Daniel Larison: Historian, attacked in Commentary for nostalgia for Confederacy, responds

Historians in the News

[Daniel Larison is a doctoral candidate in Byzantine history at the University of Chicago.]

This is rather amusing. Apparently I have become worthy of being denounced by Jamie Kirchick at Commentary for my sympathy for the Confederacy. Kirchick’s “discovery” that I have belonged to the League of the South for many years will come, I expect, as no surprise to anyone who has been reading this blog for very long. On my sidebar are links to the League of the South’s webpage and its blog, I have written several times for Chronicles, which also links to the League’s site, and I have repeatedly defended the principles of secession, decentralism and constitutionalism that I regard as being an inseparable part of the political tradition of the Antifederalists, Jeffersonians and the Confederacy. I still belong to the League, but I am not active in the group. My statements about Lincoln over the years should have left no one in any confusion about my views of the War or its negative effects on the Republic. In essence, Kirchick believes that it is somehow disqualifying or unacceptable to reject the acts and legacy of an executive usurper and that it is wrong to sympathise with the people who fought for their constitutional rights against this usurper.

I don’t consider my membership or my views on the War to be shameful or requiring any apology. I don’t defend the legacy of the man who ushered in a destructive, illegal war that killed hundreds of thousands. It does take a certain fanatical mindset to see mass destruction and violence as the correct solutions to morally repugnant institutions, and let me be clear that I believe slavery was such a morally repugnant institution. I reject the mentality that says that the ends justify the means, and that the slaughter of other people is acceptable for the sake of ideology and centralising power. I will gladly compare my views on this with anyone who defends illegal and aggressive wars and the intrusive reach of the central state.

I should say that some of the things I said in the post to which Kirchick refers were intemperate and at least one was wrong. The shot at Boot was excessive, and I shouldn’t have said that. In that I was being hot-tempered and wrong. However, the rest of my views are so “repellent and noxious” that they are shared by such conventional pundits as Walter Williams and even to some degree by no less than Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, who once said about the cause for which two of his ancestors fought:

I am not here to apologize for why they fought, although modern historians might contemplate that there truly were different perceptions in the North and South about those reasons, and that most Southern soldiers viewed the driving issue to be sovereignty rather than slavery. In 1860 fewer than five percent of the people in the South owned slaves, and fewer than twenty percent were involved with slavery in any capacity. Love of the Union was palpably stronger in the South than in the North before the war — just as overt patriotism is today — but it was tempered by a strong belief that state sovereignty existed prior to the Constitution, and that it had never been surrendered. Nor had Abraham Lincoln ended slavery in Kentucky and Missouri when those border states did not secede. Perhaps all of us might reread the writings of Alexander Stephens, a brilliant attorney who opposed secession but then became Vice President of the Confederacy, making a convincing legal argument that the constitutional compact was terminable. And who wryly commented at the outset of the war that “the North today presents the spectacle of a free people having gone to war to make freemen of slaves, while all they have as yet attained is to make slaves of themselves.”
All of that states the matter very well. I remain convinced that the vast majority of Confederate soldiers were fighting for constitutional liberty, including one of my own ancestors, and I think that was, is, something worth defending. If that repels the Jamie Kirchicks of the world, I have to conclude that I am on the right track.
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John Nicholas - 1/23/2008

So, it makes it OK to fight for the Confederacy because those soldiers were fighting for states rights and not slavery.

Then does it make it OK for a German soldier to fight in the Nazi battles for "German room to live", but not the genocide?

Both positions are the same.

John Nicholas