By Philip Drucker
How does one define culture? There are any number of dictionary definitions, some longer than others that include acknowledgements of the importance of beliefs, customs, values, behaviors and my recent favorite, artifacts (sculptures) indicative of an identifiable, standardized history and a shared desire to "pass it down" to the next generation as our ultimate gift to ensure a future capable of growth, glory and prosperity. I told you it was not easy.
I myself prefer to go the simple route and use the catch all "way of life" as the basic touchstone of inter-generational gift giving and continuity. Sort of a follow in the footsteps of those who came before you approach to ever-lasting life and beyond. But what happens when the past you have been taught did not actually exist? Or to be more precise, some of the events you were taught along with the people involved did exist, but, not quite that way and certainly not for those reasons?
In short, how can you follow a past that for all intents and purposes is a lie? Is nothing more than a re-writing of historical times, places and people? Is in the simplest of terms, propaganda to soothe the masses? This is why the "Lost Cause" or, in the vernacular, South will never rise. Why? Because it is a myth.
We hear quite a bit today about "culture wars" or whatever that means. Again, a precise definition eludes me. But let's look at the reality of what the Confederate States of America stood for and what the eleven (yes, eleven not thirteen as Kentucky and Missouri were officially neutral) rogue states thought was the way of life, their way of life worth bestowing upon those who would follow.
Not the mythic, glorified or at very least enhanced and amplified stories of heroism and bravery as part of the "good fight" against the tyrants who would deny the South their rights to continue practicing the arcane and inhuman in the name of you guessed it, what made us great, culture. For a more accurate view of the what mattered to your average Southern Man (I guess in his Sweet Home Alabama) let's look at the supreme law of the land as embodied in the Confederate States Constitution (CSC).
The CSC was officially adopted on March 11, 1861 and was in for the remainder of the Civil War. Although a great deal of the CSC is taken directly from the US Constitution there are some key differences. For example, the CSC Preamble contains a direct reference to the Almighty.
"We, the people of the Confederate States, each state acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity — invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God (emphasis added)— do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America."
Not really simpatico with separation of church and state is it?
In addition to many minor changes that for the most part make clear the individual states, and not the confederate government would get the last say in all matters related to the general welfare of its citizens, in fact the entire phrase being dropped from the Preamble, by far the most important differences appear in, you guessed it the status and treatment of slaves, in particular the African type (by name), and the enshrining of the institute of slavery as the law of the land forever and in perpetuity.
Much like the gun nuts today who think their Second Amendment Rights are "absolute" (they are anything but) an abbreviated take on the rights of white males to own slaves in the Confederate South would similarly read as "shall not be infringed." The actual quote is as follows.
“No … law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”
However, in terms of real and potential impact upon the culture of the Confederacy, there is a stark and quite frankly alarming "difference of opinion" contained within the Southern Man's supposed "rights" to own slaves and all rights commensurate with that, as I said above, God given right. Namely, that all men are not created equal. Simple but effective and terrifying, really.
At the time of the Civil War, this grand twisting of everything natural and holy and is the very basis of the US Constitution was routinely described among Southerners as the "Great Truth" and the basis of why they and their cause alone was blessed by God.
Remember how in Dred Scott the SCOTUS punted on the issue of who and/or what constituted a "person" under the Constitution? And relegated slaves to the status of "property" thereby denying them any of the protections guaranteed under the Constitution? And, assigning each slave a 3/5th of a person status for purposes of the Census which in reality was a way for plantation owners to receive additional federal funding for the maintenance of their property and enterprise?
Southern Man chucked that Jim Crow two-step right out the door. There is no other way to explain it except inequality among the races as the law of the land. That's right. Inequality and oppression as a way of life. Make no mistake this is the cornerstone of "culture" the South wants to pass down.
This is why we are still fighting about monuments to losers. This is why we are fighting about flying the Confederate Battle flag in front of government buildings. And yes, this is why we are still fighting about institutionalized lynching as a "way of life." All part of a culture worth passing down. Hatred, racism, inequality, violence and degradation all approved by the Creator as part of the grand scheme and eternal glory.
And who were these supposed defenders of all that is just and right? According to the CSC, only white men were able to vote and best population estimates of the time put that number at roughly 1.5 million persons out of a total of 11 million inhabitants subject to the Confederacy and all its inhumanity as a way of life.
Did I mention the Civil War only lasted four years? Need I remind you those who fought for the South were traitors and yes, last time I looked they lost? So, why are we still fighting these so-called "culture wars"?
The unfortunate answer is when the "Lost Cause" is finally eradicated from our daily lives, so will the "God-given right" to practice institutionalized hatred, racism, and inequality among all persons as a way of a good and just life, or culture, will be gone with the wind. Do we really have to burn Atlanta to the ground again? I hope not.