October 27, 2019
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
American Politics and the Exile of Southern Conservatives
Back on October 19 of this year I offered a column on what has been essentially the exile of traditional Southern conservatives from the national political process, and, more precisely, the ugly expulsion of those of us who defend and treasure our Confederate heritage from the “conservative movement.”
This was not always the case; indeed, when I first became interested and involved in politics and the defense of my heritage back in the 1960s, such journals as National Review, then the flagship of an older conservatism, and my mentor Russell Kirk’s quarterly, Modern Age, welcomed traditionalists from the South who defended with intelligence and zeal our Confederate inheritance. Indeed, the great Southern writer Dr. Mel Bradford was often a featured writer for both publications, and Kirk even dedicated an entire issue of Modern Age to a superb, intellectually impressive defense of the South and its traditions.
But this alliance and appreciation would not last. For by the early 1990s Southern traditionalists, defenders of the South, had been expelled, told not to send their articles and essays to “conservative publications.” Indeed, they—we—had become “non-persons,” similar to what had happened to dissident writers in the old Soviet Union.
I pointed out that this expulsion process did not just happen, but it came concurrently with the triumph of those who self-denominate themselves “Neoconservatives,” former Cold War liberals and leftists who made the pilgrimage over to the Republican Party and establishment conservatism beginning in the late 1950s and 1960s, and who since have basically controlled most conservative think tanks (e.g., American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, etc.), most “conservative” journals (e.g., National Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Wire, The Daily Dispatch, etc.), and have counted most of the pundits and commentators on “conservative” Fox News (e.g., Jonah Goldberg, Ben Shapiro, Guy Benson, Marc Thiessen, etc.), as well as the broader direction of Republican Party foreign policy (e.g, Senator Lindsey Graham, Rep. Lynne Cheney, etc.)…at least until the advent of Donald Trump.
Now President Trump is under attack—vicious and severe—from the agents of the Deep State; and my question is: where is the vigorous counter-attack? Where are his defenders amongst the supposed “conservative opposition”? That is, where are those Neocons who dominate and control both establishment conservatism today and also the establishment Republican Party? Even a Rush Limbaugh has begun to notice that from those “conservative” minions of the DC establishment, only whimpers come forth.
And I suggest that there is an intimate connection between the exile of the real Southern conservatives and the domination by the Neocons. For the older Southern conservatives, like Bradford and Kirk (in his chapters on John C. Calhoun and John Randolph in The Conservative Mind), reminded the parvenu Neocons that they, those pilgrims from the Trotskyite Left, were still on the progressivist Left in many fundamental ways, most specifically in their zealous globalism and internationalism, in their willingness to give way on basic moral questions that involve a rejection of the entirety of Western Christian moral tradition (e.g., same sex marriage, transgenderism, etc.), and in their continued suppression and abolition of states’ rights in such things as education, voting, and religion.
On those general topics the Neocons come down largely on the side of their supposed opponents on the further Left. And, thus, the Southern traditionalists, who are inheritors of the great Western Christian traditions that have created—and maintained—our civilization, at least until recently, were “inconvenient partners.” They—we—had to be sent packing, at best ignored, at worst attacked as “racists” (cf. Fox’s Brian Kilmeade) or bigots.
I have authored a longer contribution, a chapter in editor Paul Gottfried’s soon-to-be-published book, The Vanishing Tradition: Perspectives on American Conservatism (Cornell University Press) which goes into this in more detail.
In the meantime, I offer an edited version of the MY CORNER from October 19, now published by Reckonin.com; it is titled, “American Politics and the Exile of Southern Conservatism”:
By Boyd D. Cathey 10/26/2019
In the midst of the present grotesque attempt by the Deep State managerial class to overthrow a president and negate the results of the 2016 elections, some writers and commentators have reached back into American history for precedents. Indeed, there have been instances when one branch of the American government attempted to overawe, subvert, and even displace another branch, and essentially to destroy the precarious balance of powers established in the Constitution.
But the present “silent coup,” with all its zealotry, its prevarication and madness, is unique and unparalleled in many ways. In particular, there is an incredible fanaticism in the present effort to unseat a duly elected president not seen in the United States for well over at least a century, to, as it were, “put the [Trump-inspired] genie that threatens the managerial elites back in the lamp.” Not even during the Clinton impeachment hearings, nor the Watergate crisis—not during the raucous debates over the Vietnam War nor the potential for revolution during the Great Depression—have we witnessed the specter of perhaps one-third, maybe more, of our population wallowing in the real, palpable and often violent lunacy that we see currently.
This state of affairs did not simply spring up like the Greek goddess Athena, from Those we behold today arrayed against us, those we confront who call themselves variously “progressivists,” “democratic socialists,” “anti-racists,” and so forth, have been carefully groomed and incubated over decades by a pervasively noxious environment. They are the products of an educational system which is rotten through-and-through (especially in higher education), they experience conditioning daily from large and constant doses of media and entertainment which are ideologically driven and geared to support the template, and they live in a poisonous society which confirms and ratifies the views and ideas that have been instilled in them.
At the base of this ongoing process is the triumphant “Idea of Progress” and the identification by the Progressivists with it. It is they, and in particular their academic minions and educators, who have made their causes synonymous with an inevitable and ineluctable “progress.” Anyone opposing their designs and programs is labeled anti-progressive, reactionary, bigoted, and worse. Thus, for the history of the United States (and even before its establishment) there has been a constant struggle between the “forces of reaction” (read here: “Southern slave-holders,” “anti-feminists,” “racists,” “white supremacists,” “male chauvinists,” “anti-gay Christians,” and so on) who have stood in the way of inevitable “Progress,” and those “on the [right] side of history” who represent enlightenment and freedom.
Recently (August 10), The New York Times began its expansive and ongoing 1619 Project to coincide with 400th anniversary of the introduction of slavery into the American colonies. With a long range goal of completely revising American history and the Founding, the Times and its stable of historians asserted that real American history must be reconfigured to date from the as yet unexpiated sin of slavery.
The cornerstone of this never-ending Progressivist movement is the magic talisman: egalitarianism. For that, Progressivists cry in loud voice and demand that the “oppressed” receive complete and full “equality.”
Far too many times so-called conservatives and Republicans, and certainly “Movement Conservatives,” buy into this template and join this narrative, and by accepting its fundamental premises and parameters they inevitably lose any debate, and remain, as the Seventeenth Century English essayist Sir Thomas Browne wrote, “prisoners of the errors to which they proclaim their opposition.”
This is particularly true of those denominated “Neoconservatives,” whose genealogy draws heavily from their intellectual history and foundations over on the progressivist Left. During the late 1950s, 1960s and into the 1980s the Neocons, largely but certainly not entirely consisting of socialist and Marxist Jewish intellectuals centered around New York and a few other large Eastern cities, began moving “right.” In part, it was an opposition to Stalinism and Soviet Communism (and the perceived persecution of Russian Jews) that steered important thinkers like former socialists Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol into the ranks of the Conservative movement—and their votaries into the Republican Party. But though they brought their fierce and at times acute critique of Communism with them, they did not relinquish their philosophical commitment to the same “Idea of Progress” which remained at the heart of their belief system and praxis.
Accordingly, American history had to be re-written and re-interpreted ex post facto to be consistent with the narrative of a struggle between the “reactionaries” and those epigones of always-expanding equality and democracy (including in foreign policy). In so doing, the Neocons implicitly accepted the terms of debate, in many cases the very same terminology, as their supposed opponents over on the further Left. And, like those Progressivists, they brought with them an implacable hostility to the Confederate South and its traditions which they considered irredeemably “racist” and bigoted.
Unlike many older conservative writers (e.g. the late Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver) now the Union cause, 1861-1865, and Abraham Lincoln were incorporated as Icons in the new Pantheon of (revised) American Conservatism. The Confederacy—John C. Calhoun and John Randolph of Roanoke (who had been featured in Kirk’s monumental Conservative Mind as a pivotal conservative thinkers)—the superb Southern Agrarian writers—and the brilliant Mel Bradford were exiled, expelled from the “movement.” Just as with the more extreme Left, the Neocons embraced the “Idea of Progress” template and an egalitarian narrative in which there was no room for dissent…even if the entire American founding had to be “re-interpreted” to somehow make it agree with their views.
Thus, Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade’s 2018 mini-series, “ in which he canonized “Saint” Abraham Lincoln, who while he condemned the “defeated South’s attempts to rewrite history by denying slavery was the root cause of the Civil War.” Or, the specter of former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove declaring that his favorite historian of the War Between the States and slavery is the Communist historian Eric Foner. Although they may disagree vociferously over how much change or what kind of change is needed, or who should be president or what laws should be enacted, their agreement historically, on the reading of American history, should be extremely troubling—and revealing—for conservatives.
Is it likely that such leaders of the current “Conservative Movement”—who share so much in common with their supposed enemies—can mount a vigorous defense of President Trump? Indeed, where are the Republican opponents of the current farce parading before us: secret Congressional “star chamber” hearings, brazen connivance by the media (including at times Fox News), faked stories, manipulated headlines, items taken out of context or suppressed….? Will they—can they—stand up to the enemies of the Constitution, the Inside-the-Beltway Establishment to which far too many of them belong?
That remains to be seen.
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations. His book, The Land We Love: The South and its Heritage, was published by Scuppernong Press in late 2018.
Read more by Boyd Cathey at his blog .
Read more by Boyd Cathey at his blog .