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Why Is Bill Kristol Embracing Confederate Nostalgia?

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tags: Confederate flag, Bill Kristol



Bill Kristol is one of America’s most famous neo-cons, but it is increasingly uncertain whether “neo-con” stands for neoconservative or neo-Confederate. As the political battle over the Confederate flag has heated up, Kristol has been curiously ambivalent. In theory he supports the removal of the flag from public buildings, but he has qualified this position with so many provisos about honoring the heritage of the slave South that it is not clear where his sympathies actually stand.

On The Weekly Standard’s podcast, Kristol confessed that he had “mixed feelings” about the issue. “There were admirable people … who led the Confederacy,” Kristol said on the podcast. “They were Americans.” Kristol went on to express fear of a “jihad” to impugn the memory of figures like General Robert E. Lee. And on Twitter, he fulminated:

Kristol’s tender feelings toward the memory of Lee, echoed in the New York Times by fellow neo-con David Brooks, is striking because historically neoconservatives have been suspicious of, and even hostile to, Southern traditionalism. American conservatism, like American culture as a whole, is divided along regional lines. Neoconservatism has largely been a Northeast affair (with a few stray seeds sprouting up in California, like the late sociologist James Q. Wilson). Whereas neoconservatives find their roots in Cold War liberalism (which exalted the national state) and Straussian political philosophy (which upholds Abraham Lincoln as a supreme American leader), Dixie conservatives are an outgrowth of the Southern Agrarian tradition, which prizes regional diversity.

As paleo-conservative scholars Paul Gottfried and Thomas Fleming noted in their 1988 book The Conservative Movement, neoconservatives tend to equate “the Southern agrarian point of view” with “anti-Semitism and rural reaction.” (Gottfried and Fleming add that these imputations are made “quite unfairly in most cases.”)

 In the 1979 book Breaking Ranks, a volume in his unending sequence of memoirs, the formative neoconservative intellectual Norman Podhoretz carefully distinguished his politics from that of the Southern Agrarians whom he described as being nostalgic for “the South of the great plantations, the South of the old mansions, and, it is worth bearing in mind, the South of Negro slavery.” The political philosopher Allan Bloom, in his seminal Straussian polemic The Closing of the American Mind (1987), also expressed disgust for the Southern intellectual tradition, whose “hostility to ‘mass society’ with its technology, its money-grubbing way of life, egoistic individuals and concomitant destruction of community, organic and rooted, appealed to malcontents of all political colorations.” Writing in Commentary in 1985, Joseph Epstein expressed relief that “the Southern part of the United States has risen and shaken off its medieval torpor and, if you happen to have been black, cruelty.” ...

Read entire article at The New Republic


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