The New Dixie Manifesto:
States' Rights Will Rise Again...
by Dr Michael Hill and Dr Thomas Fleming
First Published in The Washington Post,
Sunday, 29 October 1995
America is only a geographical expression. Metternich's joke was made originally at the expense of Italy, but there are all too many modern states that have tried to build artificial national identities out of the ruins of historic and traditional regions -- the provinces, the sticks, the boondocks, the places where real people live, write poetry and pay their taxes.
In this respect, American Southerners have much in common with the Scots and the Welsh in Britain, the Lombards and Sicilians in Italy and the Ukrainians in the defunct Soviet Union. All have made enormous economic, military and cultural contributions to their imperial rulers, who rewarded their loyalty with exploitation and contempt.
In the United States, where ethnic slurs are punishable as hate crimes, it is still socially acceptable to describe Southerners as "rednecks" and "crackers," even though Southerners have, in fact, contributed to American culture, high and low, to a degree vastly out of proportion to their numbers.
What would American literature be without Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner, Walker Percy and Eudora Welty? What sort of political system would our ancestors have given us, if George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison had decided to remain British? What kind of popular music could we listen to, if white "crackers" like Hank Williams and Merle Haggard and Southern blacks like Louis Armstrong and Ray Charles had been content with the bland commercial music churned out by Tin Pan Alley? The mind of the South remains distinctive, even today, if only for the tenacity with which its people hold onto their religious faith.
Until recent years, it looked as if the progress of history had condemned all the little nations to the ash heap of history. But the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia have inspired regional and ethnic movements all over Europe. Some of them are threatening secession; others have been content to demand home rule and a right to assert their culture and language.
Here in the United States, a new group of Southerners is calling for nothing more revolutionary than home rule for the states established by the U.S. Constitution. The Southern League was founded in 1994 at a meeting of scholars, journalists and political activists in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Our members are pledged to seek the well-being and independence of the Southern people by every honorable means. Far from wishing any ill to the rest of the nation, we believe that a renewed South will be an inspiration to other regions in search of their own identities and to all Americans who wish to lead their lives in peace.
A concern for states' rights, local self-government and regional identity used to be taken for granted everywhere in America. But the United States is no longer, as it once was, a federal union of diverse states and regions. National uniformity is being imposed by the political class that runs Washington, the economic class that owns Wall Street and the cultural class in charge of Hollywood and the Ivy League.
The easiest way to secure home rule for Southern states is to restore the federal constitution. What had been a genuinely federal union has been turned into a multicultural, continental empire, ruled from Washington by federal agencies and under the thumb of the federal judiciary. And all this is done regardless of the party or ideology that controls the White House. If the liberal Democrats have saddled us with affirmative action, conservative Republicans are busily "federalizing" crimes that used to be within the purview of states and local communities.
We believe it is time for the people of the Southern states to take control of their own governments, their own institutions, their own culture, their own communities and their own lives. On the national political level, this will mean sending men and women to Congress who will insist upon a strict construction of the Constitution and a restoration of the 10th Amendment that explicitly reserves all unenumerated powers to the states and to the people.
On the state level, self-government should be restored to the towns and communities that make up the states. This means an end, not only to federal interference, but to state interference in local government and local schools. Under federal and state mandates, American schools have become the joke of the civilised world, and in the guise of helping black children, we have destroyed educational opportunities for children of all races. It is time to give the schools back to the parents.
Local control over local schools is not a recipe for resegregation. Involuntary desegregation, forced busing and court-ordered redistricting have succeeded only in lowering the standards of education, precipitating "white flight" and de facto segregation and exacerbating racial tensions. As black novelist Zora Neale Hurston observed in 1954, the premise of Brown v. Board of Education -- that all-black schools were inherently inferior -- was an insult to black Americans. Brown, as Hurston predicted, set the stage for "government by fiat." If neighbors, black and white, cannot work out their problems among themselves, then no government can do it for them.
On a personal level it is time for Southerners to wean themselves from dependence on federal largesse. Since the New Deal, Washington has funneled more tax dollars into the South than it has taken out, and this has caused the region to be bound tightly by the attached strings. If Southerners are ever to be free from federal dictates, we must learn to provide for our own needs without depending on government wealth transfers.
On a spiritual level, we take our stand squarely within the tradition of Christianity. This historic faith, though everywhere attacked by the hollow men of modernity, has always been central to the pursuit of personal honor, political liberty and human charity. Asking for only the religious freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, we oppose the government's campaign against our Christian traditions.
The war that is being waged against the Southern identity and its traditional symbols must cease. Legislatures in Southern states are under pressure to rename streets and destroy monuments that honor Confederate soldiers. Corporations headquartered in Southern states have refused to fly state flags that contain a Confederate emblem; public schools have forbidden the display of the Confederate battle flag as if it were an example of gang colors.
If the Confederate flags are tainted by the abuses of slavery, so are the flags of the United States, Great Britain, France and Spain -- all countries that engaged in the trading of human beings. We do not claim that all our ancestors were infallible or even honorable in all their actions, but we utterly repudiate the one-sided and hypocritical movement to demonize Southerners and their symbols.
Race relations are nowhere perfect in the United States, but black and white Southerners have learned through experience, often painful, how to get along with, or at least tolerate, each other. Southerners on both sides who were "racist" by principle were decent and humane in their actual conduct. As Dick Gregory used to say, "Down South they don't care how close you get, so long as you don't get too big; up North they don't care how big you get, so long as you don't get too close." This regional difference in attitude may help to explain why so many decent black American families are moving back to the South.
After so many decades of strife, black and white Southerners of good will should be left alone to work out their destinies, avoiding, before it is too late, the urban hell that has been created by the lawyers, social engineers and imperial bureaucrats who have grown rich on programs that have done nothing to help anyone but themselves.
The same Northern intellectuals, who in the 19th century were denouncing Southern "racism," greeted the arrival of Catholics and Jews with horror. They designed public school programs to Protestantise the Irish and practised the same kinds of genteel and not-so-genteel discrimination against blacks. Southern history tells a different story. Both Jews and Catholics quickly made their way into the highest political and social circles. In fact, the first Catholic and the first Jew to sit in an American cabinet were picked by Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. Southerners have been remarkably free of the anti-immigrant prejudices that have characterised Northern politics since the 1840s.
Southerners respect the rights of all Americans in every region to preserve their authentic cultural traditions and demand the same respect from others. For too long, Northern intellectuals have tried to control Southern culture and to northernise our schools and universities. They and their Southern allies have rewritten history and imposed their mythology upon generations of students, who have come to believe that their ancestors were uniquely guilty in the annals of inhumanity, that their region is -- in the graphic phrase of one brainwashed Southerner -- "the nation's armpit." This is not scholarship but propaganda.
If Southerners were any other people in the world, the campaign to rob them of their symbols, their history and their cultural identity would be termed cultural genocide -- a term that several scholars have not hesitated to apply. The late Raphael Lemkin, the Polish legal scholar who helped give the term its currency, defined "genocide" not merely as an attempt to annihilate a people physically but as a plan for "the disintegration of the political and social institutions of culture, language, national feelings, religion." If Southerners are a blight on the American landscape, as they are almost uniformly portrayed, then the only "solution" is to eliminate them by destroying their cultural identity.
As Southerners, we prefer not to think of ourselves as victims. We are proud, not of what our people have suffered (although they have suffered a good deal), but of the good things they have done. We are not asking for reparations or set-aside programs. All we ask are the rights the Constitution gave us and all Americans over 200 years ago: the right to be let alone to mind our own business, to raise our own children and to say our own prayers in the buildings built with our own money. As one of Faulkner's characters remarks, "That don't seem like too much to ask."