Joel McDurmon of American Vision has weighed in on the brouhaha over the flying of the Confederate battle flag over the South Carolina state house grounds. Unfortunately, but predictably, Joel has taken the wrong side. Joel staunchly calls for the Confederate flag to be removed immediately and suggests that any endeavor to defend the Confederate flag is a distraction at best, and at worst an indirect endorsement of that heinous and “unforgivable” peculiar institution of the South, slavery! Joel boldly takes his position at a time when everyone who’s anyone expresses the same desire to see this old monument to the South die. The foreign governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, has recently given her endorsement for the removal of the flag, and the pro-removal position has widespread bipartisan support, on the left as well as the establishment right. So it’s nice to know that American Vision isn’t getting too “out there”! What is the crux of McDurmon’s argument against the Confederate flag? McDurmon claims that flying the flag is an act of hypocrisy given South Carolina’s current practices, and he also claims that the flag is genuinely offensive to conservative and Christian sensibilities, because the Civil War (or the War Between the States, as my unreconstructed friends like to call it) actually was fought over the issue of slavery.
South Carolina’s Hypocrisy
As long as the voters keep electing politicians to keep up that flag under such pretenses and for such reasons of “heritage” as states’ rights, honor, and freedom, they are engaging in what amounts to the biggest act of hypocrisy in history as well. . . .
When the same law makers who demand that flag remain up also start demanding that the state of South Carolina cut out the Yankee third of their budget—every single Federal handout—I will take their appeals to that battle flag seriously. Until then, take down that flag. You’re an embarrassment to everyone who has truly honorable aspirations for states’ rights, localism, fiscal integrity, true patriotism, and freedom.
McDurmon has a point in that it is indeed hypocritical for politicians to continue to support the Confederate flag as a symbol of South Carolina heritage (which, again, is becoming increasingly rare), all while maintaining their current fiscal practices. Is the solution to remove the Confederate flag? No, obviously the solution is for South Carolina (as well as other states of the former Confederacy) to honor their heritage by endorsing the values for which their ancestors fought and died. Is federal welfare a problem? Yes, it’s a huge problem in both the North and the South, but McDurmon’s argument is no more valid against flying the Confederate flag than for any state to fly the American flag.
The founders of the American Republic would have been just as dismayed at the present welfare state as those who founded the Confederacy, and many display the American flag at rallies to protest intrusions of the federal government. Should those at Tea Party rallies cease from displaying the American flag as a symbol of American heritage? Or should they instead stop supporting lesser-of-two-evils sellout politicians? The solution is obviously the latter. McDurmon is right to call out many of the South Carolinian supporters of the Confederate flag who also support politicians promoting policies not congruent with Confederate principles, but his conclusion to remove the flag does not follow. Such a criticism could just as easily be made against many who display the American flag today. As an aside, I wonder how many South Carolinians who ardently support the Confederate flag are welfare recipients? How many of them are the descendants of Confederate soldiers? Does welfare directly or inversely correlate with support for the Confederate flag? If I were a betting man, I would guess it would be an inverse relationship. Given the relative lack of support for welfare amongst Confederate-flag supporters, it would be the cruel addition of injury to insult to take the unsouthern, welfare-loving practices of a long-usurped South Carolinian government as reason to “tear down” a preeminently Southern symbol.
Again, the underlying problem with McDurmon’s argument is that it can apply just as easily (or even more so) to the American flag as it does the Confederate flag. The American flag, Old Glory, is a traditional symbol of the American Republic, but today it is used by a myriad of organizations and agendas that have virtually nothing in common with the original values of the founders of the American Republic. Old Glory can be seen at everything from “support the troops” neoconservative rallies (often accompanied by the Israeli flag), to mainstream liberal assemblies such as the Democratic Party, as well as far-left demonstrations like gay pride parades. All of these are rightly opposed by Joel McDurmon and American Vision, so why single out the Stars and Bars because of the hypocrisy of some South Carolina politicians and voters? It is certainly possible, and even highly probable, that many people support the Confederate flag as a symbol for the right reasons. In order to be consistent on this point, McDurmon should call for Christians to cease supporting Old Glory because of all the abusive appropriations of this symbol today. McDurmon’s entire complaint of hypocrisy on the part of supporters of the Confederate battle flag is itself duplicitous and hypocritical.
McDurmon’s main argument is that the Confederate flag is a symbol of slavery. There are several instances in which he bandies the cultural Marxist terms “racist” and “racism” without defining them. All that you need to know is that they are wrong and if you support the Confederate flag, you’re probably a “racist” as well.1 McDurmon notes that slavery was a larger issue for the Confederate states than some defenders of the South are willing to acknowledge. It is certainly true that the seceding states of the South were opposed to federal interference in the practice of slavery, but McDurmon badly butchers basic historical facts in the presentation of his case. McDurmon argues that the Southern government “instituted a wicked and godless form of racist, chattel slavery, and that the leaders and founders of said government enshrined this unforgivable sin into their founding laws and argued for it in their most foundational speeches and debates.” McDurmon refers to slavery in the South as an “unforgivable sin” and an “unbiblical and unspeakably wicked practice.”
The primary problem with this argument is that slavery was an established fact in the Southern states by the time that the Constitution was ratified, and at one time slavery was widely practiced in the North as well as the South. When the Constitution was ratified, the Southern states were admitted as slaveholding states, and the federal government was not given the right to ban slavery where it was practiced. The Constitution also presented a compromise in the apportionment of slaves for the purposes of representation in the federal government. The South wanted slaves counted as part of the states’ population, and the North did not want them counted. The compromise in the Constitution was to have three-fifths of the slave population count for purposes of representation:
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.2
Indians were excluded since they were not intended to be citizens, and three-fifths of the slave population was counted (not that blacks were then deemed three-fifths of a person, as some try to argue). The Constitution also restricted the federal government’s ability to ban the importation of slaves into the states until 1808, twenty years after ratification.3 It is for this reason that abolitionist agitator William Lloyd Garrison called the Constitution a “covenant with death and an agreement with hell.”4
McDurmon, like so many Northern abolitionists, is dishonest about the nature of Southern slavery. McDurmon writes,
The Confederate Constitution enshrined the unbiblical and unspeakably wicked practice of owning slaves—and not just slaves in general, but specifically “Negro slaves”—as property, and it forbade any law to the contrary going forward: “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”
Here McDurmon implies that Southern slavery was chattel slavery and that Southern slave owners owned the person of their slaves rather than just their labor – in the exact same manner, and with the exact same rights, in which men own inanimate property. This is a complete slander, and it is soundly refuted by J.H. Van Evrie in his article, “The Institution of the South Not Chattelism.” The reality is that masters owned a portion of their slaves’ labor, and several slaves saved money they earned to buy their freedom or the freedom of loved ones. Legally speaking, slaves were in much the same category as soldiers, prisoners, and minor children. McDurmon continues his hypocrisy when he states,
The Confederacy was imperialistic in this particular evil, decreeing that “The Confederate States may acquire new territory,” and that “In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government.” This overturns any narrative that the South just wanted to be left alone. Nonsense. It looked west with pretensions as imperialistic as anyone else, and it constitutionally reserved itself the right to expand its wicked institution as it went.
Notice that McDurmon concedes that the imperialistic pretensions of the South were the same “as anyone else,” presumably referring to the westward expansion of the United States. The United States Constitution did not interfere with slavery in states in which it existed, but there was no specification of how new territories would be regulated. A compromise position was that free states and slave states would always be admitted into the Union together, maintaining the balance of power between slave and free states. The United States government expanded its territory, and added slaveholding territories and ultimately states. There were often bloody conflicts along the western frontier between abolitionists and slaveholders, like those in Bleeding Kansas. The Confederate Constitution sought to avoid such conflicts in its guarantee that territory acquired by the Confederacy would respect the rights of slaveholders. (Incidentally, McDurmon might want to explain, if slavery was as abusive and heinous in the Old South as he imagines it, why there were no slave uprisings when the men left to fight.)
To make matters worse for McDurmon’s “unhesitating” denunciation of the flag’s “racism,” the free states and territories admitted to the Union often did not allow blacks to reside in their states, preventing them from driving down the cost of labor. I don’t have a problem with this, because states have an interest in controlling who is allowed to reside within their borders, but I’m sure that McDurmon and co. would consider this “racist.” There were also slave states that remained in the Union throughout the Civil War, and the Emancipation Proclamation did not change the status of slaves in these states. Guess which flag these states flew over their capitols? Whatever McDurmon or American Vision thinks about the morality of westward expansion, the criticism applies at least as well to the U.S. government, Constitution, and flag. (Recall what I said earlier about McDurmon’s double standard on hypocrisy.)
Furthermore, and vastly significantly, McDurmon’s view on Southern slavery as “unforgivable” is itself ludicrous, and shows his cowardly preference for political correctness on racial issues. Faith and Heritage has several articles that deal with the morality of slavery as it was practiced in America, so there is no need to rehash these issues here. These articles present a far more sophisticated view of slavery and the Confederacy than you will find on American Vision. Please see “Slavery: Its Morality, History, and Implications for Race Relations in America,” Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4; “Dabney on Sunday: On Southern Slavery” and “The Atlantic Slave Trade“; “Disunion, Slavery, and the Confederacy: A Southern Perspective,” Part 1 and Part 2; and “Michael Horton Attacks Dabney, Thornwell, and the South.”
A Defense of Cultural Symbols
McDurmon’s attack on the Confederate flag is based upon his pragmatic argument that support for the Confederate flag is a distraction from what “really matters.” He writes,
There is not a single thing among all of the biblical principles and laws for which the best of the South once stood that can be brought back, regained, or advanced by protecting a monument to the Confederate battle flag. Not one thing. In fact, as long as your fight focuses upon that flag and upon the (partial) heritage which you invest in that symbol, it is actually a powerful distraction from the real work you need to do.
McDurmon is wrong. Symbols are worth fighting for, and what is being attacked isn’t just a relic of the past or even the identity of the South alone, but the identity of the people who founded America and the European civilization from which we are derived. Those who attack the Stars and Bars as a symbol of “racism” aren’t going to stop there – for their offense is not merely with reference to slavery in isolation – but they will continue on until all traditional American and white cultural symbols are verboten. Many leftists haven’t been shy about their disdain for other symbols that aren’t tied to the Confederacy. Monuments of the Ten Commandments have been removed from courthouses. References to God or to Christianity have been removed from public institutions. Nativity scenes have been banned from town squares or other public property, and in many cases replaced with the symbols of other religions like Judaism or neutral “holiday trees.” The American flag has also been singled out as a symbol of white oppression and hatred, and has been banned by some public schools during “Cinco de Mayo” because it offends Hispanic immigrants.
McDurmon wants his readers to stop wasting time defending the Confederate flag and spend their time pursuing abstract political principles, but the principles that McDurmon seeks to promote do not exist and cannot exist outside of the context of a traditional culture which includes its own traditional symbols. Sam Francis provides us with keen insight on this issue in his essay, “In Defense of Symbols: Southern and Otherwise,”5 when he writes that the campaign against Southern culture and its symbols derived from a
complete rejection of the reality of the American—including the Southern and extending to the entire Western—heritage. It is in large part a racial attack and is driven largely by an anti-white racial consciousness, but it is not confined to non-whites. We find many whites themselves who also hate their own race and people and are either willing to join with the attack on white symbols or at least tolerate it.
Unless whites—Southerners as well as non-Southerners—learn to have the courage to demand that the symbols of their heritage and their identity be respected and honored in the places where they have always been respected and honored, what we can expect to see, as whites cease to be a majority in the country, is the continuing destruction of those symbols and with them of the heritage and identity they symbolize.
McDurmon is dead wrong when he asserts, “If your fight to regain civilization from liberalism and godlessness continues to focus on that battle flag, the liberals will beat you.” Why have liberals attacked the Confederate flag, and why will they win? It’s because liberals have been successful in foisting a pseudo-morality of political correctness on the West. When a people is robbed of their culture, heritage, and identity, then it is easy for them to accept all the liberal policies that McDurmon opposes. Conceding these battles for our symbols because they are offensive to our contemporary obsession with political correctness is an excellent strategy for failure, even if McDurmon mistakes his position as a strategic retreat from an untenable position. Liberals won’t stop once the Confederate flag has been thoroughly stigmatized. They will continue their pursuit of all white American symbols until white culture has itself been stigmatized. McDurmon, who describes himself as “radically conservative” in the same article, demonstrates that he at least implicitly is entirely accepting of liberal rhetoric on this issue:
The only reason anyone who continue to uphold that symbol once they acknowledge these facts can only be that they endorse the racism. There are indeed some who do, unfortunately. And for that, again, the liberals will beat you—only this time, they will be right to do so. Just do us a favor: if racial inequality is the real reason you defend the state flying that battle flag, just have the courtesy to say that up front. It will save us all a lot of time.
“Racism” and “racial inequality” are undefined, and he states that those who believe in these concepts will be defeated by “the liberals” (as well as mainstream conservatives and libertarians?). If “racial inequality” means that Southerners did not believe blacks to be human, or equal in an anthropological sense, then this is dishonest, since this was not the position of the Old South which the Confederate flag represents. If “racial inequality” means that individuals, tribes, and races differ by their talents and abilities, then this is definitely what the South believed, and it is also true. I suspect that McDurmon is condemning the latter sense when he speaks of “racism” and “racial inequality.” This same issue continues to resurface throughout the rest of his article. If noticing racial differences in different aptitudes is to be condemned, then we must also tear down the American flag, since the founders of America certainly believed the same thing. The NAACP and SPLC will tell you as much. The only way that traditionalists will be defeated by liberals is if we accept their morality. The only means of achieving victory is for us to reject appeals to surrender our culture and heritage because they are “racist” or inadequately egalitarian. We can easily see that Sam Francis was prophetic in his understanding of the meaning of cultural symbols, as well as the meaning of attacks on those symbols:
Eventually whites will cease to have any identity, any collective sense of themselves as a people or a culture, and when that occurs, they will simply become an underclass to be exploited and oppressed by whatever race or people has seized cultural dominance. . . . [T]he defense of those symbols is not only about antiquarian preferences, and that what is being waged here is even far larger than a new war against the South and its heritage alone. It is really a war against the entire nation, and the entire civilization and the people that formed them, and we can win that war only when we make others in the nation and civilization grasp that they are next, that the symbols that define their identity are no more immune from being denounced as racist than ours are. In essence, what we need to make them understand is that the war against the South is not only not over, it is just now beginning, and the South in the literal sense is not necessarily the only target. In a larger sense, both the South and the non-South face common enemies that have served to disarm us. In a word, what we need to teach those who are now among our enemies but who should be on our side is that we are all Southerners now.
Every reason that McDurmon gives for tearing down the Confederate flag in his article can also be used as a reason for tearing down the American flag, or statues of famous American patriarchs or statesmen, and not just those associated with the Confederacy. Attacks on Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson can, and are applied just as easily to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Does McDurmon insist that his standards be applied to these symbols and heroes as well? My guess is that he would not; the reason being that such a call to tear down the American flag and de-canonize “racist” American heroes wouldn’t sit particularly well with many of American Vision’s donors. It’s easy to pile on to a symbol of the defeated Southern uprising against the Union. History isn’t kind to the losers of wars. Eventually standing against Confederate symbols won’t be enough. Once the symbols of the Old South are banished from the public and from polite company liberals will demand that symbols of America’s past be torn down. The way to defeat liberalism isn’t to make concessions to their flawed worldview, or to indulge their faux-moral claims to be offended by our cherished symbols – the substance of the reason for the flag’s removal – but to reject their worldview and their false morality rooted in political correctness. Sam Francis was right; we are all Southerners now.
- See John Weaver, “Is the Confederate Flag a Symbol of Hate?” Part 1 and Part 2 ↩
- U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 2 ↩
- U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 9 ↩
- William Lloyd Garrison, “On the Constitution and the Union,” An excerpt from “The Great Crisis!“, The Liberator, Vol. II., No. 52 (December 29, 1832). Garrison would ultimately burn a copy of the Constitution and advocate for a dissolution of the Union. ↩
- Sam Francis. Address to the Sixth Annual Conference on the Great Revival in the Southern Armies, Harrisonburg, VA, July 12, 2000. Published in Shots Fired: Sam Francis on America’s Culture War. Edited by Peter Gemma, 2006 FGF Books. pp. 284-287 ↩