True Tolerance, or a Morning among Indignant Southrons

Offended by a pattern of anti-Confederate sentiment from The Palm Beach Post, Monday morning West Palm Beach's Sons of Confederate Veterans assembled over thirty members in front of the Post to convey their discontent.

Contemporary defenders of the Confederacy are widely considered tantamount to Neo-Nazis, so a gathering of them would imply nothing short of a fascist rally.

The individuals I met and saw didn't resemble the Sturmabteilung or Squadristi so much as straight-talking Americans of a Jeffersonian bent. As diverse as they were resolute, these men and women championed their cause with uniqueness and passion.

Some wore ties, others did not; some wore period attire, others did not; some found merit in secessionist aspirations, others did not; some vocalized their sentiments with placards, others with flags.

Such expressive multiplicity hardly accords with the lockstep mindlessness part and parcel of fascism.

Of course, the protestors' anti-fascist heterogeneity is fully in the Southern grain. Eugene Genovese observes in The Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism, "From George Mason to John Randolph to Calhoun and on to [Richard] Weaver and [M.E.] Bradford, every southern conservative of note has recoiled from the tenets that became fundamental to fascism."

The protestors' individualism moreover reflects their forebears' disposition, summarized by W.J. Cash in The Mind of the South:

To the end of his service this [Confederate] soldier could not be disciplined. He slouched. He would never learn to salute in the brisk fashion so dear to the hearts of the professors of mass murder. And yet – and yet – and by virtue of precisely these unsoldierly qualities, he was, as no one will care to deny, one of the world's very finest fighting men.

The protestors weren't uncritical of the Confederacy, either. I spoke with one man, Don Young, who deplored the ephemeral government's despotic tendencies and favoritism toward the planter class (e.g., exemption from conscription through the "Twenty-Negro Law").

Among the many affirmations during Monday's protest, there was also a pregnant silence: No one from the West Palm Beach SCV prescribed legal intervention against the Post. While the protestors could have emulated the civil rights paradigm of "express your opinion and be sued," they instead implicitly recognized the Post's constitutional liberty while exercising their own. This is the definition of tolerance. (I'd conjecture several of the protestors are familiar with Jefferson's observation that freedom of the press is "the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.")

The SCV members are philosophical capitalists. They seek conceptual exchange and competition in a marketplace of ideas.

Ostensibly tolerant organizations such as the NAACP, however, promote a command ideology where coercion displaces competition. (See campus speech codes, Title VII, Title VIII, etc.) Peel off this puritanism's wholesome patina to find an anti-social, aggressive underpinning: Dissent from political correctness and face dispossession.

"If you're really American, you have to respect her right to express her individual point of view." So said Commander Larry Powell of the West Palm Beach SCV with regard to Henri Brooks (the Tennessee state representative who refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance).

So robust in Powell and his compatriots, this respect is absent in much of America.

June 22, 2001

Myles Kantor Archives