An Interview with Clyde Wilson, Part III

“Southerners who still value their heritage but don’t know what to do about it in such a hostile environment. They are our audience.”

DM: What is your best short answer to people who say the War for Southern Independence was all about slavery and nothing but slavery? Should we come at this from an offensive posture, rather than being defensive, which cedes the moral high ground to the tyrants?

CW: What is conjured up in most minds these days by the word “slavery” has nothing to do with the system of labour in the antebellum South. The people who use the term do not know or care about any history and are impervious to argument. They use the term because it is rewarding to them. Being a victim is lucrative in the present American regime, even as a victim of something that ended more than a century and a half ago. Perhaps more importantly, the word is the guard dog of Yankee self-righteousness. Without “slavery,” it would be obvious that the brutal invasion and conquest of the Southern States was a great crime.

I have always urged Southerners not to get in a defensive posture. I get requests almost daily to reply to some atrocity that has caught some sympathiser’s attention, more than time and energy could possibly allow me to do. Do not reply to provocations. Ignore them, or if that is not possible, reply with a question for them as my colleague Paul Graham does. Let us spend our limited energies and resources on positive communication to those who will listen and not fight every skirmish with the enemy on his own ground.

“I have always urged Southerners not to get in a defensive posture.”

I wish our spokesmen would get right with slavery. My SCV [Sons of Confederate Veterans] compatriots like to say that only one in 10 Confederate soldiers owned slaves and therefore the war was not “about slavery.” But that is not true and proves nothing. Families were large in those days and, if you count by families, about ¼ of white Southerners were involved in slave-holding. Most Confederate soldiers were not slave owners, but the armies were full of the sons and nephews of slave owners. The truth about slavery is that the big plantation was a rarity, confined to certain areas, and that most slaveholdings were small: 5-10 people. The lived with the white family every day, joined them in wresting a living from the soil, and shared much the same fate when the invaders came.

You can bet that when Confederate soldiers went into battle they were not thinking of keeping their slaves, they were thinking of protecting their homesteads and loved ones. It is not clear what Yankee soldiers were thinking of, other than the substantial cash bounties they had received and vague notions about “the glorious Union,” but certainly none of them were thinking of the welfare of African Americans who they generally despised and treated worse than the white people of the South.

Lincoln declared explicitly that he was NOT fighting to end slavery. You might ask the “slavery” advocate what that means. Or why did slavery have to be ended in such a destructive way that it left the black people terribly impoverished and demoralised.

“You can bet that when Confederate soldiers went into battle … they were thinking of protecting their homesteads and loved ones.”

DM: How can we stop Southerners from using the Yankee term “Civil War” and instead call it what it was: a War for Southern independence?

CW: The best we can do, I think, is always use the right term ourselves.

DM: I’d like to hear his thoughts on the pass that non-Southerners get for calling all Southerners racist, ignorant, backwoods idiots.

CW: They keep saying this, although I suspect they don’t believe it any more. Why are all those Yankees moving South? Remember, until recent times, we were very poor and seemed backward to urban types who had only materialistic standards of measure.

Deep down they know better, but will be very slow to admit it because it questions their self-esteem. Ask why they are moving South? Racism? Massachusetts, New York, and California are the most segregated States these days. In recent years, more African Americans have been moving back to the South than are leaving for the North. And many say they like it better in the South. I had some European visitors recently who marveled at the kindness and courtesy with which black and white South Carolinians treated each other. In the Northern cities, the racial hatred is so thick you can cut it with a knife. But, of course they will never give up blaming us for everything.

“In the Northern cities, the racial hatred is so thick you can cut it with a knife.”

DM: How do we win back Southerners who have turned their back on their heritage?

CW: We probably should not waste time trying. Reach the young people who come from different experiences and are looking for something of value. And I have learned from my activities that there are thousands, perhaps millions, of Southerners who still value their heritage but don’t know what to do about it in such a hostile environment. They are our audience.

DM: If you could make every Southerner read one book what would it be? Does Dr. Wilson have three or four books that he thinks every Southerner should read?

CW: I will surprise you. What I have called the Southern soul is best reflected in our Southern literature. It is the greatest cultural product of the United States and will be treasured when the United States is only history. The most important book for me is Donald Davidson’s Lee in the Mountains and Other Poems, which displays the South in its epic sweep and intimate thought. In the same vein, I will mention William Faulkner’s novel The Unvanquished, which portrays Southern people with both tough realism and love.

“If enough Southerners would read and take to heart Punished with Poverty, it would bring about a revolution in American politics.”

The Kennedy brothers works are indispensable miracles. The South Was Right! and their recent Southern history Punished with Poverty, which we at Shotwell had the honour to publish. If enough Southerners would read and take to heart Punished with Poverty, it would bring about a revolution in American politics.

At a more sophisticated level, the works of M.E. Bradford, especially A Better Guide than Reason.

DM: Why did so many Southerners, such as Woodrow Wilson, get into the Progressive movement in the early 20th century?

CW: Let’s remember that the South was immersed in poverty. People wanted improvement, real progress, and given that the U.S. government had caused the poverty, it might be used for reparations. Southern progressives wanted free trade, farm-to-market roads, regulation of corporations, especially banks and railroads that had been created by federal subsidy, rural mail delivery, and other things that were not out of keeping with Southern tradition.

There was not enough money in the South to cover the region for good schools for white and black children, even though the South was spending a greater percentage of its wealth for education than the North. Public schools were the only answer, and for a long time they did good work. They were centers of community cohesion for both white and black until they were destroyed by the feds. Now public schools at best are a waste of time and money.

“Public schools … were centers of community cohesion for both white and black until they were destroyed by the feds.”

Most Southerners did not make Progressivism an ideology and did not follow Northern Progressives into becoming just one more arm of the corporations. Some of the best of them eloquently opposed Wilson’s entering the World War, and on Jeffersonian grounds.

DM: I would like to know what your thoughts are on the American South as it compares to the rest of Western civilisation? What aspects of our culture carried forth and possibly improved on the virtues of Western civilization?

CW: Southern culture is a product of the high point of Western civilization in the 17th and 18th centuries as it developed in the experience of settling a huge continental wilderness and creating self-governing communities. I don’t know that we have improved it, but history has allowed us to hold on to aspects of it longer than other peoples. As I said earlier, it has been a purpose of God and nothing we can take credit for or brag about.

DM: What Southern figures, historical or fictional, can inspire us to emulate the best of our heritage?

CW: We have the best example of the most admirable figure in history: General Lee. Something all the world has recognised. For ladies, I suggest a look at the outstanding lives of Varina Davis and Louisa McCord.

“Southern culture is a product of the high point of Western civilization.”

DM: Are there any Southern universities where a sizeable portion of the faculty are committed to the truth of Southern history?

CW: No. As discussed earlier, the culture of American higher education is a total loss to Western civilisation. Look for a little modest bright spot here and there.

DM: Have those associated with the Abbeville Institute ever considered starting an accredited online/brick and mortar school to be able to ensure that those taught in truth can gain the academic standing needed to oppose those teaching falsehoods in classrooms across the nation?

CW: Nobody has enough money to start a brick and mortar college. Even if were done, it would be under constant attack from every quarter and would not be able to defend itself without political power which we do not have. A lot can be and is being done online. It is entirely possible that the plague lockdown will alert people to how useless the present institutions are and give a boost to online learning in which good people can offer wisdom, even if unaccredited.

This piece was originally published at DissidentMama.net.

About Clyde Wilson

Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina where he was the editor of the multivolume The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the M.E. Bradford Distinguished Chair at the Abbeville Institute. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews and is co-publisher of www.shotwellpublishing.com, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books. More from Clyde Wilson

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