By Hunter Wallace
This has been building for a while now.
After the Dylann Roof shooting in Charleston, there was a frenzy by the Left to erase every last vestige of the Confederacy in the Southern public landscape. We threw ourselves into the middle of that fight. In hindsight, it was the right thing to do because we should honor our ancestors and preserve their memory for future generations.
At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that all these heritage battles are on the same level as fighting over ancient Rome, Greece, or Egypt. It just seems to me like that era is incredibly distant from what I see in the present day South. Slavery hasn’t existed here in 150 years. Jim Crow hasn’t existed here in 50 years. Nothing about this area – the Alabama Black Belt – is reminiscent of the Confederacy.
While it is true that I dream of Southern independence, I don’t believe in restoring anything resembling the Confederacy. Slavery, for example, was rendered obsolete generations ago. Because of the mechanization of agriculture, black slaves are no longer necessary to harvest cotton, tobacco, or sugar, and our economy is no longer based on the production of those commodities. In fact, we now grow far more timber and peanuts in the heart of the old cotton belt. Even the textile mills which came to the South decades after the war are ancient history.
What does “restoring the Confederacy” even mean? The historical Confederacy was defeated by the Union because it was vastly inferior in infrastructure, manufacturing, agriculture, shipping and population. We naively believed we could just secede and continue to trade our cash crops for Northern and British manufactured goods. Supposedly, a weak central government of quarreling sovereign states presiding over this hopelessly disorganized mess was going to catch-up to the North in all these areas on the fly and preserve our independence.
It didn’t work. It never could have worked. That model couldn’t work today for all sorts of reasons. Forget slavery, which no one is proposing to bring back. Few White people still work in agriculture. By and large, the family farm has been made obsolete by corporate agribusiness and its economies of scale which deliver the products in your local supermarket.
Yesterday, I was talking to my friend Michael Cushman about the dominance of Jeffersonianism in Southern Nationalism, largely due to the influence of the Abbeville Institute which still seems to mentally live in the Confederacy. It occurred to me that Cushman lives in Aiken, SC which I know happens to be where most of the workers at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site also live. To put this in perspective, the nuclear reactors at the Savannah River Site were shutdown after the end of the Cold War, but we are more focused on and know more about the economy and politics of the South Carolina of 1861.
This post got me thinking: do I really believe in all the Jeffersonian doctrines on which the Confederacy was founded? Do I really believe in the American political theory based on radical individualism, social contracts, constitutional compacts between sovereign states, an agrarian economy, equal rights and so forth? Not really, it sounds to me like something a bunch of lawyers conjured into existence.
Instead, I would rather look around the world, see what works, and apply those insights here. My sympathies are much more in tune with the Chinese whose attitude is “a great nation needs a large aircraft industry.” I think Finland has a better education system, South Korea has better broadband internet, Denmark has less income inequality, Japan has a superior immigration policy. Whereas Taiwan has a semiconductor industry and sees itself as a silicon island, Alabama specializes in the export of poultry products. What’s wrong with this picture?
Take a look at three cities in Alabama: Birmingham, Selma, and Tuskegee. What do you see? If you are a liberal ideologue, you might see a glorious triumph for civil rights and equality in the American story of progress, but if you are a practical minded realist, you might see an unmitigated racial, cultural and economic disaster.
I don’t want a weak, caretaker, nightwatchman federal government and a laissez-faire economy built around a lawyer’s narrow political theory of individual rights and constitutional government. I would rather have a strong state that fosters education, infrastructure and commerce, a tax and trade policy that fosters broad based economic prosperity, ideally led by practical minded businessmen and engineers.
A strong state will be necessary anyway to secure our independence, deal with countless internal enemies who will attempt to sabotage us from the outset, and to clean up the mess of fifty years of open borders and civil rights. In commerce, the Southern states already nurture foreign corporations – looking at you Airbus, Hyundai, BMW, Mercedes-Benz – with lavish incentive packages to encourage them to build factories here. Why can’t we do the same for our own industries?
All this really requires is that we stop lying to ourselves: the prosperity of the Sunbelt South has far less to do with Jeffersonianism than New Deal, World War II, and Cold War military spending. Where did the TVA and rural electrification come from? Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Appalachia? NASA in Alabama, Texas and Florida? Nuclear power, biotechnology, the internet, computers, or genomics? The interstates that opened our commerce or all the land grant colleges? From Northern textile mills to Japanese automobiles, “the state” has strategically fostered industrialization. Who brought back the iconic wild turkey and the whitetail deer? And where did polio, smallpox, malaria and pellagra go anyway?
I’m not citing these examples to argue that “government is always good” and the “free market is always bad.” A government policy can be constructive or destructive and it usually depends on the nature of elites and whatever is motivating them. We might place kudzu, civil rights, China’s one child policy and the Iraq War in the minus column. At the same time, we could place a lot of R&D, space exploration, and aerospace technology in the plus column.
Is that a radical centrist point of view? I’m not sure. All I know is that the independent South that I envision isn’t a place where the majority of our people will be poorer, less educated, and less healthy than they are now. We ought to be open to solutions that work and not be held back by an ideology that has already failed us once.