Scholars Nostalgic for the Old South Study the Virtues of Secession, Quietly

Historians in the News

In 1991, Donald W. Livingston threw a party—well, a conference—and nobody showed up.

It was during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and Mr. Livingston, a professor of philosophy at Emory University and raised in South Carolina, decided there should be more thoughtful discourse on the topic of secession.

A political philosopher who specializes in David Hume, he searched philosophy papers published since 1940 and turned up only seven on the matter of secession from federal unions: five reviews of a book and two articles about Quebec. Thinking he had the market to himself, he held a conference on secession at the 1991 meeting of the American Philosophical Association.

He was right about his share of the market. Nobody came.

Today Mr. Livingston is drawing slightly larger crowds. In 2003 he started the Abbeville Institute, named after the South Carolina birthplace of John C. Calhoun, seventh vice president of the United States and a forceful advocate of slavery and states' rights. The institute now has 64 associated scholars from various colleges and disciplines. They gather to discuss topics about the South that they feel are misrepresented in today's classrooms. Feeling a chilly reception to its ideas—officials of the Southern Poverty Law Center say its work borders on white supremacy—the group has kept a low profile. Mr. Livingston's own department chair, as well as a number of Emory history professors, say they have never heard of it.

That may change. Mr. Livingston says Abbeville is, for the first time, publicly advertising a conference, on secession and nullification—the refusal of states to recognize given federal laws within their territory—to be held February 4 to 7 in Charleston, S.C. It is the institute's eighth annual conference. The group does not endorse secession but does say the idea has moral and political validity...

... The other Abbeville scholars teach history, philosophy, economics, and literature at institutions including Emory, the University of South Carolina, the University of Georgia, and the University of Virginia. They write books with titles like Defending Dixie: Essays in Southern History and Culture (published by the Foundation for American Education, a nonprofit group "dedicated to the preservation of American culture and learning") and The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, his Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (Prima). They say the institute's work, although academic in nature, is really about values. Its members study the South in search of a history of piety, humility, and manners. The scholars acknowledge a history of bigotry and slavery, but they focus primarily on what they say are the positive aspects of Southern history and culture...

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Randll Reese Besch - 12/9/2009

Many fancy themselves scholars too and follow the procedures and with finely written pieces of fiction to support their way of seeing the world. They are related to the pseudo scientists of Creationism fame.

States Rights is the code for succession of the Dixiecrats for their own white, christian male dominated country. Especially now that for the first time one of their own aren't in charge of the USA. Even though Obama is doing their bidding like defending John Yu right now who wanted to ignore the laws that came out of the last world war in 1947.

Steve Robert Schels - 12/9/2009

Neo-Confederates masquerading as scholars. How big of them to acknowledge a "history of bigotry and slavery"! Do they have any other choice if they want to be taken even remotely seriously? So far outside the mainstream of historical interpretation that they are about as scholarly as phrenologists are reputable scientists.