For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time…
William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust
The Civil War / War Between the States / War of Secession is unquestionably the Main Event of Southern history, and even Southern identity. And it should be. As prophesied by wise men in the antebellum period, the War was a defining moment for the New World, and even, if I may, the entire Occident. Whether one considers it good or bad, Northern victory is the acknowledged foundation on which much of the modern world rests. The history of it reads like an epic drama – it’s the most written about event in American history, producing more than one book published per day since 1865. It simply possesses a huge amount of appeal for anyone with a modicum of interest in history.
This has both positive and negative effects for those of us who want to preserve and revive the Southern worldview. The positive effect is the Old South receives what amounts to a ton of free advertising. While just about all of it is anti-Southern, as they say, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” Likely a non-negligible number of people are attracted to the Southern viewpoint after coming into contact with all this talk about the War. This is beneficial and is a major reason why interest in the Confederacy remains relatively high (as compared to, well, any other losing side in history).
But it is the drawbacks which I wish to discuss here. For the pro-Southern camp, excessive emphasis on the War creates what I call the Confederacy Vortex. This is a sinkhole-like effect in which people are pulled into refighting the War in a historical context, to the detriment of preserving the principles for which they fought today. You likely know the types I mean – those who spend huge amounts of time arguing over the internet or elsewhere about the causes of the War, the way it was fought, etc. Essentially, they endlessly argue over who was right.
Of course, I believe that the Confederacy was right, and I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to convince others of this. I spent years trapped in the Confederacy Vortex; years which yielded little return and which would have been more productively spent on other studies. Not much more than a basic grasp of the history of the War is required to demonstrate the rightness of the Confederate cause (although coming to terms with slavery takes a bit more); the Vortex prevented me from doing anything meaningful with that knowledge. I simply had to spend my time reinforcing my positions again and again, rather than resting assured that my analyses were correct and expanding into other areas.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans is a good example of an organization trapped in the Confederacy Vortex. SCV proponents can and will defend the Confederacy from all assaults. But this overarching focus on the Confederacy to the detriment of other periods of Southern history encourages attempts to progressivize the Confederacy (for example- “Secession had nothing to do with slavery”). Restricting one’s focus to CSA-promotion requires one to try and adapt the Confederacy to whatever the prevailing winds of contemporary feeling happen to be. Hence “Rainbow Confederates.” One need look no further than SCV worship of figures like H.K. Edgerton – doubtless a good man, but it is delusional to think he should be the face of a Confederate organisation.
Another example is the book The South Was Right!, a sort of neo-Confederate historical manifesto. It’s been a long while since I’ve read it, and when I read it I was exactly the type of person at which this post is targeted. I remember agreeing with all the viewpoints which the book presented, but even then I was kind of annoyed; I felt it could do nothing more than preach to the choir. No doubt it won a few people over, but it certainly isn’t optimized for this purpose, with its gaudy cover and non-serious title. Not to say it isn’t a good book; but what has it done to improve our overall chances of success against the forces of modernity? Not much, in my estimation.
The thing which those caught in the Confederacy Vortex have in common is that they greatly reduce their ability to influence the future of the South in any meaningful way. They focus all of their energy on reliving and refighting one battle that has already been lost, rather than focusing on the war which we are in the process of losing. They stand in formation at Gettysburg while General Lee flees towards Appomattox. To fulfill our inherited obligation to our ancestors who died on those fields, we must work to understand the society from which they came, and try to revive the principles which underlay that society. This can only be accomplished by close and unfettered study of the entirety of Southern history.
Excessive emphasis on the War, when not relegated to pure historical interest, hinders our ability to understand our current struggle by way of reframing the entire dispute. True, the War was North vs. South, but a deeper understanding tells us it was in reality a battle of Left vs. Right. North vs. South, while not a completely inaccurate way to frame our modern struggle, is on the whole obsolete and insufficient for delineating our friends and enemies. The Left vs. Right dichotomy places the War in its proper context and sheds light on the greater conflict which started before the War and continues today.
Another way which the Confederacy Vortex confounds is that the short view of history which characterizes it emphasizes single individuals and events instead of the forces which drive them. For example, those in the Confederacy Vortex tend to consider Abraham Lincoln as a Bad Guy who was the author of the destruction of the South. While this view is not wrong, it is shallow in that it overlooks the forces which produced Lincoln and gave him his place in history: Leftism and liberalism. Lincoln was ultimately a placeholder, not a Great Man, not a true influencer of history. He was simply a representative of a more sinister force which survives and continues to wreak havoc today. Had Lincoln never lived, another would have filled his place; it would have changed nothing but minutia.
Lest my meaning be misconstrued: I am not saying “Forget about the Confederacy.” The Confederacy in nearly all respects embodied the Old Southern civilisation and therefore should be held in high esteem by all defenders of the principles of said civilisation. The problem arises when the Confederacy is emphasized as the end-all, be-all. In the final analysis, the Confederacy represents only four years of a struggle in which the South has been embroiled since 1789. There is a way to properly venerate our ancestors today, and it is assuredly not to continue to fighting their 150 year old battle. North vs. South has been lost; only a clean up crew remains. The war of Left vs. Right still rages; while our prospects aren’t looking bright, our chance, our opportunity to participate in this conflict lies before us still. On its face, the Confederacy Vortex can appear to be satisfying and worthwhile; the problem is that it doesn’t lead anywhere.