By Dr. Boyd Cathey
Today I want to discuss vaunted “conservative” Victor Davis Hanson who, it seems, possesses a fixation about the Confederacy and the Old South. The pre-War Between the States South was a region dripping with racism and bigotry, he repeatedly exclaims, that deserved its “punishment” from those Godly soldiers who went marching, burning and pillaging through to bring to the poor, unenlightened Southerners all the fruits of democracy, equality and “righteousness.”
In the past, Hanson has praised Sherman’s March as “holy work” and “actually not that hard” on Southern civilians, and called any decent or fair treatment of Confederates in cinema as glorifying “folksy racists.” Obviously John Ford, who treated Confederates with respect, if not sympathy (think here of John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards in the classic, The Searchers, or Pvt. John Smith, AKA General Rome Clay, CSA, in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, for instance), did not get the memo.
Hanson is a prominent senior contributor to the “conservative” magazine National Review, and his views are shared by its other contributors, including editor Rich Lowry. It is a view that partakes of the very same narrative as the Marxist writers, historians and journalists on the “farther Left.” It is the same viewpoint that is now being foisted off every Sunday evening by Fox News in its televised “history” program titled, “Legends & Lies: The Civil War.” It is a theme that posits that the United States was founded specifically on an “idea,” and that “idea” was equality, which, they quickly point out, is proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.
But it is an idea that the Founders rejected and, in fact, understood was and would be the death of the American republic.
In several columns and published articles over the past few years, I have cited the twenty year correspondence and series of debates between the late Professors Mel Bradford and Harry Jaffa regarding the American Founding and the idea of “equality.” Bradford’s volume, Original Intentions, gives the lie to those who pose the ideology of equality as this nation’s founding principle. And, more recently, Professor Barry Alain Shain (Colgate University), in his mammoth study, The Declaration of Independence in Historical Context: American State Papers, Petitions, Proclamations, and Letters of the Delegates to the First National Congresses (2014), provides overwhelming documentation of Bradford’s view and the ahistorical views of Hanson and those like him. An excellent, if detailed, summary can be found in Bradford’s essay in Modern Age quarterly, “The Heresy of Equality” (Winter 1976). [The essay may be online; I have a PDF of it, should anyone desire a copy.]
In short, the arguments of Hanson, Lowry, and other Neoconservatives violate the basic standards of historical investigation and writing.
There is no daylight historically between the Neocons and those now leading the establishment “conservative movement,” and the far Left Marxists when it comes to interpreting American history and our nation’s Founding. Indeed, George W. Bush’s point man and vaunted political consultant, Karl Rove, has praised anti-Southern Marxist historian Eric Foner as his “favorite historian.”
Given that fatal historical myopia, is it any wonder that “conservatism inc.” is now a miserable and losing proposition when it comes to opposing the forces of the farther Left in the battle for what is left of the American republic and our inherited culture? Needless to say, any traditional American who claims to be a real conservative and who continues to accept the tutelage of such individuals and their organs—indeed, any Southerner who continues to conflate such historical drivel with a defense of his own heritage—needs to re-examine his views and undergo a reality check.
~ DR. BOYD D. CATHEY is an Unz Review columnist, as well as a Barely a Blog contributor, whose work is easily located on this site under the “BAB’s A List” search category. Dr. Cathey earned an MA in history at the University of Virginia (as a Thomas Jefferson Fellow), and as a Richard M Weaver Fellow earned his doctorate in history and political philosophy at the University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain. After additional studies in theology and philosophy in Switzerland, he taught in Argentina and Connecticut before returning to North Carolina. He was State Registrar of the North Carolina State Archives before retiring in 2011. He writes for The Unz Review, The Abbeville Institute, Confederate Veteran magazine, The Remnant, and other publications in the United States and Europe on a variety of topics, including politics, social and religious questions, film, and music.