Monday, August 14, 2006

Blast From The Past

by Sara Robinson

I'm hard at work this evening putting together the third installment. But, while following up on some of the links provided by commenters, I came across a comment I dropped over two years ago at Billmon's Whiskey Bar. (The Web never forgets...even when you do.) Given how often we touch back on the role of the South in creating our modern authoritarian America, I thought I'd resurrect it....

It's occured to me that we might have actually been a lot farther ahead now as a nation if the South had won the Civil War. They could have gone their own way, and let the modern world pass them least, for a while. Very likely, within a generation or two, they would have decided for themselves that liberal democracy might be a good idea after all, and made that transition on their own time, in their own way. By now, they probably would have been just another friendly North American country, like Canada.

But losing the war short-circuited their economic and cultural development. Rather than join the modern world, they became like an abused child who never matures beyond the developmental stage at which the abuse occured. They got stuck in their own victimization and anger, and stayed there. The ever-present opportunity to blame them damn Yankees for everything allowed them to avoid taking any responsibility for their own social progress (or lack thereof). If they were on their own as a country, there would be nobody left to blame, no "tradition" to mourn, no cherished shreds of lost glory to fetishize. Their fate would have been truly their own.

Instead, the bitterness of defeat festered, then metastasized. It got channeled into Jim Crow, fundamentalism, hyperpatriotism, and a crazy dark take-no-prisoners militancy. These are distinctively Southern cultural traits, though they've put out some long tendrils that now sprout up wherever rural Americans are in distress. Those people may be Bush's base, but their very existence is the result of a serious and long-standing pathology in our body politic. In winning the Civil War, we doomed ourselves to an eternal Culture War -- which is simply the Civil War still being fought by other means.

Maybe it's not too late. Maybe we should just jettison the South, and give it the freedom to become the country it so desperately thinks it wants to be. Leave the borders open for, say, 20 years, so that those who want to leave the South can move to the US, and those who share the ideals of the new Confederacy can freely emigrate there. If they want to reinstate Jim Crow, install the death penalty for women who seek abortions, and give civil rights only to propertied white born-again men, I think they should have that well as the right to bear the full brunt of the consequences those choices will inevitably bring.

History suggests that the descent into Third World status would be sharp and fast. And this time, they'd have no one to blame but themselves. The resulting disaster would, finally, discredit their worldview as utterly and completely as the fall of the Berlin Wall spelled the end of Communism. At some point, they'd eventually decide that some of those liberal values aren't so bad after all (especially if they bring the investors back) -- and that it's finally time to join the 20th Century.

That's my current fantasy, anyway. Let them finally go through the transformation to a modern state on their own. The alternative -- which we appear to heading for -- is for them to take over the whole country, drag us all back to the place they got stuck (about 1880 or so), and force the rest of us to go through the last century all over again with them, so they can finally learn the hard historical lessons the North and West already figured out the first time around.

OK, that's my weird blue sky thesis for the week....

Posted by: Mrs. Robinson at June 11, 2004 01:48 AM

I'm not sure I'd really doom our steadfast Southern liberals to such a fate. And it'll sure be easier on everyone if we can find a resolution that allows the country to remain intact and recover its commitment to E Pluribus Unum.

But it's something to chew on, anyway, while I retreat to my little corner and write tomorrow's piece.

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