The Flag Controversy: We Did It To Ourselves

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Who looks at Lee must think of Washington;
In pain must think, and hide the thought,
So deep with grievous meaning it is fraught.

Herman Melville, “Lee in the Capitol,” April 1866.

“Be of good cheer: the flag is coming down all over, and it’s coming down because Rand Paul is right: it is inescapably a symbol of bondage and slavery, and it is inescapably a symbol of white contempt for the humanity of black people.”

Rod Dreher, “Driving Old Dixie Down,” The American Conservative, June 23, 2015

In the wake of the dark evil perpetrated by one Dylan Roof upon the members of the historic Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, we are faced with calls for the lowering of Confederate flags and the removal of Confederate monuments. That such calls emanate from the Left is nothing new.   Their game has been one long demonization of the South bolstered by a Neo-Abolitionist myth that is every bit as myopic and simplistic as the other mythologies that pass for interpretations of American history. What is perhaps disconcerting to many in the South is that erstwhile allies and fellow conservatives have decided to dip into the treasury house of cheap moral vindication and even cheaper virtue. Chamber of Commerce Republicans such as Governor Nikki Haley are all about the “Benjamins.” They believe flag is bad for business so it must come down. Senator Rand Paul is a politician, and one whom I have some limited admiration for; yet he is a politician all the same and his job is to pander. Mr. Dreher, ah we shall return to Mr. Dreher in a moment. We might pause and think why these and other folk have decided to abandon the memorialization of the Confederacy? My dear reader, I suggest that we have met the enemy and it is not Haley, Paul or Dreher; it is us.

Now that I have offended you dear reader, I suggest that it well behooves us to examine the flag controversy in South Carolina back in the 1990s. The usual dichotomy came out during that debate: heritage versus hate. A compromise was eventually agreed to whereby the flag would no longer be flown from atop the state house dome, but would be transferred in a more diminutive form to a Confederate memorial on statehouse grounds. All in all this was not a terrible compromise; all parties to the debate did get something, if not everything, that they wanted. Some voices who opposed moving the flag warned that this was not a final compromise, but just a first step in removing Confederate symbols and names from public places, a type of operation memory hole. Of course these voices were correct.

The opponents of the Confederate flag do want the flag to come down everywhere. On this issue, the aforementioned Mr. Dreher and former Secretary of State Mrs. Clinton are in full agreement, odd paring though this couple may seem. This my dear reader illustrates the power of myth over the hearts and minds of Americans. The Neo-Abolitionist myth of the Civil War reduced the war to one single and solitary clause: slavery upheld by a fundamentally racist order. Like all myths there was contained in this a bit of truth. The slavery debate was certainly central to the war, but there were a host of cultural, political, and economic conflicts which were as well. Some historians have even made some noble attempts at unraveling these complexities: Avery Craven in his book The Coming of the Civil War; Anne Norton’s Alternative Americas; and Susan-Mary Grant’s, North Over South to name but a few. Much more work needs to be done, for the subject is a complex maze requiring the highest degree of skilled historical scholarship and semiotic study.

The stumbling block is that Americans, including Southerners, hate complexity.   In part this is due to our pragmatic temperaments forged through frontier experiences of various sorts; in part it is also an effect of the triumph of secular puritanism in American culture. The latter is especially pernicious for it reduces all conflicts to a Manichean struggle between the forces of light and darkness. The way it works in the Neo-Abolitionist Myth is the assertion that the extension of slavery was the sole or primary cause of the war, and slavery being a horrible, racist and oppressive institution; it follows that anything associated with the old Confederacy must by nature also be horrible, racist and oppressive. Of course there are facts get in the way of this myth, but this does not stop the mythologizers. One may point out that if Southerners were so absolutely insistent on expanding slavery how was it that there were a total of 31 slaves in all the western territories in 1860? Indeed, by leaving the Union weren’t the seceding states excluding themselves from said expansion? Moreover, any southern dreams of rushing down to Cuba or Mexico would have run into a not well pleased British navy and U.S. navy. And finally, when James McPherson, a man whom the historian Gary Gallagher credited with re-introducing the “slavery is the sole cause of the war” argument into the debate, produced his book, What They Fought For, he found that the vast majority of troops north and south did not view slavery or its abolition as the causus belli; most Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs viewed the contest as a defense of union, constitution, and hearth. The response to such findings is not to ask searching questions, but to either ignore the evidence or perhaps claim that the ordinary soldier was a dupe.

Immediately after the war two mythologies emerged to explain the war’s meaning. We might call the southern version the Lost Cause and the northern version the Union Manifest. In both versions southerners were viewed as noble and gallant opponents who had tried to thwart the march of progress, and thankfully they had been defeated. Missing form these myths were the African Americans (and I might add Native Americans), and New Left historians were right to suggest that weaving their perspective into the tapestry of the story might well help us to understand the complexities of the Civil War and its origins. Ah, but many of these folks went searching for a myth and found one in the Abolitionist worldview, a worldview that is starkly Manichean and allows for no compromise. The believers in the Neo-Abolitionist Myth are able to make a good bit of hay from the evil and disturbed actions of people like Dylan Roof.

So how are we Southerners responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves? Well I believe there are at least two ways.     First, the insistence that the Confederate flag and memorials only stood for “heritage, not hate” tacitly concedes the point that said flags and monuments now belong in museums. After all, most Americans associate heritage and history and other such things with museums. The second way is a bit more complex, so forgive me mythologizers and pragmatists. Southerners have rightly pointed out that the misuse of Confederate symbols by the local bigot or racist should in no way preclude their exclusion from public life. After all, the American flag, the Cross, and the Crucifix have been similarly misused. Where the Southern argument fell apart was on the point of heritage. When heritage was invoked, his opponent responded, “Yes, the heritage of slavery.” Most often the Southerner retorted that the heritage in question was a defense of home and dearth, recognition of sacrifice. The opponent would then respond again with, “No, the defense of slavery.” What was missing from the Southerner’s arsenal was the heritage of self-determination, states’ rights, and local governance. For you see dear reader, those things are, shall we say, gone with the wind. No, not when there is federal largess to be had, Duck Dynasty is on cable, and multi-national corporations must be courted. When Estonians were seceding from the Soviet Union, an action our federal government opposed, they rallied under the Confederate flag. These Estonians had a far better sense of the flag’s meaning than many of the descendants of the men who fought under that flag. What Southerners allowed over the decades was to permit their enemies and their erstwhile friends to redefine and impose meaning upon their symbols—a very dangerous concession.

I began this piece with two separate quotes. Mr. Melville, a supporter of the Union, knew the meaning of the South’s struggle, he found it embodied in Robert E. Lee and like any good American confronted with complexity he suppressed it. Mr. Dreher, who has written intelligently on a host of religious and social issues and who has positioned himself as a defender of local communities, must be warned of the path he trods. Aside from subscribing to a faulty and over simplistic, indeed even Manichean perspective on the flag, I believe him to be gravely unaware of the danger his argument contains. Allow me to edit Mr. Dreher’s words quoted above, “Be of good cheer: the cross is coming down all over, and it’s coming down because it is inescapably a symbol of anti-Semitism, bigotry, and medieval superstition, and it is inescapably a symbol of Christian contempt for the humanity of Muslims and gays.” Don’t think it would not or could not happen. Mr. Dreher has written well about the rapid secularization of the culture and the hostility towards Christians; he should know better than to dabble in the arts of the Manichean enemy. Indeed we have seen similar arguments used against Christian symbols in the past that follow Mr. Dreher’s reasoning and phrasing with respect to the Confederate flag.

It is not the Left, nor Mrs. Haley, nor Messrs. Paul or Dreher who shall bring the flag and the monuments down. We did it. We simply no longer believe in the true principles the flag embodied: self-determination, state’s rights, and local governance. We abandoned these principles and in doing so created a vacuum of meaning which our enemies exploited, and that dear reader is why the flags and monuments may well come down.

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7 thoughts on “The Flag Controversy: We Did It To Ourselves

  1. I owe my thanks to Thomas DiLorenzo for awakening me to the causes of the War for Southern Independence and the Real Lincoln.
    Long Live
    Thomas Jefferson.
    John Taylor.
    St George Tucker.
    Abel Upshur.
    Jefferson Davis.
    Albert Taylor Bledsoe.

  2. “Where the Southern argument fell apart was on the point of heritage. When heritage was invoked, his opponent responded, “Yes, the heritage of slavery.”

    John, you are right on the mark and I have an example to share just in case a few of your readers doubt the veracity of your assessment.

    This past weekend, I happen to listen to the beginning of Garrison Keillor’s ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ on National Public Radio, a live broadcast from Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts. Just past the four minute mark of the program, Mr. Keillor, a native of Minnesota and a textbook example of a bleeding-heart “liberal” began a monologue regarding the week’s political news:

    “Well, the President had a good week this week all thanks to Republicans (audience applauding), it was the Republicans who did it for him this week, they passed the trade bill which the Democrats had some squeamishness about and the [Republican] Supreme Court allowed Obamacare to live despite some grammatical errors in it (more applause), and the Republicans came out against the Confederacy, after 150 years, they have come out against it; it was not a good idea, (audience laughter interrupts monologue), it was not a good idea, a war on behalf of the institution of slavery (applause continues); and then there was the decision this week by one Republican justice from Sacramento, California that made it possible for our gay friends to get married in this country (applause reaches a crescendo) in all 50 states . . . so it was a Republican week absolutely and I think I have to sing this song. . .

    Mr. Keillor then proceeded to sing a tune lampooning ‘Dixieland’ and ridiculing Southerners and the Confederate flag, ending with the line “put the flag away in a museum.” It was surreal to listen to these anti-values being promulgated against Southerners on a local North Carolina radio station paid for and supported by Southerners.

    A link to the program:

    Please note the key sentence of the monologue, “it was not a good idea, a war on behalf of the institution of slavery.” And that is how our enemies have framed it!

    However, by accepting the basic premises of the enemy, Southerners have lost completely because they are always on the defensive and in war, defensive tactics never win!

    Perhaps it was inevitable given the monopoly on power our enemy possesses coupled with his ability to dishonestly frame the argument, regardless of our efforts to counter it. Regardless, the impotence and helplessness displayed by the Southern cause in this affair is a spectacle to behold.

    About the only good thing to come out of this will be the destruction of the Republican Party given that its politicians are taking the lead in this cultural jihad against the South. Of course, if the Southern population is so degenerate that it continues to vote for Republican candidates, then it is moribund and will suffer the same fate as the rest of the country.


  3. I take some degree of contention with the premise of this article, though to some degree it is undeniably true.

    But I state categorically, We didn’t do it. We have tried and failed. Why? We simply have not been heard, for those who oppose us refuse to listen with any degree of credulity. It does no good to mention states rights and self-determination, because people have been conditioned as if in a Skinner box to reflexively respond these are mere pretexts to cloak the racism and slavery.

    I’m a Southerner, a Southern partisan, and a Catholic–a convert. What I routinely encounter are non-Southerners and non-Catholics constantly telling me what I, as a Southerner, think, why I think it, and what I, as a Catholic, believe.

    Once a woman minister in the Presbyterian church attacked me saying I was an idolator and worshiped Mary. I took the time to patiently explain the distinctions of honor afforded those worthy of honor in the attainment of holiness: there’s dulia, which is reverence afforded saints and angels; there’s hyperdulia, give only to the Theotokas, the Mother of God, and then there’s Latria; fall down on your face worship and adoration, to be given only to the Divine Persons of the Trinity.
    I finished, she looked at me blankly for a moment, and said, “You worship Mary, and that’s Idolatry.”

    I find a similar experience when I defend the South. All too many people have no patience to hear my protestations to the contrary, for they have been brainwashed quite well into the myths and lies fabricated by the court historians of the Unitary State to elicit and secure their fealty to said Unitary State.

    My point: even when those of us who can vigorously defend the Southern position, and defend it well, the vast number of people want neither to hear it nor consider it.

    One characteristic of those who are brainwashed is that they’re utterly oblivious that they’ve been brainwashed. A second mark of the brainwashed is the utter inability to question the principles and premises of their brainwashing—even when undeniable, empirical and historically documented facts and records are presented, they are unable to comprehend that their beliefs could be in error.

    This age is too weak for paradox, for fine distinctions that are the earmark of an educated and wise mind. This is a mindless age, if you will, a Manichean age, with mindless ignorant leaders, with masses lacking the basic tools of critical thought, void of the patience needed to take time to consider the distinctions and complexities that alone will lead to a true understanding.

    But, true to the Manichean spirit, the Spirit of the neopagan Puritan poison, what most people want is to feel righteous, and that means a witch hunt, a fabricating of whipping boy, or a boogey man to whom they can feel superior.

    As Theoden, King of Rohan said during the attack at Helm’s Deep, “What can one do against such reckless hatred?!?”

  4. I apologize–I missed you posting of my previous comments and thought you had done as Michael Scheuer does on this excellent blog, Non-Intervention: block out all that seems contrary to this thesis or all that may amend his views.
    I loathe those who speak of liberty and our first amendment rights and then do the very thing they have condemned.
    I stand by my post, the point being in the form of a question: what can be done about those so filled with reckless hatred that they simply will not hear your protestations?

  5. The inevitable result of what is occurring to the South right now is due in large part to the indoctrination of our Southern youth through the public school system for many many years.

    We are a product of what our masters want us today. The only recourse for the Southern people is for a total economic collapse to occur in this country. The few, decent, we are a product of what our masters want us today. The only recourse for the Southern people as for a total economic collapse to occur in this country. The few hard working people will make it through the collapse and be able to rebuild our Southern nation and our culture the way that it should be.

    Deo Vindice!

  6. “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
    ― George Orwell, 1984

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