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A Bigot's Guide to American History

A new history of America questions everything from civil rights to the legality of the 14th Amendment. According to the NY Times it's the 8th most popular book in America.
 
 
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A longer version of this article first appeared on the American Constitution Society's blog and at IsThatLegal?.

Regnery Publishing has a bestseller in Thomas E. Woods' " Politically Incorrect Guide to American History."

Regnery also happened to be the publisher of Michelle Malkin's "In Defense of Internment," which, you may recall, was an effort to demonstrate that everything most people know about one tragic episode in American history – the Japanese American internment – is leftist garbage.

Woods' "Politically Incorrect" resembles Malkin's, except that its thesis is that everything most people know about all of American history is leftist garbage.

No small task, Dr. Woods manages to do it in just 246 pages. With wide margins, no less!

Having read the book myself, I can say with confidence that Jeffrey A. Tucker provides a pretty good summary in his fawning "review":

[Woods] shows that the Constitution was never understood to be a permanent union, that big government caused the North-South conflict, that Alexander Hamilton's friends were racketeers, that the U.S. didn't have to enter WW I, that Hoover was a big government conservative, that FDR made the Depression worse, that there really were Communists in government, that FDR made WW II inevitable, that the Marshall Plan was a flop, that the Civil Rights movement increased social conflict and made everyone worse off, that unions made workers poorer, that the 80s weren't really the decade of greed, that Clinton's wars were aggressive and avoidable, and that his personal issues were a major distraction from the real problems of the 1990s.

Actually, now that I think of it, his summary does omit a few key points: the kindliness and magnanimity of Puritan settlers toward American Indians, the true conservatism of the American Revolution, the lawfulness of Southern secession, the North's responsibility for the post-Civil-War "black codes" in the South, the illegality of the 14th Amendment, the fact that the provisions of the Bill of Rights don't actually apply to the states, and some other stuff. Lots of other stuff too, actually. The book essentially stitches together every moment in American history that might conceivably be given a free-market, states'-rights spin and any piece of scholarship that might be used (or misused) to support it, adds to it a liberal sprinkling of Democrat-hero-bashing, and seasons the mix with a defense of the white majority against suspicions of racial cruelty or oppression.

The book recently stood at #17 on the New York Times Bestseller List (although a piece in the NY Times the other day reported that it had moved as high as #8). Adulatory interviews with MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, Fox's Hannity and Colmes, and a variety of talk radio shows have undoubtedly helped it climb the charts. The book is said to be selling like hotcakes on college campuses, where its eye-catching format and its simplistic prose are undoubtedly appealing.

Reviews are starting to appear. Adam Cohen of The New York Times hated it ("a checklist of arch-conservative talking points" . . . "full of dubious assertions, small and large"); but "reviewers" from a variety of right wing websites, like this guy, on the other hand, loved it ("Woods is not wedded to some benighted leftist worldview; he eschews the required subservience to the moribund tenets of socialism.").

But I'd like to take a step back and ask: Where is this all heading? Where, with his states'-rights, absolutist-free-market, isolationist, white-defending retelling of American history is Dr. Woods taking us?

There's no need to guess about it: he is taking us to the League of the South, a Southern nationalist organization of which Dr. Woods boasts he is a founding member. (The organization was formed in 1994; Dr. Woods was present at the founding and became a member of the League's Membership Committee, which was headed by the League's President, Michael Hill.) Dr. Woods has been a frequent contributor to the League's journal, The Southern Patriot, and has spoken at its conventions. (He has also spoken at similar meetings of other organizations, like the Southern Historical Conference and Bonnie Blue Ball, where he shared the lectern with speakers on the "Myths and Realities of American Slavery" and "Why Slaves Fought for Their South.")

What is the "League of the South" that Dr. Woods helped create?

According to its manifesto, it is a group that exists to combat the "[n]ational uniformity [that] 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." (Dr. Woods himself obtained degrees from Harvard and Columbia, by the way.)

Woods' League favors "a return to constitutional republicanism and true federalism, or if that should prove unattainable, secession." (emphasis added) Considering the fallout from the last attempt at secession, what, it seems fair to ask, is Dr. Woods' organization's view on political violence? Are they planning to work within the existing political system in order to accomplish their separatist goals?

According to the League of the South's FAQ, their answer is:

"Yes, as far as that will take us ." (emphasis added)

How comforting!

One wonders what their plan is for beyond where the political system takes them!

Maybe these excerpts from the League's instructions for starting a local chapter give us a hint of what they might have in mind:

15. Form a "Shooting Club" to exercise your 2nd Amendment rights and to learn gun safety and proficiency.

38. Develop a phone tree and e-mail list to enhance local communications between officers and members. In cases where the transfer of information is sensitive, establish a secure means of communication.

40. Develop emergency rendezvous points throughout the County in case of natural disasters, etc. We want to be able to help our neighbors during a crisis.

41. Secure detailed topographic maps (including all back roads) of your County to familiarize yourself with the "lay of the land." This resource will be invaluable should your Emergency Response Team have to react to a natural disaster.

Bunkers, anyone?

And who can we expect so see huddled in those League-of-the-South bunkers? Why, Christian white folk, of course – which is what you'd expect, given that the League's "ultimate goal . . . is the restoration of Christian liberty to the South."

You see, according to the FAQ, while Dr. Woods' organization

"ha[s] no religious requirement for membership, as an organisation we do recognise the legacy of Christianity and the universal sovereignty of the triune God. Most League members are Christians, and we base our movement on Christian principles. Trinitarian Christianity cannot be separated or removed from Southern society or culture without both ceasing to be Southern."

And while Christianity is a necessary condition for Dr. Woods' organization's concern, it is not sufficient. You also need to be "Anglo-Celtic":

The League seeks to protect the historic Anglo-Celtic core culture of the South because the Scots, Irish, Welsh, and English have given Dixie its unique institutions and civilisation. Should the Christian, Anglo-Celtic core be displaced, then the South would cease to be recognisable to us and our progeny. We must maintain this all-important link to our European heritage from which we have drawn our inspiration. Anglo-Celtic Southerners and their European cousins have a duty to protect that which our ancestors bequeathed us. If we will not promote our own interests, no one will do it for us.

You'll no doubt be comforted to know that, according to one of its position papers, Dr. Woods' League of the South: "[R]ecognise[s] an obligation to treat Christian blacks (slave and free) as brothers in Christ, and to recognise their common humanity (original sin, all created in God's image, etc.). Moreover, all (except those convicted of felonious offenses) should have their lives, liberties, and property protected by the civil magistrate."

But that doesn't mean, the position paper insists, that the League has to:

"[S]ubscribe to the flawed Jacobin notion of egalitarianism, nor does it mean that white Southerners should give control over their civilisation and its institutions to another race, whether it be native blacks or Hispanic immigrants. Nowhere, outside of liberal dogma, is any nation called upon to commit cultural and ethnic suicide."

"[L]et us always speak the truth about race," the League's position paper intones, "no matter how uncomfortable it may be or how politically incorrect it is. . . . [W]e should speak the unvarnished truth and continue to work positively for the interests of our own people. And of course this means protecting ourselves when necessary, individually and collectively."

"The unvarnished truth."

This, I guess, would include Dr. Woods':

  • View that: "[t]he real watershed from which we can trace many of the destructive trends that continue to ravage our civilization today was the defeat of the Confederate States of America in 1865."

  • Insistence that nineteenth century slavery abolitionists were "not noble crusaders whose one flaw was a tendency toward extremism, but utterly reprehensible agitators (emphasis added) who put metaphysical abstractions ahead of prudence, charity, and rationality."
  • Endorsement (in an essay appealingly entitled "Christendom's Last Stand") of the view that whereas those who sought the abolition of slavery were "atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, [and] jacobins," those who owned slaves were "friends of order and regulated freedom."
  • View that the desegregation and integration of the races in America were at best " allegedly desirable social outcome[s]."
  • Horror at the "moral anarchy" in the notion that some who opposed the enslavement of blacks also opposed the unequal treatment of women. ("It is worth recalling," says Dr. Woods, that a good number of anti-slavery feminists took the next step and compared the status of the slave to that of the married woman. In fairness, a great many abolitionists were horrified by this line of argument, but having made their bed, they were now being forced to sleep in it.")
  • Claim that opposition to state-sponsored display of the Confederate battle flag is grounded in "ignorant blather about slavery."
  • Mocking of Unitarianism for "turning Jesus Christ into a divine Barney the Dinosaur."
  • Insistence that the September 11 attacks were "bound to" happen to us because of "the barbarism of recent American foreign policy" in "attempt[ing] the hubristic enterprise of running the world – and not even on Christian principles."

For Dr. Woods' League of the South, the NAACP, you see, is an "enemy" with which the League of the South is "at war." According to the League's President, Dr. Michael Hill, League members "know that the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world are nothing but vile race hustlers and that 'institutional racism' is merely an excuse to mask black failure and to justify lawless and aggressive behavior against 'white oppressors.' . . . [T]he leftist agenda on race is pretty clear," says Woods' colleague. "The question is, what are we white traditionalists going to do about it?"

What Thomas Woods is doing about it is writing books. "As far as that will take him," anyway.

Allow me to anticipate one objection to what I have written. Some will undoubtedly say that it's not fair to call Woods' book into question on the basis primarily of his other writings, and on the basis of the positions of a private organization that he helped found and has assisted. And you know what? If he were a physicist who wrote a book about quarks and string theory, I'd agree that his views (and those of his organization) on politics and race wouldn't really be fair game.

But there is a short, direct line from the rabid anti-statism and wholesale civil rights revisionism of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History," to the agenda of the League of the South and its ilk.

And you don't have to take my word for it. Take Dr. Woods' own say-so, on a bulletin board of the Free State Project (which advocates that 20,000 "liberty-loving" people move to New Hampshire to transform its its government into a libertarian ideal):

"Thanks to those who have spoken on behalf of the book. And I agree completely with what has been said here: the book is being pitched to precisely those who need it most, namely the neocon-influenced right-wing-radio-listening masses. Perhaps it might help draw them back to antistatism. We can hope."

Indeed they can. With an eager and sycophantic right-wing media machine to bring Woods' words to an enormous audience, the Old South has reason for optimism. Or, as "Bro Jim," a good Southern Patriot at the Confederate Flag Forum, recently put it,

"Hey, we win some and we lose some! Overall, H[annity] & C[olmes] have done some positives for us like Dr. Thomas Woods' appearance and the Jackie Duty dress flap."

"Overall," said Bro Jim, "I see more of a little bitty up trend for us."

I don't know about Bro Jim, but I don't call #8 on the New York Times Bestseller List "a little bitty up trend."

Links to sources referred to in this story can be found in the original.

Eric L. Muller is George R. Ward Professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law.