Southerners’ Warmongering and Ron Paul’s Low Vote Totals in the South

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It would seem that Ron Paul should do well in the Southern primaries. Southerners have traditionally supported a limited role for the federal government and have called for the federal government to actually follow the Tenth Amendment. Part of that tradition was affirming the sovereignty of the states over against federal power. Even though federal power might be used for a good end, it could also be used for evil ends, and to avoid tyranny, the federal government should not be allowed to force states to follow mandates beyond its constitutional authority. Federal moves to take power from the states or to force them to remain in the federal union by force were considered unconstitutional, from the War between the States to the de facto regional dictatorships of federal judges over certain states in the South which has been forced on them since the early 1970s. Ron Paul is the only candidate who truly accepts a strictly limited role of the federal government in the lives of the states. Yet Mr. Paul does far better in the North than he does in the South and finds himself in single digits in most Southern primaries.

Sadly, Southerners have been aggressive in supporting wars. War is the most effective way for the federal government to gain unwarranted power over the people and over the states. During the War between the States, Mr. Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus and shut down newspapers that opposed administration policy. In World War I, opponents of the war were arrested and jailed. World War II massively increased federal spending and created a military-industrial complex that de facto runs the country. Federal spending–and federal incursion into the authority of the states–has increased at a rapid pace since the Second World War. The freedom and rights of the states that traditional Southerners valued, preserved for a time by Supreme Court rulings in the 1870s and by the decline of Reconstruction, have been weakened by every U.S. military intervention that bloats the federal government even more than before.

Yet Southerners have been rabidly pro-war, strongly supporting the Vietnam War (except for a few brave Southern legislators) long after the rest of the country had begun to question its wisdom. The 1968 American Independent Party vice-presidential candidate was Air Force General Curtis LeMay, who led the saturation bombing against Japanese cities in World War II and supported the use of nuclear weapons against North Vietnam as a way to ensure a South Vietnamese and American victory. The irony of a states rights party with a vice-presidential candidate who was part of the vast federal military-industrial complex who supported the anti-Christian murder of civilians was lost on Southerners. Southerners were gung ho about Desert Storm and were among the most aggressive in supporting the second Iraq War. Now Southerners are among the most rabid supporters of war with Iran, and Southern Evangelicals’ blind support for Israel’s aggressiveness is well known. A combination of Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christianity, Premillenial theology, and Scotch-Irish aggressiveness have combined to push Southerners into supporting wars that erode the very freedom from the federal government that they seek. Thus most Southerners support warmongering Neoconservatives such as Mr. Romney, Mr. Gingrich, or Mr. Santorum rather than supporting the true candidate for freedom from federal tyranny, Ron Paul.

Only if conservative Southerners overcome their lust for war will they be able to support a candidate, such as Ron Paul, who would work to reverse the power of the federal government over the states.

Patriotism vs. Nationalism

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I’m not convinced that patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels, but I am convinced that nationalism is. Many people confuse the two terms; they are not synonymous. “Patriotism” refers to a love for one’s land; its focus is local, its concern the actual community of real persons who live and work in a particular space. True patriotism extends from the individual to his family first, then outward to friends, associates, and the wider community. Involvement in the wider community, in the civitas, involves being a good “citizen.” The old public square as a meeting place for members of the local community exemplifies true patriotism at its best; members of this community would fight to the death to defend their family and their land from enemies.

Nationalism, on the other hand, focuses on the nation-state as an abstract entity. The nation easily approaches being an object of worship, as it was in Nazi Germany, the old Soviet Union, and in Maoist China. Sometimes this worship was combined with traditional religions; witness the support of many German Christian Churches for Hitler (except the Confessing Church) or the close ties between the Shinto religion and Imperial Japan. A close connection to the military is assumed, and nationalists love military parades, pomp and circumstance. The philosopher Martin Heidegger was such a nationalist, and this led to his joining the Nazi party for a time. Nationalists love wars and empire, and spreading the “values of the nation-state” to other countries.

Americans are just as guilty of nationalism. Ironically, one of the most nationalistic parts of the United States is the American South. The South tried to rebel against a modern nation-state in the name of patriotism, to defend their land (yes, I realize there were other causes of the War Between the States, so no red herrings, please), especially after Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers. The nation-state subjugated the South and forced it to live under military government to reconstruct it in the image of the industrial North. The South should oppose nationalism and wars of conquest. Yet Southerners condemned Georgia Senator Sam Nunn for voting against the first Gulf War, and voters turned him out of office. Southerners were among the most supportive voices in favor of the unjust Iraq War. Southern churches are filled with American flags, as if a flag of any nation state belongs in a sanctuary devoted to God. The idea of patriotism as loving the land, as based in real communities, needs to be revived not just in the South, but in all the states. Let’s not confuse a Nazi or Soviet-like devotion to the nation-state with true patriotism.