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The Spirit that Drove Us to Civil War is Back: The Spirit of the Slave Power Since Slavery

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[This is the fifth entry in the series*]

Patterns tend to persist in cultures over long periods.
Sometimes, when a spirit has seized hold of a society and then driven it into disaster or disgrace, that spirit can be eradicated, or at least exiled into the recesses of the culture. Think of the way that Nazism has been systematically driven out of the German nation and the German psyche.
Nothing remotely like this happened with the spirit that took possession of the South and led it into catastrophic defeat in the Civil War. 

If it was an evil spirit that inflamed a region to fight to preserve slavery, neither the South nor the nation as a whole ever decided to drive that spirit out.

The South has continued to honor that spirit, and its fateful consequences. My wife went to Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. Forrest was a main founder of the Ku Klux Klan. The other high school nearby was named for Jefferson Davis, who attempted to prolong the war after Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses Grant. The South continues to form its identity around the spirit that animated it during that era of destruction.

After the Civil War, the same spirit that had roused the South to fight to preserve its "peculiar institution" -- to defend both its existence and Southern claims about its rightness -- continued to dictate the region' - -s values, claiming that the "Lost Cause" was noble and that its defenders were the good guys.

After the war and Reconstruction, that spirit created the Jim Crow South. It was a regime that wielded power through racial terror and oppression, forming the heart of the region's politics and power relations for the better part of a century.  Although slavery had been abolished, its basic dynamics were resurrected, with blacks exploited and kept in humiliating and degrading conditions. 
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The spirit that created Jim Crow also exploited the brokenness of its devotees, socializing a great many people from the dominant race to be ready to punish the most vulnerable group of people in their midst if any of them stepped out of line.  It built into the culture a readiness to punish a black man for looking the wrong way at a white woman, or for failing to show sufficient deference to whites, or for objecting to second-class citizenship (e.g. wanting the right to vote). 

The regime ended when the nation as a whole rallied -- - "nearly a century after the Civil War -- to enforce equal protection under the law.  Segregation was dismantled.

But that spirit is back.

Since the end of segregation, the once solidly Democratic South has become the base of a Republican Party that preys on the most vulnerable and expresses contempt (behind closed doors) for the 47 percent ( of whom it has a most distorted picture). It hosts a political culture that is more likely to blame and belittle the downtrodden than to want to help them. It's a culture that would rather children go hungry than that the richest should pay a cent more.

This Republican culture, moreover, seeks to impose its dominance in the name of morality, while really being driven by an insistence on power and control.  And like the earlier ante-bellum expression of this spirit, today's version presents itself as the bastion of Christian values.

In these ways, the spirit expressing itself through today's Republican Party resembles what worked for decades to defend human slavery as right and good and just. It is a spirit that drives people into dominating and exploiting others, and covering it over with hypocrisy.


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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. He is the author of various books including The Parable of the Tribes: The (more...)

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AndyThis is not to somehow  denigrate your co... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Jul 30, 2013 at 3:43:27 PM
What I have in mind when I speak of "spirit" is so... by Andrew Schmookler on Tuesday, Jul 30, 2013 at 6:02:22 PM
It may facilitate this discussion to consider that... by George Flower on Tuesday, Jul 30, 2013 at 9:13:26 PM
I didn't notice your comment, Mr. Flower, before r... by Andrew Schmookler on Tuesday, Jul 30, 2013 at 10:27:52 PM
apart of New Orleans Catholics all  the other... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Jul 30, 2013 at 6:40:21 PM
character::a person's conduct as spirit::the behav... by Andrew Schmookler on Tuesday, Jul 30, 2013 at 7:57:26 PM
and the spirit dwells in a majority of the Roberts... by George Flower on Tuesday, Jul 30, 2013 at 8:46:34 PM
In 1800 the "religious right" of that time accused... by E. J. N. on Tuesday, Jul 30, 2013 at 8:47:07 PM
Andy, All due respect (and I d... by Herbert Calhoun on Tuesday, Jul 30, 2013 at 9:19:05 PM
Thanks for your comments about THE PARABLE OF THE ... by Andrew Schmookler on Tuesday, Jul 30, 2013 at 10:11:24 PM
click herebut  before was Mark Twain... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 at 8:42:37 AM
I believe slavery is inherent in the system. ... by Burl Hall on Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 at 11:09:12 AM
I wonder what you mean by "the system."  Was ... by Andrew Schmookler on Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 at 11:40:35 AM
I welcome more grounded terms than spirit or chara... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 at 6:59:18 PM
"Shortly after the dedication [of the Statue of Li... by Daniel Geery on Thursday, Aug 1, 2013 at 11:04:48 AM