The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Charles Johnson, Wrong Again

Posted on | December 1, 2010 | 16 Comments

From the “Not Exactly News” category:

My post yesterday, “Most of the Miseries of the World Were Caused by Wars,” was all I had intended to say about yesterday’s New York Times article, but my friend Donald Douglas at American Power evidently didn’t notice that post, and so has solicited further reaction.

Let’s start with that word “neo-Confederates.” The first time I saw that word was at the Web site of the League of the South, circa 1996, where the distinction was made between two types of League supporters, “neo-Confederates” and “Old Whigs.” 

The “neo-Confederates” were radicals, actively in favor of secession as a political goal — here, now, always — whereas the “Old Whigs” were more generally traditionalists, seeking to preserve and/or restore the constitutional republic while preserving the Union. Such was the coalition the League’s founders saw themselves attempting to forge into a movement, the diversity of opinion among themselves acknowledged at the outset.

The League of the South, it is important to remember, was modeled on various European movements, especially the Italian Lega Nord, founded in 1991, which advocates the independence (or at least, autonomy) of northern Italy. Such secessionist movements arose in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet empire. The breakup of Yugoslavia, for example, resulted in violent civil war, while the division of Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovak republics was accomplished peaceably. In general, these events inspired a sense among many political theorists that the permanence of large nation-states was now, or at least should be, an open question. Perhaps smaller would be better, and decentralization of power — up to and including the division of large nations into smaller ones — was seen as a favorable trend by these theorists.

This, then, was the general inspiration of the League of the South and, much like the Lega Nord — which employed the symbolism of the medieval Lombard League as part of its appeal to the historic past of regional independence — the LoS quite naturally invoked the history of the Confederacy.

Five A’s in ‘Raaaaacism’

Let the reader now examine “The New Dixie Manifesto,” which was originally published Oct. 29, 1995, on the front page of the Sunday opinion section of the Washington Post. Whatever you may say about it, it is not a “racist” or “white supremacist” document. And while you are at that site, you may scout around a bit more and find such essays as “Egalitarian Democracy: The Universal Wolf,” by League president Michael Hill. Agree or disagree with Dr. Hill’s anti-egalitarian philosophy, he is certainly not an ignorant yahoo, and you cannot indict him as a “white supremacist,” except under such a definition of that term as inspired my observation, “There are 5 A’s in raaaaacism.”

Despite the League’s high-minded origins — its European inspiration, its disavowal of any racialist purpose, the erudition of its founders (nearly all of whom held doctorate degrees in history or political science) — it was attacked from the outset as a “suit-and-tie Klan,” allegedly engaged in a stealth pursuit of horrible secret purposes.

This sort of attack tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once an organization becomes publicly stigmatized as “racist,” it will predictably be shunned by decent and respectable people not merely because they abhor racism, but also because they fear damage to their own reputations. Meanwhile, other people — indecent and disreputable — will flock to the “racist” organization, seeking validation for their own malignant views.

Thus, over time, however innocent of the accusation of racism the stigmatized organization may have been originally, it will tend to become what it has been publicly labeled, as more and more actual racists join up, and more and more non-racists leave.

This is what I saw happen in consequence of the attacks on the League of the South. As I discussed a year ago, there was an online fight in the summer of 1996 spurred by the attempt of a white separatist, Dennis Wheeler, to convince League members to adopt his own doctrines. Although I was not at that time a member of the League — this argument took place on an open e-mail listserv — I was drawn into the discussion as an ally of George Kalas, Gary Waltrip and others opposed to Wheeler’s racialism. Wheeler subsequently withdrew (or was kicked out) of the discussion.

‘Deny, Denounce and Repudiate’

Partly as a result of that online quarrel, and also because various leftists (e.g., “Crawfish,” a noxious gadfly named Ed Sebesta) were mining the listserv for “gotcha” materials, the League’s leadership decided later in 1996 to convert the listserv to a members-only list. Several of the members were concerned that the new policy would result in my exclusion from further discussions and so a friend — novelist Tito Perdue — offered to pay the fee ($25, as I recall) for my one-year membership in the League. That membership lapsed in late 1997, by which time I had moved to the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., and joined the staff of the Washington Times, where my new duties did not permit my continued participation in the League’s activities.

When the Southern Poverty Law Center decided to include me in a 2000 article attacking the League of the South, however, they described me as a League member. Of course, in such a circumstance, the target of the attack is expected to “Deny, Denounce and Repudiate,” as I have previously explained:

The key to these attack methods is the presumption of the target’s guilt. The accuser, having carefully selected the evidence to be discussed in the manner of a prosecutor making an indictment, demands that the target deny the accusation, denounce the bad-faith views involved, and repudiate the persons and organizations to whom he has been connected by the links-and-ties method. As anyone who has been targeted by such attacks can attest, it’s rather like being accused in one of Stalin’s infamous Moscow “show trials.”

The policy of my employers at the Washington Times, however, was not to respond to such a scurrilous racket as the SPLC and no such denial was ever made. Meanwhile, I was prompted to inquire into what had become of my friends in the League — I had been so busy in Washington, I hadn’t kept track — and learned that a series of schisms had developed. Kalas, Waltrip and others had quit or become inactive in the League, which had shrunk significantly from its peak membership circa 1996.

My experience with the League, and dealing with accusations of racism (against which I was not permitted by my employers to defend myself) taught me a lot about the nature, purpose and tactics of such attacks. It was a hard-won education in what many today recognize as Saul Alinksy’s Rule 12 — “Pick the Target, Freeze It, Personalize It  and Polarize It” — and although the damage to my reputation is lamentable, I have adopted Rhett Butler’s attitude toward his own terrible reputation: “With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.”

All of this I recount by way of explaining my familiarity with the pedigree of the term “neo-Confederate,” originating with the League of the South. The term was subsequently hijacked by the League’s critics, who gave it a pejorative connotation suggesting racism, et cetera, and it has since been applied willy-nilly to a variety of persons and organizations that have never advocated secession. And the advocacy of secession is, after all, what “neo-Confederate” means.

‘The Sublimest Word’

We return, then, to the New York Times article. Read through it, and you will find not a single reference to the League of the South, nor does anyone quoted in the story advocate secession as a policy to be adopted in the present day.

In other words, there is nothing “neo-Confederate” to be found there, so that Charles Johnson’s application of the term is nothing but an expression of ignorance. (If only California would secede from the Union, so that Johnson could then be denounced as an anti-American foreigner — the Kim Jong Il of the blogosphere.)

The sources actually quoted in the New York Times article are officials of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization founded in 1896 and thus scarcely “neo”-anything. In defending the historical memory of the Confederacy, SCV officials are merely upholding the duty assigned to them by Gen. Stephen D. Lee in 1906:

“To you, Sons of Confederate Veterans, we submit the vindication of the cause for which we fought: to your strength will be given the defense of the Confederate soldier’s good name, the guardianship of his history, the emulation of his virtues, and the perpetuation of those principles he loved and which made him glorious and which you also cherish. Remember, it is your duty to see that the true history of the South is presented to future generations.”

We live in an age where the concept of “duty” is scarcely acknowledged or understood, but I’m not going to let the New York Times (or Mark Potok or Charles Johnson) convince me that the fulfillment of duty is a bad thing.

“Duty then is the sublimest word in the English language. You should do your duty in all things. You can never do more, you should never wish to do less.”
Robert E. Lee

It may be that you feel that the cause of Southern independence was so misguided and wrong that Robert E. Lee and Stephen D. Lee should be regarded as traitors and villains. You have the right to your opinion, and the members of the SCV also have the right to their opinions.

Likewise, you are free to endorse the attempt by the New York Times — and Mark Potok and Charles Johnson and others — to stigmatize, bully and silence those awful nasty Southerners whom you hate. But mark my words when I say that you endorse such tactics at your own peril.

One day the totalitarian thought-police may come for you.


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