July 9, 2018
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
Five Measures: How Do You Stand on Our Western Christian Inheritance? Take the Test
You can tell a lot about a person by his actions and how he justifies them. And you can intuit much about how someone thinks on one topic by how he thinks on other, related topics. This surmise is not true in every case, but, I think it applies in a great majority of situations. Tell me what a person—a distinguished author, a political or military leader, a cultural icon—believes, his perspective on this or that significant historical event, how he acts in a particular situation—and you can usually gather a valid impression of his worldview and overarching philosophy.
A few years back I created my own set of measures, my own test, as it were, to determine on which side of immense and fundamentally unbridgeable divides various writers and authors, politicians, and others come down on. It seemed to me that we could take, historically, several major conflicts and wars, that fundamentally shaped not only subsequent history, but also, indelibly, the consciousness, thinking and cultural outlook of succeeding generations, and utilize them as markers.
I came up with the following five:
1) The English Civil War, 1642-1651;
2) The French Revolution, 1789-1799, also including the Napoleonic Period, 1799-1815;
3) The War Between the States, 1861-1865;
4) The Communist Revolution, 1917-1920; and
5) The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.
I won’t dwell at length on my reasons for selecting these conflicts as measures except to say I believe how we think about them clearly illustrates where a person stands in relation to the accumulated inheritance—that great continuum—of Western and Christian tradition. They—each one of them—represent watershed events in the past 500 years of our Western European civilization.
I could have selected—but did not--World War I, for example, but even though a preponderance of evidence now indicates that the outcome of that conflict was a disaster for Europe, that much (not all, certainly) of the blame for its I initiation resides in Paris and in Whitehall (and not as much in Vienna or Berlin), I recognize that there are yet persons of intelligence and devotion to the Christian West who differ. So, I do not include it.
Respond correctly on all five that I list (as I see it), and you are a staunch defender of that Western European heritage and most probably have been able, in some fashion, to understand the fundamental connection those conflicts have in the context of our civilization and our willingness to defend it.
Obviously, for most self-described “conservatives,” there are at least two “giveaways” in my list, that is, two of the five questions they would very likely answer correctly: about the French Revolution and the Communist Revolution. Most “conservatives,” if queried, would have certainly opposed them. There are some, nevertheless, who are more positive about Napoleon, but I aver that it is impossible to understand the “little Corsican”—that “thief of Europe,” to use William Pitt’s classic appellation—and his actions outside his relationship to the French Revolution, and his normalization of much of its result, and, more seriously, the fact that his tenure unleashed essentially the forces of liberal revolution that would threaten and undermine Europe for a century.
It becomes harder after that, and, I suggest, even more critical to a determination. Not that many current “conservative” writers or politicians are intimately familiar with the history, causes, and issues surrounding the English Civil War. Yet, I would assert vigorously that issues debated then were, in microcosm and incipiently, some of the issues we continue to debate today, and that a faithful and thinking defender of the continuity of Western tradition must, necessarily, come down on the side of the Royalists, as opposed to Oliver Cromwell’s faulty experiment in authoritarian democracy. King Charles I, for all his mistakes and bad decisions, nevertheless, represented the traditions of his country and, as he stated at his famous trial, represented “more the people of England” than the rump “democratic” dictatorship of the Cromwellians and Roundheads. (There is an excellent, historically-based BBC television series, “By the Sword Divided,” that showed up in part on American television about twenty years ago—the segment dedicated to King Charles’ trial is taken verbatim from the recorded transcript of the process, and fully confirms that view.)
Back in the 1960s, back when William F. Buckley’s magazine, National Review, and Russell Kirk’s journal, Modern Age, were arguably truly conservative, the question concerning the Spanish Civil War would have, likewise, been a giveaway. Almost all conservatives would have viewed that conflict in the light of a much larger, universal conflict between international Communism and those forces opposed to it, and this despite the fact that the anti-Republican Nationalist forces led by Francisco Franco did receive some support from Fascist Italy and Hitler’s Germany (while the Soviet Union not only supported the Republic, but eventually via the Spanish Communist Party eliminated most of its opposition in Spanish Republican ranks).
But not today; indeed, many of the dominant “conservatives” of 2018—the Neoconservatives—come down passionately on the side of the socialist Republic, and, employing the linguistic armor of the Left, they attack the Nationalist, Catholic and traditionalist forces that fought against the Republic, as “fascists.” Thus, a few years ago, on the ostensibly “conservative” NationalReviewOnline, writer Stephen Schwartz let the cat out of the bag:
“To my last breath, I will defend Trotsky who alone and pursued from country to country and finally laid low in his own blood in a hideously hot house in Mexico City, said no to Soviet coddling to Hitlerism, to the Moscow purges, and to the betrayal of the Spanish Republic, and who had the capacity to admit that he had been wrong about the imposition of a single-party state as well as about the fate of the Jewish people. To my last breath, and without apology. Let the neofascists and Stalinists in their second childhood make of it what they will.” [see Paul Gottfried's commentary onTakimag.com, April 17, 2007]
Schwartz’s view can be multiplied tenfold in Neoconservative ranks.
Finally, there is the War Between the States, and it is here, in this case, where we indeed can separate the true traditionalist conservatives who comprehend and accept the continuum of Western Christian civilization, its virtues, and its authority, and those who have, in reality and to varying degrees, severed themselves from that continuity. It is here that we can range on one side those who accept and participate in that “great chain of being”—that fundamentally religious and hierarchical structure of all matter and life, decreed by God, Himself, and present in our historical consciousness, and those who do not in varying degrees accept it. For support, in some form, of the Confederacy becomes that crucial measure that determines not just a political outlook about states’ rights and the original meaning of the American Constitution. It also demonstrates a vision of reality and of our existence as human beings created by and subservient to God as part of an organic whole, a Creation which must continually be protected and defended against those who would seek to puncture it, or distort its meaning, if not, eventually, to subvert or destroy it.
Certainly, there are those of good will, and let us call it “invincible ignorance,” who have been educated to think that the primary issue in 1861 was slavery, and that Abraham Lincoln was simply reacting to those “rebels” who wished to destroy “the sacred bonds” of Union, while advancing the great humanitarian cause of “freedom.” So much for the caliber and character of our contemporary educational system, not to mention Hollywood’s ideologically tendentious (and mostly successful) attempts to influence us.
Yet, that mythology surrounding the Southern Iliad of 1861-1865 will not stand serious cross-examination.
Consider these popular myths and shibboleths:
“The War was about slavery!” Not really accurate: the war aims cited repeatedly by Lincoln and Northern publicists consistently during the years 1861-1863, even afterwards, were that the War was to “preserve the Union.” Indeed, if abolition of slavery had been declared as the principle war aim in 1861, most likely a great majority of Union political leaders, not to mention Union soldiers, would have recoiled, and the Northern war effort would most likely have collapsed. It was difficult enough to gain wide support in the North, as it was. Remember, Lincoln was elected with less than 40% of the vote in 1860, and barely gained pluralities in most Northern states.
“Lincoln freed the slaves!” Not so; Lincoln freed not one slave. His Emancipation Proclamation, issued first on September 22, 1862 and finalized on January 1, 1863, supposedly “freeing the slaves,” only applied to those areas not under Union military control or occupation, that is, territory of the independent Southern states. It did not apply to the “slave states” within the Union or controlled by the Union military, including Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. Thus, Lincoln’s proclamation “freed” slaves where his action had no effect, but left it untouched where he could have freed them. Not only that, exactly one month prior to his initial proclamation he had been interviewed by Horace Greeley, editor of The New York Tribune, where he forthrightly stated: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it… What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union….” [August 22, 1861] The amendments to end slavery came after the conclusion of the war and after the death of Lincoln.
And most recently this charge: “Robert E. Lee and other Confederate military leaders who were in the US Army committed treason by violating their oaths to defend the Union, and Confederate leaders were in rebellion against the legitimately elected government of the United States.” Somehow critics forget to mention that Lee and the other Confederate leaders resigned their commissions in the United States Army and from Congress prior to enlisting in the defense of their home states and in the ranks of the Confederate Army, or assuming political positions in the new Confederate government. They did not violate their oaths; their states had formally left the union, and, thus, the claims of the Federal government in Washington had ceased to have authority over them.
Nevertheless, this accusation has become the ultimate weapon of choice for today’s fierce opponents of the various monuments that honor Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, P. G. T. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis, and other Confederate military and political leaders, and for the belief that they should be taken down. And most especially, it is spewed forth as unassailable gospel by many Neoconservative writers, publicists, pundits, and their less distinguished camp followers in the elites of the Republican Party.
Now, let me ask: how did you do on this test? The results may reveal how you stand in relationship to our inherited Western and Christian heritage.