When Hollywood Rode Right
Although Hollywood is now considered a monolithic bastion of leftist and “woke” political and cultural sentiment with almost no dissent tolerated, it was not always that way, at least not to the degree that exists today. Go back sixty years ago, and that progressivist uniformity was not as apparent.
Certainly, “Tinseltown” was never a haven for conservative and traditionalist cinema, actors, and screen writers, but back then to be on the Right and practicing a career in movies was not a rare oddity like it is in 2021. In particular, the sub-genre of Westerns, during its heyday on the big screen from the 1920s until the mid-1960s, was dominated by actors identifiably conservative.
Indeed, most of Hollywood’s leading Western and cowboy actors have been politically conservative, and quite a few have been Southerners. It is well known that John Wayne was a conservative, strongly supporting United States forces in Vietnam (recall his film, “The Green Berets”), and often supporting Republican candidates. But many other prominent Western actors were also on the right.
A short list would include: Joel McCrea (a Goldwater and Reagan supporter), Randolph Scott (a staunch conservative and Reagan supporter originally from Charlotte, N.C., who attended the 1964 Republican Convention as a Goldwater delegate), Audie Murphy (a Texan, life member of the NRA), Roy Rogers and Gene Autry (both conservative Christians), John Payne (a native Virginian and staunch Goldwater conservative), Alan Ladd (a Republican and native of Arkansas), Charlton Heston (a former president of the NRA), Ronald Reagan, Glenn Ford, Ward Bond, Jimmy Stewart (a regular contributor to the political campaigns of Senator Jesse Helms), Ben Johnson (who refused to act in Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show,” until nudity and bad language were removed), Gary Cooper (a convert to the Catholic Church, who supported Nixon in 1960), George “Gabby” Hayes (a John Bircher, the quintessential cowboy sidekick, whose famous full beard and tattered hat identified him for several generations of Western-watchers), Walter Brennan (thrice-winning Academy Award winner whose staunch conservatism led him to co-chair the California state campaign for George Wallace in 1968), and Chill Wills (the noted Western character actor who was the other California Wallace co-chair in 1968).
And there were others that we might recall from those days of yesteryear.
In more recent times, such noted actors as Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall, Tom Selleck (another past president of the NRA), and Kevin Sorbo, have continued the rightward tendency among actors who act in oaters.
Various reasons have been adduced for the prevalence of conservatives in Westerns, in an industry that otherwise leans strongly to the left. The fact that many of them came from the traditional South or from rural areas may have had some influence. Few came from urban areas like New York, and if they came from California, it was an older California, one that was still capable of electing Ronald Reagan governor and right wingers like “Bomber Bob” Dornan or John Schmitz to Congress.
Most major studios from the 1930s to the 1950s maintained separate facilities—“ranches”—set away from major production centers, where Westerns were shot and produced. Western actors and, to some degree, their directors and producers, tended to be separated from other film-making. It was no accident that the great director John Ford (an early supporter of Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” who became a fervent Nixon and Goldwater supporter), when asked once what he did, responded, “I make Westerns.” Of course, Ford made movies in other genres, but he is most widely known for his superb Westerns. He had his own “stock company” of veterans and regulars who showed up in picture after picture that he directed. His genius was in securing the very best in ensemble acting carried to perfection over and over again. Those actors who appeared in Westerns generally made it a habit.
Some of the smaller studios, especially Republic and Monogram (later Allied Artists) concentrated on the genre, and turned out what are commonly termed “B Westerns”; they featured a recurring star (perhaps with a sidekick), were about an hour long, and normally appeared as the second half of a double bill. Too often film critics dismiss these B Westerns as “kiddie flicks,” but the truth is that many of these films were truly stylish, high level products. Thus, Allan “Rocky” Lane, Gene Autry, Wild Bill Elliott, and Roy Rogers made Republic a real player at the box-office.
Johnny Mack Brown, Whip Wilson, Hoot Gibson, Bob Steele, and Guy Madison did the same for Monogram/Allied Artists. Other studios, like Columbia and RKO, produced numerous B Western series until the early 1950s, showcasing actors like Charles Starrett (“The Durango Kid”) and Tim Holt. The end of the series Bs did not end the popularity of the genre. Both Columbia and Universal-International continued releasing higher quality, longer films, usually in color, in the 1950s, often spotlighting bigger-name stars such as Audie Murphy, Randolph Scott, or Joel McCrea. These studios used the Western as their bread-and-butter producer when major features failed to make money. In most cases, there was a virtual segregation between Westerns and other fare, a separation which may have affected the ambience in which they were made.
The very nature of the Western sub-genre has had a significant influence in attracting certain types of actors to it. Westerns traditionally expressed the purest form of “good vs. evil.” Even in the more conflicted, morally blurred years of the later 1960s and 1970s, the few Westerns that were made seemed to never lose sight of that essential conflict. Indeed, the paucity of films in the genre during the last thirty years is the clearest indication that the Western as a clear-sighted vehicle for representing society’s conception of itself and its frontier past has fallen on hard times. Too many heroes in white hats and too strong an identification with a triumphant—and white—country, subduing all before it, doesn’t offer the best medium for representing the morally conflicted and self-loathing America of the 21st century.
The late Southern historian, biographer, and political thinker, Mel Bradford, once explained, during a conference of former Richard Weaver fellows, that the 1948 Howard Hawks classic, “Red River,” starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, encapsulated the history of the West and of America as it expanded to the Pacific, its struggle to overcome both natural and human obstacles, its resilience, its quest to establish law and order in the wilderness, and its abiding faith in Providence.
And that men, in whatever station in life they find themselves, are obliged to assume and fulfill the duty which falls to them.
That put me in mind of a film I had seen many years ago with my father: Sam Peckinpah’s classic, “Ride the High Country.” It co-starred two legendary veteran cowpokes, Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea. It was the last film that Randy Scott would make. At the time, he refused additional roles, declaring that “the movies have become too filthy”—and that was in 1962! McCrea still had one major outing (“Mustang Country,” 1976) and a couple of cameos before laying down his spurs, but essentially, like Scott, this was his last major role.
In a real sense “Ride the High Country” symbolized what was happening to America, foreshadowing in a way, and warning of the cultural revolution of the late 1960s and the ravages on the horizon which would follow.
Two old-timers, retired lawmen played by Scott and McCrea, undertake one last, one final task: to travel up in the Sierras and bring down a shipment of freshly-mined gold. Various, sometimes amusing sub-plots ensue involving a young Mariette Hartley, James Drury (later of “The Virginian”), Edgar Buchanan, R. G. Armstrong, and Warren Oates. All along Scott’s character, Gil Westrum, is planning to take the gold for himself, and on the return journey down the mountains he tries to convince his partner, Steve Judd (McCrea), to join him. For Judd, this assignment, this duty, has helped restore his self-respect. When Westrum asks him if he doesn’t desire more, he responds: “All I want to do is enter my house justified.” Let me do my duty before God and man, let me be faithful to my charge this one last time.
And in the end when Steve Judd is jumped by robbers, Westrum, who had gone on the lam, returns to assist his mortally wounded partner. When Gil pledges to take care of everything just like he would have, Judd says, "Hell, I know that. I always did. You just forgot it for a while, that's all." Judd casts a final look back towards the magnificent high country of the Sierras, as if to look back at a better America, and then dies.
It was 1962, and one month before “Ride he High Country’s” release in theaters General Douglas McArthur had delivered his famous “Duty, Honor, Country” speech to the cadets at West Point: “…those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn....”
Now, fifty-nine years later, duty has been replaced by the never-ending clamor and incessant demand for “rights”; honor has become an outmoded concept; and the country we once loved has been riven and violently split apart by fanatics who dominate our politics, our schools and colleges, and our entertainment.
The Western as a vehicle of our explaining to ourselves who we were—and “remembering who we are,” to use Bradford’s expression—no longer occupies the didactic role it once did. Boys no longer wish to grow up modeled on a straight-arrow Gene Autry or Hopalong Cassidy; they don’t even know who Autry and Hopalong were. A hero-inspired “code of behavior”? Not in the age of “The Bachelorette” or the barely R-rated movies and TV programs that too many parents allow their children to view these days.
In 1974 the country/Western vocal group, the Statler Brothers, released their single, “Whatever happened to Randolph Scott?” Through its lyrics and music, they expressed the feelings of many Americans:
“Everybody knows when you go to the show
You can't take the kids along
You've gotta read the paper and know the code
Of G, PG and R and X
You gotta know what the movie's about
Before you even go
Tex Ritter's gone and Disney's dead
The screen is filled with sex.
“Whatever happened to Randolph Scott
Ridin' the range alone
Whatever happened to Gene and Tex
And Roy and Rex, the Durango Kid
Whatever happened to Randolph Scott
His horse, plain as can be
Whatever happened to Randolph Scott
Has happened to the best of me.
“Whatever happened to all of these
Has happened to the best of me.”
More recently director Quentin Tarantino, not known for engaging in cinematic nostalgia, examines the virtual disappearance of the classic Western as a theme for his 2019 film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which becomes a vehicle to illustrate what was going on in American filmmaking (and in America at large) in the chaotic 1960s. Set in 1969 Hollywood it follows the fading career of once-popular Western star Rick Dalton and his best friend, Cliff Booth, his stunt-double, both of whom are forced to look for lesser roles in an industry that seemed now to shun the kind of good vs. evil oaters that a Randolph Scott or Joel McCrea made between 1930 and 1962. In a real sense the Dalton and Booth characters must navigate a transition period which saw the country itself change radically. Throughout Tarantino employs bits of period nostalgia, from music to iconography, memories of what was being lost.
Yet, the Western has never completely disappeared from the big screen. “Silverado,” “Wyatt Earp,” “Tombstone,” and “Open Range” have illustrated that point. The success of TV’s “Lonesome Dove” proved that there is still life yet in the genre, and the Encore Westerns channel continues to be one of the more popular cable and satellite channels.
Perhaps it is the desire for clear-cut moral choices, the desire to recover some of the certainty that has departed from our culture, which attracts new generations of viewers. Perhaps it is the need to rediscover an American past that, after all, may be partly mythic, but mythic in the very best and most honorable sense of that word. Indeed, did not John Ford in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” have his newspaper editor tell Jimmy Stewart: “This is the West, Sir; when legend becomes fact, print the legend”?
Perhaps it is the Western’s celebration of American tradition, with its mixture of both truth and myth, which may beckon to a future generation of converts. Despite “cancel culture” and its terrifying destructiveness, those who dare to take a look back at some of the great cinematic works of our past will see a rich artistic patrimony worthy of emulation, with actors who largely believed in the principles their films convey.
And then, like Steve Judd, may it be said of us by those in a saner age: “Hell…You just forgot it for a while, that's all."
[A shorter and slightly edited version of this essay appears in the December 2021 issue of Chronicles magazine, along with other essays on conservatism in the movies.]
What Veterans’ Day Really Means
One-hundred and three years ago, this day, the Great War—the “War to End All Wars”—World War I—came to a conclusion. An Armistice was signed, but an armistice that in many ways eventually made many of the deaths and sacrifices of millions of young men and their families seem in vain. Most of those valiant “dough boys” did not know it at the time; they fought for country, for patriotism, defending their nation against perceived evils and threats—this was their duty and what they believed.
Many of their political leaders had ulterior, secretive plans to remake Europe and reshape the world—and without doubt, the leaders France, Italy and Britain and the draconian peace they exacted and imposed on the defeated Central Powers helped propel the world headlong towards an even more horrible and momentous conflict two decades later. Yet, in those heady days of November 1918 in Allied capitals there was celebration. In the United States people filled the streets. Contemporary photographs and silent film record the joy and relief: the American nation had been in its first major foreign war—excluding the Spanish American War—since 1848, and it had not only been victorious, but had, arguably, been the deciding factor in that victory.
Ever since that day, November 11, Veterans’ Day—known first as “Armistice Day”—has been a day to honor our veterans and to recall their service. And, in many ways, it is a very personal day for many of us, a day to remember and honor members of our families who went to war, who left wives and children behind, who answered the call—and some who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
No matter whether the war could be “justified” by politicians or if it were for the right reasons, in the end the individual soldier did his duty. He knew that his nation had called, and that as a citizen he must answer that call. When the country demanded his service, he went and he did his very best. He may not have understood all the particular geopolitical ramifications or all the long-range effects of his actions, but he did understand that he was there—wherever “there” was—with his band of brothers, engaged in extreme combat, and that some of his fellow servicemen, perhaps even himself, would not “make it back.” He was serving his country, just as his ancestors for generations had done…and just as those poor Germans, those Russians, those Brits were doing.
Like many of you, I have ancestors who fought in all America’s wars, from the Revolution (with a five greats grandfather, a captain in the Continental Line, who died on a prisoner ship in Charleston harbor in 1780), several who served during the War for Southern Independence (including a great-granddad who survived Gettysburg), a great uncle who was in the US Navy during World War I, and my father who served in the 101st Cavalry and was seriously wounded in the Saar region of Germany in early 1945.
More recently, I honor today a beloved cousin, James Lowell Brake, who served honorably in both Korea and Vietnam. “Jim” married my cousin, and in so many ways, despite their eventual retirement in Newport News, Virginia, three hours distant, they became very dear and close to me. Cousin Jim passed away in 2008, and his wife of fifty-four years, two years ago.
Cousin Jim was one of those soft-spoken veterans who did not boast or talk that much about his service, yet his life and his career were remarkable in so many ways. Originally from the Rocky Mount, North Carolina, area, he remains for me an unsung hero. Here is a portion of his obituary from The Rocky Mount Telegram (February 18, 2008):
“Jim attended Rocky Mount High School and matriculated at North Carolina State University. Upon graduation, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force in June of 1953. One week later, he married the former Barbara Perry of Raleigh, N.C. In September of that same year, Jim was called to active duty. He went on to graduate from Air Command and Staff College in 1965 and Armed Forces Staff College in 1968. He served in Korea and flew during the Vietnam War, where he was a forward air controller and logged 529 combat missions marking targets for the fighters. Jim worked at the Pentagon on the Air Staff for 4 years from 1968-1972. In 1975 he went to Japan as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Planning and Programming for the Air Forces in North East Asia. He also served on the Japanese Joint Committee. His last assignment was Commander of Pope Air Force Base at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he retired a Colonel. During his long career he received 13 different medals, including the Legion of Merit with one bronze leaf oak cluster and the Air Medal with four silver leaf clusters.”
But this account only begins to tell of a full life well lived. Cousin Jim, after his retirement from the Air Force, served as a substitute math and science teacher and worked at the Virginia State Department of Environmental Health. And for many years he and his loving wife were very active in the local St. John’s Episcopal Church.
When I think of Jim, when I think of my late father and the long list of soldiers on both sides of my family, I wonder what they would think, what they would say, if they were able to return for a fleeting moment and view the American nation of 2021. We honor them today, but we should also ask ourselves how we have received and treated the precious heritage and the legacy they passed on to us.
As boy I remember my grandfather on my mother’s side recounting to me, as if it were yesterday, about Jefferson Davis’s funeral procession down Fayetteville Street in 1893 in Raleigh (on his way to final burial in Richmond); granddad was just sixteen when that happened. And I recall my grandmother on my father’s side, who was born in 1865 (and died in 1962), telling me that as a small girl she remembered a centenarian neighbor who, when he was a boy, had seen George Washington in Charlotte on his great Southern Tour in 1791!
Relative to the history of most European countries or to ancient Rome and Greece, the American republic’s history, our past, is short. It has been 245 years since the Declaration of Independence was signed, and 234 years since the US Constitution became the governing document for thirteen former British colonies. The country established by the Framers incorporated the insights of English law and custom, and was founded on a belief in a just and munificent God who offered both hope and direction to the new commonwealth.
The Framers were both adamant and deeply concerned: for future generations they established what they understood to be a fragile constitutional confederated republic, and, accordingly, they created safeguards and implanted established balances against the growth of an unchecked executive power (or abuse by other branches). Under the 9th and 10th Amendments the respective states and citizens were recognized as depositories of original God-given rights—rights not conceded by the Federal executive, but held directly through tradition and from the Creator.
Our fathers and ancestors fought for that country, for that reality of families and the land they had cleared and planted—for “blood and soil,” and for the local and regional liberties that they had inherited from their ancestors, and for the faith they had received, and, in sum, for the Western and Christian civilization they brought with them to the New World.
When my ancestor Phillip Perry landed in Virginia in 1646 and when my ancestor James Cathey came to Philadelphia in 1717, they brought their families with them, they brought their traditions and customs, their faith. They came for new and fresh lands, to raise their families, not for some nebulous “idea” of “making the world safe for democracy” or for “human rights in South Sudan.” Yes, their offspring would help create a new nation here on this continent, but in many ways what they created was an extension of that European and Christian culture—a culture they did not leave behind when they crossed the Atlantic.
The “American experience” gave that cultural inheritance a tint, certain characteristics, particular American aspects that distinguished us from the countries of old Europe. But from the beginning—from the debates in Philadelphia, from the writings of the Founders and Framers—we were also aware of that historic European legacy and those traditions that so shaped us, even if we progressively transformed them in our own peculiar ways.
Our fathers and forefathers served and fought for those beliefs and those traditions, for that legacy handed down to them, and which they handed down to us. The fetid cultural and political decay we behold around us in 2021 is not what they sacrificed for. They may have given their all and their lives for our right to act stupidly, but that doesn’t mean that they wanted us to act stupidly. They did not fight for “global democracy,” much less for the universal right of same sex marriage or gender fluidity. They went to war for home and state, for family and loved ones, for duty to the country.
That inheritance and our traditions are under attack domestically as never before (save perhaps by the Federal government back in 1861-1865). As we honor our veterans—as I honor my father, my Cousin Jim and my ancestors who are buried in the Carolina soil they cleared, planted, and held so dear, and where they raised their families—we should re-dedicate ourselves and our families not only to their memory, but to their beliefs and to the Old Republic they so loved.
This was previously published on My Corner on Nov 11, 2021.
National Archives Officially Labels the US Constitution Constitution “Racist” and “Offensive”
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all it was completely logical, the inevitable result of the insane “woke” political correctness that has been building and raging, largely unabated, in the United States now for years. Indeed, in my regular columns and essays I have been writing that this insanity, spread and imposed like a highly contagious and fatal infection—far worse than COVID—would not and could not be stemmed by the pitiful half measures of spineless Republicans and of despicably cowardly “conservatives.”
Yet, the news that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C., had begun to re-label the nation’s founding documents, characterizing them as reflecting “racist, sexist, ableist, misogynistic/misogynoir, and xenophobic opinions and attitudes” and being “discriminatory towards or exclud[ing] diverse views on sexuality, gender, religion, and more, ” still caught me off guard.
We are not talking about secondary copies of the US Constitution, Declaration of Independence, or Bill of Rights, those reproductions that you hang on the wall in a school classroom. No, NARA is the official repository of the original documents themselves, of the original copies signed by the Founders and the Framers. It is those priceless and irreplaceable items held by it in trust that the National Archives has decided to label as “outdated, biased, offensive, and possibly violent [in] views and opinions.”
Accordingly, that agency of the federal government has begun to “re-contextualize” its more than 100 million documents based on a report issued by its Task Force on Racism and issued April 20, 2021. That report declared that NARA and its unique collections are shot through with “structural racism,” including “a Rotunda in our flagship building that lauds wealthy White men in the nation’s founding while marginalizing BIPOC [black, indigenous, people of color], women, and other communities.” Additional examples of structural racism at the National Archives include “legacy descriptions that use racial slurs and harmful language to describe BIPOC communities.” The National Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero accepted the commission’s report and recommendations, and immediately began the work “to transform its exhibits, archival information and descriptions, and policies.”
NARA’s catalogue and labeling are being rewritten—“re-imagined” is the currently popular term to describe the historical legerdemain. Everything now, including our founding national documents and symbols, must reflect the new consensus, the new revisionist interpretation of American history and all that which will follow: “equity,” reparations, and the eventual and practical disenfranchisement and replacement of “white America.”
You may have thought the “1619 Project” just an outrageous outlier, a radical and intellectually dishonest attempt to redo and refashion American history to fit an extreme progressivist “woke” reinterpretation of our past. But that project, lauded and praised by the loudest voices in academia and heralded by the media (including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and most broadcast outlets) already possesses and dominates by and large our educational system, our entertainment industry, and, yes, our political discourse. And it was inevitable that it would reach the National Archives and its precious holdings.
The re-imagining of the nation’s foundational documents, then, is entirely logical. It is consistent with “1619,” and reflects the powerful influence such thinking has and exerts over our governing and corporate classes.
But what is truly scandalous, and appalling, about what is occurring is that opposition to this outrage has been largely muted, with very little news of it in the media.
You would think, would you not, after all the hullabaloo about the “1619 Project” and the disgustingly weak and embarrassingly contradictory actions of the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees (majority Republican) regarding the hiring of (and tenure for) the Project’s main author, Nikole Hannah-Jones, as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, that this latest assault on the nation’s historical past and identity would have been met by fierce opposition and an outcry from conservatives?
Yet only forty-four Republican members (no Democrats) in the US House of Representatives sent a protest to National Archivist Ferreiro, as reported by The Federalist. Those lawmakers called on NARA to remove the warnings on this nation’s original documents and cease politicizing them.
Their communication continued:
“We are deeply concerned by the National Archives Record Administration’s ‘harmful content’ warning displayed on the Archives’ cataloged website, including on seminal documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Constitution…”
But where are the other 168 GOP House members? Where is the voice of the Senate Republican Caucus? Of Mitch McConnell? And others?
Certainly, if polled I’m sure they would declare their formal opposition—they may have already done so. But where is their concerted action, other than a few easily forgotten words or fatuous protests?
Over the last few years I have written that the efforts to take down Confederate monuments, most egregiously perhaps the recent disgraceful removal of the Lee Monument in Richmond, were just a first step in a major process of fanatical hatred for and redefinition of American history. It is not only the physical monuments themselves, but what they symbolize, that has to be destroyed and extinguished. And the hysterical campaign to erase those monuments honoring the Confederate dead is just the first part of this effort.
There is a recent documentary, “How the Monuments Came Down,” produced by the Virginia Film Office and widely distributed by PBS which makes this goal crystal clear. Removal of the monuments is only the easiest, hanging fruit, as it were. There is much more to come until, as one of the commentators declares, “we have rooted out entirely white supremacy and systemic racism.”
In their national campaign to erase anything that offends them, the “woke” lunatics have counted upon the benevolence of the establishment Republican Party and very prominent members of what is laughably termed “the conservative movement.” Either by studied inaction or active encouragement, the Rich Lowry types (editor of National Review) and the near-unanimity of the apparatchik pundits on Fox News have cheered on the destruction of Confederate monuments, while simultaneously praising Martin Luther King Jr. as a “true conservative,” despite his embrace of Marxism and a genuinely Communist praxis on various occasions (for example, his address honoring Communist W. E. B. DuBois, February 23, 1968). Their response to the madness griping the nation is to apologize to the Left and whine with a form of virtue signaling: “Look at me! I condemn those Confederate symbols, just like you! Please don’t call me a racist…oh, will you still invite me to one of your swank cocktail parties on New York’s Upper East Side? Please!”
Back on June 16, 2020, I compared the pusillanimous response of our established conservative movement, what my friend Dr. Paul Gottfried calls “Con Inc.,” to a scene in the classic film, “Waterloo” (1970):
“The response of those supposed ‘conservative’ defenders of American traditions to the fanatical tsunami of violent revolutionary lunacy reminds me of the scene in the film “Waterloo” (1970), when an illiterate private in the Duke of Wellington’s army who has engaged in plunder and stolen a young pig, cautions the pig not to squeal, not to alert those around him of his plunder (a capital offense under military rules). ‘Be quiet,’ he tells the pig, ‘and I’ll only eat half of you!’ ”
Whether the craven response by Congress and national conservative leaders, or, more locally, the action of a Republican Gerald Kivett in Sampson County, North Carolina, member of the county commissioners, who made the successful motion to remove the Confederate monument in that largely rural county, it amounts to the same thing: cowardice, the fear of being labeled a racist and perhaps being “cancelled,” hoping to stave off something worse, but at base a lack of conviction and faith.
All the apologies and virtue-signaling of the GOP and ConInc. will not save them or those other symbols of traditional American history. The three-piece suit enablers only encourage the madness, embolden it, and in the end their response, or failure to respond, will not spare them. After Lee, it must be Washington, Jefferson, perhaps changing the name of the US capital? The list of culpables is endless.
The Revolution is not mollified by weakness and groveling. Offering up half a pig will kill the pig, as it will kill what is left of this country.
The Internet and television news are awash in stories about our debacle in Afghanistan. Just yesterday I counted upwards of forty news accounts and reports in my inbox, and they are only the ones I noticed. Among the so-called “conservative” commentariat, Fox News continues to beat the drum of how “America has been unnecessarily defeated and shamed,” and, indeed, somehow if we had just stayed and finished the goal of “nation-building” (militarily and socially), we might have avoided this humiliating and embarrassing disaster.
In other words, despite the past twenty years with boots on the ground and several thousand American lives lost, and over one trillion dollars in American (taxpayer) funding—and nothing accomplished, if only we would have stayed a little longer, everything would have come out right. Thus, a full-fledged liberal democracy, complete with the full panoply of women’s rights, abortion, protection of LGBTX rights and social advancement, same sex marriage for all, immense welfare programs, diversity and equity programs in those to-be-built Afghani schools, the fruits of American television programs like “The Bachelorette” –all that and more, plus the wonders of American-style elections (a model of probity and honesty!), would have transformed that woebegotten country.
How foolish, how fatal!
Our foreign policy elites, the State Department, the Pentagon, and most of our national political class apparently have learned nothing. Not with Vietnam, not with Bosnia, not with Somalia, nor with Iraq, Syria, and now Afghanistan. With each disaster it is simply on to the next involvement, the next venture which puts Americans on the ground, dying in some remote desert or forlorn oasis, with the major corporate suppliers of military hardware and weaponry continuing to amass fortunes, while our boys perish, lose limbs, and suffer conditions that will mark them—and their families—for life. And all in the name of “democracy” and “human rights.”
Since the end of World War II our foreign policy has been dominated by a resolve globally to deter perceived enemies. At first there was some real urgency and rationale for that: we were facing an insatiable and dangerous enemy, Soviet communism. And at times it looked like we might succumb. But after 1991 and the ignominious fall of the Soviets and the advent of a new Russian government intent on recovering its pre-revolutionary traditions and religious heritage, that threat disappeared.
Yet our foreign policy elites, now emboldened by the rise and influence of the Neoconservatives, those former Marxist internationalists who had made the long pilgrimage to the conservative Right, continued to look for ways to assert American hegemony in the world. With a fervor inherited from their days militating as Trotskyites (as many of them had been in the 1930s and ‘40s), the Neocons deployed the linguistic template and ideas associated with “American exceptionalism” to signify the universal superiority of their conception of the American experience over all other cultures. A Neoconservative-favored political thinker Allan Bloom summed this view up succinctly in his The Closing of the American Mind: “And when we Americans speak seriously about politics we mean that our principles of freedom and equality and the rights based on them are rational and everywhere applicable.” Americans must engage in “an educational experiment undertaken to force those who do not accept these principles to do so.”
Thus, each time we fail in a foreign venture, as we have done consistently over the past fifty years, our foreign policy wonks and Neocon experts and publicists push forward: there must be some other backward country that needs American guidance and just maybe some troops on the ground, and millions of dollars of American aid and military equipment?
But the real issues related to Afghanistan, Islam and various remote locations on the map of the world get lost, essentially ignored by Foggy Bottom. And there are indeed major issues and questions that we should examine, especially pertaining to Afghanistan and particularly to the Middle East.
There is a fascinating movie, "Day of the Siege: September 11, 1683," which portrays in some detail the Muslim siege of Vienna in 1683, specifically making reference to the final climactic battle on September 11 (!), when the Polish Lancers of the Christian hero, King Jan Sobieski defeated the forces of Islam. But there is the prophecy of the Muslim Grand Vizier, Kara Mustapha, that even if the Muslims did not take Vienna then, that a future generation would "water their horses in the Tiber River" and "convert Notre Dame Cathedral into a mosque." Is that not happening now? There is a DVD of the movie (also a much longer version). Apparently it is out of print but can be obtained in decent used copies.
I think the essential point here is that unlike the Crusaders and the Christian defenders of Christendom at the Battle of Lepanto or at the two sieges of Vienna, we now face the Islamic threat for the wrong reasons. We seek to impose "liberal democracy" and (secular) "human rights" on essentially primitive countries that are far more in tune with the orthodoxy of Islam than to LGBT rights and women’s "liberation" (which is about all I hear being spouted by the likes of vicious anti-Confederate Brian Kilmeade on Fox).
Instead of crusades for our historic faith and Western Christian civilization, we offer the venomous infection of "American exceptionalism," which is now an olio of the secularist globalist virus which is destroying us here at home.
Thus what we have seen in Kabul, or in Iraq, or in Somalia, or in Bosnia, or in Syria, when our nation has attempted to impose a secularist framework, and is opposed by a concerted and fanatical religious opposition which has popular support.
In effect, we have become an agent of modernist destruction. Oftentimes we may indeed be opposing an evil, but for the wrong reasons, and thus opposing one evil with one, in some ways, even more evil and fearsome.
After World War II we imposed the very worst features of "liberal democracy" on what was left of traditional Europe via the Marshall Plan. Anything that smacked of "traditional" was either disauthorized or discredited (as "fascist" or pro-Nazi). We sent our agents to infiltrate and control new, liberal democratic political parties...and very soon they controlled and dominated Europe. And, yes, we see what the result of that has been. Now we wish to do that in Hungary and Russia.
Cardinal Pedro Segura in Spain, back in 1953, sternly warned General Franco NOT to open the door to "the panoply of novel and noxious American secularist culture"--that Spain would absorb it and eventually "lose its soul." That indeed happened, as I observed first hand while completing my doctoral dissertation in Pamplona (1972-1975). The tawdry worst of America was injected into Spanish society, and eventually it destroyed much of historic Spanish tradition, like a virulent cancer.
And we continue to seek that in regard to Hungary and Russia. Why? Because they limit and prohibit LGBT "human rights" and favor the traditional family over what now prevails here in the USA, that they formally oppose "Coca-Cola Culture." Most establishment conservatives now accept--even defend--same sex marriage and transgenderism (did you see Turning Point USA's Charlie Kirk dancing with a "conservative" drag queen? Fox touts its openly gay and same sex married pundits, such as Guy Benson and Tammy Bruce).
Our conservative and Republican leadership takes pains and great effort to protest how much they love Martin Luther King (and his radical views), the Civil Rights revolution, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and how much they loathe the “traitors” Robert E. Lee, John C. Calhoun and Nathan Bedford Forrest. Oh, yes, they call a halt when it comes to maybe Washington or Lincoln, but only because they can use them ideologically in their own form of "conservative" progressivism.
So, I am happy we are getting out of Afghanistan; we shouldn't have been there, just like my cousin-by-marriage wondered why we were in Bosnia fighting Christian Serbs, and allied to Muslim extremists in Kosovo. We are either in such places for the wrong reasons, or we are in the wrong places to begin with. Period.
The one thing that is tragic is, of course, the bungling by the Biden administration getting us and our citizens out. That is worthy of sharp criticism. That should make us re-examine our wrongheaded foreign policy of the past 50 or 75 years. But I doubt strongly that it will...as we are no longer a truly Christian nation and our leaders are in no way like King Jan Sobieski or Don Juan of Austria at Lepanto....far from it. How in the hell can we compare a witless Joe Biden or the empty-suit Kamala Harris to them?
Until we have leaders leading a nation committed to our traditional and Christian principles, what happened in Afghanistan will continue to happen.
More likely, what we behold is a continuation of the sputtering end of the "American empire," and, in the long run, maybe that is a good thing?
Growing up in mostly-rural North Carolina, most of my friends and especially their parents could go on a bit about their family backgrounds, about their familial histories. Most of my friends—like me—had great-grandfathers or great-great-grandfathers who had served in Confederate ranks back in 1861-1865. Pride in family and in our ancestors was taken for granted, a devout appreciation we all shared.
Especially during the centennial commemorations of the early 1960s, most of us youngsters took an intense interest in all the various events, the re-enactments on a large scale and the ceremonies attending the anniversary. Our imaginations were filled with stories of heroism, sacrifice, honor, tragic defeat and attendant suffering, unrealized dreams, and legends and traditions passed down to us. Public schools back then actually encouraged this fascination and interest in history and the characters and personalities in it who seemed, almost like magic, to come alive once again.
Indeed, it had been scarcely a decade since the last Confederate veteran had passed away in 1959! Many of us could recall that. And our parents? They had grown up surrounded by the ever-decreasing ranks of those valiant veterans, listening to first-hand accounts of the great and heartbreaking epic that was the War for Southern Independence.
My grandfather on my mother’s side was Henry Johnson Perry. Granddad Perry was born in Raleigh in 1877 and lived until 1962. As a young boy I remember well him recounting to me standing hatless on old Fayetteville Street in North Carolina’s capital on May 30, 1893, a sixteen year old apprentice, dressed all in black, with thousands of other citizens reverently paying tribute to President Jefferson Davis, whose remains were carried by horse-drawn caisson from the railroad station to lie in state under the rotunda of the historic North Carolina State Capitol, en route to his final resting place in Richmond.
Granddad’s father, Josiah Hunter Perry, an official with the old Raleigh & Gaston Railroad, had been forced in April 1865 by General Sherman to conduct him and his staff by rail over to Bennitt Station (now Durham) to receive the surrender of General Joseph Johnston. Waiting for the surrender to occur, he sat under a cherry tree and carved a “peace pipe,” a relic I still have and which continues to remind me of my history and my ancestor.
Granddad’s grand-father, Robert, had served many years in the North Carolina legislature in the 1820s and had married the grand-daughter of Isaac Hunter, the founder of Raleigh. All that family—all that history—danced through my imagination sixty years ago; I could visualize it, I could see it in my mind’s eye. It was real, it was present…and despite the many years that have elapsed, it still is.
Pride in one’s ancestry…pride in what the late Southern writer and historian Mel Bradford termed “remembering who we are”…was integral to defining what we valued and held dear in life. We were intimately related to our ancestors, they were part of us. Their blood coursed through our veins. Their memory was not that far removed. Their examples stood before us as models to emulate, a challenge for us to uphold their honor and their noble efforts to defend home, family, and the rights vouchsafed to them by their fathers and ancestors…who had cobbled together the older American confederation.
In any nation, in any people or civilization worthy of the name, such an appreciation is natural, part of the national and cultural psyche. It is indeed quite normal for a people to recall its past, to celebrate its successes and heroes, to lament its defeats and hardships. These are part and parcel of what define and make us, as Bradford states, “who we are.” Deprive a people of its history, of its traditions, of its inherited culture, and you deprive it of essential ingredients of its very existence. It becomes a mass of rootless individuals, of automatons, subject to the latest whim or the most persistent and enticing siren voice of some powerful ideology or, in modern times, of George Orwell’s Big Brother and its extensive tentacles in and incestuous partnership with the communications industry, education, and the media.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky has one of the three brothers in his novel The Brothers Karamazov declare, “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” Stripping people of their faith, and then denuding them of the essential characteristics which define them is and has always been the work of Revolutions, whether of the Cromwellian attempt in the 17th century, the fanaticism of a Robespierre in France in the late 18th, or the genocide of the Marxists in Russia and China in the 20th. As now, in our day the lunatics who run our schools and colleges, dominate our entertainment, spout our daily news, and control our politics, whether it be the Democrats or the Republicans, do the same with unalloyed frenzy. They make the spectre of “Big Brother” look like a Sunday school teacher.
My dissertation topic years back at the University of Navarra in Spain, Juan Vazquez de Mella, stated it this way:
“Who has ever seen ‘the individual,’ if not defined by his family, his region, his profession, his language, his inheritance, his faith? Removed from these defining characteristics the individual is an abstraction, and a political system based on an abstraction must either end in despotism or revolution.”
Since the 1980s and ‘90s, we have seen the almost unrestrained and rapacious growth of an eventually fatal cancer within our body politic. Denominated variously as “progressivism,” “neo-“ or “post-Marxism,” and more recently as “anti-racism” or “the movement for equity,” it draws its force intellectually from the concept of the Idea of Progress, that is, that history unfolds irresistibly in one direction—the “progressive” direction—which encompasses the ineluctable advance and triumph of essentially secular and globalist ideas. At base it is egalitarian, and even though it may profess respect for or even belief in God, its cumulative effects are to pervert, weaken and, finally, destroy the natural linkage between man and his Creator. For the progressivist, religion, particularly the Christian religion, becomes just one more obstacle to be tamed, neutralized, and lastly, employed in the advance to a universal secular utopia.
It was not that traditional society was opposed to advances in science or economics; it was not. But such innovations were seen as a natural part of the flourishing of God’s Creation, not opposed to it or superseding it.
The great stratagem of Marx and Lenin and their votaries was to expropriate “progress” and weaponize it: the proletariat, united, under the leadership of the self-anointed heads of the Revolution would lead the “oppressed” to victory, to that utopia where there was no want, no poverty, no sadness, where everyone was equal and happy.
Throughout history different revolutions have shared these characteristics, have made these promises, and each time the result has been a terrible dystopian nightmare.
The full attack in recent years on Southern traditions, identity, and iconography is but a symptom, an element of an all-out assault on Western Christian civilization, its culture, and belief. Prominent members of the official opposition “conservative movement”—a Rich Lowry at National Review, a Brian Kilmeade at Fox News, or a Ben Shapiro, and any number of others—attempt to compartmentalize the ongoing “culture war” by accepting, even applauding the eradication of any visible sign of Confederate and Southern history. But like temporizers in any revolution they fail to understand the futility of their positions, which only abet the appetite of the radicals.
Whether a Kerensky and the Social Revolutionaries who helped usher in Lenin’s rise to power in Russia, or the Girondins who believed they could somehow harness the revolutionary fury in late 18th century France, moderation and attempts to placate the madness and hysteria of revolutionary zealots are doomed to disaster. Half-measures never work.
There is a whimsical episode in the superb historical film, “Waterloo” (1970), which illustrates exactly the position of Establishment Conservatives and their “opposition” to the fanatical tsunami of violent revolution: an illiterate private in the Welsh Guards who has engaged in plunder and stolen a young pig, cautions the pig not to squeal, not to alert those around him of his plunder (a capital offense under military rules). “Be quiet,” he tells the pig, “and I’ll only eat half of you!” Confronted by shrill and seemingly overwhelming demands by a noisy nucleus of woke leftists, authorized conservatives and Republicans respond to the revolutionaries in the same manner: “Only kill us half-way, but please, oh please, don’t call us racists!”
The recent attacks on Southern monuments and symbols, which are essentially an assault on Southern identity, cannot be dissociated from a broader offensive by our modern “progressivists” on Western civilization. To think otherwise is worse than wrongheaded, it is fatal.
In the contemporary South the great success of the revolutionaries has been to atomize much of society, deprive large portions of it, especially the young, of those inherited traditions, those customs, those beliefs—those memories—which have given it substance and continuity, which have served as its shield and buckler. Instead of what Southern writer Richard Weaver called a communitarian “social bond individualism,” life centered around family and church, and indelibly defined by region and custom, progressivism breaks and severs those bonds, isolates individuals, and renders them subject to the social decay and dislocation which an omnipotent managerial state, in league with woke capitalism, utilizes to advance its vision of a future society.
In the past I have urged the termination of the public school system—privatizing education and putting it back in the hands of the parents where it belongs. I have authored several pieces on the possibilities for secession, or, rather, the separation of various American states and counties (perhaps the best and most peaceful means to resolve the irreducible differences within the American citizenry, if it were possible). But more importantly, I have advocated a return, a rededication to those principles and that belief which once motivated and annealed our ancestors. That spirit, that wisdom, that inspiration is there, it is still there for those who seek it. Scraping away the ugly dross of political correctness and “wokeness” we can recover those memories, rekindle them, and draw from them strength.
In his work, Requiem for A Nun (1951), Southern novelist William Faulkner says of his fellow Southerners that for them, “The past is never dead. It's not even past."
One of the most remarkable poems of the 20th century is by the incomparable Southern Agrarian Donald Davidson. Titled “Lee in the Mountains,” it summons us once more to the battle lines and to eventual victory, if we have faith and an unshakeable commitment to our cause. For, in the end, God will not forsake us. We must be like Gideon’s small army and General Forrest’s “critter company.”
Sense the confidence that springs from our Christian faith and which Davidson reminds us of:
Young men, the God of your fathers is a just
And merciful God Who in this blood once shed
On your green altars measures out all days,
And measures out the grace
Whereby alone we live;
And in His might He waits,
Brooding within the certitude of time,
To bring this lost forsaken valor
And the fierce faith undying
And the love quenchless
To flower among the hills to which we cleave,
To fruit upon the mountains whither we flee,
Never forsaking, never denying
His children and His children’s children forever
Unto all generations of the faithful heart.
This piece was previously published on MyCorner on August 13, 2021.
I have a good friend who continually asks me what I think are the prospects for sensible, conservative—that is, normal—folks in these parlous times, what I think will happen to these United States, and particularly, what will happen to the South.
In response to his questioning, I can’t give a satisfactory answer, at least one nicely tied-up and tidy like my friend wants. But one thing on which my friend and I agree: this weary and gravely ailing country we call the United States seems with accelerating velocity and intensity to be hurtling into some form of ignominious and painful expiration. The unbridgeable differences, the divisions, between segments of our population are now far too stark, far too bitter, far too advanced to be papered over by “the next election”—or, by the pipe-dreams that I hear some Republicans and Fox News pundits exude with enthusiasm: “We’ll win back Congress in 2022! And then things will get right again.”
My response to that line of thinking is to remind such optimists that Republicans had control of Congress—and the presidency—for several years, and essentially, despite some line cracks in the Deep State behemoth due to Donald Trump, things continued to get worse, the Managerial government continued to grow in power, and did its best (with many Republicans in tow), eventually successfully, to eject the Trumpster from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The Administrative elites control education, control immigration policy (with GOP collaboration), control our media and entertainment, and dominate most of the levels of our government; and their reach and control expand by the day.
I believe that assertion is self-evident, but let me offer a few very recent headlines at random to buttress what I’m saying:
Research Journal Publishes Article Calling ‘Whiteness’ a ‘Parasitic-Like Condition’ (June 10, 2021)
White House ‘Domestic Extremism’ Report Puts Target on Democrats’ Political Opponents (June 17, 2021)
The FBI’s Mafia-Style Justice: To Fight Crime, the FBI Sponsors 15 Crimes a Day (June 18, 2021)
What this Professor just Called Proper Grammar is Absolutely Absurd (June 30, 2021)
Yale Professor Wants Your Kid to See Sex at Pride Parades so they’re not ‘Homophobes’ (July 14, 2021)
Med Schools Are Now Denying Biological Sex (July 27, 2021)
‘Complicit’: Meet the 18 Republicans Who Sold Out on Radical Democrat ‘Infrastructure’ Plan Without Reading Bill (July 28, 2021)
Biden Department of Justice Threatens to Sue to Lock In 2020 Election Chaos (July 29, 2021)
And these stories and accounts can be multiplied by the hundreds, by the thousands, at every level of society. Tune in to “Tucker Carlson Tonight” almost any day (the only program I consistently watch on Fox News), and you’ll see what I mean.
They are examples of a pervasive sickness which afflicts large portions of our culture. They are emblematic of profound problems and radically irreconcilable divisions among our population. We all may live in the same geographical entity, but we don’t speak the same language, we don’t share the same beliefs, we don’t think in the same way; one half of us wish to “cancel,” even suppress the other half of us, and to achieve that by any means possible, including violence. Is that any different from the few months in Eastern European countries right after World War II as Communist apparatchiks infiltrated and seized absolute control and authority?
And all the while the official voices of opposition to this madness…the official conservative opposition and most national Republicans…seem like deer caught in the headlights. Irish poet William Butler Yeats’ words resound in my ears:
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst/
Are full of passionate intensity.” (“The Second Coming,” 1919)
In the past when a Southern writer would suggest that some form of secession or separation was desirable, he would be met with ridicule: “The South will rise again? You’ve got to be kidding!”
Now, 160 years after the War Between the States began, such talk of separation is no longer considered the domain of nostalgics or of the Unreconstructed. In recent years we have seen the Calexit movement advocating that left-leaning California leave the American union and assert its independence. A number of conservative counties in eastern Oregon and northern California have officially petitioned to leave those radicalized states and either join Idaho or perhaps form a new state. Academically, Professor Frank H. Buckley (George Mason University) has written a cautionary study on what he calls the “looming threat” of secession.
Over the past few years I have written about some possible scenarios, situations that might actually come to pass. I’ve speculated about secession, or perhaps better expressed, some form of separation of portions of the country—and not just states—into more philosophically and culturally homogeneous entities.
I’ve written about this several times, most notably in The Abbeville Institute (August 2, 2019, “Is It Time for America to Break Apart?” and also on August 19, 2019, “Is Political Separation in Our Future?”). Indeed, I also tackled the topic in The Unz Review (July 26, 2019), with the essay picked up by the widely-read LewRockwell.com site (July 29, 2019).
I have suggested that some form of separation, including possibly large amounts of autonomy for counties within certain states might be the least painful, the least violent means of resolving our unsolvable divisions. Yet, does anyone believe that our centralized and centralizing federal government in Washington, with its tentacles now extending dictatorially into every aspect of our lives, would let this occur peacefully? Would not federal troops be dispatched by Washington that would make Abraham Lincoln’s suppression of the constitutional right to habeas corpus or Eisenhower’s intervention in Little Rock, Arkansas, look like child’s play?
In the past one-hundred years, when civil society and its institutions around the world have broken down or Marxist revolutionaries have threatened to take control, it has been the armed forces that have traditionally stepped in to restore order and some semblance of (anti-Marxist) normalcy. Thus, General Augusto Pinochet led the Chilean army in a 1973 coup to topple the impending Communist take-over by President Salvador Allende and restore order in that country. And in July 1936 General Francisco Franco led a coalition of traditionalist Carlists, conservatives, and the Church to overthrow the violently anticlerical and Marxist Spanish republic (unfortunately, he did not follow through to establish a traditional monarchy after his coup).
But in America today our armed forces, since at least the Obama years, have been coopted by the political left. Army top brass now echo the “woke-speak” of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accuses former President Trump of fomenting a “Reichstag moment” and compares him to Adolf Hitler, while assisting to implement mandatory Critical Race Theory programs in the armed forces. And Milley is far from being alone, as author Lt. Colonel Matthew Lohmeir has recently documented in his study, Irresistible Revolution: Marxism’s Goal of Conquest & the Unmaking of the American Military. In any major civil conflict, very probably the armed forces would be an instrument of the Deep State.
Where does that leave us? Are we indeed destined to live under a post- or neo-Marxist authoritarian dictatorship that would make the older Soviet Communists envious?
My friend and internationally-recognized political theorist and historian, Paul Gottfried (editor of Chronicles magazine) has speculated on one possible scenario, one possibility that could occur. Revolutionary regimes that come to power often “devour their children,” that is, the various elements that seem to triumph have a falling out and begin to fight among themselves over direction and the spoils. Thus, it was in Republican Spain during the Civil War when the Communists suppressed the large Anarchist component (the FAI) in their revolutionary coalition, imprisoning and executing thousands of them. And who can forget the purges unleashed by Lenin and then by Stalin in the Soviet Union on those dissidents who had earlier supported the Revolution?
Within the dominant Democratic Party and its supporters definable factions exist. Joe Biden attempts to placate them. But the question should be asked: How far will the Establishment Managerial Elite be prepared to go before it must deal with its more recalcitrant elements…or will those elements become dominant and force “woke” corporate America to fully give way and accept in reality as well as in theory their nostrums? Will there be violence on a large scale?
And, following Dr. Gottfried’s model, would there be enough of us to pick up the pieces in such a conflict…and would we be prepared?
When I studied in Spain my doctoral subject was the Spanish traditionalist Carlist philosopher and political leader, Juan Vazquez de Mella. During his lifetime in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth, the traditionalist movement he represented and defended both in his writings and verbally in the Spanish parliament (the Cortes) had been essentially sidelined, defeated earlier in three brutal civil wars, wracked by internal division, and reduced to its strongholds in Navarra, parts of Aragon and Catalonia. Surveying the political landscape circa 1920 hardly anyone expressed optimism, practically-speaking, for its rebirth or revitalization.
But Mella viewed events and history in a different manner. Over his long career he developed a theory of “catastrophism,” which, briefly, suggested that the liberal revolution of the late eighteenth century in thinking and the capitalist revolution of the nineteenth century in economics, would inevitably destroy the older, natural social order. These revolutions would lead inexorably to socialist and Marxist revolutions: to cataclysm, war, and human destruction on a vast and previously unknown scale. After which, those–the remnant—who had continued faithful, who had continued to maintain the Virtue of Hope and a belief in Providence, throughout, would finally triumph. Had it not been so with the early Christians, secreted away in catacombs and at times subject to fierce persecution? Yet, with perseverance and faith they had triumphed.
I am put in mind of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem, “Ulysses,” when Odysseus summons his followers and exhorts them:
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
This was President Jefferson Davis’ confidence and hope, as it must assuredly be ours in this modern vale of despair: “Truth crushed to earth is truth still and like a seed will rise again.”
As undoubtedly many of you know, both James “Ron” Kennedy and his brother, Walter “Donnie” Kennedy, are prolific writers and staunch defenders of (what is left of) Southern tradition and heritage. Among the titles of their books are, most notably: The South Was Right! (newly revised edition 2020), Punished With Poverty: The Suffering South, and Yankee Empire: Aggressive Abroad and Despotic at Home…all strongly recommended to Southerners interested in how their heritage and traditions have been subverted and devastated by the forces that dominate modern America…and how just possibly a revival of that heritage and those traditions might occur.
But only—only—if Southerners begin to understand how we reached our present disastrous state of affairs.
The task of understanding has been and is incredibly difficult. And it has much to do with the present politics of the former Confederate states and the fact that good intentions and normal reactions to adverse conditions can lead to bad results.
How we got here, a comprehension of how we arrived at our present woeful situation, demands that we understand the lineaments of post-War Between the States history, in particular the choices our ancestors—and we—have made.
After Appomattox and the other Confederate surrenders, the South, the former Confederate States, experienced first occupation, then Reconstruction. Eventually coming out from under those onerous impositions, in virtual poverty and shorn of most of the political influence that they had prior to the War, most Southerners, naturally, inclined toward the Democratic Party. Indeed, it had been the Democrats, including many in the North, who had either opposed the War on the South, or, at least, advocated more reasonable and, as it were, “softer” policies after the War’s conclusion.
The Republican Party was seen, rightly so, as the party of conquest, of harsh Reconstruction policies, and anti-Southern bigotry. Not that it was in principle necessarily pro-black or favored expansive “civil rights” measures: only when directed at the conquered South were such actions merited, certainly not at home in their Northern bastions.
The South, the states of the former Confederacy, thus became uniformly Democratic strongholds—“the Solid South.” And, growing up in rural North Carolina how many times did I hear my elders declare: “I’d vote for the town drunk if he ran on the Democratic ticket!” Voting straight party became second nature to Southerners; granddad had done so. Indeed, some of us had grandparents even born in the late nineteenth century who knew and heard from their parents about the barbarity and degradations that came after 1865.
Thus, the Democratic Party became a kind of refuge for most Southerners. And Northern Democrats, at least for a goodly part of the century after Appomattox, welcomed them and allowed them to occupy positions of authority. Even under such social liberals as Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Southern solons in Congress—remember Senators Harry Byrd Sr., Josiah Bailey, Richard Russell, and others, who controlled the US Senate and Senate committees (and thus legislation)—and not to mention the various Southern Congressmen who dominated equally in the House of Representatives—held a considerable amount of power.
Of course, both Northern Democrats and their Southern allies had to find compromise at times. Generally, the Northerners let the South alone in its local governing, as long as Southerners generally supported measures nationally that their brethren advanced. Along with this occasionally troublesome collaboration, Northern Democrats—and Northern folk in general—agreed to let the South celebrate its history and its heroes and its heritage.
As Professor Clyde Wilson and others have described it, the years between the end of the nineteenth century and the election of Lyndon Johnson were a kind of “second era of good feeling” for the South. Southern honor, Southern heroism, Southern history and heritage were celebrated not just in the South, but everywhere in the nation. Summing up the view of most Americans of that period, President Eisenhower spoke admiringly of General Robert E. Lee, and he was in many ways expressing the general view of most Americans of the South back in 1960:
“General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was a poised and inspiring leader, true to the high trust reposed in him by millions of his fellow citizens; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his faith in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.”
But not just on the lips of our national leaders, but in the public imagination, in the popular media, and in Hollywood, the South, and in particular Southerners in the War for Southern Independence, were treated largely with respect, if not outright admiration. Southerners had fought nobly and honorably, and were depicted as such in works of literature, by movie-makers, and by our political leaders.
Hollywood gave us not only a cinematic treatment of Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind,” but numerous other pro-Southern and Confederate-friendly films. Who of a certain age cannot recall such major Hollywood products as “Jesse James” (with Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda) and its sequel, “The Return of Frank James”? Or any of several epics starring Errol Flynn (“Santa Fe Trail” and “Rocky Mountain”) or several of the memorable John Ford-directed masterpieces: “Judge Priest,” “The Sun Shines Bright,” and “The Prisoner of Shark Island,” from 1936 (on the brutal and extra-legal imprisonment of Dr. Samuel Mudd after the Lincoln assassination)? And most actors in Western movies—John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, Audie Murphy, and others—carried the theme of Southern honor and respect into that popular genre.
In fact, in the classic Western I would suggest that there exists a sub-genre which I would call “the Southern Western,” essentially using the War and its aftermath as a plot basis for dozens of films…a trend that has continued in a small way into more recent times with the continued fascination with Jesse James and the Border conflicts (e.g., “The Long Riders,” 1980; “Ride With the Devil,” 1999; “American Outlaws,” 2001; and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” 2007.)
The great “Civil War Centennial” of 1961-1965, with its commemorations and celebrations, marked the end of the “bargain” between North and South, a final salute to the South as a noble adversary in “the late Unpleasantness.“
Dramatic changes in American culture and the way many Americans saw themselves in the 1960s and 1970s, would alter Southerners’ attachment to the old Democratic Party and perhaps just as significantly, radically transform the Northern branch of the party into something incompatible with the views of most Southern folk.
But even as late as the 1960s John F. Kennedy had a successful “Southern Strategy” which enabled him to win election in 1960 (with Southern votes), despite his later alterations and the turn-around of President Lyndon Johnson.
But in many ways that was the “last hurrah” for the “solid Democratic South.” The rise of Goldwater Republicanism, Kevin Phillips’ “Southern Strategy” (outlined most notably in his 1969 book, The Emerging Republican Majority), and the emergence of the avowedly conservative Ronald Reagan in 1976 and 1980, signaled the final demise of the second era of good feeling. Phillips worked closely with President Richard Nixon, and outlined his plan to win the South (and Middle America) for a newly-christened “conservative” and victorious GOP. And by the ‘70s, and more like a tidal-wave in the 198os, conservative Southerners turned Franklin Roosevelt’s picture to the wall and became Republicans (at least in their voting habits). The solid Democratic South would continue to be “solid,” but not Democrat.
Increasingly, in the years even before the election of George W. Bush in 2000, signs of unease and doubt arose among a few more thoughtful Southerners. Yes, the GOP paid initial lip-service to traditional values and commonly-held views which most Southerners shared. But in action many leaders of the Republican Party, including a new crop of home-grown Southern GOP politicos (think here of Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of the thoroughly “red” state of South Carolina), had traveled much further to the definable political and social Left, further than many Southern folk realized, even as many blindly followed along.
“I’d vote for the town drunk if he ran on the…Republican…ticket!” And how many times do we hear: “I HAVE to vote for the GOP candidate, even if he is terrible, since the Democrat is even worse”?)
It should have been apparent when Graham urged the removal of Confederate symbols from the South Carolina Capitol (“The flag had to come down. And thank God it has!”), or when he (and other Southern GOP leaders) essentially endorsed same sex marriage. But they are just the tip of the political iceberg, the chameleons who inveigle far too many Southern conservatives.
Influenced profoundly by the feculent remnants of a zealous Trotskyite globalism and its radical commitment to an expanding concept of “civil rights” (same sex marriage, transgenderism, etc. are now increasingly acceptable among conservative elites), and by a constant diet of Neoconservative commentary spouted by Fox News, Newsmax, and so-called “conservative” talk radio, incorporating that template, in large part Southern Republicanism and establishment Southern “conservatives” have become largely indistinguishable from their Northern brethren.
How many times each day do we hear representatives of what Old Right scholar Paul Gottfried calls “Con Inc.”—Establishment Conservatism—praise the legacy of radical Frederick Douglass or the “vision” of Communist-inspired Martin Luther King Jr.? Victor Davis Hanson, Mark Levin and Brian Kilmeade on Fox, Rich Lowry at National Review, Michael Anton and cohorts at the Claremont Institute, Larry Arnn at Hillsdale College—you take your pick: they all condemn the historic South, its traditions and heritage. They all accept a warmed-over and refashioned post-Marxist globalism and expansive view of “rights,” even if they also support Donald Trump.
It’s a vision that has no room for Confederate symbols and monuments. It’s a vision that has led almost all Southern Republican solons in Congress to vote to do away with names of American military installations and forts if they bear the names of Confederate generals (or slaveholders).
It is, in fact, a Neo-Reconstruction, this time led by our supposed defenders who came to power when the old Democrat Party went bad. But, as we now find, the Leopard has not changed its spots. Despite all the pious campaign promises for this and for that, despite the soothing words of assurance and the pledges to defend what is left of our traditions and heritage, slowly at first and now more rapidly, our reputed defenders have, when not poisoning progressively our minds and outlook, delivered us over to those very enemies, those very forces that seek our elimination and extermination.
I never tire of quoting the great Southern writer, Robert Lewis Dabney’s superb description of “establishment conservatives,” written 140 years ago, but absolutely applicable today.
Here is what he wrote:
“This is a party [established conservativism] which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is to-day one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will to-morrow be forced upon its timidity, and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it he salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious, for the sake of the truth, and has no idea of being guilty of the folly of martyrdom. It always—when about to enter a protest—very blandly informs the wild beast whose path it essays to stop, that its ‘bark is worse than its bite,’ and that it only means to save its manners by enacting its decent rôle of resistance. The only practical purpose which it now subserves in American politics is to give enough exercise to Radicalism to keep it ‘in wind,’ and to prevent its becoming pursy and lazy from having nothing to whip."
How true, how prescient, how totally and equally valid today in 2021!
Until Southern folk conscious of their heritage and traditions comprehend what has and is occurring, until they—we—become far more discerning and willing to stand forth and demand an accounting, the same rot, the same inevitable hemorrhaging, the same putrefaction of the South we love, the South we remember, the South now rapidly slipping away, will continue. The efforts of such enterprises as The Abbeville Institute, Clyde Wilson’s Reckonin.com, journals such as Chronicles Magazine are laudable and to be strongly encouraged, but they are still far from being well known.
Every Southerner, aware of who he is, “remembering who we are,” to use the late Mel Bradford’s phrase, should become a true missionary for a re-conversion of “our people” before that becomes an impossibility in the Behemoth State we now inhabit.
The pro-Southern poet Robert Lee Frost, in his poem “The Black Cottage,” sums up both our hope and our task:
That must be our task, our role: to keep alive our heritage, our past, our memory, to rededicate ourselves “to the truths we keep coming back and back to,” before our Ancestors and before Almighty God.
Author's note: I urge you to read Ron Kennedy’s latest commentary (link below), on the continuing treason of our elected leaders, Southern Republicans, who joined with Democrats to rid Statuary Hall in the US Capitol of all Confederates and “racists.” Until we rise up and denounce them, and defeat them, this will continue…and time is becoming our enemy:
This piece was previously published on MyCorner on July 13, 2021.
The Federalist Magazine, Abraham Lincoln, and the Misinterpretation of American History
The Federalist online magazine has a problem. It’s a condition that characterizes and infects almost the entirety of the present national conservative media.
This hit home for me on May 31, in an essay by Leslie McAdoo Gordon. Founded in 2013 by Ben Domenech, thefederalist.com it is not connected to The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, which is composed of conservatives and libertarians dedicated to reforming the current legal order.
I read thefederalist.com webzine almost every day, and occasionally it is the source for items of value and good information. But Gordon’s ill-informed attack on Confederate iconography was not one of them.
Peddled as a defense of retaining “Antietam” as the name of an American naval vessel, she begins her piece: “There is a move these days to revisit our monuments and the names we choose to publicly honor. This movement is good and just. It is a sign of our mature democracy that we can choose to stop honoring things that do not reflect our American ideals and celebrate those that do,” including rejecting anything related to the Confederacy.
Honoring and celebrating the history and symbols of the old South, once a common occurrence in the pages of the conservative quarterly Modern Age or in National Review, are now verboten, beyond the pale. General Robert E. Lee, praised by President Eisenhower in 1960 as “one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation...noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history,” is now exiled from the conservative pantheon, as is anything memorializing or commemorating Confederate heroes and iconography. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Colonel John “the Gray Ghost” Mosby, General Nathan Bedford Forrest—are now canceled, their monuments ingloriously pulled down, and their exploits stricken from textbooks, or worse, treated like depredations of Nazi fanatics.
Like most established conservative media organizations, thefederalist.com appears to be part of what Paul Gottfried calls “ConInc.,” that is, the stagnated national conservative bureaucracy, centered in Washington DC, dominated by Neoconservatives, and more concerned about not rocking the boat too much so as not to be attacked by the frenzied Left as “racist” or protecting “white supremacy”—or perhaps being taken off the A-List of invitees to posh DC social events and soirees.
Perhaps the worst thing is to be a traditional or paleo- conservative type, most especially a representative of Southern traditionalism like the late Mel Bradford (who was unceremoniously dropped from National Review and whose nomination to head the National Endowment for the Humanities was torpedoed by the Neoconservatives) or Dr. Clyde Wilson (the world’s greatest authority on John C. Calhoun).
Now, whether hurled at us every night by Fox News, like bilge spewed from a broken drainage pipe, or screaming at us from the scurrilous pens of a Victor David Hanson, Rich Lowry, or Brian Kilmeade, our new icons to whom we must pay obsequious homage are Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Frederick Douglass. I would argue strenuously that none of these personalities was a real conservative; indeed, I would suggest that they were revolutionaries who assisted in corrupting our original Constitution, which the Federalist Society professes to defend. An older generation of conservatives—a Russell Kirk, a Stephen Tonsor, a Peter Stanlis—understood this.
Gordon’s essay of Memorial Day shows up in thefederalist.com’s daily assortment of essays where she is eager to present what she asserts is the “correct” interpretation of what battles like Antietam (AKA “Sharpsburg”) and Gettysburg were all about, what they mean. They “seared into the nation’s consciousness the immense human sacrifice her people were offering on the altars of union and universal freedom. Make no mistake, these Union soldiers died ‘to make men free’.” And then quoting from the ballad, “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” she ends with a flourish: “The people of the Union in the 1860s knew well what Antietam stood for”: to free the slaves.
That proposition is false and demonstrates Gordon’s basic ignorance of both American history and Lincoln’s enunciated war goals. From the very beginning of the war he saw the conflict as a battle over the interpretation of the Constitution and states’ rights. He stated this forthrightly to Horace Greeley, of The New York Tribune, on August 22, 1861, only a few months before the “Emancipation Proclamation”:
“If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union”
As is abundantly clear from the press of the period, a large majority of Northerners would not have supported a “war to free the slaves.” Lincoln knew that. The “Emancipation Proclamation” of January 1, 1863 only extended to states of the Confederacy not controlled by Federal arms. Thus, where it was intended to apply it could not free not a single slave, but it did not apply to the several Border slave states where it could have freed the slaves. It was, as Lincoln indirectly confirms, a propaganda measure, intended to buoy up sagging support for the war both internationally and among more abolition-minded citizens.
In more recent times especially the Neoconservatives and followers of academic Harry Jaffa have latched onto Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” (November 19, 1863), attempting essentially to amend by sleight-of-hand our understanding of the original Constitution and inserting a clause from the Declaration of Independence, via Lincoln, to the effect that “(f)our score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” In other words, 1776 was the real founding of the United States and that five little words define us, our history, and our goals as a people. It was a radical assertion greeted even at the time by many in the Northern press as “a perversion of history so flagrant that the extended charity cannot regard it as otherwise than willful.” It remains so today.
Leslie Gordon apparently accepts this fraudulent view of history. Ironically, in so doing, she like other Neocons who assert equality as America’s founding principle, places herself over with the progressivist vision of the country. For they also maintain that egalitarianism is the American “proposition,” the difference being that while establishment conservatives like Gordon believe we have substantially achieved the desired equality uttered in poetic terms in 1776 by what is basically a propaganda document stating American grievances against King George and the reasons for separation, the progressive Left sees equality as an always elusive goal, requiring continual government action to insure what is called “equity.”
The words recently written by David P. Goldman about such “conservatism” ring ever so true: “their ideology is a sort of right-wing Marxism,” with an origin philosophically in the not-so-distant past on the Trotskyite Left. And a movement based on what is essentially the same foundation as its supposed opposition is hobbled and fatally flawed from the beginning. It will always succumb to the greater logic and conviction of its progressivist enemies who will always out-promise and out-argue its votaries.
Such a movement has little room for defenders of a Lee or Calhoun and those who rejected the idea of a “proposition nation” and understood that the United States was not founded on an idea, but on the concrete reality of families who brought their traditions and beliefs with them to a new land, created a new country, and made it their own.
This piece was originally published at MyCorner.com on June 3, 2021.
Seventy-six years ago, on May 8, 1945, at 2301 hours, Central European Time, World War II in Europe officially ended. Although the war would continue in the Pacific Theatre for several more months, May 8 marked the dramatic end of what was certainly the most horrific and disastrous land war in history. European culture was changed irrevocably. A civilization which had survived the devastation and depopulation of the Thirty Years War, the horrors of the French Revolution and Napoleon, and then the calamity of the Great War of 1914-1918, now witnessed a kind of final collapse, a coup de grace by which its politics, its history, its traditions, its very mode of viewing the world were undone.
Those millennial traditions and inherited beliefs, that time-honored culture, that understanding of how societies function and properly exist so identified with Europe—what remained of that, after the catastrophe of the First World War—was now overwhelmed, subsumed into a new reality dominated by competing blocs: the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its Communist satraps. Both spoke often and loudly of democracy and equality; both projected global visions for the world. Their definitions were, of course, different. But both had the cumulative effect of exiling older terminologies and language, and, in practice how Europe and the rest of the world should be organized and governed, and what principles and beliefs should be held dear.
In their conquered zones the Soviets, of course, did their best for the next forty-plus years to extinguish long-standing religious belief and a Western and Christian culture that dated back at least to Charlemagne’s coronation in Rome on Christmas Day, 800 A.D. But in an ironic way, Communist oppression only covered over that legacy and those inherited traditions and faith. The persecution did not extinguish that heritage; it survived intact, often just below the surface, to emerge fully vibrant in such countries as Hungary, Poland, and Russia after the fall of Communism in 1989-1991. And in some fascinating ways what the break-up and disappearance of the Soviet system revealed was that its totalitarian rule had served as kind of prophylaxis which not only kept its “captive nations” superficially docile, but also protected them against the more radical and life-altering vision of a Pax Americana from the West.
This last statement deserves explanation. The Marshall Plan and American insistence on disauthorizing older more conservative and traditional elements in Western Europe—during the same period as the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe—had profound cultural and educational effects. Whereas Soviet domination was unable to uproot an older religious faith and culture in its areas of hegemony—and, in reality, those forces were to play a significant role in its eventual overthrow—in countries like Germany, France, and Italy the transformation imposed by the United States was more profound and pervasive, and the resistance to change far less resilient.
Essentially, American global policy placed nebulous values of equality and liberal democracy ahead of allegiance to country, or, rather, insisted that allegiance to country was coterminous with acceptance of American style democracy and equality as absolutes. Of course, the rationale for this was an initially legitimate and real opposition to world Communism—our American “ideology” against theirs, our ideals against the Red menace. But in its post-war role America became the “exceptional nation,” and soon assumed the duty to go round the world and impose those ideas and that vision of democracy and equality on other, unenlightened or recalcitrant countries. To use the words of Neoconservative author Allan Bloom (in his The Closing of the American Mind): “And when we Americans speak seriously about politics we mean that our principles of freedom and equality and the rights based on them are rational and everywhere applicable.” Americans thus engaged in “an educational experiment undertaken to force those who do not accept these principles to do so.” (Quoted in Paul Gottfried, War and Democracy, 2012, p. 110)
In so doing our policy-makers, given free run for decades, not only attempted to impose a kind of global “world faith” which would subvert regional identities and national traditions abroad, but also strengthened and cemented the growth of what James Burnham and Sam Francis would call “the managerial state” at home.
It was the fulfillment of the prophetic words of General Robert E. Lee after the War for Southern Independence and the resultant radical bowdlerization of the United States Constitution: the America cobbled together in 1787 would henceforth be set upon a path “aggressive abroad and despotic at home.”
If World War II signaled the final eclipse of the British Empire—a decline actually begun through the exhaustion and destruction of the Great War—it also signaled the advent of the American colossus. And despite a spirited challenge from world Communism, it was the American side which would finally emerge triumphant.
But the seeds of our decline were already present and germinating; indeed, they had been there since those fateful days in 1865.
There is little said by Abraham Lincoln with which I can agree. But I do concur with the words he spoke in Springfield, June 16, 1858: “A nation divided against itself, cannot stand.” And so, just as the unsuspected election of Donald Trump in 2016 indicated rising and serious doubts about American universalism in the world, if ever so slightly, it also uncovered giant fissures and raw divisions between populations not only incapable of speaking to or understanding each other, but in fact, incapable of finding agreement over basic definitions of what is good and true. Expressions such as “systemic racism,” “sexism,” “white supremacy,” and “police brutality” have been deployed as verbal cluster bombs used to disable, cancel, and ultimately vanquish all opposition to the rapidly advancing liquidation of those remnants of Western civilization and culture which somehow escaped the post-war dissolution.
May 8, 1945, and the Potsdam Agreement later that August, while representing the end of mankind’s worst land war and the (brief) triumph of a Pax Americana, foretold the eventual triumph of progressivist neo-Marxism and the demise of the “American Century.” The Framers of the American Constitution in 1787 were not granted a divine guarantee that the confederation they cobbled together would last forever. It was, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “a republic if you can keep it.”
That republic has not been maintained. The time for dissolution and separation is at hand.
Abraham Lincoln has become, for most mainline conservatives, an icon, and, along with Martin Luther King, Jr., no opportunity is lost—it seems—on Fox News or in the establishment “conservative press,” to stress just how much conservatively-minded Americans owe to these two canonized martyrs. Any demurer, any dissent or disagreement, brings forth condemnations of the complainant as a “racist” or “reactionary,” or worse, maybe some Southern redneck hick who hides his old Klan robe but keeps it at the ready.
During the past fifty or so years the old Southern Democratic Party has virtually disappeared, died out, as millions of conservative Southerners, many motivated by their sincere religious faith and resistance to radical and unnatural change, migrated to the Republican Party. The GOP, beginning in the Nixon years, employed what was called a “Southern strategy,” largely elaborated by consultant Kevin Phillips and spelled out most clearly in his volume, The Emerging Republican Majority (1969). GOP spokesmen learned to speak a language and offer symbols that millions of Southerner found attractive, even compelling.
Not only that, but early on the election of former-Democrat Jesse Helms as a Republican US senator from North Carolina (1972), with his huge following of “Jessecrats”—mostly Democrats or soon-to-be former Democrats—and the conversion of political leaders like South Carolina’s Senator Strom Thurmond, turned what had been a trickle into a kind of stampede into the ranks of what had hitherto been seen as the discredited vehicle of the Reconstruction.
But this new home, this refuge from the increasingly liberal, left-leaning modern Democratic Party, would not be for Southerners a recreation of the type of familial, regional and traditional conservatism which they had been accustomed to. Increasingly as the 1980s and 1990s progressed, the older traditional Southern conservatism, with its enduring devotion to its Confederate heritage and its illustrious catalogue of admirable statesmen and heroes, first became downgraded, then finally largely despised by both a national conservative movement and national Republican Party dominated by ideologues who were self-denominated “neoconservatives.”
These former Leftists—in the main ex-Trotskyite Marxists who migrated into the conservative movement and the GOP—with their mastery of communications and conservative media, and their unswerving zeal which arguably was a carry-over from their days advocating for a kind of Trotskyite universalism, soon vanquished the older, much more inviting and older conservatism. Where once the “conservative movement”—as exemplified by a Dr. Russell Kirk—welcomed traditionalist Southerners; and where once the national Republican Party accepted a Senator Helms and or Senator Thurmond and conferred on them positions of authority; now with the zealous neoconservatives seizing control of both the movement and the party, older icons—whether a Robert E. Lee (so praised once by President Eisenhower) or a John C. Calhoun (given status as one of America’s great conservative minds by Kirk) were shown the door, even condemned as “racists,” often paralleling accusations made by those on the further Left.
New heroes and models were erected, and in the place of a Lee or Calhoun, Abe Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., were pronounced as the conservative and Republican models for Americans…and for Southerners. Indeed, arguably the specter of Lincoln had never been far from Republican mythology. But at first, as Southern traditionalists streamed into the GOP, it seemed that there might be some co-existence with the party of Calhoun and his descendants.
But it was not to be. At venues such as the formerly-conservative magazine of record, National Review, brilliant Southerners like Mel Bradford were shown the door and unceremoniously removed as contributors. Gone were the days when founding editor of the Modern Age quarterly, Russell Kirk, could dedicate an entire issue to the South and an appreciation of Southern traditions (cf. Modern Age, Fall 1958 issue).
Indeed, National Review led the Never Trump charge in 2016, suspecting darkly that the MAGA movement was a not-so-subtle attempt of unreconstructed Southerners and (largely marginalized) Old Rightists to regain control of what Paul Gottfried has called “Con Inc.”—both the modern conservative movement and the national Republican Party.
That battle continues, and it continues not just politically since the election back in 2016 of Donald Trump (who probably didn’t realize the full import of his initial success). For it is at base a contest of fundamental ideas about what is a country—what is our country—and the role and position of the American South in (and outside) of that geographical entity we call the United States.
For the most part, the neoconservatives still control “Con Inc.” Every night on Fox News or Newsmax one is likely to see a Nikki Haley, Jonah Goldberg or Victor Davis Hanson (he who praised Sherman’s blitzkrieg through South Carolina as exemplary and a “good thing for South Carolinians—they deserved it!”). Save for occasional minutes on the Tucker Carlson Tonight program, a continual drumbeat for “equality” as the central principle—the essential element in what is termed “American exceptionalism”—is heralded as undebatable. Globalism—a key tenet of neoconservative (and Trotskyite) thought—marinates conservative news coverage. And, of course, Lincoln and King have been turned into plaster, canonized “conservative” saints, untouchable, undefilable. Monuments to Confederate heroes, indeed, symbols of most anything honoring Southern tradition are shunned and now condemned…perhaps not as hysterically or “woke” as by the demonic denizens of the far Left, but certainly the targets are the same.
The words recently written by David P. Goldman ring, in retrospect, ever so true: Now under Biden the neoconservatives, partially sidelined under Trump, are back. And “their ideology is a sort of right-wing Marxism,” which definitely has no room whatsoever for defenders of a Lee or Calhoun and those who reject the idea of a “proposition nation,” those in opposition to across the board domestic and global equality and imposed universal democracy. To paraphrase the Kennedy brothers, Ronald and Donald, who in turn quote General Lee, this is the legacy of Lincoln: a country "aggressive abroad and despotic at home," now conjoined with the evangelical zeal of the neocons.
There are few print magazines left that boldly and intelligently oppose the dominant neoconservative vision of America and the world with its increasingly explicit rejection of a Kirkian Old Right conservatism that once-welcomed defenders of Southern heritage and tradition. The most significant is Chronicles magazine.
In the April/May issue, the magazine took pains to answer some questions of newer readers regarding the differences between traditional conservatism and the newer ersatz neocon version, which although at times appearing to defend what Kirk once called “the verities,” is in reality exactly how Goldman described it: a warmed over, right wing re-incarnation of Trotskyite globalism, anti-Communist—yes, but inimical to the older traditions and inherited beliefs of both Southerners and other Americans, concerning not just the nature of these United States, but about the very founding and creation of it.
The editors at Chronicles, in response to several letters inquiring about these differences, which, I would suggest, are fundamental to our understanding of our history as well as our current politics, have offered a somewhat detailed answer. And that answer also admirably offers a critique of Lincoln and his disastrous legacy in both America and in the world.
With the permission of the Chronicles editors (Paul Gottfried and Ed Welsch), I offer their full explanation and response. I believe it is an excellent summation of what defines so-called “Con Inc.” is today, the stark cleavages that separate members of the Old Right and traditional Southern conservatives from the dominant neocon globalists, and the dastardly role of Father Abraham in unleashing successive devastation on America and eventually the world.
That same issue, April/May, includes a superb analysis by the Abbeville Institute’s Dr. Brion McClanahan of both the “1619 Project” and the “1776 Commission” counter-project (initiated unfortunately under Trump). Both emit from the same fetid swamp that assures us that America is founded on a “proposition”: the principle of universal equality. The editors end their response with a gloss from Bruce Frohnen, summing up the late Wilmoore Kendall and George Carey (in Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition, 1971): “…any principle is a dangerous thing for any tradition to take as its common, collective goal. Traditions, societies, peoples, are not dedicated to principles. Ideologies are dedicated to principles. And ideologies are the motive force for armies and for campaigns to punish heretics and enforce a uniformity of life that spells death for human variety and living tradition."
The critical analysis of Lincoln and his inheritance is something all Southerners should read.
This piece was previously published on MyCorner on April 27, 2021.
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.