28 Feb Ten Questions for Michael Cushman of Southern Nationalist Network
Publisher’s Note: I first become acquainted with Michael’s work several years ago with his Southern Nationalist Network site. Here was a young man who elegantly and powerfully defended the Southern tradition. He spoke with an evident deep reading of the history that is the true south and not the superficial and specious nonsense that passes for cultural observation of the South in the popular media. I was intrigued by his comprehensive apprehension of the most subtle cadences and reflections that makes the South…southern. He simply gets it right. I have also indulged Michael in retaining many of the English spelling conventions he so adores when he crafts the essay or thoughtful article. Enjoy. -BB
What is SNN?
Southern Nationalist Network is a website and multi-media effort which promotes Southern identity and independence. We have made hundreds of videos (which have nearly a million views on YouTube) and a couple dozen podcast interviews (this is a project we started fairly recently). We’ve organized and recorded perhaps a dozen or so secession demonstrations and marches in South Carolina and Georgia. We have a community of several hundred people on Facebook that we started about a year ago. And we also sell stickers, wristbands and T-shirts which promote our message.
Since this article is addressed to an audience of liberty-loving people, it should be stated that we use the term ‘nationalist’ to refer to our cultural and ethnic identity. The nationalism promoted on SNN is anti-authoritarian and de-centralist. Most of the people connected with the site have been greatly influenced by libertarian-thinking. Anti-statist intellectuals such as Dr Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Dr Ralph Raico, Dr Murray Rothbard and others have had a lot of influence in Southern circles in recent years. One contribution that we are proud of is our promotion of pro-liberty ideas and Austrian Economics within the Southern movement. This effort is made relatively easy for us as Southern nationalists given the theory and influence of Southern decentralists like Thomas Jefferson and proto-Austrian Southerners like John C Calhoun. This historic basis as well as the work of Dr Thomas DiLorenzo and others at the Mises Institute and the outreach of the late Dr Rothbard have forged a positive relationship between the pro-South and pro-liberty movements.
I started a site similar to SNN when I was living in Europe. It began after I made the first pro-South video in my tiny apartment in Madrid. Soon I was making videos on a regular basis and felt like I needed a place where they could be grouped together. This led to the creation of a blog which quickly became a full-blown site. After several years of doing all I could from Europe, I moved back to my native South Carolina where it was much easier to cover events, interview activists and organize efforts. SNN was borne about a year and a half ago as a new and more ambitious version of the old site. Our goal is make the message of Southern nationalism as accessible as possible and present it using all the modern resources available. Thankfully, I’ve gotten a lot of support from people who have responded well to the site. We’ve had orders from all over the world, some generous donations and many people have helped out with articles, podcast interviews, editing the site or working on the technical side of things. Without everyone’s help the site wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is today.
What does the culture and history of the South and the Confederacy have to do with today?
The Confederacy lasted for only a short period of time in Southern history. As Dr Michael Hill, the president of the League of the South, has stated, ‘For the last four centuries we have been becoming Southerners.’ We have always been culturally distinct from Northeasterners and other North American cultural and ethnic groups. We were shaped by different settlement patterns, a different climate and terrain as well as different ideological and social influences. That said, the 1860s were obviously very important for Southern identity. In South Carolina it is estimated that a quarter of the men of military age were killed by the Federal Government. Nearly all our major towns were burned to the ground (Sherman sent some forces to burn my town down but a small Southern cavalry detachment saved the town). Our State which had been among the wealthiest societies in the world in 1860 was reduced to a conquered and impoverished land – all because our ancestors attempted to practice what Thomas Jefferson referred to in the Declaration of Independence as the ‘unalienable’ right of self-determination. To understand the South today one must understand this history. Since that time one social experiment after another has been forced upon the people of the South. Much of our identity today grew out of this experience of resisting outside manipulation and exploitation of our society.
Some people refer to SNN as a ‘neo-Confederate’ site. I don’t see it that way. We do publish many stories which relate in one way or another to the 1860s (especially given that this part of our heritage is constantly under attack), but our goal is not to bring back the government of the Confederate States of America. As Southern nationalists we look at the full scope of Southern history over the four centuries of our existence. We even trace it back beyond this, exploring the Anglo-Celtic origins of Southern culture. The heritage side of things is just one aspect of the site and by no means all we do. The bulk of what we do is try to de-legitimize the US Empire and make our message relevant to people today. But we are inspired by our heritage and the great heroes of our past. It’s impossible not to be inspired by such men of virtue and natural nobility as Robert E Lee, Thomas Jackson and Jefferson Davis. These were men who would have been exceptional in any time and place. Their character and resistance to outside domination will hopefully continue to inspire future generations of Southerners far into the distant future.
Around the world there is a movement towards self-determination and de-cen0tralisation. The centralized, one-shoe-fits-all approach to the problems we face today has obviously failed. The colossal government in Washington, DC is probably the best symbol of that failure. Its destructive influence at home and around the globe is a major moral issue of our time and one that motivates my work. If the US Empire is to be broken up, the most logical basis for a post-USA system to replace the current ‘propositional nation’ is one based on real connections people have with one another. Here in the South we have our own culture, heritage, identity and traditions. We were once a self-governing nation of our own. With the power of Washington, DC removed from our lives, Southerners could again govern themselves and control their own affairs. I see the Southern nationalist movement then as part of a broader, world-wide trend of self-determination, de-centralization and resistance to tyranny.
If I just arrived on Earth and used the mainstream media to envision and learn about the South, past and present, what would I learn?
Nothing positive. On television and in the movies today Southerners are the butts of all jokes. We are the one group left in society which it is still politically and socially acceptable to attack. Even in Southern schools children are taught that their ancestors were traitors to America and were evil slave owners. In pop culture Southerners are routinely depicted as toothless, inbred, uneducated, hateful and stupid. This relentless assault on our people, culture, heritage and identity has taken its toll. It is common in the business world for Southerners to hide or eliminate their accent so as to be seen as more ‘intelligent.’ Southern symbols which once were everywhere in Dixie are far fewer these days. So-called ‘civil rights’ groups regularly sue or agitate to eliminate our flags, monuments or other symbols of our identity and heritage from public display. Southern identity in any positive sense is continually down-played or denied. In place of our own identity and tradition we are offered the choice of militant US nationalism (which is ironic since the ‘propositional nation’ is one of the clearest examples in history of a non-nation) or empty universalism that copies the latest pop fads.
The attempt to make the traditional Southerner into a Nazi-like symbol is a relatively new thing. Until the 1960s there was still some respect in American culture for the South despite our history of opposition. When one contemplates the enormous gifts in areas of literature, art, music, sports, political science and military science that the South has given the world the hateful stereotype that has been imposed upon us makes absolutely no sense. For example, imagine the United States or even the world without George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, William Faulkner or Elvis Presley. Imagine the world without such cities as New Orleans, Savannah and Charleston. Imagine American cuisine without Southern cooking. What would be left apart from fast food? This is the irony of America, that despite (or perhaps due to) the North’s urbanization, industry and crowded population, a disproportionate amount of the authentically native culture in the United States comes from the rural areas and small towns of the South.
What do you think is the origin of the animus that comes from contemporary academia and the popular media when it comes to the South? Why is there such naked contempt and hatred?
The crusading spirit of the North combined with Southern resistance to changing Northern values explains a lot of the hatred. If we think of New England and the greater North as a progressive civilisation and the South as a classical civilisation that is a good starting point to understanding an antagonism that could be traced back to the cultural, religious and political roots of conflict which gave rise to the English Civil War. By the early 1800s there was a well organized media campaign in America against Southerners. At that time wealthy Southern planters were the primary targets whereas today it’s poor (especially rural) Southerners who are the main targets. The old cultural and religious issues became more overtly economic as time passed. As linguist MacDonald Aston King writes in his book Yankee Babylon on page 341, ‘During the antebellum period of American history, the North began to fear the South as posing a threat to its commercial interests and general way of life. The North created from his fear an anti-Southern credo which caricatured the South in simple fashion as a land of slaveholding aristocrats.’ Some speakers and pamphleteers in New England openly called for violence against Southerners. People like John Brown put their rhetoric into action, attacking people in Virginia and Missouri. The point is that it’s easy to trace the hatred against the South back to the early days of US history. The political union of competing civilisations was essentially the source of the bitterness. The South has been the most traditional-minded part of the United States and the most resistance to the changing values and ideas that arose in New England. Just like today when it comes to disagreements between the United States and Syria, Iran or whatever country the US media and government claim must be attacked, it’s not enough to merely state one’s disagreement. Rather, the enemy must be demonized and denied his humanity. The struggle must be presented as one between the forces of progress and goodness and those of backwards evilness. We Southerners are all too familiar with this narrative since our symbolic function in the US Empire of today is as the un-progressive, backwards ‘other’ – the foil of the Yankee in the Northern understanding of history.
How do you address the conflation of all things Southern as unfathomable evil?
Anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of attending a US university understands the mentality of the people who hate the South. Ask a sociology professor what she thinks of White men or of Southerners in general. Attend one of her classes and listen to her sneer anytime she speaks of us. Ask anyone in the humanities what they think of the traditional South. Their hostility to us is generally undisguised. I attribute it to the bizarre moral foundation of the Leftist world-view which exists throughout the Western world today. Right-wingers like to cast themselves as moral people but in reality it is the Left that is consumed with morality. Of course, it’s not the traditional morality of the Christian West but rather a strange Christian-replacement theology. In their hierarchy of evil we sit near the pinnacle as the antithesis of all they hold dear. The South, which has resisted every one of the progressive moral crusades in US history, is a symbol of backwardness to them because it refuses to get behind whatever radical fad is being pushed at the moment. As a rooted people who culturally (if not ideologically) reject the universalist and propositional fantasies upon which the US today is built, we are the boogey-men they tell stories about to frighten each other. More readily available than the Boers of South Africa, we can be pointed at and denounced with great self-righteousness. So long as the traditional South persists, we will undoubtedly be the ‘enemy’ of modern America. I for one am proud to be their enemy.
I am proud of my Southern roots and mourn the loss of what would have bifurcated the nation in the nineteenth century into two nations. I discovered during my travels around the world to various hotspots and troubled regions that the Stars and Bars are a global symbol of resistance to tyranny. Why do you think the Confederacy inspires such devotion overseas and so removed from its time in history?
In my experience foreigners generally have a better understanding of US history than do Americans. They generally have a better grasp of the big ideas at play in US politics and society. They can often see our symbols more clearly from a distance than people can here at home. The foreigners I have known understand the Confederate flag to be the symbol of a people who wanted to be independent and boldly resisted invasion. They also understand that it has since been embraced as the cultural symbol of the South. The cultural influence of Southerners through things like rock ‘n roll, NASCAR, country music and Southern cooking has been enormous around the world. Just as the St Andrew’s Cross is the symbol of Scotland, so too is the Southern Cross the symbol of Dixie. I think it’s that simple for most foreigners. If only it were that simple here as well.
How do you address the inevitable racism question?
My most typical reaction these days to this question is to point out that ‘racist’ is simply a slur the Left uses for anyone who disagrees with them. Sadly, even the Establishment Right has embraced this sort of language, often making the charge that ‘The liberals are the real racists!’ I think it has lost much of its power due to attempts to label practically everyone with this term. I look forward to the day when this word no longer holds any power to silence discussion or cause people to cower in fear.
The hypocrisy of the South’s enemies on this issue has been widely exposed by those such as Dr Dilorenzo and Dr Rothbard. Numerous articles and even whole websites have been dedicated to this subject. I doubt I could add anything here to the discussion and would prefer to avoid the appearance of being grouped in with the sort Establishment Rightists mentioned above.
The South is hardly the only society in history to have ever had an economy based in part on slave labour. Most Western societies had slavery at one point or another. Even today slavery continues to thrive in several African countries. Nor is the South the only society to have ever had struggles between ethnic and racial groups. This is quite common in multi-ethnic and multi-racial societies. However, we are not treated as are most societies. When it comes to demonising cultures, we are certainly treated differently than are other societies. I think that history shows this is because the charges support the political goals of the elites. In the name of ‘fighting discrimination’ power can be further centralised in Washington, DC and what local autonomy still survives can be attacked and destroyed. It serves the interest of centralisers and ‘progressives’ to promote the stereotype of Southerners as ‘evil racists.’
My view is that radical de-centralisation is the best answer to the race issue as it is the best answer to most political issues. It is my hope that in a future free South the various historic cultural and ethnic communities can live in harmony by controlling their affairs independently from outside interference or centralised rule. Both forced-segregation and forced-integration can be eliminated, as Dr Hans-Hermann Hoppe wrote about in his great work Democracy – The God that Failed. Conflict can thus be minimised.
Give me a reading list of your top five books that best explain and illustrate why the South is Southern and how that is a civilization to emulate and admire.
MacDonald King Aston’s book Yankee Babylon would be a wonderful starting point for those who want to delve into the great differences at the root of the conflict between the traditional South and modern America. This is not a study of Lincoln’s war or recent political history but rather of the civilizational differences that arose from two distinct cultural and ethnic groups that were unwisely united in a political union.
Southern By the Grace of God by Michael Grissom is a nostalgic look back at the more traditional South of recent memory and a general defence of Southern culture and identity. This book was hugely influential in the birth of the modern Southern nationalist movement.
The South Was Right! By Donald and Ronald Kennedy was also extremely influential in the re-birth of Southern nationalism. The authors were founding members of the League of the South. This book of theirs is a spirited defence of Southern identity and the right of secession as well as an attack against Northern imperialism.
Grady McWhiney’s Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South was another influential book in the re-borne Southern nationalist movement. Unlike other books which tend to focus on the legal or moral right of secession, McWhiney’s book focuses on the ethnic and cultural nature of the South which made it distinct from New England and the Midwest. Southern circles tend to emphasise the enormous contributions of the Ulster-Scots, Scots and other Celtic peoples in building the South.
Jefferson Davis’ The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government is a must-read for those interested in the history of the 1860s from a Southern point of view. As president of the Confederate States, Davis had a perspective on the War unlike that of anyone else. This two-volume set first lays out the Southern position on States’ rights and secession. It then goes chronologically through the events of secession, the formation of the Confederacy and the War which followed. Most interesting to me are the speeches which are included as well as nuggets of insight on the nature of the Southern people and our civilisation. The reader will undoubtedly come away with a better appreciation of these things as well as of the character of Davis himself.
What are your thoughts on the inevitable break-up of these united States and the idea of peaceful secession?
I welcome it. The fall of large, multi-national empires is generally a positive thing. As Robert Barnwell Rhett, ‘The Father of Secession’ and an early Southern nationalist, said in 1860, ‘The Constitution of the United States was an experiment. The experiment consisted in uniting under one government different peoples, living in different climates, and having different pursuits of industry and institutions. …The experiment has failed.’ I think that Rhett’s words are even more obviously true today than they were in 1860. Liberty has been severely curtailed. Massive demographic change is being used as a political and social weapon by elites. US warmongering has become normalised. A more Third World-like social stratification is replacing a once largely middle class society. Political, monetary and economic powers have been highly centralised within a few institutions in that bureaucratic hell-hole on the Potomac. Every aspect of our lives is regulated and most of our activities are recorded and watched carefully by authorities. Beyond these things, the rot of US mass culture is nauseating and unfortunately is being spread around the globe to more healthy societies thanks to the enormous power of the US Empire today. While there is still good to be found in the daily lives of many people or the unique cultures which make up the United States, there is nothing good left about the political system. The sooner it is eliminated and power is de-centralised, the better. It certainly is to be hoped that the elimination of the US Empire can happen peacefully. We do have examples from history of multi-national regimes such as the former Czechoslovakia splitting into their component national parts peacefully. We even have a recent example of a giant, multi-national world power (the former USSR) splitting up in a mostly peaceful manner. So there is hope. Even the most totalitarian empire can be brought down (sometimes peacefully) when enough people reject the legitimacy of the regime. Given the militarisation of US police, the government’s view of ‘the homeland’ as a battlefield and the ever-increasing number of competing groups and violence between these groups here I am not optimistic about the prospects that we can achieve liberty and independence entirely peaceful. However, I work towards that goal every day. The more people who come over to our side and reject the legitimacy of the regime, the better are our prospects for the peaceful elimination of the Empire.
Where is SNN going from here?
In the near future we will continue producing videos, podcasts and articles which advance a pro-South, pro-liberty message. We will cover Southern nationalist, educational and cultural events. We are also working on bringing on board some more writers for the site. We’re also working to organise a video conference (which will be recorded on DVD and put on YouTube as well) with leaders and intellectuals in the Southern movement focusing on the foundations of Southern nationalism. This might take several more months to put together. In the long term our plans are on a grand scale. It is my desire to build a professional-quality video studio (we have been collecting audio and video equipment over the last five years or so but could do much more if better facilities were available). This will allow us to produce a regular video program of the sort that I think will eventually eclipse the pro-Establishment ‘news’ programs on television. My dreams are much bigger than this. SNN is already at the centre of building a modern Southern nationalist movement and taking our message to the people. I see this as a multi-generational project for the survival of Southern people and culture, productive opposition to the US Empire and the eventual establishment of a free and independent Dixie.