City-States Rights, Part I A (FREE)

A version of this was presented some years ago at a meeting in Charleston, South Carolina

Cities like Charleston and Siena and Edinburgh are a great deal like nations: They have their own identity celebrated in songs and stories and a peculiar slant on history.  These real cities are not merely aggregations of aliens who "dwell together, in Eliot's phrase, "to make money from each other."  They are enduring communities, with a common  faith and identity, that have a future only because they have a past. I have come to see that in this respect Charleston has been throughout its history a great deal more like an ancient Greek city-state—Athens or Thebes—than it is like those American cities that sprung up out of nowhere, Iowa City or Lincoln, Nebraska.

After the American Revolution there were many such cities—Boston, New York, and Philadelphia,  Baltimore and Charleston--but by the early 20th century cities and states in the North were being swamped by immigration and losing their identity.  This is reflected in the lack of folklore, historic sense, and popular non-commercial songs celebrating, say, Illinois or the city of Cleveland.  A few major cities do have pop songs like “Chicago, Chicago” or “I left my heart in San Francisco”—a nauseating jingle, as San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen pointed out in the 1960's, that had nothing to do with the gritty city of docks and ethnic neighborhoods on the bay.  It is so unreal it might have been composed by the Chamber of Commerce.  There were  sweet old songs about the Wabash River but not much about Indianapolis—other than an accidental rhyme for a Roger Miller song.  Southern states and cities have a wide variety of songs from "San Antonio Rose" to "Carolina Moon" and "Georgia on My Mind."

Southern cities also have jokes that function a lot like ethnic jokes.   "Why are Charlestonians like the Chinese?  Both eat rice and worship their ancestors," and  "Charleston is the place where the Ashley and the Cooper meet to form the Atlantic Ocean."

People from a real place can be recognized from the way they dress.  Even Charleston liberals are Charlestonian.  The leftist comic, Stephen Colbert, was once asked how he learned to play the super straight guy.  Answer: “I am a super straight guy. I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, and I am perfectly comfortable in blue blazers, khaki pants, Brooks Brothers suits and regimental striped ties. It’s just genetic. I love a cocktail party with completely vacuous conversation, because I grew up in it.”

One of the most famous Charleston jokes was the observation of Judge James Louis Petigru on the eve of the War between the States: South Carolina is too small to be a nation and too large to be a lunatic asylum.  Though Judge Pettigru is invariably described as a Unionist, his devotion to the Union was based only on practical considerations: He was a loyal South Carolinian who disliked Yankees as heartily as the next man, though he did number several honorable Northern Whigs among his friends and allies.

The War for Southern Independence otherwise known as the War of Northern Aggression had little to do with slavery and still less to do with the Constitution.  But whatever the motives of some otherwise honorable northern men who supported it, the results were catastrophic and not just for the South.  The Constitution was overthrown, the richest and most cultivated parts of what had been a Union  but was now an Empire were looted, subjugated, and made a wasteland; the Northeast was quickly taken over by the crooked politicians and war profiteers who came to power in the administrations of Lincoln and Grant.  By the late 1860’s, a young Henry Adams—himself a representative of the family that had worked tirelessly for two generations to bring on the War—was entirely disgusted with the country that emerged from the conflict.

Since 1865 the federal government has steadily increased its powers, not merely at the expense of the Constitution, the states, and the people generally, but also at the particular expense of all the little local identities, North and South, East and West, that gave American life its savor.  Basil Gildersleeve, who was both a great scholar and a southern patriot who rode with Jeb Stuart, eventually came to appreciate Yankee particularism.  Commenting on the extravagant forms of local pride in Vermont, he said: “Take away this local patriotism and you take out all the color that is left in American life.”

I have compared Charleston with an Greek polis, and to keep up the comparison, the Union victory and 140 years of Reconstruction have had a similar effect as the Macedonian conquest of Greece.  Southern people are still peculiar—more polite, more religious, more traditional than their fellow-citizens from the North, who often complain of southern hypocrisy, by which they mean the simple courtesy of not always telling people what you really think of them.  And no place, even today, is more peculiar than Charleston, once you get away from the house tours and the shops on Market Street.

But Charleston is, nonetheless, doomed by the same forces that have destroyed New York and Boston and Philadelphia.  There are many aspects to the campaign to eliminate local identity.  Immigration, both from foreign countries to the US and from North to South is an important one, but so is the increasing power of the Federal Courts to overrule the wishes of a local community.  Perhaps even more important is the significance of mass media, mass education, mass culture, and mass marketing through Walmart and McDonalds.  These are all phases in an ongoing movement that 100 years ago we would have called nationalization but is now more properly called globalization.

There are many people so-called Conservatives who believe that Free Trade policies are on balance the most efficient approach to market regulation.  Perhaps they are probably right, though it is a comparatively trivial question.  What Conservative one-worlders fail to see are two facts of life: First, that there is not now and has never been anything remotely resembling Free Trade.  Someone always controls the market and our choice is whether to exercise that control here in the United States or turn it over to international regulators in the pay of trans-national corporations.  Second, that the underlying ideology of Free Trade is based on the assumption that—to quote a former Wall Street Journal editor's observation to free-trader Peter Brimelow—“the nation state is finished.”  The late Robert Bartley’s approach to this question might have been torn from the pages of the Communist Manifesto, in which Marx and Engels predicted that the phase of the bourgeois nation state would lead ultimately to a process of globalization that would insure economic justice for poor nations.

Cultural regions and local communities are always the source of genuine creativity, but nation-states today are at the very least an unpleasant necessity as a bulwark against globalization.  Some of them, like Britain and Spain, were forged in the crucible of historical struggles; others, such as Brazil and the old United States, are the products of successful secession movements.  Too many of them—Germany, Italy, the United States forged by Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR, and most of the states of central Europe—are little more than lava-flows that spilled out of the volcano of the French Revolution and hardened into lines drawn arbitrarily on a map.  These artificial constructions may serve to halt the juggernaut rushing toward world government, but they can rarely command our unthinking allegiance.

In defiance of all the powerful agencies of globalization—mass schooling, mass media, mass culture—historic identities survive in Europe and North America, as anyone traveling from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the Mississippi Delta is made aware. Sicilians are still Sicilians, not yet the generic Italians that government schools and RAI broadcasts are trying to fabricate.  Even the Flemings of Belgium—a people who arguably have never had their own state—are obstreperous in demanding either total local autonomy or even independence from a Belgian state controlled by vicious Euro-trash.

As Paul Belien’s book showed in his fine book,  A Throne in Brussels,  Belgium was a state created for no better purpose than to destroy nationality.  The French-speaking Walloons had staged a coup to detach Belgium from the Netherlands and annex it to France.  When this failed because of British and Austrian opposition, Belgium was created as a tri-ethnic state—Dutch, French, German.  As one of the leaders of the “Belgian” revolutionaries observed, ”As I was unable to give Belgium to France, I gave it to the devil.”  Belien summarizes the fateful train of events:

“In spite of the protestations of King Willem, the Powers accepted the creation of  new kingdom under Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.  Hence a totally new state came into existence.  The revolutionaries who had created it had wanted it to be absorbed as quickly as possible into France.  The majority of the people living in its territory had wanted to remain part of the Netherlands.  Being an artificial construction and not a nation, Belgium never became a fatherland that was loved by its people.  Some loved France, some loved the Netherlands, others loved their local Flemish or Walloon communities, but no one loved Belgium.  Those who defended Belgium did so because it was their gravy train.  One of these was Leopold.”

In order to unify his diverse kingdom, Willem of Orange had already established a national fund for building up the industry and commerce of the south, and Leopold quickly turned this Société Générale into a cash cow for himself and his loyal supporters.  With a huge percentage of the national economy under his control, Leopold was able to buy up the political opposition, buy off the hostile press, and silence critics in the Catholic Church, all but Mgr. Joachim Pecci, sent as papal nuncio in 1843.  Pecci was finally summoned back to Italy to become, in turn, Bishop of Perugia and Pope Leo XIII.

Leopold’s reign illustrates three themes of Belgian history.  First, an unremitting campaign to eliminate or minimize the Flemish language and identity; second, a political system, dominated by the king, based on coercion and corruption; third, a result that flows from the combination of the first two, the development of a state without a nation.

Throughout the unfortunate history of the country, a cynical and greedy monarchy and its lackeys in the ruling class have manipulated ethnic resentments to establish a power base that has enabled them to loot the country of its wealth.  Belgian history in the past hundred years is a hair-raising story of greed, violence, corruption, and perversion.  From the brutal and genocidal occupation of the Congo to more recent sex scandals involving the kidnapping, rape, and torture of young women and girls (all caught on film for the viewing pleasure of well-paying perverts).  When investigators began to put together a coherent picture of a prostitution-pornography ring with connections in very high places, the investigation was suppressed.

Belgium, Belien concludes, is in every respects the model for a new Europe that prates of democracy while establishing a centralized dictatorship, defends ethnic minorities while destroying real nations, and, while professing the highest ideals of humanity, sinks into a sewer of vicious depravity.

To understand what the Masters of the Universe have in store for us, we need only look first at Belgium, as Europe in miniature and then take into account what has happened with the European Union.  Originating in multi-lateral agreements on coal and steel, the European Economic community was turned first into a free trade zone, then as the European Union, into a weak federal state with a common currency that is on the eve of transforming itself into something like the victorious American Union of 1865.

I won’t bore you with the details of this transition—they bore even me, but let us look briefly at some recent quite typical activities of the EU.  In first few weeks of November, there were literally thousands of news stories on actions taken by the EU: Launched a Russian rocket to Venus, overruled a German tax on single cigarettes (lower tax for singles not completely made) but did approve a 250 million euro loan program for small businesses in Germany.  The EU also began an investigation of financing of electrical plants in Hungary, vowed to play an important role in settling Kosovo—entirely to the advantage of the Muslim Albanian terrorists--and warned the governments of Serbia and Montenegro to change their ways. Paddy Ashdown was, in the meantime, pressuring Bosnia-Hercegovina  to integrate Serbs, Croats, Muslims into one big very unhappy family before EU membership could be considered.

Staying on the political front, the EU also admonished Ukraine and warned Belarus about its failures to practice democracy--to which the leadership in Belarus complained of the EU’s strategy of using its financial and diplomatic clout—denial of visas, trading sanctions, etc., --in order to manage a country directly and bypass its leadership.  On the cultural front, the EU’s feminist agenda was being pushed aggressively: "I would like to see the EU setting the international example in the fight for gender equality," Glenys Kinnock, British Socialist member of the European Parliament (MEP) told delegates at the 'Owning Development: Promoting Gender Equality in New Modalities and Partnerships' held in Brussels (Nov. 9).  Meanwhile in Britain, EU feminists complained that though Angela Merkel would soon be head of state in Germany, and the German bureaucracy was stuffed with “strong, outspoken women”—imagine what that means in Germany—“yet there are very few high-level female managers in German business.”

The European Union today has more power over the lives of Europeans than the US government had over Americans 100 years ago.  Its agricultural policies dictate the price structures that have destroyed the cider industry in England and virtually eliminated the Irish potato from Irish tables; its cultural and social policies are a systematic and effective plan to destroy the civilization of the West; and its religious perspective, including the refusal to mention Christianity in the constitution, is designed to finish the Jihad begun by the frustrated Islamic youths who only want to burn their own neighborhoods so that they can breathe the freer, richer air of the 8th arrondissment.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

9 Responses

  1. John Seiler says:

    Although I’m a non-interventionist, I’ll make an exception for U.S. troops in Europe — 97,000 remain, more than Napoleon’s 65,000 at Austerlitz — to march on Brussels and dismantle the EU. Then to march on Berlin and Rome to dismantle the monstrous unified states created 1861-71, returning their people to the freedom of small and medium kingdoms, duchies and republics. No one would be killed because the Europeans are so weak. Then our troops could come home.

  2. Allen Wilson says:

    And boot out the invaders.

  3. Dot says:

    Well, I did want to go to Charleston for the next symposium, if there will be one. But I don’t think I’m good enough for this class of Southerner. I just may pollute the environment. My Southern friends mean more to me than this class of one-upmanship.

  4. Harry Colin says:

    I think – certainly I hope – that the last desperate pull of subsidiarity in historic regions in Spain and Italy, along with newer and tougher politicians in Hungary, Poland and Austria may be enough to topple the rotting corpse of the EU. Of course, like Dracula, the Beast of Brussels is already dead; it is undead, and must be destroyed.

    97,000 US troops in Europe – 25 years after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact – is ridiculous; that is 96, 998 more than necessary. (They could leave two in a rented apartment above some Schnell Imbuss in Fulda to give lectures on Cold War

  5. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I don’t quite know what Dot means by “oneupmanship.” This was a talk about the relevance of the city-state phenomenon, given in Charleston perhaps 10 years ago, and therefore using Charleston as an example of an American urban community that functioned, to some extent, as a polis or commune. If I wished to write something on the merciless destruction of Charleston by a Union army that displayed no respect for man or God in its ruthless campaign of revenge, I should have done so, but that is not the point of this piece.

  6. Dot says:

    It’s just that the way of life seemed so much better in the South whereas the many immigrants who came here from other countries and settled in N.E., N.J. and N.Y. apparently spoiled things for the pure bloods. My grandparents were among them. They apparently contributed to the “elimination of identity” of the North East. I will say this much. Those many different nationalities contributed to the amalgamation of that part of the country. From research to education to medicine we were superior. When we moved here my children were a full year ahead of their classmates.

  7. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I still don’t at all understand Dot’s argument. She appears to be claiming, though I hardly think it is possible, that while non-British immigrants who came to the US enriched the country and have a right to be proud of their accomplishments, people descended from those who actually pioneered this country, defended it in battle, and translated their own and their ancestors’ experience into social and political institutions that made this a desirable place for immigrants to come, had best keep quiet. I suppose we should then be condemning Anglo-American privilege. As an American with both sorts of ancestors–British and non-British–I do not understand this animosity which is both regional and ethnic. To me bigotry is bigotry, to whomever it is directed, but the worst bigotry is not that of people who were happy being left along and then find themselves overwhelmed by aliens:” It is the bigotry of aliens who do not wish to assimilate to the Anglo-American society that gave them a hope but insist on complaining. Dot seems both too intelligent and too kind to be walking in such footsteps, but her rhetoric could give a mistaken impression.

    My old boss, Leopold Tyrmand–a Polish Jew who came to the US in the 1970’s–used to say that there are two Americas represented by Plymouth Rock and Ellis Island. (I frequently reminded him that Jamestown precedes Plymouth Rock and is a much better model.) So long as Ellis Island Americans are grateful to the older stock that made this country possible, they are not a destructive influence. But when second and third generation Irish and Jewish Americans start whining about how they have suffered or boasting of their accomplishments, they become subversive.

    So far as I know, my Scottish ancestors never made it into South Carolina from NC, where they lived, and many hightailed it out of America and went to Prince Edward Island. Does that mean I should hate the snooty Low Country SC planters who helped lead the Revolution and whose children and grandchildren were dispossessed? I am grateful to the Rutledges and Laurenses and Pinckneys, as I am grateful to Jefferson and the Randolphs and even to John Adams and James Otis and the Warrens.

    Many immigrants have made positive contributions to American society; others have been quite destructive, but I have grown a bit tired of hearing Irish relatives moaning about WASPS and the potato famine. Clyde Wilson has a fondness for Greek Americans because they love this country and rarely whine about how they’ve been mistreated. The Italians don’t generally waste too much time on whining, though Italo-American directors like Coppola, Cimino, and Scorsese almost always have an anti-Wasp subtext that I find bewildering. The fact that none of these WASP hating Sicilians takes the trouble to learn Italian is really all one has to know. Funnily, I once saw Robert de Niro–“il divino Bob” as he is always called in the Italian gutter press–interviewed on Italian TV. Would not try even a word in his ancestral language. Of course, De Niro being half Irish has the genetic right to be perverse.

    If I moved to Italy, as I have often thought of doing, I should not waste a lot of time telling them how we did things better in the good old USofA or complaining of how as a non-Italian I have to pay higher prices for everything.

  8. Dot says:

    Whose whining? I never claimed what you interpreted from my comment. But I’m not going to continue this argument. I am no fool.

  9. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I believe I made it very clear I was not attributing these sentiments to Dot but only showing the context in which they would inevitably interpreted.

    “She appears to be claiming, though I hardly think it is possible…”


    “Dot seems both too intelligent and too kind to be walking in such footsteps, but her rhetoric could give a mistaken impression.”