Euan Hague, Heidi Beirich, and Edward H. Sebesta (eds.)
The University of Texas Press
“This is a book written by two well known opponents of anything to do with confederate history.” Stephen D. Echard
“The authors of this book are all well-known to have a pronounced bias against all things Southern and all things conservative. One cannot expect their book to do anythin else but reflect the biases of the authors.” Michael R. Bradley.
The above quotations are cut and pasted from two ‘one-star’ reviews of Hague’s, Beirich’s, and Sebesta’s collection of essays on the secessionist social and cultural phenomena they refer to as the ‘Neo-Confederacy.’ The above quotations are interesting to me because they presume the exhibition of editorial bias is synonymous with ‘bad book’. This is not true, of course, but I’m somewhat fascinated by how pervasive and common it is to find this sort of sentiment expressed in regards to critical literature and documentary films. I’m curious to know what the permitted perspective is on such subjects according to the authors of these ‘one-star’ reviews. Should all writing be devoid of opinion and just aspire to describe things? Is this attitude reflective of a facebook-style imposition of a ‘like’ function on all things that fosters an expectation that the public expression of opinion should only be oriented towards approving things?
Heidi Beirich is the current director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which draws a lot of negative attention from the radical right-wing in the United States. Edward H. Sebesta is an independent scholar who runs the Anti-Neo-Confederacy blog and has done research work for the Southern Poverty Law Center in the past. He has also maintained a web archive of a newspaper called The Citizens’ Council (the publication of the Citizen’s Council of Mississippi) and has edited another volume of Neo-Confederate literature. I’m sure that these two editors are the individuals the above reviewers were referring to. Euen Hauge is current chair of the Department of Geography at DePaul University in Chicago, where he specializes in teaching urban and cultural geography. Many of his publications take the points where race intersects with place as their focus.
Anyways... Hague, Beirich, and Sebesta have collected a set of scholarly critiques of various aspects of what they call ‘Neo-Confederacy’, which is the persistent assertion that the Southern United States is home to a distinct social and cultural formation which is incompatible with the rest of modern America. Over the course of 10 essays, this distinct cultural and its ideological supports are investigated by the book’s authors. Seven of the ten essays were written by the editors, so that accounts for the editorial bias of this book, and they seem quite sharp in their critique of the statements issued by ‘Neo-Confederate’ commentators and writers.
Many of the Neo-Confederate quotations used by the authors of this book are explicitly racist, or, for example, call for violence as a means of keeping social order. The authors uncover many tensions amongst Neo-Conservative rhetoric that indicate that the purveyors of a return to the pre-civil war way of living in the American south desire an authoritarian rule for the benefit of white protestant men. More specifically, the authors identify the white, hot-blooded, southern male as the pinnacle of human evolution, and for this specimen to properly express his values, he must be permitted to engage in violence against any offense to his honor. Of course, the authors also identify Neo-Confederate voices that consider the perceived propensity for violence among non-whites as indicators of their inferiority. What they truly call for, then, is a renewed Southern social order where the use of violence is legitimately exercised by white men to keep everyone else “in their place”. This is a small example of the expressions of southern nationalism critiqued by this book’s authors, who discuss a full range of cultural forms and attitudes found in literature (such as the writings of the Southern Agrarians) and music and in small social groups (such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans) to define and affirm a desire to return to the Antebellum south.
The essays combine to form a critical cultural survey of Neo-Confederate forms, from their attitudes towards race, to the literature and music that expresses their ideals. The views that Sebestra, Beirich, Hauge, and company critique fall within the far side of conservatism. Some Neo-Confederate commentators, for example, note that the abolition of slavery was part of an elaborate plot to eradicate Christianity from the south, and furthermore that slavery was sanctioned by the Christian God. The term ‘Neo-Confederacy’ sounds like a name, created by the editors of this book given to a broad range of Southern-nationalist expressions by the editors of this text. If we take this to be a secessionist movement, then it is clearly different from the secessionist movement Thomas H. Naylor leads in Vermont. Naylor suggests that Vermont must seceed because his state is uniquely progressive among the Union. The Neo-Confederates, however, appear to want to leave the Union and leave the modern era behind.
PS: there is a mockumentary film that imagines that the Confederacy won the civil war titled the Confederate States of America viewable in its entirety on youtube: