Sing-Song of the North

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

RED-BAITING
THE BELEAGUERED HOSTS

In
a piece entitled "Wrong
Song of the South
," recently appearing in Reason
online, Professors David T. Beito and Charles W. Nuckolls, both
of the University of Alabama, undertake to expose the "dangerous
fallacies of Confederate multiculturalism" (italics
in original).

Confederate
multiculturalism — a phenomenon which seems largely to exist
in the authors' minds — is said to characterize the League of
the South and other (unnamed) "u2018southern heritage' groups."
For some reason, "southern heritage" is put in scare-quotes.
Perhaps there is no Southern heritage worth mentioning; or perhaps
there is, but it is all bad.

Better
we should form Burned-Over District Heritage Societies.

In
aid of trivializing the ideas of Southern multiculturalists,
so-called, the authors adduce a (white) female professor caught
in the act of defending Kwanzaa. The less said of this "comparison,"
the better. Just in terms of sheer time-depth, Southern culture
is a few centuries older than Kwanzaa and might, therefore,
have more standing. Southern culture, like it or not, is "older
than the Union," so to speak, and thus has had time
to develop a good many cultural features with no small claim
to authenticity, even as the word is understood by social scientists.

The
whole American experience itself is not very old in historical
terms, and it is not immediately self-evident that the repackaging
of that experience by New England scribes, self-appointed to
define the truly "American," settles such questions
for all time. There is a Virginia-centric reading of Southern
— and American – history, and there has been for a long, long
time.1 It is not entirely idle
for people who find themselves in possession of a particular
inheritance at the end of several centuries, to wish to preserve
some of it, especially when they find that inheritance under
constant attack.

Beito
and Nuckolls adduce the League's call for "reparations
for the South" as further evidence of Southern multiculturalism.
Here, I fear they are — for all their formal training in the
sciences of human action — a bit tone-deaf. I don't think anyone
calling for "reparations for the South" really expects
to get them. What we have here is a talking point, an
attempt at reminding people that Mr. Lincoln's Union-saving
armies did burn Atlanta, did burn Columbia, did shell Charleston
for a year and a half, and so on.

At
a time when everyone is supposed to go around apologizing for
the sins of his ancestors, it is understandable (if unwelcome
to some), that someone might wish to broaden the discussion
in this direction. Since Union conduct of that war underlies
present-day US inability to wage anything but total war, a perspective
on that conduct might provide interesting insights into deeply
rooted "American" traditions in foreign policy and
war making. The contemporary Neo-Con doctrine of presidential
infallibility, as presented by John C. Yoo and other phony "originalists,"2
stems directly from Lincoln's notions of inherent presidential
powers, and thus a straight line runs from Lincoln's "precedents"
to the much-mooted torture memos of recent memory.

UNIVERSITY
OF UNCLE AT CRACKERSVILLE

As
further evidence of Confederate multiculturalism, we are informed
that "members of the League have demanded that universities
hire Southern-born professors." Again, whether or not anyone
actually believes that such a "demand" would, or even
could, be fulfilled, this, too, is a useful talking point. It
arises from a definite context.

Grady
McWhiney wrote in 1984, that "anti-southernism also is
widespread throughout southern academia; indeed, Northerners
teaching in the South may look forward to a time when, as those
at one major southern university proudly boasted, u2018there is
not a single Southerner in our history department!'…. An American
who is discriminated against while teaching in Canada can take
the advice of the Canadian nationalists and u2018go home,' but a
Southerner, who is discriminated against in northern or in southern
institutions because his ways and beliefs are too southern,
may well find that he has no home to go to in academia…. When
I returned to the South after years of teaching in Canada and
in the North, I discovered that some of the most powerful people
at the University of Alabama were strongly anti-southern as
well as willing and able to intimidate those who were not."3

Perhaps
Professors Beito and Nuckolls do not recognize this situation.
Perhaps things have changed since McWhiney wrote those words.
Perhaps McWhiney was misleading us. (I doubt it.) Perhaps things
are as McWhiney writes, but that is how it should be. (I doubt
that, too.)

MULTICULTURALISM
AS A DIVERSION

In
any event, the Professors' insistence on framing the issue as
one of dreaded multiculturalism seems very wide of the mark.
Let us crack open that can of worms a wee bit. Just what is
so wrong about multiculturalism?

Clearly,
the much-mooted "culture wars," multiculturalism,
etc., need some kind of context. According to the Professors,
the "jargon of group rights and identity politics, normally
the domain of the politically correct, permeates… pronouncements"
of Southern heritage groups. Even worse, the League "stresses
the Celtic background of many Southerners as a defining feature
of this u2018cultural identity.'"

Well,
on the mere facts, Southerners are, broadly speaking, Celtic
and do, in fact, have an identity. So, contrary to Beito and
Nuckolls, they do not in the manner of the Kwanzaa-defending
female academic "desperately want to create and u2018celebrate'
cultural distinctions and then deploy them for political purposes."

There
just isn't much to create, since there already is an
identity, however much fun it might be to get bogged down in
laying out how multifarious, fissiparous, situational, historically
conditioned, etc., that identity might be. It doesn't seem to
occur to Beito and Nuckolls that people might, in the course
of exercising their individual rights, make an effort to preserve
something to which they see themselves as belonging, and that
they might do this, with or without a theory of group rights.
The Professors seem quite unimpressed that people already
having a culture and not needing to "create" one,
might want to preserve it, to some degree or another.

Perhaps
some cultures have no merits whatsoever and should be eradicated
forthwith by a coalition of the willful. But Beito and Nuckolls
will have to make an argument for this position, if they
hold it. We can't just take it on faith.

As
far as the issue in hand goes, individual vs. group rights seems
as much a red herring as the whole business of multiculturalism.
Of course there are social groups and competing cultures. A
key question is whether some ideal hierarchy of these groups
should exist everywhere, imposed if necessary by federal coercion,
or whether the distribution of differing groups geographically – so that here and there such groups are a local majority – is an acceptable outcome. A choice seems to arise between coerced,
universal, internal "diversity"
(the project of
the Left) and actually-existing geographical diversity.

This
issue came up during the Winter Olympics a few years ago, when
it was discovered that Utah
was not the same as Manhattan
.

More
and more, the whole discussion of culture wars, multiculturalism,
and the rest seems itself to be a vast Neo-Con diversion. Pay
no attention to the war in X, the war in Y, and the war in Z;
pay no attention to the zillion dollar deficit just created
by the fiscally tight-fisted Republicans. No, indeed, look at
that minor leftist atrocity at Penn State! It is no endorsement
of left-wing multicultural theory to say that it may not be
the only pressing problem of our times.

THE
CORRECT VIEW OF WHAT HAPPENED IN 1861

Despite
their reference to an allegedly conclusive essay by Charles
Oliver, Professors Beito and Nuckolls are not addressing,
in the first instance, the causes, merits, and results of the
Late Unpleasantness of 1861–1865. They are interested in
what present-day Southerners should think and say about
the past. And before they reply, that they are not advocating
state censorship, I concede the point. With Southerners of traditional
views or habits marginalized in Southern universities, with
nearly every "local" newspaper staffed by the usual
suspects and a few local clones, there is little need for formal
censorship.

This
situation is of course not the fault of Beito and Nuckolls,
but one wishes they would notice it. Nonetheless, the long-standing
New England project of eradicating the opposition seems to have
entered its final stages, even if New Englanders are not now
running it. By my count, we are now well into the Third Reconstruction
of the South — the Second having been accomplished by the mid-1970s.

Nowhere
do the two Professors give me any reason to believe that the
alleged "fallacies" put forth by Southern defenders
are particularly "dangerous." They make no suggestion
as to how having the "wrong" view about the causes
of the war of 1861–1865, directly leads to political crime
today. More could be said, of course, but I shouldn't wish to
seem unduly touchy. I merely add that, very often, attacks on
the South are ancillary to projects whose efficient pursuit
the South somehow impedes (railroads, Cold War, total post-human
reconstruction of man, etc.).

The
South has been derided, insulted, and patronized by the best
— the original, genuine holier-than-thou scribes of New England.
I will not even say that the critics have been wrong on every
point. This does not, however, make their overall posture welcome.
Given this history, derivative commentary from the Upper Midwest
pales into relative insignificance. Having dealt with Story,
Motley, Emerson, and Walt "I-am-the-Universe-and-the-Universe-is-me"
Whitman, lectures from within colonized Southern universities
hold few terrors for us.

POST-COLONIALISM
IN A NEW KEY

I
have not argued the details of the late war. Let those who cling
to it, as the glorious Second Founding, do so. My only question
— and it is a purely hypothetical one for purposes of discussion
— is this: Now that the South has been so profoundly reformed
and improved by armed exophilanthropists, what objection can
there possibly be, especially from self-named classical liberals,
to substantial local autonomy for the South, or indeed, full
political independence?

As
Richard M. Weaver wrote in 1957, "with the United States
insisting on independence for this and that country halfway
around the world — independence for Czechoslovakia, independence
for Indo-China, independence for Korea, independence for Israel
— it has certainly been handsome of the South not to raise the
question of its own independence again."4

Certainly,
there might be interesting or amusing objections to Southern
autonomy or independence on grounds of prudence, practicality,
and the like, but where is a good objection to be found — one
grounded in classical liberal principles? No one is now
making any Corner Stone speeches, so what's the problem? Conceding,
for the sake of the argument, that we once were lost but now
are found, were blind but now we see, what in principle should
prevent us from taking our vastly improved selves out of the
Union, which so kindly oversaw our rehabilitation?

Do
the Yankee reforming classes doubt, down deep, the long-run
efficacy of their past achievements? I'm only asking an academic
question. I doubt this will come up as a real question for a
good while.

At
bottom, the piece by Beito and Nuckolls makes a dubious case
of guilt-by-association with left-wing multiculturalists. It
succeeds by not addressing any actual cultures or political
questions. It seems another exercise in Northern arrogance.

I
am quite happy to suspend indefinitely all debate on slavery,
tariffs, states rights, Dred Scott, Lincoln, Davis, and the
lot in the interest of pursuing the question of whether anyone,
anywhere, today, may usefully discuss, however abstractly,
the merits of withdrawing from a large nation-state. I suspect
that in such a discussion, Messrs. Beito's and Nuckoll's "strong,
but highly nuanced and conditional, case" against Lincoln's
rejection of secession, will turn out to be so "highly
nuanced and conditional" as to rule out much real discussion
at all.

Perhaps
I am wrong on this last point.

For
two centuries, many Northerners have seen the South as a set
of bad practices deviating from the "national," i.e.,
Northern, "norm." With the passing of those practices,
the South was supposed to "rejoin the Union" — i.e.,
cease to be. Imagine the universal disappointment when, quite
unaccountably, the South continued to exist.

Only
complete re-education can finish the job of erasing the South.
The two Professors wish to ridicule Southerners into giving
up their wicked ways, their allegedly faulty historical interpretations,
and their compact "theory" of the Union. Their allies
in this fight — including many of the very multiculturalists
they deride — will be less fastidious.

Notes:

  1. See Clyde Wilson, From Union to Empire: Essays in the Jeffersonian
    Tradition (Columbia, SC: Foundation for American Education,
    2003).

  2. The
    "originalism" consists mostly of quoting Alexander
    Hamilton.

  3. Grady
    McWhiney, "Historians as Southerners," Continuity,
    9 (Fall 1984), pp. 11–12.

  4. Richard M. Weaver, "The South and the American Union"
    (1957), in The
    Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver
    , George M. Curtis
    III and James J. Thompson, Jr., eds. (Indianapolis: Liberty
    Press, 1987), p. 254

July
24, 2004


Joseph R. Stromberg [send him
mail
] is holder of the JoAnn B. Rothbard Chair in History at
the Ludwig von Mises Institute
and a columnist for LewRockwell.com
and Antiwar.com. With David
Gordon
, he is writing an intellectual biography of Murray N.
Rothbard. See his War,
Peace, and the State
.

Joseph
Stromberg Archives

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare