Moldbug's sources: Forrest McDonald, "Celtic Southernism", and the Lew Rockwell school of late 20th C. PC anti-Yankeeism

As he himself eventually confirmed, moldbug's ideology was formed by mashing up a variety of vaguely rightist and libertarian ideas and filtering them through the lens of what he perceived to be "good for the Jews".

Similarly, moldbug's school of pseudo-history arose from moldbug latching on to a convenient thread and running with it to outlandish extremes, the overriding goal not being to promote understanding but to absolve Jews (and moldbug's Communist grandparents, in particular) of any agency in their radical political activity.

Moldbug picked up the initial inspiration for moldbuggist history from the anti-Yankeeism of lewrockwell.com contributors like Clyde Wilson, Jimmy Cantrell, and Thomas "Abraham Lincoln was the real racist" DiLorenzo, some of which was outlandish enough to begin with. They, in turn, were influenced by Forrest McDonald.

(The core of Rothbard-Rockwell circle was a miniature New Deal coalition of Jews, Catholics, and Southerners, generally less irritating in their politics, but carrying over in many cases the same ingroup biases and sense of minority aggrievement as their socialist parents or grandparents. The appeal of "Yankees" as villains is as obvious for these types as for moldbug. And while I find grievance against Yankees less offensive coming from Southerners, focusing on "Yankees" to the exclusion of Jewish or Catholic immigrants, or Southern elites, is never going to be all that helpful in understanding the state of the US today.)

Forrest McDonald, along with Grady McWhiney and McDonald's "wife and longtime intellectual partner" Ellen Shapiro McDonald, is responsible for the "Celtic Southern hypothesis", according to which "the distinctiveness of Southern culture derives largely from the majority of the Southern population being descendants of Celtic herdsmen while the majority of the Northern population was the descendants of farmers."

Moldbug's favorite encyclopedia I think gives a fair assessment of the scholarly reception:

McWhiney and Forrest McDonald were the authors of the "Celtic Thesis," which holds that most Southerners were of Celtic ancestry (as opposed to Anglo-Saxon), and that all groups he declared to be "Celtic" (Scots-Irish, Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Cornish) were descended from warlike herdsmen, in contrast to the peaceful farmers who predominated in England. They attempted to trace numerous ways in which the Celtic culture shaped social, economic and military behavior. For example, they demonstrated that livestock raising (especially of cattle and hogs) developed a more individualistic, militant society than tilling the soil.

Attack and Die stressed the ferocity of the Celtic warrior tradition. In "Continuity in Celtic Warfare." (1981) McWhiney argues that an analysis of Celtic warfare from 225 BC to 1865 demonstrates cultural continuity. The Celts repeatedly took high risks that resulted in lost battles and lost wars. Celts were not self-disciplined, patient, or tenacious. They fought boldly but recklessly in the battles of Telamon (225 BC), Culloden (1746) and Gettysburg (1863). According to their thesis, the South lost the Civil War because Southerners fought like their Celtic ancestors, who were intensely loyal to their leaders but lacked efficiency, perseverance, and foresight.

In 1993 he argued the fundamental differences between North and South developed during the 18th century, when Celtic migrants first settled in the Old South. Some of the fundamental attributes that caused the Old South to adopt anti-English values and practices were Celtic social organization, language, and means of livelihood. It was supposedly the Celtic values and traditions that set the agrarian South apart from the industrialized civilization developing in the North.

However, McWhiney's theories do not address large-scale Irish immigration to New York, Boston, and other northern cities. They also ignore the degree to which the Southern planter class resembled the English gentry in lineage, religion, and social structure. Furthermore his work avoids mentioning or acknowledging the fact that the largest group of pre-Revolution immigrants to the Southern colonies were English indentured servants who vastly outnumbered the "Celtic" settlers both in numbers and in cultural influence.,[1][2][3] [. . .]

Criticisms

Berthoff, Rowland; "Celtic Mist over the South." Journal of Southern History 1986 52(4): 523-546. ISSN: 0022-4642 with commentary by Forrest McDonald, and Grady McWhiney, pp. 547–548; Fulltext: in Jstor. Berthoff rejects the Celtic Thesis because it exaggerates the numbers and roles of Celtic folk in the South, fails to define "Celtic," and misunderstands animal husbandry traditions in the British Isles. reply by Berthoff, pp. 548–550.

Walley, Cherilyn A. "Grady McWhiney's 'Antebellum Piney Woods Culture': the Non-Celtic Origins of Greene County, Mississippi." Journal of Mississippi History 1998 60(3): 223-239. Issn: 0022-2771 Argues that census data from Greene County refutes McWhiney's claim that Mississippi's Piney Woods region was predominantly Celtic during the antebellum decades. Surname analysis indicates that most settlers were English, and all settlers were at least one generation removed from their home country. There were no significant differences between the English and Celtic farmers in terms of cattle raising or family size. Also, contrary to McWhiney's arguments, Celtic children attended school at a higher rate than did English children. McWhiney used questionable sources and took evidence out of context to support his claims

The motivation behind the "Celtic thesis" was obviously to minimize the significance of the shared British and particularly English genes and culture of Southerners and New Englanders, and exaggerate the level and time-depth of differences between them. This motivation also found an outlet in a piece Forrest McDonald originally published in 1985 ("Why Yankees Won’t (and Can’t) Leave the South Alone"), which circulated online recently:

Southerners rarely while away their leisure hours by contemplating Yankees, for there is no point in thinking of unpleasant things if one is not obliged to do so. Yet the practice does have value; to some extent, at least, we are defined by those attributes which set us apart from others, and sometimes we can be made aware of such attributes only by observing people who do not share them. Another virtue of thinking about Yankees, in the long run perhaps a more important one, is that it serves to remind us that they have repeatedly tried to make us over in their own image. Indeed, though it may seem that they have been off our backs since the demise of the civil rights movement, their latest campaign to reform us is actually well under way. [. . .]

The psyche of the Yankee—by which I do not mean all Northerners, but only of seventeenth-century New England Puritans and their descendants, both genetic and ideological—has roots that run deep, and ultimately to the Yankee’s ever-changing concept of the nature of God; thus it is that, in regard to the shaping of the New England character, various errors, heresies, nay even blasphemies, figure prominently. To get a handle on the Yankee, it is helpful to begin with his original Calvinism, and especially with the doctrine of predestination: The belief that most men are doomed and a few are elected for salvation, not by faith or works or any other act of human volition, but only in accordance with a preordained and unknowable divine plan. It might seem that the premise precludes speculation by the puny human intellect, that is logical disputation and inspires unlimited arrogance. [. . .]

That is the first thing to understand about the Yankee: He is a doctrinal puritan, characterized by what William G. McLaughlin has called pietistic perfectionism. Unlike the Southerner, he is constitutionally incapable of letting things be, of adopting a live-and-let-live attitude. [. . .] In other words, he must reform society or secede from it; and though he has long since been thoroughly secularized, the compulsion remains as strong in the twentieth century as it was in the seventeenth.

A second and related characteristic of the Yankee is that, as others have pointed out, he is a gnostic. Adherents of this heresy in ancient times regarded themselves as privy to “knowledge of the divine mysteries reserved to an elite;” the original puritan counterpart was the Elect. The essence of gnosticism as a mindset is the absolute, unquestioning certainty that one is possessed of the Truth. Now it may be objected that there is nothing peculiar to the Yankee about this, for many and possibly most Southerners are unquestioning in their religious faith. But there are profound differences. [. . .]

Lest this seem a trifle exaggerated, even to confirmed Yankee-haters, I submit the following words from John Adams, written on the eve of independence. Republican government, Adams wrote, is superior to all others, if its principles are pure. But it “is only to be supported by pure Religion or austere Morals. Public Virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics. There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power, and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real liberty.” This public passion, he added, “must be Superior to all private Passions. Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private Pleasures, Passions, and Interests, nay their private Friendships and dearest Connections, when they stand in Competition with the Rights of Society.”

Before the end of the century that same John Adams was writing with the same dogmatic certainty that limited monarchy was the best guarantor of “real liberty,” and his fellow Yankees were simultaneously embracing Unitarianism and materialism with equal self-assurance. And so on, generation after generation, even unto our own benighted epoch, in which Ivy League professors and presidents solemnly assure us that there are no inborn differences between men and women and that people who object to homosexuality and abortion-on-demand are religious fanatics. They are always wrong—or at least they cannot, by definition, have been right more than once—and yet they are always utterly certain and utterly impervious to argument.

Another difference between Southern and Yankee “certain knowledge” is more subtle and more important. The religious Southerner’s conviction is normally a source of inner peace and contentment to him; and though a spirit of Christian charity may inspire him to share the joys of his faith, and even to spread the Gospel around the globe, he is devoid of the urge to force his faith upon others. [. . .]

That predisposition was reinforced by a related aspect of what the late Perry Miller called the New England Mind. One of the forms that ancient gnosticism took was Manichaeism—the belief in two gods, a god of light and pure goodness and a god of darkness and pure evil—and a form of Manichaeism became firmly rooted in the Yankee character. In purely theological terms, of course, a variety of Manichaeism is also central to the religious beliefs of many Southerners: The human soul is a battleground in which God and the Devil perpetually contend for supremacy. But as with gnosticism, there are fundamental differences. To Southerners, the struggle against evil is spiritual and internal. To Yankees, evil has been secularized at least since the early eighteenth century, and it has always been externalized.

[Yankees] bred like flies and they spread westward, infesting an area from Salem, Massachusetts, to Salem, Oregon, and a dozen Salems and New Salems in between. Yankees formed the backbone of the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln, and it is unnecessary to rehearse here what that meant. There is, however, one important point to be made—one which, though obvious, few historians have been wiling to make. The Yankees perceived slavery as an evil and stamped it out without giving any serious thought to the consequences. It hardly occurred to them that the former slaves needed preparation if they were to bear the awesome burdens and responsibilities of freedom. Consequently, the blacks were the principal victims of the Civil War, though the white South, too, lay devastated. [. . .]

It is here that the last main theology-derived Yankee characteristic becomes relevant: the Yankees are millennialists. Once again, so are many Southerners, and once again the differences between the two varieties are vast.

New England and the South may have both been overwhelmingly Protestant and had significant Calvinist influences. But while Southerners may sometimes think they're right, they don't think they're right the way Yankees think they're right. Southerners may sometimes be missionaries, but they're not Yankee missionaries. Southern secessionism is justified. Yankee secessionism is not. Southern "Manichaeism" is good. Yankee "Manichaeism" is bad. Southern millennialism is fine. Yankee millennialism is vastly different. And Yankees, for Forrest McDonald's purposes, are an undifferentiated mass.

Ingroup biases are normal, but they can't be counted on in general to form a sound foundation for an objective or useful school of history. To the extent this sort of crude historical exposition enhances group cohesiveness or mobilization, it could still serve a purpose. National myths don't necessarily need to be true to be useful. But, in this case, Forrest McDonald is encouraging mobilization against what even in 1985 was essentially a non-existent target. Yankees as substantially unmixed, ethnically self-conscious descendants of New England Puritans do not exist in significant numbers today. Nor does it seem useful for Southerners to imagine their present-day political opponents, including in Forrest McDonald's case other Southerners (and presumably Jews, ethnic Catholics, and so on), as "intellectual descendants" of Yankees.

Forrest McDonald and Grady McWhiney were involved in founding the League of the South. A member of that group later recalled:

"By the way, Forest McDonald's Jewish wife went into semi-hysterics at the founding meeting of the League of the South when I raised the issue of what would happen to the Confederate Flag and other such icons when the South becomes majority Black and demanded that I be thrown out of the meeting. Apparently Ms. McDonald believes that she has an immuity bubble allowing her to insist that no White person offend her by advocating the survival of the White race in her presence. Well, at least the McDonalds are a known quantity."

McWhiney, who evidently had a Mexican wife, also later distanced himself: 'In 1994, Dr. McWhiney helped found the league and was a director for a few years, but resigned, complaining that it had been taken over by "the dirty fingernail crowd," Dr. Frazier said.' I believe the League of the South is no longer bound by the vision of McDonald and McWhiney; but an article J. Michael Hill wrote while under the influence of McDonald/McWhiney thinking provides an amusing example of the confusion that arises from it:

Honor, Violence, and Civilization

Dr. J. Michael Hill

Southerners should wear the “culture of honor” mantle proudly. As further evidence that academics frequently miss the obvious one need look no further than the 1996 study by two mid-western psychologists on the proclivity of white Southern males to resort to violence when their honor is challenged. The latest clap-trap from the pointy-head class is enough to underwhelm Southerners who have long known that good ole’ boys like to get into a scuffle now and again over questions of propriety and good manners.

Psychologists Richard Nisbett (University of Michigan) and Dov Cohen (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) conducted a series of, it would seem, rather risky experiments with their collegiate charges and concluded from them that insulting a non-Hispanic white man from the South can be downright dangerous. [. . .]

What indeed should we Southrons make of this study? There are, after all, some not-so-obvious implications at work here. Twenty years ago, my academic mentors at The University of Alabama, historians Forrest McDonald and Grady McWhiney, began looking seriously into the Celtic (Scottish, Irish, and Welsh) influence on Southern culture. As Southerners themselves, McDonald and McWhiney knew that most crackers claimed to be at least partly Celtic, and that the Celts were products of a martial society in which men of action were held in high regard. In one sense, these historians did not tell Southerners of Celtic descent anything they did not already know: that they were a people prone to commit violent acts over questions of honor and repute. What they did was provide a proper historical understanding of why this cultural trait is so prevalent in Dixie. Professors McDonald and McWhiney advanced their “Celtic thesis” with understandable regional pride. It gave Southern crackers and rednecks (the only group that can still be insulted with impunity in polite company) a wider historical identity and made them proud to be descended from a fierce and independent people. In doing so, it suggested to them that their “culture of honor” was nothing to be ashamed of.

I seriously doubt that Nisbett and Cohen intended their study to contribute to the self-esteem of Southern Celts. But perhaps there is more here than Yankee cracker-bashing. Noting that a white Alabama boy is more likely to shoot someone over an affaire d’ honneur than is someone from Massachusetts (I’m reminded here of candidate Michael Dukakis’ craven response to a hypothetical question about what he might do to avenge his wife’s rape), they seem to suggest that it is somehow unwise to permit Southerners to exercise their rights under the 2nd Amendment. Now, its all right with me if the gentlefolk from New England and elsewhere above Mason and Dixon’s line wish to perceive us as gun-totin’ cowboys. Perhaps this will stem the influx of snowbirds (distinguishable by sandals over black socks), yuppies, and Yankee socialist professors.

Because they were employed at Northern schools (as Forrest McDonald himself was for many years), Hill assumed Richard Nisbett (a Texan) and Dov Cohen (quite possibly a Jew) were "Yankees" engaged in "cracker-bashing". Again, this does not strike me as a very useful way to think if one wants to actually understand the world.

5 comments:

Bruce said...

My anecdote. My mom is from West Virginia (not the South) which is supposed to be celtic scots-irish. The overwhelming majority of surnames in her ancestry are English including the Pickerings, a branch of the New England family.

How left-wing with respect to race whites are seems to be a function of their proximity (and that of their recent ancestors) to large numbers of blacks. Not many blacks in New England so the same general societal influences (the left-wing ones) had more effect on New Englanders. That’s my guess.

What do you think of the “Albion’s Seed” thesis?

n/a said...

Bruce,

Albion's Seed is a good book, though not perfect.

Harold said...

Moldbug sounds very similar to Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (whose works I haven’t read).
Wikipedia:

“Contrary to the prevailing view that the Nazi Party was a radical right-wing movement with only superficial and minimal leftist elements, Kuehnelt-Leddihn asserted that Nazism (National Socialism) was a strongly leftist, democratic movement ultimately rooted in the French Revolution […]. He argued that Nazism, fascism, radical-liberalism, and communism were essentially democratic movements, based upon inciting the masses to revolution and intent upon destroying the old forms of society.”

“In Liberty or Equality, his magnum opus, Kuehnelt-Leddihn contrasted monarchy with democracy and presented his arguments for the superiority of monarchy: diversity is upheld better in monarchical countries than in democracies”

Quotes:

“Arbitrary compulsory education is after all a flagrant curtailment of parental rights and at least as "totalitarian" as conscription.”

“For the average person, all problems date to World War II; for the more informed, to World War I; for the genuine historian, to the French Revolution.”

“Patriotism, not nationalism, should inspire the citizen. The ethnic nationalist who wants a linguistically and culturally uniform nation is akin to the racist who is intolerant toward those who look (and behave) differently. The patriot is a “diversitarian”; he is pleased, indeed proud of the variety within the borders of his country; he looks for loyalty from all citizens. And he looks up and down, not left and right.”

von Kuehnelt-Leddihn doesn’t use the term “nigga” as often, though.

n/a said...

Harold,

Yes, Moldbug certainly read or read about Kuehnelt-Leddihn, as well (also via lewrockwell.com or mises.org). Though, again, as concerns Moldbuggist history, Moldbug does not simply repeat what Kuehnelt-Leddihn says, but takes a few themes he likes and runs with them to the point of caricature in service of his own ideological goals.

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