July 8, 2000

Strakon Lights Up

Symbolic secession

Let them keep the Stars and Stripes, and we'll take Don't Tread on Me


Paleoconservatives' defense of pro-white, pro-Western public symbols is not only foredoomed, it's counterrevolutionary. The first insuperable problem is that whites and the colored peoples just don't have the same history.

I'll confine myself to discussing differences between blacks and whites, partly for simplicity's sake but also because the sharpest, earliest, and most persistent historical divide in America is that between those of African and those of European heritage.

Now, both peoples inhabit the land called America. Both peoples can point to large ancestral cohorts who inhabited the land in historical time. Both peoples have an equal right to call themselves American. How can it be, then, that we don't all have the same history?

Let's attack the question indirectly. Do you consider the history of New Orleans prior to the Louisiana Purchase to be American history? For those of us with no old Creole heritage, it's likely that the American history of New Orleans doesn't even start until Old Hickory's battle in 1815. Consider Florida. Do Ponce de Leon's peregrinations or the founding of St. Augustine, however interesting or important, really impress you as American history? Or as Spanish history?

Even the achievements of Christopher Columbus, while vitally important to the eventual history of America and the West in general — as evidenced by the Red Guards' savage and sustained assault against them — have more of the look and feel of European history than of American history. Does Columbus really seem as American to you as Captayne John Smith or General Robert E. Lee? If he does, chances are you've got some Italian heritage that you like to take out and run around the block from time to time.

And if it's so, it's only natural. When we begin to characterize a given historical event as the history of Us or of Them, we begin to appreciate what I'll call "people's" history. Its concrete expression is the very symbols and icons that today's activists are fighting over. Those symbols and icons distill an inspiring purity from particular histories that, in this bad old world, are all highly impure.

Rush Limbaugh, in the course of attacking all historical revisionism, once said that historians ought to record "what really happened," period. But historians can't do that; far too much really happened; even lacking documentation of every sparrow's fall, historians have to be highly selective. So it is with peoples, in their unscholarly way. Where scholars, using some process of selection, chart tendencies and construct arguments, peoples selectively assemble myths, myths that inform and console and inspire. Now, a people's myths can be true, at least in the way parables are true. They can even be wholly true, though usually they're not the whole truth. But however true they are, they are unlikely to inform and console and inspire everyone equally.

"People's" history helps a certain people to cohere, to honor their past. Through its lens, a people imply, or at least express the virtuous hope, that they still possess the virtues and strengths their ancestral heroes demonstrated. But here's the rub. Different peoples, even if they inhabit the same land, will experience different aspects of that land's history and will pass different lessons from those experiences down to their children.

Even the history of the white American peoples was never unitary, as David Hackett Fischer shows in Albion's Seed. Their different cultural heritages and different experiences in this land left Puritans, Quakers, Cavaliers, and Back Countrymen with different assumptions, different folklores, different institutions, different expectations. But what really ripped American history violently and irreparably asunder was the involuntary mass immigration of Negroes to this land as chattel slaves.

When we see the Confederate Battle Flag flying or George Washington memorialized, it's not just "people's" history we see celebrated. It's white people's history. In the past I've written a little about the struggle over public symbols, but I was put on this particular tack by something a historian said in a recent TV documentary about the background of the movie "The Patriot." I'd read the same thing years ago, back when I was an egalitarian left-libertarian, but forgotten it; I probably repressed it, as just too upsetting. While 5,000 free Negroes fought in Patriot militias during the Revolution, almost four times that number joined the Loyalist exodus to Canada after the British admitted defeat. Considerably more blacks fought in Loyalist militias than in Patriot militias; they were runaway slaves who pinned their own hopes for Liberty on British promises of emancipation after victory.

Whether the blacks were wise to trust British undertakings on that point is debatable, of course: London was long acquiescent in slavery and the slave trade, and the official, self-righteous British opposition to slavery doesn't really seem to have gotten off the ground until after the British lost their most extensive slave colonies. But a slave yearning for freedom might be forgiven for throwing the dice and joining the Loyalists against the Patriots. For it was the Patriots who controlled the Southern statehouses and courthouses that administered slavery.

During the Second War for Independence, those in control of Southern statehouses and courthouses administering slavery were the Confederates, whom we honor as paladins of liberty and independence. Straining to create a "usable past," or at least one that is defensible against the general antiwhite political culture, Southern partisans in recent years have "discovered" that various hitherto-unknown Negroes "fought for the Confederacy." On closer examination, those "soldiers" usually turn out to be officers' manservants or what we would nowadays call engineering troops — but not combat engineers. They were just shovel-wielders. But if a few did freely pick up arms to fight the Yankee invaders, that handful is lost among the tens of thousands of Negroes who joined the U.S. Colored Troops (under no threat of conscription) and fought alongside the invaders.

We may fault those who served the Union for failing to detect in Lincoln's regime the germ of a future Central Government that eventually would enslave everyone. But most people aren't anarchists, and while it may be self-evidently absurd to us, it was not self-evidently absurd at the time for a runaway or freed slave to don Union blue. Whatever regime he would be serving, he would at least be fighting an existing regime that administered the form of slavery he knew the most about.

Why then do we recoil in horrified astonishment when Negroes, as soon as they achieve enough power and self-confidence, strip slave-owner Washington's name from state schools and rename those institutions for Negro dignitaries whose accomplishments, real or imaginary, pale before those of the Father? Why do we recoil when they pull the Battle Flag down from statehouses and deface state-owned memorials to Robert E. Lee? They are only replacing one people's history with another, as any people would do once given the power.

The problem is the power. Some readers may wish to direct my attention to the deracinated whites who ally with blacks, or cower before them, in the struggle over public symbols. But I'm already looking in that direction, and what I see is an uncowering ruling class, predominantly white, that is pursuing an antiwhite program for its own self-interested reasons, using political power and an overweening cultural influence nourished by political power. That ruling class is solidly entrenched, and we're not going to throw it out by marching around some Southern statehouse. Quite the contrary. By marching around a statehouse, we admit that statehouses have a right to our people's symbols. In effect, we confer legitimacy on the hijacking and manipulation of our native symbols by our distant rulers.

To white Westerners who want to save whatever remains to be saved, I propose an immediate and unconditional surrender in the struggle for state-owned public symbols. We don't enjoy the freedom of association any longer in practice, but let us at least preserve the principle of it by severing any symbolic association with the regime that would enslave us. Freedom of dissociation is inherent in the freedom to associate.

We should celebrate when the public square is finally stripped of all inspiring symbols. Let that square become as bare and lifeless as the courtyard of a public-housing project. Let bitter winds drive litter across its cold pavement in the harsh blue glare of security lights. Why should we strive to decorate it? Just what sentiments, what actions do we expect it to inspire in our dark time?

We should celebrate, too, when all the state schools cease dishonestly honoring the majestic figures of our people's history. Why should we mourn any loss of counterfeit dignity on the part of those prisons and academies of ignorance?

One of the few visual images from Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign that most people probably remember is the photo of the girl holding a sign that pleaded, "Bring us together!" That is indeed what our rulers have aimed to do in manipulating our people's symbols: to bring us the sheep together with them the wolves.

Instead, let us fly apart! Our symbolic secession would not entail furling the Battle Flag or turning the portrait of Father George to the wall. Far from it; we would take with us those symbols that suit us and flaunt them proudly. If we have a chance to preserve white Western culture in this land, we will have to do it in enclaves and we will have to build those enclaves, in physical form or otherwise, by accentuating our differences from other peoples. Liberating our symbols from Our Enemy, the State, will help arm us in that struggle. Ω

July 8, 2000

Published in 2000 by WTM Enterprises.

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