Historical Failure Analysis Case Study 1, The Confederate States of America; Part 2: Similar Cases

The interest in Part 1 of this series was gratifying, thank you. Hope you stay with me until the end…and there shall be an end.

And before I go any further, a happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

Similar cases to the Confederacy may be tricky. Failure analysis in engineering can look at thousands of similar designs and patterns. Historians have a somewhat more limited selection. 

What kind of similarity are we looking for?

Conditions; social structure; time frame; circumstances of creation. Engineers have it easy in this regard. Thus, I’ll define the Confederacy as:

  1. Mid-19th Century time frame
  2. Agrarian-industrial political economy 
  3. Split from a federal constitutional republic to form a confederacy of states
  4. A class and race divided social system.

I think we can forget about an exact match. While 2. is common, 3. is not: Slavery wasn’t unique to the US in the mid-19th century, but it was unique as a reason for dividing the country. But 4. is common.

Strict adherence to my list is problematic…

The Confederate States of America was an offshoot of Tocqueville’s “Great Experiment” in representative government. Their founders replicated most of the institutions of the Union that they separated from and made significant but minute changes to their Constitution. The biggest difference between the Union and the Confederacy was the greater state autonomy in the Confederacy…and no Supreme Court. This is ironic because the Dred Scott decision gave the slaveholders most of what they wanted: the freedom to take their slaves anywhere and relief from the idea of “free blacks” in their boundaries. Let’s look for cases where a government failed to represent who they claimed to represent, and in so doing, lost the capability to succeed.

France in the period 1794-1815 strikes me as a possibility.

Think about it. Start with a revolution, get rid of the aristocrats, carry “liberty, equality, brotherhood” around Europe for nearly a decade…then a Corsican artilleryman places the crown of empire on his head in Notre Dame, announcing that he’s the emperor of the French…who strangled their aristocrats with the guts of priests. So, who did the French Revolution, the Terror, and the Directory represent? The French people? They put a Bourbon king back on the throne after Napoleon lost…twice. So, let’s say, provisionally, that France may be similar, without the overtones of separation from another body.

How about Russia before 1917?

Hard to nail that one down because the Romanovs had a hard time being popular. They were autocrats, indeed. But after the revolution, so much changed in Russia, it’s hard to divine just who the succeeding governments represented. Was Lenin’s government more popular than Stalin’s? It was so brief it’s impossible to know. Stalin did a better job of convincing the Russians that they were better off…better Red than dead, essentially.

The living will envy the dead.

Attributed to Nikita Khrushchev

How’s that for irony.

Neither France nor Russia is a good case to follow.

In neither case was there a “government of the people,” even in a literary sense. Both governments were dominated by their monarchs, who ruled with absolute authority if the mobs liked it or not.

How about 19th Century Japan?

Though similar–especially the agricultural economy and the strict class system–but they didn’t split off from another country, and Japanese democracy didn’t appear until after 1945 in any recognizable form. But fail to represent the people it did…even if it didn’t try that hard. And it failed utterly to defend itself.

Now, hold onto your hats because I’m going to suggest Weimar Germany.

The Weimar Constitution provided for a representative government after the collapse of the Hohenzollern monarchy. It enjoyed a brief period of calm and prosperity as long as the European-American economy was healthy…and economically, the Confederacy was OK for a short time–months, not years. Then came the global depression, and with that came the chaos of inflation…and an influential speaker who told the mobs precisely what they wanted to hear. But even before the National Socialists took power in 1933, Paul Von Hindenburg was ruling by decree. The pre-1933 German government stopped representing Germany and was died with a whimper, not a bang. So, Weimar, sort of. But its failure mode was far different.

The Confederate States of America was a unique case.

A case that had no real equivalence anywhere at any time. Its failure to represent and protect the people it purported to represent was like several others, but it was a unique failed constitutional confederacy, not a dictatorship like late Weimar Germany, an absolute monarchy like France or Russia, or a military dictatorship masquerading as a constitutional republic like pre-1945 Japan.

Oops!

If there’s only a few similar cases…is this step in our model good to have? With only a single case study so far, it may be too soon to tell. However, we are tempted to think of our model as a guideline, not a rule. But there goes intellectual rigor. So…we wait for more case studies.

If you have to make too many exceptions to your model, maybe the model was wrong

Desmond Morris

A lot of truth to that. Let’s keep working on our model. Next time, we identify the similarities…but didn’t we just do that? Let’s work on that.

Sergeant’s Business and Other Stories

Some of you know that I also write fiction…and some wags think my non-fiction is…never mind. Sergeant’s Business and Other Stories is a collection of short stories I’ve written over the years; most more than 20 years ago. At any rate, I’m publishing a second edition in paper and e-book in a few weeks. They’re mostly historical and military-related, some based on personal experience, most not. It will be announced before the end of the year, certainly in this space. Look out for it when it comes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s