Europeans may be forgiven if they view Americans as a people without a history. J. Hector St. John Crèvecoeur gave credence to this view in his widely read essay, “What is an American?” Crèvecoeur viewed the American as a man who left behind his old self, his history, and his people to become a “new man” in America. The early American policy of avoiding entangling foreign alliances was pursued in part as an attempt to escape from the centuries old bitter conflicts between European nations. American foreign policy in the early years of the republic was designed to quarantine the New World from the avarice and the lust for domination many Americans believed animated Europe’s seemingly continuous warfare. There were many variations on this theme of quarantine: the Puritan City on the Hill sought a break the chains of history by binding its citizens to a teleological mission that operated outside of time. The Quakers’ city of brotherly love mixed equal amounts of tolerance and social control to effect its peculiar version of utopia. Different versions of American exceptionalism emphasized the American dispensation from the conditions of historical development and decline. These dispensations were based on any number of unique American conditions: America was a godly redeemer nation, America was the “last, best hope for mankind,” or America was the greatest nation ever. There are people who mix and match these and other American “exceptions” to prove that America is, somehow, different in both kind and degree from what has come before, what now exists, and what the future may hold.
The above ahistorical worldviews held by many Americans does not serve the country well. As a result, many Americans, especially people of influence and their minions in the chattering class, lack a well developed historical sense. History for these people is a world not unlike the B western movies of the 1950s. The characters are flat, the issues simple, complexity absent. History, especially the last two hundred years, is broken up into bite-sized, digestible chunks. “The Age of Jackson” lasted for a convenient two decades, the “Antebellum Era” lasted four decades. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have their history broken down by decades, as if culture, politics, and society change on cue with the arrival of a new decade. The takeover of the schools and universities by Cultural Marxists and their fellow travelers has made the situation worse. Under their tutelage the study of history has degenerated into a species of cultural revolution, Maoist, style, complete with denunciation, servility on the part of the accused, and the substitution of ignorant invective for understanding.
The absence of what John Lukacs called “historical consciousness” is having a profound effect on what little is left of American public discourse. Mobs made up of people wholly captured by their irascible appetites pull down the statues of historical figures of whom they know little or nothing. Venal and frightened politicians join in the purge, or if they are “conservatives” they hunker down and keep silent minus a few noble exceptions. Of course the South’s history has borne the brunt of the Left’s rage, though as predicted the Left’s attacks on American history and institutions are widening beyond the Southern theme. Corporate America has jumped in with both feet to dance by the light of the bonfires of history. Radical chic is fashionable once again and it is feeling a bit like 1968. The sad truth is America never left the culture war of the 1960s, but our historical myopia obscures this from our sight.
Ours is a young country and its periods of history are much fewer and more distinct than many realize. Jamestown ushered in the colonial era whose end came with the successful conclusion of the American War for Independence. The revolution of this era was the psychic break with Great Britain, and in a larger sense, Europe. Americans of all stripes looked west. The Native Americans most attached to their cultures had relocated west, but on their heels were the inexorable waves of white settlers. The great American conflict in the years leading up to the War Between the States was not merely over slavery’s status, but between the partisans of Jeffersonian decentralization and the Hamiltonian advocates of the marriage between big government and big capital. Indeed with the Jeffersonian program largely place by 1848, slavery, specifically slavery in the territories, became the dominant political issue of the 1850s. For the nascent Republican Party of the 1850s, erected upon the ashes of the Whigs, the slave card was the last card in the deck to play. Though the issue of slavery inflamed the passions of all sides, it was in the end a stalking horse for all sides save for the most committed and extreme of the abolitionist and pro slavery partisans. The Republican party used the slavery issue to attract anti-slavery Northern Democrats, thus dividing the Democratic Party, and provide cover for the central agenda of reviving Hamiltonian/Whig political and economic consolidation. The very name Republican was a bit of a ruse, as the party’s policies did not keep house well with Jefferson’s Republican Party.
The racial prejudices and fears of the day were used by many Southern politicians to cement an alliance of Southern Whigs and Democrats to support secession. In reality, the Jeffersonian victory was endangered by simple demographics and geographic realities, the population of the North was growing much faster than that of the South, as much as by sectional conflict over the status of slavery. Yes, contrary to Northern fears, slave holders were not picking up and moving to wintry wilds of Kansas and Nebraska en masse. Both states would be settled predominately by northerners. The growing population of the northern states also meant it was but a matter of time before the northern states controlled the Congress, the presidency, and eventually the supreme court. Add to this the divisions within the Democrat Party between northerners and southerners over the issue of slavery in the territories, and any southerner with basic arithmetic skills understood that the triumph of the Republican Party, a purely sectional party, would significantly alter the American regime, let alone the institution of slavery. The victory of the North and the Republican Party in the War Between the States was a victory for the Hamiltonian marriage between a powerful central government and the lords of financial capital.
The surrender at Appomattox marked the beginning of the decline of the old Jeffersonian Democrat, North and South. More or less Jeffersonian insurrections, the Populist movement for example, and skillful rear guard actions such as Grover Cleveland’s presidency and the Glass-Steagall Act happened, but the trend is since the Late Unpleasantness, larger more intrusive central government married to large, centralized capital. The history of the United States after the 1860s is one of ascent to a position of global hegemony until recent years, now American global hegemony is facing powerful external and internal challenges. Since the 1960s, the dominant Hamiltonian regime has been under considerable strain. Unfortunately, it is not due to a revival of Jeffersonian principles. Committed radicals on the Left are every bit the committed statists that their “conservative” opponents are. Crucially, all sides detest the Jeffersonian vision of limited government. Republicans, Democrats, Corporate America, the academy, and the world of sports and entertainment will follow the siren song of the radical Left, not so much out of ideological commitment, but from a desire to appear virtuous, fashionable, avoid censure, and make money. These American Girondins are sure they can weather the recent storms of “wokeness,” but they are badly misreading the situation.
The long culture war inaugurated in the 1960s has ebbed and flowed over the decades. This war is, however, indicative of a once powerful imperial American regime under strain. What is at issue is not racial or class justice—never before in American history have minorities and women wielded the political influence and immense cultural influence as in our day. What is at stake are two things: 1) Power and the wealth that power brings 2) Control of the American narrative. What makes the current conflict so bitter is that it comes at a time when the American empire is in eclipse and when the fortunes of the academy, corporations, financial institutions, sports, and entertainment are fading. The children of Hamilton may not realize it, but they are in attendance at the bedside of a terminal patient and the fight over what is left of the estate just turned nasty.
Conservative Inc. has proven inept and impotent at combating the rising tide of disorder and radicalism. Since 1960, Conservative Inc. has been fighting the long retreat, conceding ground and compromising principle. Southern and paleo-conservatives have long warned their erstwhile “brethren” in Conservative Inc. that the attacks upon the South and its defenders were just the first assault. Ever has the South borne the chief hatred of the American radical leftist, but the defeated South is also low hanging fruit. No more, all of the monuments, ideas, customs, and traditions of Western Civilization are now fair game. If Conservative Inc. blindly accepts the Left’s narrative of Southern history, how do you defend such Southerners as Washington, Jefferson and Madison? If a historical figure’s adherence to the racial attitudes common to Americans in the nineteenth century merits wholesale and total condemnation, how pray tell shall Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt be defended. If John C. Calhoun’s name must come down from Clemson University’s honors college and from a Yale University college, how then does one defend keeping Yale University, Yale or Brown University, Brown give those families involvement in the slave trade. By ignoring and dismissing the complexities of history, Conservative Inc. finds itself hopelessly entangled in a tar baby of its own making.
The larger historical view of our times points to some uncomfortable trends. Americans have been in a culture war since the 1960s. In the beginning, the boomer generation led revolution of the sixties was fought in the streets only to be defeated for a season by the Silent Majority. The Left was much more successful in its asymmetric efforts, taking its cue consciously or unconsciously from the Cultural Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, to embark on the long march through the institutions. There is now no educational institution, no church, no corporation, no governmental agency, no media outlet of note and significance that remains free of the stain of radical leftist ideology—not one. Reasonable commentators have suggested dividing the United States up into various political units where folks of like minds and hearts might reside. The large metropolitan regions on the east and west coast might become autonomous city states, perhaps parts of the Piedmont and mountain South might combine into a new political unit. What this proposed solution does not take into account is the libido dominandi animating the revolutionaries. This is true of the radical foot soldiers operating in CHAZ, the sports, media, and entertainment celebrities, politicians, academics, and the moguls who run America’s corporations, technology firms, financial institutions, and media outlets. To these people the very idea that someone, somewhere is living their life outside of the influence of “wokeness” and its cultural tyranny is maddening, their vision is a global one and it does include you.
Let us then madden these people a bit more and remove ourselves from their influence. The Americans who fought the War for Independence seceded first in their hearts and minds before they seceded from the British imperial regime. Southerners recognized the significant cultural and political differences between themselves and Northerners, and knew that these differences could not be swept aside by former ties of affection and promises of good faith, and so they seceded. We live in an America refounded on the principle of “its not the money, it’s the money.” Disassociate from the so-called “woke” and take your money and time with you. Become an active and supporting member of those organizations who are defending the South, the Bill of Rights, and who are effectively opposing the darkness of our times. Withhold your patronage from the supporters of the revolution.
The framers of the American republic anticipated a life span of 200 to 250 years to the federal republic. We are in the latter stages of the long end of that time frame. Americans can no longer afford to view their history in decades, or substitute a true understanding of the rich and complex history of their country for the cheap Leftist slogan of the day. The twentieth century gave witness to the brutality of the Radical Left, be they Fascists, National Socialists, Stalinists, Maoists, or generic Communists, well over 100 million people died at the hands of these sundry and assorted socialists and worshipers of the State. We Americans should not consider ourselves so exceptional as to think that such a tragedy could never happen here.
The end of empires is all the same, “Cry havoc, and let loose the dogs of war.” The maintenance of the American empire has cost us the people of other countries inordinate amounts of blood shed and lost treasure. Havoc, that is the death spasms of empires, are not limited to foreign affairs and entanglements, they are internal as well. Americans no longer view those with whom they disagree as mistaken, instead they are evil. To be sure the, list of historical injustices, fatally flawed ideas, and disastrous public policies mixed in with generous helpings of actual and original sin played their role in breaking the ground for the planting of the seeds of social and cultural disintegration. The politics of “gimmee,” be it played by the charter members of the military industrial complex, the lords of finance, or the commissars of intersectionality is degenerating into a feeding on the corpse of the body politic by a vulture class intent on securing its portion of carrion before decomposition has done its work. They will have to work fast. The population of the United States is aging, wealth creation is limited to the well connected few, the toll of unfunded liabilities is coming due for ever higher payments as the ability of future generations to pay is a bleak prospect at best.
The material and cultural decay of society is in large part the life’s work of the Jacobins among us. In Revolutionary France, the Jacobin clubs produced a political class intent on the destruction of the ancien regime and the violent propagation of the ideas of the French Revolution throughout Europe. The Jacobins split into two factions, the Girondins and Montagnards. The only real difference between the two was that the Girondins were theorists of political violence, a militaristic foreign policy, and the use of state terror while the Montagnards were enthusiastic practitioners of both. The rhymes and echoes of these revolutionaries are very much with us. The true American political experiment, the revival of the imperium in imperio was dealt its mortal wound at Appomattox. American history since then has been one long episode of the consolidation of political power, the erosion of state and local governance, an aggressive militarized foreign policy, and the entrenchment of a national surveillance state that would make both Robespierre and Joseph Fouché proud.
The American Girondins, both Democrat and Republican, both support and praise the consolidate leviathan that gives them both their livelihood and their purpose in life. The American Montagnard are less sure. Best represented by the young turks of the Democratic party, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez being the most prominent but by no means singular example, they both promise and threaten action. The youngsters on the staff of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign have called for riots and burning of cities if their man loses, gulag of re-education camps for their candidate’s opponents if Mr. Sanders is triumphant. Those who are shocked by this ought not be. Left and Right, conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat have all in their way allowed the Jacobin fox into the hen house. The Jacobin teaches our children from the pre-kindergarten years through graduate school. The Jacobin has been elevated to high positions in the military, government, schools and universities, corporations, and entertainment. The Jacobin exerts enormous control over the information and communication platforms of our day. The Jacobin is intent on changing every aspect of society: the thoughts we may think, the words we may speak, the faith we may profess. There is no end to this. The Jacobin is committed to process, the revolution never ends, but it does eventually devour its own. The old guard of the Democratic Party has been pushed by its Jacobin wing into one imprudence after another, risking serious defeat in November’s election and possible permanent damage to the party’s future electoral fortunes. This is not surprising. There are Democrats who believe the impeachment of President Trump is ill-advised, that modern monetary theory is quackery, and demonizing your opponent may only get you so far down the electoral row. They are cowed into silence and submission by the Montagnards.
Liberalism has always had its self-destructive tendencies, it’s supposed championing of individual liberty is, historically speaking, always and everywhere transformed into subtle but vicious forms of statism. In more recent times the same liberals who championed free speech in the 1960s now champion speech codes, safe spaces, and harsh penalties for so-called “microaggressions,” all in the name of the freedom not to be offended. Due process, presumption of innocence, these are not for those with whom you disagree. Those who disagree with you are evil, prima facie.
Republicans too are infected with the Jacobin spirit. Those who claim the Right as home and who embrace the notion of America as a propositional nation are no better than their counterparts on the Left. Libertrairans and paleoconservatives who questioned America the proposition, whether the proposition was “Equality,” the “indispensable nation,” or the curiously, quasi-jihadist “redeemer nation” were read out of the movement (Should conservatives even have movements?), Dreyfus-like with drums rolling, medals and symbols of rank torn away, and saber broken. Very often these right wing Girondists disagree among themselves as to the propositions that make up the American ideal. One thing they do agree on is that the South and her traditions have no role to play in this conversation. Slavery, being the one and only original sin of America and a uniquely Southern sin at that, forever marks the Southerner suspect. If perchance one must trot George Washington, or James Madison, and this is becoming more rare, or be truly daring and trot out Thomas Jefferson as a conservative icon, they are usually scrubbed clean of their Southern heritage and identity. The American Montagnard finds the whole operation futile, purge the dead white males and be done with it. The American Girondin scrubs hard, but in the process he often washes away such things as limited government, respect for local tradition and custom, hatred of offensive war, and tenderness for the liberties of the citizen.
Meanwhile, Our dear Republican and Democrat Girondins, gave us such policies as forever war, forever debt, and the Patriot Act. Both parties have aided and abetted the establishment of an unaccountable Pentagon and its black budget operations, as well as rogue law enforcement and intelligence agencies that make a mockery of the Bill of Rights. Indeed, I wonder what exactly the American Girondins, at least those who consider themselves conservatives, believe they are conserving? The American Montagnard is more coherent in their beliefs, they support the everlasting revolution. There is always a reactionary, racist, homophobe, transphobe, somewhere who needs rooting out, and there is nothing quite like enhanced and expanded state powers to get the job done.
What has made our politics so vicious, so partisan, and God forbid but I fear it to be so, soon to be violent is politics is no longer a contest of principles. Politics in the United States is a contest for raw, nekkid, power. The rabid and almost deranged opposition to President Trump suggests this is so. Mr. Trump is no ideologue; he is pragmatic, albeit in a too often rude, vulgar, and flamboyant style. Democrats from a different time would have seen in him someone with whom they could do business on some issues such as infrastructure and criminal justice reform. No more. Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is an affront to the revolutionaries, Montagnards and Girondin Never Trumpers in both parties, and his promise to “drain the swamp” is viewed by the political class as a real threat. Never mind the damage that is being done by the political circus known as impeachment, our Girondins do not even care that the impeachment process has exposed their lies, hypocrisy, and self-serving agendas. They are playing for high stakes: power and the destruction of a dangerous political opponent.
The single-minded pursuit of the politics of destruction has deadly ramifications. It comes dangerously close to rationalizing, if not legitimizing, the use of violence against one’s political foes. Fault lines in our society are widening and deepening. What is lacking in our political culture is an effective conservative counterweight to the radicalism of both parties. The Republicans, most of whom pay lip service to conservative ideas, have enthusiastically entangled us in foreign alliances, wars, and misadventures. Our universities are in the hands of the most radical and destructive elements in society, yet not even in “conservative" states is move made to rectify the situation. Time and again conservatives have refused to do what conservatives are supposed to do, cry “Stop, no further.” The Southern political tradition knew how to do this and did it effectively, more so than any conservative group in America. But today the South and its culture is vilified and for the reason that it championed the ideas of prudence, restraint, precision in thought, and opposition to innovation. “Change is not reform,” John Randolph of Roanoke once declaimed; he is correct, true reform is a return to first principles.
Our times are dangerous because our public servants are lacking in prudence and restraint, let alone the theological virtues and cardinal virtues. Our times are dangerous because we allow tenured radicals, cultural marxists, and the enemies of civil society to indoctrinate our children. Our times are dangerous because too many reject what is true, good, and beautiful and embrace the passing moral decay and destructive group think of the day. We forsake the old verities: love of peace, hatred of offensive war, loathing of public debt, taxes, and excises, states’ rights, local governance, and tenderness for the liberty of the citizen. We eschew true tolerance, kindness, and consideration for those with whom we disagree. Thus, we choose to sow the wind and we may well reap the whirlwind.
The legacy media crowed mightily in the wake of Virginia flipping blue in the November elections for state delegates and senators. Suspect reasons were trotted out by the likes of the Washington Post and other left leaning legacy media outfits. Virginia’s relatively high foreign-born population, depending on the source somewhere between 12.5% and 16%, was credited with tipping the scales for Democrats in many house and senate districts. Others in the legacy media cited disgust with Trump who horrified moderate and genteel republicans. A few insightful local commentators pointed out that the GOP, who raised Virginians’ taxes three times in ten years, were asking for it. In any other state, the GOP would have lost power a long time ago. An alternative analysis suggest that what is happening is part of an older and deeper trend long present in American politics and easily obscured by the two-party system.
The oldest and most significant conflict in American politics is not primarily racial, or religious, or class based. It is the conflict between the centers of consolidated political and economic power and the periphery. Examples are well known to students of American history. The battles between crown and colony culminating in the War for Independence. Within colonial North Carolina and South Carolina, the backcountry regulators struggled with distant and unsympathetic colonial and royal elites in Charleston and New Bern. Shays Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Hartford Convention, the Nullification Controversy, the Late Unpleasantness and the Populist Movement all bore the stamp in large part of being movements of resistance emerging from the periphery and directed against the center.
In the case of the Old Dominion this election year, the center won a convincing victory. While the Democratic Party likes to portray itself as the party of the oppressed, the marginalized, and the forgotten, the truth is a bit more complex. True, the Democrats enjoy the allegiance of many folks who are members of ethnic minorities or view themselves as people on society’s margins. It is also, however, and most especially in Virginia, the party of wealthy, highly educated, elite white folk. Indeed, the Democrats have lost a key constituency, working class white folk, to the Republicans. I suspect this causes great consternation among country club Republicans, and enormous relief from the Democrats. In Virginia, large numbers of these po’ white folk live in the rural areas and small towns of the state—at least the ones not yet gentrified by the hordes pouring forth from the District of Columbia. These good people tend to be suspicious of politicians and government, they are ardent supporters of low taxes and the second amendment, and they have short patience with Wall Street and the lords of finance, tech, and multinational industry who the country party suspects, and rightly so, are welfare kings and queens on a gigantic scale. The Democrats made their peace with banksters and the warfare-welfare state, not so Johnnius Reddus Neckkus Americanus.
On their website, Blue Virginia published a very useful map comparison to illustrate exactly what is happening in the politics of the Old Dominion. The maps compare the results of this year’s election with the election of 1993, the last time the Democrats held a majority in the state house.
In 1993, the Democrats controlled large areas of Virginia’s rural piedmont, the Southside, and nearly all the Tidewater. Most of these people were Southern Democrats back then and supported the second amendment, states rights, and local governance. No more, the Democracy is now contained primarily within urban and suburban areas and some college towns such as Roanoke and Charlottesville. These urbanized and suburban areas are so densely populated they easily overwhelm the country districts. The new and powerful coalition emerging in Virginia’s Democratic Party is centered on the courts of Washington D.C. in the Northern Virginia suburbs, the state capital of Richmond and its surrounding suburbs, and the military industrial complex centered around the lower peninsula cities of Williamsburg, Norfolk, and Hampton Roads. The coalition is built upon those who are dependent upon taxpayer dollars either via direct payment or through government contract. Given the general affluence of the D. C. suburbs, Richmond, and the Peninsula, direct welfare payment recipients are most likely outnumbered by politicians, government workers, people who work for firms who do business with the federal and state government, firms who facilitate government business, and even military personnel in the ranks of the Democratic Party. It also true that the center of influence and power in the Democratic Party lay with the elite. In other words, these ain’t yo’ daddy’s Democrats.
The chief priorities of the Democratic Party heading into next year’s legislative session are telling. Governor Ralph Northam is intent on expanding and securing abortion rights, that lovely euphemism for killing pre-born children, and restricting access to firearms. These two issues, as fate would have it, are near and dear to the people who inhabit the country, except the country party’s position is directly opposed to that of the governor and his party. No doubt, the country can be expected to be punished by the court with a host of taxes and regulations and the country folk can expect to have their faith in God and their heritage mocked and insulted. To see what is coming down the road, Virginia need look no farther than across the Potomac to its sister state Maryland and take note. This is what happens to local and state politics with the imperial capital, Washington, D. C. so near at hand.
Too bad Maryland does not rescind the old land grant, as Virginia did, that created the imperial capital in Foggy Bottom. Then, perhaps, the federal court could relocate to Philadelphia, New York, St. Louis, or perhaps Boulder, CO. I understand the elite like to ski. As for the GOP, you refused to reduce the size of federal and state government when you had the opportunity to do so. You have only yourselves to blame for your sad electoral fate. What then will the country do? Will a type of regulator, patriot, or populist movement arise in the countryside of Virginia? Perhaps, but what we do know, to misquote Mr. Jefferson, the court is in the saddle and they shall ride us hard.
We live in the age of appetite. Since the clarion call of the 1960s, “If it feels good do it,” the old virtues of restraint and prudence were cast aside in favor of indulging the vices, particularly lust and greed. Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals was once the manual of the community activists who would change the world, that is before they became yuppies and invested with Gordon Gekko. Afterwards, Rules for Radicals came to share a prized place with Machiavelli’s, The Prince on the nightstands and in the hearts of what is the most pathetic and corrupt ruling class Americans have ever endured. Alinsky has made it to the big time, he is established among the Establishment. He is the guru of the politics of vulgarity and personal destruction; denizen of selfish fulfilment of whatever impulse or feeling is directing the will of whomever, whenever, the philosopher of polarization in the public life of what was once a republic.
Alinsky’s rules are well known and on display each day in the public life of the United States. Saul was a “means justifies the ends” thinker, an admirer of Lucifer to whom he penned an acknowledgement in Rules for Radicals, and a practitioner of the art character assassination. One quote will suffice: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it.” Other Alinsky tactics which are now du jour for the foreseeable include: ridicule, harassment, projection (accusing one’s opponents of the evil of which one is guilty), and symbol construction. This last is omnipresent in our visually oriented world. How simple it is to use visual media to present the symbols of the tribe, and more importantly the symbols of the enemy who must be reviled. How so much more effective to redefine the symbols of one’s enemy to polarize, “to freeze the target.” How willing are churchmen, academics, entertainers, and other public figures to be co-opted by radicalism so they too can be c'est chic. Any defender of the symbols of the Confederacy, or the symbols and historic statesmen of the American republic for that matter, has most likely been on the receiving end of Alinsky-style political thuggery administered at the hands of fashionable signalers of virtue.
The ascent of a cultural Marxist ethos and eidos in American society is the perfect environment for the eternal revolutionary, ὰ la Alinsky. The cultural Marxist is a parasite without peer. He attaches to a living and vibrant culture, burrows into its institutions, and destroys it from within. The academy, the Democratic party, the education establishment, and religious institutions all are infested. How can we tell? Among a plethora of examples are: the destruction of academic standards and expectations in favor of indoctrination, Democrats embracing the politics or personal destruction and division, the current “Amazon Synod” being held in Rome, it makes one want to hold a sit-in. Of course, one merely looks at the violence done to language to understand how nefarious our eternal revolutionaries are. One example will suffice, the eradication of the distinctions between male and female once expressed by the term “opposite sex.” Cultural Marxists, aided by their dupes and fellow travelers, made war upon this term in favor of the more ambiguous “gender,” a term belonging to the world of grammar. It was a master stroke. Any student of language runs into nouns that are masculine in gender, yet refer to an obviously masculine person, place or thing, and vice versa. Gender, being a grammar term, possesses a certain fluidity. The cultural Marxist argued strongly that differences between the sexes did not have a foundation in biological differences, science be damned. No indeed, such differences are “socially constructed.” Once this violence to the language was accepted, even by conservatives, was it any shock that we have any number of people claiming that there an infinite number of “genders,” each of which carrying their own set of pronouns, each part of an individual’s truth and narrative? After all, didn’t Disney and our third-grade teacher tell us we can be whatever we want to be? Never mind the wake of destruction left in this seismic cultural shift, Americans embraced it. It’s so respectful of individualism, so supportive, so accepting, so welcoming and anyone who rejects the nonsense, who offers facts and truth to counter the revolution is a reprobate. Americans tend to be a naïve lot.
We are still fighting what Pat Buchanan called the “Culture War,” and its origins go back to at least the 1960s. The fatal mistake for men and women of the Right is to believe that these “new barbarians,” who are really the same old barbarians, can be mollified or that negotiations with them can limit the damage they wreak upon society. Those who make war on the language, on the nature of men and women, on the natural law itself are enemies of the truth and they will not be mollified, nor do they sleep. These people can only be resisted. They must be resisted, first and foremost with the truth, lived and expressed in charity. In our fight with the eternal revolutionary we cannot neglect the spiritual weapons including prayer, especially for our enemies, as well as fasting, and penance. God calls us to an eternal victory in the next world, faithfulness in this one. Where the eternal revolutionary seeks to elevate their personal narrative and their truth, we hold them to the evidence and objective universal truth. As an old engineering colleague of mine like to say, “In God we trust, all others bring data.” Most of all, we must never waver. Le Connétable, Charles De Gaulle, irritated and antagonized nearly every American and Briton he met and with whom he worked. He was often arrogant, aloof, insufferable, but in the cause of France he never wavered. We must be as him, whatever our flaws, we too must never waver in the defense of the true, the good and beautiful as it is incarnated in the civilization of the South, and in the actions and lives of our people.
Secession, nullification, and interposition, like the poor, we shall always have with us. These are as American, indeed more American, than apple pie and baseball. Our new federal union, outlined in the Constitution written at the Philadelphia Convention and ratified by the independent states in their separate conventions, was barely out of the gate before the first constitutional crisis hit in 1794. Frustrated by what they construed as Southern obstructionism of the establishment of perpetual public debt and national bank, Senators Rufus King of Massachusetts and Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut suggested to Senator John Taylor of Virginia that a divorce was in order. Taylor, who had opposed the Constitution, demurred and suggested that compromise on the public debt, which seemed to be the greatest sticking point, was possible. Taylor was right, and the newlywed state stayed married. Nullification and interposition entered the public debate in force with the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, whose authors were deeply concerned with president John Adams’s revision and partial repeal of the first amendment to the Constitution. Jefferson’s victory in the election of 1800 settled the affair of Adams’s constitutional transgressions. New England Federalists who railed with all their fury against nullification flirted once more with secession at the Hartford Convention, but then peace broke out in 1814 and they looked rather silly. One can go a hunting for declarations and acts of nullification, large and small, invoked by states or branches of the federal government throughout the antebellum period and find their number is legion. South Carolina nullified the tariffs of 1828, 1832, and the Force Act, President Andrew Jackson and the State of Georgia nullified a treaty with the Cherokee nation and a Supreme Court decision Worcester v. Georgia upholding Cherokee sovereignty. Later, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided to nullify the Fugitive Slave Law, after bitterly complaining about everyone else’s nullification habits. In Massachusetts’ defense, slaveholding states were none too happy with Massachusetts’ use of nullification.
What does this all mean for today? Surely all this business about nullification, interposition and secession is so, well, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, isn’t it? Of course not. As we speak, several states have interposed their authority to protect the marijuana trade, cities and counties have interposed themselves against federal immigration law by declaring themselves “sanctuary cities.” Meanwhile, other counties, specifically county sheriffs, have interposed their authority or are threatening non-enforcement of state laws gun control laws they believe to be in violation of the second amendment. To misquote that great sage of Ferriday, Jerry Lee Lewis, “There’s a whole lot interpositionin’ goin’ on.” And a good deal of secession talk too, especially in Trump hating California.
Pace dear neo-cons, nationalists, globalists, and other assorted consolidationists from the infernal regions. The citizens of a country born from protest, boycotts, riots, ship burnings, and rebellion is not going to let go of such useful political tools as interposition, nullification, and secession. The very important pragmatic aspects of the American character argue against this well. That is why so much of the hot air over nullification, interposition, and secession comes down to whose ox is getting gored. Sometimes, but not always.
It is the “not always” that interests me. The great “theorists” of nullification, interposition, and secession--let us call them champions of local governance--are a bit different from the run of the mill complainers about gored oxen. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John C. Calhoun, John Randolph of Roanoke, and John Taylor of Caroline shared a deep commitment to local governance, to the rule of “live and let live.” Certainly, we can quibble about each man’s depth of commitment, and indeed some of these gentlemen had significant disagreements with each other. The operative word here, however, is gentlemen. In their view, the constitution was meant to function as a gentlemen’s agreement, the basis of which was that the union must be directed to the common good, or if you prefer, the “general welfare.” As such, burdens and benefits were to be shared equally among the states, limits and constraints respected, compromise, or better still, a masterly inactivity was to be pursued in response to any hare brained, ideological, utopian schemes. And most unique of all the American contributions to the political sciences was the view that states were not surrendering their sovereignty to the new federal government, they were delegating certain powers and authority to their agent. Moreover, localities too exercised considerable autonomy as evidenced by the office of sheriff. As officers sworn to uphold the constitution, sheriffs have used their authority to interpose their office between state and federal authorities, and the people of their counties. In the Southern view, be thou an interpositionist, a nullifier, or a secessionist, the basis for your actions were the same: state sovereignty and local governance, and to a degree a live and let live toleration.
Southerners have been accused of using the principles of state sovereignty and local governance as bulwarks to defend against federal assaults on the institutions of slavery and segregation. No doubt, this is true, but critics of the South tend to ignore a few salient points. Southern anger at the nullification of the Fugitive Slave Act by certain northern states hinged on the fact that the constitution explicitly provided for the recovery of fugitive slaves. From a legal standpoint, Massachusetts was not nullifying an unconstitutional law, it was nullifying a provision of the United States Constitution. There is a more important point to be made here. If Massachusetts or California decided to secede tomorrow, their action would elicit yawns and cheers from most Southerners. Though Southern states have not hurried to legalize or decriminalize marijuana, they have not been especially upset about other states doings so, and effectively nullifying federal narcotics laws, or at the very least passively resisting the same.
This Southern attitude of live and let live stands in stark contrast to the sentiments of other citizens of the union. In principle I have no qualms with the secessionists of California, but is their discovery of the right to secede a conversion to the wisdom and prudence of states’ rights, or is it merely pitching a fit over the election of one Donald Trump? Time will tell. New Englander politicians who complained bitterly about what they perceived as the anarchic elements of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions had no problem with sailing on the windward side of secession during the Hartford Convention. The consolidationists of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ lost their fear of anarchic elements when they nullified the Fugitive Slave Law. Insulating them from anarchy, they believed, was their knowledge of a “higher law,” that justified any means meant to protest, as Massachusetts’ viewed it, grave deviations from the federal government’s mission to transform society. Nullification, interposition, and secession were invoked in the New England polities to further the transformative telos these folk assigned to government, not to make the federal government adhere to the limits assigned to its authority by the states.
The New England telos, however, is a moving target. Greater New England has long since spilled west of the Hudson and extends now to the Left Coast, north of the Ohio River. The old Calvinist faith has been replaced by more secular commitments; the old commitment to perpetual revolution remains. Remaining too is the uniquely Puritan inclination to attribute all good and evil to the action or inaction of government. What the learned Richard Hooker said of the religious Puritans of his day applies also to the secular puritans of our day, they are a people “possessed with dislike and discontentment at things present” and believe the best remedy is the thing “which they have least tried.”
The great John C. Calhoun viewed nullification as means to preserve the union. If nullification was on the political table, then the rational action would be to forge consensus among contending parties then risk an act of state nullification, or even interposition. Calhoun developed his theory of the concurrent majority with the same end in mind. If sectional vetoes were in place and a real possibility, the incentive to build workable political consensus would overcome the pursuit of merely sectional interest. I am deeply sympathetic to those who argue that so many of the divisive issues and the rancor plaguing American politics could be greatly alleviated by the reassertion of state authority and local governance. In theory, secession (or the threat of secession), nullification, interposition, and non-enforcement are excellent tools to reestablish a politics of civility and live and let live. Yet we are foolish to believe the secular puritans embrace this vision, though they will make use of the tools of state sovereignty and local governance as it suits their purpose. Sectional division is also more complex today. Regional differences do still exist, but these are further complicated by the vast gulf separating the blue, urban archipelago from the sea of rural and small-town red—the modern expression of the perennial conflict between court and country in Anglo-American politics.
Ang Lee’s film, Ride with the Devil, contains a scene that well illustrates what we are up against. Confederate partisans in winter quarters with a private farmer are at supper discussing the events of the day in the borderlands of Missouri and Kansas. Looking back to the first settlements of New Englanders in the region, the host of the partisans points out that the first building erected by the New Englanders was a school house, even before a church. The purpose was simple, “so that everyone should live and think just like them.” Nothing has changed in this regard. Nor is there an endgame for our opponents. No matter the victory they win in the legislatures or courts, there is always another battle to be waged in the service of equality, diversity, empathy, intersectionality, globalism or whatever may be the fashionable abstraction of the day. The war still goes on; the secular puritans and cultural Marxists of the left never sleep; the revolution is always unfinished.
In a more tolerant age, a South Carolina lawmaker speaking to a friend from Pennsylvania summed up the new constituted order framed at Philadelphia and ratified by the states, “You took us with our African slaves, and we took you with your Quakers.” This frank acknowledgement of prejudice and willingness to tolerate the other is no longer present in our politics. The Antifederalists at the Massachusetts ratification convention put forward as one of their chief arguments against ratification the observation that the interests of the different states are too dissimilar to allow for a perpetual Union. This Southern Antifederalist agrees with their assessment. But in a union, we are. The question going forward into time is not if the union should be preserved, but can we bring about its end in a peaceful, fair, and orderly fashion. To not do so courts disaster. The Deep State is already at war within itself, and it does not take a great deal of insight, no matter one’s political inclinations, to see the drift toward civil war in the United States. The question is how may the old principle of ’98 keep us from tumbling into the abyss? If there exists in the union enough people of good will who treasure the principles and practices of local governance and states’ rights, then there is hope for an orderly withdrawal from the great, but failed experiment begun at the Philadelphia Convention in 1789. If not, then we may well see a terrible civil war that is nothing more than a contest for raw power and dominion.
One must be blind and deaf not to recognize the near absence of civility in public and private discourse. Our public figures seem to revel in proving their facility with vulgarity and certain infamous but common monosyllabic profanities. To cite examples is an exercise in the mundane, t’is all too common. Nevertheless, the political and cultural movers and shakers seem to have mistaken profanity for profundity. Sadly, George Carlin and Lenny Bruce have emerged as the trailblazers for the modern standards of public discourse.
The general loss of decorum is not limited to the realm of verbal discourse. Come-as-you-are churches, pajama friendly and complete with donuts and coffee bars, are only slightly less offensive than some poor benighted sixty-five year old attending Mass in t-shirt, bermuda shorts, garters to hold up their sock, and sneakers gracing their feet. Dressing to reflect one’s station in life, or eve dressing appropriately for a given event or activity is a sensibility that is lost. Everyone now is on a familiar first name basis, a great eroder of professionalism and appropriate boundaries. The popular culture is filled with all sorts of crazy paradoxes. A quick trip to Yahoo and you will find displayed a range of stories featuring scantily clad young men and women side by side with the latest sexual harassment stories.
Let us give credit where credit is due. The new arbiters of social decorum are attempting to impose a new order based on the tenets of a watered down but still venomous form of cultural marxism. The old stations of life based upon profession, family, class, and wealth have been replaced with a new hierarchy based upon one’s membership or identity with an oppressed group. An entire ranking system has emerged based upon the concept of intersectionality where one is awarded social credibility based upon one’s membership in various and sundry “disadvantaged" groups. The more oppression points one can accumulate, the more virtue one possesses, and the greater leeway one has to act in a uncivil and barbaric manner. Happily, many do not make use of this leeway, those who do use this leeway are guided by the old cultural marxist principle that the personal political. Thus the rise of the identity politics of the Left accompanied by enraged indignation and public, often profanity laced, screeching.
The erosion of the older civility has been accompanied by an erosion of civilization. Politeness, proper manners, hospitality, and pleasantness were cultivated by many a Southern gentleman and gentlewoman. Such were not mere formalities or rigid leftovers of an outdated Victorian morality. They were the foundation of a more pleasant way to live and to interact with our fellow man. There was another reason as well. As one old Southern mother confided to me, “We in the South are polite and kind to each other; it keeps us from killing each other.” It also allows one to know where they stand and what their place is in society. Dick Gregory, the comedian and civil rights activist, once opined that while African-Americans had more freedoms in the North, they did not know where they really stood in Northern society. One’s liberty might be constricted in the South, but at least one did belong to the community and one knew where one stood. The little things: ma’am and sir, the use of mister, mrs., and miss, using the back door if you were a child or workman (No need to dirty up the great room or living room), reinforced the sense of one’s place in society.
This is not to say that there were not toxic elements in the social relations of the South. Here I am not referring to institutional factors such as Jim Crow or racial bigotry, which the Southern emphasis upon manners and decorum mitigated and ameliorated some of the injustices and slights embedded in Jim Crow. Like all humans, Southerners are not without sin. Detraction, disparagement, and gossip are not strangers to Dixie. They are, however, usually served with various helpings of sugar. The old joke is that a Southerner will kick off a round of gossip with, “I’d like to ask everyone to pray for my neighbor who …” or “Bless her heart …” Also, the southern gentleman’s great gift was that he could tell you to “go to hell” and make you look forward to the trip. Hypocrisy? Not so much as a respect for decorum and restraint. It is too great an expectation to believe that we can live in a world without some toxicity in social relations, but it is reassuring to know that in some places proper social decorum places limits on how far in the knife may go.
Civility is not just about the external forms. At the heart of being a gentleman or gentlewoman is the idea and practice where one places the comfort of others above one’s own comfort. Treating all folks with kindness, dignity, and respect can be trying and it often discomforts one. It requires a good deal of humility, and yes, noblesse oblige. One delays not in the performance of the duties appropriate to one’s station in life, but one does not brag on this either. Here the motto of the state of Maryland is appropriate, Fatti Maschii, Parole Femine, manly deeds, womanly words. The boldness and virility of men are needed in this vale of tears, but women are the heart and guardians of civility, and are the key to the rebirth of civility in society.
The older forms of civility are the antidote to the revolution. Reviving these forms will break our enslavement to the banal and the evil. The practice of the older civility will issue a strong challenge to the false assumptions afflicting the contemporary world concerning the nature of decency, probity , and the good. As the older civility gains ground, it will move the political out of the realm of the personal and back to its proper sphere. So much of life can be moved back to its proper dimensions. Disappointments are no longer treated as tragedies, our tendency to inflame our indignation is cooled, and we reduce the scope of the field open to insult, while reclaiming the place for hospitality, graciousness, and goodwill in all human relations.