Perspectives on politicizing history: the Confederacy, “white supremacy,” and tribalism

I wrote the following essay in response to a Facebook thread, in which some of those involved were invoking the all-too-predictable bugbears of “racism” and “white supremacy” to justify opposition to the Confederate flag, monuments of Confederate heroes and honoured dead, and so on. Basically, the left-wing narrative is that the Confederacy was racist and white-supremacist, and so, consequently, are any or all of its memorials, heroes, and iconography. As should be needless to say, I take exception to that notion; thus, this essay. I was told by a friend that I should blog it, so here it is!

It is problematic, for a number of reasons, to apply (post-)modern standards of “racism” to historical contexts. For one thing, it is an innate human characteristic to associate and affiliate primarily with one’s own people, and to mistrust and/or look down upon those who do not “belong.” Although of course, definitions of “one’s own people” vary; those who do not view the matter in ethnic or racial terms nonetheless tend to prefer the company of people who think like they do: merely switching one “tribe” for another.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was commonplace to think of Africans (and Asians, for that matter) as inferior – intellectually and morally, as well as technologically (the latter being true enough, at the time) – to Europeans. Those who did not hold that viewpoint were the exceptions.

Britain may have ended slavery in its territories in the early 19th century, but quite late in that century, well after the War Between the States had ended, the noted British author and poet Rudyard Kipling famously wrote about “the white man’s burden.” That burden was to “uplift” Africans and Asians from their (as it was seen) benighted, backward, and primitive existence; to “civilize” and Christianize them, for their own good.

This was a paternalistic view indeed, but one that would have found resonance with many or most Southern slave-holders, and one which was certainly not grounded in racial hatred. If Europeans (in Europe itself or in America) had hated them, why would they have helped them?

And if we were to consider the matter objectively and with open eyes, we would discover that all or nearly all cultural, racial, or ethnic groups on the planet are “racist” to some extent, depending on how we define our terms. And while I am not aware of any specific studies on the matter, anecdotal evidence from personal observation – not just of my immediate surroundings, but using a global and historical perspective – suggests to me that Asians and Africans are, on average, about as “racist” as Caucasians.

And anthropologists tell us that just about every single indigenous group that has ever been studied calls itself by a name that translates approximately to “the People,” with the strong implication that others, outside that group, are not really or fully “People.” I am not making a moral judgement in saying this, just expressing an objective reality.

Returning to the era of the War Between the States, it can be reasonably argued that, despite the fact that some whites – and a surprising number of free blacks – held people of African descent as slaves, the Confederacy as a whole was significantly less “racist” than the Union. It had integrated units, with blacks fighting alongside whites (Nathan Bedford Forrest’s personal bodyguard being perhaps the most famous, but not unique); it had troops from Native American nations, troops (and at least one Cabinet secretary!) of Jewish heritage, it had Hispanic soldiers and even (IIRC) a few Asian ones.

The Union Army, in ironic contrast, was lily-white, except for the “US Colored Troops,” who were strictly segregated, and fought under the command of white officers. The antipathy and aggression of Union troops, both during and after the WBTS, toward Native Americans is well-known; that toward people of Jewish heritage is less well known, but no less real; and Union actions and attitudes toward Southern blacks, both slave and free, were hardly what anyone could consider exemplary.

And what are we to say about the Northern ship-captains who transported African slaves – who had been captured and sold to these merchants, not by Europeans or Americans, but by other Africans of rival tribes, or sometimes Moslem Arab slavers – to these American shores? Are they somehow less racist than the owners of plantations? The Confederate Constitution actually forbade the importation of any additional slaves, and no slave was ever brought from Africa on a Confederate-flagged ship. The same cannot be said about merchant shipping flying Old Glory.

Or what are we to say of the English Colonies, later the original United States, who engaged in the “Triangle Trade” transporting slaves, cash crops such as sugar and tobacco, and manufactured goods between Africa, the Americas (including the Caribbean, as well as the North American continent), and Europe, for some two centuries before the so-called “Civil War”? What are we to say of the Northerners who, when their states abolished slavery, did not set their slaves free, but sold them south?

What are we to say about the plantation-owners – always a very small percentage of Southern society – who went off to war, leaving their lands, women, and children in the capable hands of trusted black “servants”? Nor did any of them, to my knowledge, have cause to regret that decision. A general slave uprising would have been relatively simple, and likely quite successful, during the War, but it never happened. It is hard to escape the conclusion that many or most African “servants” felt a greater affinity for their own “white folks” than for the invaders from the North.

And perhaps most of all, what are we to say of the so-called “Great Emancipator,” whose famous Proclamation freed not one slave in areas under Union control – including both Union slave states and even areas of the Confederacy that had fallen to Union armies – and who only “emancipated” slaves in areas where his writ did not run, whose words and writings made it clear that he believed blacks to be inferior to whites, did not like them or feel that they could ever be part of an integrated society, and who advocated for their removal to “colonies” in Africa or Central America?

These are considerations that are ignored or, at times, actively suppressed, when speaking of the South, the Confederacy, and its iconography – including flags and monuments – as being indicative of “white supremacy.” While it is true that there were aspects of superiority and inferiority ingrained in the worldview of most 19th century persons, the matter is far more nuanced than many on the left, whether in ignorance or arrogance (most likely some of each), are willing to admit.

And of course, that leads to the grandest irony of all: that the very same human impulse to tribalism – to favouring one’s own group, and disparaging those who are not part of it – that led people of European heritage to first enslave, then endeavor to “uplift” and “civilize” Africans, is operational in those whose left-leaning social and political views of both history and contemporary life leads them to try to “convert” those who do not share their views, and to hate those who will not join them.

With the exception of those who are so completely relativistic that literally anything goes (in which case they would have no right to complain about any views held by anyone at all), we are all to a greater or lesser extent convinced of the rightness of our positions, and intolerant of those who do not share them. Some of us, however, have more grounds for our perspective than do others!

So to those who say (or imply), “check your white privilege,” I say, “check your ‘liberal’ privilege.” And perhaps, consider looking at the world through the larger lens of objective history, rather than the tiny aperture of ideology.

That is all.

“Wisdom of the Ages” – Anthony Esolen

Esolen-Anthony-at-Hillsdale-College-2012-1280x450

Here is a quick and generally reliable rule to follow. If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

~ Anthony Esolen, noted Dante scholar, professor of literature and Western civilization (currently at Thomas More College), and author of many books, including Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization.

 

Wisdom from Livy – the study of history

Titus Livius – Livy

” The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind, for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see, and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings: fine things to take as models, base things, rotten through and through, to avoid.”

~ Titus Livius, better known as Livy: Roman historian, 59 BC-17 AD

Confession 2017 — Bernie Sanders’ Christophobia | The American Spectator

I am a Jew. All of my ancestors have been Jews since Judaism was founded almost 6,000 years ago on the belief of a monotheistic God. I pray in Hebrew every morning and every night. And I am deeply, cruelly, painfully embarrassed at my fellow Jew, Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont…

Source: Confession 2017 — Bernie Sanders’ Christophobia | The American Spectator

There was a time when I kinda liked Bernie, I must confess. But those days are increasingly coming to seem like “a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

Commentator Ben Stein writes, inter alia,

Christianity, here in America, which has been such a great friend of us Jews, is far too powerful to be taken down by one angry Vermonter. But I am scared that as a nation, we among the political and media self-selected elite, so strongly blast “Islamophobia” but do not hear the onrushing sounds of Christophobia throughout the world and especially here at home.

Thank you, sir. Needless to say, I agree!

On a related note, Tim Count writes in “An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from a Vermont Pastor,”

Your [Senator Sanders’] actions towards and comments to Russell Vought during his confirmation hearing for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget endanger our rich history of religious freedom as both a state and a country…  Article VI of the U.S. Constitution declares, “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States” …

As I have read your comments towards Mr. Vought and watched the video of your interaction, I am astounded at how quickly you have tied together personal faith that Jesus is the only Savior with an individual’s public policy. As Mr. Vought tried to express but was interrupted, Christians believe that all people are made in the image of God and thus should be treated with dignity and respect, even while we hold to Jesus’ statements such as, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

We do not have to be Universalists theologically to be able to hold public office nor to be good citizens in the Green Mountain State or in the United States of America. I believe that the founders of [Old First Church in Bennington, VT] would have been shocked at your statements, as they were leaving a government that told them what they could and could not believe. We have reverted back to a government that has a religious test, but rather than church membership allowing entrance into government office, it is now philosophical membership in secularism that holds the keys. Continue reading “Confession 2017 — Bernie Sanders’ Christophobia | The American Spectator”

It is time to defend Western Christendom!

Templar knight kneeling in prayer

I have been thinking, deeply, about the crisis – or perhaps one ought to say, converging crises – facing the West at this time in our history. And I have come to the conclusion that the primary problem facing our Western civilization in dealing with Islamist terrorism and, more broadly, the multi-pronged (religious, paramilitary, socio-cultural, and as a sub-set of the latter, sexual) jihad against us, is not simply that Christians are too nice for our own good. We may well be, but the root problem goes deeper than that.

The real problem, I think, is that far too many Christians have lost their faith. I am not talking about the atheists, militant or otherwise; I am not even talking about the “nones” (Religious Affiliation? None of the Above), although the growth of both is concerning. I am talking about professed Christians who, while they may still accept the moral codes and social norms (however diluted or creatively interpreted) of Christianity, have nonetheless lost sight of the core principle: namely, the identity of Christ Himself, within the doctrine of the Holy Trinity (one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

Why do I say that? Simply this: if you really and truly believed that Christ is the only and eternal Son of God, the Incarnate Word of the Father –

the only-begotten Son of God; Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made,

in the words of the Nicene Creed, which has defined the essentials of the faith since 325 AD – then it would matter to you, and matter deeply, that Christians are being murdered en masse in the name of Islam, in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere; that churches in Europe are emptying at an alarming rate, and many of them are either being destroyed or turned into mosques; that according to some reports, as many as 40% of Moslems, ordinary Moslems, in the West would prefer to live under Sharia law; that Islamists – and not just ISIS terrorists, but relatively ordinary Moslem preachers and relatively ordinary Moslem believers – are actively calling for and expecting the conquest of the West by Islam, the imposition of Sharia for Moslems living in Western countries, and other special privileges for Moslems not granted to followers of any other religion.

As Italian journalist and author Giulio Meotti puts it, writing for The Geller Report,

“Europe as we know it is disappearing under the weight of falling birth rates, de-Christianization and Muslim proliferation. The great Medieval churches were built to assert pride, and conversely, the sight of an abandoned church or in ruins today sends a strong message. A world is being eclipsed.”

This is happening not in the Middle East – once the cradle of Christianity but now an area where the followers of Mohammed reign supreme – but from Dearborn, Michigan, to Birmingham, England; from Stockholm, Sweden, to Nice, France. Continue reading “It is time to defend Western Christendom!”

Reflections on grounding oneself in the tradition

Those of us who respect, even revere the past, who value tradition, who both yearn for and promote the ways of the past as a helpful and healthful antidote to the psychological and cultural poisons of the present, are nonetheless living in a swirling vortex of those present poisons every day – nearly, every hour of every day. And for those of us who get a lot of our news and commentary online, the ceaseless 24-hour news cycle of factoids, “alternative facts,” pseudo-facts, and a plethora of competing perspectives can be overwhelming.

Even when the information is solid and accurate – which is not so often as one might wish – it is still coming at one at such a frenzied pace, and frequently with such a tinge of hysteria, that this commentator, at least, often feels like he’s on the bridge of a beleaguered starship Enterprise, bouncing Klingon disruptors off his forward shields, and praying those shields don’t collapse! Or to switch metaphors, to be struggling to find solid ground amidst the shifting sand of popular opinion, and even competing claims about the nature of truth and reality.

This is why it is so important to ground oneself in the tradition itself. Historical, intellectual, and philosophical, of course; but also cultural, artistic, and musical, among other components. Continue reading “Reflections on grounding oneself in the tradition”

Reflections on the Southern Agrarians and their lessons for us today

eastman-johnson-american-painter-1824-1906-man-with-a-scythe-1868-1340986648_org
Eastman Johnson (American painter, 1824-1906): Man With a Scythe – 1868.

I finally had the opportunity to acquire a book I have long wanted to read: “I’ll Take My Stand: the South and the Agrarian Tradition” by “Twelve Southerners,” a collection of essays written specifically for that publication (called by its authors a “symposium”) and published in 1930. Continue reading “Reflections on the Southern Agrarians and their lessons for us today”