Here are some rambling thoughts I put together to the discussion below--mainly between dain and dale--about the Southern identity politics. My hope and even fear is that this is the stuff that inspires spirited discussion:
Well, Dale has said a lot, but here’s one thing I agree with: You can love the South while hating slavery and thinking the Confederacy was really a stupid idea. (See Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, Shelby Foote, William Faulkner, and even numerous African-American intellectuals, musicians, artists, and ordinary untalented people like you and me. O’Connor’s and Percy’s work criticizes northern universalism from the perspective of southern particularism and vice versa; the result was genuinely Thomist realism that transcended the limitations of the North’s abstract individualism and the South’s honorable, unjust, excessively manly self-assertion.)
Let me add, to fuel the fire, that the much-maligned Alexander Stephens of Georgia REALLY thought the Confederacy was a dumb idea (and so opposed secession and sat out most of the war sulking), and the subtext of his notorious corner-stone defense of slavery was ambiguously negative concerning the actual behavior of southern masters. He said what he thought had to be said to make sense of both the South’s "peculiar institution" and the Confederacy claim to a distinctive purpose and to bolster racial paternalism with racial naturalism to humanize as far as possible the master’s treatment of the slave. (God and nature made the African inferior or incapable of self-government but still human; the duty of the white master is to protect--not ruthlessly exploit--him etc.) And his post-war (exceedingly borng) constitutionalist defense of the Confederacy was all about saving Southern pride; he knew he was abstracting from slavery as a cause. Now I don’t doubt for a moment that Stephens genuinely adhered to scientific racism--a monstrous mixture of modern materialism and aristocratic pride--but he was not a monster. He really was deeply troubled by and aimed to mitigate the most brutal excesses of the institution of slavery; he "paternalistically" didn’t participate in that brutality himself, although he did have lots of slaves. I write not to make Stephens anyone’s hero but only to add that, given the horribly, blindly unjust intellectual climate of his time and place, even this strange and brilliant man did give us something, at least, to admire. And don’t forget: He was Lincoln’s good friend.