I have to say that after roughly 30 years of preaching the merits some form of secession, full-fledged or lite, as a solution to this nation’s intractable problems, it’s gratifying to see a growing number of Americans, prominent Americans, including those associated with major cultural institutions, picking up the banner.
The group that has weighed in the most and, well, rather improbably, is the Straussian-inspired Clarement Institute in California. Historically speaking, this institution, in keeping with the ideals of its intellectual guiding light, Leo Strauss, has extolled civic nationalism and generally held up the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, as the architect of this civic nationalist vision.
Given that fact, the Clarement Institute undoubtedly will strike many as an unlikely bearer of neo-secessionism. Yet, in one notable respect, it supplies the perfect impetus for this struggle – first and foremost because it is far removed from any neo-Confederate association.
Allow me briefly to share my own experiences with this. Speaking as one who had been plugged into this movement over the last few decades primarily through paleoconservarive and paleolibertarian connections, I have noticed a rather frustrating, if not appalling, tendency to pursue low-hanging fruit rather to cast a wider net.
The League of the South, originally known as the Southern League, essentially a brainchild of paleocons and paleolibs, set out not only with good intentions but also workable ones. The original intention, or so it seemed to me at the time, was simply to reconstruct a constitutional case for modern secession drawing on the talents of a handful of truly eminent, albeit somewhat obscure, paleocon and paleolib writers and academics.
Granted, they were in for a long slog. Even so, they initially gathered some respectful media coverage and even managed to publish a couple of very thoughtful opinion pieces in major newspapers. A couple of more mainstream columnists, notably George F. Will, even offered a respectable comment or two.
Yet, rather predictably, the League wondered off the reservation – that is to say, the reservation of respectable discourse. The League’s founding in the mid-1990’s corresponded roughly with the raging battle over the display of the Confederate battle flag in public venues, notably the Alabama and South Carolina capitol buildings, as well as the incorporation of battle flag motif into the Georgia and Mississippi flags.
At some point early in its founding, the League’s leadership embraced the Southern Heritage activists. In fact, they embraced them so closely that the League quickly became as inextricably linked with the Lost Cause as any descendant group, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Daughters of the Confederacy.
I had used my small influence within the ranks to argue against this. We were going after low-hanging fruit when the top priority should have been creating a space within which neosecessionism could be discussed as openly and dispassionately as possible and within as wide an arena as possible – a national arena.
Yet, incredibly, the League was drawn into the daily warp and woof of heritage activism, attracting large numbers of people whose preoccupation almost solely was with the battle flag, which became a virtually endless topic of discussion and obsession. The League would pay an egregiously high price for this shortsightedness.
By the late 90’s an effort was made to break out of this impasse through the formation of a Southern Party, an effort that aimed to be disruptive, namely by advocating peaceful secession as the keystone of its platform, one which, in many ways, incidentally, anticipated the nationalist/Republican agenda of the present day.
Yet, this movement quickly succumbed to heritage activism too.
Following the collapse of the Southern party, I effectively exited the Southern movement and conceived my own alternative idea that was dubbed “Home Rule for Dixie,” one that advocated an entirely different approach to Southern identity and secession. I called for nothing less than the abandonment of neo-Confederate dogma entirely.
As I contended, any new expression of Southern identity and secession not only must be built from the ground up but also on new foundations, actually predominantly American ones. As I and a few others in the Southern movement had realized, most contemporary Southerners, while immensely proud of their region as well as being Southern, simply no longer related to the Old Confederacy in any meaningful way. No, for Southerners, any Americans, for that matter, to be won over to the merits of secession, the arguments would have to be marshaled within a distinctly American context and with the firm assurance that American values, including racial tolerance and good will, would be preserved.
This is why I salute the valiant Claremont Institute. It not only has taken up this banner but has resolved to carry on the struggle within a context and employing language that more Americans can understand.