Monday, April 02, 2018

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2018, April 2: "Regime change" in the South

I'm going to engage in some detail with Forrest's Nabor's arguments in his book, From Oligarchy to Republicanism (2017) .

But I do want to say something about his enthusiasm for "regime change," a term he repeatedly uses in an approving sense for Reconstruction. He even implicitly criticizes Andrew Jackson in the Nullification Controversy for not sending in federal troops to South Carolina instead of resolving the dispute nonviolently while clearly upholding the Constitution and federal supremacy.

Those of us who have been engaging the pseudohistorical arguments of the Lost Cause for a while have learned to be alert for formulations that may be read as sidelining slavery as the central cause of the Civil War. As anyone who has been doing so is aware, all those arguments wind up back with slavery at the center when you pull on the string a bit.

Nabor argues, "The ultimate goal of the Republican Party, the war, and Reconstruction was the same, to preserve and advance republicanism as the American founders understood it and wished it to be advanced, against its natural, existential enemy, oligarchy." He's making an argument that the North was a republic, while the future Confederate states developed into the political form of oligarchy. This argument doesn't have to lead to ignoring slavery's overriding importance. It can even clarify important aspects of the process that lead to civil war.

It even sounds like an approach that Bernie Sanders and his fans might favor. But sometimes progressive-sounding formulations are deceptive. And given the disasters of American foreign policy adventures aimed at regime change in recent years (and no so recent ones) his stress on "regime change" as the Northern project for the South should raise an eyebrow.

Earlier this year, Nabor published a prowar piece at The Federalist website, Why The Time Is Ripe For A Free Iran 01/11/2018. He writes:
If different types of political regimes are plants that grow, the soil is the people, and different types of soil determine what kind of political regime is possible in a given nation. The rise, prosperity, or fall of a political regime depends upon the customs and temper of a people that have developed since time immemorial and are not easily changed.
This doesn't exactly sound like the kind of classical liberal republicanism that he enthusiastically promotes in his book. But it does have relevance to his version of the story of Reconstruction that he tells.

In retrospect, he says such was not the case in Iraq in 2003, i.e., the "customs and people" being ready, so it was a mistake to expect that. Although it's not clear in this article that he's criticizing the invasion rather than the neocon's starry-eyed expectations for exporting democracy in a kind of liberal-Trosksyist war of liberation.

But in the case of Iran 2018, Nabors is promoting the same kind of cheery expectations that pre-Iraq War neocons were pushing back then. And apparently with similar disdain for any realistic evaluation of the actual prospects:
In Iran the case is different. Iranians are a great people well prepared for successful self-government and boast one of the oldest and most refined cultures in human history. Unlike Sunni Islam, their version of Islam always recognized the separation of mosque and state, a tradition that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini struggled to reconcile with his goal of preserving Islamic purity in modernity. He finally abandoned the attempt, but that tradition is still remembered by Shiites and has shaped the political principles that they hold today.

As American statesman James Madison observed, respect for religious liberty is the key to all liberties, and the Iranian people seem to be prepared to adopt this principle. Among Islamic peoples the Iranians are generally the least fundamentalist, the most highly educated, and more disposed to treat women equally. Iranian women are professors, lawyers, doctors, engineers, and in business.

The practice of some crucial democratic norms in Iran is 100 years old. Although Reza Shah forced the Iranian people to adopt western customs in the twentieth century, those customs have held. Although the ayatollahs established an Islamic Republic in 1979, the republican part was genuine. The all-powerful mullahs do superintend the government but to a considerable degree, their constitution has generally permitted the Iranian people to participate in political institutions.
Iraq was known in 2003 as having the most equal status for women among Arab countries and the professions were open to women there, too. This sounds for all the world like the pre-Iraq War propaganda that the Iraqi people would welcome us as liberators and be dancing in the streets, or whatever.

Let's just say it's doubtful that Iranians will welcome a war on their country by the US and whatever allies are foolish enough to jump on that bandwagon, no matter who much empty propaganda about bringing the blessings of liberty and democracy and equal rights for women to the Iranian people, who of course we love, and we will only be bombing and killings them because we love them them and care about their freedom so very much. Especially the Trump Administration. Especially if we're doing so in concert with Israel and Saudi Arabia, the latter of which is one of those backward Sunni nations Nabors gripes about.

Remember how prior to 2001, "Shiite" was a synonym for religious fanaticism in the American political vocabulary? Times change, I guess.

Nabors also expects great benefits. Do I need to recall the great benefits we were sure to get from a liberated Iraq? He writes, "That revolution in Iranian government could change the world vastly for the better. Around the globe, the positive influence of a friendly, self-governing Iran would be substituted for the negative influence of hostile mullahs. The change is badly needed." (my emphasis)

And he endorses the Trotskyist-neoconservative insistance on regime change wars. For the good of the conquered liberated, of course:
Most important of all, the Iranian people would finally regain possession of their liberty that we in the West believe all people have a right to enjoy. Western support, indifference, or opposition to this aim for which they are now bravely staking their lives is a grave moral question as well as one that involves our self-interest. [my emphasis]
Nabors in that article seems to be ignoring his own warning in the book:
Regime change is unpredictable and often produces deformed progeny rather than the perfect offspring prayed for. ... .. even the destruction of the worst regime and the attempt to substitute a better regime can release unanticipated new evils into society that had been held in abeyance by the old regime.
And he immediately links that comparison to the disastrous results of the Iraq War. He draws this parallel to Reconstruction, "regime change in the South after the Civil War precipitated appalling violence upon black Americans." (my emphasis) One who has paid attention to the various forms in which neo-Confederate assumptions pop up in surprising place, it's significant that in that formulation, Nabors puts the blame for the terrorist violence practiced again African-Americans in the South during Reconstruction on the regime change imposed by the victorious federal government. Nabors seeming preference for the "republican" form over government over the oligarchical one in the book can apparently functions as a two-edged blade.

He continues, "The prior oligarchic regime [in the South before the Civil War] created the hatreds and rivalries, but while the oligarchy ruled, it restrained mass violence. When the armies of the North brought republican government to the South, they not only liberated the people, but also unchained those latent hatreds." It's not at all difficult to read that statement as saying the slaveowners kept white racist violence under control, but the damnyankees came and messed everything up and they're to blame for all the beatings, lynchings, and murders of black people that occurred after the war. He even cites neoconservative philosophical guru Leo Strauss to support part of that position.

In later posts, I'll look more at how he develops that line of argument.

Referring to Nabors' contemporary political advocacy, or war advocacy in this case, isn't meant as an ad hominem dismissal of his historical argument.

But neo-Confederate pseudohistory is also highly ideological, and for many it forms part of a worldview that is very much focused on current goals. So it's worth keeping in mind.

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