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Michael Cushman’s Our Southern Nation

cushman [1]2,617 words

Michael O. Cushman
Our Southern Nation: Its Origin and Future [2]
New York: American Anglican Press, 2015

David Hackett Fischer and Colin Woodard are two authors who have each told the story (with Albion’s Seed and American Nations, respectively) of the regional movement of various peoples into the United States of America, and of how the conflicts between them have shaped the nature of modern American life on a grand scale. These two books have made their way into the peripheral view of the alternative right thanks to their appropriation by human biodiversity thinkers and writers. Either one of them would suffice to demolish the notion, implied in U.S. history textbooks, that the peoples—and that includes the “white” ones—of the United States are bound by a shared, common history. Albion’s Seed and American Nations have both gone an incredibly long way to demonstrate just how important the actual histories of these different peoples really are, whether we want to ignore their continuing impacts on modern social and political life or not.

However, both of these works basically take a third–person, bird’s eye view, with each author avoiding any open coloration of his analysis through the lens of his own political point of view. Fischer seems primarily interested in understanding history for his own sake—one of his other major works focuses on the life of Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer who founded Quebec City. I’d peg Colin Woodard as the kind of centrist who would fit well on a panel beside Jonathan Haidt—another self–described liberal who prefers to see himself as an arbiter in others’ political discussions than as a participant within them in his own right. Woodard is a contributing editor at Politico, which describes its aim as the presentation of analysis that is “opinionated but never partisan.” At the time of this writing, one of Politico’s six “Latest” articles, titled “Trump Bashing 101”, praises Jeb Bush for the “energy” and “one–liners” he brought to a recent Harvard speech.

Into the genre comes Michael O. Cushman with Our Southern Nation: Its Origin and Future. While the book maintains an objective, academic tone throughout, Cushman doesn’t pretend that his reasons for selecting the information he applies this academic treatment to are nonpartisan. Cushman is known amongst other things as the founder of the now–defunct Southern Nationalist Network, which in his words advocated [3] “the goal of popularizing Southern nationalism as a tradition distinct from US conservatism.” Now, to dive straight in and get what will be one of the most controversial points of the book out of the way: there is no explicit defense of slavery presented in the book, but as the book is about detailing contrasts between the North and South, slavery inevitably features heavily in the discussion. To begin with, he commits the horrific sin of relaying the statements that Southerners themselves made in defense of their social arrangements against those of the North. Horrors! While the author makes it a point to say that he won’t be elaborating on these comments because “this work is not a defense of slavery or the Christian civility of Southern planters,” one still gets the impression that Cushman does think that Christian planters were, by and large, benevolent and humane, and that he see the institution of slavery as central to the story of the Southern society he admires. Still, it is a shame that this might turn interested readers off, because whatever one thinks of slavery, indeed whether one is even sympathetic to the South, the book holds the same incredible value that Fischer and Woodard’s do for filling in gaps in our understanding of history.

On that note, I’d like to make one point about whether or not this justifies considering Cushman a bad person. If someone were to say that they thought slavery was every bit as brutal and cruel and indefensible as its worst detractors have ever said it was, and that they still supported it, they might be an unethical monster worthy of our disgust. But what someone who appreciates Cushman’s arguments would be saying is that they support it precisely because they don’t believe that those characterizations are accurate or fair—so at least in their hearts and minds, what they are intending support for is not the moral atrocity that the first person openly is. If I were Jewish, and I were to hear someone state that they admire Hitler, the next thing I would want to hear come out of their mouth is that they don’t think Hitler personally ordered the massacre of six million Jews, rather than that they think he did. The worst that can be said about someone like this is that they are confused, or simply wrong; but not that they are evil. Similarly, when we hear someone openly gloat about the destruction of white American culture and the reduction of whites in America to minority status (as Tim Wise has so many times), we are right to treat them as a mortal enemy. But when someone disagrees with us simply because they think we’re wrong that diversity is so harmful to whites, they are disagreeing with us about facts, not values, and we should treat them as potential allies who could be persuaded to come to our side if only we could calmly lay out a clearer factual case for them. I think it’s to the alt–right’s credit that it actually tends to do a really good job of distinguishing “enemies” from “people who disagree” or just “people who haven’t been persuaded yet.”

Now, to give an example, Cushman quotes from the Virginian lawyer and planter George Fitzhugh’s Cannibals All!, or Slaves Without Masters. In these passages, Fitzhugh favorably contrasts the traditional arrangements of the Southern society with the North’s “Free Society … [that] proposes to make the weak, ignorant, and poor, free, by turning them loose in a world owned exclusively by the few (whom nature and education have made strong, and whom property has made stronger) to get a living. In the fanciful state of nature, where property is unappropriated, the strong have no weapons but superior physical and mental power with which to oppress the weak. Their power of oppression is increased a thousand fold when they become the exclusive owners of earth and all the things thereon. They are masters without the obligations of masters, and the poor are slaves without the rights of slaves.” Intriguingly enough, one of the primary Southern defenses of slavery was actually that capitalism is worse because wage laborers are a kind of slave that their master has no duty to take care of—a sentiment I’ve personally heard more than one antifa type echo with my own ears. Even the anti–capitalist liberal might find points of agreement with the Southern case which they hadn’t expected, if only they can quiet their initial gut reaction and actually read what Cushman has to say.

Incidentally, Cushman doesn’t discuss this point in the book, but it is interesting to see Fitzhugh’s sincerity demonstrated elsewhere [4] in his conviction that “It is a libel on white men to say they are unfit for slavery. Slavery is but domestication and civilisation. It is only the irreclaimable savage, such as the North American Indians, the Bedouin Arabs, and Macedonians, and other mountain and insular nations, who live by theft, robbery, and piracy, that are unfit for slavery [Note the particularly intriguing fact that “the negroe” doesn’t make Fitzhugh’s list of savages]. The Yankee is not a savage, untameable animal. He may be domesticated and civilized. He would make a good slave, because he belongs not to the inferior, but to the superior order of beings. The whites die of hunger by millions annually, from the mistaken notion that they are good for nothing. With strict masters, whites are worth more than negroes. Now, in New England and New York they have to pay men for taking them. But the white man is not naturally so worthless, is not such a detestable nuisance and incumbrance as this proceeding would imply.”

In any case, as the proverb goes, history is written by the victors. One of the main themes of Our Southern Nation is that the textbook story of U.S. History which presents itself as more or less a single narrative is a story foisted by the culturally victorious North over a vanquished South. While I was always at least loosely aware of these themes as a resident of South Carolina, I was surprised to see just how deep the South’s tradition of opposition to what’s thought of as the mainstream American story actually was. He quotes US Congressman and mathematics professor William Porcher Miles of South Carolina in condemnation of that “monstrous and dangerous fallacy of Thomas Jefferson” that all men are born free and equal—repeating emphatically, “Men are born neither Free nor Equal.” He goes on to describe Miles’ position that “individuals and societies must prove themselves worthy of liberty … [and] not every person or society could do so.” Here’s a leading Southern politician—a distinguished professor—emphatically rejecting the very catch–phrase that created “America,” and being supported for it.

As for why the South was so culturally different from the rest of the United States in the first place, this is the place where the book truly shines. The basic thesis running throughout the entirety of the book is that the American South actually formed a natural and spontaneous organic society not with the American North, but rather with what Cushman refers to as the Golden Circle—the Portuguese, Spanish, French, English, and occasionally Dutch colonies running from Mexico to Brazil and throughout the Caribbean. While I had heard Jim Goad deflect [5] condemnation of America for slavery on the grounds that most of the slaves shipped in from Africa actually went not to the United States but instead to Brazil, what’s implied by Cushman’s analysis is that this deflection doesn’t really work, because the American South actually was in fact more closely tied to Brazil as a culture and as a civilization than it was to the American North.

This thesis is surprisingly compelling, and it’s fascinating to watch Cushman do such an excellent job of laying out the evidence. When Haitian rebels massacred French colonists in St. Domingue during the Haitian Revolution [6], large numbers of refugees settled and were quickly assimilated in Louisiana and South Carolina. In Mexico, during the Yucatan Caste War [7] of the 1840s when the Mayans were in revolt against the European–descended population, the President of the secessionist Republic of the Yucatan (which then did not recognize the authority of the Mexican government) lobbied the U.S. for support, and even offered the country’s sovereignty in exchange for aid. When U.S. President James Polk, a Southern Democrat who also supported the annexation of Texas, supported aiding the European–descended population of Mexico, his proposal passed the U.S. House only to fail in the Senate—due to Northern opposition. Against the claim that this is all old hat, Cushman points out that “when the independent South fell to Northern armies in the 1860s, the Empire of Brazil welcomed Southern refugees and offered them generous incentives (including cheap land and tax breaks), hoping to benefit from their agricultural skills. … present day trends to be found among Confederados who identify as both Brazilian and Southern, but not also as American, exemplify a more substantive consciousness of Southern nationality and continuing legacy of the Golden Circle than the mainstream US establishment is willing to admit.” (emphasis mine)

Thus, “The term ‘South’ ironically came to be used to describe what was actually the north of a distinct and highly developed New World civilisation. The South was only ‘the South’ from the view of the bourgeois Mid–Atlantic and New England regions, whose influence over time came to define ‘America.’ From the point of view of the plantation civilisation to which it belonged, the South was actually the northern mainland. In terms of civilisations rather than states, the south of the plantation world was eastern Brazil.”

As the book proceeds, Cushman demonstrates that the nations of this civilisation not only shared in each others’ victories, losses, and culture, they also shared in their ultimate fates at the hands of Progressive conquest. “The South which is routinely insulted in US pop culture and media as defined by the predominance of poor, isolated and ignorant white people is a result of the U.S. egalitarian destruction of the plantation world of the Old South; much of what is being attacked by US Progressives exists precisely because of US Progressive intervention in Southern society.” Meanwhile, Haiti has “never recovered from egalitarian revolution, genocide and the destruction of its plantation system… corruption is widespread, violence is epidemic and despite [massive] aid efforts Haiti continues to be ranked as the poorest of countries in the Western hemisphere.” Likewise in Brazil, “Areas with large white populations have regained a portion of their former prosperity … while those populated primarily by former slaves tend to be marked by persistent poverty, crime and corruption in spite of decades of wealth transfers and numerous government programs meant to raise the living standard.” Bahia, the former centre of Brazilian sugar production, “now has one of the highest rates of extreme poverty in the country … only 41% of the total population and 25% of the extremely poor households have acceptable access to water, sewage and waste services.”

Once again, the implication seems clear that in Cushman’s view, the imposed elimination of slavery actually played a significant role in the decline in quality of life not only for the European–descended planters, but for the slave–descended populations themselves. Earlier in the book, Cushman discussed how Georgia came to adopt a plantation society—to apparently great success—after the failure of an earlier attempt at experimenting with “subsistence farming, free labour and a democratic economic order” saw contrast with the success of South Carolina’s plantation system: “[Paul M. Pressly, author of On the Rim of the Caribbean [8]] points out that ‘While South Carolina’s white population had grown by two–thirds in size during that time, its neighbor’s barely held even. … The population deserted the countryside for the towns….” But once Georgia adopted a plantation economy modeled after that of South Carolina, “Pressly quotes Georgia’s chief justice as claiming that the colony’s entrance into the plantation world yielded ‘Such a rapid progress in population, agriculture, and commerce, as no other country ever equaled in so short a time’.” Nearing the end of the book, Cushman comes full circle with the observation that: “Mainstream historians note that ‘In 1834 the British government abolished slavery … The old colonies, including Jamaica, failed to successfully adapt to the new conditions and were condemned to continuing economic, social, and political crisis’, and that ‘ex–slaves in the Caribbean initially opted overwhelmingly to cultivate small plots of land or form rural free villages’. Abolition in many areas tended to reverse the process which had previously taken place in Virginia, Barbados and Georgia in which small, unprofitable farms gave way to large, profitable plantations.”

White Nationalists are often criticized as naïve for seeming to believe that race is a more unifying trait than it really is. When one discusses the countless studies [9] demonstrating that increased diversity directly leads to reductions in social trust, neighborhood trust, civic participation, and so forth, one is occasionally met with rejoinders about the many violent historical conflicts between, say, the English and French [10]. It is obvious that incidents can’t be used to refute the existence of trends, and the fact remains that the studies suggest that more ethnic and cultural diversity still leads to more conflict than there would otherwise be, regardless of what that baseline level of expected conflict is. Still, I do think that intra–racial conflict has been an under–explored topic for White Nationalists, who have preferred to simply think of disagreeing whites as having been “brainwashed” by Jewish propaganda and so forth. Personally, this strikes as coming dangerously close to resembling the feminist tendency to label anti–feminist women as having been “brainwashed by the patriarchy.”

So the focus of Our Southern Nation is, in a significant way, on the history of the United States as a history of conflict between “whites” of different ethnic and cultural origins.

For my part, I do think that we need to see the distinctions “within” racial groups in a similar way as we see the distinctions “between” them. Race is a real biological phenomena, and it is also a social construct. By analogy, the spectrum of light is absolutely real, but where we decide to draw lines and divide that spectrum up into different colors and label them with names is also partially subjective. The biological reality behind race is that human populations tend to form groups that can be considered relatively inbred amongst themselves compared to other groups—with the result that, since no one is under the same precise selection pressures and these groups did not begin from an identical starting point, genes will show up with different percentage frequencies in one population group than they will in another. And since we now know that genes account for about half [11] of the variation in almost every identifiable personality trait yet to be studied by researchers, that fact is kind of a big deal for understanding macro–scale human behavioral trends. But we should also expect similar differences, varying only by degree, to go all the way down even to the differences between two families within the same family tree. These will also be partly genetic in origin: at the most atomic level of analysis, siblings are less alike than are identical twins because of the differences in proportion of shared genes. So anyone who has ever had a half–sibling will understand very well what it means to say that even two families within the same family tree are kind of like “different races” on a smaller scale—most people will in fact notice that they get along better and feel more at home with their own extended biological family than they do with their half–sibling’s, on an instinctual level. Families, extended families, ethnic groups, and traditional racial groups are all varying levels of “zoom” on the same basic phenomena. As we zoom in, we’re looking at less and less extended levels of one’s extended family, but we’re still ultimately talking about the same phenomena. What’s interesting at the core of it all isn’t the traditional racial categories, but simply that individuals differ from one another for reasons that in fact often trace back to “nature” rather than “nurture” (though the latter has implications for the former).

For his part, Cushman does note that the early South was predominantly British in origin whereas much of the rest of the United States was predominantly German—and he elsewhere [12] states that the Southern Nation he wants to see would be ruled by a primarily “Anglo–Celtic” elite. Given the obvious controversy of these kinds of suggestions, and given that exploring them has the potential to prove the depth of one’s intellectual consistency and demonstrate that nationalists actually don’t impose assumptions on traditional racial categories that they fail to hold to consistently—while addressing the fact that human populations differ in a realm, namely within–“race”, that carries less baggage and fewer knee–jerk reactions—I would have liked to have seen a great deal more exploration of the correlations between the ethnic origins of whites in the United States and the types of cultures they created. As it stands, there’s nothing at all here that could persuade anyone inclined to think otherwise that the differences couldn’t be completely and entirely ‘cultural’ in origin. And if they were, preferring (as opposed to merely predicting) an Anglo–Celtic elite for the Southern Nation today as Cushman does would begin to look more than a little silly even to white nationalists.

Cushman’s political views will be considered extremely controversial by, well, almost everyone who isn’t already part of his group. Only a fraction of either white nationalists or the alternative right will share Cushman’s love for the idea of churches as a regulating social institution. The implied defenses of slavery will sit uneasily, as well—even white nationalists find it more interesting to point out the disproportionately Jewish role in slavery [13] that Cushman actually seems to regard in a positive light (he notes in chapter six that “Sephardic Jews also played an important but limited role in the formation and life” of the South; “Unlike the Central and Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews who later immigrated to Northeastern cities, the Sephardic Jews who helped settle the Golden Circle did not identify with urban ethnic immigrant groups against the founding Western culture”), or discuss the slavery of whites in the United States [14] well before the Trans–Atlantic Trade crossed over the shore. The tendency [15] is to view slavery as “an evil institution inflicted upon black slaves and free whites alike by America’s small, sociopathic capitalist class,” whereas Cushman relies somewhat heavily on quotations from a man who was not only an anti–capitalist, but explicitly defended the idea of allowing whites to become slaves as a positive moral and social good.

Regardless of how one takes these points, there is a great deal of well–researched information here that is of interest to anyone who wants to understand more about the unique history of the South. This includes white nationalists trying to contemplate how the American South would fit into a broader white nationalist movement, sure, but the book is also of value to the normie who just wants to gain a deeper understanding of what it is that makes the South so alien to the rest of the US. Cushman’s answer, stripped of any further political implications (which one is always free to agree or disagree with), is that the South simply never formed anything like a truly organic society or civilization that was continuous with the rest of the United States at all—and that mainstream US history is nothing other than a record of the North’s attempt to assimilate the foreign society they successfully conquered by retconning that foreign society’s actual history.

At 83 pages from introduction to conclusion, the book is short—but densely packed with historical citations that make it rather like a choose–your–own–adventure book. Throughout most of the book, citations come at the end of nearly every sentence. Personally, this is exactly how I prefer a book to read: straight to the point, while giving me the option to dig on my own and explore deeper into any comments or topics that particularly intrigue me. The book is available on Amazon [16] and on Cushman’s website, Southern Future [17]. For disclosure, I have no personal connections of any kind to Cushman and I wasn’t asked to write this review. After stumbling across the book online, I proposed in an email to the author that I would be willing to write a review in exchange for a free copy, and one showed up in the mailbox a couple weeks afterwards. Though the book caught my interest all on its own, it really did exceed my expectations.