[The following essay forms my chapter in the recently-published book, The Vanishing Tradition: Perspectives on American Conservatism, edited by Paul E. Gottfried, 2020. Full publication credits and permission to reprint are found at the end of the essay. This chapter was re-published in the September/October issue of the Confederate Veteran magazine. A couple of small edits were made in the following version.]


No discussion of Southern conservatism, its history and its relationship to what is termed broadly the “American conservative movement” would be complete without an examination of events that have transpired over the past fifty or so years and the pivotal role of the powerful intellectual current known as neoconservatism.

From the 1950s into the 1980s Southerners who defended the traditions of the South, and even more so, of the Confederacy, were welcomed as allies and confreres by their Northern and Western counterparts. William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review and Dr. Russell Kirk’s Modern Age, perhaps the two leading conservative journals of the period, welcomed Southerners into the “movement” and onto the pages of those organs of conservative thought.  Kirk dedicated an entire issue of Modern Age to the South and its traditions (Fall issue, 1958), and explicitly supported its historic defense of the originalist constitutionalism of the Framers. And throughout the critical period that saw the enactment of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, Buckley’s magazine defended the “Southern position,” arguing forcefully on constitutional grounds that the proposed legislation would undercut not just the guaranteed rights of the states but also the protected rights of citizens. Southern authors like Mel Bradford, Richard Weaver, Clyde Wilson, Tom Landess, and James J. Kilpatrick lent their intelligence, skill as writers, and arguments to a defense of the South.

Yet by the 1990s, that “Southern voice” had pretty much been exiled—expelled—from major establishment conservative journals. Indeed, friendly writers from outside the South, but who were identified with what became known as the Old (or Paleo) Right, that is, the non-neoconservative “Right,” were also soon purged from the mastheads of the conservative “mainstream” organs of opinion: noted authors such as Joe Sobran (from National Review), Sam Francis (from The Washington Times), Paul Gottfried (from Modern Age) and others were soon shown the door.

Perhaps the first major example of this critical process came in early 1981, after the election of Ronald Reagan as president. Conservative Republican stalwarts Senators Jesse Helms and John East, both from North Carolina, joined by Democrat Howell Heflin of Alabama, lobbied hard for the nomination of the distinguished Southern scholar, Mel Bradford, to head the National Endowment for the Humanities. Bradford was originally tapped for the position by Reagan.

According to intellectual historian David Gordon, Reagan’s wish “to elevate [Bradford] to the prestigious post did not stem solely from Bradford’s academic credentials. The president and he were acquaintances, and he had worked hard in Reagan’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Influential conservatives such as Russell Kirk and Senator Jesse Helms also knew and admired Bradford.”(1) But the selection met with strong opposition from various neoconservative writers and pundits, including syndicated columnist George Will and prominent figures like Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, who objected strongly to Bradford’s criticisms of Abraham Lincoln. They circulated to the press and to Republican political leaders quotes from Bradford characterizing Lincoln as “a dangerous man” and “indeed almost sinister.”  He was even accused of comparing Lincoln to Hitler.  More, Bradford’s support for the 1972 presidential campaign of Governor George C. Wallace was brought up negatively. In the end, it was neoconservative choice, William Bennett, who was selected for the post later in 1981. (2)

What had happened? How had the movement that began with such promise in the 1950s, essentially with the publication of Kirk’s seminal volume, The Conservative Mind (1953), descended into internecine purges, excommunications, and the sometimes brutal triumph of those who only a few years earlier had shown links to the Marxist Left?

To address this question we must first examine the history of the non-Stalinist Left in the United States before and after World War II. And we need to pinpoint significant differences between neoconservatives who made the pilgrimage from the Left into the conservative movement, and those more traditional conservatives, whose basic beliefs and philosophy were at odds with those of the newcomers. As a mostly neglected but useful source of information, we might look at a long list of critical interpreters of American conservatism, starting with Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, and Mel Bradford, and continuing through Paul Gottfried, Gary Dorrien (The Neoconservative Mind, 1993), and Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke (America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order, 2004). I also bring in my own experience as a witness to the transformation under discussion.  That transformation saw the triumph of a pattern of thinking that went back to only partially recovered onetime adherents of certain deviationist forms of Marxist Leninism.

The complex history of that ideology and, in particular, of the aggravated differences between developing factions in the dominant power structure in Russia would have profound effects on the Communist movement in the United States. After the death in 1924 of the leader of the newly-formed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Vladimir Lenin, a political struggle between the two major leaders who emerged, Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky, revealed the fissures in Marxist Leninist theory and practice. While both men had served the Communist revolution in Russia, 1918-1921, Trotsky advanced a Marxist Leninist position that would stress global proletarian revolution and a dictatorship of the proletariat based on working class self-emancipation, and a form of mass (workers’) democracy. Unlike the Stalinist position which posited the establishment of “socialism in one country” as a prerequisite for furthering the socialist cause elsewhere, Trotsky advanced the theory of “permanent revolution” among the working class. Trotsky’s desired that revolution would be worldwide and pay homage to “democracy.” This would set it apart from Stalin’s more insular emphasis on Russian geopolitical interests.(3)

In the United States, the prominent American Marxist Jay Lovestone (born Jacob Liebstein, of Jewish parentage, in what is now Lithuania) would play a pivotal role not only in the early history of the Communist Party USA, but also in the eventual emergence of what is now known as neoconservatism. (4)   Lovestone’s allegiances were with the Trotsky and another adversary of Stalin, Nikolai Bukharin. Their faction of Communism stressed internationalism, workers’ revolution, and opposition to what was perceived as the overly bureaucratic concentration of power in the hands of high party members. (5)

Eventually expelled from the Communist Party in 1929, Lovestone began a pilgrimage to the Right that brought him finally into the ranks of fierce anti-Communist union activities and eventually counter-espionage action on behalf of the CIA. Thus the title of Ted Morgan’s exhaustive biography, Jay Lovestone: Communist, Anti-Communist, Spymaster (1999), which chronicles his subject’s intellectual journey, and also indicates a direction taken by other American Marxists, beginning in the late 1930s and continuing until their entry into the ranks of staunch anti-Communist movement conservatism in the 1970s.

Indeed, the final breaking point for many of those Marxists who would within a few decades gain a foothold in the American conservative movement probably came with  the recrudescence of anti-Semitism under Stalin in post-World War II Russia (e.g., the infamous “doctors’ plot”).  Horrified and disillusioned by the further derailment of the socialist revolution, these “pilgrims from the Communist Left”—who were largely Jewish in origin—moved toward an explicit anti-Communism. Notable among them were Podhoretz and Kristol, both of whom had sons who would figure prominently in the current neoconservative establishment.

Embraced by an older generation of conservatives, and invited to write for conservative publications, the neoconservatives soon began to occupy positions of leadership and importance. More significantly they changed views associated with the older movement to mirror their own vision. For even though shell-shocked by the effects of Soviet Communism, they nevertheless brought with them a world view drawn from the Left. And they brought with them relentless zeal for furthering this worldview.

A remarkable admission of this genealogy came in 2007, in the pages of NationalReviewOnline. Here one finds the expression of sympathies clearly imported from the onetime far Left and presented in a onetime Old Right publication.  As explained by the contributor Stephen Schwartz:

To my last breath, I will defend Trotsky who alone and pursued from country to country and finally laid low in his own blood in a hideously hot house in Mexico City, said no to Soviet coddling to Hitlerism, to the Moscow purges, and to the betrayal of the Spanish Republic, and who had the capacity to admit that he had been wrong about the imposition of a single-party state as well as about the fate of the Jewish people. To my last breath, and without apology. Let the neofascists and Stalinists in their second childhood make of it what they will.” (6)

Integral to their quest for power within the conservative movement, members of the conservative “new class” were also motivated by a strong desire for professional advancement. This too made it necessary that older, more traditional conservatives give way. Although not a Southerner (albeit sympathetic to Southern conservatives), the respected Old Right scholar Paul Gottfried is a case in point. Advanced by the relevant departments as a candidate for a chair in the humanities at the Catholic University of America, he saw his nomination, like that of Bradford, torpedoed by massive neoconservative intervention. This may have occurred, he subsequently learned, because his neoconservative opponents had someone else in mind for the position that he had sought and was on the point of obtaining.

By the late 1990s the neoconservatives had taken over most of the major conservative organs of opinion, journals, and think-tanks. They also, significantly, exercised tremendous influence politically in the Republican Party (and to some degree within the Democratic Party, at least during the presidency of Bill Clinton). Irving Kristol, one of the intellectual godfathers of neoconservatism, carefully distinguished his doctrine from traditional conservatism. It was “forward-looking” and progressive in its attitude toward social issues like civil rights, rather than reactionary like the earlier conservatism. Its adherents rejoiced over the Civil Rights bills of the 1960s, unlike Buckley’s National Review at the time. Neoconservatives were also favorable to the efforts to legislate more equality for women and for other groups who they felt had hitherto been kept from realizing the American Dream.

Rather than simply attacking state power or advocating a return to states’ rights, the new conservatives, according to Kristol, hoped to build on the existing federal administration. They believed that the promise of equality, which neoconservatives found in the Declaration of Independence, had to be promoted at home and abroad, and American conservatives, they preached, must lead the efforts to achieve global democracy, as opposed to the illogical and destructive efforts of the hard Left, or the reactionary stance of the Old Right. (7) It goes without saying that this neoconservative vision would clash glaringly with traditional Southern conservatism and its foundational principle of states’ rights and opposition to what was perceived to be government social engineering.

Neoconservative rhetoric and initiatives did not go unopposed in the ranks of more traditional conservatives. Indeed, no less than the “father” of the conservative intellectual movement of the 1950s, Russell Kirk, publicly denounced the neoconservatives in the 1980s. Singling out the Jewish intellectual genealogy of major neoconservative writers, Kirk boldly declared in 1988: “Not seldom has it seemed as if some eminent Neoconservatives mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States.” (8) Kirk’s resistance, and the warnings of Paul Gottfried, Sam Francis, Patrick Buchanan and others of like mind emphasized the sharp differences between the Old Right and the ascending neoconservatives.

From the perspective of the Old Right the neoconservatives were “unpatriotic” in the sense that they placed their globalist values of equality and liberal democracy above their allegiance to any historic nation. Indeed they converted their bizarre nationalism into a kind of world faith. According to this post-Christian faith, America was the “exceptional nation,” which held a duty to go round the world and impose its vision, as articulated by neoconservatives, on unenlightened countries. The term “American exceptionalism” enjoyed favor with Lovestone and his break-away, radical socialists. These partisans insisted that the United States existed independently of the otherwise ironclad Marxist laws of history because of its economic abundance and the lack of rigid class distinctions in our society. Lovestone and his followers believed that the strength of a self-reforming American capitalism rendered unnecessary a Communist revolution. America was uniquely open to gradualist approaches for righting social and racial inequalities. (9)

As the former Marxists made their trek rightward more than a half century ago, the linguistic template and ideas associated with “American exceptionalism” were deployed to signify the universal superiority of their conception of the American experience. Further, these retread Marxists read their conception of a reformed and crusading American democracy back into the American Founding. For example, a neoconservative favored political thinker Allan Bloom offers this opinion in The Closing of the American Mind: “And when we Americans speak seriously about politics we mean that our principles of freedom and equality and the rights based on them are rational and everywhere applicable.” Americans must engage in “an educational experiment undertaken to force those who do not accept these principles to do so.” (10)

Although the two groups may seem at times in major disagreement, both the multicultural Left and the neoconservative Right share a basic commitment to certain ideas and tropes. Both use comparable phraseology—about “equality” and “democracy,” “human rights” and “freedom,” and the desirability of exporting “our values.” Despite this overlap, both the dominant Left and the neoconservative Right will try to give their discrete meanings to the foundational doctrine of equality that the two sides share with equal enthusiasm

In their defense of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s and their advocacy of moderate feminism and equal rights for women (now extended to same sex marriage and even transgenderism), the neoconservatives mirror the political stances of the Left. They also seem to agree with the Left’s overarching premises while also criticizing the Left for being excessive in how they implement their policies. Thus we have such neoconservative notables as Ben Shapiro, Jonah Goldberg, George Will, Guy Benson, and others essentially endorsing same sex marriage and wishing to accommodate transgenderism but also insisting that they are moderate “conservatives” who are recognized by reasonable liberals as such. (11)

From the showcasing of such figures one gains the impression that the most recent reversal of traditional moral standards—same sex marriage, or transgenderism—is actually conservative. Or, in foreign policy that it is critically necessary to send American soldiers to fight in faraway jungles or deserts to establish democracy, in effect, to prevent one group of rebels in a Asia or Africa from killing off another group of rebels in that territory—that other group being willing to do the bidding economically and politically of the United States. This crusade takes place supposedly in the name of spreading global equality and freedom and other benefits of American democracy.

Not surprisingly, the Southern conservative historian Mel Bradford stressed the incompatibility of the neoconservative vision with the older republican constitutionalism of the Founders and Framers. According to Bradford, our old republic was not founded on abstractions about equality or democracy, or on some imperative to impose our democracy on the rest of the world.(12) We were not intended to be “the model for the rest of the world,” to paraphrase Allan Bloom. Those notions in the case of the neoconservatives were a hangover from their immersion in a universalism that owed its origin to the radical Left. Traditional Southerners by contrast regarded as the basis for their unity, kinship and blood, an attachment to community and the land. Moreover, both states’ rights and a central religious core annealed the older republican tradition as understood by Southern traditionalists.

Understanding the old republican legacy, as interpreted by Bradford and likeminded Southerners, is essential for differentiating Southern traditional conservatism from the neoconservative vision. North Carolinian Richard Weaver aptly described the society created in the Old South, a century before the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as one based on a communal or “social bond” individualism.(13)  By that Weaver meant that colonists from Europe brought with them to the South a community-oriented individualism which offered enumerated liberties and autarky to each of its members within the parameters of a hierarchical society anchored in commonly accepted traditions.

Settlers on America’s Southern shores, according to Southern conservatives, were not seeking to create an “exceptional nation” dedicated to spreading the gospel of equality and democracy. They were only trying to preserve the order in which they already lived. Paramount for Southerners was the defense of localism and co-existing with other communities and states within a federalized union. According to this Southern conservative understanding of American history, the Northern victory in 1865 overthrew the original republic and paved the way for the present-day success of what the late author Sam Francis called the managerial state…and what we now characterize as the Deep State.

In the so-called “conservative wars” of the 1970s and 1980s Southern conservatism found itself fighting side-by-side with a dwindling contingent of the Old Right. That was understandable, seeing that the Old Right treated the South and even the Confederacy with some sympathy. By contrast, the neoconservatives never hid their contempt for the white South as a quagmire of reaction and racist attitudes. This now supposed linkage between the white South and reactionary bigotry was reflected in the recent efforts of neoconservative TV celebrity Ben Shapiro to defame conservative Republican candidate Corey Stewart in the Virginia Republican primary for the US Senate. Not only did Stewart’s support for Confederate heritage become a negative issue for Shapiro and other neoconservatives, he also made much of the fact that Stewart at one time associated with a former congressional candidate, Paul Nehlen, who later made statements that some observers characterized as anti-Semitic. (14) The tarring of Stewart through guilt by association with someone’s hypothetical anti-Semitism followed a customary neoconservative script. Southern whites who stray to the Right of the neoconservatives are pummeled with charges of racism and anti-Semitism.

Neoconservative historian and Fox News media star, Victor Davis Hanson, also can’t quite master his hatred of Southern white society. In a critique of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren for her insistence on her claimed remote Native American ancestry, Hanson compared modern hard core Leftists to Southerners on the eve of war in 1861. He predictably dredged up images of Southern white racism, accusing Warren of “harkening back to the old South’s ‘one drop rule’ of ‘invisible blackness.’ Supposedly any proof of sub-Saharan ancestry, even one drop of ‘black blood,’ made one black and therefore subject to second-class citizenship.” Further: “The yellow star rectifies this strange situation in which one human group that is radically opposed to the people of white blood, and which for eternity is unassimilable to this blood, cannot be identified at first glance.” Hanson’s linkage between Nazis and traditional Southern conservatives was unmistakable but also unlikely to render him unpopular with his equally bigoted sponsors. (15)

It may be relevant to mention that neoconservative revulsion for white Southerners of a traditionalist persuasion does not seem to be grounded in an unforgiving attitude toward the South for having once practiced slavery and segregation. As Gary Dorrien and other historians have noted about the origins of neoconservatism, a strong identification of this movement with the civil rights revolution came mostly long after the event.(16) In the 1970s neoconservative authors were openly critical of black civil rights leaders for opposing Jewish public educators in New York City and for failing to support Israel. It was the campaign to unseat the Southern conservative Mel Bradford for the directorship of the NEH in 1981 that turned neoconservative journalists into raging enemies of supposed Southern bigotry. This emotion was not however entirely feigned. Neoconservatives have fairly consistently associated the white South with anti-Jewish prejudice; and the invective they unleashed on Bradford may well have been motivated by hostility to someone whom they saw as culturally different from and possibly hostile to their own Jewish subgroup.

Given their profound repugnance for defenders of the white South, it seems unlikely that establishment conservatives would be welcoming them back into their movement very soon. But other developments occurred that suggest that such a welcome would be unnecessary. With the Civil Rights revolution and the subsequent abandoning of the South by the Democratic Party, a change took place in political party identification in the former Confederacy. From the mid-twentieth century when figures such as Senators Harry Byrd Sr. of Virginia, Richard Russell of Georgia, and Sam Ervin of North Carolina—all Southern Democrats—defined Southern conservative politics, the political leadership of the South has undergone transformation.

Ervin is now remembered mostly as the “Watergate senator” who helped bring down Richard Nixon. A Bible-quoting, story-telling, and well-educated, conservative Democrat who rose to become North Carolina’s senior US senator, “Senator Sam” was an archetypal traditional Southern conservative. His speeches on the Constitution and his autobiography, Preserving the Constitution: The Autobiography of Senator Sam J. Ervin (1984), are like a journey back into the mind of the Framers. Ervin defended an American republic and American society that have all but vanished. As a leader of the opposition to the Civil Rights bills of the 1960s he warned against the long-range consequences of federal overreach. Ervin upheld strict-constructionism, and his understanding of states’ rights as an effort to create a bulwark against the modern social-engineering state. His strictures against the Watergate break-in were also directed against the same target, unchecked centralized government. (17)

Ironically, despite its Northern and Jewish roots, neoconservatism gained adherents in the states of the old Confederacy and today seems to dominate Southern Republican politics.  In this it was aided by favorable conservative media, and, in particular, by the generally neoconservative-oriented Fox News Channel. This network offers neoconservative views on a wide range of themes, from American intervention in Syria or Afghanistan and an often awkward outreach to racial minorities, to militantly pro-Likud policies for the Middle East.

Although some political leaders in the South continue to claim the conservative mantle, they stand worlds apart from men like Ervin, Jesse Helms and Harry Byrd. A Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, for example, demonstrates the influence of the pervasive neoconservative narrative. Like many other Southern solons in Washington, such Republicans have advocated vigorous American intervention across the globe and accept the enunciated tenets of an American exceptionalism that would, in effect, impose American-style democracy and equality on nations that appear backward or “undemocratic.” Southern political leaders who are sometimes ranked as “conservatives” also affirm such once-taboo practices as same sex marriage, couching their acceptance as a matter of individual choice. In June 2015, after the Supreme Court rendered its Obergefell vs. Hodges decision, Senator Graham announced that he no longer favored a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman because it might hurt the Republican brand among independents and millennial voters: “…no, I would not engage in the Constitutional amendment process as a party going into 2016. Accept the Court’s ruling.”(18)

Graham also joined South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley and other political and cultural leaders in calling for the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol. This came after the shooting in a black church in Charleston in 2015 by a lone gunman who displayed Confederate iconography.(19) The connection between the flag on the capitol grounds and the shooter was tenuous at best, but it afforded the occasion for nervous Southern politicians to discard an indelible image of Southern heritage identified by the media as a hate symbol. The position taken by many Southern Republican politicians was one more reminder of the difference between traditional Southern conservatives and their putative newer incarnations.

Neoconservatives have also enjoyed success in bringing over to their side Southern Evangelicals. Neoconservative positions have often dovetailed with those of Southerners who profess Dispensationalism or “end times theology,” in which the modern State of Israel is seen to possess the divine mandate given to Israel of the Old Testament.  Perhaps most notable here has been Pastor John Hagee, Pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, with his international media network.(20)  Hagee’s role and activities are similar to those of other church figures, and their influence among Southern Evangelicals is significant. Because of their unswerving theological devotion to the Israeli state and its policies, these advocates and their followers have been open to neoconservative influence generally.

Among traditionally conservative Southern Baptists, moreover, there has been a tendency to adapt to the leftward drifting media. A notable example can be found in the reaction to the violent confrontation between demonstrators from the militant Left and militant Right that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. A scheduled march by various partisans in defense of a threatened monument to General Robert E. Lee was met by counter-protesters from Black Lives Matter, the Antifa movement, and others on the Left. One counter-protester was killed in the resulting melee’.  The media denounced only the right-wing “extremist” demonstrators but avoided mentioning the complicity of the Left in the violence that erupted.(21)

Whereupon a group of Evangelical Protestant leaders announced the formation of a group, “Unifying Leadership,” and sent an “Open Letter” to President Donald Trump. Spearheaded by such prominent Southern Baptists as Dr. Steve Gaines, President of the Southern Baptist Convention; Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Baptist social activist Russell Moore, the group urged President Trump to denounce the “Alt-Right” movement and “white nationalism.” (Trump had previously condemned provocateurs on both sides at Charlottesville, an act that raised the hackles of the Washington establishment and prominent neoconservatives.)

The signers also asked the president to “join with many other political and religious leaders to proclaim with one voice that the ‘alt-right’ is racist, evil, and antithetical to a well-ordered, peaceful society.” Other leaders of American Evangelical Protestantism soon added their signatures to his document. (22) This followed a condemnation by the Southern Baptist Convention earlier that year of what was termed “white supremacy.” Thus in addition to their ultra-Zionist position, Baptist and Evangelical Protestant leaders made common cause with neoconservatives in highlighting the danger of white racism that government must continue to address.

The surprise election of Donald Trump with his vision to “make America great again” was an indication that a somnolent and older grass roots tradition, a native populism that owed more to William Jennings Bryan than to George W. Bush, was on the rise again. The future president’s apparent questioning of the shared Left/Right consensus on America’s duty to spread democracy and equality together with his later refusal to follow the consensus narrative on the Charlottesville incident suggested that he was not in the mold of establishment Republicans.

The rise of Trump threw both the neoconservatives and their Southern imitators off stride, at least temporarily. Despite his New York origin and his brashness of manner and language, the electoral earthquake occasioned by Trump’s triumph had wide–ranging consequences beyond the election of a president. Such stalwart neoconservatives and establishment Republicans as Bill Kristol (Irving’s son), George W. Bush aide Peter Wehner, Steve Schmidt (who ran John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign), former New Hampshire Senator Gordon Humphrey, and Max Boot (major foreign policy advisor to McCain) joined the Never Trump opposition. Boot, in a Washington Post column, announced that he was leaving the Republican Party and blasted what he termed the “Trumpian revolution” that was working “to transform the GOP into a European-style nationalist party that…believes in deportation of undocumented immigrants, white identity politics, protectionism and isolationism backed by hyper-macho threats to bomb the living daylights out of anyone who messes with us.” (23)

Indeed, the alacrity and eagerness with which white Southerners voted for the new president has been frequently noted, and not always favorably. But since white Southern support for the GOP has been surging for decades, none of this should have been entirely unexpected.  Certainly Trump did not go out of his way to appoint Southern conservatives to his administration, but he has also not been hostile to them and even came out in defense of preserving Confederate monuments. (24)

There has also been a revival of interest in preserving “Southern heritage” which has found followers in all social classes. This has been fueled by the war to pull down monuments and plaques commemorating the Confederacy and by efforts to remove the Confederate Battle Flag in the South from public buildings. In this crusade neoconservatives have been largely vocal as enemies of anything that treats the Southern white past favorably. But opposition to the leftist anti-Confederate Taliban project has surfaced nonetheless at the same time. During the furious debate over monuments, much to the surprise and shock of both pollsters and the governing class, nearly two-thirds of Southerners favored keeping them in place. (25)

What is abundantly evident, however, is that Southern conservatives, properly understood, have no place in the present establishment conservative movement. Well over a century ago Jefferson Davis declared: “Truth crushed to earth is truth still and like a seed will rise again.” It will be interesting to see if this will be true for that older Southern conservatism. They are plainly a hindrance to the “movement” as it reaches out and tries to form alliances and frame dialogues with the opposition, always on the Left. Southern conservatives may also be anathema to the conservative movement in its present instantiation because that movement continues to depend on neoconservative funders and media personalities. In any case what has happened to this ousted and defamed part of the Old Right warrants our attention if we seek to understand where the conservative movement has gone since the 1960s. In this case as in others those bearing an ideology with leftist roots have been allowed to marginalize the true Right.




(1) David Gordon, “Southern Cross: The Meaning of the Mel Bradford Moment,” The American Conservative, April 1, 2010, accessed at: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/southern-cross/

(2) David Frum, “Culture Clash on the Right,” The Wall Street Journal, June 2, 1989; and Gordon, “Southern Cross: The Meaning of the Mel Bradford Moment.”

(3) See Elliott Johnson, Elliott David Walker and Daniel Gray, Daniel. Historical Dictionary of Marxism. Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements (2nd ed.). (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Maryland, 2014), p. 294; and also generally, Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution & Results and Prospects [1906]. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1974 edition.

(4) Paul Buhle, “Jay Lovestone’s Thin Red Line,” The Nation, May 6, 1999, accessed at: https://www.thenation.com/article/lovestones-thin-red-line/

(5) Ted Morgan, A Covert Life: Jay Lovestone: Communist, Anti-Communist, and Spymaster. (New York: Random House, 1999), pp. 4-6 et sq.

(6) Quoted by Paul Gottfried inTakimag.com, April 17, 2007

(7) See Irving Kristol, “American Conservatism, 1945-1995,” The Public Interest, Fall 1995.

(8) Russell Kirk, “The Neoconservatives: An Endangered Species,” Address, The Heritage Foundation, December 15, 1988, accessed at: https://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/the-neoconservatives-endangered-species In response to Kirk’s comments, Midge Decter, wife of Norman Podhoretz and director of the Neoconservative-oriented Committee for the Free World, denounced his remark as “a bloody piece of anti-Semitism.” See John Judis, “The Conservative Crackup,” The American Prospect, Fall 1990, accessed at: http://prospect.org/article/conservative-crackup

(9) Albert Fried, Communism in America: A History in Documents (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), p. 7.

(10) Allan Bloom, quoted in Paul Gottfried, War and Democracy: Selected Essays, 1975-2012 (London: Arktos Media, 2012), p. 110.

(11) See, for example: Jonah Goldberg, “America Is Not As Intolerant We Make It Out To  Be,” National Review, April 20, 2018, accessed at:  https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/04/america-not-most-racist-sexist-nation-progress-made/#slide-1; Seth Stevenson, “The Many Faces of Ben Shapiro,” Slate,  January 24, 2018, accessed at: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/01/is-ben-shapiro-a-conservative-liberals-can-count-on.html;  and Guy Benson, “SCOTUS Rules 7-2 Against Anti-Religious Bullying, But Punts on Key Legal Question,” Townhall.com,  June 4, 2018, accessed at: https://townhall.com/tipsheet/guybenson/2018/06/04/scotus-sides-with-christian-baker-72-what-the-ruling-does-and-doesnt-mean-n2487144?utm_source=thdailypm&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=nl_pm&newsletterad=. While Benson defends the recent Supreme Court decision supporting the Christian bakers’ refusal to bake an individualized cake for a gay wedding, he also declares “some of us [conservatives] support LGBT rights,” an increasing number within the conservative movement. Benson, himself, is openly gay.

(12) M. E. Bradford, “The Heresy of Equality: Bradford Replies to Jaffa,” Modern Age, Winter 1976, pp. 62-77, accessed at: https://www.unz.com/print/ModernAge-1976q1-00062

(13) Richard Weaver, “Two Types of American Individualism,” reprinted as chapter five in The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver, edited by George M. Curtis III and James J. Thompson Jr. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1987), pp. 82, 102. See also, generally, Weaver, The Southern Tradition at Bay: A History of Post-Bellum Thought (New Rochelle, NY, first edition, 1968).

(14)  Peter d’Abrosca, “Daily Wire Tries to Coerce Jerry Falwell Jr. to Drop Corey Stewart Endorsement,” Big League Politics, June 6, 2018, accessed at: https://bigleaguepolitics.com/texts-daily-wire-tries-to-coerce-jerry-falwell-jr-to-drop-corey-stewart-endorsement/

(15) Victor Davis Hanson, “The Confederate Mind,” National Review, March 20, 2018, accessed at: https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/03/progressives-elizabeth-warren-hillary-clinton-race-based-worldview/

(16) See Gary Dorrien, The Neoconservative Mind (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993), pp. 150-155, for a discussion of Kristol’s controversial essay, “My Negro Problem—And Ours,” Commentary 35, no. 2 (February 1963).

(17)  See Boyd Cathey, “Rejecting Progressivism by Recovering the Fullness of the American Past: Senator Sam Ervin,” My Corner by Boyd Cathey, October 23, 2017, accessed at: http://boydcatheyreviewofbooks.blogspot.com/2017/10/october-23-2017-my-corner-by-boyd.html

(18) Stassa Edwards, “GOP Should Change Its Position on Gay Marriage,” Jezebel.com, June 28, 2015, accessed at: https://jezebel.com/lindsey-graham-gop-should-change-its-position-on-gay-m-1714496783

(19) Eugene Scott, “Graham: ‘Flag had to Come Down. And thank God it has’,” CNN, July 9, 2015, accessed at: https://www.cnn.com/2015/07/09/politics/confederate-flag-2016-south-carolina-lindsey-graham/index.html

(20) “Pastor John Hagee,” Christians United for Israel. Leadership, accessed at:           https://www.cufi.org/impact/leadership/executive-board/pastor-john-hagee/

(21) See Boyd Cathey, “Thoughts on Charlottesville and What It Means for Us, The Unz Review, August 15, 2017, accessed   at: http://www.unz.com/article/thoughts-on-charlottesville-and-what-it-means-for-us/ . Among Neoconservative pundits Ben Shapiro has been consistent in his attacks on President Trump’s response to the Charlottesville incident, accusing the president of turning a blind eye to what he called “increasingly reactionary racial polarization” by not forcefully singling out  for condemnation the Alt-right and what he terms white nationalism. See Shapiro, “Left Tries To Blame Trump For Charlottesville. Here’s Why They’re Wrong,” The Daily Wire, August 14, 2017, accessed at: https://www.dailywire.com/news/19676/left-tries-blame-trump-charlottesville-terror-ben-shapiro

(22) “Southern Baptists, Others Release Letter on ‘Alt-Right’ to Trump,” Christian Index, October 2, 2017, accessed at: https://christianindex.org/southern-baptists-others-release-letter-on-alt-right-to-trump/

(23) Max Boot, “I left the Republican Party. Now I want Democrats to take over,” The Washington Post, July 4, 2018, accessed at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/i-left-the-republican-party-now-i-want-democrats-to-take-over/2018/07/03/54a4007a-7e38-11e8-b0ef-fffcabeff946_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.99d9ea3eba6a

(24) John Savage, “Where the Confederacy Is Rising Again,” Politico, August 10, 2016, accessed at: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/08/texas-confederacy-rising-again-214159; Max Greenwood, “Trump on removing Confederate statues: They’re trying to take away our culture,” The Hill, August 22, 2017, accessed at: http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/347589-trump-on-removing-confederate-statues-theyre-trying-to-take-away-our;  and a northern perspective, “Feeling Kinship With The South Northerners Let Their Confederate Flags Fly,” National Public Radio, May 4, 2017, accessed at: https://www.npr.org/2017/05/04/526539906/feeling-kinship-with-the-south-northerners-let-their-confederate-flags-fly. For a fearful but revealing Leftist view: Mason Adams, “How the Rebel Flag Rose Again—and Is Helping Trump,” Politico, June 16, 2016, accessed at: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/06/2016-donald-trump-south-confederate-flag-racism-charleston-shooting-213954

(25) See, for example: Jennifer Agiesta, “Poll: Majority see Confederate Flag as Southern pride symbol, not racist,” CNN, July 2, 2015, accessed at: https://www.cnn.com/2015/07/02/politics/confederate-flag-poll-racism-southern-pride/index.html; also, Elon University Poll results and article, News and Observer, October 3, 2017, accessed at: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article176748721.html#storylink=cpy; Meredith College Poll, October 11, 2017, accessed at: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/according-to-a-new-poll-61-percent-of-north-carolina-voters-are-fine-with-confederate-monuments/Content?oid=8681113; and Marist College Poll, August 17, 2017, accessed at: http://maristpoll.marist.edu/nprpbs-newshourmarist-poll-results-on-charlottesville/



“The Unwanted Southern Conservatives,” by Boyd D. Cathey, from The Vanishing Tradition: Perspectives on American Conservatism, edited by Paul Gottfried. Copyright (c) 2020 by Cornell University. A Northern Illinois University Press book published by Cornell University Press. Used by permission of the publisher.


Boyd Cathey

Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.


  • Morgan Wiseman says:

    It is now too late for the Robert E Lee monument in Richmond Virginia. It has been taken down and “cut into pieces” How does this happen and what right do they have to destroy it? Why didn’t someone, or some group like the Abbeville Institue, buy it and save and preserve it? Where are you guys?
    I am sick to my stomoch.

    • Scott says:

      Well, to be fair, the Abbeville institute isn’t a monument preservation group, this anger should be, and rightfully so, directed at the SCV and the UDC, they are the ones tasked with defending our monuments. As much as I love the SCV, they need to do more to defend these monuments.

  • Bud says:

    I agree with Morgan Wiseman. Why didn”t someone or some organization save Lee”s monument?

  • Rick Swan says:

    I am totally aghast that one or two individuals, or a small group of South haters, can be allowed to destroy public property without any accountability. Where are the legislatures in the affected states? It would be easy for them to enact a law requiring a popular vote BY THE PEOPLE to determine the disposition, if any, of the Confederate statues, plaques, etc., honoring OUR (American) history. Unilateral destruction has never been our country’s accepted means of eliminating anything. LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE! Where are you members of the legislatures? Or are you too weak and afraid you won’t get re-ellected if you oppose the willful destruction by these hate-mongers? Stand up and be counted worthy of your honored elected positions! You might find that in doing so you have greater support.

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