Neo-Redneckery II: The Neo-Confederates

It's the slavery, stupid!

by Matthew Hogan

Neo-confederacy and neo-redneckery

Yes, Virginia, for certain other States, the Civil War was "about slavery." But now some context.

In the previous Ethical Spectacle, I proposed that there is a resurgent threat within and to the American Right from a concept I call Neo-Redneckery. Neo-Redneckery is a sense that the USA ought to be or remain, through conscious political and legal steps, a white and/or Christian country. It is, in my opinion, a growing force post 9/11 and deprives the Right of its far more valid stands for economic freedom, respect for tradition, unforced eager patriotism, rejection of victim-based political correctness, preservation of Second Amendment validity, and limitation of government (especially federal).

Here I want to take on a particular manifestation of Neo-Redneckery which is known by another "neo-" word: Neo-Confederacy. Neo-Confederates seek to revalidate the Confederate States of America as a force of virtue and liberty. Usually they defend Southern grievances against a prevailing favoritism in the 19th Century of Northern economic interests obtained through abuse of federal power. John Ashcroft was alleged to have been associated with one such neo-Confederate group, though perhaps unfairly. Neo-Confederacy should also be distinguished from a very valid love of things, people, and places Southern, like the grand moving ode "Dixie", country and jazz music, or chicken-fried steak. Neo-Confederacy is insidious not because of regional sentimentalism, but from its desire to make heroic an institution whose real motives were the elevation of proto-Nazi race ideology and human chattel slavery into fundamental state doctrine.

I am brought to this issue by what is otherwise an important and mostly praiseworthy new work "The Real Lincoln" by Professor Thomas DiLorenzo (who is not, at least specifically, the "stupid" in this article's title). In his work, he rather brilliantly shows us the side of Lincoln ignored by admiring historians -- a ruthless politician, even a dictator, who waged brutal war, bent and broke the Constitution, and indulged a new form of nationalism. With the latter, he set up a reckless and violent federal machine that would go on to slaughter the Indians, devour the currency, and arrogate imperial power.

So far, so good.

The case for secession is also strong and neo-Confederates are not wrong to advance it. Yes, even by slaveholding jurisdictions too. Ought not caste-systemed India have had a right of secession from the anti-slavery British Empire? Or Sudan, or (from France) Mauritania, which still have slaveholding as a practice?

But DiLorenzo somewhat, and others more so, go much farther. And too far. They attempt to re-validate the Confederacy itself and its goals, and to do so simply by showing the misdeeds of the federals or asserting the right of State secession. This evasion of the true nature of the Confederacy revolves around the repeated false assertion by neo-Confederates that the Civil War was "not about slavery". In some ways, perhaps not, but the Confederacy itself was.

But it was so, and painfully obviously so. Although it is true that the North was not originally fighting to abolish slavery but simply to forcibly preserve the Union, it is still a fact that the issue that caused the South to secede was not the unfair tariffs or the revenue appropriations forced upon them by the federal government. The decisive issue was the desire of the secessionists to preserve a massive and institutionalized system of forced ownership of human beings -- the hellish antithesis of free trade and the worst form of misappropriation of rights and wealth. Lincoln's arrogation of power may indeed have sent us far down F.A. Hayek's "road to serfdom", but the Confederacy was already there, celebrating and defending the destination.

We do not need to engage in polemics of historians to show this. We need only ask the authoritative spokespersons of the time what they thought the Confederate secession was about. Here's what Alexander Stephens in his "Cornerstone Speech" of March 21, 1861 had to say. Stephens was Vice-President of the new Confederate States of America.

The new [Confederate] constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution -- African slavery as it exists amongst us -- the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.

Stephens further noted, to resounding applause, that his values were in direct contradiction to those of the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated [race slavery] as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right....Our new government is founded upon ... the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural and normal condition.

{For full speech link to}

Let's now hear what Jefferson Davis, later to become the Confederacy's President, had to say about the reasons for Southern secession. Addressing the US Senate, he declared:

[W]e are to be deprived in the Union of the rights which our fathers bequeathed to us....Mississippi has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions....We but tread in the path of our fathers when we proclaim our independence, and take the hazard.

The shocking idea that all men are created free and equal was what the Confederacy existed to subvert. That the "negro" was not a naturally subordinate creature whose proper role was to serve whites was thus the very heresy the Confederacy was founded to resist. That is not merely what abolitionists, Yankees, or subsequent Lincoln fans have said; the secession being about slavery and racial inequality was what the Confederate leaders themselves solemnly and repeatedly declared.

{Full speech link to}

Crude Redneckery

Neo-Redneckery has thus developed its own form of deceptive political correctness: the concept of the virtuous Confederacy. Like Black Nationalism, which asserts only its strengths in seeking the empowerment of African-Americans in the face of racism while evading facing the movement's vicious theories of racial superiority, neo-Confederacy also attempts to make freedom-fighters out of freedom-haters, universalists out of those who explicitly want collectivist racial supremacy. In trying to denounce either Hitler or Stalin, however, there is no necessity to make the other into something virtuous.

But as the above quotations show, Neo-Confederate neo-Redneckery is almost "redneck" in the crudest sense of the term: ignorant and stupid. To assert the Civil War wasn't about slavery, but about tariffs or federal spending requires ignoring what the Confederates were themselves saying out loud, in public, and in official declarations to public applause.

It further requires not processing the most basic realities of the time: the Kansas-Nebraska war wasn't about tariffs, John Brown didn't raid Harper's Ferry to force the South to finance a Northern railroad, and the Ku Klux Klan did not ride after the Civil War to terrorize customs officials into submission. And while many point out that the Emancipation Proclamation was an impractical and ineffective half-measure to abolish slavery, few point out that the Thirteenth Amendment which DID end slavery was simultaneously pushed through by Lincoln and his Republicans with the Civil War.

It was indeed "about slavery."

Afterthought: Lincoln's Unclean Hands

As a final note, however, one should realize that the North may indeed have been wrong in some legal, moral, or practical sense to forcibly oppose Southern secession. And in the case of Lincoln, the power and destruction he employed can explain much of the backlash that undermined subsequent progress in race relations, and that has had direct effects on the dangers of government spending and power, especially in times like these, when violence comes to American soil.

Consider the following quote. You will not find it in a list of witty and wise historic aphorisms. But everyone, including the editor of publications like this one, should remember it, perhaps memorize it, as part of our history:

You will take possession by military force, of the printing establishments of The New York World and Journal of Commerce ... and prohibit any further publication thereof....You are therefore commanded forthwith to arrest and imprison...the editors, proprietors and publishers of the aforesaid newspapers.

-- Abraham Lincoln to Gen. John Dix, 18 May 1864 {quoted in Thomas J. DiLorenzo, The Real Lincoln, Forum/Random House, 2002, p.130.}