Once More … It’s Not About You … Or Me

One of the most bizarre aspects of heritage politics is the tendency of people to confuse past and present.  Take this recent exchange over at a certain Facebook group about a mobile exhibit provided by Virginia’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission:

Who are “we?”  I’m unaware that anyone who participated in the secession movement of 1860-61 is alive today.  And as for these “awful people who hated us then and now,” I am unaware that anyone who was alive during the events of 1860-1865 is alive today.  I understand that one might want to argue that “they” hate “us” to make “us” feel better/outraged/whatever, but it’s begging the questions of who “we” and “they” are.  In this case, it becomes even a little more problematic when someone points out that “they” are in fact “our own people,” which reminds me of that old expression from Pogo:

Another characteristic of this variation of the Confederate heritage movement is the incessant need to construct an Other, a group of people who are out to get “us,” who hate “us,” who want to deny “us” “our” heritage, and additional nonsense.  Among other things, this tactic represents an interesting way to evade defining in positive terms what “we” are celebrating and honoring.  Have you ever noticed that failure of heritage advocates to offer a compelling positive affirmation of what in fact they think should be honored and commemorated, and what about those qualities is distinctively “southern” or Confederate?  Defending family?  Not uniquely southern or Confederate.  Defending a belief system or a way of life?  Not uniquely southern or Confederate.  Is there anything, in fact, about Confederate heritage that is distinctive?  If there is, you would never know it from the outbursts of its most visible activists on the internet (even those who have asserted that they want to be less visible).

Take the Virginia Flaggers.  They would like the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to “restore the honor” by placing Confederate flags in and around on the outside of the Confederate Memorial Pelham Chapel.  Am I to understand that the VMFA has the power to take away the honor?  Must be, if they can “restore” it.  I’d argue that what the VMFA does or does not do has anything to do with “restoring” the honor of the service of Confederate soldiers.  As someone once put it nearly 149 years ago, “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”  So what we have here instead is a group that rips off a slogan offered by Glenn Beck and claims that the VMFA has within it the power “to add or detract” from the service of Confederate soldiers.  I think not.

The same observation goes for the flurry that accompanied the opening of the Museum of Confederacy’s Appomattox facility.  I saw no affirmation of Confederate heritage among the protesters.  I saw flags, some group bonding, and a sign reminding us that Ulysses S. Grant once owned a slave, as if somehow saying that was enough to shutter the museum.  The museum’s still there … and the Flaggers are not.

In short, many advocates of the Confederate heritage movement in fact do not celebrate Confederate heritage.  They even have trouble defining it.  The best they can do is to claim that “it,” whatever “it” is, is under attack.  It is in fact the failure of this movement to define what they are celebrating and to make that case, to provide a compelling alternative, that tells me that in the end this movement will continue to fail to achieve anything else than the obfuscation of historical understanding.

Finally, every once in a while I hear the following cry: “Remember: If you can’t leave, you are not free!”  To this I say: No one is preventing you from leaving.  Go somewhere else.  Be as good as your word.  There’s nothing preventing you from emigrating elsewhere.  After all, none of you are actually able to mount a secessionist movement within the United States.  All that talk is just hot air.  So assert your freedom, first by renouncing your United States citizenship … now.  The people you claim to honor did that.  Why are you too afraid to do so?  If you really wanted to honor Confederate service, you would do what they did and stand up, renounce, and leave.  Until you do that, you bring dishonor upon the cause you seek to honor, and you reveal yourself to be the very cowards others think you are.

If you want to make this about “you,” go ahead.  Make my day.

17 thoughts on “Once More … It’s Not About You … Or Me

  1. Andy Hall April 22, 2012 / 11:36 am

    No one is preventing you from leaving. Go somewhere else. Be as good as your word. There’s nothing preventing you from emigrating elsewhere. After all, none of you are actually able to mount a secessionist movement within the United States. All that talk is just hot air. So assert your freedom, first by renouncing your United States citizenship … now. The people you claim to honor did that. Why are you too afraid to do so?

    In Ms. Bass’ case, she’s not likely to want to give up her Social Security, Medicare, federal employee retirement pension, and her home in a community that was incorporated in 1963 to serve the minions of the “Empire,” er, NASA.

    There’s nothing wrong with being critical of the government; it’s central to a functioning democracy, in fact. But in Ms. Bass’ case, there’s a deep and abiding ridiculousness to her own, uniquely inflamatory rhetoric.

  2. jfepperson April 22, 2012 / 12:01 pm

    Ms Bass once complained about my “causes” website in a series of emails—she wanted me to include some of the writings and speeches of Michael Hill from the League of the South!

  3. MikeD April 22, 2012 / 4:14 pm

    And this umbrage is over the depiction/discussion of the Battle of the Crater?! Of course any mention of Confederates treating blacks as anything other than comrades-in-arms and happy slaves shakes them up. Their heads are probably really gonna explode when Levin’s book hits the shelves. After all, it’s a two-striker, given its subject matter AND its author.

  4. atmackey April 22, 2012 / 5:12 pm

    “To argue with a man [or woman] who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture. Enjoy, sir [or ma’am], your insensibility of feeling and reflecting. It is the prerogative of animals. And no man will envy you these honors, in which a savage only can be your rival and a bear your master.” [Thomas Paine, The Crisis, March 21, 1778]

  5. Mark April 23, 2012 / 9:49 am

    >> Is there anything, in fact, about Confederate heritage that is distinctive? . . . In short, many advocates of the Confederate heritage movement in fact do not celebrate Confederate heritage. They even have trouble defining it.

    In my view there are aspects that are distinctive (though not enough to support an independence narrative or movement, which is why secession/indepence failed as Stampp observed), but the curious thing is that these folks wish to dismiss them as myths. It was distinctive, but not too distinctive you see. Confederate heritage is just like yours, only better. A goldilocks strategy, but they’re not telling us what represents the chairs.

    Brooks puts his finger on the cognitive dissonance at the heart of it. This is a great blog. Another great and perceptive post.

  6. Alex R Harrington April 23, 2012 / 1:48 pm

    Proclaiming independence from repressive federalism is the natural course of a people who regard their regime as acting in contradiction to their principles. Since when does regionalism trump national agenda? It did so in the 1850’s when tax revenue was misappropirated to a peculiar regional agenda. Railways and waterways are crucial to commerce, and the experiment in federalism failed to display the wisdom of conserving the power held by such a congressional majority. The federalist system continually displays arrogance and fails to recognize its inherent folly. Independence from foreign manipulation is what we fought. It is The Fourth of July. The articles of confederation would present a better alternative to the comtemporary federal system. Western democracies should speak out and condenm the most corrupt pseudo-democratic city-state in the world–namely Washington DC. The United States Federal Government has been a party to more wrongs without remedy than any other so called despotic government. I believe no human or president can change it for the better. Our democratic principles are a fleeting illusion.

  7. Mark April 23, 2012 / 4:51 pm

    >> Proclaiming independence from repressive federalism is the natural course of a people who regard their regime as acting in contradiction to their principles.

    I would agree, it’s just that the Civil War wasn’t about that. Read “Behind Confederate Lines” by Charles W. Ramsdell (a student of William Dunning) or “Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism” by Mark E. Neely Jr. The Confederates created a highly powerful central government for use by a highly powerful chief executive for just the sort of stuff you (and I) hate. Here’s a few quotes from Ramsdell.

    “. . . by the spring of 1863 . . . the state and Confederate governments . . . generally with the approval and. in truth, at the demand of the people, involved an unprecedented extension of political authority and control which not only would never have been tolerated before the war but which ran counter to the whole political philosophy of the southern people. Of course, these were held to be emergency measures, applicable only to an unusual and desperate situation; but the show something of the willingness to dispense with principles and practices no longer workable and to adopt other methods. And these Southerners, it should be remembered, were fundamentally a conservative people.”

  8. Mark April 23, 2012 / 4:56 pm

    Here’s another from “Behind Confederate Lines”:

    “If we look back at what had been done during less than two years of war, we find that the southern people had already abandoned their habitual laissez-faire concepts of the functions of government. They had required their state authorities to attempt to check the dangerous increase in the cost of living. Although their was common-law precedent for the measures and though they were unsuccessful, they mark a decided break with earlier practice in the South. The relief laws for the benefit of indigent families of soldiers resulted, doubtless, from considerations of policy as well as humanity, for the responsible leaders well understood that otherwise the men of these families could not be kept in the ranks of the army; but the acts themselves were on a scale never before attempted in this country. More striking, in some ways, were the restrictions placed upon the customary rights of farmers and planters to plant what they pleased. The prohibition laws, another radical departure from custom, although intended primarily to conserve foods, seem to have had as a secondary purpose the elimination of intoxicating liquors. And the state governments were beginning other unprecedented activities which have not yet been mentioned: they were taking up the manufacture or purchase of certain absolute necessities for the use of their people. This was to lead them into fields hitherto reserved for private business. Of course it was imperious necessity that brought them to it. but the mere fact that they did these things and were supported by their people in doing them shows that long-cherished traditions and laws and political principles are likely to be set aside when the general public interest seems to demand a change.”

    And I’ve not even got to impressments, which were highly unpopular acts by an overweening state to seek its own ends at the expense of many people. I’m a small government Conservative, but I know too much about what actually happened during the CW for you to tell me the war was about federal overreach. It wasn’t.

  9. Mark April 23, 2012 / 6:15 pm

    I want to correct something. I said I agreed with the statement that “proclaiming independence from repressive federalism is the natural course of a people who regard their regime as acting in contradiction to their principles.”

    I misspoke. What I meant was that seeking independence from the condition of repressive government is natural. Seeking national cultural independence is not. Seeking governmental correction is an intramural debate engaged in by groups unified culturally. This gets to the heart of Brooks’ trenchant observation about the amorphous nature of the cultural claims by Confederate groups, and their use of “the Other.”

  10. Pat Hines April 24, 2012 / 7:00 pm

    I’d say that we are Southrons that are a part of the southern nation and as such, in 1860 we began to lawfully aggregate that nation via lawfull secession.

    Lincoln, and his junta, committed treason to stop our lawful movement.

    • marcferguson April 25, 2012 / 4:41 am

      “we”? “treason”? Have you read the criterion for treason in the Constitution? And were you actually there?

    • Corey Meyer April 25, 2012 / 7:10 am

      There is that “we”, “us” and “our” thing again. Pat, did you serve under Lee or Hood? How come, if it is “your” movement, did the actual Confederate soldiers give up on the movement at Appomattox and Bennett Place?

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