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My “Noxious” Views

This is rather amusing.  Apparently I have become worthy of being denounced by Jamie Kirchick at Commentary [1] for my sympathy for the Confederacy.  Kirchick’s “discovery” that I have belonged to the League of the South for many years will come, I expect, as no surprise to anyone who has been reading this blog for very long.  On my sidebar are links to the League of the South’s webpage and its blog, I have written several times for Chronicles, which also links to the League’s site, and I have repeatedly defended the principles of secession, decentralism and constitutionalism that I regard as being an inseparable part of the political tradition of the Antifederalists, Jeffersonians and the Confederacy.  I still belong to the League, but I am not active in the group.  My statements about Lincoln over the years should have left no one in any confusion about my views of the War or its negative effects on the Republic.  In essence, Kirchick believes that it is somehow disqualifying or unacceptable to reject the acts and legacy of an executive usurper and that it is wrong to sympathise with the people who fought for their constitutional rights against this usurper. 

I don’t consider my membership or my views on the War to be shameful or requiring any apology.  I don’t defend the legacy of the man who ushered in a destructive, illegal war that killed hundreds of thousands.  It does take a certain fanatical mindset to see mass destruction and violence as the correct solutions to morally repugnant institutions, and let me be clear that I believe slavery was such a morally repugnant institution.  I reject the mentality that says that the ends justify the means, and that the slaughter of other people is acceptable for the sake of ideology and centralising power.  I will gladly compare my views on this with anyone who defends illegal and aggressive wars and the intrusive reach of the central state. 

I should say that some of the things I said in the post [2] to which Kirchick refers were intemperate and at least one was wrong.  The shot at Boot was excessive, and I shouldn’t have said that.  In that I was being hot-tempered and wrong.  However, the rest of my views are so “repellent and noxious” that they are shared by such conventional pundits as Walter Williams [3] and even to some degree by no less than Democratic Sen. Jim Webb [4], who once said about the cause for which two of his ancestors fought:

I am not here to apologize for why they fought, although modern historians might contemplate that there truly were different perceptions in the North and South about those reasons, and that most Southern soldiers viewed the driving issue to be sovereignty rather than slavery. In 1860 fewer than five percent of the people in the South owned slaves, and fewer than twenty percent were involved with slavery in any capacity. Love of the Union was palpably stronger in the South than in the North before the war — just as overt patriotism is today — but it was tempered by a strong belief that state sovereignty existed prior to the Constitution, and that it had never been surrendered. Nor had Abraham Lincoln ended slavery in Kentucky and Missouri when those border states did not secede. Perhaps all of us might reread the writings of Alexander Stephens, a brilliant attorney who opposed secession but then became Vice President of the Confederacy, making a convincing legal argument that the constitutional compact was terminable. And who wryly commented at the outset of the war that “the North today presents the spectacle of a free people having gone to war to make freemen of slaves, while all they have as yet attained is to make slaves of themselves.”

All of that states the matter very well.  I remain convinced that the vast majority of Confederate soldiers were fighting for constitutional liberty, including one of my own ancestors, and I think that was, is, something worth defending.  If that repels the Jamie Kirchicks of the world, I have to conclude that I am on the right track.

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19 Comments To "My “Noxious” Views"

#1 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On January 16, 2008 @ 2:15 pm

Well, I [5], but of course you and Sen. Webb did the job better than I.

When I was Kirchik’s age, I might have coveted a job with an opinion weekly, but I hope I would not have accepted being Marty Peretz’s lap dog.

#2 Comment By Daniel Larison On January 16, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

Thanks, GOM. I did see your comment earlier, and I appreciate it. This is the second time someone has made a point of citing my membership in the League of the South, as if it were somehow disqualifying. I might as well point out that Kirchick is associated with Commentary.

#3 Comment By Koz On January 16, 2008 @ 3:15 pm

Sorry, my other comment was supposed to go here.

“I’ll grant you that support for the Confederacy is a more complicated subject than the usual discourse on the subject allows, but if you really do support a “Southern Nationalist organization whose ultimate goal is a free and independent Southern republic” then to some extent Kirchik’s gripe is legit”

#4 Comment By Daniel Larison On January 16, 2008 @ 3:17 pm

Not a problem. I just responded in the other thread.

#5 Comment By Koz On January 16, 2008 @ 3:22 pm

“But what is his real gripe exactly? That instead of merely talking about the legitimacy of secession, I support a secessionist group? If I supported the Second Vermont Republic, would that be any different? Is the problem that they are secessionists, or is it that they sympathise with the Confederacy? Or is it both? Which of these is the “noxious” view that “respectable” people are supposed to find unacceptable?”

I’ll continue this here if it’s ok (I didn’t mean to dredge up that other post from three years ago).

First of all, without getting into too much detail over the Confederacy, I’ll concede that I don’t understand the totality of Kirchik’s gripe and suspect that much of it is overwrought.

_My_ gripe is that, apparently, you support a group that is _currently_ secessionist, which I really don’t think is respectable, in contrast to having some affinity for the culture of the Old South, which is ok by me at least.

#6 Comment By Tom Piatak On January 16, 2008 @ 3:22 pm

Kirchik takes an unseemly delight in being Marty Peretz’ heresy hunter du jour. You should wear his juvenile attack as a badge of honor.

#7 Comment By Daniel Larison On January 16, 2008 @ 3:31 pm

Don’t worry about dredging up the old post. It would seem that Kirchick has done that already. I suppose my question would be: why is not respectable to support a secessionist group? I think political decentralisation in America would be best for preserving and increasing liberty, and I think support for secession is that view taken to its logical conclusion. George Kennan proposed in his later years that we could not have a properly constitutional republican government in a country as large as this one, and suggested that the country be divided up into a number of polities that cooperated and kept cordial relations with one another. Secession is what the Founders did to create the Union, and our independence was premised on withdrawing consent from a government that the patriots viewed as a usurper of constitutional rights. In what sense was it respectable to hold those views then, but it is not respectable today? Obviously, nothing compels you to respect views if you simply don’t respect them, but I am curious as to why.

#8 Comment By Daniel Larison On January 16, 2008 @ 3:32 pm

Trust me, Tom, I do. I thought some things needed clarification, and I realised on re-reading the post that I had gone a bit over the line at one point.

#9 Comment By Roach On January 16, 2008 @ 3:43 pm

Neocons with their slogans employed as substitutes for real education have made the Republican Party and the conservative movement boring beyond belief. I’d love to hang out with the John Randolph Club any day of the week over the conformist, politically correct, and cowardly gangs at the Weekly Standard, AEI, or any of the other “K Street Conservatives.”

I don’t quite share your view on the South, but I don’t think it’s laughable either. I’ve written on my blog how we’ve gone from a tragic story that emphasizes the “brother against brother” aspects of the Civil War and the military valor of both sides, to a stitled morality play that portrays the South and its forces as a predecessor to the Nazis, both of which are wrongly equated as the epitome of absolute evil.

#10 Comment By Daniel Larison On January 16, 2008 @ 3:56 pm

Also, I should say that I was in full-on polemic mode when I was writing that. Contrary to the reference to “teary-eyed apologists,” I don’t excuse or justify the moral wrongs of the South, which like any human society was tainted by our fallen nature, but I also recognise that there were many things worth defending in that society that we are worse off for having lost them. Among those things is the possibility of peaceably severing your ties to your government and forming a new one.

It is strange that few see anything the matter in Burke’s condemnation of the evils of the French Revolution, even though that did not mean that he endorsed everything about the French ancien regime, but to condemn the far greater damage that the Red Republicans did here is to make you, at least in the eyes of some people, an apologist for everything that was wrong with the South.

#11 Comment By tcowan On January 16, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

Daniel,

What a ridiculous article by Kirchick! Does anyone really read “Commentary” anymore? All it did was tempt me to join up with the League (something I have heretofore resisted, having an aversion to Civil War reenacters.)

I’ll put my Southern credentials up against anyone’s–direct descendant of 8 Confederate veterans (7 g-g-grandfathers and 1 g-g-g-grandfather). Only my wife’s is better–her people arrived on the 2nd ship to Jamestown. That said, my heart doesn’t go pitty-pat over the old Confederacy. My views are tempered somewhat by the fate of my Unionist sympathizer kin (Southerners, all) who were hanged for being, well, Unionist sympathizers.

But cheap attack articles like Kirchick’s, really get under my skin. The on-going 140-year old debate (whether Slavery or Constitutional issues precipitated the War) is a legitimate historical inquiry. There is little question, however, as to the results of the war. This is the point you have made, Daniel. The ante-bellum principles and assumptions were busted up and cast aside, replaced with a system that might be called more “dynamic” (except in the South, where impoverishment persisted for generations), but also coarser, rougher, unprincipled and decidedly less lovely.

And the irony runs deep with these guys. As you note, we are a country born out of secession. And yet, defending the original Constitutional principle of secession is now considered “noxious.”

I am glad you referenced Keenen as well. His analysis is correct, and his proposed solution wise. Our current borders are the result of aggressive wars, intimidation, diplomacy and bribery. There is nothing particularly inviolate about them, and yet we assume that this will forever be the case. I find it humorous that what we find appropriate for Pristina, we ridicule for Atlanta…or Santa Fe.

End of rant.

#12 Comment By Koz On January 16, 2008 @ 5:35 pm

“Obviously, nothing compels you to respect views if you simply don’t respect them, but I am curious as to why.”

Because as a practical matter, the result of the Civil War ought to be, by now a settled issue. Because the American polity is predicated on that being the case. Because there is little or no support for secession anywhere in the country, including the South. And finally because the last time we went through it, this secession business was the cause of much bloodshed.

There was one thing I was curious about regarding your train of thought, but I’ve
never had the chance to ask anyone. Why, as a admirer and supporter of the Confederacy, doesn’t Lee’s surrender at Appomattox speak for you and your political aspirations for the South?

#13 Comment By jaloren On January 16, 2008 @ 5:47 pm

I can’t speak for Kirchick specifically but I believe the reason liberals, such as myself, object to valorizing the Confederacy arises from the fact that chattel slavery was a defining element of that culture.

It is true that Lincoln’s purpose in waging the Civil war was over secession not slavery. But it is also true that the reason the South seceded arose from their belief (a false one most likely) that Lincoln, and the political factions he represented, would attempt to end slavery. The South’s primary reason (there were a variety of others) was to protect the material wealth that they accrued through the systematic and brutal subjugation of African Americans.

In other words, this isn’t an otherwise good culture with a few bad cultural apples but a rotten cultural barrel with a few good apples. Most cultures will have some redeeming aspects to it (and I imagine the Confederate South had many) but you can’t brush aside the fact that slavery was its socio-economic foundation with a “every culture has its flaws because of human nature.” Without slavery the South that you valorized would have never existed.

On a related note, I am unclear of what relevance the beliefs of Confederate soldiers have to this discussion. There are plenty of conflicts in the historical record in which people volunteered to fight for the right reasons but for the wrong side.

Generally speaking, the embrace of a culture that is significantly (though not entirely) defined by the brutal subjugation of a racial minority isn’t the most attractive to a liberal or said minority.

In sum, the valoration of traditional culture may seem fairly attractive to individuals who would be valorized by that culture, but not so much to the minorities that would be screwed over by it.

That is why liberals find your embrace of the Confederate South so objectionable.

#14 Comment By Anthony King On January 16, 2008 @ 7:39 pm

By same reasoning any embrace of the United States is also very objectionable. Brutal subjugation of others, whether distant or near, has been business as usual in most places and in most times. Justifying the destruction of South on such grounds is transparently hypocritical. Go ask what’s left of the indigenous people of this land if the United States came into existence because of respect for minorities. By the same standard to which you hold the Confederate South, the United States owes its existent to theft, lying, and murder.

#15 Comment By Carter On January 16, 2008 @ 8:45 pm

That guy is a nasty piece of work.

#16 Comment By Roach On January 16, 2008 @ 11:04 pm

Southern Culture is defined by high regard for tradition, somewhat pagan notions of personal honor and physical courage, and by an aristocratic contempt for meanness, lack of generosity, and purely instrumental rationality. In other words, even the lowliest broke Southerner has a gentleman lingering in there, and it’s something urban yankees will never understand.

#17 Comment By wagonjak On January 17, 2008 @ 11:40 am

“I don’t defend the legacy of the man who ushered in a destructive, illegal war that killed hundreds of thousands. It does take a certain fanatical mindset to see mass destruction and violence as the correct solutions to morally repugnant institutions…”

You can’t defend Bush then can you?

…because all of the above in reference to Lincoln could be applied to this war criminal…

#18 Comment By Daniel Larison On January 17, 2008 @ 2:13 pm

I have to assume that you are new to this blog, or you wouldn’t ask that question. Relatively few on the right have condemned Mr. Bush as harshly and as frequently as I have. Indeed, it is for these same reasons that I oppose the war in Iraq and have done so since the beginning.

#19 Comment By haddox On January 17, 2008 @ 3:35 pm

Here are a couple older Jamie Kirchick quotes I found ironically amusing in light of his overwrought broadside on Daniel. From this article where he covers his dating woes as a “gay former leftist” . . . http://www.boston.com/news/globe/magazine/articles/2007/08/05/left_out?mode=PF


“But with him, as with other liberals I know, tolerance does not always extend to appreciating someone else’s differing political views.”

“. . . but I generally believe that government makes a mess of things and that society is better off when the state only does what’s absolutely necessary.”

Also, another feather in your cap, Daniel. Looks like Jonah Goldberg linked favorably to Kirchick’s attack on the Corner.