It is hard to tell what is going on over at Occidental Dissent these days. Simply web-searching the phrase brings humble web browsers to a link that includes the phrases “Nationalism, Populism and Reaction,” but in its erstwhile operator’s latest dissociative breakdown he has taken leave of all three, urging readers to “learn their history,” while quoting George Tindall’s Emergence of the New South (pages one, two and three). He wants us to believe “Southerners Used To Be Progressive.”
Now, excepting for a moment, the historical importance of George B. Tindall and his mammoth book (which this humble scholar has read in full, in addition to the first three pages), let’s take a look at the specific text excerpted by Hunter Wallace:
“Whatever hopes and aspirations the agrarians and petty middle classes, Southern and Western, held had been classified as heresies: free trade, populism, Bryanism, and the conspiracy to debase the coinage with silver. Only the rise of a nationwide progressive movement finally had broken the spell of the bloody shirt and the full dinner pail, split the Republican Party, and permitted the Democrats to win in 1912.”
In Tindall’s totally Reconstructed world (and, ostensibly now Wallace’s), the “agrarians” are “petty middle classes.”“Populism” and the 1896 movement to coin silver and feed a cash starved rural hinterland is a “conspiracy to debase coinage.” The reactionary nationalist Bourbon regime of the late 19th century comes out cleanest– simply a normal heresy that is less sensationalized, probably because of the Bourbons’ catastrophic decision to back gold and form the National Democrat Party in 1896, thus ensuring the New York Republicans victory. We are left wondering exactly which elements of “Nationalism, Populism and Reaction,” are left over at Occidental Dissent, which now proudly claims to hold “left authoritarian” economics, while backing thoroughly libertarian Andrew Yang.
Now, let’s look at Tindall and his now apparently authoritative text on The Emergence of the New South. Tindall was, like the deified subject in this passage, Woodrow Wilson, a Southerner. Unlike Wilson, Tindall lived most of his life in the South. He was born in South Carolina, graduated Furman, served the Empire in the Pacific theater– and like many men of his generation utilized the G.I. Bill to finish his education at UNC Chapel Hill, which put his America-worshipping military training to use singing the praises of progressive democracy. He put these skills to good use in the Cold War, like many Southern historians of the day.
He was part of a contemptible gaggle of scholars known as the “Consensus Historians” and among the Southern breed of them, the primary target for demolition was the “Dunning School,” which had for the better part of 50 years written excellent (and now mostly disgraced) histories of Reconstruction lashing at Imperial injustice following the failed Revolution of 1860. These narratives, dominant for so long, were problematic for the emerging Atlanticist block of Western nations, who sought to militarize “American values” against the USSR. This rogue’s gallery of “values” and puritanisms included corporate capitalism, individualism, and problematically, egalitarianism. See, egalitarianism is also an important talking point among Communists– and the opposition to the Atlanticists in Eastern Europe were waging a propaganda war against the American Empire by highlighting anti-egalitarian racial strife in the crumbling Jim Crow South. The Emergence of the New South is the text that cracked the spine of the Southern narrative of Southern history and fed it back to the Empire. There were of course others, like C. Vann Woodward’s Strange Career of Jim Crow, which is now held in higher esteem, but at the time Tindall was lauded by his colleagues for turning on his Dunning mentors and selling his homeland back into intellectual bondage. David Potter, perhaps the most famous of the Consensus historians (also a Southern turncoat), reviewed Emergence for the Journal of Southern History saying:
“Only the author’s skillful emphases [read, distortion] and his unwavering sense of proportion enable his vessel [the text] to carry such a heavy cargo [seizing Southern history from the miscreant South].”The Journal of Southern History
Vol. 34, No. 3 (Aug., 1968), pp. 424.
Put another way, it is revision so skillful the uncritical reader (always the target audience) will read it as Gospel. That was George Tindall. Unlike Van Woodward, Tindall never recanted or drifted to the Right following the disastrous cultural revolutions of the Progressive consensus. Apparently, now it is Hunter Wallace, or maybe he just swallowed the hook.
Tindall’s goal (and Wallace’s goal) in recounting the dramatic re-ascendance of Southerners to High Imperial Office reads as triumphant, and it may even have worked had Wilson not proven to be the most disastrous president in the Empire’s history. And, he was a failure precisely because of his capital-p – Progressivism.
Whatever elation Southerners may have felt, and there was enough to produce some measure of spectacle ahead of his inauguration, President Woodrow Wilson was as much a friend of the South as Donald Trump is of his far-right fanboys, which is to say he was glad of their votes. His coinage of phrases like “moral imperialism” and his willingness to use the blood of Southerners to “make the world safe for Democracy,” tell the true story. Indeed, while Wilson was able to leverage Southern voters with platitudes about their past, he did so only to spurn them when he was elected to office, where in 1914, behind closed doors the original American Internationalist told the National Foreign Trade Council “There is nothing in which I am more interested than the fullest development of the trade of this country and its righteous conquest of foreign markets.” That audience included no Southern business interests.
To clarify any conception that we may be ret-conning Wilson’s ambivalence to Southern interests, it is worth pointing out that such opposition was vociferous and contemporary. While Southerners are well known as the most amenable demographic in America to military intervention, this was not the case in 1917, as historian Anthony Gaugnan points out in his exploration of the topic, “Woodrow Wilson and Interventionism in the South.” Gaugnan writes:
“The South’s military tradition, Anglo-Saxon heritage, and historic ties to the Democratic party have obscured the fact that, in the years before 1917 many Southerners bitterly criticized Wilson’s foreign policy,”The Journal of Southern History
Vol. 65, No. 4 (Nov., 1999), pp. 771.
Citing (among other instances) the Wilson administration’s inactivity in the face of an illegal British embargo on cotton exports to the Central Powers, Gaugnan notes not only failing support for Wilson among Southern elites like Senator James Vardaman of Mississippi and Robert Hoke of Georgia, but also rising opposition from labor associations like the Texas Farmers Union, the North Carolina Farmers Union and the entire Georgia legislature.
Now, Mr. Wallace’s schizophrenic theme of the month has been the virtues of New York native, Taiwanese-American, and moon-shot candidate Andrew Yang. Thus far, we have been told that Southerners will somehow become the new “master class,” with robots serving as their surrogate slaves, thus fulfilling the agrarian prescriptions of George Fitzhugh, but that is all nonsense. There is a pro-Southern, pro-UBI argument for Yang’s presidency, but with the candidate polling at between 0% and 1% depending on whose metrics are preferred, it may not be worth the time and effort.
But please, Mr. Wallace, before you implore Southerners to learn their own history, read past the third page of a book.
Fulwar is a historian of the New South and the transatlantic Enlightenment. He is also co-host of Rebel Yell, and frequent contributor to Good Morning Weimerica!