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.