The problem with Southern Nationalism today is much the same as the problem with mainstream conservatism: Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson is a scourge to the South in many ways. The author of possibly the single most destructive sentence in the history of Western civilization (“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”) and strong supporter of the French Revolution, he was among the farthest Left of the Founding Fathers and certainly the most prestigious Leftist of the early American period. Highly intelligent but contradictory and flawed in many ways, he espoused the mantra that all men are equal and opposed slavery while refraining from putting those principles into action himself, leaving it to his countrymen to sort it out for themselves on the field of battle decades later. He was able to introduce just enough of the Leftism virus into the American system of government to ensure its eventual destruction while simultaneously paying enough lip service to Rightist ideas that he has always been held in high esteem by most conservative elements throughout American history.
From the start of the American experiment, Jefferson was the shining star of the South, our hero and intellectual champion. He at once made us relevant by connecting himself to fashionable European ideas and respected by being the smartest guy at the table. In many ways it was inevitable that the Leftist portions of his ideology would seep into the Southern psyche. Antebellum Southerners liked him for his agrarianism, Confederates liked him for his talk of “consent of the governed,” and postbellum “New South” advocates liked him because he was their connection to the Enlightenment. Jefferson has always been the bridge between Southerners and the Enlightenment, to which the weak and ignorant among us can turn when we desire a pat on the head from our enemies.
Rightism that is not adopted in whole will sooner or later become Leftism. Jefferson, of course, wanted to keep the best parts of traditionalist society while introducing just enough Leftism to “fix the world.” But Leftism always metastasizes, feeding on and destroying the best parts of human society. That is why Jefferson and his fellow Founders failed. The antebellum South, witnessing the effects of rampant Leftism in the North, realized this by fits and starts, gradually purging Leftist elements from their worldview, culminating with secession. The Confederacy was, in essence, an attempt to protect the nascent South from the Leftism cancer, and was the closest any American group has come, possibly excepting the Mormons, to fortifying a lasting Rightist society.
Of course, they failed, and the specter of Jefferson returned to haunt us. New South proponents resurrected him to display to the world that Southerners were the REAL Enlightened ones. Populism and industrialism, like cracks in the dam protecting us from Yankee Leftism, took hold and gradually expanded. This culminated in the 1970s and 1980s as the Southerner on the street gave up the fight against the forces of Modernism and retired to their homesteads.
Today we face a much different problem than our Confederate ancestors. They inherited a strongly traditionalist culture where Leftism was relegated to the fringes of society. Today, we’ve inherited a Leftist society. Even in the South, Leftist propaganda and white guilt cause the majority to either explicitly criticize traditional principles or stay silent about the whole matter. Our mission has become rooting out the cancer, rather than simply keeping it out. The Confederates had a chance to succeed by reverting to the original interpretation of the Constitution, scrubbed of notions of “equality” and “human rights” because they possessed a traditional society grounded in agrarianism and hierarchy. We have no such luxury, and must instead build, quite literally, from scratch. Reintroducing Jefferson, or paying homage to his ideas, is an excellent way to recreate the mess we have on our hands today.
Now, our great strength is that we still have a good number of Southerners who are essentially impervious to contracting the Leftism virus today; to wit, a disdain for mass media, strong ties to family and land, and anti-intellectualist character. They are content, established in their way of life, because their distinctly Southern worldview produces a lasting transcendence above petty modern concerns. This tells us that our thede still adheres to Rightist principles, is indeed inherently anti-Leftist. However, Leftism is designed to take advantage of and destroy the smallest straying from this worldview: the very traits which protect our people from Leftism also prevent them from having very much influence on society at large. This tells us that a reformation or a reversion to a Rightist society while keeping the bulk of our current system of government, economic system, or even morality system is impossible. Any person or group who even comes close to effecting any significant change in the Right direction will inevitably be crushed, discredited, or subverted. The mountain we have to climb is simply too steep in the current climate, and this climate is a result of ideas Jefferson supported. This is a lesson which most Southern nationalists have not grasped. Recreating the Confederacy, or restoring the Constitution, by seceding tomorrow cannot work, because the South is a fundamentally different place.
This essay is not targeting any specific organization, rather Southern Nationalists as a group, but let’s look at the top dog: the League of the South. It is the flagship of Southern Nationalism today, led by Dr. Michael Hill. I like the LoS and Dr. Hill says all the right things. Go check out their Articles. Good stuff. But they still insist on street protesting, holding clever signs and waving at passers-by. What could they hope to accomplish by such demonstrations? I can’t find a good source, but I’d guess they would answer, to spread their message, attract new members, get donations, etc. This ensures that if the movement does actually gain any sort of power, it will almost certainly be populist, and populism is just a symptom of Leftism. Focusing your outreach on mass dissemination of promises is a good way to gain the support of a bunch of low-information voters, not so much on affecting large scale change of the Leftist establishment. The LoS has even been known to endorse (fringe) Presidential candidates. If this precedent is set, how could they possibly prevent a democracy from occurring if they were to gain real power?
You cannot achieve Rightist results with Leftist tactics. Even if you had success with those tactics, the Leftist establishment has such a monopoly on true power in the modern milieu that you wouldn’t last a week. So what to do? Southern Nationalists, and Rightists in general, must act as custodians, gardeners if you will, cultivating the plant, growing it in the Right way, waiting for the opportunity to let it see the light. No one knows what the failure of the Leftist establishment will look like, precisely, but it will certainly fail. Prematurely deploying a Rightist movement is a certain formula for getting it destroyed, and the way of life it seeks to preserve along with it.
The just-how-much-Leftism-do-we-want-to-cut-out question is the primary one facing Southern Nationalists today. Until they, as a group, start answering “all of it,” identifying Leftism with sin itself, and applying Rightist principles to themselves, their outreach tactics, and their plans for the future, they risk total failure or the subversion of their movement into a vehicle for the further promotion of Leftism. The ghost of Tom Jefferson is alluring and makes for an attractive story, but he will ultimately undermine any efforts to establish an effective Rightist society or government.