© 2017 Thermidor Magazine.

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Driving Old Dixie Down: The Fragility of Nationhood

A group of men gather near the park square, their faces covered by bandanas and balaclavas; the police have been warned of what is going to happen and have taken necessary precautions. As the night falls, they move in and begin their destructive work. The police offer no resistance, and in a few hours, their coordinated attack has felled another emblem of a bygone era. No, this is not a mob or even a vigilante gang; they are contractors hired by the city government to remove—over against the protests and complaints of the population—another monument raised in celebration of a cultural exemplar. It has happened in New Orleans, in St. Louis, and in Memphis. It may happen yet in Charlottesville, in Atlanta, even in Richmond and Nashville. In Durham, North Carolina, an angry mob of half-crazed, half-educated manchildren and screeching, obese furies have congealed around a statue raised not to any single man, but to all the soldiers of that area who died defending their homes and farms in the American fratricide of 1861-1865. Play-acting at revolution, they pulled down this memorial of common men and raised up in its place a void of aberration and perversity. Casual on-lookers are outraged, polling offers the media the opportunity to milk a story out of popular opposition to the “erasing of history”, but any sort of broad popular resistance is imaginary. In spite of the cries of the (rightly) alarmed Southern Nationalists and the Outer-Right in general, the toppling of monuments is not a canary in the coalmine of cultural or ethnic conflict. We are past that now. A strong tree does not fall in a storm and a live flower does not wilt: monuments of a civilization do not topple until the community that erected them has already given up the ghost.

This is not an invitation to accept a fatalistic line, however, and surrender to the oncoming march of the great greying of the world according to globohomo designs. Nevertheless, it is true that culture that erected the statues of Jackson, Lee, Davis, and Forrest has atrophied; much of the reason for this is because it was stillborn, to begin with. There was never more than a wealthy or academic minority attempting to construct the national identity of Southerners, and after a time that national identity was so thoroughly compromised by shared history with the North that “Southern” was reduced to music and cuisine. Industry delocalized a budding nation whose principal and defining trait was localism; federal intervention deracinated the nation that struggled to redefine itself by race after industrialization. The seeds of blood-and-soil nationalism, already an artificial effort to save a hierarchical society that had abandoned its hierarchies, fell upon the red clay of the South and failed to take root. Southern heroes became American heroes, and in so doing they were taken away from any Southron trying to assert a Southern identity—an identity that doesn’t even have a defining name. A Rhinelander can call his new national identity “German,” a Welshman can call himself a “Briton”, the patois-speakers of Lourdes and Toulouse can call themselves “French”, and even the rugged, atomised individual whose great-grandparents homesteaded in the Oregon territory can call himself “American”, but to the other nations of the world, what does the Southerner call himself? He is, after all, from the American South.

Unable to divorce themselves from the wider national identity, Southrons could not save their heroes from being swept up in the current of deracinated American patriots who valued these men, not as defenders of a land and a people, but of upholders of a “Great Cause”, an admirable idea. The defeated noblemen of the Southern aristocracy became America’s first beautiful losers, rather than heroes of a subjected and oppressed nation that would once again rise up to defeat its colonial masters. The Southerner might have his Lincoln and Sherman as the Irishman has his Cromwell, the Italian his Joseph Radetzky, and the Mexican his Francisco Venegas and Maximilian I, but the Irishman also has his Roddy McCorley and Michael Collins, the Italian his Guiseppe Garibaldi, and the Mexican his Miguel Hidalgo and Benito Juarez. Who does the Southron have? None of his heroes are his own: Jackson is revered as one of the greatest American tacticians, Lee has a national monument dedicated to him, and the rest are regarded as American statesmen and generals—one of the few men the North refused to claim, Nathan Bedford Forrest, has been so much maligned that not even most Southern Nationalists feel altogether comfortable claiming him without first justifying and apologizing for their claim. Poor Jefferson Davis in these latter days seems ignored by both camps and has to content himself to accept a legacy of poorly maintained roads and a dwindling number of majority-minority public schools.

No surprise then, that the heroes of the South, having been adopted and then summarily discharged by American Nationalism, have been drained of their mythical power and reduced to “historical figures”. It is easy to tear down an “historical figure” among a people who consider history merely to be part of a school curriculum, and, when pressed, are incapable of identifying why it is even that—a people that have taken the likes of Bill O’Reilly to be their Thomas Carlyle, Howard Zinn to be their Edward Gibbon, and Garrison Keillor to be their Samuel Johnson. The Greeks travailed and gave birth to Solon and Pericles, the Romans had Cicero, the Byzantines Justinian; if the best America can muster is Antonin Scalia, is the history of such a nation even worth preserving? By kidnapping and holding the heroes of the South hostage in the golden cage of pretended national honor, America has killed Dixie with kindness: a cultural murder-suicide that has left the continent bereft of even the impoverished imitation of traditional living the Plantation South represented.

Hunting Boers

How often have we heard Heinrich Heine quoted, in celebration of the triumphant Liberal order, that “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen”. (How useful, too, for the Jews to have one of their own so prophetically foretell their narrative of mass cremation that has come to possess legendary qualities sustaining the national raison d'être of the State of Israel). While we would look askance at Heine’s own liberality and modernism, there is something important lurking here: the link between the intellectual life of a people and its actual existence. The liberal reading that censorship and genocide walk hand-in-hand misses this, and oversimplifies Heine to the point of absurdity, which is why the quote sounds so idiotic on its face. It is not censorship, in the strict sense, that Heine is truly warning about, but the erasure of the reality intellectual endeavors create and sustain. A modern world is a world without natural and organic identities and communities: everything must be imagined, everything constructed, and therefore everything is brittle. A people may be built and then torn down, and with barely more effort than one needs to exert to build up and tear down any material structure. Thus modern minds imagine that to destroy a people, it is necessary first to attack the symbols of that people, to tear down their monuments and hijack their imagined and mythological foundations, and to destroy their intellectual life or relegate it to the fringes. By and large, this has been effective in limiting the ability of peoples to recognize when they are being subsumed or outright exterminated.

The most obvious example of this is the ongoing persecution of the Afrikaners in South Africa. Like all modern nations, the Afrikaners are a coalescence of European peoples into a common national identity through the mythically shared experience of foundation and struggle for existence against alien powers (the Vortrekkers and Boer Wars). These myths—historically real myths—were immortalised in monuments, books, and oral tradition, grounding in the people a common identity that has permitted them to organise a defence of their material existence against alien powers—first the British, subsequently Globohomo in its larval stage, and finally the deracinated conglomeration of Black African tribes imported by the British and allowed to congeal in a previously sparse corner of the Dark Continent. Every resistance they have put up—from the armed resistance in the Boer Wars to the weaker legal resistance in the form of Apartheid to the feeble political activism of the Volkstaat they now naïvely wield against enemies who are incapable of dealing in good faith. Never in the history of this people, however, has any more than a minority ever fielded defence against the forces arrayed against them, and the heart of the struggle has always been to convince the broad mass of people whose politics are confined to bread that they belong to a greater whole that is not immediately apparent to them. In a more ancient and natural arrangement, the extended family of the tribe, polis, or shire was tangible and immediate. Identity was, therefore, an easy matter: those who lived together and by necessity also spoke the same way, looked the same way, and celebrated the same feasting and fasting seasons. Foreigners were easy to spot and, being shunned, rarely lingered. Things like racial phenotype and national identity were not meaningful because they were merely assumed parts of the real identity of place. Elites could exert a quantum of effort at maintaining social cohesion, and therefore could devote their time to their responsibilities—and when they neglected these responsibilities to God and the community, it was readily noticeable.

Now those natural elites—the minority who recognise the fragility of identity and group cohesion and struggle or bind together that which modernity has put asunder—must exert so much political effort at group cohesion that they have neither the means nor the motivation to execute their duties to God; losing sight of this, they elevate things in God’s place, and their otherwise noble goal of defence of their people becomes an idolatry that guarantees their people’s destruction. This is especially destructive in a nation founded on religious principles—even if those principles are Calvinistic. The Afrikaners as a people were certainly betrayed, persecuted, and abandoned by those they held as allies in the Western world, but the demolition of their monuments, the criminalization of their identity, and the public erasure and revision of their history by the Black (alien) majority in their country was made possible by the fragility inherent to modern nation-building. Increasingly, they have therefore moved away from the depth of meaning that bestowed them with community and nationhood and have defined themselves according to the identity placed on them by their enemies and erstwhile allies—so many have ceased to be Afrikaner or Boers in anything but name: the reality of their identity is more raw and visceral. They are White South Africans, defined by their status as a persecuted minority and therefore damned to a fate of extermination and dispossession unless they, as victims, are adopted by a strong arm. For South Africans, White Nationalism, rather than strengthening their community, has enfeebled them even as it has made their plight more visible to the rest of the White world, for it has robbed them of their ethnic agency even as it has given them racial solidarity. The fact that they are being murdered openly by the South African government, whose president sings “Kill the White, kill the Boer” at political events, is irrelevant in the face of Atlantic Liberal hegemony. Canada, the zenith of the Globohomo, is just one of the many failed Liberal states to reject Afrikaner asylum seekers because pointing to the ongoing extermination of their people is regarded as “discredited propaganda” and “White supremacism”. As long as the Afrikaner people identify primarily as victims, they will continue to have no future—the extermination of their past in the form of toppling monuments and eliminating their heroes’ names from public life has served a greater purpose—by turning them, a modern nation, into a self-conscious victim class who cannot court a patronising defender, the Blacks in South Africa and their international sponsors have guaranteed the Afrikaners’ doom.

Saint Thomas in his Tomb, Lord Nelson upon his Pillar

It is worse for those long-standing and pre-modern peoples whose counterfeit elites allow them to be pillaged and mocked in their own lands by foreign invaders. The Boers were born a modern nation: the English were tortured and twisted into it (this isn’t a new analogy – Tolkien might as well have said the same thing when he invented the orcs). In the end, though, the British are as unaware as anyone else of where the reality of their ancient identity and society existed, partly because their transformation from a race of the countryside into industrialized global merchants was perceived as a natural process. Even Spengler, observing the apparently natural piracy of the modern Englishman, fails to ascertain in his Preußentum und Sozialismus that Sir Francis Drake was not a model Englishman, but a portrait of the New Britain born out of an intellectual and spiritual reorganisation of Chaucer’s nation of recalcitrant shepherds, devout, if innocent, pilgrims, haughty knights, and bawdy nobles. To be of England was something, but to be an Englishman was not yet conceivable: Suffolk and Surrey, Yorkshire and Nottingham, Kent and Chelsea—these were still the seats of identity and community, both urban and rural. This reorganization was accomplished, by and large, by the same process of iconoclasm that has ripped Beauregard from his pedestal and tried to topple Louis Botha (and did topple Cecil Rhodes).

So far removed are we that we often forget that iconoclasm to redefine a people (and usually to destroy that people) is as old as modernity itself. We’ve spent a little time already on the theoretical basis for this relationship, but historical examples also abound, and none is as violent or thorough as the bloodshed and iconoclasm of the English Reformation. Those who cling to the legacy of the Church of England today will likely be disinclined to admit it, but they belong to a national Church that was invented by the very modern process of identity reassignment, historical revisionism, and cultural iconoclasm that now defines the drive to bring down Anglo-Protestant heroes like General Lee and Lord Nelson. Is there a man among our readership who has not at least heard of The Stripping of the Altars by Eamon Duffy of Cambridge? Loathe though your author is to countenance the Anglophobia of the great multitude of Irish scribblers with pretence to scholarship, there are few works that so thoroughly dispel the myth of popular rebellion and willing transformation of the people of England from localist Roman Catholics to nationalist Anglicans, preserving English traditions of Christianity from the universalising corruption of an overtly political Lateran Palace.

It is, of course, undeniable that Trent was as thoroughly modernist and universalizing as the English Reformation—in either case, it is unlikely that the religious ancien regime of Ss. Dunstan and Thomas would have survived the humanist changes brewing in the Western church without a great deal of popular resistance. The primary conflict of the Reformation was not tradition against innovation, but rather, as German law had it, cuius regio, eius religio, or, better, “whose country, his modernity”. While the iconoclasm of the Protestants was more open and apparent, the iconoclasm that changed European cultures and society and primed them for the rise of artificial nationhood was underway across the continent.

In England, the iconoclasm took the form not just of smashing windows and statues, as it did in Zwingli’s Switzerland, but of destroying the anchors of communities, both physical anchors like the monasteries with their schools and social support systems as well as spiritual anchors—the saints and symbols of England whose relics granted healing of soul and body. Historically, England has been under the patronage of three saints, in particular, receiving different emphasis at different points of history; the Saxon S. Dunstan, the Norman S. Thomas Becket, and the unrelated S. George of Lydda, the symbol of the British Empire. The defining feature of the S. George cult in England, in particular, is its secular quality, and this is made possible, of course, by the physical absence of S. George himself from the British Isles. Unlike Ss. Dunstan and Thomas, whose physical remains were present as relics for Englishmen to make pilgrimage to and venerate, S. George existed largely in the mind of the people of England—and he came to occupy this place (through no fault of his own) through the destruction of the relics and the reliquaries of his predecessors in the role of Britain’s Official Saint. Further, unlike Ss. Dunstan and Thomas, who represented the balance of power between the Roman Church and the English crown, S. George make no imposition upon the Kings and Queens of England, and does not remind them of any responsibilities they have left behind them in accepting the Parliamentary Crown they now wear.

The destruction of the Becket’s shrine was of particular importance to the drivers of the early Reformation. Henry VIII issued a personal proclamation declaring Becket “unsainted”, ordering his bones to be smashed and burnt, his shrine destroyed, and his memory removed from English history as a “traitor to the crown”. This vindictive act of attainder some four centuries ex post facto is the kind of modernity Henry chose for England; the destruction of the Shrine of S. Thomas is directly responsible for the draconian enforcement of contemporary hate speech laws. Thomas Becket was the constant reminder to the Kings of England of the authority to whom they were ultimately responsible—not necessarily the Pope, per se, but certainly God and the Church. This will undoubtedly strike most of our readers as a rather pedestrian observation, but for the sake of those less attuned to historical cause and effect: it is impossible to separate Church from State without first subjugating the Church to the State—it is impossible to create a godless Kingdom without first elevating the King above God, which is in essence what Cromwell and the Boleyns did with Henry. Another misguided Cromwell not a century later would misdiagnose the disease with his Puritan motto, “Christ, not man, is King”—a bubbling sewer of spiritual poison that eventually congealed into the United States of America.

Poisoning the Wells of Culture

Henry did more, though than usurping Christ. He usurped England—far more than his usurpatious father and grandmother had, in fact. Nations are made, in essence, of three ingredients: a genetically and linguistically discrete people, a collection of myths, legends, stories, and histories, and what Max Weber called a “spirit”, what Spengler called “race”—a sort of motivating, semi-conscious sense of identity and participatory drive. A tribe will possess the first two, but not the third. An empire may possess the second two, but not the first. A nation, though, is not like a tribe or an empire, in that the coalescence is driven by equal parts organic and arbitrary development. To an extent, a nation will always need to be forced into existence by an intellectual minority who consciously understand or interpret the people and the mythology. This is what separates it from more ancient and traditional forms of community, which are almost entirely unconscious. It also requires, however, the full racial (here in the Spenglerian sense again) participation of the discrete population who both resulted from and shaped this mythology. An English nation was coalescing at the time of Henry VIII; by destroying and reshaping its mythology, he disrupted its development and redirected it. Two subsequent centuries of sectarian and ideological bloodshed, regicide, and the importation of foreign princes to force submission to the new liberal order created a stunted caricature of the nation England might have become.

Part of what makes the Southern statues so significant is that they are foundations, not on which a nation has already been built and is being torn down, as in South Africa, but rather from which a new nation has been trying to coalesce and has repeatedly been prevented. England became the England we know because Ss. Dunstan and Thomas were absent in its adolescence: much of the good of England has been preserved by Henry and Cranmer’s new church, but it is inarguable that for all their promise, S. Thomas Becket’s successors have not produced a nation worthy of spiritual survival. The future of the various emergent American ethnic and tribal identities will be dependent on the saints and heroes these groups choose to and are allowed to openly embrace now—and the battle that is now taking place is essentially one of two different nationalisms, two different modernities, vying for which is going to be the next “post”-modernity. What we are witnessing, therefore, is an attempt to erase the South as an independent identity not because of its Whiteness, or because of its illiberality, or because of any other peripheral reason, but ultimately because it has been identified as an obstacle in the path of the nationhood that a certain portion of the identity-building elite have been trying to force into existence on this continent for over a century. The cosmopolitan identity sought by this elite has temporarily turned its eye upon some of the Founders of the American Republic, but their elimination depends entirely on their continued utility as mythological figures who can advance the Globohomo regime of thought: they are fundamentally different from the Southern heroic figures now threatened. True, the culture which made them mythologically significant is dead, but likewise, they cannot form anything new.

Part of the allure of the Lost Cause is not actually the backward-looking, grasping, pining for that which was, (though this is without a doubt what drives much of it) but the promise of what might yet be. Tolkien has already made it clear that the deep and abiding feeling of longing and delight at Merry England endures even after the fall of the Empire made all things British quite unfashionable. Dixie is the Merry England of America: it is both a place and a legend, a historical time and a Form, an idyll and an ideal. It had its knights, its heroes, its knaves, and its fools. These statues immortalise these qualities, and preserve the reality of this American Albion; that the spirit necessary to preserve them seems to have been extinguished is troubling, because it means that the well from which Southerners draw their identity and meaning has been improperly tended by their elites, and the voices of dissidence and reaction in the South have either spoken too softly or used the wrong messages to become worthy of cultural capital. The South is a warning to all dissident rightists and reactionaries of what is at stake if we content ourselves to think and write only for each other, and do not provide anything of raw cultural value. We cannot content ourselves to be Carlyle, we must also be Tolkien, and, moreover not merely men of letters, but men of action. Too many Coleridges on the one hand and too many Byrons on the other is the perennial curse of the educated Right. We would benefit from more of the spirit of Marcus Aurelius and Alfred the Great.

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