Regarding Afghanistan. There is nothing to say that has not been said better by those, both believers and heretics, better versed in the theology of the “American century,” the “rules-based world order” over which the “indispensable nation” has presided since the largely peaceful dismantling of the godless authority in Russia. And with what such shambolic and shameful consequence: the collapse of a bargain-bin Roman Empire as imagined by a screenwriters with the mental horizons sense of pornographers. That the “last, best hope of mankind” is incompetent, ineffective, corrupt, vicious, stupid, cowardly before foes and treacherous to friends should come as no surprise, particularly to that portion of the population – a not-insignificant one, perhaps even a plurality – whose memories and monuments it is desecrating. And upon whom it has declared war.
For the record: I was in the financial district on the morning of 9/11. A trading desk on the 47th floor of a skyscraper; it shuddered when the planes struck the Trade Center. I saw the gaping axe-wound in the side of the South Tower and reams of paper, gilded by the bright late-summer sun, spiraling against a sky of perfect blue. Like millions in America, I bellowed for the head of bin Laden, cheered on the invasion of Afghanistan, “stood with” our heroes in camouflage. A cousin was killed in Iraq, at the second storming of Fallujah; another cousin, his brain literally shaken by Taliban IEDs that burst beneath his Bradley Fighting Vehicle, still struggles with PTSD. And twenty years later I “stand with” the Biden collective’s decision to scurry, like roaches in the kitchen when you turn on the lights, from the “grave of empires.” And God forgive me, my soul swims in a swamp of “schadenfreude” as murky and grim as the Atchafalaya in winter, if I may deploy that wonderful German word describing the satisfaction that comes from the humiliation of a contemptible foe. It would seem that the imperial haruspices – I mean you, Walter Russell Mead, and you as well, V.D. Hanson, Bill Kristol, David Frum, Charles Krauthammer, all of you – misread the entrails on the altar, the divine mandate to “trample out the vintage” of democratic capitalism against foes sneeringly described as stone-age goatherds.
Looks like the antique traditions of these tribal primitives, and their devotion to Allah, girded them with a courage, strength and resolution utterly unimaginable in the United States.
The pathetic spectacle, and the quivering jellylike caruncles of American military men (let us recall that the likes of David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal solicited Twitter likes by denouncing General Robert E. Lee as a “traitor”) must be seen in the context of the “national holiday” that still lands (but for how long?) in the first week of July. Between advertisements for once-in-a-lifetime savings on flat-screen TVs, Chinese lounge chairs and i-devices “designed in California” the general public was ecstatically informed by the usual lot of hectoring commissars that the American flag – “Old Glory,” the “Stars and Stripes” – is as racist, white supremacist and all the other unspeakable “ists” as the banner of the Confederacy. It must needs be replaced, post-haste, just as Francis Scott Key’s hoary jingle was largely discarded for “Let Every Voice Sing.” And why not? Times and values change, do they not? “There is no resting place, no final destination for this process. The real goal of Anglo-American civilization is to get the permanent revolution well and truly underway. We are launching a space ship, not building a rest home.”
That flag, their flag – beneath which Sherman’s hordes plundered, burned and raped their way through Georgia, beneath which the ruined South became a captive producer of raw materials and a nursery of infantrymen for the schemes of Washington and New York – never commanded my allegiance. Its degradation troubled me not in the least. The revolution – Lincoln’s revolution, the revolution of equality, of the propositional abstractions, of the word-games of the intellectuals – is devouring its own; that flag of theirs is just an amuse-bouche.
And yet, and yet. I’ve got perfectly good reasons to reject their flag. But it’s another thing entirely when Old Glory is trampled underfoot by those who have benefited the most from its “dedication to the proposition that all men are created equal.” And for hundreds of millions – no few of which are here in the South – that banner doesn’t represent an invading army, a colonial oppressor, a Tupperware of warmed-over John Locke that smells a bit suspicious. No, it stands for the primordial loyalties of family and home. One remembers New York’s Hard Hat Riots of the early Seventies, when construction workers waved it defiantly against leftist anti-war protestors, Columbia and Yale and Harvard students pandered to and cheered on by Republican Mayor John Lindsay. The hard hats were primarily Irish and Italian, the “wretched refuse” of the outerboroughs, held in utmost contempt by their Northeastern private school overlords, who with rural Southerners dominated the combats units deployed into the steaming deltas of the Mekong.
My closest friends during my time in New York City – and they remain my closest friends – were Irish. They, and the Irish in general, are as brave, loyal, noble, charitable, honorable and hospitable a people as God has ever created. My friends, like me, were a generation or two separated from the backbreaking, dirty work of the factory and the farm; their fathers had been tradesmen or cops or firemen; they’d been the first of the family to go to college and many had memories of what brought them to these shores: the “Great Hunger,” the famine of the 1840s. For them, the American flag meant, literally, life, and a better life for their posterity. For them, the “American dream” was not the invention of Edward Bernays or Voice of America propagandists. It would be uncharitable to sneer at their devotion to the Stars and Stripes and to the nation that opened its arms to them. Just as one cannot easily dismiss the American flags that decorate millions of front yards and porches throughout the conquered South.
Indeed, the American flag has become nothing less than a symbol of defiance – a sign of the realization that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Could it be that the sons of Confederate veterans and Union privates, the descendants of the peasants of Georgia and Alabama and Louisiana and of Galway, Cork and Tipperary – and Northumberland, and East Anglia, and Mercia and Wessex and Wales and Cornwall, and of Lazio, Campania and Sicily, of Bavaria and Saxony and the Rhineland, all the men of the West – will unite against that that horned beast in Washington?
Many on the “right” – our friends and neighbors, who contribute dutifully to the campaign coffers of Jon Cormyn, Ted Cruz, Dan Crenshaw, Lindsay Graham – sincerely believe that (as suggested by various polls) that the Democrats, the party of the “real racists,” will be wiped out in the midterms, that an inevitable backlash will cleanse the Augean stables of Congress. And that a “restoration of the republic” will then commence.
Unfortunately, there is nothing to restore. Some of our friends are beginning to conclude, as many have many Southerners, that the state of these United States in the current year is the inevitable and entirely predictable consequence of the demon discovered in the “Founding Documents” and unleashed – first on the South, and since then upon the world – by Lincoln, and amplified first by America’s industrial might, and more lately and with far more baleful effect, by its totalitarian control of what was once known as “culture.”
Wilmore Kendall is quite correct that Lincoln’s elevation of “equality” as the teleological purpose of the American nation represented a derailment of what the Founders had in mind. But the assumptions of the Enlightenment larded throughout their various compositions provided him with the necessary tools.
In Dostoevsky’s novel Demons, the socialist Liputin – a “miser and moneylender,” a “crude family despot” who “locked up candle ends and the leftovers from dinner” and who is yet a “fierce sectarian of God knows what future ‘social harmony,’” bleats of the “universal human language,” “the language of the universally human social republic and harmony.” Stavrogin, the icy nihilist, laughs in his face. “Pah, the devil, but there is no such language!”
“There is no such language.” Dostoevsky meant the Enlightenment’s toxic phantasmagoria that made corrupt, sinful and arrogant man the measure of all things, the smirking atheism of the philosophes that thought to show God the door and liberate mankind from the idiocies of Tradition and make him a “citoyen du monde civilise” – in other words, reconstitute the being of man and the foundations of the life in the world. We should be grateful that the Founders’ Enlightenment was the English version, and thus less bloodthirsty than that of the French, or of the Marxist derivatives imported to Russia. Yes, there is much to admire about the Founders; but we must admit that the “founding” was the production of men educated in and reliant upon the philosophical principles of the Enlightenment. We can joust with footnotes until we’re blue on the question of the Founders’ embrace, or rejection, of the Calvinist Protestantism they brought from England, but it is undeniable that the God of the Founding Documents – “nature’s God” – is the God of the philosophers, the encyclopedists, the God of the watchmaker, the God of human abstractions.
Men have forgotten God, Solzhenitsyn said. And nowhere has God been more forgotten and with more apparent success than in the brutalist concrete and steel and bulletproof glass of American economic and cultural power, a process that began with Lincoln’s gnostic proposition of equality in the name of a “new nation” leavened by the blood and destruction of the South. Lincoln replaced God with an Enlightenment fiction, and made a God of the “Union,” a God that would, supported the wealth of the continent and the ingenuity of the people, bend that arc of History toward Justice. “Teleocratic politics,” in the words of Michael Oakeshott, an indefinable abstraction the highest “moral law.” With justice defined as the herding of humanity, at the point of bayonet or the lure of lucre and convenience provision of consumer products, toward the triumph of unfettered individual desire over duty, family, homeland and all of the old loyalties.
The American God – the invention, the idol, the Moloch of Enlightenment philosophes – is unnatural, unhuman, anti-human. It rejects the hard-won wisdom of the ages; it sneers at tradition; its Jerusalem is the neon-lit City of Man, a sort of Supermall of America. The Pilgrim’s Progress of the United States is the coming of Christian to the City, where, cheered on by Mr. Diversity, Mr. Inclusion and Mr. Equity, he casts off the old gods and the old ways, changes his blood and reconstitutes his being according to the prevailing perversions and degeneracies. “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” Is the growing popularity of Satanism in the United States any surprise at all?
“What is all our histories, but God showing himself, shaking and trampling on everything he has not planted?” Oliver Cromwell once said. The Puritans get a lot of grief, much of it undeserved – their New England Unitarian and Transcendentalist descendants, deluded by Hegelian notions of the World-Spirit, are the proper objects of ire – but one cannot accuse the colonel of the Ironsides and Lord-General of the New Model Army of lacking humility before the majesty and honor of God.
I humbly suggest that a return to the “principles of the Founders” is no solution.
We cannot, we are told, recover the past, return to some old Arcadia. But we can recover the old wisdom, the virtues of our fathers.
An Anglo-Saxon poet, one of our distant fathers, described a battle between the his people and the Vikings in 991 at Maldon near the Blackwater River in Essex. Byrhtnoth, the Saxon Ealdorman of Essex, is cut down by Viking swords. The shield-wall breaks; the Saxons begin to flee. Then the warrior Aelfwine stands and rallies the warriors. Aelfwine speaks:
“Remember the speeches we bravely shared
“I will make known my lineage to all of you.”
Aelfwine does not thunder abstractions; he does not urge his Saxon comrades to fight in the name of liberty, justice, equality, freedom, diversity, inclusion, equity or individual rights and personal autonomy. He rallies them by reminding them of who they are, and of the loyalties and duties owed to their lineage, and to their posterity. To their homes, to their land, to their people.
“I will make known my lineage to all of you.” This would be incomprehensible to the likes of Mark Milley, David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal. But not to General Robert E. Lee, nor for the soldiers he led in battle. It’s no wonder they want to desecrate their monuments and dishonor their memory.
“I will make known my lineage to all of you.” This is tradition and it speaks to the mystic means by which we are composed of our past, guided by it, and owe a debt of honor to it – not the least of which is its transmission to our children When God spoke to Moses, He identified himself as the God of the Fathers. When Christ transfigured before the Disciples on Mount Tabor, with Him were Moses and Elijah – men, not principles, propositions or abstractions, but the prophets of the God of the Fathers.
Aelfine’s words are a trumpet-peal of clear and almost unimaginable purity over the wreck, ruin and corruption of this dark, murderous and disgraceful age.
We need to have done with abstractions, with ideals, with principles and propositions. First and foremost, we need the recovery of what the great beast has sought to take from us. There is darkness in the Old English poetry – a confession, with all humility, that “life is on loan”. In the words of The Wanderer:
Raging storms crash against stone-cliffs;
But there is honor and duty and courage, there is loyalty to our ancestors and to our posterity, and there is the God of our fathers, who stands in judgment over all of history and all of our deeds. And although darkness may seem to prevail, it too is fleeting and it too shall pass. As General Lee wrote:
The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.”
Let us, like Aelfwine, make known our lineage, and let us, with General Lee, maintain our hope.
And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountain of waters; and the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. Revelations 8:10-11
Having concluded some affairs in nearby Bristol, I drove to Asheville, there to observe the desecration of the century-old memorial to Zebulon Vance, governor of North Carolina during the War of Northern Aggression. Asheville, known to some as the “Paris of the South” is one of the few cities in the South with global name-recognition. Once, stuck in an elevator between floors eight and nine of Mumbai office tower, I struck up a conversation with a fellow sufferer, a Dutchman from The Hague. He and his partner were planning a summer “trek,” he said, there to sample the craft beers (Asheville has more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city). What could I please recommend?
Alas, I was unable to illuminate my Dutch friend. I’ve passed through Asheville any number of times, but never surrendered to its charms, as did the robber baron Vanderbilts, who there threw up the Biltmore, a counterfeit French chateau and “America’s Largest Home ™.” (“No other residence in America offers a more authentic and inspiring view of Gilded Age life,” the website breathlessly proclaims; tickets are $96 for the “Enhanced Experience” and $304 for the “Executive Experience.” That extra $208 lets you inspect the servant quarters.) Tourism (the minor league baseball team is called the Tourists) has been the lifeblood of Asheville since at least 1880, when the railroads came through, providing urbanites with a means of trading the "dark Satanic mills” of the then-industrial North for the clean air of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Those weekends have stretched into lifetimes over the last decades. The population has exploded some 25% since 2000, driven largely by a uniquely American type. Asheville is the “Fourth Most Hipster City “ in America, according to a web site called Thrillist, “where you’re likely taking a long hike in the mountains to ‘find yourself’ or sitting on your front porch in a handmade rocking chair you whittled while watching Girls on your iPad.” “Delicious local craft suds” and “Asheville’s solid beer scene” are also celebrated. What goes unmentioned is the horrible highway system. Each road in, around and through Asheville carries three to five numerical and two to three directional designations. Perhaps the intention is to force the passer-through into one of Asheville’s more than 100 hotels and relieve stress with a growler of hoppy IPA.
So I didn’t make it to Park Square, where at the time of writing the disassembled monument rests on pallets, an appeals court having ordered the city to cease its desecration. And realizing that a fresh gut of loathing toward the American system was not the best companion for a long drive through the backroads of the Deep South to Louisiana, I pulled into a fairground to get my bearings.
There were booths selling artisan jewelry, craft pickles, hand-dipped candles, gluten-free, dairy-free kosher/halal organic fudge, hand-thrown pottery, spirit catchers, wooden spoons. The Asheville Yoga Center, Asheville Community Yoga, West Asheville Yoga, Primal Studios and Namaste in Nature offered demonstrations and classes. The Bhrarami Brewing Co. poured suds, as did the Burial Beer Co., Catawba Brewing, Wedge Brewing and Wicked Weed Brewing. Black Lives Matter manifestos were available at a table overseen by a scowling critter (pronouns she/her, I think) with a Marine Corps haircut, Birkenstocks and a “Keep Asheville Weird” t-shirt beneath a pair of crisp overalls. Outside the fairway, an old farmer provided a demonstration of sheep shearing. I squeezed into a stereopticon of smart phones to observe.
The farmer, one of those bony, hard-muscled and bearded men who still define rural Appalachia, wore a sweat-stained Farm Credit ballcap, a Dickies short sleeve workshirt and worn workboots. He deployed double-bowed shears with practiced skill and answered questions, delivered by the videographers in characterless American newscaster English, in an accent thick with tobacco-bottoms and benchland cornfields. No, shearing did not hurt the sheep; no, the sheep did not die after shearing; yes, that pile of fleece is indeed wool; no, it has to be spin into yarn before it can be turned into your sweater; no, I do not personally knit; no, I can’t recommend the best local knitting workshop.
He lifted the sheep to his truck and pocketed his shears. The audience fled for the next sensation. He began bagging the fleece. I lingered. He looked at me wearily.
Do the questions all run that damn stupid? I said. Recognizing a fellow Southerner, he offered a wry half-smile.
Well, he said. He worked a plug of tobacco into his cheek. Well… he spat expertly into the print of a running shoe. Well, yes. They do.
What’s the dumbest? I said.
Well, he said. He spat again. Get a lot of people asking how long I been here. I tell them, Forever. They say, No, when did you move here; we’ve been here for ten years now. I tell them I didn’t move here, I was born here. My kids are seventh generation here. They still don’t get it. Still want to know when I moved here and where I came from. I finally tell them I came from England in 1628, but I didn't remember much of it. Had some woman tell me she was a native because she’s been here 17 years. Born in Massachusetts.
So where are they from? I asked.
He shrugged. Up North? Nowhere? I don’t know. They ain’t from here. Nobody here is from here any more.
I lived for many years in a place that I was not from: New York City, a neighborhood known for brownstone townhouses built as “country retreats” for Gilded Agers. Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed the Biltmore’s gardens, also authored a nearby municipal park. There were a lot of hipsters and 1968-vintage leftists. One childless couple – he a professor of education, she a social worker – owned the townhouse next to mine. They scowled when I told them I “did something in the bond market.” The professor, who in the evenings sat on his stoop sipping a craft beer from the neighborhood’s burgeoning array of craft beer retailers (police were once called to break up a fight over the difference between “winter” and “autumn” brews) always greeted me with “How much money did you make today?” in an exaggerated Southern accent. I answered him politely and, before he could escape, bored him senseless with the technical details of my day: triparty repo with the New York Fed, setting the spread for newly issued corporate debt with Treasury notes, arranging an MBS hedge with synthetic 5/10-year notes after an increase in prepay speeds. Eventually he came to tolerate me. I fed their aged cats and watered the marijuana plants in the upstairs bathroom when they split for weeks or months at their “country place” in, you guessed it, Asheville.
These expeditions were undertaken in a small Volvo sedan papered liberally with bumperstickers: COEXIST; YES WE CAN; OMG GOP WTF; WELL BEHAVED WOMEN RARELY MAKE HISTORY. My favorite was NO TEA PLEASE, I BELIEVE IN PROGRESS. This, of course, referenced the “Tea Party” movement that arose to bleat against Obama’s massive budgets in the first year of his presidency. It was quickly co-opted by the Republican Party and as quickly disappeared.
The bumpersticker amused in that it implied “Progress” is the sole proprietorship of the Democratic Party. Nothing could be further from the truth. Progress was the locomotive of the original Republican Party, forced down the nation’s throat and elevated to the status of an unassailable credo by the Republicans. It is implicit and more often than not explicit in the Jaffaite “propositional nation” twaddle that Republicans still desperately market despite its embarrassing failure out in the real world. The Democrats were late to the party, so to speak. Despite their former pretended concern for the urban proletariat, and current pretended concern for People of Color, the Democrats are as fanatical for Progress as the GOP. The only difference between the two is who gets robbed to pay for it.
So what is this Progress? Let us turn to Gold and Gold: Britain, America and the Making of the Modern World, authored by Walter Russell Mead and published in 2007. Mead, born in South Carolina, educated at Groton and Yale, is the “Global View Columnist” for the Wall Street Journal, Ravenel B. Curry III Distinguished Fellow in Strategy and Statesmanship at Hudson Institute and the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College in New York. Mr. Mead once served the Council on Foreign Relations as its Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy.
God and Gold explores the “meaning” of American power, Mead says. If you’re expecting a sober, mediation on the march of history and the fate of empires, look elsewhere. It’s certainly not a piece of historical investigation. It’s the sort of thing that might appear in a Davos or Bilderberg gift bag. Let’s imagine, instead, that fuming from getting hopelessly lost where Highway 19/23/240/28/74 splits into 240/74 and 19/23/28 on the right bank of the French Broad River, you step into the Bhrarami Brewing Co., 101 South Lexington Avenue, Asheville, NC (“creative lead” Gary Sernack “started home brewing in San Francisco”; “founder/executive chef” Josh Dillard once slung the hash at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago “and believes in community, locality and our environment”) to curse Asheville and your miserable fate. At the bar, a merry Falstaffian character, bearded and chunky, cheeks ruddy from five or more $6.00 pints of Your Zeros Look Like Sevens (Berliner Weisse with watermelon, cucumber, Meyer lemon, juniper and sea salt), strikes up a conversation. Is he going to bitch about the Tourists? No, your new friend Walter R. Mead – “call me Walt,” let’s pretend -- is going to unburden himself of Deep Profundities
The American system of “democratic capitalism,” old Walt commences, is nothing less than the “invisible hand” of Providence, steering the celestial locomotive of Progress along the tracks of History; Americans are the coal-stokers, blessed as they are with an “optimistic and abiding faith” that The United States is anointed by God to lead the backward-assed old earth “westward and upward.”
“Upward”? The world “is about to become a much better place,” your barroom buddy swears. A “higher standard of living,” less work, increased “comfort,” more disposable income to dispose on consumer goods. Westward? Unlike the British, who seemed primarily interested in making money and in their spare time exploring the Himalayas, compiling grammars of native languages, erecting buildings able to withstand the monsoon season and saving priceless antiquities from destruction, God anointed America with a “particular American twist that emphasizes the rise of freedom and equality.” Social change, Walt insists, is a “religious duty.”
“We must spread the principles that our higher power has vouchsafed to us,” Walt jabbers, poking you in the chest with one stubby finger. “We must empower and assist women abroad. The U.S. must ensure that women abroad have the right to family planning information and abortion on demand…” Now he’s pounding the bar; froth slops from his $6.00 pint of Tenome A Go Go (mixed culture rice farmhouse, lotus hops). “Our economists. . . spread the benefits of Anglo-American economies. . . Our military . . . professionalize and upgrade the militaries of other countries . . . The New Zion of the American university system is a light to the heathen all over the red states.”
As for those red staters – “devotees of tradition, partisans of various forms of cultural and identity politics” – Walt burps that their arguments “lack credibility in Western ears.” Those who resist the “invisible hand,” the “slow, sure and irresistible capitalist process” are “ghost dancers,” like the remnants of the once-mighty Sioux massacred by the U.S. Army at Wounded Knee. Don’t worry, old Walt assures you with a cunning wink and 80-proof chuckle. Change will come at a “slow and acceptable pace,” it will be “domesticated,” the “outlandish will become familiar before we must accept it.”
“The revolutionary transformation of the human condition by advancing technology is still in its early stages,” Walt babbles on, as though gaining a fresh head of steam by pounding a $6.00 pint of The Good Fight DDH Sour Pale Ale (hops: Cascade, Citra and Comet). “Hundreds of millions in China and India… faster and smarter computers… Tremendous surge in scientific discoveries…. Ever more flexible and deeper capital markets. . . more productive workforces . .. the cultures that dislike dynamic capitalism or are unable to manage it well will suffer even greater difficulties than they now face.”
The United States “wants a permanent revolution,” Mead roars. He’s starting to get belligerent; maybe it’s that $11.00 Pie Felicia cocktail (vodka, graham cracker, key lime, vanilla, coconut) brawling with the lotus hops down in his tummy. Josh and Gary peek out of the tap room; last thing they need is some souse ruining the environment for the craft beer tour group community. “There is no resting place, no final destination for this process,” Walt rages. “The real goal of Anglo-American civilization is to get the permanent revolution well and truly underway. We are launching a space ship, not building a rest home.”
Well, I don’t know, Walt. Maybe we ought cut that fire water with something? How about this Picked Egg; it’s only three bucks. Comes with hot sauce, orange marmalade, aioli, machismo -- whatever the hell that is – and a saltine cracker. How about it, buddy?
Not for Walt: “America will continue rushing forward!” he thunders. “However steep the slope or forbidding the terrain, bearing its banner with the strange device, Excelsior!”
At which the Ravenel B. Curry III Distinguished Fellow in Strategy and Statesmanship at Hudson Institute plants his face in the Cajun Spiced Boiled Peanuts ($6.00).
Gary and Josh demonstrate their concern for “our community”: bundle Walt into an Uber and dispatch it to the Omni Grove Park Inn (king bed, Cool Mountain Getaway Rate, $426/night). Let’s bid farewell to Bhramari’s staff of pierced and tatted hipsters and hit the streets of the Southern Paris, braving the banks of marijuana smoke, the shoals of threatening panhandlers, the tottering drunks and the brigades of buskers yodeling crappy Americana or, even worse, Bob Dylan. Asheville’s tribunes (the City Council, elected last year and seated in December, is “historic,” being all-female, an achievement attained “one hundred years after women earned the right to vote in America.” I’m sure old Walt’ll applaud once he tumbles from his $476 king bed and does something about that hangover; hair of the dog via room service, maybe) shared its own Deep Thoughts regarding the Vance memorial. Promulgated in February 2021, the PowerPoint can be found on the city’s web site.
The desecration project, we learn, began with “an inclusive community engagement plan focusing on those harmed and/or most negatively impacted by the Vance Monument.” Various electronic media – Facebook and Twitter -- were “established as a means for those most impacted, and other residents, to make sure their voices are heard.”
Should the monument be repurposed, to contribute to “community healing, assembly, unity, re-education, and become part of an African-American museum in Asheville”? No, spake the tribunes: this “may make some people unhappy,” and “fails to respond to the African-American and Black AVL Demands community calls for removal.” How about relocation? Absolutely not, the peoples’ representatives rule. That would “give weight to the power and control white people and the institutions they control have exerted over African Americans and other people of color.”
That leaves removal. Noting that the Buncombe County Health and Human Services Board has declared “racism a public health crisis,” the Paris of the South has no choice but to declare the monument a “risk to the health and safety of the community.”
“Removing the monument is an acknowledgement of our racist history and will allow our community the opportunity to move forward in unity,” the City prattles. “If the monument is left in its original form rather than completely removed or its materials not altered beyond recognition, it will continue to serve as a symbol of white supremacy to those most affected by its presence.”
And there’s this: “Our local economy relies on the millions of tourists who visit our community each year. If one goal of tourism officials and city and county government is to attract a diverse array of visitors, (and perhaps future residents), a monument to a Confederate general could turn away some, especially considering that population trends suggest the majority of Americans will be people of color within the next 50 years.”
Outside a Victor Davis Hanson essay, I do not think I’ve encountered so much flatulent stupidity in so small a word count. It almost seems ungentlemanly to break Asheville’s rainbow butterfly on the wheel of reaction, but as the Joker said, you get what you deserve.
Where do we begin? The memorial to a Confederate general certainly did not inhibit Mayor Esther Mannheimer, who is Jewish, relocating to Asheville from Denmark; nor Vice Mayor Sheneika Smith, Councilwoman Sandra Kilgore and Council Member Antanette Mosley (all black), from staying and, it would seem, thriving. As for “those most affected,” blacks make up about 12% of Asheville’s population. This compares to 55% in Natchez, Mississippi; 57% in Montgomery, Alabama; 61% in Monroe, Louisiana. This is not because white supremacist mountaineers undertook a campaign of terror with torches and white hoods, but because the topography of the Blue Ridge Mountains does not lend itself to cotton or sugar production. There is also the unremarked on fact that since 1865, the vast majority of Southerners, black and white, have been “equal” in their poverty.
In its simplest terms, the desecration reflects nothing more than the cynical need of the historic all-female Asheville City Council to Do Something Historic. What could be easier than align with the Democratic and Republican kakistrophy and destroy a monument to a man who refused to buy a ticket on the Republican choo-choo Upward and Westward? The historic all-female City Council cares not one whit for Vance; I’d bet cash money that a plurality would be unable to name the decade in the War for Southern Independence was fought. Desecration of a century-old monument is certainly easier that addressing Asheville’s out-of-control homeless, or the surging crime rate, or drunken drivers attempting to navigate the wretched highways.
But there is something more sinister than opportunistic posturing by vapid, amoral politicians and their childish hipster constituents. One can’t really fault Smith, Mosely and Kilgore – bashing whitey is a clear path to Facebook likes and Twitter retweets (and, as my farmer friend told me, in Asheville it was mostly egged on by the white people).
No, there’s something fundamentally evil here.
It is the destruction of a memorial built by Southerners to commemorate a Southerner that led us as we resisted the locomotive of Progress. It is the erasure of Southern memory, Southern past and the Southern people, the Scots-Irish pioneers who came to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 17th century and carved Asheville out of the wilderness.
Asheville must be remade – altered beyond recognition, as the city itself put it – to make it as though we never were. There is a technical term for this: “oikophobia.” It is the ideology of the rootless, the hypermobile; it is associated with a hatred of tradition, of history, of people with traditions and history. This is why the Democrats hate the South and Southerners, and why the Republicans never miss a chance to throw the South and Southerners to the wolves. We stand in the way of the celestial railway. “What your critics find inexcusable is that you are celebrating your peoples’ past,” our great friend Paul Gottfried once told us, “which was a profoundly conservative one, based on family and community, and those who created and defended it.”
Perhaps there is an element of jealousy. For all their twaddle about “community,” theirs is fake, manufactured, non-organic, disposable, derived from spreadsheets, business plans and PowerPoints, nothing more than a grab bag of Frankfurt School for Dummies bullet points and fuzzy hipster bullshit that will vanish the minute enough of us get together and tell them to take their crap back to elsewhere. We Southerners have a land, a tradition, a people, a place, a patria that they do not have and will never have. At some level they know it. It violates their safe spaces.
But it is not just a Democratic thing. It is also a Republican thing. And as our old buddy Walt sermonized, it is the American thing. God said so! Permanent revolution, working ever upward and westward toward an Asheville continent, nay an Asheville planet, swarmed by rootless, hypermobile, cosmopolitan, atomized consumers consuming disposable consumables.
There is a technical term for these people: Americans.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, the greatest prophet of our dark and murderous age, regarded Progress with loathing. In The Idiot, his great comic character Lebedyev at a boozy dinner party offers himself as an interpreter of the Apocalypse. “The star that is called Wormwood,” the polluter of the springs of life, Lebedyev holds, is the network of railroads spread over Europe.
The railroads symbolize progress; they represent science, materialism, “social justice”; they hurry with “noise, clamor and haste” for the “happiness of humanity,” carrying bread to the starving. And in doing so, the railroads have polluted the springs of life. They are accursed, Lebedyev says.
“And dare to tell me that the `springs of life’ have not been weakened and muddied beneath the ‘star,’ beneath the network in which men are enmeshed,” Lebedyev roars. “And don’t try to frighten me with your prosperity, your wealth, the infrequency of famine, and the rapidity of the means of communication… there is no uniting idea; everything has grown softer, everything is limp, and everyone is limp! We’re all, all of us, grown limp. . .”
Americanism – the American idea of progress, this process without destination, this Permanent Revolution, this nihilistic fanaticism to alter everything beyond recognition, to reduce man to nothing but a unit of consumption, to make all men Americans – is the star that is called Wormwood. And it must be rejected.
“It is history that teaches us to hope,” General Robert E. Lee counseled us. And I am hopeful. Americanism is built on a foundation of sand, on lies about humanity, history and the ultimate purpose of life and the destiny of man. I believe that we are living in the last years of the disastrous American experiment. The springs of life can and will be cleansed and restored. That is the task before is. All that is required is an act incomprehensible to the American mind: remembering. Remembering who we are.
It’s high time we get to work.
As the “Exceptional Nation” totters and pratfalls further toward perdition, some on what is commonly, if not entirely accurately, known as the “Right” are calling for the various factions to unite beneath a single banner – a band of brothers, as it were – to battle shoulder-to-shoulder against the Bolshevik plague-beast.
Several such tocsins have resounded from the San Bernardino Mountains west of Los Angeles, where stand the halls of the Claremont Institute, a think tank with whose precepts you are excruciatingly familiar, even if not so the name.
Scofield’s Reference Bible launched the most successful heresies in the history of Christendom; similarly, Claremont’s vision of America, past and future, has evolved into the unassailable credo of the conservative movement. Do not deviate, lest you be accused of progressivism, socialism, America-hating or, worst of all, “Calhounism.” The Institute cemented its grip on the Story of America with the participation of several past and current scholars in the 1776 Commission, the Trump Administration’s “patriotic” response to 1619 Project.
Claremont recognizes that something deeply unwholesome is unfolding in “this fair land of freedom.” Senior Fellow Glenn Ellmers, in a remarkable piece titled “Conservatism” is Not Enough, states what many of us have been saying for . . . well, in my case, at least since Bush the First: there is virtually nothing left to conserve. “What is actually required now is a recovery,” Ellmers writes, “or even a refounding, of America as it was long and originally understood but which now exists only in the hearts and minds of a minority of citizens.” I unironically could not agree more.
There’s also Senior Fellow Michael Anton, who in September 2016 published anonymously a prophetic essay called “The Flight 93 Election.” In it, he argued that Trump was likely America’s last chance to forestall a collapse into a degenerate kakistrophy lorded over by shrieking undergraduates, snarling professors and smirking vice-presidents of Human Resources. Anton followed this in September 2020 with The Stakes: America at the Point of No Return, which (again unironically) offers one of the best analyses I’ve yet read on the degenerate malevolence of the Last Best Hope of Mankind. Any number of Anton’s recommendations on issues including trade and immigration are ones with which we Southerners can and should concur (if for no other reason than we thought of them first).
So, one hearty cheer, maybe one and a third for Ellmers and Anton; and I recommend their writings to fellow Southerners. Ditto The Claremont Review of Books, published quarterly, and two associated web sites: American Mind and American Greatness. There is an impressive roster of writers (including our friends Paul Gottfried and Ilana Mercer). There’s a good deal to learn from them and the other Claremont scholars: some good, and some bad.
And much that is very, very bad.
The Institute on its “About” page describes its mission as “teaching and promoting the philosophical reasoning that is the foundation of limited government and the statesmanship required to bring that reasoning into practice.” And the Platonic ideal of statesmanship – for Claremont, ditto the 1776 Commission, and needless to say, most of American conservatism itself – is none other than the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.
The Railsplitter manifests on the “About” page in the form of this profundity: “No policy that does not rest on some philosophical public opinion can be permanently maintained.” In accordance with this pensée from Uncommon Friend of the Common Man, Claremont’s philosophical principles “include the foundational doctrines of natural rights and natural law found in the Declaration of Independence.” Rather, that bit of the Declaration where Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal.” As you have doubtless been instructed by (e.g.) nationally syndicated radio showman Dennis Prager’s eponymous online university or Tucker Carlson (otherwise admirable) on Fox News, “equality” is the principle by which the Constitution should be read; “equality” stands as the stern judge over the works of man.
And this is so, because that is the Proposition delivered by Honest Abe said at Gettysburg (“dedicated to the proposition that all men” et cetera and et cetera). If your faith is wobbly, and your foot sliding toward the heresy of Calhounism, you are advised to consult the voluminous writings of Harry V. Jaffa, distinguished fellow of the Claremont Institute, the Henry Salvatori Professor of Political Philosophy Emeritus at Claremont McKenna College, and the author of ten books, including Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War, and Original Intent and the Framers of the Constitution.
Claremont is in the Professor Jaffa business, if I may be permitted to speak in crudely commercial terms. Claremont wholesales and retails the thought of Professor Jaffa throughout the body politic. In this they’ve been successful beyond the wildest dream of avarice, attaining a mind-share monopoly that would be the envy of Rockefeller in the Standard Oil days.
Claremonters’ reverence of Professor Jaffa approaches the rapture of the medieval mystic. Professor Jaffa, Robert Samuelson testifies, discovered in the words of The Prairie Sage the reason and morality inherent in the American political order, qualities obscure to every other exegete of the holy documents (not to mention their authors). Here is David Tucker, reviewing a book of the Professor’s essays by Claremonters Ed Erler and Ken Masugi: “Harry V. Jaffa published Crisis of the House Divided in 1959. The book established him as the foremost interpreter of the American political tradition, because it established him as the foremost interpreter of Lincoln, our foremost politician.”
Here is Michael Anton, from an appreciation of the Professor in the Winter 2014/2015 issue of the Claremont Review: “Before I discovered Claremont and what it stands for, I had no faith and few friends, in the highest sense of souls sharing a love of the good. Because of Claremont—because of Harry V. Jaffa and the people he taught, inspired, and influenced—I have had both in abundance for 20 years and counting.”
Samuelson again: “Jaffa was known to say: the fate of the West depends upon America; the fate of America depends upon the Republican Party; the fate of the Republican Party depends upon the conservative movement; and the fate of the conservative movement depends upon it rededicating itself to the truths of 1776.”
Which truths would those be? Self-determination? Wrong. Back to Anton: “Jaffa liked to quote Lincoln’s remark that the idea of equality enshrined in the Declaration of Independence is the ‘father of all moral principle’ among us.”’ One cannot but imagine Professor Jaffa, like Moses, ascending the rugged peaks of the San Bernardinos, entering the divine darkness described by St Gregory of Nyssa and there obtaining the tablets of the law from Father Abraham.
Any such metaphysical system requires a juxtaposing wickedness, a dragon to slay, heretics to burn. That, my fellow Southerners, is our role in the divine economy. As hinted, Calhoun is a particular object of Jaffaite ire; none is worse than the “Calhounite” (did you know that wicked old John is the father of identity politics? Now you do, and you will be tested). Glenn Ellmers authored a tome scheduled for September release called The Soul of Politics: Harry V. Jaffa and the Fight for America (“a pathbreaking study of Ellmers’ teacher, Claremont McKenna Professor Harry V. Jaffa, Claremont’s intellectual godfather”). In an excerpt published on American Mind, Ellmers ponders secession from the Professor’s perspective. At times, Ellmers does seem to be tiptoeing edge toward granting secession an imprimatur. That does not mean, he hastens to add, that the South is thereby vindicated. Confronting “at least least one of the several myths which contaminate discussion of the Civil War on both the Left and Right,” Ellmers declaims:
To the degree that several states today simply wish to detach themselves from the intrusive overreach of the central government, it must be emphasized this was certainly not the motivation of the slave states in 1860, which emphatically did not want merely to be ‘left alone’ . . . On the contrary, it was their demand for an unprecedented expansion of national power—in the form of a federal slave code for the territories—which alienated the South from the rest of the nation, and caused the rupture… Both national parties rejected the South’s demand to repudiate the principles of the Declaration of Independence and commit the entire country to a more explicit pro-slavery agenda. It was against this background that the South, in 1860-61, attempted forcibly to break up the Union by rejecting the results of the election in which Lincoln became president.
Anton, in The Stakes, graciously grants that he does not support the removal of Confederate statues, despite their commemoration of men with the absolute cheek to defy King Linkum. He gives us Southerners a nice pat on the head for our “patriotism,” which I suppose means our consistent votes for a Republican Party that largely despises us and certainly does not defend us. He concurs with Ellmers that South’s bid for freedom was illegitimate, wicked and against truth and order. Follow this reasoning to its bitter conclusion, and you’ll find yourself in agreement with despicable propagandist VD Hanson, the Ilya Ehrenburg of the neocon movement, that “the South had it coming.” (Ehrenburg, who one might call Stalin’s director of strategic communications, encouraged the Red Army to rape their way from East Prussia to Berlin, which they did – two million, by some estimates.)
So, my fellow Southerners: while you may not know Jaffa at first hand, you know Jaffaism.
“Propositional nation”? That’s Professor Harry V. Jaffa. “Nation of immigrants” – that too, is Professor Jaffa. How exactly did the Communist-leaning, Incarnation- and Resurrection-denying Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King become, with The Abolition Emperor, the second sun in the bright sky of American conservatism? Because Professor Harry V. Jaffa placed him there. (Professor J. also holds Churchill in high esteem; one must conclude that for the Henry Salvatori Professor of Political Philosophy Emeritus, the harangue is the measure of the man.) One can only assume, based on the Republican Party’s traditional role as the shadow that chases after Progressivism, that Caitlyn Jenner will in short order join the pantheon. He – sorry, she – has the proper ideology. For this we may also thank Professor Jaffa.
Proposition, principles, ideology.
Anton recently thundered against “Cracker Jack Claremontism,” the “fake, pulpy, distorted thumbnail version” (Who did this? Prager? Mark Levin? I want names, give me names!) He writes in an essay called “Americans Unite” (illustrated with a photo of Confederate veteran “uniting” with a U.S. Army soldier via handshake) that “to the extent that my school (or myself) had anything to do with propagating this garbage—and that extent is not zero—I sincerely apologize.” Furthermore, “some of us have been trying to make amends by telling a fuller account of the story, emphasizing those points left out of the Cracker Jack comic, correcting old errors, and making new friends.” Nevertheless, he says, his “commitment” to the “core tenets” of Claremont’s teaching “has never shaken.”
On that note, Anton directs a barrage of ire toward Brion McClanahan of the Abbeville Institute. McClanahan had the temerity, you see, to challenge, in a recent Chronicles article, the historiography of the 1776 Commission (including the unfortunately factual observation that He Who Saved the Union won with only 39% of the vote in the 1860 election). McClanahan’s “attack on it is harmful,” Anton says. McClanahan engaged in “deliberate fratricide.” He gives aid and comfort to those who “hate America.”
How dare you question the Professor, you… you… Calhounite.
“I still hope to gain more paleo friends and help broaden the pro-American populist-nationalist coalition on the Right,” Anton sniffs. “I hope this piece serves that end. Clearly McClanahan and Chronicles won’t be coming along for the ride.”
At this, I must confess, I burst into peals of sardonic laughter.
My dear Mr. Anton. Professor Jaffa and the Claremonters made careers out of demonizing the South, declaring our Confederate ancestors as heretics far beyond the pale of civilized society. And you’re surprised we decline to share shiraz and canapes in Claremont’s common room? I doubt you like it when grubby peasants cast doubt on the brilliance of Professor Jaffa or the world-historical significance of The Man Who Read the Bible by Firelight.
The great M.E. Bradford had a lot to say about Jaffa’s metaphysics, including the following (“The Heresy of Equality,” published in 1976): “Behind the cult of equality (the chief if not only tenet in Professor Jaffa’s theology, and his link to the pseudo-religious politics of equality) is an even more sinister power, the uniformitarian hatred of providential distinctions which will stop at nothing less than what Eric Voegelin calls ‘a reconstitution of being.’”
The theology of Professor J., and by extension the teachings of Claremont are, as Bradford and Willmore Kendall observed, nothing less than a call for permanent revolution, an eternal crusade toward an unattainable utopia. And one does not need philosophical training to conclude that egalitarian ideology, whether founded in “natural law” or a materialist interpretation of history, always end in terror, blood and fire. Expertise in John Locke is not required to conclude the end of every egalitarian rainbow stands the Grand Inquisitor. You could read Solzhenitsyn. Or look out the window at the accelerating disaster that’s the U.S.A today.
One only needs to consider, without ideological blinders, the history of the Propositional Nation since 1865, and the rapid onset of egalitarianism that began after World War II and accelerated in the 1960s. Much if not all of this can be laid at the feet of Abraham Lincoln and his devilish “proposition,” and its relentless promotion by Claremont.
As Oliver Cromwell wrote to the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland in 1650: I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken?
Glenn Ellmers says in his essay that “most people living in the United States today – certainly more than half – are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the word.”
If Ellmers means Professor Jaffa’s definition of “American,” then I certainly do not qualify. I am a Southerner. I am a proud son of a small region in the Deep South.
Anton is right that the South was, is and remains the most conservative region of this failed nation. But I don’t think either Ellmers or Anton understand the South or our conservatism any more than Jaffa did. We are not “people” to them; our history is irrelevant except as a philosopho-theological principal to be (literally) destroyed
The South is not a “proposition.” It is not an ideology. It is not a political religion. It is not Gnosticism tarted up in the language of Natural Law. The conservative, Russell Kirk once put it, “detests Abstraction, or the passion for forcing men and societies into a preconceived pattern divorced from the special circumstances of different times and countries.”
The South is, in the words of Edmund Burke, “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Again, not abstraction, not an ideology derived from Aristotle and Locke and filtered through the stump speeches of a diabolically clever railroad lawyer and Republican political hack with a gift for fooling most of the people all of the time, but real men, real generations, in a particular time, space and community.
William Faulkner, in Absalom, Absalom!, describes Shreve McCaslin, a Canadian, in conversation with Quentin Compson, a Southerner, in the “iron dark” and cold of their room at Harvard in New England:
“Jesus,” McCaslin said. “If I was going to have to spend nine months in this climate, I sure would hate to have come from the South. Maybe I wouldnt have come from the South anyway, even if I could stay there. Wait. Listen. I’m not trying to be funny, smart. I just want to understand it if I can and I dont know how to say it better. Because its something that my people havent got. Or if we have got it, it all happened a long time ago across the water and so now there aint anything to look at every day to remind us of it. We don’t live among defeated grandfathers and freed slaves (or have I got it backwards and was it your folks that are free and the niggers that lost?) and bullets in the dining room table and such, to be always reminding us to never forget. What is it? Something you live and breathe in like air? A kind of vacuum filled with wraithlike and indomitable anger and pride and glory at and in happenings that occurred and ceased fifty years ago? A kind of entailed birthright father and son and father and son of never forgiving General Sherman, so that forevermore as long as your childrens children produce children you wont be anything but a descendant of a long line of colonels killed in Pickett’s charge at Manassas?”
Our conservatism is what we learn from the old folks – the old ways and the old stories we pass down to our children, the history that happened to us and the blood we spilled.
We may conclude that this is something Professor Jaffa and the Claremonters do not have. They have abstractions and a philosophical scheme. We have the memories of living breathing men, with our feet rooted in the ground of the land they fought for.
My daughter knows that she is descended from a Confederate soldier who fought for four long years in the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee, and who died at Richmond in the winter of 1865. My daughter and I have stood together at Gettysburg, on Cemetery Ridge and walked the grounds of Pickett’s Charge and Little Round Top and the Wheat Field and the Peach Orchard. Other ancestors fell at Perryville, Chancellorsville, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, Petersburg. And I have told her, this ground is sacred to us because it is where our people fought and died.
Our people did not for an ideology. They fought for the one thing that an inscrutable Providence gives us to fight for: our land and our people and our memories.
And no, not for slavery, the always-deployed trump card. I would be happy to “have a conversation,” as Americans like to put it, about the institution. Provided you first remove “slavery” from Professor Jaffa’s philosophical ether and consider it in its time and place and relative to, say, slavery in Brazil, serfdom in Russia and Poland, and industrial factory labor in the enlightened North. Start with the thirty-odd volumes of the Slave Narratives. I’ve read them. Have you?
Anton and Ellers are absolutely correct that a recovery of old things and old traditions is necessary. And of course the founders should be re-considered, but without the lenses of Professor Jaffa. And you should consider that the Southern tradition is completely different from the ideological strawman of Jaffa’s scheme. If you can’t bring yourself to study Calhoun, consider the Agrarians and their critique of financial and industrial capital and of the American notion of Progress. Christopher Lasch and Jacques Ellul can be helpful; so too the heirs of the Agrarians, including Wendell Berry and the brilliant English writer Paul Kingsnorth.
And yes, we do share a common enemy. And yes, we can and should be friends; there is much we agree on. And perhaps we will one day do battle together.
But not under your flag. Under our flag, the Southern flag. And not for your philosophizing, but for our Southern traditions.
And never, ever again for a “proposition,” nor a nation “founded” on one.
My father introduced me to Fyodor Dostoevsky and Michael Oakeshott. And Hank Williams, who he saw at the Grand Ole Opry, and Johnny Cash and William Faulkner. And barbecue and catfish and boiled peanuts, and planting corn and how to whittle and that Catawba worms were the best bait for bluegill. He prayed with the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King and John L. Lewis, but he prayed with Klansmen because he knew that they deserved a hearing and because they were, like him, of Southern stock. He showed me how the United States used the South as the whipping boy for all imagined “sins,” the locus of Evil for which the sainted Rev. Dr Martin L. King (and George Floyd too, I guess) was martyred. He didn’t think much of the American Empire and its antics. He used to say that had it not been for World War II – he was a medic in the European theater – and the GI Bill he would have been an auto mechanic in the southern part of our state. Sometimes I think he would have preferred that. He said he hated every minute of service in the Army, came out of it with respect for the courage of the German soldiers, and had he been called up for Korea, would have fled for Canada. Like most other World War II veterans I came to know, he looked at me with a combination of disdain, pity and sadness if I invoked the “Band of Brothers” mythology, which in retrospect does seem preliminary agit-prop for the neo-con meddling of the Bush I/II period. And I don’t recall him ever speaking of the Civil Rights struggle – rather, the “Movement,” which is what he called it, pronounced “MOO-vement,” each syllable dripping with disdain – with anything but contempt for the grift it had become. He quit going to church when the pulpit became a megaphone for the latest progressive sloganeering and social-justicing. Everything is political, he said. He was as suspicious of technology and technological systems as Ted Kaczynski.
I think that at some point he realized what the Movement really was, understood the nightmare that lurked behind all of the Makes Me Wanna Holler bumper stickers. I doubt he would be surprised by anything this unhappy millennium has witnessed, from the invasion of Iraq to the destruction of Syria and Libya, the “peaceful protests” of Black Lives Matter to the complete corruption of the media to the blinkered arrogant ineptitude of the governing class and the endless hatred of Southerners by people who are not even descendants of Union conscripts or slaves. The one political figure of whom he ever spoke with respect was Malcom X, who was arguably more realistic in his assessment of the likelihood of a multicultural society, than King.
A few years before my father died, he took a final road trip through the “scary little towns” of the Deep South that were the backdrop of his youth. He wanted to see what was left, I think, what had not been devoured by industrialization and the latest American social innovations.
Because he realized that the Movement had destroyed something. I’m not sure he ever fully articulated what that something was, or that he even could even could. He used to tell me about an uncle to whom he was close, who had a fishing camp back in the swamp. One night they took food and medicine to his uncle’s best fishing buddy, who was sick with a fever; my father described a surreal night passage through a cypress swamp, a waning moon through the Spanish moss and alligators watching with their usual calm hunger. This buddy was black. My uncle going out there didn’t have a damn thing to do with race, my dad said. They did it because they were good human beings.
And because they shared a culture and a history: poor and Protestant, making a tough living farming and fishing and doing whatever one had to do to get by in the reconstructed South, the first nation to fall before the great Leviathan of radical egalitarianism, a blighted and mocked economic backwater of the United States empire, whose liberating hordes hadn’t lifted anyone so much as crushed everyone to the same level. So it wasn’t a race thing, my dad said. It was the Empire against a conquered people. This is why, I suspect, some of those bright words may have at first resonated: he and his uncle, the descendants of Confederate soldiers, had actually sat on clay banks and fished alongside the descendants of slaves.
It would appear, though, that this ship may too have sailed, another casualty, alas, of the Lincolnite dream of equality. Once the blacks and us shared a culture and, despite what one “learns” in school, lived relatively peaceably together after the stupidities of Reconstruction were unwound. And while it’s to the benefit of both peoples that we understand the truth of it, not the Marxist agit-prop developed largely by cosmopolitan liberals, that doesn’t seem in the offing at any time in the near or remote future.
These bouts of madness eventually burn themselves out; this too, shall pass, in God’s good time. But the United States is finished. To deploy a human metaphor that would likely meet with approval from Washington D.C., the United States is a transgender person of color coughing up its last on a seedy futon in a subsidized apartment; no adrenochrome will save it now. Even putative allies have had enough, with some calling it a force for evil. Interestingly, the only world leader to speak on behalf of what might be called “heritage Americans” is Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia.
Here, too, the United States is also “exceptional” in the sheer scale of its contemptible and degraded collapse, like a summer blockbuster with the usual good taste associated with Hollywood and New York. There was a solemn grandeur in the recessional of Great Britain, and tragedy in the British Empire’s dismemberment by Roosevelt and Churchill after the disaster of World War II, and its replacement by all of those ignorant, arrogant and stupid Harvard and Yale men. The United States is ending its existence as an abject, puerile farce, engineered by gutter dwellers and pornographers for a populace much of which is also ignorant and depraved.
Nevertheless, the empire, in its dotage, has once again elected to wage war upon the Southern people and our memories. The desecration of the statues of General Lee and Confederate soldiers are no different than the Bolshevik desecreati0on of the relics of St Sergius and other saints and heroes of Russia. One can’t but speculate that some of the same sorts of people are in charge. One can’t but wonder when the cultural genocide spills over into actual genocide.
Southerners must realize that the United States is not our nation. We owe it nothing. No loyalty, no respect, no deference. Not to the government in Washington, the agents of Federal power in our states, and even less its symbols and its “Constitution.” “Old Glory” is the flag of a wicked and brutal conquering power; it is, in the words of the song, “dripping with our blood.” The collapse of the United States is not our problem and should cause us no grief.
The most revolutionary act we can undertake now is to remember. We Southerners must remember who we are: one of the unique peoples of the earth, part of the family of the British Isles – English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish – with our own traditions, our own culture and our own place in the world.
We need to rediscover this tradition to educate ourselves and our children, because we will be tasked with rebuilding from the rubble.
We need to point the truth to our children, and we need to teach them to see through the lies of the United States and its imperial ideology and historians. We need to teach them first and foremost that our ancestors were brave and noble men fighting to defend that one thing that God have man to fight for: our home, our land, our families, our people.
In Russia, organizations have undertaken the restoration of the Orthodox churches despoiled and desecrated by the Bolsheviks. One day we will restore our monuments, all of them. What we must do now is remember. In these dark times, it’s the most revolutionary act imaginable. And we will carry with us knowledge of the courage and heroism of our ancestors, and that their sacrifice has been vindicated by God.
The South Vindicated, Part I may be read here.
I was born in Dixie in the May of 1964, a two-light town in the red clay and tall pines of the hardscrabble country far from the rich bottomlands of the Delta. Precisely two months after that happy event, Lyndon B. Johnson seized a ceremonial pen in one vulpine claw and scrawled the Civil Rights Act into the statute books of the United States. The “down payment,” as the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King called it; in photographs of the world-historical event he does indeed loom like a bill collector behind the slack-jowled, jug-eared President, an eerie half-smile playing across his saintly features. If the Rev. Dr Martin L. King ever uttered a genuine word of prophecy, that was it.
So Civil Rights and I were born twins; what’s more I was, literally, “born of the struggle.” My parents, natives of the Deep South – both of Anglo-Celtic stock that came to Virginia in the 1660s and over generations migrated southward and westward – met the 1950s, that noontime of the American Century, at a university in New England. Then, as now, the Ivy League was a trade school for the Chosen, those who would wage war on behalf of the Exceptional Nation’s God-appointed endless crusade: the conveyance of “light and truth” – which is to say, the universal principles of progressive egalitarianism, scientific education and debt-financed consumption – to the hidebound and primitive. The repair of God’s creation, in other words, the old patriarch having made a made a huge mess with His original effort, all informed by opinion polls and shaped by the principles of advertising developed by Mr Bernays.
My father and mother were foot soldiers, then, on the Southern front. They marched, they taught, they wrote, they protested, they prayed, they sang “We Shall Overcome.” They are among those anonymous half- and quarter-faces one can see in photographs of the period, usually four or five ranks back from the Tabor light of whatever prophet was haranguing at the podium. My father met the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King in Birmingham; my mother met Pete Seeger at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. Myles Horton, Highlander’s founder, was my “Uncle Myles”; John L. Lewis was once a guest at our dinner table, ditto Fannie Lou Hamer and Clarence Jordan and scores of lesser but no less dedicated eyes-on-the-prizers. I have, needless to say, leveraged their experience into virtue points. Southerner? Yes. But one of the good ones. Because we – my parents, rather – repented of the “original sin.” And like many of my generation, I genuinely looked forward to the day when – if I may borrow a well-known phrase from Stanley Levinson – the sons of slaveholders and the children of slaves would sit together, et cetera. I’m sure you know the rest, and like me, you were assured that it was going to be wonderful.
But there were always higher loyalties, deeper traditions, eternal fealties. A compact with the dead, an obligation to the past, born of the blood in my veins and the stories that came from the old folks: a loyalty born of the land they loved and for which they poured out their blood to defend.
I am named for my great-great grandfather. He was a small farmer in a cotton state, one of the first seven to secede. In May 1861, 24 years old and married, he and his 18-year-old brother enlisted for the duration of the war in a regiment formed in the southern part of their state. That summer the regiment joined the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee.
My great-great grandfather, then, was among those hard and wolvish Southern soldiers that unleashed the Rebel Yell and stormed the U.S. lines at Gaines Mill and Frazier’s Farm. He stood under heavy fire at Second Manassas, joined in the capture of Harper’s Ferry; the regiment fought with what the official record describes as “ferocious obstinance” at Sharpsburg. He was granted sick leave, his condition described as “phthisis,” in November 1862; his son, born in 1863, was conceived during time. He returned to the Army of Northern Virginia in time for Chancellorsville, where his regiment routed the U.S. troops at Salem Church and marched behind General Lee when he rode into that clearing at Chancellorsville Court House as the U.S. Army collapsed beneath the fury of Stonewall Jackson’s assault.
Half of the regiment fell at Gettysburg, with my great-great grandfather’s younger brother losing a leg on the second day in the assault on Cemetery Ridge. My great-great grandfather was captured, escaped, and rejoined General Lee in Virginia. The regiment was “hotly engaged” at the Wilderness and “suffered considerably” at Spotsylvania as Grant hurled Lincoln’s German and Irish mercenaries and the draftees of the Yankee states into the massed fire of Confederate rifles like a drunkard flinging peanut shells. “The regiment was under fire every day as the Federal army pressed to Richmond,” according to the official record, and suffered severe losses at Cold Harbor and Petersburg.
My great-great grandfather died in a Richmond hospital in January 1865. The cause of death is listed as tuberculosis. I can only conclude, based on his sick leave, that he fought the war with this condition.
He is buried in one of the mass graves in Hollywood Cemetery.
At Appomattox, according to the official record, the soldiers of his regiment “indignantly denied the first rumors of the contemplated surrender, many wept like children at the announcement, and the survivors tore their battle-rent banner into shreds to retain as a memento.”
His wife died in the summer of 1865. His son, my great grandfather, was raised by the younger brother, who survived three amputations and Union imprisonment and the long road home from Virginia through a desolate and crow-picked Dixie.
I have lived to see the complete and utter failure of the cause for which my parents struggled.
And I have lived to see the complete and utter vindication of the cause for which my great-great grandfather and so many hundreds of thousands more of our people – my people, our people, the Southern people – suffered and died.
“The United States of America.”
Let us be charitable and grant the “patriots” this: “the United States of America” is, to be sure and no question about it, an “Exceptional Nation.” The first to be founded on explicitly rationalist principles, as English conservative Michael Oakeshott sagely observed. The Founders, he writes, were “disposed to believe that the proper organization of society and the conduct of its affairs were based upon abstract principles, and not upon a tradition which, as Hamilton said, ‘had to be rummaged for among old parchments and musty records.’”
For U.S. conservatives, that abstract principle is, of course, “equality.” In the words of their prophet, the Straussian Henry Jaffa, human equality is the “ancient faith” of the United States. Per Jaffa, Abraham Lincoln – putting aside for a moment whatever bit of business he was transacting for his railroad and banker clients, and in the loneliness of the Illinois night brooding on the nature and destiny of man, the organization of society and the promise of the New Land – discovered that human equality had been the intent of the Founders all along. It was merely hidden, a sort of secret knowledge, like the coded messages that Strauss and his various neocon disciples discover in Plato and Hobbes, accessible only to the adept. “All men are created equal” thus became the Rail-splitter’s lodestone, his compass, his banner; and thus anointed by the Daemon of History, he rode at its bidding to smite the Southern heretics and return them to the fold of the Last Best Hope of Mankind; from which triumphant battlefields the March of Progress commenced with the Stars and Stripes fluttering and Sousa marches tootling in the background.
Jaffa’s abstractions are, of course, a sort of gnostic Koran, a mighty fortress of unassailable, unquestionable truth for the conservatives, lending intellectual (of a sort) support in Introduction to Philosophy language for any and all manifestations of Exceptionalism and its various appurtenances. Thus, on the American Greatness web site, and duly tagged with a rubric called “Greatness Agenda,” Dan Gelernter, a “writer and entrepreneur living in Connecticut calling for war with Russia and China because. . . well, it’s hard to understand why, but apparently it has something to do with Hitler’s re-occupation of the Rhineland? And some thundering oration from Winston Churchill, delivered in his usual sham-Augustan prose? And because otherwise the American Empire will appear “weak” and the world will self-destruct in an apocalypse of Munichs? His views seem little different from those of David Gelernter, a computer scientist at Yale and lost the use of his right hand an eye to one of Ted Kaczynski’s bombs. Back in the neocon salad days of Gulf War II, Mr. Gelernter composed a strange little tract called Americanism: The Fourth Great World Religion. Americanism, Mr Gelernter proposed, is a secular form of Zionism a “militant creed,” a “fighting faith” dedicated to spread liberty and equality around the world.
Well, so was the French Revolution, for that matter, and one could describe “human equality” as its ancient faith, as well. Thus, the Jacobins saw the liberated slaves of Haiti as a revolutionary vanguard that would “carry revolt and independence into the New World,” in the words of their commissioner M. Sonthonax. Well, they certainly eliminated the pandemic of whiteness, in the words of The Root’s Damon Young, on the isle of Haiti. One can imagine the forces of Dessalines arming themselves with the “Prayer of a Weary Black Woman,” composed by Chanequa Walker-Barnes of the Mercer University’s School of Theology. “Dear God, Please help me to hate white people,” Chanequa implores. “I want to stop caring about their misguided, racist souls; to stop believing that they can be better, that they can stop being racist.
I’m not sure why this should surprise anyone. While “all men are born equal” may mean “equality under the law,” in the abstract world of Henry Jaffa and Republicans who cheer on the likes of Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) at Lincoln-Reagan Dinners, in this sad, bloodsoaked world, burdened as it is with sin, corruption and stupidity, “equality” always advances to and resolves as a brutal levelling, accompanied by mass slaughter, in the name of “equity.” The poisonous seed planted by Lincoln has borne fruit in greater and greater harvest since Appomattox, and like kudzu, is suffocating the entire Western world. His brutal war – rather, the railroad- and bank-backed Republican Party’s war – on the Southern people, their grubby economic conquest tarted up with the abstractions of Unitarian, progressive virtue, and the absolute lie that it was a noble and righteous crusade done for the sole purpose of liberating the oppressed, has permitted the imperial ideology of the United States to metastasize without let or hindrance into an absolutist empire which seeks to rule and bind every single aspect of human existence, and destroy everything that opposes it.
“I saw in State Rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy,” Lord Acton wrote to General Lee. “I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.”
General Lee wrote back: “The consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”
General Lee was, truly, prophetic – and far more so than the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King at any point in his via dolorosa, based as it was upon a profound understanding of man and history as they are, and not how they should be.
Mr. Lincoln’s Empire: aggressive abroad, despotic at home. A profoundly sinister form of Gnosticism and while less brutal than the Bolshevik monstrosity, far more vile and degenerate by several orders of magnitude. The rulers of Mr. Lincoln’s empire, from the corrupt drunkard Grant to the interventionist Wilson to the Stalin-admiring FDR to Bush I/II, Obama and the pathetic Biden with their gangs of neocon advisors, seek to create a Kingdom of God on earth in the form of a perfectly egalitarian society. They seek, like the Grand Inquisitor of Dostoevsky’s fable, to “correct God’s work.” And have thus like the Inquisitor declared their allegiance to the wise and evil spirit who in the desert tempted Christ with earthly bread and the promise of earthly power.
Dostoevsky, the great Russian Orthodox prophet, saw the structure of their Kingdom, too. In The Possessed, his novel about the revolutionists of 19th century Russia, the gloomy, sullen long-eared theoretician Shigalov proposes a solution to the problem of an unjust society. One-tenth of the population will enjoy unbridled power over the remaining nine-tenths. For the nine-tenths, the surrender of all individuality; they will become an ignorant herd, slaving to support the elite, gradually devolving to a state of primary innocence. Soulless drones, in other words, without memory or tradition, without history or a spiritual life, drifting in a sort of screenlit twilight, their choices driven by Google Ads and Instagram influencers, every action tracked by mobile devices, existing only to consume and bolster the balance sheets of the elite.
This is the “telos” of the United States, the “justice” toward which it is bending the arc of history. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature; this is and has always been the final state of “equality.” Conservatives are partially correct in blaming the alien Marxists of the Frankfurt School, but the soil tilled by the egalitarian twaddle of Abraham Lincoln was eager to receive them.
This “United States” is the beast that my great-great grandfather faced on the firing line; this “United States” is that beast that he fought for four years with a tubercular condition; this “United States” raped and plundered his home. My great-great grandfather and all of them – his comrades, his commanders, the officers and men of the Confederate Armies, General Lee and General Jackson and General Forrest and General Cleburne all of them – are even more heroic and noble than we ever dared imagine. They fought to defend us, and our children, and our history and our land, from the “United States” and egalitarian nightmare. To preserve the South and Southerners, as Boyd Cathey once put it, from becoming American.
The South Vindicated, Part II may be read here.