PM Orbán: “Statues are being toppled, conditions are deplorable and there are gang wars on the beautiful streets of small towns in civilized Western European countries. I look at the countries advising us how to conduct our lives properly and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry” pic.twitter.com/96XjCB0xT0— Remix News & Views (@RMXnews) June 19, 2020
Colin Woodard, Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood
Colin Woodard’s new book Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood is a timely book about American Nationalism.
We spent years here dissecting his previous book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. This book is about the story of America and what unites those cultures. Is America an Anglo-Saxon-led White ethnostate, OR, a liberal democracy?
Woodard sees this struggle to define the American nation commencing in the 1830s. He skips over the American Founding. The Founding Fathers created a federal republic. He argues that no one really knew what the United States was at the time and that the Union created by the Founding Fathers was held together for a generation by the common experience of the American Revolution.
For some reason, Woodard chose to tell the story of this clash between liberalism and ethnonationalism by zeroing in on the century that elapsed between 1830 and 1930. He uses the lives of five men who he identifies as key players in shaping these two competing narratives – George Bancroft, William Gilmore Simms, Frederick Douglass, Frederick Jackson Turner and Woodrow Wilson – to illustrate it. The book runs from George Bancroft becoming imbued with early 19th century European liberal idealism while studying abroad in Germany before returning to the United States through the victory of ethnonationalism with the rise of the Second Klan and the Immigration Act of 1924 in the Roaring Twenties. It is followed by an epilogue that leaps over the collapse of the ethnonationalist consensus in the post-World War II era and ends with Donald Trump’s election as president and us marching in Charlottesville.
While there is a lot that I agree with in this book and I grasp what Woodard is trying to do here, I ultimately found the book unsatisfying because it clips both the beginning and the end of the story. There is no justification for skipping over the Founding and the Early Republic and the post-World War II era. This clash between liberalism and ethnonationalism did not begin in the 1830s with Bancroft and Simms. It certainly didn’t end when FDR was elected president. Woodard himself acknowledges in the end that this “battle over America’s soul hasn’t ended” and that “perhaps it never will.”
It is vital to back up to the Founding and the Early Republic which is the true beginning of this clash over how to define Americanism. It is epitomized by the life of Thomas Jefferson who was simultaneously a liberal republican and a white supremacist. The Founding Fathers created a White Republic:
Is this a group of men who had almost nothing in common?
No, the American Revolution could not have been fought and won if there was nothing across the colonies that united the people who became “Americans.” We have a very clear idea of what those things were too: White identity, English culture, Protestantism and republicanism. While they disagreed among themselves about any number of issues, those the were key components of a core American identity.
William Gilmore Simms did not come up with the idea that America was a “White Man’s Country” or a “White homeland.” This was the mainstream consensus in the United States outside of New England until the War Between the States. In 1860, only five states recognized black citizenship: Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island. Blacks had lost citizenship in Pennsylvania in 1838. There was no such thing as American birthright citizenship until the Reconstruction era.
The government of the entity called the United States that the Founding Fathers created was justified on the basis of liberal principles in the Declaration of Independence (this was not seen as a point of great significance at the time), but its structure was a mix of republicanism and inherited English and colonial traditions. Such as it existed, the American nation that was bestowed with this form of government had the aforementioned characteristics. Both liberalism and democracy were something that came later in the 19th century. The idea that America is a “liberal democracy” didn’t exist until the 20th century.
The White Republic was a federal republic with liberal features. American citizenship was derived from state citizenship. The states were sovereign and because there was no such thing as equality except between the states there was vast room for any number of illiberal structures in our society. Federalism isn’t a feature of liberalism. The Union victory in the War Between the States changed all of that. Henceforth, we became a liberal republic with a sovereign national government empowered to enforce “equality” against the states and between individuals. The dispute over slavery clouded the more essential one over sovereignty. Eric Foner explains all of this in his new book The Second Founding. It was the Confederacy that fought to conserve the White Republic of the Founders which they essentially copied. The Union fought for a more progressive vision of “a new birth of freedom.”
The basic sweep of Woodard’s book is true. There was a burst of liberalism after the American Revolution which swept away slavery in the East. This was followed by a much longer period of reaction and conservatism. The War Between the States was also followed by a burst liberalism which abolished slavery and created the liberal republic. This was followed by a much longer period of reaction and conservatism that lasted through the 1920s. The Second World War and Cold War were a sustained burst of liberalism that decoupled Americanism from White identity, English culture and Christianity. Now, a third wave of reaction and conservatism has begun. These historical cycles are described in depth in Philip Klinker and Rogers Smith’s book The Unsteady March: The Rise and Decline of Racial Equality in America.
Colin Woodard is a man of what future historians will recognize in hindsight was the Third Republic. It was the one created by FDR and his successors in the aftermath of World War II. It is the one where America has become the seat of a global empire of “liberal democracy” that now extends across the entire Western world. America’s cultural, racial and political problems are now globalized:
The Third Republic is coming to an end.
America’s global empire is coming to an end.
The post-World War II era is finally coming to an end.
Colin Woodard’s Union is essentially a tirade against ethnonationalism. Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust have defined the last 75 years. It is not ethnonationalism, however, that is bringing the Third Republic to an end. Rather, it is anti-racism, wokeness and national disintegration, which are the insoluble problems of our time and which were the “solution” to the previous crisis that brought about the end of the Second Republic. The last 75 years have been characterized by a weakening of ethnic identity.
In the eyes of Colin Woodard, ethnonationalism is “dark” even though most of the world’s stable and prosperous nations are based on ethnonationalism, not liberal civic nationalism. There is nothing that is necessarily “dark” about a love of home and place, family, faith, and folk or King and Country. In fact, a hatred and alienation from those things can lead to a place just as a “dark.” The Chinese know better than anyone and have come to regret their own Cultural Revolution.
These aren’t scenes out of Mao Zedong’s China in the 1960s and 1970s. They are scenes from the current pitiful state of our own country … from sea to shining sea:
Rioters topple Junipero Serra statue in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. pic.twitter.com/SN1UBy3pg1— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) June 20, 2020
Statue of Francis Scott Key, slave owner and author of the Star Spangled Banner, toppled in San Francisco. pic.twitter.com/uhoSNVmoEn— Shane Bauer (@shane_bauer) June 20, 2020
The mob practicing lynching a White effigy in North Carolina. Nothing to worry about people. This is normal. pic.twitter.com/QBNFCC6Sn5— Shhh! Groyper (@ShhGroyp) June 20, 2020
Not once did my husband and I ever hear of Sutter enslaving natives while on our many field trips in school over the years. They hate him because he's white, and helped colonize the Sacramento area. Plain and simple. https://t.co/XaIbWDzcYh— Grace Shelby (@GraceShelby_2) June 20, 2020
Antifa rioters on Sandy Blvd. in Portland draped a US flag over a George Washington statue & set it on fire. They then toppled the statue. “Genocidal colonist” & “f— cops” are sprayed on monument. Rioters have began to build another autonomous zone nearby. pic.twitter.com/TrZkhPK9zp— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) June 19, 2020
Confirmed: Thomas Jefferson statue at Jefferson High School in Portland torn down. You can see the words “Slave Owner” painted where it once stood. #statue #LiveOnK2 #portlandprotest pic.twitter.com/bt5zdBgkQO— Genevieve Reaume (@GenevieveReaume) June 15, 2020
Walked through the University of Oregon campus today. Both the Pioneer Father & Pioneer Mother statues were torn down by activists on Saturday evening. This linked article provides good background on why their removal was overdue. https://t.co/a4vAVyPHf4 pic.twitter.com/E6JB074yVy— ?? Salina ?? (@Salina_Duncan_P) June 15, 2020
All that’s left of Francis Scott Key here in Golden Gate Park pic.twitter.com/2Gf0qjTgys— Joe Rivano Barros (@jrivanob) June 20, 2020
Nearby statue of Ulysses S. Grant is also toppled. He was a slave owner too, before the Civil War. That’s three for three this night. pic.twitter.com/Lyw6bXeOTO— Joe Rivano Barros (@jrivanob) June 20, 2020
Aside from impoverishing our civic landscape and rending the already tattered social fabric of our country in a time of intense polarization in the midst of a national emergency that has killed 120,000 Americans, what is the larger meaning of scenes like this? What does it say about us?
This is an attack of White America as a whole. It is an attack on Western civilization as a whole. It is not merely an attack on, say, racist Southern slaveowners. Scenes like this are playing out across the West as mobs of vandals ransack our culture, history, memory and identity as a people. Their goal is to further degrade, demoralize, humiliate, erase and silence us in our own countries.
This is why ethnonationalism is going to come back in the West, not to dominate or to be taken to extremes like in the World Wars, but to revitalize our nations, stabilize them and to restore a proper balance in our civilization. The post-World War II project of basing the West on nothing but self hatred and liberal idealism has failed. Plainly, extreme liberalism cannot stand on its own two legs.
And so, the battle for “America’s soul” continues. The South must rise again, but this time to redeem not only itself, but the rest of Heritage America and Western civilization too.