just targeting civilians. That’s trying to destroy an entire cultural heritage of human beings. If true, it is an even graver crime against humanity -- something that, in the words of General Curtis LeMay, would have a loser tried as a war criminal. This, again, is part of what makes war immoral in the first place. To win one, even a just one, things that in other contexts would be viewed as atrocities must be committed. A war in which the combatants only engage in actions that would be deemed as moral is not a war at all. At least not in any sense of the word that we commonly understand.

Which Is Worse?

Let me try to wrap up with this. A lot of discussion has taken place over whether the conventional or atomic bombings of World War II represented the greater moral offense. After all, conventional bombing was responsible for more death and destruction than the atomic.

The first attack took place on the night of 9-10 March 1945. It was against Tokyo, which received 1,667 tons of incendiary bombs on fifteen square miles of its most densely populated districts. They were burned to the ground in a ferocious firestorm that killed more than 85,000 people. The death and destruction here was greater than the caused by either of the atom bombs dropped in August that year on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But even though the conventional bombing of the era killed more people and destroyed more of its targeted city than the correlated atomic bombing, there is another factor that make atomic bombs a much more fearful and dubious weapon.

Authorities in Washington were especially interested in the [U.S. Strategic Bombing] Survey’s conclusion that “the damage and casualties caused at Hiroshima by the one atomic bomb dropped from a single plane would have required 220 B-29s carrying 1,200 tons of incendiary bombs, 400 tons of high explosives, and 500 tons of anti-personnel fragmentation bombs, if conventional weapons, rather than an atomic bomb, had been used.”

One bomb and one plane equalled the destructive force of 220 planes and hundreds of tons of conventional weapons. Although conventional bombs did more damage and killed more people than atomic bombs did during World War II, the comparative cost in men and materiel of delivering atomic vs. conventional bombs would have likely dramatically turned those tables had the bombing continued beyond Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Grayling calls both of these actions -- conventional and atomic bombing of civilians -- unjust, wrong, and immoral. And I believe he’s right when it comes to calling them wrong or immoral. But unjust? That’s a more complicated question, and it’s one that, because he doesn’t stick to a precise definition of that term, I’m not sure Grayling ever definitively answers.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Three Things That Matter in Our Performance Evaluations

I don't know when was the last time I've written about performance evaluations on this blog -- or indeed if I have ever written about performance evaluations on this blog before -- but they've been on my mind this week. With the close of our fiscal year, we're entering performance evaluation season at my organization.

I believe in regular feedback, and I'd like to think that my organization engages in it throughout the year, but we still have a once-a-year, formal sit-down conversation where an evaluation of performance is communicated and documented. And in that evaluation, there are only three things that matter.

1. Performance measured against staff values and associated behaviors. Like many organizations, we have established a set of values that describe our expectations for staff behavior in their interactions with each other and with our members. The degree to which each staff person exhibits behaviors that align with these values is assessed and weighted as the most important factor in our performance evaluation.

2. Performance measured against strategic program objectives. Each year a series of program objectives are identified that align with the strategic goals that have been set by our Board of Directors. Each individual staff member is then given primary responsibility for achieving a specific set of these program objectives, which require them to act as leaders in the organization, coordinating the efforts of other staff members and association members alike to achieve significant outcomes. The ability to weigh appropriate risks, make clear decisions, and exhibit a bias towards action are necessary precursors to this success. The degree to which each staff person achieves their program objectives, as well as the degree of difficulty each entailed, is weighted as the second most important factor in our performance evaluation.

3. Performance measured against professional development objectives. Each year we identify an organization-wide professional development objective, as well as individual professional development objectives for each individual staff person. The degree to which each staff person achieves these objectives is weighted as the third most important factor in our performance evaluation.

That's it. Do you embody our values? Did you achieve your objectives? Did you engage in professional development? When it comes to formally assessing the performance of our staff, those are the only questions we seek to answer.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Going Where There Are No Podiums

Not too long ago I wrote a post about Getting Out From Behind the Podium when giving a talk at my association's Annual Conference. For the first time in a decade, as I describe in that post, I got out from behind the podium and walked the stage while delivering my speech, like many of the professional speakers that we hire do.

Last week I had another speaking opportunity. This time one of my members had invited me to come and speak at his company's sales conference. They wanted to hear my take on our industry and the various markets we serve. Where are we now? Where are we going? What trends are impacting our industry and where are the opportunities for growth and success?

It is something I am always happy to do. Constructing such a presentation helps me think through these important issues (something I should be probably be doing more regularly anyway). But, more importantly, it gets me out of my office and into the environment of my members. It is, without fail, always a very positive experience for me.

But this time, oddly, it seems like I had failed to learn anything from my experience at my Annual Conference. As I often do, I wrote a very detailed script for my presentation. There are things I absolutely want to make sure I say and I've learned the best way to ensure that I say them is to write them out.

I did the same thing at the Annual Conference, but there I had the right technology at my disposal. What got me out from behind the podium was not the lack of a detailed script, but my ability to put the script not in a ring binder on the podium, but on the confidence monitor that was propped up, facing the speaker, at the foot of the stage.

There was no such confidence monitor at my member's sales conference. Or, at least, I didn't expect that there would be. Truth be told, I asked very little about the format, arrangements, and technologies of the conference. There would be a projector, I was told. If I wanted to bring some slides, they would have the ability to project them.

Not knowing what else to expect, I reverted to my old habits. I wrote out my script. I put it in the Notes section of my Powerpoint in case they had me standing behind a podium. I could then use Presenter View and, if not get out from behind their podium, at least have my detailed notes in front of me. And, in case there was no podium, I also printed out the script in big enough type to read at an arm's distance, folded the twenty or so pages in half and tucked them in the inside pocket of my sport coat.

When I arrived on-site at the conference, I realized I should have asked more questions in advance. The audience of the sales conference was no more than thirty people, and we were all in a large conference room in the company's corporate headquarters. There was no big conference table. If one had been there, it had been removed, and in its place were fifteen or so classroom tables, all oriented towards the front of the room. And at the front of the room? Nothing. A screen, sure, and a small table pushed up against the side wall where I could place my computer and connect it to the no more than three-foot cord coming out of the wall which would link me with the LCD projector hanging from the ceiling above. Other than that, there no nothing but a big, empty space for me and whatever speakers were to follow me to roam around in.

I realized there was no way I was going to be able to read my script in Presenter View and maintain any kind of connection with my audience. To do that, I'd be tucked off in the far corner with my laptop. So I decided to go with the printed copy in my pocket. As long as I only glanced at it from time to time to get my bearings, I figured I should still be able to watch for reactions and hands going up for questions.

And that's what I did. Except something even more unexpected happened. There were sections of the presentation where I really needed the script. It was new information to me, and I was less familiar with it. For those sections, I'll admit that my head was down and I was reading. To help lighten the mood, I joked that the attorneys had reviewed my remarks and were requiring me to stick closely to script during certain parts.

But other sections were very familiar to me. I had used the slides and the remarks that went with them many times before. Even if I didn't remember every word in the script, I knew intimately the essential points that needed to be made. And for those sections, throwing my last scrap of caution to the wind, I quite deliberately decided to abandon the script completely and go with my gut.

I kept my head up. I made eye contact. I paused for emphasis. I did everything I had done at my Annual Conference, but I was doing it without a script. My mind was obviously active, but more frequently, I was speaking from my heart.

It's a strange and sometimes frightening country, this place where there are no podiums and no scripts to place upon them. But sometimes, it seems, it is the best place to deliver information that connects with an audience.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Chainbearer by James Fenimore Cooper

This one had a bit of a story behind it. If people are familiar with Cooper at all, they’re familiar with his most famous novel, The Last of the Mohicans. And if they are familiar with The Last of the Mohicans, then they may know that it is one of a series of five novels featuring the same character at various stages of his life, collectively known as The Leatherstocking Tales.

But it is a rare person indeed who has heard of Cooper’s other series of novels, collectively called The Littlepage Manuscripts, of which The Chainbearer is the middle volume. I first stumbled across the series in some ancient used bookstore when I happened across Satanstoe, the first volume in this then-unknown series. That began a kind of quest for me, searching seemingly in vain for years for both The Chainbearer and for the third and final volume The Redskins.

Obviously, I recently discovered The Chainbearer, not in a used book store, as I recall, but in an antique shop clustered among a few random tomes on display more from their appearance than their contents. In the intervening years I’ve read a few other Cooper novels, largely of the Leatherstocking variety, and have more or less developed my own theory of the author’s intent, based largely in what I saw most conspicuously displayed in The Pathfinder.

In short, a disbeliever in the ability of man to distinguish between good and evil without the aid of instruction, would have been staggered by the character of this extraordinary inhabitant of the frontier. His feelings appeared to possess the freshness and nature of the forest in which he passed so much of his time; and no casuist could have made clearer decisions in matters relating to right and wrong; and yet he was not without his prejudices, which, though few, and colored by the character and usages of the individual, were deep-rooted, and almost formed a part of his nature. But the most striking feature about the moral organization of Pathfinder was his beautiful and unerring sense of justice.

That’s a description of Natty Bumppo in The Pathfinder, and it typifies my imagined theme. In the service of his charges, the frontier scout finds the path, not just through the forest, but through the moral quandaries that beset and challenge them along the way. I really wanted The Chainbearer to conform to this same theme, but, despite my hearty enjoyment of the novel, I’d have to say that it didn’t quite measure up to this standard.

Moral Judge or Civilizing Force?

Although the introduction of the titular Chainbearer did give me some hope.

“Who is the queer old man of whom I have heard you speak, Mordaunt,” my sister demanded, “and with whom you have lately had some correspondence about these lands?”

“I suppose you mean my former comrade, the ‘Chainbearer.’ There was a captain in our regiment of the name of Coejemans, who bears this appellation, and who had contracted to get the necessary surveys made, though he fills the humble post of a ‘chainbearer’ himself, not being competent to make the calculations.”

“How can a mere chainbearer contract for a full survey?” asked Tom Bayard, who had joined the party, and had been listening to the discourse. “The chainbearers, in general, are but common laborers, and are perfectly irresponsible.”

“That is true, as a rule; but my old friend forms an exception. He set out for a surveyor, but having no head for sines, and co-sines, and tangents, he was obliged to lower his pretensions to the humbler duty he now discharges. Still he has long contracted for jobs of this nature, and gets as much as he can do, hiring surveyors himself, the owners of property having the utmost confidence in his measurements. Let me tell you, the man who carries chain is not the least important member of a surveying party in the woods. Old Andries is as honest as noon-day, and everybody has faith in him.”

Your first person narrator here is Mordaunt Littlepage, son of Cornelius Littlepage, whose adventures comprised the action of the previous volume, Satanstoe. The title of that volume refers to the Littlepage family estate in Revolutionary War-era New York, and much of the action of The Chainbearer will center on Mordaunt’s assignment to survey and sell parcels of upstate land owned by the Littlepages. To do this, as described above, he will employ an older veteran of the War, Andies Coejemans, known to all as the titular Chainbearer. Not a surveyor, mind you, one experienced with calculations, but a simple chainbearer, one responsible for laying out a line, straight and true, between one man’s land and another’s.

“I am sure her uncle is my superior in some respects; in carrying chain, particularly so.”

“Ay, but scarcely in station, Mordaunt.”

“He was the senior captain of the regiment.”

“True; but revolutions are revolutions. What I mean is, that your Chainbearer can hardly be a gentleman.”

“That is a point not to be decided in a breath. He is, and he is not. Old Andries is of a respectable family, though but indifferently educated. Men vastly his inferiors in birth, in habits, in the general notions of the caste, in the New England states, are greatly his superiors in knowledge. Nevertheless, while we must all admit how necessary a certain amount of education has become, at the present time, to make a gentleman, I think every gentleman will allow hundreds among us have degrees in their pockets with small claims to belong to the class. Three or four centuries ago, I should have answered that old Andries was a gentleman, though he had to bite the wax with his teeth and make a cross, for want of a better signature.”

“And he what you call a chainbearer, Mordaunt!” exclaimed my sister.

Like the Pathfinder, then, this Chainbearer is something between two worlds. A gentleman and not a gentleman. An educated man and not an educated man. If he cannot guide you through the moral landscape, then perhaps he can provide some other metaphoric service. He is someone, after all, who sees things honest and true, and who may be able to help others understand what side of the line they should be on.

And then, as my mind explored these possibilities, I was struck by what I took to be a remarkable decision by Cooper, a decision to take this, his central character of some clear moral force and objectivity in a new and uncharted direction.

“Of course, you merely gave your friends the pleasure of your company and looked a little to their comforts, on their return from a hard day’s work?”

Dus raised her eyes to mine; smiled; then she looked sad, her under-lip quivering slightly; after which a smile that was not altogether without humor succeeded. I watched these signs of varying feeling with an interest I cannot describe; for the play of virtuous and ingenuous emotion on a lovely female countenance is one of the rarest sights in nature.

Dus is a diminutive appellation for Ursula Malbone, Andries Coejemans’s niece and the novel’s primary love interest for Mordaunt Littlepage. And what she says after the “play of virtuous and ingenuous emotion” on her face, in this, their first meeting, will frankly shock our narrator.

“I can carry chain,” said the girl, at the close of this exhibition of feeling.

“You can carry chain, Ursula -- Dus, or whatever I am to call you--”

“Call me Dus -- I love that name best.”

“You can carry chain, I suppose is true enough -- but, you do not mean that you have?”

The face of Dus flushed; but she looked me full in the eye, as she nodded her head to express an affirmative; and she smiled as sweetly as ever woman smiled.

“For amusement -- to say you have done it -- in jest!”

“To help my uncle and brother, who had not the means to hire a second man.”

“Good God! Miss Malbone -- Ursula -- Dus--”

“The last is the most proper name for a Chainbearess,” rejoined the girl, smiling; and actually taking my hand by an involuntary movement of her sympathy in the shock I so evidently felt. “But why should you look upon that little toil as so shocking, when it is healthful and honest? You are thinking of a sister reduced to what strikes you as man’s proper work.”

And here I am thinking that I am really onto something. For remember, in my metaphoric context, carrying chain is not just an act of physical labor, it is an act of symbolic significance, in which the chainbearer separates one person’s property from another, and thereby provides a true reckoning around which civilization can define and progress itself. If the pathfinder helps us chart the moral course through uncertain territory, then perhaps the chainbearer helps us claim that territory as our own and keep it through peace and prosperity. In allowing Ursula Malbone to carry chain, is Cooper saying something about the role of women in that civilizing process?

Perhaps. Let’s read on.

Dus relinquished my hand almost as soon as she had touched it; and she did it with a slight start, as if shocked at her own temerity.

“What is man’s work, and man’s work, only?”

“Yet woman can perform it; and, as uncle Chainbearer will tell you, perform it well. I had no other concern, the month I was at work, than the fear that my strength would not enable me to do as much as my uncle and brother, and thus lessen the service they could render you each day. They kept me on the dry land, so there were no wet feet, and your woods are as clear of underbrush as an orchard. There is no use in attempting to conceal the fact, for it is known to many, and would have reached your ears sooner or later. Then concealment is always painful to me, and never more so than when I hear you, and see you treating your hired servant as an equal.”

“Miss Malbone! -- For God’s sake, let me hear no more of this -- old Andries judged rightly of me, in wishing to conceal this; for I should never have allowed it to go on for a moment.”

If Cooper is saying this, that woman are, or at least can be our guides and our lawgivers, it is clearly something Mordaunt Littlepage isn’t prepared to accept. And this despite Dus’s many reasoned arguments.

“And in what manner could you have prevented it, Major Littlepage? My uncle has taken the business of you at so much the day, finding surveyor and laborers. Poor dear Frank! He, at least, does not rank with the laborers, and as for my uncle, he has long had an honest pride in being the best chainbearer in the country -- why need his niece scruple about sharing in his well-earned reputation?”

“But you, Miss Malbone -- dearest Dus -- who have been so educated, who are born a lady, who are loved by Priscilla Bayard, the sister of Frank, are not in your proper sphere, while thus occupied.”

“It is not so easy to say what is the proper sphere of a woman. I admit it ought to be, in general, in the domestic circle, and under the domestic roof; but circumstances must control that. We hear of wives who follow their husbands to the camp, and we hear of nuns who come out of their convents to attend the sick and wounded in hospitals. It does not strike me, then, as so bad in a girl who offers to aid her parent as I have aided mine, when the alternative was to suffer by want.”

And indeed, we will meet more such women as Ursula Malbone in Cooper’s novel, women who, while in their domestic circle, follow and support their husbands in their traditionally masculine exploits. They, very clearly, make their achievements possible, and I think Cooper is very subtly making this point in Dus’s dalliance with the chain.

Rights of Property

But Cooper seems to be doing something else in this novel -- making a strong case for property rights being the fulcrum on which the whole advance of “white” civilization balances. Nowhere is this philosophy more clearly spelled out than in Mordaunt’s dialogue with an old Indian comrade of his father’s. He, like many characters in Cooper’s allegorical fiction, is known by several names, in this case Sureflint, Susquesus, or Trackless.

“These are what we call the rights of property, without which no man would aim at being anything more than clad and fed. Who would hunt, if anybody that came along had a right to pick up and skin his game?”

“See dat well ‘nough -- nebber do; no, nebber. Don’t see why land go like skin, when skin go wid warrior and hunter, and land stay where he be.”

Rendering the Indian’s speech into this phonetic dialect can be bothersome, but Sureflint does drive right to the heart of the disagreement. Why does the white man think he can own the land?

“That is because the riches of you red men are confined to movable property, and to your wigwams, so long as you choose to live in them. Thus far, you respect the rights of property as well as the pale-faces; but you must see a great difference between your people and mine! -- between the red man and the white man?”

“Be sure, differ; one strong, t’oder weak -- one rich, t’oder poor -- one great, t’oder little -- one drive ‘way, t’oder haf to go -- one get all, t’oder keep nuttin’ -- one march large army, t’oder go Indian file, fifty warrior, p’raps -- dat reason t’ing so.”

“And why can the pale-faces march in large armies, with cannon, and horses, and bayonets, and the red man not do the same?”

“Cause he no got ‘em -- no got warrior -- no got gun -- no got baggonet -- no got nuttin’.”

“You have given the effect for the cause, Sureflint, or the consequences of the reason for the reason itself. I hope I make you understand me. Listen, and I will explain. You have lived much with the white men, Susquesus, and can believe what I say. There are good, and there are bad, among all people. Color makes no difference in this respect. Still, all people are not alike. The white man is stronger than the red man, and has taken away his country, because he knows most.”

“He most, too. Count army, den count war-trail; you see.”

“It is true the pale-faces are the most numerous now; but once they were not. Do not your traditions tell you how few the Yengeese were, when they first came across the salt lake?”

“Come in big canoe -- two, t’ree full -- no more.”

“Why then did two or three shipfuls of white men become so strong as to drive back from the sea all the red warriors, and become masters of the land? Can you give a reason for that?”

“‘Cause he bring fire-water wid him, and red man big fool to drink.”

“Even that fire-water, which doubtless has proved a cruel gift to the Indians, is one of the fruits of the white man’s knowledge. No, Susquesus; the red-skin is as brave as the pale-face; as willing to defend his right, and as able-bodied; but he does not know as much. He had no gunpowder until the white man gave it to him -- no rifle -- no hoe, no knife, no tomahawk, but such as he made himself from stones. Now, all the knowledge, and all the arts of life that the white man enjoys and turns to his profit, come from the rights of property. No man would build a wigwam to make rifles in, if he thought he could not keep it as long as he wished, sell it when he pleased, and leave it to his son when he went to the land of the spirits. It is by encouraging man’s love of himself, in this manner, that he is got to do so much. Thus it is, too, that the father gives to the son what he has learned, as well as what he had built or bought; and so, in time, nations get to be powerful, as they get to be what we call civilized. Without these rights of property, no people could be civilized; for no people would do their utmost, unless each man were permitted to be master of what he can acquire, subject to the great and common laws that are necessary to regulate such matters. I hope you understand my meaning, Trackless.”

“Sartain -- no like Trackless’ moccasin -- my young friend’s tongue leave trail. But you ti’nk Great Spirit say who shall haf land; who no haf him?”

“The Great Spirit has created man as he is, and the earth as it is; and he has left the one to be master of the other. If it were not his pleasure that man should not do as he has done, it would not be done. Different laws and different feelings would the bring about different ends. When the law places all men on a level, as to rights, it does as much as can be expected of it. Now, this level does not consist in pulling everything to pieces periodically, but in respecting certain great principles that are just in themselves; but which, once started, must be left to follow their own course. When the rights of property are first established, they must be established fairly, on some admitted rule; after which they are to remain inviolable -- that is to say, sacred.”

“Understand -- no live in clearin’ for nuttin’. Mean, haf no head widout haf farm.”

“That is the meaning substantially, Sureflint; though I might have explained it a little differently. I wish to say pale-faces would be like the red man without civilization; and without civilization if they had no rights in their land. No one will work for another as he will work for himself. We see that every day, in the simplest manner, when we see that the desire to get good wages will not make the common laborer do as much by the day as he will do by the job.”

“Dat true,” answered the Indian, smiling; for he seldom laughed; and repeating a common saying of the country -- “By -- de -- day -- by -- de -- day -- By de job, job, job! Dat pale-face religion, young chief?”

“I don’t know that our religion has much to do with it; but I will own it is our practice. I fancy it is the same with all races and colors. A man must work for himself to do his most; and he cannot work for himself unless he enjoy the fruits of his labor. Thus it is, that he must have a right of property in land, either bought or hired, in order to make him cause that land to produce all that nature intended it should produce. On this necessity is founded the rights of property; the gain being civilization; the loss ignorance, and poverty, and weakness. It is for this reason, then, that we buy and sell land, as well as clothes and arms, and beads.”

“T’ink, understand. Great Spirit, den, say must have farm?”

“The Great Spirit has said we must have wants and wishes, that can be met, or gratified only by having farms. To have farms we must have owners; and owners cannot exist unless their rights in their lands is protected. As soon as these are gone, the whole building would tumble down about our ears, Susquesus.”

I quoted this at such length in part to show what a heavy emphasis Cooper places on it. Indeed, much of the remaining action of the novel will occur between characters that support this economic philosophy and those who oppose it.

Mordaunt has, after all, been sent to his family’s upstate estates, to begin the process, following Chainbearer’s careful survey, to divide one up into lots and sell them off to budding young landowners in the new American nation. Upon his arrival, however, he discovers that a squatter -- an old man named Aaron Timberman, but called Thousandacres -- has been cutting and selling Littlepage lumber without permission. And it is this character of Thousandacres who will dramatically and metaphorically oppose the economic philosophy espoused by Mordaunt and his companions.

“What trick does Chainbearer do, Trackless,” answered the squatter -- “a mortal sight of tricks, with them plaguy chains of his’n! If there warn’t no chains and chainbearers, there could be no surveyors; and, if there warn’t no surveyors, there could be no boundaries to farms but the rifle; which is the best law-maker, too, that man ever invented. The Indians want to surveyors, Trackless?”

It’s a shot across the bow, Thousandacres speaking to Susquesus in this manner, calling into question not just Chainbearer’s profession but the civilizing force he represents. But there is much more conflict to come. Upon the discovery of Thousandacres, the squatter and his sons are able to capture Mordaunt and his small party, keeping them imprisoned in one of their wooden buildings until they can finish cutting the lumber and send it downstream for their profit. But Andries Coejemans -- Chainbearer himself -- catches wind of this, and come rushing to the defense of his younger employer and comrade.

“So, T’ousantacres, I fint you here!” exclaimed Chainbearer. “It’s a goot many years since you and I met, and I’m sorry we meet now on sich pisiness as t’is!”

Yes, Cooper is unfortunately as committed to capturing the phonetic spirit of Chainbearer’s rich Dutch accent as he was to the way Susquesus’s tongue wrestled with the Lord’s English. Stay with it, if you can. It’s worth it.

“The meetin’s of your own seekin’, Chainbearer. I’ve neither invited nor wished for your company.”

“I p’lieve you wit’ all my heart. No, no; you wish for no chains and no chainpearers, no surfeyors and no compasses, no lots and no owners, too, put a squatter. You and I haf not to make an acquaintance for t’e first time, T’ousantacres, after knowin’ each other for fifty years.”

“Yes, we do know each other for fifty years; and seein’ that them years haven’t sarved to bring us of a mind on any one thing, we should have done better to keep apart, than to come together now.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but in Chainbearer and Thousandacres I see two economic and political philosophies in conflict with one another. And just as the two characters will never see eye to eye, I perceive that Cooper is saying that the two philosophies are also irresolvable.

“I haf come for my poy, squatter -- my nople poy, whom you haf illegally arrestet, and mate a prisoner, in the teet’ of all law and justice. Gif me pack Mortaunt Littlepage, and you’ll soon be rit of my company!”

“And how do you know that I’ve ever seen your ‘Mortaunt Littlepage’? What have I to do with your boy, that you seek him of me? Go your ways, go your ways, old Chainbearer, and let me and mine alone. The world’s wide enough for us both, I tell you; and why should you be set on your own ondoin’, by runnin’ ag’in a breed like that which comes of Aaron and Prudence Timberman?”

“I care not for you or your preet,” answered old Andries sternly. “You’ve daret to arrest my frient, against law and right, and I come to demant his liperty, or to warn you of t’e consequences.”

“Don’t press me too far, Chainbearer, don’t press me too far. There’s desp’rate crittur’s in this clearin’, and them that is’nt to be driven from their righteous ‘arnin’s by any that carry chains or p’int compasses. Go your way, I tell ye, and leave us to gather the harvest that comes of the seed of our own sowin’ and plantin’.”

“Ye’ll gat’er it, ye’ll gat’er it all, T’ousantacres -- you and yours. Ye’ve sown t’e wint, and ye’ll reap t’e whirlwints, as my niece Dus Malpone has reat to me often, of late. Ye’ll gat’er in all your harvest, atres ant all, ye will; and t’at sooner t’an ye t’ink for.”

“I wish I’d never seen the face of the man! Go away, I tell you, Chainbearer, and leave me to my hard ‘arnin’s.”

First Thousandacres claims that the world is wide of enough for both of them -- for both the philosophies they represent -- but then he threatens violence against Chainbearer, perpetrated by his many sons who have been helping him cut lumber. Evidently, the world is not wide enough for them both -- not, at least, when they come in conflict with each other. But here is where the two philosophies really come to the forefront.

“Earnin’s! Do you call it earnin’s to chop and pillage on anot’er’s lants, and to cut his trees into logs, and to saw his logs into poarts, and to sell his poarts to speculators, and gif no account of your profits to t’e rightful owner of it all? Call you such t’ievin’ righteous earnin’s?”

“Thief back ag’in, old measurer! Do not the sweat of the brow, long and hard days of toil, achin’ bones, and hungry bellies, give a man a claim to the fruit of his labors?”

What two philosophies am I talking about? Why, seemingly none other than those perennial bugbears of Capital and Labor, the opposing beliefs that value accrues either to ownership or to effort, and not ever to both.

“T’at always hast peen your failin’, T’ousantacres; t’at’s t’e very p’int on which you’ve proken town, man. You pegin wit’ your morals, at t’e startin’ place t’at’s most convenient to yourself and your plunterin’ crew, insteat of goin’ pack to t’e laws of your Lort and Master. Reat what t’e Almighty Got of Heaven ant ‘art’ sait unto Moses, ant you’ll fint t’at you’ve not turnet over leafs enough of your Piple. You may chop ant you may hew, you may haul ant you may saw, from t’is day to t’e ent of time, and you’ll nefer pe any nearer to t’e right ta’n you are at t’is moment. T’e man t’at starts on his journey wit’ his face in t’e wrong direction, olt T’ousantacres, wilt nefer reach its ent; t’ough he trafel ‘till t’e sweat rolls from his poty like water. You pegin wrong, olt man, and you must ent wrong.”

Irreconcilable. Adopting Chainbearer’s useful metaphor, the two philosophies are not even journeying in the same direction. As Cooper’s own narrative voice will say later:

The man who measured land, and he who took it to himself without measurement, were exactly antagonist forces, in morals and well as in physics; and might be supposed not to regard each other with the most friendly eyes.

And when we realize what these two characters -- Chainbearer and Thousandacres -- represent, then it is an easy matter to determine which philosophy the author wished to put in ascendency over the other. The closing paragraph of the novel, describing old Coejemans’s grave site, seems to say all the is needed on that subject.

I caused to be erected, in the extensive grounds that were laid out around the new dwelling at the Nest, a suitable monument over the grave of Chainbearer. It bore a simple inscription, and one that my children now often read and comment on with pleasure. We all speak of him as “Uncle Chainbearer” to this hour, and his grave is never mentioned on other terms than those of “Uncle Chainbearer’s grave.” Excellent old man! That he was not superior to the failings of human nature, need not be said; but so long as he lived, he lived a proof of how much more respectable and estimable is the man who takes simplicity, and honesty, and principle, and truth for his guide, than he who endeavors to struggle through the world by the aid of falsehood, chicanery, and trick.

A Slam on Democracy?

Cooper published The Chainbearer in 1845, and lived from 1789 to 1851. This means Cooper was alive and writing throughout much of the history I recently read about in that three-volume biography of Andrew Jackson. As such, I believe the following passage from late in The Chainbearer took on a greater significance for me than it otherwise would have.

After all, the strong native intellect of this barbarian [referring to Susquesus] had let him into one of the greatest secrets connected with our social ills. Good laws, badly administered, are no better than an absence of all law, since they only encourage evildoers by the protection they afford through the power conferred on improper agents. Those who have studied the defects of the American system, with a view to ascertain truth, say that the want of a great moving power to set justice in motion lies at the root of its feebleness. According to theory, the public virtue is to constitute this power, but public virtue is never one-half as active as private vice. Crime is only to be put down by the strong hand, and that hand must belong to the public in truth, not in name only; whereas, the individual wronged is fast getting to be the only moving power, and in very many cases local parties are formed, and the rogue goes to the bar sustained by an authority that has quite as much practical control as the law itself. Juries and grand juries are no longer to be relied on, and the bench is slowly, but steadily, losing its influence. When the day shall come -- as some it must, if present tendencies continue -- that verdicts are rendered directly in the teeth of law and evidence, and jurors fancy themselves legislators, then may the just man fancy himself approaching truly evil times, and the patriot begin to despair. It will be the commencement of the rogue’s paradise! Nothing is easier, I am willing to admit, than to over-govern men; but it ought not to be forgotten, that the political vice that comes next in the scale of facility, is to govern them too little.

There’s a lot to unpack there, but the line that practically leapt off the page at me was the one about public virtue constituting the great moving power that can set justice in motion in the American system of government. This is exactly what the Jackson biographer tried to school me in. To borrow a convenient paragraph:

Andrew Jackson was the product of the Revolutionary generation and he absorbed many of its prevailing ideas and beliefs. From colonial days through the Revolution and well into the nineteenth century, Americans believed that those who exercised power were naturally inclined to suppress liberty and that they regularly devised means to limit if not abrogate the rights of the people. They viewed corruption as power’s greatest weapon and virtue as freedom’s greatest defense. The struggle between liberty and power during the colonial era produced the Revolution and ultimately achieved independence from the British empire for the American people. But the dangers to freedom persisted. They persisted as long as power could be concentrated and the operation of government corrupted. The only defense rested upon the virtue of the American people.

The only defense rested upon the virtue of the American people, and that’s what evidently broke down in the administration preceding Andrew Jackson (and some would argue continued under Jackson) and that’s what Cooper seems to be talking about for the rest of his paragraph.

Cooper clearly seems like an advocate for a strong central government -- a Hamiltonian Federalist, in the language of my discussion of political parties and their progressive dance between liberty and power in my blog post. “Crime is only to be put down by the strong hand, and that hand must belong to the public in truth, not in name only.” But his subsequent discussion on the weakening power of the courts and their susceptibility to the wiles of the demagogue provides an interesting window on what he must have seen happening in the early decades of the American republic. It all makes me wonder what Cooper thought of President Andrew Jackson. If he’s worrying about jurors legislating from the jury box, how must he have felt about the President legislating from the White House? Did he want a popular democracy like Jackson evidently did, or was he more in favor of the representative republic the Founders originally designed?

A clue comes earlier in the novel, when Cooper clearly seems to lampoon the inevitable tyranny of the majority in any pure democracy. A vote is to be taken on the denomination of the church that it is raised on one of Littlepage’s upstate properties, a vote of all the tenants currently living there and who would clearly be patronizing the church. With no clear majority winning the vote, the squire and acting magistrate of the estate, begins to eliminate the factions with the fewest votes by having the population vote on which denominations should be included in the following ballot. In this way, essentially forcing the people in the smallest minorities to vote for a denomination not of their choosing, the squire creates an outcome unpopular to the majority.

Such were the facts attending the establishment of the Congregational church in the settlement of Ravensnest, on purely republican principles; the question having been carried unanimously in favor of that denomination, although fifty-two votes out of seventy-eight were pretty evidently opposed to it. But republican principles were properly maintained, and the matter was settled; the people having solemnly decided that they ardently wished for a church that in truth they did not desire at all.

Is Cooper being sarcastic there? Yes, he undoubtedly is, because in the midst of relating this episode, the narrator breaks in with the following paragraph, pretty clearly decrying the growing populism of his times.

I am sorry to say that very mistaken notions of the power of majorities are beginning to take root among us. It is common to hear it asserted, as a political axiom, that the majority must rule! This axiom may be innocent enough, when its application is properly made, which is simply to say that in the control of those interests of which the decision is referred to majorities, majorities must rule; but, God forbid that majorities should ever rule in all things, in this republic or anywhere else! Such a state of things would soon become intolerable, rendering the government that admitted of its existence the most odious tyranny that has been known in Christendom in modern times. The government of this country is the sway of certain great and incontestable principles, that are just in themselves, and which are set forth in the several constitutions, and under which certain minor questions are periodically referred to local majorities, as of necessity, out of the frequency of which appeals has arisen a mistake that is getting to be dangerously general. God forbid, I repeat, that a mere personal majority should assume the power which alone belongs to principles.

Those principles he refers to are clearly the things protected by the Bill of Rights, and Cooper correctly sees, in 1845, the jeopardy those rights would be in if ever subjected to the power of local majorities.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Monday, June 4, 2018

Step Four: Discussing the Strategic Implications, Part 4

Two weeks ago, in Step Four: Discussing the Strategic Implications, Part 3, I continued a description of a Scenario Planning exercise my Board chair and I decided to conduct at our most recently completed Board meeting. I ended the previous post with a comment that I would reveal in a future post the second decision we had made to help our Board focus their discussion on the strategic implications of our four scenarios at our upcoming Board meeting.

The first decision, as revealed in that previous post, was to prioritize the indicators that defined each of our scenarios so that we didn't need to immediately review or assess them all to understand which of the four possible scenarios our industry was heading towards.

We expect that the second decision will have an even more drastic scope-limiting effect on our future discussion. In making it, we recognize that although our prioritized set of indicators should help us monitor our environment and determine which the four scenarios is likely coming true for our industry, the indicators themselves do nothing to help us decide which of the four scenarios we would like to see come true for our industry. Just because one scenario is most likely, that doesn't mean that is the same scenario that is most preferred.

Remember that our four scenarios were derived by combining the two possible future outcomes of each of our two megatrends in all of their possible configurations. Since each megatrend could result in one future that is positive for our industry and one that is negative, that means that of the four possible scenarios, only one of them would be "super positive" for our industry -- that is, the one in which both of the positive futures of the two megatrends come true.

Here's the chart that illustrates this dynamic with our four scenarios again:

Now, regardless of which of these four scenarios is deemed most likely, is anyone at our Board table going to argue that Scenario A, the one we branded as "Connected Growth", the one in which our industry benefits from both of the selected megatrends -- is anyone going to argue that that isn't the scenario that, if possible, our association should work to help create for our industry?

We don't think so. Therefore, when it comes to discussing the strategic implications of the four scenarios, we believe that it may make sense to first discuss what our organization can or should be doing to serve our members in Scenario A.

This was the second decision we made to help focus our Board's discussion and attention. We will not, as described earlier, develop different strategic action plans for each of the four scenarios, and then wait for the evidence of our indicators to tell us which of those scenarios is coming true and which of our action plans should be activated. Instead, we will intentionally select the scenario that would best serve our industry, and then discuss the actions that our association will take to help make that scenario a reality.

How we frame that discussion will be the subject of my next post in this series.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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