Slavery Was Essential to Southern Political Theory

As a follow-up to my previous post on Southern heritage, I had thought to provide a sort of annotated bibliography of Civil War sources dealing with slavery, but Ta-Nehesi Coates recently published an essay that surpasses what I would have been able to do. So to complement that, I’d like to highlight a few key personalities and documents, explain some of their main features of the political and economic arguments, and give some reflections on what all of this would have meant historically and politically.

The Early American Republic Was Always Unstable 

Let’s start with John Calhoun. Calhoun represents a bridge between the American founding and the Civil War. He was born after the Revolutionary War and died before the Civil War, and he was actively involved in American politics from 1812-1850. Calhoun was a complicated character. He was a Southern Agrarian, and yet he was also a Unitarian. He was a Jeffersonian “Democratic-Republican” who went on to serve as Andrew Jackson’s Vice-President, feud with him over some central points of political theory, especially states rights, and end his career with some fairly rigid and provocative ideas, namely a very strict notion of states rights, the legitimacy of both nullification and secession, the concept of concurrent-majority and a full-throated defense of slavery. Some of Calhoun’s thought is quite genius, though in that sense also creative rather than traditional, and some of it is morally repugnant. But what he shows us is that the interval between the American Founding and the Civil War was a combustible one. There were no halcyon days which were later assaulted. No, neither the North nor the South represented some invasion of rogue ideology which ruined the American project. The American project was always one with multiple and competing interests which never made explicit some of its most basic transcendental commitments. And so, in that way, it was always unstable.

Slavery was the big issue during Calhoun’s day because it touched all of the other big issues. Slavery accounted for about half of the country’s entire way of existence. It made up an enormous part of the economy, and it was a major player in the world economy. You could compare it to the role that oil plays in today’s world, and you wouldn’t be far off. But it was domestic and so impossible to hide from sight. Slavery was also relevant to westward expansion, since the addition of new states would always raise the question as to whether they would be free states or slave states. And that question was relevant, not only to the new states, but also to the old states, since it would determine the future political influence and power those old states would have. If more slave states were added, then the free states would lose out in Washington, and if more free states were added, then the slave states would lose out in Washington. Thus slavery was not “the only issue,” but it was the issue that touched all other issues and was therefore the main point of contention.

The South’s Contribution to the Slavery Issue: A Positive Good and Political-Economic Necessity  

Now, slavery was not original to the South. It predated the United States as a nation, and so the Southerners would always call out the Northerners as hypocrites on this point. We should also add that a large portion of the North was more or less economically bound up in slavery, even if no slaves were actually present on their own land. Banks, lending, markets, and the rest were not limited to any one “section,” and the clash between Jackson and Calhoun shows how even two Southerners, men largely sharing the same region and culture, could disagree over other political issues. But what does make slavery a distinctively Southern problem is that the founding fathers largely admitted that slavery was an evil which,while not being able to be removed in their own day, would need to be done away with in the future. The leading Southern political thinkers would come to reject this point of view, arguing instead that slavery was a positive good and even a part of the natural law and divine hierarchy of human society.

Calhoun and Slavery

Calhoun, again, is an important representative of this shift. He said this in 1837:

Abolition and the Union cannot coexist. As the friend of the Union I openly proclaim it–and the sooner it is known the better. The former may now be controlled, but in a short time it will be beyond the power of man to arrest the course of events. We of the South will not, cannot, surrender our institutions. To maintain the existing relations between the two races, inhabiting that section of the Union, is indispensable to the peace and happiness of both. It cannot be subverted without drenching the country in blood, and extirpating one or the other of the races. Be it good or bad, [slavery] has grown up with our society and institutions, and is so interwoven with them that to destroy it would be to destroy us as a people. But let me not be understood as admitting, even by implication, that the existing relations between the two races in the slaveholding States is an evil:–far otherwise; I hold it to be a good, as it has thus far proved itself to be to both, and will continue to prove so if not disturbed by the fell spirit of abolition. I appeal to facts. Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually.

In the meantime, the white or European race, has not degenerated. It has kept pace with its brethren in other sections of the Union where slavery does not exist. It is odious to make comparison; but I appeal to all sides whether the South is not equal in virtue, intelligence, patriotism, courage, disinterestedness, and all the high qualities which adorn our nature.

But I take higher ground. I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good–a positive good.

Now, what’s really interesting in this speech is something that no one has yet brought up in the popular conversation. Calhoun makes slavery the solution to the problem of capitalism:

I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other. Broad and general as is this assertion, it is fully borne out by history. This is not the proper occasion, but, if it were, it would not be difficult to trace the various devices by which the wealth of all civilized communities has been so unequally divided, and to show by what means so small a share has been allotted to those by whose labor it was produced, and so large a share given to the non-producing classes. The devices are almost innumerable, from the brute force and gross superstition of ancient times, to the subtle and artful fiscal contrivances of modern. I might well challenge a comparison between them and the more direct, simple, and patriarchal mode by which the labor of the African race is, among us, commanded by the European. I may say with truth, that in few countries so much is left to the share of the laborer, and so little exacted from him, or where there is more kind attention paid to him in sickness or infirmities of age. Compare his condition with the tenants of the poor houses in the more civilized portions of Europe–look at the sick, and the old and infirm slave, on one hand, in the midst of his family and friends, under the kind superintending care of his master and mistress, and compare it with the forlorn and wretched condition of the pauper in the poorhouse… There is and always has been in an advanced stage of wealth and civilization, a conflict between labor and capital. The condition of society in the South exempts us from the disorders and dangers resulting from this conflict; and which explains why it is that the political condition of the slaveholding States has been so much more stable and quiet than that of the North.

This shows us that the issue was much more than “hate” or “prejudice.” Slavery was a key part in political and economic theory. It was the perceived solution to the problem of the unemployed and those who could not otherwise support themselves. It also helped to support workers’ rights in that it removed the most burdensome labor from free workers and placed it on slaves. The slaves were a sort of property, to be sure, but they also received a sort of full patronage (harsh and brutal as it was) from their masters. Calhoun believed this was an inescapable feature of economics and that slavery was preferable to laissez-faire capitalism.

Jefferson Davis, the Future President

Jefferson Davis, writing 21 years later and on the eve of the Civil War, made this same point about slavery’s relationship to capitalism:

The same dangerously powerful man describes the institution of slavery as degrading to labor, as intolerant and inhuman, and says the white laborer among us is not enslaved only because he cannot yet be reduced to bondage. Where he learned his lesson, I am at a loss to imagine; certainly not by observation, for you all know that by interest, if not by higher motive, slave labor bears to capital as kind a relation as can exist between them anywhere; that it removes from us all that controversy between the laborer and the capitalist, which has filled Europe with starving millions and made their poorhouses an onerous charge. You too know, that among us, white men have an equality resulting form a presence of a lower caste, which cannot exist where white men fill the position here occupied by the servile race. The mechanic who comes among us, employing the less intellectual labor of the African, takes the position which only a master-workman occupies where all the mechanics are white, and therefore it is that our mechanics hold their position of absolute equality among us.

Davis argues that slavery actually creates equality, and it does so by a sort of caste system. Now even the poor whites are ennobled, since they are preserved from servitude.

This shows us that there is a combination of ideas at work in modern American slavery. It was racial, but it was also exploiting race in order to address other systemic problems. Slavery could solve workers” rights, and it could bring unity and equality to all white people. Indeed, an argument could be made that the modern concept of a unified “White” identity was an invention of this period of history. Instead of a hierarchy of whites, there can be an equality of “whiteness” over and against “the servile race.” It’s hard to imagine a late-antique Greek or Roman identifying as “one race” with a Gaul or a Goth, and European history is full of a sort of racism internal to “white” people. America was supposed to overcome such divisions, and the Southern solution was to reduce the matter to black and white.

There was also a sort of old-world aristocratic view of manual labor. Certain occupations were deemed either inappropriate or impossible for gentlemen to engage in, and so slavery would help to supplement this remainder. But this was only partly “old-world.” It was also directly related to the modern issue of labor cost and wages. Large-scale agriculture came with major expenses, as it still does today. Slavery was not, contrary to some popular assumptions, on an inevitable decline in the 19th century. It was being offered up as a great solution to persistent economic dilemmas and competing market forces. This fact will resurface in several of the secession documents.

Alexander Stephens and the Cornerstone of the Confederacy

The last piece of evidence I want to highlight in order to show that slavery in the 19th century was not merely a relic of a common past but a dynamic component of contemporary political theory is Alexander Stephen’s infamous Cornerstone Speech. Stephens was the Vice President of the Confederacy, and this speech was his attempt to explain the causes for Southern secession and also the key features of their new constitution and political theory. He mentions states rights and the role of the tariff, but he is clear that the “cornerstone” of the confederate political philosophy is negro slavery and white supremacy. In addition to this, he also admits that this is an advancement from a past instability, showing that the Confederacy understood itself to be a step forward in historical progress and not simply a preservation of an earlier unified tradition.

Stephens says this:

All the essentials of the old constitution, which have endeared it to the hearts of the American people, have been preserved and perpetuated. Some changes have been made. Some of these I should have preferred not to have seen made; but other important changes do meet my cordial approbation. They form great improvements upon the old constitution. So, taking the whole new constitution, I have no hesitancy in giving it as my judgment that it is decidedly better than the old.

He then goes on to explain what is “new” about the confederate constitution. He begins with the equality of industry, noting how the tariff was used in the past to favor some occupations and economic interests over others. This has been abolished by the new constitution. Stephens next notes that “internal improvements” (the building of roads, the development of land, railways, etc.) would no longer be under the jurisdiction of a central or federal government but rather the individual states. He then moves to the added role of cabinet members in congress and the longer presidential term. But finally he gets to the most important principle and indeed the very cornerstone of the new government: slavery and negro subordination.

Stephens, sounding very much like a believer in manifest-destiny and even the unstoppable march of progress says that the American founders were largely mistaken on slavery and that subsequent historical developments have led to the Southern position:

The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

Now that really is an incredible argument, and it is not very “traditional.” Stephens says that founders were wrong to say that slavery was a necessary evil, and he says that their confusion came from the fact that they believed in the equality of the races. This was “fundamentally” wrong in Stephens’s understanding, and therefore the new Southern political theory would be entirely built upon the the notions of racial inequality and that slavery was “natural and normal.”

Stephens unpacks this argument in some detail. He says that the anti-slavery “fanatics” actually form right conclusions from their premises but that their premises are “fancied or erroneous.” The “principle” which comes to the front of this debate is that of racial inequality:

They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

Stephens is here saying that racial hierarchy is a natural law instituted by God Himself. The Confederacy, then, becomes “the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society.” Its newness is in its perception that the problem with previous class-systems was that they admitted inequality within the same race. What the Confederacy had discovered was that the equality which classical liberalism was looking for was indeed attainable, but only within a system of racial hierarchy. Stephens explains:

Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.” The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to His laws and decrees, in the formation of governments as well as in all things else. Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders “is become the chief of the corner” the real “corner-stone” in our new edifice. I have been asked, what of the future? It has been apprehended by some that we would have arrayed against us the civilized world. I care not who or how many they may be against us, when we stand upon the eternal principles of truth, if we are true to ourselves and the principles for which we contend, we are obliged to, and must triumph.

This is civic religion of the grossest variety, and Stephens is clearly making racial hierarchy and negro slavery a matter of divine law. He goes on to show that this was not something which should be limited to the American South, but, being a fact of nature and a divine precept, would eventually spread throughout all the world:

Thousands of people who begin to understand these truths are not yet completely out of the shell; they do not see them in their length and breadth. We hear much of the civilization and Christianization of the barbarous tribes of Africa. In my judgment, those ends will never be attained, but by first teaching them the lesson taught to Adam, that “in the sweat of his brow he should eat his bread,” and teaching them to work, and feed, and clothe themselves.

Understood in the context of its own thinkers and statesmen, the Confederacy then was progressive rather than traditional. It was based on economic and racial views which constituted a unique political philosophy. This was a correction to and perfection of the original American founding, and it was thought to be a bold step forward along the historical march of progress. The central principle of it all was racial inequality, and negro slavery was its cornerstone.

Secession Documents and Justifications

In addition to the matter of political theory and grand philosophical ideals, the Southern states also made practical arguments. These are what they would appeal to in order to justify secession. Constitutional and procedural grievances do appear in these statements, but the central topic is consistently slavery.

South Carolina was the first state to secede, and its declaration of secession is long and complex. It certainly does push “states rights” to the forefront, arguing, after the legacy of Calhoun, that the other states of the Union had violated the Constitution and thus broken the political pact, thus leaving the Southern states justified to secede. The specifics of this constitutional breach, however, all had to do with slavery. The declaration begins by arguing that the United States Constitution “established the two great principles asserted by the Colonies, namely: the right of a State to govern itself; and the right of a people to abolish a Government when it becomes destructive of the ends for which it was instituted.” This then leads to the contemporary matter, that the US government has itself become “destructive of the ends for which it was instituted” and thus dissolved the binding nature of the compact:

We hold that the Government thus established is subject to the two great principles asserted in the Declaration of Independence; and we hold further, that the mode of its formation subjects it to a third fundamental principle, namely: the law of compact. We maintain that in every compact between two or more parties, the obligation is mutual; that the failure of one of the contracting parties to perform a material part of the agreement, entirely releases the obligation of the other; and that where no arbiter is provided, each party is remitted to his own judgment to determine the fact of failure, with all its consequences.

In the present case, that fact is established with certainty. We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof.

What have these fourteen states done? They have violated the 4th article of the Constitution by aiding and abetting runaway slaves. They have attacked the property of the Southern states by allowing the slaves to be taken away from their owners (thus a form of theft), and they have overthrown the political logic of the three-fifths compromise, thus violating article 2.1.3 of the Constitution. The final stated offense is that some states have even granted citizenship to slaves, “persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens.” This last issue has thus overturned the balance of political power and created an existential crisis for the South.

Mississippi’s was the second state to secede, and its declaration of secession places slavery and its economic significance at the very beginning:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

Here we see a combination of global market interests and a supposed natural law which made blacks the only appropriate agricultural workers. Southern slavery is said to be essential for world “commerce and civilization.”

Georgia’s declaration of secession also centers around slavery, and it makes a direct connection to westward expansion:

We had acquired a large territory by successful war with Mexico; Congress had to govern it; how, in relation to slavery, was the question then demanding solution. This state of facts gave form and shape to the anti-slavery sentiment throughout the North and the conflict began. Northern anti-slavery men of all parties asserted the right to exclude slavery from the territory by Congressional legislation and demanded the prompt and efficient exercise of this power to that end. This insulting and unconstitutional demand was met with great moderation and firmness by the South. We had shed our blood and paid our money for its acquisition; we demanded a division of it on the line of the Missouri restriction or an equal participation in the whole of it. These propositions were refused, the agitation became general, and the public danger was great. The case of the South was impregnable. The price of the acquisition was the blood and treasure of both sections – of all, and, therefore, it belonged to all upon the principles of equity and justice.

Notice that the Georgians are not opposed to conquest and the annexation of new territory. To the contrary, they claimed responsibility and joint ownership over this new territory. Thus there was no anti-imperial South. The Georgia declaration concludes with the observation that the South is essentially being robbed of three billion dollars worth of property.

The Texas declaration of secession repeats many of the themes already stated, and it highlights racial inequality as a natural law:

In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color – a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.

The declaration concludes by stating its belief in white supremacy and that the current status of negro slavery was a part of the “revealed will of the Almighty Creator”:

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.

The Commissioner from the state of Louisiana wrote to the Texas secession convention at around this same time, and he revealed Louisiana’s commitment to negro slavery as an essential feature of their economy and political existence:

Louisiana looks to the formation of a Southern confederacy to preserve the blessings of African slavery, and of the free institutions of the founders of the Federal Union, be­queathed to their posterity. As her neighbor and sister State, she desires the hearty co-operation of Texas in the formation of a Southern Confederacy. She congratulates herself on the recent disposi­tion evinced by your honorable body to meet this wish, by the elec­tion of delegates to the Montgomery convention. Louisiana and Texas have the same language, laws and institutions. They grow the same great staples—sugar and cotton. Between the citizens of each exists the most cordial social and commercial intercourse. The Red river and the Sabine form common highways for the transpor­tation of their produce to the markets of the world. Texas affords to the commerce of Louisiana a large portion of her products, and in exchange the banks of New Orleans furnish Texas with her only paper circulating medium. Louisiana supplies to Texas a market for her surplus wheat, grain and stock; both States have large areas of fer­tile, uncultivated lands, peculiarly adapted to slave labor; and they are both so deeply interested in African slavery that it may be said to be absolutely necessary to their existence, and is the keystone to the arch of their prosperity.

The Commissioner virtually identifies slavery and the Confederacy, speaking about slavery as the primary goal of the new political entity. It also argues the seceding states must not remain independent, but rather band together for one another’s continued existence:

The people of Louisiana would consider it a most fatal blow to African slavery, if Texas either did not secede or having seceded should not join her destinies to theirs in a Southern Confederacy…The people of the slave holding States are bound together by the same necessity and deter­mination to preserve African slavery. The isolation of any one of them from the others would make her the theatre for abolition emisa­ries from the North and from Europe. Her existence would be one of constant peril to herself and of imminent danger to other neighboring slave-holding communities…She is unwill­ing that her action should depend on the border States. Her inter­ests are identical with Texas and the seceding States. With them she will at present co-operate, hoping and believing in his own good time God will awaken the people of the border States to the vanity of ask­ing for; or depending upon, guarantees or compromises wrung from a people whose consciences are too sublimated to be bound by that sacred compact, the constitution the of the late United States. That constitution the Southern States have never violated, and taking it as the basis of our new government we hope to form a slave-holding confederacy that will secure to us and our remotest posterity the great blessings its authors designed in the Federal Union. With the social balance wheel of slavery to regulate its machinery, we may fondly indulge the hope that our Southern government will be perpetual.

Slavery is clearly the primary interest, and so the slave-holding states should not make themselves dependent on states which do not share that interest. Slavery is said to be a “social balance wheel,” and thus the hope was for a new “perpetual” government.

Concluding Thoughts 

Civil War history is thick, and there is much more we could say about all of this. I have not presented anything which professional historians have not rehearsed many times before and in better detail. But what I do hope is clear is that the Confederacy really was distinguished by its commitment to slavery. The concept of states rights was certainly relevant to the conversation, but this was never merely an abstract interest in anti-federalism but rather a commitment to preserve the right for states to possess slaves. Therefore when terms like “Southern rights,” “minority rights,” “liberty,” and “tyranny” are used, they are always in direct connection to the debate over slavery. And when leaders of the Confederacy had the opportunity to explain what was new and special about their government, they went right to the question of slavery.

Southern slavery was not a continuation of ancient slavery. Western Europe had done away with that system, and the new system of slavery only came about with the new exploration of the Americas. The institution of slavery in the South was “peculiar,” as they called it, and it was totally bound up in early modern political developments, the emerging agrarian markets, and a new sort of racial theory which the Southerners saw as a new chapter in  history. All of this, taken as a whole, is what makes up the identity of the Confederacy. There was certainly a commitment to chivalrous protocol, Christian orthodoxy, and early American heritage among the peoples and communities of the South. However, none of those things managed to feature in the leading identity markers of the Confederate States of America. They were not unique to the mid-19th century South and were therefore not distinguishing characteristics. The distinguishing marks were racial inequality and an agrarian economy built on slavery.

Having laid all of this out then, the question that usually arises is whether we must then reject the South and Southern heritage as a whole and declaim it as villainous. The answer to this questions depends upon two other questions. “Do you believe that the distinguishing marks of white supremacy and slavery are immoral and worthy of rejection?” and “Are you willing to make efforts to clearly distinguish between the inheritance of Southern culture and the legacy of the Confederacy?”

My own answer to both of those questions is yes.


Unreconstructed No More

I used to be an unreconstructed Southerner. It didn’t last very long, but it wasn’t that long ago. I would never have admitted to being a racist (I’m pretty sure I wasn’t), and I would have argued very strongly that racism and love for the Old South had no necessary connection to one another, but I did read a lot of historical revisionism regarding the Civil War and the Old South, I did regard “the North” as a symbol of “Big Government” and modernity, and I even went to two League of the South Meetings. Among the many things in my life that would surely disqualify me from ever running for president, this brief period of my life has got to be near the top. But here’s the important thing to know—I was not raised that way and it was never my heritage. Continue reading

What is the Kingdom of God?

Text: Romans 14:14-18

We have been discussing relationships, roles, and authority structures in our ongoing sermon series. Thus far we’ve talked about manhood, womanhood, courtship and families, and the relationship between the family and the church. All of these are good, and yet there is a sense in which each of them are challenged by the gospel. Jesus doesn’t actually come for these things. While He can and should make a positive difference in each of these relationships, He is here to proclaim salvation from sin and guilt, and He is here to bring His kingdom. But what is this kingdom exactly?

On the most basic level, the New Testament identifies the kingdom as the Holy Spirit’s work in and among believers. We believe that it will eventually fully manifest itself in the transformation of all creation, the new heavens and new earth, but prior to that point the kingdom is spiritual and not earthly. We can see that this is the case in that striking statement from the Apostle Paul, “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The meal, the ritual itself, is not the kingdom. Instead, the kingdom is the spiritual grace that the ritual ought to be creating and promoting. If the meal is not doing that, then it is not the kingdom.

There are two classic errors that come up in any discussion of the kingdom of God. Continue reading

Abortion is an Attempt to Project Strength

I should first say that I am not a full-time pro-life activist or counselor. I’m not trained in crisis management. I don’t think I’m even particularly good at “on the street” scenarios. But I have gone to abortion clinics in Jackson, MS and now Lakeland, FL on a semi-regular basis to pray, sing psalms and hymns, and try to speak to the folks in the parking lots and offer them help and other options.

I grew up in a politically moderate household. I won’t tell you how everyone voted, but I was raised to believe that abortion was a pretty tragic situation which women would only ever consider if all other options had been exhausted. I was taught that we needed to be careful not to berate them, judge them harshly, or fail to show them compassion. Based on my experience attempting to follow precisely that advice, however, I have to say that the narrative is all wrong. Abortion, at least today, in the Southern states, is not some sort of last ditch effort to preserve one life, which would be legitimately threatened, at the tragic but necessary expense of another. Instead it is a projection of strength on the part of the would-be mother.  Continue reading

Jesus Died For Torture Apologists

Discussions of torture and the United States’s use of it in the “War on Terror” are not new. Many thinkers, including Christian theologians, have considered the matter before, and there are some legitimate qualifications and discussions to be had. However, in the wake of the recent Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, there are no longer relevant reasons to prevent us from concluding that the United States did participate in torture and that many of the specific forms were unjust and abhorrent. They were evil.

Writing for The New Yorker, Amy Davidson summarizes the report explaining:

The interrogators didn’t know the languages that would have been useful for real intelligence, but they did come up with a lexicon of their own: “walling,” which meant slamming a person against a wall; “rough takedown,” in which a group would rush into a cell yelling, then drag a detainee down the hall while punching him, perhaps after having “cut off his clothes and secured him with Mylar tape”; “confinement box,” an instrument to make a prisoner feel he was closed in a coffin (the box came in large or small sizes); “sleep deprivation,” which might mean being kept awake for a hundred and eighty hours before succumbing to “disturbing hallucinations”; the ability to, as the report put it, “earn a bucket,” the bucket being what a prisoner might get to relieve himself in, rather than having to soil himself or being chained to a wall with a diaper (an “image” that President Bush was said to have found disturbing); “waterboarding,” which often itself seems to have been a euphemism for near, rather than simulated, drowning; “rectal rehydration as a means of behavioral control”; “lunch tray,” the assembly of foods that were puréed and used to rectally force-feed prisoners.

This is what the talk of family could look like: “CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to ‘cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.’ ” The interrogation of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri included “implying that his mother would be brought before him and sexually abused.”

These ought to be shocking and disgusting revelations. The use of sexual assault and threats of sexual assault (and murder!) against family members are the kind of enormities which make rational men go mute in shock and moral disbelief. Yet sadly, many of these very practices were not surprises just revealed this week. Taxi to the Dark Side documented several of them 7 years ago. The new revelation is that they were not episodic offenses carried out by individuals but were rather intentional parts of official strategy.

Americans ought to be upset. Americans ought to be sad. Americans ought to be driven to introspection.

And this should be especially true for Christians. Continue reading

Political Talk as Totalitarian Distraction

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is the kind of book that should be read several times throughout one’s life and for a variety of reasons. Most people who read it do so as assigned reading in High School or College. They then apply it to history and politics, respectively, seeing the themes and connections that Huxley is presenting throughout the story. What I would propose, however, is applying it not simply to politics, but to society itself and indeed ourselves, to human nature. While a much better book, Brave New World is less iconic than Orwell’s 1984 and so it does not contribute to our common parlance in quite the same way. Everyone knows what “Big Brother” is, but hardly anyone in the general population would know what I meant if I referred to soma, Fordianism, or “the feelies.” This is too bad, because Huxley much more accurately foresaw the condition of the middle-to-late 20th century, and what he saw continues today. In fact, I think it is a book with immense pastoral value. (Pastors: read it next to Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos and for the same reason.)

The difference between Huxley’s vision and Orwell’s lies in the nature of coercion and repression. Orwell’s presentation is of the classically totalitarian sort: traditional-style propaganda, the military-industrial complex, and top-down control. Huxley sees things from the opposite direction. True, there is still a “program” which is enforced on society, but in Brave New World, the powers that be have figured out how to make the people impose this program on themselves, voluntarily and without ever feeling discomfort. This is achieved through a strict class stratification, the disestablishment of the family, free sex, ubiquitous prescription drugs, and an entertainment industry which keeps everyone constantly distracted. Where Orwell depicts the old-style statism of Nazis and Soviets, Huxley captures liberal-progressivism of the sort that the modern West, including the US, embodies today. We have largely entertained and distracted ourselves to death. Continue reading

Men, Women, and Sexual Identity

gender-symbolsMy last post really should have been called “What are men and women, and how do you know?” I emphasized that second question, only scratching the surface of the first. I’ll try to say more about that one now. Also one commentator suggested that I read some books on the distinction between sexuality and gender. Presumably I wouldn’t be so outrageously backwards if I did so. Herein I have to make a confession. I have read “some books.” I’ve also read some other ones. It’s just that I have this old-souled conviction that the best way to understand humanity is through the study of the humanities. I’ll explain.

In our modern day, the assumption seems to be that “social sciences” are more reliable, because they are “science” after all. They rely on statistics, and we all know that statics are the way to go. In fact, at the political science conference I go to, it’s about 70% statistics. (I go to the theory panels, but you knew that.) And it’s not that statistics are nothing. It’s just that they are inherently democratic, and I don’t believe that wisdom is. I believe in external and objective truth, something which we can all pursue and be relatively persuaded of through reason, patience, and charity. We don’t determine such wisdom by amassing testimonials from eye-witnesses though. We identify self-evident truths and indubitable realities, which stand outside us all, and then we deduce and we induce. Science will be very helpful along the way, but science will only do some of the work. It will not do all of the work. It cannot do all of the work. This is because it is necessarily limited. It observes and sometimes predicts. It does not really interpret or “understand.” Science can tell no stories.  In fact, science itself rests upon a foundation which is pre-scientific, a set of assumptions about the nature of reality and knowledge, and these assumptions cannot actually be “tested” in the scientific manner without falling into a vicious circle. I probably should have told you that some of those books I read were philosophy books. Continue reading

What are Men and Women?

7321265-man-and-womanAs I’ve written about sexual identity and the natural differences between men and women, several questions have come up in different venues all asking the same thing: Where are you getting your concepts of gender roles? There are a lot of complicated ways to answer this question, and there are a lot of flat-out wrong ways to answer this question. I’ll try to keep it as simple (and right) as I can, but it will still take some ins and outs.

I believe that men and women have distinct roles and functions in life because I believe that sex matters. Men are men. They do not choose to be men. There is not some internal asexual self waiting to be freed. The same is true for women. This is both physical and psychological. It is a matter of body and soul.

Now all of this is derived from my own understanding of God and His design, but also from the nature of things. This can get us into the “complicated” very quickly, and so I’ll start by giving us some easy analogies. Imagine yourself in something of a desert island situation. You’ve got leaves, trees, sand, dirt, rocks, animals, etc. Then you stumble upon a fully-crafted ax. You can tell it is different from the other items because of its composition and the clear evidence of design. You run your thumb across the blade and cut yourself. This thing is meant for cutting. It might work for other jobs, but obviously cutting is the primary one. Continue reading

Women, Family, and Economy

rosieI’m not sure what it takes for something to qualify as having “gone viral,” but my latest post on feminism and women in combat is hinting in that direction. It isn’t that it got so many hits all at once, but (more interestingly) it is getting very diverse traffic, some friendly and some not so much. And so instead of leaving well enough alone, I figured I should be like the Apostle Paul and not let a small-scale riot be an opportunity wasted. For those who were confused, bothered, or enraged, let me say that while yes, I do believe some very radical and outrageous stuff and wish to persuade you all of it as well, I probably don’t quite mean what you think.

For starters, I don’t condemn or even blame women living in our society who have sought to go be their own persons and do what they believe. I think they are wrong, of course (as are also most of the men), but they’re doing exactly what you would expect, given our culture’s values and the basic framework of our society and economy. Frankly, it wouldn’t make any sense if they weren’t trying to make it to the top. To quote Mrs. Sayers again, women are human. Continue reading