Unraveling Civil War Moral Hysteria

The public discourse has sunk to a new low.  Even John Kelly, an uptight pentagon general has triggered his very own mass moral hysteria by simply saying General Lee was “honorable” and wishing the US Civil War could have been prevented by compromise.
The result of these boring, mild statements was a firestorm of pundit-powered opprobrium.  Ordinarily, I ignore these stupid hand-wringing scares as there are several of them a day, but this one in particular catches my interest because it marks another step in a progression of rising frenzy since we started to see the destruction of confederate statues.

The important thing to notice is they are trying to use fake moral outrage as a political weapon to rewrite history.  The legions of political correctness are trying to march across the landscape of the past until even the US founders are dismissed as villains who were “on the wrong side of history.”

I could ignore the pundits easily enough but what got my attention was actual historians like Ken Burns seeming to support this Maoist hysteria when he undoubtedly knows better. 

He doesn’t say that much here, but it is clear from context he was joining in the mass chastisement of General Kelly.  Indeed, his rebuke went viral. 

Burns is the creator of an entire documentary television series on the Civil War that has been considered for years to be a classic of its genre.  He is known to have a bias as all people do, but in any serious treatment of a historical subject, one expects the investigator to at least try to understand the motivations of the people he’s studying without just venturing to vilify and crucify them.

Burns was trying to treat Kelly’s statements as though he was pushing the old Lost Cause argument that the war was really about States’ Rights.  Kelly did not try to do this and it’s dishonest that Burns framed it this way for the benefit of a howling, angry mob.

The “Slavery caused the Civil War. Period.” refrain has become an ingrained establishment reaction to anyone who would suggest that there’s anything more to the Civil War than diversity injustice.  Their favorite evidence is the declarations of secession that unanimously mention slavery as their main motive for seceding from the Union.  Case closed, right?
The problem with their case is they interpret this to mean there was a seamlessly ongoing moral crusade for Black rights and freedoms from John Brown to Martin Luther King.  The problem with their virtuous narrative is that slavery causing the war didn’t mean anyone actually cared about Blacks.  The truth is, nobody really did except for a tiny handful of abolitionists who nobody liked.  Slavery causing the war doesn’t mean what they think it means.

The more important thing to understand about slavery is that it was an incompatible economic system with the wage-driven industrializing North.  I suspect the moment Lincoln was forever set against slavery is when the institution arrived in Kentucky and depressed the local economy, playing a role in his family moving to Illinois.  To really understand what slavery meant to average white people back then, you need only reflect on how average workers feel now about the onslaught of tens of millions of 3rd world immigrants.  

Slavery was incompatible because free labor was toxic to the wage economy.  If anything, many people who opposed slavery would have despised the Black slaves, a seeming contradiction to revisionist moralizers.
Any historian who tries to portray the US Civil War primarily as moral conflict should be banned from the profession. In reality, people were back then as they are now.  The vast majority of people just cared about making a living.  No one except a few fanatics wanted to go to war over moralistic crises.

No one seems to impress on us now that the core founders of the United States were members of the Southern plantation culture.  When we reflect on that, we much more easily realize why they saw themselves as the legitimate ruling class of America.  Many of the Southern elite were the actual relatives of people who had signed the Declaration, fought in the Revolution, and helped draft the Constitution.  The Virginia planters had been at the forefront of power, prestige, and cultural influence for decades by the time tensions began to escalate out of control and one of the rules of history is no elite class ever willingly steps down and allows itself to be replaced.  Humans, whether elementary school janitors or Kings, tend to defend their accustomed social status at any cost.

The industrial revolution disrupted the accustomed hierarchy in America by placing the Northeast industrialists and merchants decisively ahead of the Planters and this gap only widened over time.  To make things, worse, the Northern aristocracy flooded their cities and the Midwest frontier with millions of immigrants who tended to be sympathetic to their agenda.  The flood of immigrants was as big an affront to the Southerners as the democrats trying to flood the country with 3rd world foreigners is now. 

If there’s one phrase that seems to reliably cause moral panic complete with crazily rolling eyes like a spooked horse it’s “Three-fifths.”  All anyone can ever seem to talk about is how everyone ran around telling Black slaves they were three-fifths of a man.  In their hysteria they utterly miss the point.

The Southerners were calling out the Northern elites for importing millions of people who would eventually be able to drown out the South entirely in Congress.  As you might imagine, this proposition was unacceptable to them.  The real point of the three fifths compromise is it was an attempt to buoy up the fading political influence of the South by counting each slave enough to preserve their power in the House.  Until people can calm down and soberly evaluate events it’s impossible to understand the important thing was a political arms race that was taking place between two competing groups of elites.  This same force was behind most of the other compromises, as well as the urge for territorial expansion of the US.

The first American revolution was a revolt of local elites against the control of elites who were far away.  The Southern elite saw secession as another iteration and continuation of what their parents and grandparents had started barely 70 years before.  We have to understand that they saw themselves with some justification as the real United States that wanted to split off from New England as they had from England.

The Southern leaders were arrogant, stupid, and decadent, though.  They ultimately demolished their credibility by using heavy handed methods to try to keep rigging the whole system in their favor indefinitely, just like the present-day elites.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act led directly to the birth of a Republican party singularly dedicated to opposing them and the final demise of their power over the system.  The ridiculous Dredd Scott case(that a president did actually collude with) followed by the Fugitive Slave Act destroyed any remaining hope for coexistence.  This duplicitous sleight of hand through control of the judiciary resembles the machinations of the present elite classes.

The present rulers imagine themselves as Lincoln and Martin Luther King when in fact they are actually closer to Roger Taney and Jefferson Davis greedily clutching to the tatters of their power and trying with all their might to move back the inexorable hands of the clock.  The present elites’ sanctimonious self-image very closely aligns with how secessionist planters saw themselves.

The stupid mistake of the Southern leaders is they tried to lead the entire country as long as they could and only lobbied for secession when all hope of their dominance was lost and the best part of their bargaining power was gone.  Instead of trying to rule by deceit through weak presidents like Pierce and Buchanan, they needed to go their own way, or negotiate their role as a member of a looser confederation with a revised constitution when it might have been possible.  By the time Lincoln actually came to power, it was far too late for them to preserve their top positions in the hierarchy.

Even then some kind of partition or understanding may have been possible.  But stubborn to the end, Jeff Davis saw that enthusiasm for a partition was not as widespread as he liked, especially in border states outside the main plantation zones.  The new order of power was swiftly becoming “normalized” and for Davis, this was unacceptable.  All bets were off the moment he gave the order to Beauregard to fire on Fort Sumter.  To Davis, this was the publicity stunt he needed to polarize public opinion and ultimately a final monument to the stupidity of the entrenched elites who went down kicking and screaming in rivers of blood.

No class of elites ever goes down willingly so the important lesson normal people can take away from the American Civil War isn’t some sappy story with spiritual hymn music in the background.  They need to realize that these present moral hysterias are the attempt of a declining elite to manipulate millions of ordinary people into scrambling to grab their chestnuts out of the fire.  If people fall for it, they will find themselves shocked one day when they end up on the wrong side of history.

And what about the Black slaves?  African Colonial slavery largely disappeared worldwide by the 1880s to the 1890s even from places like Brazil where slavery had existed on a hugely greater scale.  The importation of slaves had already been banned decades before the Civil War in the United States.  In reality, slavery would have ceased altogether in the US within 20-30 years like it did everywhere else.  The industrial revolution and the economy of cheap wage labor made slavery obsolete. 
Historians with a narrative to push never talk about this though because it conflicts with their interpretation of the Civil War as a war of liberation and the triumph of good over evil.  History, however, rarely ever plays out like a story from a safe space coloring book.

General Kelly was right to wish that a compromise had been possible because like many wars, the Civil War was ultimately a pointless slaughter.  It was effectively a gangland war between the Crips and the Bloods that millions of ordinary people got sucked into and it did not affect the overall direction the winds of history were blowing in.  The founders’ republic would have become a 19th century industrial nation-state in the mold of Germany, Italy, France, or Japan in that same period of history.  Slavery would have died in the South on its own without 600,000 people killed in battle.
Of course, the moralistic interpreters of the Civil War see those 600,000 lives as a necessary sacrifice for politically correct justice.  Once we understand their love of pious bloodshed, we begin to realize why no one liked the extreme 19th century abolitionists.  In their secret hearts, no doubt, all those dead Euro-Americans are probably just a nice bonus.

I am no fan of Kelly who I see as a handler sent by the pentagon to make sure Trump sticks to their neo-con agenda and to cockblock their political enemies from having easy access to the president.  Ironically, though, this first hand experience of being targeted by the shrieking masses will drive him closer than before to the Trumpian orbit.  By all means, they should keep burning down Kelly’s establishment cred until he must side with the very forces he was sent to keep under control.

By Giovanni Dannato

In 1547 I was burnt at the stake in Rome for my pernicious pamphlet proclaiming that the heavens were not filled with a profusion of aether, but rather an extensive vacuum.
Now, the phlogiston that composed my being has re-manifested centuries in the future so that I may continue the task that was inconveniently disrupted so long ago.
Now, I live in Rome on the very street where I (and others) were publicly burnt. To this day, the street is known as what I would translate as 'Heretic's Way'. My charming residence is number 6 on this old road. Please, do come inside and pay me a visit; I should be delighted to spew out endless pedagoguery to one and all...

18 replies on “Unraveling Civil War Moral Hysteria”

“one of the rules of history is no elite class ever willingly steps down and allows itself to be replaced”

Rules of history were broken then by WASPs, no? The only elite class in history to allow itself to be replaced. Recently, too.

I think what you’re relaying here is more demographic changes out loud and made into concepts. As the minority segment increases they must legitimize their displacement of the original Americans. How else could it be okay?

White Americans did similarly when displacing Natives, spoke of manifest destiny, and so on. These narratives are necessary to legitimate displacement. In my view they are mainly epiphenomenal, that is they are by-products of demographics.

If you look at it the huge spike in surviving births of Europeans meant they had to go somewhere or die en masse. So the concepts that came to support their spread were such as relayed above, and how Natives were spiritually corrupt, heathens, and whatever else needed. Again, demographics made concepts.

Now the many, many people from Mexico and Africa are similar in their demographic bulge to Europeans around 1800-1900. As then, so now. Same kind of talk, different form slightly but similar.

How does one decide in retrospect what really started a war? Paul Craig Roberts says it was caused by tariff disputes, not slavery, and that the North already conceded slavery was fine for the South to keep. He quotes numerous documents to show this. I have no opinion, it’s all just quotes from supposed experts, but I think you can find whatever you want to believe in the light of today’s views. Like cowboys and Indians was legit wars and heroism at one time, and not long ago (40 years).

The claim that slavery would have been obsolete is a bit weird. There are supposedly many slaves now re-slaved in England of all places, and they are not kept by the ethnically English. In the Middle East, where fancy cars and palaces and computers exist, there are slaves or equivalent.

The issue now is how do Europeans and their descendants re-vitalize or stabilize in the shortest time possible in the midst of a demographic tsunami and a very hostile and corrupt elite. It’s an interesting question that calls for historical parallels… if there are any.

“Rules of history were broken then by WASPs, no? The only elite class in history to allow itself to be replaced.” — it seems to me that the WASP elite (with an admixture of Jews who are mainly minions and expert agents in various capacities) is still utterly and completely in charge of everything.

GD’s suggestion, I take it, is that the Prog-elite (Gates, Buffett, Clintons, Bushes) would correspond to the Southern land-owning class, while the present-day group that corresponds to the Northern industrialists of the time leading up to the Civil War would be, what, the techno-elite composed of people like Thiel, Musk, and Yarvin? (If so, then what we can realistically hope will replace Progressive rule is benign NRx-ish techno-dictatorship, not the Shire for which the Alt-Right yearns.)

“The claim that slavery would have been obsolete is a bit weird.” Well, how might this have happened, GD? A factory opens up in Birmingham, needs laborers, owner sends representative to talk to nearby land-owners … then what? How do the slaves end up getting freed, as opposed to rented out?

The New York Times had an article about how they were basically gone and stepped aside voluntarily, unprecedented historically I’m sure.

In the Supreme Court there is only one or none now.

Jews are not mainly minions and experts anymore though they still fill those roles. They are owners now.

In the 1950s I don’t think that the Forbes 400 would have had almost any Jews, for example, and now it is 1/4 Jewish-descended on that richest list.

From Politico:

“…the New England WASP has all but disappeared from its natural habitats—gone, almost, from the region’s 12 Senate seats, vanished from its six governors’ mansions

It’s an ignoble end for a proud people.”

From Wikipedia:

“During the latter half of the twentieth century, WASP dominance over American society and its institutions began to weaken, with non-WASP Americans increasingly criticizing the WASP hegemony and disparaging WASPs as the epitome of “the Establishment”.

Since the 1960s, the power of WASPs has sharply declined against the growing influence of ethnic groups, including non-whites”

What is relevant about the decline of W(ealthy)ASPs is they were the elite and they should have been the natural and benevolent elite of the people of the United States.

Their absence and lack of tenacity to defend the people they came from is very notable, and I think unusual for such a powerful elite to give up.

The Supreme Court, Senate, and Governorships are all puppet-shows, though, don’t you think?
What counts is who’s powerful in industry, commerce, and propaganda (media), and who among those powerful people are moving upward or downward in power. 1/4 Jewish-descended (which includes part-Jews I take it) sounds about right to me. So that means not much less than 3/4 Northwest European. If you meant “WASP” in the narrow sense that would exclude Trump (half-Scotch, half-German), I don’t know, but in the broader, practically relevant sense of Northwest European it still looks like total domination with no end in sight, with the Jews and part-Jews completely integrated into the overall power-structure. True, Northwest European members of the ruling class probably don’t think “I’m Northwest European, yay!”; they think “I’m smart and competent and energetic and have the Right Values,” but the two thoughts seem more or less equivalent.


I know what you mean about puppet shows and to *some* degree, yes.

The main elites stay related, and therefore the same, with few exceptions over dozens of generations. They will shift to public rule to private empires and wait.

But the problem culturally is their weakness, and the impact of having a giving-up elite on the unwinding of Western culture and lifestyle.

By contrast the new elite hates the original American founding stock.

It was an Irish-Catholic, Ted Kennedy, who passed the immigration act that denied preference to Europeans to become US citizens and lied that this wouldn’t change things. A pretender and interloper to WASP culture, not a WASP.

Given that mass immigration is the real issue of the last 35 years you can see what even a little bit of public power does.

So laws do matter, and it’s not quite just a puppet show. The elite maintains their power more or less regardless, but the impact of a shift down to 75% is obviously huge to everyone else.

It’s amazing to consider that as soon as the predominance of WASP rule cracked even a little with a victorious Irish-Catholic the decline began shortly thereafter. People talked about this a lot at the time, like it would be the beginning of the end!

It unfolded as the few WASP cultural defenders predicted.

Okay, Poli Ti, but then wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that the WASP elite has allowed its power to be diluted than to say that that this elite group has allowed itself to be replaced?

It does seem, though, that the WASP and Scots-Irish (as well as more generally NW European) non-elite population (Zman’s “dirt people) has been functionally “replaced”.

In NYC the analogue to this non-elite replacement seems to be the replacement of the South Italians as skilled mechanical workers (people who keep the physical system going) by South Asians and Arabs, and the replacement of the Irish as cops by Hispanics. City clerks here are mostly Black now, postal employees largely Chinese.

As the most elite, the ruling elite, they’ve allowed themselves to be replaced. As an elite overall they’ve been diluted.

As a cultural elite they’ve been replaced too. Compare 1950s American culture to todays.

That NYC observation on ethnic shift does sound similar. Were that widespread then it’s happening at all levels.

I’m just trying see the picture that you have in mind, Poli Ti —

Is it like this — that there was formerly an elite consisting of Frank, Rich, Bill, John, and Harry (5 WASPs), while now there’s an elite consisting of Frank, Rich, Bill (3 WASPs), Helmut, Seamus (2 NWEuropean non-WASPs), Vinnie (1 non-NW but European), Moishe and Shmuel (the last two being 1/4 of the total?)

So that the former WASP “ruling elite” has been “replaced” by a WASP + MajorityOthers ruling elite?

Or is it like this — that the tip-top ruling elite (inner circle) consists of Moishe and Shmuel, while the outer circle has Frank, Rich, Bill, Helmut, Seamus, and Vinnie in it?

Or maybe you’d say that one of the latter non-WASP Europeans (Helmus, Seamus, or Vinnie) is in the inner circle?

If you allow that one of the three WASP members (Frank, Rich, or Bill) of the overall circle of 8 is in the inner circle along with Moishe and Shmuel, then I guess you could still say that the rule of a WASPs-only elite consisting of Frank, Rich, Bill, John, and Harry has been replaced by the ultra-rule of a non-WASP-majority elite that still includes some of the original ruling families.

Similarly, top rule by a Politburo of 25 could be replaced by top rule by a Central Committee of 7 that includes some of the members of the original Politburo.

Okay, I suspect that this is what you mean. Am I right?

If so, then my annoying verbal objection at this point is just that we should speak of the replacement of power-structures (rule by X+Y replaces rule by X) rather than of the replacement of biological groups.

(I dropped John and Harry out of the scheme only in order to arrive at the right proportions without having to add an awkwardly large number of non-WASP names. In reality, as you noted when you commented on the multi-generational character of elite status, John and Harry would still be there.)


Structurally it’s somewhat like your model of replacement by 7 but culturally it’s much more impactful. The WASP elite remains an elite in business but their cultural impact as ruling elite or culture-shaping elite has collapsed.

X+Y is vastly different culturally and in terms of explicit rule than X on it’s own so it’s not just power structures. Power structures come after, or change from fundamental changes.

Your verbal objection to focus on systems or power structures would in recent times only benefit hidden usurpers who wish to remain hidden for their own gain at the expense of others by fuzzing the reality of their actions as a group or as individuals.

The problem with our modern paradigm of not looking at people(s) and instead dwelling on systems first such as democracy, capitalism, or corporations is it abstracts away individuals who are responsible.

It’s a way of distracting people who ought be concerned from the individuals who create troubles and making it seem an system or structure, such as a corporation, is the issue, not a person or group.

That perspective serves some, not others, so the question regarding your perspective is Cui Bono?

Re-read my first post for more on this view of people and demographics as primary driver.
The biological replacement is that from which culture flows.

Okay, Poli Ti. (I did mean “power” in a broad sense that includes cultural pressure.)

I don’t know what motivates super-powerful people, but I guess the old WASP elite would have a “let’s keep the family going” motive; the heads of newly super-powerful families might have various motives. I doubt that the Triumph of Zion is anyone’s motive, but I know I wouldn’t be able to convince others (who attribute such a motive to certain super-powerful “hidden” Americans) that this is so. And I wouldn’t be able to speak from personal experience, because I don’t even know any moderately powerful people, let alone super-powerful people.

I wholeheartedly support WASP supremacy in America, by the way. Well, let’s say British supremacy, since the “W” is redundant and the “P” excludes Belloc, Chesterton, and Tolkien. British culture is awesome and lovely and I love it and am awed by it.

And I completely accept the proposition that there’s a genetic basis for British awesomeness and loveliness.

“… it seems to me that the WASP elite (with an admixture of Jews who are mainly minions and expert agents in various capacities) is still utterly and completely in charge of everything…”

HAHA. Who do you think owns all the TV stations, the magazines, the book publishing, the radio stations, all the major internet information portals, etc. It’s not the WASP. After the bank bail out the banks got we know $16 trillion and through public documents it could be over $29 trillion. What do you think they did with that money? Stock market booming much? I’m betting they own every last scrap of the economy.

Yes, you are right to point out the narrative change is an attempt to begin to legitimate displacement. As they strive to make Robert E. Lee into a co-Hitler some people will realize what’s going on but we all tend to forget what everyone agreed on just a few years ago. This amnesia is what they are trying to acheive.
Hardly anyone in the North wanted to go fight Southerners over slaves and there sure as hell wasn’t anyone who wanted to get shot over tariff agreements. That’s why I interpret the Civil War as a struggle for power between factions of elites. If Jefferson Davis hadn’t been retarded enough to start a war, the public will to completely crush the South simply wouldn’t have existed.
I was careful to specify a particular type of European agrarian slavery of Africans in my article. I am aware slavery exists to this day, especially in Africa.
The bottom line in the Western World is slavery just doesn’t make sense. Why actually care for your workers when you can pay them 7.50 an hour and it’s up to them to find a place to live, buy food, and stay well enough to work if they are sick? Southerners actually did point out that wage slavery is in some ways even worse.

Paul Craig Roberts is saying it was tariffs and therefore money that got the elites to start the war. This fits with the real motivations of the elite today and then. including the founding of the USA.

It’s never about some kind of harsh reality like that on the surface so of course no wanted to get shot over tariffs.

What really happens is the elite has their true concerns, money, and then creates a story for the masses about racism, slavery, states rights, freedom from the King, or whatever idealistic rubbish. That’s for the fools.

Same as today. Not much of this seems to change.

The question is what would change it.

Wasn’t Lincoln’s feeling that it’s mean to Blacks to enslave them an actually motivating thought in his mind, playing a big role in his desire to prevent further expansion of slavery?

I wonder why there wasn’t a big push to transform slavery into something more like Medieval European serfdom, with clearly spelled out “rights” for the serfs that would have prevented things such as being “sold down the river.” Why did it have to be all or nothing?

Most of the people in NYC should be serfs. They could be called “clients” so that it wouldn’t be humiliating for them. Their lords (major local businessmen) would be responsible for them — both for providing for them and for ensuring their good behavior.

Lincoln was a Whig and a disciple of Henry Clay. He believed in industrialization and commerce as the backbone of American policy. To him, slavery was an obstacle to these plans since the slave economy limited commerce and crushed the potential for a thriving middle class wherever it existed. Lincoln was fine with the South having what he thought was kind of a crappy culture as long at they didn’t try to force it on everyone else. All bets were off when the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened the spread of slavery again. Lincoln got on board with the brand new Rebublican party soon after that along with his fellow Whigs. I’ve seen it suggested that Lincoln disliked seeing slavery when he worked on river boats as a young man, but there is little to indicate that was his main motivation and plenty to support that it was the politics and economics he had devoted his adult life to that drove him.

To Lincoln and the Union, emancipation was first a weapon of war to help disable the economy of the South. Even this obvious measure was held back until the war had already raged for years. It took desperate circumstances and hundreds of thousands of corpses to make it happen. This made any kind of middle road or limited serfdom non-viable. Again, if the South had avoided a war, they may have gotten their serfs as slavery was phased out. We can compare to the sharecropping system that actually did keep Blacks as a landed peasantry even after the Civil War.

Most of the people in NYC should be serfs. They could be called “clients” so that it wouldn’t be humiliating for them.

Account Executive. Administrative Assistant. Technician. Custodial Engineer.

Human Resources isn’t an accident.

Feudalism’s supposed to work both ways, with upward and downward responsibilities, though. So, if you’re a serf then as long as you behave yourself you shouldn’t have to worry about homelessness. It would be fine for serfs to have those titles, but people with those titles aren’t being protected now the way serfs were.

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