February 02, 2005

"Neo-confederate"? I Prefer The Term "Unreconstructed" Thank Ye

Prof. Reynolds has a post up that I should address (actually two of them). The first is about Eric Muller's critique of Prof. Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Woods wrote The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Woods is also a member & co-founder of The League of the South. Here's a link to their core belief’s page. Instapundit's second post on the subject is here.

What started off as a book review quickly devolved by all parties & many commenters into a "bash the confederate sympathizer" fest. Naturally I take exception to that.

I don't know that much about Thomas Woods, but fortunately I'm not trying to defend him personally. What I will attempt is to refute some of the ideas attributed to Woods as signs of right wing lunacy.

Prof. Reynolds states that Mr. Muller claims Woods is a "neo-Confederate secessionist" & follows with:

"That's a bit too politically-incorrect, don't you think? I have to say that while I understand, to a degree at least, people's fascination with the Civil War, I've never understood the romanticization of the Confederacy. It didn't last very long, it was horribly run and governed, it accomplished nothing but disaster and defeat, and it existed in the service of a horrible cause."

It's not a romanticization of the Confederacy, which would explain why he doesn't understand it. It's simply concluding that the Confederates had a better overall argument than the federal government did.

To break it down for ya (as I've tried to do for Libertarian Girl here & here) the War betwixt the Southern States & the federal government (that's as nice as I'm gonna phrase it) encompassed many issues. Some had greater prominence than others & some were symptoms of an underlying issue. The bottom line is from everything I've seen the Confederacy had one thing wrong & that was slavery. By contrast the federal government didn't have one thing right including slavery.

Some if not all southern states wanted to keep institutionalized slavery. The feds didn't start a war to free the slaves. That didn't come up as a serious policy until much later on. The feds simply didn't want to lose a good chunk of their economic & geographical realm.

That being said I will try to clear this up as undoubtedly someone will get this wrong - slavery was a vile practice & it's a source of shame that any nation or state would champion it. I'm not the first or last southerner to feel this way. In fact in the 1850's & 1860's there were prominent southerners (& later confederates) who opposed the idea of slavery. Gen. Robert E. Lee was one. So neither I nor any of the unreconstructed southerners that I know have any illusions about the evils of slavery. We're not trying to justify it or condone it. We're simply saying that slavery was not the big issue for the federal government until much later in the war & because of that credit cannot be given to them for fighting in a just cause.

Neither are we (or "I" at least) saying that slavery should not have been abolished. It would have been preferable for the southern states to give it up on their own accord for a number of reasons, but let me just say that abolition (in & f itself) was an imperfect way of achieving a long overdue result.

K, so hopefully this will stall anyone who would cloud the issue with cries of "racism".

The Confederate state of America didn't last very long. That was due to an immoral war waged against it. & I won't argue that the Confederacy was horribly run. But in my opinion the united States' government is horribly run today - perhaps in many ways worse than the Confederacy. Would that be a reason to not romanticize America? It's the idea not the execution that usually resonates with us. You ever see Braveheart? Did you root for William Wallace? Did you hope the Scots would drive off the English? Did you do this despite the corrupt & immoral actions of the Scottish Lords or did they turn you off to the whole idea for Scottish independence?

As for it accomplishing nothing but disaster & defeat - look, they had 4 years to work with. How long did it take us to come up with the Constitution after we won our independence? Would that period be properly described as "accomplishing nothing"? & since the Articles of Confederation failed could you say that it resulted in a defeat of the first attempt at self governance?

The Confederacy did not serve a horrible cause. It served a noble cause (independence) that suffered from poor execution & one morally heinous error (slavery).

"I once angered an alumnus of Washington & Lee by suggesting that Robert E. Lee, however personally admirable he might have been in some ways, bore huge responsibility -- if he had honored his oath to the Union, the war probably would have been over in six months, leaving everyone (and especially the South) better off."

That demonstrates a serious lack of understanding of the then prevalent but now woefully forgotten role of patriotism in the mid 19th century. General Lee's loyalty was not to Washington, D.C. but to his home. That happened to be Virginia & Virginia happened to take exception to lincoln invading the South. If the oath Lee took was similar to the one administered nowadays I don't see how he didn't honor his oath. After all does one not swear to defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign & domestic? How could he defend the Constitution from a foreign or domestic enemy by aiding a foreign enemy (lincoln) disregard said document & wage an unjust war against a free state? What it came down to though was that Lee was a Virginian juts as I am a North Carolinian.

I can understand how those comments angered someone. Personally it saddens me. One of the disastrous effects of the Confederacy losing their war for independence was the degradation of the concept of statehood. Sure, we have some of what we had since the beginning as far as federalism goes, but look at your state's blood alcohol content limit, or minimum drinking age, or a host of other areas that the feds have intruded upon despite lacking any real authority to do so. Part of the reason for this is that people are taught to be citizens of the country rather than their state (the other part is the 17th amendment, but that's a whole 'nother rant).

Lee did not shirk his duty; he fulfilled it in an exemplary manner. But to say he did is to misunderstand the man as well as the times he lived in.

"One suspects that for a certain sort of infantile mind, pro-Confederacy statements provide the same sort of thrilling sense of nonconformity that Marxism has provided. This, I guess, explains the weird strain of pro-Confederate sympathy that one finds among a certain segment of libertarians. Or, of course, there's always racism as an explanation -- an explanation you'd rather believe didn't apply, but that clearly does sometimes. Muller makes a pretty persuasive case that it applies here, and author Thomas Woods seems to have connections to some of those fringe libertarians."

Actually Prof. Reynolds couldn’t be more incorrect. An "infantile mind" is not the only explanation for being sympathetic to the Confederacy. In fact I'd argue the opposite - that it would take a fairly intelligent person to recognize that the Confederacy wasn't the ogre it's been made out to be. As far as the non-conformist part; perhaps. But I don't think it's as I believe Prof. Reynolds intended - that the non-conformist motivation is the heart of the matter. It might add to the appeal, but it doesn't overtake the issues involved. But comparing pro-Confederate sympathies to Marxist thought? Humanoid please. I think the easiest way to sum it up is to badly paraphrase Reagan: Marxists don't understand Marx while Unreconstructed Confederates understand the Confederacy. The same thrill cannot be had from ignorance as from understanding.

As far as racism goes - sure, there are some who wave the Navy Jack because they dislike black people. There are many others though who don't dislike anyone (or at least dislike everyone equally). But Muller isn't as effective as Prof. Reynolds seems to think in proving Woods motivation lies in racism.

From Merriam-Webster:


1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2 : racial prejudice or discrimination

What Muller proves is that Woods believes there are racial differences. He doesn't assign superiority to one or the other; rather he merely wishes to preserve both separately. & I must point out that it's not race that seems to be the gist of what Woods (or more accurately Woods & the League of the South) is getting at; it's culture.

Black people are different than white people. A black person's skin is colored a bit darker than a white person's. That's a difference. But white people can behave in the same manner as black people do & vice versa. That's because with race comes (usually, but not always) culture. There are superficial differences between black people & white people (i.e. skin color) but their are also more substantial differences between many black people & many white people (i.e. culture). It's not totally alien but there's enough of a distinction to be noticeable. & it's not universal nor is it applicable to all people in either aforementioned race.

In fact black people are as much a part of southern culture as white people. If you doubt that then you've never heard real Gospel music, or Blues. But even within the southern culture there are subdivisions just like there are cultural differences between most residents of Little Italy & Chinatown.

Would Woods be labeled as a racist or of having racist motivations for promoting the idea of keeping Sicilian restaurants in Little Italy? Or Cantonese restaurants in Chinatown? Probably not. But whenever "black", "white" & "southern" get mixed in the same paragraph then usually an assumption is made that talking of differences of races (which are more aptly labeled as cultural differences) equates with bigotry. Now Woods may or may not be preaching a form of cultural isolationism, but that's a bit different from the claims that he's a racist.

But there are quite a few who suggest we recognize the differences of race (or more aptly culture) instead of pretending they don’t exist (also look here & here) & I can't say as I disagree with them.

In any case I don't see anything bigoted about Woods or the League of the South’s statements (then again I haven't examined everything they've ever written - just the excerpts pointed out by Muller & their core belief's statement). I understand how it could be viewed that way, but it'll take a little more convincing to agree with Muller & Prof. Reynolds on this one.

But culture - America is not one culture, but many. Prof. Reynolds touched upon that when he discussed the more martial attitudes of southerners (which he ascribed to being occupied) but I think a more in depth treatment could be found in Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America by James Webb. The South has a culture different from the Midwest or the North. Not necessarily better but different. It's no sin to try to preserve a culture, especially one you belong to. I think it's premature to worry about losing southern culture but I don't see anything wrong with pointing out that certain cultures are distinct & should be preserved. Of course that can be taken too far but I haven't seen any signs of that yet from Woods or the League of the South.

"As a political force, neo-Confederate sentiment is pretty trivial at the moment, even compared to the decaying remnants of Marxism. But that's no reason not to smack it down when it appears. That's particularly true because -- as Muller's discussion of Wood's belief that the War on Terror is the product of a Jewish conspiracy illustrates -- the overlap between crazy-left and crazy-right is getting more significant. (Indeed, there are people on the Left talking about secession, in terms that Woods might find congenial). And there's no place for either one, especially these days."

Yes it's trivial. That's for a number of reasons. But because an idea is not very popular does not mean that it's inherently wrong. But Marxism dying out? Cool. I must have missed the headline that our quasi socialized medicine & Social Security were eliminated. Marxism is alive & well & currently pushing the agenda of D.C. at the moment.

Now as for there being no place for talk of secession - I disagree. America has too much area & too many cultural differences to have an effective central government that doesn't over reach its bounds. The south can be loosely described as authoritarian right while the northeast is closer to authoritarian left. Throw in the southwest which seems to lean centrist libertarian & you can see the possible differences that could & do arise. If federalism were still practiced as it should be then these differences wouldn't be that big of an issue, but it's not & so they are.

If California wishes to leave the Union then that is solely their decision. We have no constitutional or moral justification for stopping them. Only our self interest would make us attempt to do so & we'd be wrong as hell for it. Similarly if NC ever decides the party has lasted a bit too long I'd be obligated to assist her in any way possible to achieve her independence. The BS about the constitution implying perpetuity is just that: BS. It's persuasive BS simply because it's backed by a lot of muscle. But it's BS the same way as the 350 lb guy taking a 100 lb woman's purse & claiming she didn't own it is BS.

Jumping to his second post:

"Another vein was that things like the Confederate flag aren't necessarily a sign of neo-secessionist sympathies: many people in the South see the flag as an emblem of regional pride, rather than as an endorsement of Confederate ideology. That's certainly true, and after getting that email I noticed the bumpersticker pictured at right, which certainly doesn't seem to embody much in the way of nostalgia for the Old South."

If you'll look on my main page & scroll down, you'll see three flags; two of North Carolina & one which serves as the banner for The Rebel Alliance blogring (more on the flags here). The third is the flag of the Confederacy. Most people don't recognize it or equate it with bigotry. I know I don't intend it as any sort of racial statement. Similarly I think most people who have the Confederate Navy Jack are trying to present cultural pride rather than racism. Not that there aren't exceptions or even many exceptions.

One thing I must point out is that while admitting the possibility that not every car with a Confederate Navy Jack on it is driving to or from a Klan rally, Prof. Reynolds uses a very mainstream media tactic: admit something then imply it's not accurate (not state, but imply). Personally I found the pic he was pointing to rather amusing. I doubt my mother would & that has nothing to do with the Confederacy. But he could have equally shown one of the Confederate Navy Jacks with "Heritage, Not Hate" written across them. I have a feeling the latter is much more common (if not as amusing) as the former.

"That said, I'm not a big fan -- though no one who displays Communist paraphernalia, however allegedly ironic the display, has any room to criticize the badges of an obsolete and murderous regime -- and it's not the sort of thing I'd endorse. But the point of my post was the absurdity, and worse, of neo-secessionist thinking, and the oddity that some of the more lunatic fringes of allegedly libertarian thought are so enamored of the Confederacy. Whatever you say about the Confederate States of America, it was no libertarian paradise."

Obsolete? Perhaps? Murderous? Not any more so than the Union was at the time or since. All governments murder. Some more so than others, but I've seen nothing to indicate that the Confederacy was more bloodthirsty than ay other government of the time.

But secessionist thinking is not absurd. For some people (me included) it makes quite a bit of sense. I imagine the framers wouldn't have thought it absurd either. To say that you can never leave the union is what's absurd to me. It may not be in your best interests to do so but certainly each & every state has the Right to leave the union if they so desire (& can fight off federal attempts at forced reconciliation). (Also look at I Support The United Nations & Star Wars: The Unreconstructed Strikes Back for some of my previous posts on secession.)

Prof. Reynolds doesn't seem to sympathize or understand with the Unreconstructed way of thinking. That'd be fine, but he lumps all Unreconstructed thinkers in with right wing extremists which I don't think is giving us a fair shake. We're not all idotarians & if you approach things with an open mind you may find some of our reasoning sound. You might not become a convert but you'll at least see how we concluded what we concluded & not think us all a bunch of racists or anti-social idotarians.

Posted by Publicola at February 2, 2005 06:23 AM

Excellent post

Posted by: El Cid at February 20, 2005 02:04 AM
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