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Gone with the Dream

14-04-2011, 14:00

 

 

A HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS AGO, America entered its bloodiest war that was to last four years. The Civil War between the North and the South cost the lives of 620,000 people, which is almost equal to total American losses in all other wars. Two out of every three Americans have ancestors that went through the crucible of this war - a figure that debunks the myth that the USA has become great thanks to subsequent fertile strata of immigrants.

In our imagination, America has always hastened to live. However, this myth about U.S. history is not universal, either. At one point, the Russian conservative K. Leontiev, seeing that Russia was about to step from the patriarchal world to the world of technological, financial and industrial revolution, exclaimed, "Freeze, Russia!" The southern U.S. states tried to do something similar - not as a motto but as a program -and issued a challenge to the time.

In the mid-19th century, the "Insular South" turned into a closed and, the differences between states notwithstanding, almost unified country whose inhabitants were marked by the dream of preserving patriarchal-ism and tranquility. The latter was understood in the literal sense. As the American historian Daniel Boorstin wrote, the outer manifestation of the lack of change was the tranquility that came over the South. When a Northerner, used to city bustle, traveled in the peaceful rural South, he got the impression that nothing was going on. The Southerners objected that this was not true. They explained that, although no boisterous changes take place in the South, there was a process of quiet and natural growth. God tills the soil without noise. Southern cities, fearing fires, smoke, and noise, passed ordinances forbidding the use of steam engines.

If we were to compare the rural U.S. South with agrarian Russia,

small American farmers continued to employ the primitive hoe on the eve of the Civil War, while the plow became only slowly accepted. In Russia, serfdom had mostly ceased to resemble a primitive form of slavery by that time, and serfs and landowners were separated by class rather than ethnic barriers. In contrast, race differences were highly apparent in the US South. The North wanted to open up the domestic American market to new goods and implement its project on modernizing the USA. The South, unwilling to accept the spirit of change and progress, stood in its way.

Interestingly enough, the U.S. Civil War and the abolishment of serfdom in Russia took place the same year. Slavery was a hindrance to the development of the country, yet it was not the main cause of war. Racial intolerance continued to shake America, including the Northern states, over much of its subsequent history. Nevertheless, slavery was a powerful ideological stigma that the North put on the entire history of the Confederate movement. Yet the gist of the conflict lay elsewhere. The North wanted a new life, new relations, and new morals and rejected the patriarchal isolationism of the South, which threatened to "freeze" the country and prevent it from implementing its historical mission of becoming a great power.

The counter-ideology of Southerners lay in the thesis that every plantation owner was, in essence, a patriarch. He was not only the head of the household but also the father of a large family that included black slaves. In their eyes, the state had supremacy only in external affairs, while internal affairs - support, education, and allocation of duties between members of the family - were the business of its head. A Southerner believed that his happiness depended on the government of his state rather than the government of the nation. As the Federalist Fisher Ames wrote, the Southerner's country was his state rather than the nation. He looked at other states with indifference and even hate, fear, and antipathy. The moreindividual and unusual is the state, the greater its local patriotism.

The great American William Faulkner, whose work grew out of the U.S. South, expressed like no one else the spirit of American individualism that goes in his characters as far as maverick and unpredictable socio-phobia. "We as individuals..." wrote Faulkner in one of his letters. It should be said that the vanquished South continued to be a major subterranean force that formed the American national character.

Today, the descendants of the most famous Northern and Southern participants of the war continue to wage serious battles. The great-great-grandson of General Grant believes in the threat of "Neo-Confederate ideology" and indignantly rejects the assertions of "new Southerners" that the South fought for the rights and independence of states 150 years ago rather than for slavery and that it had the legal and moral right to secede.

Grant's descendant believes that the Confederate flag should be forbidden. He says that it is tantamount to the Nazi flag for him. Nevertheless, he recognizes that his great-great-grandfather was unable to restore the South after it was destroyed by the North and assure the equal rights of white and black Americans. Still, it is quite dubious that General Grant would have approved of his grandson's single-sex marriage and his ardent public support of the rights of sexual minorities.

At the same time, the grandson of the Confederate leader Jefferson Davis asserts with similar conviction that only ignorance prevents modern Americans from recognizing the noble motives of Southerners in the Civil War. According to him, Southerners want to tell the whole world that they are successors to their forefathers' honor and share faith in their values. These values include the protection of state rights. Most Southerners uphold traditional family values and are against abortions and sex minorities.

Historic reconciliation seems still a long way off. As Davis, Jr., noted, dozens of museums and organizations categorically rejected the initiative of large-scale celebrations of the 200th birthday of his famous ancestor in 2008. Even Mississippi, Davis' native state, refused to support this project. It is no coincidence that the colorful Southerner Faulkner was widely acclaimed in Europe but virtually unknown in America even after the publication of most of his masterpieces. He gained recognition in his homeland only after receiving the Nobel Prize in 1949.

A hundred and fifty years ago, the dream of progress and the dream of the patriarchal world came together in America in a bloody collision that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. If these dreams are still alive in mankind, they have become virtually indistinguishable...

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