As SNN readers are aware, I recently gave a presentation to the Statesboro, Georgia League of the South. The title of my talk was ‘Status Quo Conservatism and Southern Nationalism.’ It was well received both in person and online. The YouTube video of the speech has been viewed 427 times in just three days. For this sort of speech directed very specifically at Southern nationalists, that is an encouraging number. More importantly, several people have contacted me saying the presentation has changed the way they think about the term ‘conservative’ relative to our struggle as Southern nationalists.
This morning I was made aware that Southern author Connie Chastain has written an article about my presentation on her website. In her article she takes a position which defends conservatism and is critical of my talk. Herein I want to address Chastain’s main three objections and a few minor points as well.
Firstly, she begins begins by objecting to my definition of conservatism, saying that it is too narrow. She writes:
Perhaps the qualifier “status quo conservatism” is supposed to clue the reader that the article deals with a only certain type of conservatism (as opposed to, say, non-status quo conservatism) — or perhaps a certain segment of it. But the qualifier is neutralized by the article itself, which seems to encompass the whole of conservatism.
In fact, the title of my presentation was intended to make it clear that I was addressing political conservatism. I began by criticising George Bush and from there Ronald Reagan and then jumped back to the eras of George Wallace, the Dixiecrats, the Red Shirts, the Confederates, early Southern nationalists in 1828 and the Anti-Federalists. In each case I addressed a political movement. Indeed, the entire point of my talk was to show that Southern nationalists have never been political conservatives. I stated this at both the beginning and end of the presentation. I see nothing in the speech which addresses ‘the whole of conservatism.’
Though there are different definitions for conservatism, I sought to define the term as I wished to address it from the outset. I quoted from professor Alexander Dugin where he wrote of ‘status quo conservatism’ or ‘liberal conservatism.’ It was this understanding of conservatism that I spoke about and criticised. In addressing the concept from this understanding I was standing on solid ground. The root word and concept of conservatism is ‘conserve,’ to maintain that which exists. There is nothing inherently meritorious about this. If that which exists is good and positive, then conserving it is a good thing. On the other hand, if that which exists is open borders, endless and unnecessary foreign wars, economic exploitation, anti-Southern policies and so forth, then conserving such a system is a bad thing. This was clearly the context in which I gave the presentation.
Secondly, Chastain attacks Alexander Dugin even though she admits she had never heard of him. In fact, she says that all she knows of him is what she has read of his Wikipedia entry. Based on this she concludes, ‘even a stopped clock is right twice a day.’ She goes on to say, ‘if this is the description of an ally of Southern nationalists, I have to wonder who needs opponents.’ There is a vast amount of information available online about professor Dugin. He’s an extremely influential man not only in Russia and nearby countries, but also in alternative Right circles. If Chastain or any other reader is interested, we have published several articles about Dugin’s ideas (see: here, here, here, here, here, here and here), especially those from the recently-published English-language The Fourth Political Theory. Beyond the fact that Chastain attacked Dugin while admitting that she knows nothing about him, she also failed to address the quotes from Dugin in the speech, except to say that she objects to the definition of conservatism because it is allegedly ‘incomplete.’ I have already addressed that objection above.
Thirdly, in the final part of Chastain’s article is her defence of conservatism. In this defence, Chastain does my work for me by distinguishing herself as a conservative from Southern nationalists. She writes:
Southern traditionalists didn’t support George W. Bush necessarily because of his extending the voting rights act, or his foreign wars, or immigration policy. They supported him because of his record of opposing abortion, of supporting traditionally defined marriage, his public statements of faith, and similar cultural and social issues.
To remind readers, my talk was given to Southern nationalists, who were addressed as such in its title. Throughout the speech I repeated the line, ‘Southern nationalists are/were not conservatives.’ Notice that Chastain is compelled to defend George W Bush, a man whose anti-Southern policies I brought up in my speech. Notice too that Chastain is willing to overlook or excuse those anti-Southern policies because of his position on her favourite social issues. What did Bush do to end abortion in the United States when he was in office and his fellow conservatives had control of the US Congress? They essentially conserved the status quo, like good status quo conservatives. What did they do for the South? They conserved the anti-Southern status quo (by extending the Voting Rights Act for 25 more years) like good status quo conservatives. Bush was a dreadful president from a Southern nationalist point of view – one of the worst in recent history. And yet Chastain defends him from her conservative point of view. By doing so she makes it clear that her point of view is not Southern nationalist.
Another minor point I think that should be addressed comes near the conclusion of Chastain’s article where she reasserts a point she attempted to make earlier:
Perhaps the greatest omission in the article is the role of faith in conservatism and the South. Traditionalist views of social issues are virtually always based on faith, particularly the Christian faith.
…When the definition or concept of conservatism is not artificially constricted or truncated, when it is given this more comprehensive — and, to me, accurate — definition, the South and Southerners are indeed conservative.
If Chastain wishes to give a talk about ‘the role of faith in conservatism and the South’ she is free to do so. That is not what I wished to talk about though. I have heard such talks before and there is little original that I can say on the subject. On the other hand, how often do Southern nationalists hear a talk specifically targeted to them which makes the point that they have a unique political tradition which is distinct from status quo conservatism? I daresay that such talks are not common.
Also, note that Chastain concludes by saying that ‘the South and Southerners are indeed conservative.’ I made mention time and time again in my presentation that throughout our history the conservatives have long dominated the South. I never once claimed that the South was not conservative. I also noted where this has gotten us at the end of my talk. Look at the sad condition of the South today. In large part, our sad condition today is due to Southerners having repeated opted to be led by the forces of the status quo rather than heed the voice of Southern nationalists. Settling for the likes of George Bush or Ronald Reagan and excusing or overlooking the awful, anti-Southern policies of such men because they used some religious rhetoric or made some mention of the family or their opposition to gay marriage has gotten us where we are today. If we continue down this path then we can expect to see conditions in the South continue to worsen. Status quo conservatism, personified by the likes of Bush and Reagan, accepts the values of Modernity and offers nothing at all of substance for us today. Status quo conservatism will not stop the ongoing displacement of Southerners (which both Reagan and Bush supported), much less begin reversing the damage done to us over the last half a century, and will not free our land.
It’s time for Southerners to reject status quo conservatism and embrace Southern nationalism.
UPDATE: Chastain has written a response to this article where she says that she is a Southern nationalist and disagreed with George Bush’s wars and immigration policies. Fair enough.