Victor David Hanson and the Republican Obsession With Confederate Monuments

Spend enough time among historians in twitter land and you will eventually come across a thread about the Conservative commentator, Dinesh D’Souza. D’Souza comments on a wide range of issues, but he is one of the most vocal proponents of a narrative that seeks to challenge how we think about the evolution of the Republican and Democratic Parties in the twentieth century. The argument goes something like this.

Historians have tended to point to a gradual realignment of African Americans from the Republican to Democratic Party beginning in the 1930s and continuing through the 1960s. In the late 1960s, early 70s the Republican Party refocused efforts on a “Southern Strategy” that sought the support of white southerners in the former states of the Confederacy. That shift helped to solidify the Democratic Party as the party of civil rights and widespread African American support. According to D’Souza this is a myth. I am not going to go into too much detail here, but what you need to know is that according to D’Souza the Democrats have always been the party of white supremacy going back to the antebellum period, through the Civil War and Reconstruction and into the twenty-first century. In short, there was no party realignment. The Republican Party has always been the true political party of civil rights and racial equality.

Needless to say the historical rigor behind these claims is flimsy at best and easily debunked. I recommend Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer’s newly released Fault Lines as well as Leah Wright Rigueur’s The Loneliness of the Black Republican. Historians on twitter have made it a sport to ‘dunk on D’Souza’ in response to these ridiculous claims.

Apart from the obvious historical fallacies contained in such an interpretation, the obvious problem is in explaining why Republicans have overwhelmingly supported not just protecting Confederate monuments, but passing laws preventing local communities from deciding which monuments to maintain and which ones to remove or relocate. Why is the political party that according to D’Souza has always been perfectly aligned with the emancipationist legacy of the Civil War and the commitment to the Radical Republican vision of Reconstruction the same party that wants to preserve monuments erected during the height of the Jim Crow-era that celebrate disunion and a slaveholders’ rebellion?

This obsession with protecting these monuments and memorials was reinforced for me after reading Victor David Hanson’s piece earlier today at National Review. Hanson is a noted Conservative historian and author of The Case For Trump. It’s a poorly argued piece beginning with his failure to distinguish between history and memory/commemoration and his decision to equate the vandalism and removal of Confederate monuments with the destruction of religious monuments by ISIS. Nowhere does Hanson mention that in most localities public conversation has been the order of the day nor does he mention state laws preventing removal in places where monuments/memorials have been vandalized.

But what is truly revealing is that Hanson fails to mention other instances of monument removals that I have no doubt he supports. Perhaps the best example is the destruction of the Saddaam Hussein monument in Baghdad by the United State military. More to the point, I would love to know what Hanson’s thoughts are regarding the often violent destruction of monuments celebrating communist leaders like Lenin and Stalin in former Soviet-bloc countries at the end of the Cold War.

Does Hanson equate these instance of removal and in many cases destruction of monuments with the actions of ISIS? How about the removal and destruction of monuments celebrating the Nazis at the end of the WWII? I suspect I know the answer to this question.

I’ve grown bored and suspicious of the Republican position that the legislation is necessary to protect history. This, of course, is a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose that monuments and memorials serve. They are not history lessons, but representations of what individuals/organizations chose to remember and commemorate about the past.

The commitment to preventing communities from making these crucial decisions must ultimately be understood as reflecting just how far this Republican Party has moved away from the principles that guided Lincoln and the Republicans through the Civil War years.

About the author: Thank you for taking the time to read this post. What next? Scroll down and join the discussion in the comments section. Looking for more Civil War content? You can follow me on Twitter. Check out my forthcoming book, Searching For Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth, which is the first book-length analysis of the black Confederate myth ever published. Pre-order your copy today.

18 comments… add one
  • David Doggett Mar 14, 2019 @ 15:25

    The way to cut through the D’Sousa absurdity is to talk about conservative and liberal ideology, as opposed to superficial party names. The conservative white supremacists were Democrats in the 19th Century, and the radical/liberal abolitionists were Republicans. Now, in the 21st Century, liberals and progressives are Democrats, and conservatives are Republicans, and Klanners and neo-Nazis support the Republican Party. How did that huge change in party ideology happen if there was no Big Switch in the 20th Century? The prima facia evidence proves there was a Big Switch.

    It is not necessary to debunk D’Sousa’s hair splitting about Dems and Repubs 50 years ago when the switch was incomplete and in progress. The prima fascia evidence today proves there was a Big Switch.

    • Erick Hare Mar 15, 2019 @ 16:28

      That is a bit overly simplistic generalization though. The GOP’s general stance on free Enterprise, being able to attain success through hard work and not relying on government or others in society to provide for you (ie the antebellum plantation South) has its roots from the White and Republican parties of 19th century America epitomized by the rail-splitting backcountry lawyer pulling himself up by his own bootstraps himself Abe Lincoln.

      D’Souza and others in conservative circles do have bad blindspots in their narrative and are but simplistic, but in my experience, most reject the Lost Cause Neo-Confederate narrative as a whole. SuchSas where you see videos from PragerU debunking the Lost Cause narrative along with the rest of us.

      • Erick Hare Mar 16, 2019 @ 8:16

        I meant Whig and Republican parties, but autocorrect changed the word to White.

    • Erick Hare Mar 15, 2019 @ 20:26

      Also the top-down societal control which the Democratic party espouses now by promoting Big Government and siding with Big Business like tech giants and Democratic leadership being paid well to speak to financial corporations like Goldman Sachs (ie government-controlled healthcare, public education versus school choice, Welfare and entitlement programs, social security, etc.) is much closer to the top-down societal control of the antebellum slave-holding planter class who maintained strict societal controls across the South on plantations and in Southern society as a whole. Than it is to what the Republican Party espouses now based on tenants and principles established in the party’s founding with Lincoln and others based on individual liberty and equal opportunity to succeed, or fail, on their own merits which was a driving force in the Abolitionist movement.

      So like I said it’s a lot more complicated than just saying “the parties switched” when, in basic terms, major concepts espoused by each party hasn’t changed.

      • Kevin Levin Mar 16, 2019 @ 1:44

        I certainly agree that it is more complicated, but out of curiosity how would you explain the gradual shift of African Americans from the Republican to the Democratic Party midway through the 20th century?

        • Erick Hare Mar 16, 2019 @ 11:51

          There were other factors at play in the 20th century than strictly focusing on Civil Rights issues. For instance the Great Depression forced the majority of Americans to look for solutions to the Stock Market collapse that occurred at the end of the 1920s a majority of Americans went to the Democratic side because the crash happened under Hoover it’s why FDR had the four-term presidency he did. A lot of people never went back to the Republicans.

          Also the deep Dixiecrat South in the Civil Rights era was the party of George Wallace they didn’t support Nixon. The Republican party didn’t actually take a majority of congressional seats in the South until 1994 under Newt Gingrich about 20 to 30 years after the Republicans allegedly used the Southern strategy coming out of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. None of these facts fit the narrative that the parties switched platforms or ideals.

          The primary mistake I think the GOP has made is what you have outlined here, in short defending aspects of the Lost Cause Neo-Confederate mythology to preserve history when what needs to be more clearly defined is it’s really to preserve, as a reminder, the skewed revisionist Lost Cause commemoration of the war and era to keep Americans from repeating the mistakes of our past.

          Other than that though I see too many holes in the “parties switched sides” and it’s the “sins of America” as a whole narrative. That diminishes the faults of the Democrats and the actions the GOP took to end slavery and fight for civil rights and equality for all. I still haven’t seen where the DNC has taken responsibility for it’s party’s actions in the past instead it has been diffused as “America’s sins” which isn’t historically accurate. It’s not simply a racial issue that is clear cut because there are more Americans who have ancestors who fought to end Slavery and oppression than who fought to preserve it. Unfortunately that is not recognized or celebrated as much as it should be.

          Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of other issues with the GOP as well, but the GOP never really has been a party that championed racial division of operated in racial terms as a whole. Historically the DNC’s history has much more of that. The GOP more often default to what’s best for Americans and America as a whole which has its class in what they prioritize as best for America, but this narrative is too faulty to be taken seriously in my opinion.

          • Kevin Levin Mar 16, 2019 @ 14:30

            I appreciate the added detail. I didn’t intend for this post to be a comprehensive examination of the evolution of both political parties, which is why I linked to books for further reading.

            • Matt McKeon Mar 16, 2019 @ 17:57

              Its just the GOP that increasingly relies on a base racist white people.

              And works for the agenda of rich people. And all the blather by the above GOP apologist doesn’t change that.

              If Lincoln was the current Republican he would have to end the Gettysburg Address by fervently promising that government by the richman, of the richman and for the richman, shall not perish from the earth.

              I’ve read a couple of Hanson’s books on Greece, and they had a lot of good stuff. But he’s going off the deep end now.

              • Erick Hare Mar 17, 2019 @ 8:55

                All I was doing was pointing out a bunch of flaws in the common narrative of claiming the major political parties switched sides within a specific period of time as a counterpoint to the original over-generalization of the original comment.

                If you actually read my comments in full I did make clear that the GOP has it’s own flaws in how it has not maintained itself to the exact principles over time it started out as, but still, on principle, stands for a lot of the same core issues of it’s platform as the party did at its founding. As I agreed with Kevin’s actual critique of conservatives’ stance in the original post here defending Confederate monuments for the sake of preserving history without acknowledging that the monuments are actually just a skewed commemoration for the preservation of a skewed and debunked memory of the era with a clear bias to revise history to protect the legacy of the antebellum South and the Confederacy.

                Your comment about how Lincoln having to change the phrasing of the Gettysburg Address is once again another limited generalization of what the modern political parties stand for which doesn’t recognize the wide breadth of other issues the party stands for as well.

                For instance anther issue Kevin’s scholarship along with scholars such as Bruce Levine on debunking the mythology of Black Confederates and Confederate Emancipation actually provides proof of the original origination of the promotion of gun control laws within the Democratic Party where the two parties have taken consistent stances on opposite sides of the issue throughout their respective histories. The antebellum slave-holding planter class took a very aggressive stance against arming the slave population all the way through the very end of the Civil War up until a couple of weeks before Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox. Even at the end of the war they refused to emancipate their slaves on behalf of the Confederacy to save it from defeat as documented in the book “Confederate Emancipation” by Bruce Levine looking at correspondence between Jefferson Davis and planters in late 1864 to early 1865. The Democratic Party has maintained a stance promoting gun control consistently and emphatically throughout it’s history since then. Another example of top-down big government societal control against the individual liberty of citizens to protect themselves and their families’ civil liberties from threats both foreign and domestic originating from the antebellum South’s extreme control over slaves throughout the era of United States history.

                My comments are to show over-simplification and generalization is reckless and does not recognize actual historical facts which can be found in basic study of history. Foisting things on one side of the political spectrum in defense of the other with over-simplification and generalizations is extremely divisive and reckless.

                I’m sorry for going into a lot of other issues outside the original context of this topic, but it’s necessary to debunk the over-simplification of actual history initiated within the comments here.

              • Msb Mar 18, 2019 @ 1:58

                Very well said.

            • Erick Hare Mar 16, 2019 @ 19:58

              Understood, but I think it does a serious disservice to oversimplify historical issues that are a lot more nuanced and misunderstood than they should be which is why my comments took the line they did in response to the original comment.

              • Occam’s Aftershave Mar 27, 2019 @ 21:09

                Your explanation for why Black Americans moved to the Democratic Party is pretty unsatisfactory and bereft of evidence and looks like a post hoc fallacy.

                To assert that the GOP has not engaged in racial and identity politics is laughable. Does Willie Horton ring any bells?

                Once Truman desegregated the Armed Forces and the Democratic Part adopted a Civil Rights plank all in 1948 the desertion and drift away from the Democrats began.

                It is no coincidence that in 1948 the Dixiecrats arise and the GOP starts sending envoys down South in 1950. It is also no coincidence that a decisive majority of Black voters voted for Truman in 1948.

                By 1964 that number is hitting north of 70%.

                Btw, did you know that it was entertained that 1964 that George Wallace would share the ticket with Goldwater. You know Goldwater the father of the modern GOP?

  • Mike Furlan Mar 14, 2019 @ 15:30

    Let’s start with the ground rules.

    Cleek’s Law

    Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily.
    “Truth” is for chumps:

    “You see Sarah Huckabee Sanders do this every day. Part of this Christian totalitarian mindset is that secular humanists are deemed to be incapable of understanding the “Kingdom of God.” Therefore those right-wing Christians who believe this doctrine have convinced themselves that they are permitted to lie to nonbelievers and others in order to do God’s work. These members of the Christian right, like Sarah Sanders, are certainly aware that they’re lying, but they believe they’re morally justified in terms of that lie.”

    https://www.salon.com/2019/03/14/chris-hedges-on-the-failure-of-the-democrats-and-the-rise-of-the-trump-cult/

    So, the monuments upset you do they? Well then let me tell you whatever lies I need to so as to keep this insult in play as long as possible.

    Finally, why bother?

    Monuments are a Wedge issue:

    A wedge issue is a political or social issue, often of a controversial or divisive nature, which splits apart a demographic or population group.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedge_issue

    Want to keep black and white Southerners from ever cooperating for their mutual benefit? Tell some lies about the monuments and get everybody upset.

  • Robert G. Colton Mar 14, 2019 @ 16:58

    D’Souza doesn’t care about the truth or the law. A convicted felon pardoned by Trump doesn’t deserve being listened to.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 15, 2019 @ 1:29

      I hear what you are saying, but that doesn’t mean that he should be ignored.

  • Richard Tavi Mar 14, 2019 @ 19:53

    You have to remember D’Sousa – himself born in Mumbai of native Indian parantage – is an apologist for British imperialism.

  • Kenneth Noe Mar 15, 2019 @ 4:17

    A friend once told me that Hansen’s early work on the Greeks was good. His limited work on the Civil War, however, struck me as quite weak. I quit reading his generals book after the adoring Sherman section. He’s also on record complaining that the migrant workers on his California estate aren’t as pliant as they used to be.

  • Joshism Mar 15, 2019 @ 15:46

    Not that I agree with or like D’Sousa, but I have an answer to your question in yellow:

    All monuments to the Confederacy are monuments to American veterans. Therefore, any removal of Confederate monuments is disrespectful to American veterans. If they can take down monuments to Confederate veterans why can’t they take down monuments to Vietnam veterans too? Or Revolutionary War veterans?

    (I don’t agree with the argument I just put forth, but I think it fits with the mindset in question.)

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