Joe Scotchie’s recently published anthology Writing on the Southern Front: Authentic Conservatism For Our Times made me aware of the task that confronts every serious student of the Right—recovering what otherwise might slip down the Memory Hole. Both the American media and, more generally, American political culture have moved so far away from anything that looks even vaguely non-Left that we may soon need archeologists to rediscover what has been driven underground. American “conservatism” (yes the scare quotes here are very deliberate) is now represented by Jonah Goldberg, telling us how frighteningly homophobic, racist, anti-Semitic and sexist the 1950s were and Rich Lowry calling for the removal of all statues of Robert E. Lee, since they may offend American blacks.[Mothball the Confederate Monuments, National Review, August 15, 2017]. It is therefore comforting to read Scotchie’s latest effort to revive and defend an “authentic conservatism.”
Similarly, I’ve also been watching on Fox News the steady procession of “proud, Republican” homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, and “moderate” feminists and wonder whether I’ve tuned in by mistake to a multicultural festival. Recently, I heard the “conservative” Geraldo Rivera explaining on Fox News how truly blessed we are by having so many Latinos streaming across our borders and assimilating “at a rate that’s faster than any ethnic group” in US history. [Tom Brokaw’s Hispanic remarks were ‘shockingly uninformed,’ Geraldo Rivera says, by Joseph A. Wulfsohn, January 30, 2019] My cup runneth over with such “conservative” verities.
Scotchie, a native of Ashville NC who now works as a journalist in Queens NY, has returned to his task of recovering ideas and traditions that don’t pass the current PC litmus test. In books on paleoconservatism, the “Southern” history of Ashville, Richard Weaver and Pat Buchanan, (The Paleoconservatives, A Gallery of Ashevilleans, The Vision of Richard Weaver, and Street Corner Conservative) Scotchie has tried to bring to life what the American Right, when it still existed as part of the permissible political conversation, believed and revered.
Not all of his heroes, like Robert E. Lee, the Southern Agrarians, Thomas Wolfe, Sam Francis, M.E. Bradford, Douglas Southall Freeman, the biographer of Washington and Lee, and Patrick J. Buchanan, would necessarily have agreed on all basic moral and political questions.
But they all fit easily into a plausible Right, a position that I explore in an essay “Defining Right and Left” included in my 2017 anthology Revisions and Dissents. Scotchie associates the Right (even when he doesn’t use that term) with a strong sense of family and place, a settled authority structure, deep reservations about modernity, and the belief in a fixed human nature.
Scotchie is also intensely loyal to the historic South, which he understands as did one of his subjects Richard Weaver, as a premodern, hierarchical society. Throughout his essays and commentaries, including the ones on literature, it is hard to ignore Scotchie’s revulsion for globalism and uprooted anthropoids.
I was particularly struck in reading his anthology by how, in the last piece in the book, Scotchie eulogizes his recently deceased friend “Mark Royden Winchell, the Last of the Vanderbilt Greats.”[PDF]. Like Joe, I was moved by the early death of this brilliant essayist from Clemson University, who rarely expressed political opinions but whose sensibilities were apparent:
More than ever, Mark sided with the cause of the Old Right and the conservative South. He opposed the Iraq War, and on the pages of The American Conservative, offered up the America First foreign policy of his fellow Ohioan Robert Taft as a proper antidote to endless foreign meddling. Mark was also a member of the League of the South, for which he published an extensive critique of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. one that not only focused on King’s plagiarism, adultery, and support for leftist politics, but one that also mourned the passing of the George Washington—Abraham Lincoln America of Mark’s youth. [Links added].