|A Confederate Cemetery Monument in Denton Texas|
Vandalised on July, 20, 2015
I am a student of history. I love learning the real reasons why things happened. It's not just how they happened that interests me, but why. That's the real interesting thing about history. That's what makes it come alive. This is why history is boring in public school classrooms. It's because the "whys" of history are filled with religious explanations, but in public schools, they're not allowed to talk about religious explanations, or at least not too deeply. For this reason, many of the "whys" of history are lost, and the study of history (on a public high school level) becomes little more than the memorisation of names, dates and places, in what seems like a disjointed chain of events without rhyme or reason.
Nobody really taught me American history. I learned it myself, the hard way. Yes, I had history teachers in public high school, and one of them was pretty good, but even he knew his limitations. He tried to teach the "whys" of American history to the best of his ability, as far as the school would let him, and I got a little glimpse of things through his class. In the end, however, what really did it for me was college. I took a college American history class in my freshman year. I thought it would be easy, because I had just taken the same class in high school the year before. I encountered two problems. The first was that my college American history teacher was from another country (the irony), and his accent was so thick I couldn't understand him. The second problem was the history book. It had almost nothing in common with my high school history book. I was failing what should have been an easy class for me. So I did something radical. Rather than drop the class, as most of the other students did, I stuck through it and I passed it. But this is how I did it. I went to the library and spent hours there. I must have read through dozens of American history books, on my own, trying to figure the whole thing out. Eventually it clicked. American history is really all about the history of religion in America! Once you understand that, the whole thing comes alive!
Religion played a vital role in the founding of the British colonies in America, and the movement of colonists between those colonies. It also played a vital role in the founding of the United States and the type of government these early Americans eventually settled on. Within that type of government was a political conflict, again based on the religious experience of these early Americans. Without getting too deep into it, the conflict was between Federalism and Antifederalism. Federalists wanted a strong centralised government, like what existed in England. While the Antifederalists wanted a loose decentralised government, something more akin to a confederacy. In the end, the Federalists won the day with the ratification of the United States Constitution. That, however, didn't mean the conflict was over. The Antifederalist mentality lived on, particularly in the Southern states, which saw the increasing power grabs of Washington City as the prophetic warnings of their Antifederalist forefathers coming to life. For all the talk of slavery and secession, the real cause of America's Civil War was really only about one thing: the conflict between Federalism and Antifederalism. The political arguments that originally took place in Philadelphia's Independence Hall, during the Constitutional Convention, would eventually find themselves playing out on the battlefield all across the nation just a generation later. The Northern armies represented the Federalists, while the Southern armies represented the Antifederalists. Like the Constitutional Convention, the Federalists eventually won the day in the Civil War.
Antifederalism, also known as "States Rights," was crushed in that 78-year span between 1787 to 1865. What began as a civil debate in a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, ended in a bloody Civil War and the surrender of the Army of Virginia at Appomattox. It's all connected. It's all the same thing. The issue of slavery was just a distraction.
I think this is why so many Southern Americans hoped to keep the memory of the Confederacy alive, because they hoped that by enshrining the heroes and battles of the South, some aspects of the Antifederalist arguments might be kept alive. This is why there are Confederate monuments, statues, and battle flags all across the American South. It is, after all, a big part of our American heritage, and the arguments made for decentralisation and States Rights remain very much a part of American politics today.
However, something tragic happened on the way to Antifederalist revival in the 21st-century. It was married to racism, Antisemitism and Anti-Catholicism. The wedding occurred slowly over the course of the 20th-century, and the marriage was finally consummated during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. It was during this time that racists, from all corners of America (North, South, East and West), adopted the symbols of the Old South to signify their hatred of Blacks, Jews, Catholics and other minorities. The honeymoon lasted over the remainder of the 20th-century, and now what has emerged is nothing short of a complete hijacking of the Antifederalist (Confederate) argument to bolster hatred of everyone who is not a White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant (W.A.S.P.).
To be sure, Robert E. Lee is rolling in his grave right now. I'm sure the thought of monuments dedicated to his memory, now being used as flash-points in a virtual race war slowly erupting is something he would object to. Being an honourable and humble man, he would likely insist that such monuments to his memory be removed as soon as possible to keep the peace.
However, this latest eruption over Confederate monuments and Confederate flags is in itself a religious movement of sorts. During the 1950s and 60s, while Northern and Western racists were consummating their marriage with the signs and symbols of the Old South, a new religious movement was birthed on American soil. It wasn't anything new. In fact it had been widely accepted in Europe for nearly 100 years prior. I'm talking about militant Secularism here, which eventually manifested itself in Marxism in the early 20th century. In America it took a softer approach, preferring the term "Liberal" at first, and then "Progressive" later on. It could best be described as political Leftism, because the way it promotes itself is by creating an amalgamation of various different groups, known as "identities," and then promotes itself as the defender of these "identities." This is what is meant by "Identity Politics." However, what these identity groups fail to realise is that they're all just means to an end. The final goal has nothing to do with defending or promoting a particular group's identity. Rather, it's about consolidating all power to a centralised government, because militant Secularism isn't about identity at all. It's about putting the government above everything else -- even God.
Because militant Secularism views government as divine, all things (even religion) must be subject to the state. As for Antifederalism (States Rights), or the idea of a decentralised government, that has no place in a militantly Secular society. All vestiges of government decentralisation must be crushed, and that's easy enough to do when all the historical relics of the Antifederalist argument (the Confederacy) have been married to White Power, NeoNazi, racism!
So come the tragic events of Charlottesville, Virginia last week, wherein amid violent clashes between NeoMarxist and NeoNazi protesters, over a monument to Robert E. Lee slated to be removed, an Ohio man (a Northern man with ties to racist groups) drove his car at high speed into a marching crowd of NeoMarxist demonstrators, killing one and injuring scores more. The man was captured by police, thank God, and is facing charges, that when convicted of, will surely send him to prison for a very long time, that is, if he doesn't receive the death penalty. The whole incident was captured on multiple smartphone video cameras and broadcast on the Internet for all the world to see. Since then there has been a national outcry, over the span of just a couple days, that has resulted in mayors and city councils all across the American South calling for the demolition of all Confederate monuments, as well as the total anathematising of the Confederate Battle Flag.
It's not going to end in Charlottesville. In fact, it only began there. The battle over the symbols of the Old Southern Confederacy is over, and just like the Civil War itself, the Confederacy (and Antifederalism) lost. It's over. There will be no recovery from this.
The symbols of the Confederacy will soon be relegated to the ash heap of history. As unfair as it is, and as historically inaccurate as it is, the Confederate Battle Flag will now be relegated to the same level as the Nazi Swastika Flag. Monuments to the Civil War heroes and battles of the South will soon disappear. The memory of the Confederacy will be nothing more than a footnote in the history books within a generation. Whatever lessons it had to teach us about Antifederalism and the dangers of a centralised Federal government, are now drowned in the cries of "White Power!" and "Heil Hitler!" These are overshadowed only by the media attention they receive and the cries of Leftists trying to shout them down. All real political discussion is over in America. All real historical education is finished. The only thing left are two extremists, the extreme Left and the extreme Right, shouting in the streets at one another, throwing rocks and bottles at each other, and committing shameful acts of violence against each other. Political and historical discourse is dead in America. All that is left is hate and violence now.
So where does this leave us as Catholics? I must confess that a sad day has come if you're a lover of history like me. Because the time has come to choose our battles wisely.
I can't save the memory of the Old South. I can't salvage the good ideas about decentralised government that came from there. I can't honour the memory of Confederate soldiers who died for something other than slavery. I can't because I'm just one man, and there aren't enough people like me to get the job done. For every time I shout "Antifederalism" or "States Rights," it's drown out by the shouting of "White Power" and "Heil Hitler" which is further drown in the cries against "Racism" and "Bigotry." A lowly little history-lover like me can't even get a word in edgewise, and even if I do, I'll be labelled with the Klansman and NeoNazis who's beliefs I oppose and despise. So it's over folks. This is the end of the road for me when it comes to American history.
I've come to the conclusion that Americans don't want to know their own history. Some are too busy jumping on bandwagons to care. They're too busy identifying with either the NeoMarxist Left or the NeoNazi Right to bother. The rest just don't care about anything other than food and circus (entertainment). I've come to the conclusion that in today's America, I have to pick my battles wisely, because there is no more room for frivolous history lessons about Antifederalism and the Civil War. We've moved way beyond that now. It has been said that a nation that forgets its past has no future. I agree with that. America has most certainly forgotten its past, and we are now witnessing a national demonstration that indicates it has no desire to relearn it. It has also been said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I would like to add that those few, who actually do learn from history, are doomed to helplessly watch as others repeat it.
For this reason, among many others, I don't personally believe the United States will survive the 21st century. Short of another Constitutional Convention (Article V, Convention of States) in which a new set of delegates can totally remake ourselves as a nation, this government will continue to descend into the rule of political strongmen (billionaires like Donald Trump), until finally it collapses under its own weight. The lessons of the Old South are lost, along with the Confederacy and her symbols. I have to ask myself; is this the proverbial "hill" I want to "die" on? Is this really my battle to fight? Is this really what I want to be my own personal legacy?
The answer is no.
I have bigger battles to fight, and bigger proverbial fish to fry. America is lost, along with her history. It's time to let it all implode, and let the archaeologists sort it out centuries from now. By the time that day comes, I wonder if anyone will remember an American Civil War ever happened, let alone, what it was really about. I suppose that all depends on how well we are able to erase our history from our collective consciousness. At this point, I say let them do it. Let the monuments come down. Relegate the Confederate Battle Flag to the Nazi Swastika. Go ahead. History obviously doesn't matter to Americans anymore, so go ahead and make up a new story to fit the political ideology of the day. If it keeps the peace, and it prevents Americans from killing each other, then I suppose it's worth it for now.
So let the confederate monuments, statues and battle flags all come down. Let them be dismantled and put away in museums. Let all history of the Confederacy and Antifederalism be erased from our collective memory. Let America be ruled by political strongmen, and maybe (if we're lucky) we'll get another Constitutional Convention to peacefully remake us into something entirely new. Or maybe not, and the United States Federal government will eventually collapse, leaving the fifty states to reorganise into new countries of their own making.
As for Catholics, let's focus on how we will rebuild America after it's inevitable collapse. Whether it will be rebuilt as a new union of 50 states, following another Constitutional Convention, or a collective of new countries in the place of the old after it falls, we cannot know. What we do know is this. The new America (or Americas) that must be rebuilt will need to be rebuilt on Christian principles entirely. Because militant Secularism is bankrupt, and the racial violence we see unfolding now is just another symptom of that.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.
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