Worshiping the Confederacy is about white supremacy — even the Nazis thought so

Roundup
tags: fascism, Confederate Monuments



Nina Silber is professor of history and American studies at Boston University and the author of a forthcoming book on the fight over Civil War memory in the New Deal era.

Although President Trump, among others, has tried to draw a sharp line between the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who descended upon Charlottesville and the presumably “very fine people” who were “also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee,” the line between fascism and worship of the Confederacy is not so clear. In fact, it never has been.

The Nazi order praised the Old South, seeing in Dixie a society that exalted white leadership and kept African Americans on the lowest rungs of the social order. Recognizing this, civil rights activists have worked for over 80 years to expose those links and to show how the veneration of the Old South can provide a nurturing climate for hateful, fascist ideologies. Revealing the deep connections between Nazi and Confederate beliefs became essential to proving that Southern racial practices were, in fact, clearly antithetical to American values like democracy and equality.

Nazis themselves saw a clear line from their own beliefs to those of the antebellum South. Although Hitler took a decidedly negative view of the United States, attributing its economic woes in the 1930s to its allegedly degraded racial stock, he believed a Confederate victory would have set the country on a proper course. “The beginnings of a great new social order based on the principle of slavery and inequality,” he explained in 1933 to a fellow Nazi leader, “were destroyed” when the South lost the Civil War. Northern victory ushered a “corrupt caste of tradesmen” into power and hastened the condition of racial “decay.” It also destroyed the possibility that a “truly great America” ruled “by a real Herren-class” might have emerged, casting aside “all the falsities of liberty and equality.”

As Hitler rose to power in Germany, his sympathizers in the United States likewise found the building blocks for a home-grown fascist system in the Southern slave society. The founder of an explicitly violent anti-Semitic organization, the Black Legion, explained that he based his organization on Southern chivalry and other “principles of the Old South” before the Civil War.

Most white Southerners, of course, were not fans of Adolf Hitler, and many enthusiastically joined the fight against Nazi Germany when the United States declared war in 1941. Yet fighting Nazis in no way meant a repudiation of white supremacy. In fact, one white Louisiana man affirmed his region’s patriotism by insisting that being “under the rule of these boneheaded n‑‑‑‑‑s here” would be as bad as living under Hitler. Another white Southerner saw defeat against Nazism as better than “victory with Negro equality and black domination.” ...




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