The Other McCain

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

The Eternal White Guilt Trip

Posted on | October 6, 2019 | No Comments

Mark Bauerlein in American Greatness:

“The deliberate national penance that most Germans take for granted offers a striking contrast with the ways American have confronted their own national crimes.”
That’s a line from an article last month in The Atlantic. The article focuses on a supposedly sad divergence: while Germans have fully acknowledged their responsibility for the Holocaust and accepted their guilt, Americans have failed to do the same with their history of slavery and Jim Crow.
The comparison is the kind of stretch that only a pampered, liberal, Ivy-League educated professor who has spent lots of time in Europe could make. In truth, there is little evidence in the Atlantic essay that the author knows more about the antebellum and post-Reconstruction periods than one would acquire in a freshman U.S. history course. (She is a philosophy professor who now heads a center in Potsdam.) Nor does she acknowledge the relentless focus on African American history in high schools and colleges, among national book award winners, and by Hollywood. She seems to regard American slavery, too, as a perverse and unique condition, even though in 1800 slavery existed on every continent and had existed forever before, and that the Arab and South American slave trades dwarfed the North American market.
But when you’re voicing common liberal wisdom, you needn’t bother with historical particulars. Generalizations pass without scrutiny. Among the professors, you see, American guilt is a bien pensant basic. People have built successful careers rehearsing it over and over. . . .

You can read the whole thing, but before I say anything else, let me say this: Nothing is analogous to the Holocaust.

There have been other totalitarian regimes in modern history, but Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich were sui generis. Every attempt to condemn someone or something — anyone or anything — by comparing them to Hitler and the Nazis is an insult to historical memory. That the author of the Atlantic article, Susan Neiman, is herself a Jew does not give her license to make such a false and insulting analogy.

As Mark Bauerlein points out, slavery in the United States was not without historical precedent. If the institution of slavery in America differed from slavery in Cuba, Brazil or other nations in the Western hemisphere, the difference does not support an anti-American interpretation. Certainly slavery was not worse in the United States than in Latin American countries; in particular, slavery in the Caribbean sugar plantations was a deadly business, mainly due to the tropical climate. African slavery, which had long been established among the Arabs of North Africa, was imported to the New World to remedy a labor shortage in the European colonies. Every colonial power — Spain, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, England — resorted to slavery, and only anti-American prejudice could explain why the history of slavery is used to condemn the United States in a way it is never used to condemn any other nation. And as for Jim Crow, it ought not be forgotten that it was a segregated America that defeated Nazi Germany in World War II, which makes no sense if Jim Crow was analogous to the Holocaust.

In my lifetime — today is my 60th birthday — I’ve seen the history of slavery employed two different ways, equally dishonest. First, slavery (and racism generally) was portrayed as an evil unique to the South. This was just a way for liberal Yankees to put down Southerners, to smear the population of an entire region as morally inferior. Being a student of history, I was always willing to defend my homeland against such insults, because the fact is that the North was by no means innocent in regard to racism, or slavery for that matter. Go to Providence, Rhode Island, and look at those fine colonial mansions — how do you suppose the commercial shippers of Providence made their fortunes? What cargo might have been so lucrative as to have made such handsome profits possible? Widespread ignorance about the North’s role in slavery is, of course, a legacy of the North’s victory in the Civil War. “The winners write the history books,” as they say, and so anti-Southern propaganda (which had done so much to foment the crisis that led to the war) was smuggled into history, branding the South with a hateful stigma. To this day, many Yankees are utterly ignorant about the true facts. “Slavery’s hidden history in the mid-Hudson Valley coming to light,” was a headline last year in the Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal, where most local residents had no idea that slaves once worked the farmlands of the region.

The anti-Southern version of slavery’s history, however, has more recently given way to the anti-white interpretation of slavery. This is leftist identity-politics grievance-mongering, a deliberately divisive libel intended to inflame racial resentment, justifying a “social justice” belief system borrowed from Marxist-Leninist ideology. Even white people whose ancestors did not even arrive in the United States until after the Civil War are expected to feel guilty about an institution in which they are not implicated, and the collective grievance of black people is extended even to people whose ancestors were never slaves in this country. For example, neither Barack Obama nor Kamala Harris are descended from African-American slaves, and yet are permitted to leverage racial identity politics to their advantage, without any critical scrutiny.

You are a “racist” is you object to this, however. That’s the permanent tactic of the modern Left — everything and everybody is racist, and if you don’t agree, your disagreement proves how racist you are. And here is Susan Neiman virtue-signalling in the Atlantic:

Like most white Americans, I was taught a history that was both comforting and triumphant. I wasn’t, of course, entirely ignorant of the ways in which the country failed to live up to the ideals on which it was founded, but those failures remained peripheral, and part of a narrative that sloped upward toward progress. Slavery was a crime, but we’d fought a war to outlaw it; segregation was unjust, but the civil-rights movement had overcome it. Barack Obama’s presidency seemed the natural coda to this hopeful story. Few people believed that the election of an African American president could end racism entirely, but no one expected the backlash we are witnessing now. If there’s a silver lining to a White House that — in its public statements, policy choices, and political strategy — regularly signals its support for white nationalism, it’s that white Americans have been forced to publicly examine their country’s history as never before.
Just a few years ago, major national media had to patiently explain that the monuments valorizing Confederate soldiers were not innocent tributes to recently fallen ancestors, but the deliberate attempt of organizations like the Daughters of the Confederacy to promote a false account of the Civil War that buttressed white-supremacist ideology. For those of us who are not professional historians, the years between the Emancipation Proclamation and the Montgomery bus boycott were largely blank.

Really? You have to be a “professional historian” to know anything about American race relations between 1865 and 1955? But it is false to smear the United Daughters of the Confederacy as propagators of “white-supremacist ideology”; they were concerned with preserving the memory of their ancestors, as anyone should be. The cause of Southern independence was not coterminous with “white supremacy,” especially when one considers the white-supremacist statements of Abraham Lincoln and other pro-Union/anti-slavery Northerners. It is foolish to imagine that every leader of the North in the Civil War was motivated by humanitarian sympathy toward black people.

The history of crises that produced the Civil War is a subject I’ve studied in depth, and the simple fact is that it originated in the New England states, which had resented their loss of political influence dating back at least as far as the administration of James Madison. Go back and study the War of 1812 and the Hartford Convention, where representatives of the New England states considered secession in opposition to the “War Hawks” whom they blamed for a needless conflict with England. Virginia’s 24-year control of the presidency — Jefferson, Madison, and James Monroe — was insulting to the pride of ambitious New Englanders, and the single unpopular term of John Quincy Adams was followed by the presidency of the frontier hero Andrew Jackson. The subsequent addition of new Western territories in the Mexican War further aggrieved the New Englanders, who thereafter began to embrace abolitionism as a means of dividing the alliance of the South and West that had excluded them from power. This was the underlying political and economic cause of the repeated crises of the 1850s.

We need not “take sides” in the Civil War to see that the end of slavery could have been obtained by peaceable measures, and that it was not the avowed purpose of the North, at the outset, to wage a war to end slavery. So a nuanced and realistic view of this history does not impugn the Confederates, who saw themselves as defending basic principles that they believed had been abrogated by the North. Nor does a realistic view of that history make the end of slavery a reason for animosity, either between North and South, or between black and white Americans. Let any fair-minded person examine the history — Stanley Horn’s The Robert E. Lee Reader is a fascinating volume I recommend — and decide whether Susan Neiman’s interpretation of Southern heritage is correct.

Here we are in 2019, however, and this ancient history is being exploited by the Left to foster conflict for the sake of politics. When Susan Neiman speaks of “the backlash we are witnessing now,” she means that Trump’s presidency is an expression of “white-supremacist ideology,” when in fact it is simply a rejection of the Left’s policy agenda. To do so by comparing the Confederacy to Nazi Germany is an insult, and one I take personally, but my personal feelings as a Southerner are less important than the realization that the leftist ideology Neiman expresses is dangerous. Her dishonest smear of my ancestors is coincidental to her larger project, i.e., the destruction of our constitutional republic and its replacement with socialist tyranny. Never trust anyone who speaks ill of Robert E. Lee.



 

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