A review of Writing on the Southern Front: Authentic Conservatism For Our Times (Routledge, 2017) by Joseph Scotchie
Joe Scotchie’s recently published anthology Writing on the Southern Front: Authentic Conservatism For Our Times made me aware of the task that confronts every serious student of the Right—recovering what otherwise might slip down the Memory Hole. Both the American media and, more generally, American political culture have moved so far away from anything that looks even vaguely non-Left that we may soon need archeologists to rediscover what has been driven underground. American “conservatism” (yes the scare quotes here are very deliberate) is now represented by Jonah Goldberg, telling us how frighteningly homophobic, racist, anti-Semitic and sexist the 1950s were and Rich Lowry calling for the removal of all statues of Robert E. Lee, since they may offend American blacks. It is therefore comforting to read Scotchie’s latest effort to revive and defend an “authentic conservatism.”
Similarly, I’ve also been watching on Fox News the steady procession of “proud, Republican” homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, and “moderate” feminists and wonder whether I’ve tuned in by mistake to a multicultural festival. Recently, I heard the “conservative” Geraldo Rivera explaining on Fox News how truly blessed we are by having so many Latinos streaming across our borders and assimilating “at a rate that’s faster than any ethnic group” in US history. My cup runneth over with such “conservative” verities.
Scotchie, a native of Asheville NC who now works as a journalist in Queens NY, has returned to his task of recovering ideas and traditions that don’t pass the current PC litmus test. In books on paleoconservatism, the “Southern” history of Asheville, Richard Weaver and Pat Buchanan, Scotchie has tried to bring to life what the American Right, when it still existed as part of the permissible political conversation, believed and revered.
Not all of his heroes, like Robert E. Lee, the Southern Agrarians, Thomas Wolfe, Sam Francis, M.E. Bradford, Douglas Southall Freeman, the biographer of Washington and Lee, and Patrick J. Buchanan, would necessarily have agreed on all basic moral and political questions.
But they all fit easily into a plausible Right, a position that I explore in an essay “Defining Right and Left” included in my 2017 anthology Revisions and Dissents. Scotchie associates the Right (even when he doesn’t use that term) with a strong sense of family and place, a settled authority structure, deep reservations about modernity, and the belief in a fixed human nature.
Scotchie is also intensely loyal to the historic South, which he understands as did one of his subjects Richard Weaver, as a premodern, hierarchical society. Throughout his essays and commentaries, including the ones on literature, it is hard to ignore Scotchie’s revulsion for globalism and uprooted anthropoids.
I was particularly struck in reading his anthology by how, in the last piece in the book, Scotchie eulogizes his recently deceased friend “Mark Royden Winchell, the Last of the Vanderbilt Greats.” Like Joe, I was moved by the early death of this brilliant essayist from Clemson University, who rarely expressed political opinions but whose sensibilities were apparent.
More than ever, Mark sided with the cause of the Old Right and the conservative South. He opposed the Iraq War, and on the pages of The American Conservative, offered up the America First foreign policy of his fellow Ohioan Robert Taft as a proper antidote to endless foreign meddling. Mark also published an extensive critique of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., one that not only focused on King’s plagiarism, adultery, and support for leftist politics, but one that also mourned the passing of the George Washington—Abraham Lincoln America of Mark’s youth.
Although I was hardly aware of Mark’s strong political statements until I read this eulogy, produced in 2008, I am delighted to discover that we were all on the same page regarding the Zeitgeist. It is also good to know that Mark came to the defense of the Southern Agrarians against the charge that they were (what else?) racists.
But I am even more pleased that Mark managed in his abbreviated life to expose the multiple shortcomings of that now exemplary conservative saint, Martin Luther King. The cloying tributes to this glaringly flawed Leftist that come each year around January 19 from Heritage Foundation and other outlets of Conservatism, Inc. were particularly oppressive this year. It is gratifying to known that our fallen comrade weighed in against this mendacious hagiography, variously featuring King as a lover of family values, a traditional Christian theologian, and a martyr for conservative causes.
For clarification: I’ve never shared the deep disgust for King felt by my late friend Sam Francis and by other members of the Old Right. I just loathe the transparent lies told about him by phony conservative journalists and foundations. The fact that these contemptible fabrications don’t attract minority support is not at all surprising, given their nonsensical character and given the now fixed political identity of blacks and the white Left.
Among Scotchie’s topics and personalities for discussion, another that especially interested me, given my preoccupation with modern European history, is the essay devoted to British statesman Enoch Powell. Scotchie approaches this British Tory opponent of immigration through Simon Heffer’s exhaustive biography, Like the Roman: The Life of Enoch Powell, which was published in 1999. Despite his lustrous careers as a classics professor, British officer during World War Two, and member of the Tory shadow cabinet in the late 1960s, Powell fell from grace after delivering what is misleadingly called the “Rivers of Blood” speech against unchecked immigration in 1968. The most offending line from that speech, about “the Tiber River foaming with much blood,” was drawn from Virgil’s Aeneid—a Latin epic that Powell had no doubt taught during his years as a classics professor in Sydney, Australia. Immediately after giving this oration, Powell was dropped by Tory leader Edward Heath from the shadow cabinet. Misnamed Conservatives then alternated with the Labourites in denouncing this moving target as a xenophobe.
Powell, one of the most learned and intelligent Englishman to enter national politics in the twentieth century, was destroyed socially and professionally (although VDARE.com Editor Peter Brimelow argues he in fact came much closer to returning as Tory leader than is generally realized) for expressing views on immigration that in 1954 his mentor Winston Churchill had stated far more boldly. By the late 1960s the political pendulum on immigration and other social questions was moving rapidly Leftward; and so even slightly right-of-center celebrities were being hammered by the Leftward-moving media for stating what had been previously unexceptional views.
Scotchie notes in praising this fallen victim of PC:
Powellism lives, but not in England. Meanwhile the civilization he loved and honored may yet survive, but throughout Western Europe and North America, it is more imperiled than ever.
This judgment may be overly sanguine.
A slightly different version of this review as published here.