Update: McClanahan has written an additional response back at the Abbeville Institute. Given its tone, I think it’s pretty clear where this is heading, so I’ll happily give him the last word. Also, it looks like the Maryland legislature is going to let the issue lie until the next session, so we’ll see if it gets any legs next time around.
I was wondering if my article on “Maryland, My Maryland” that Time.com picked up would drum up some opposition from the neo-Confederate crowd, and it looks like this article by Brion McClanahan for The Abbeville Institute fits the bill (I’m unfamiliar with the institute, but the fact that it’s pushing a book titled, Emancipation Hell: The Tragedy Wrought by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, tells me all I need to know). Besides McClanahan immediately casting doubt on his research skills by calling me “James McWhirter,” he speciously tries to undermine my argument that any state should have an official song as openly dissident as James Ryder Randall’s poem. I’m not going to dissect each of his points, but I’ll draw your attention to a few juicy bits.
Here’s his opening salvo, and note he calls me a “Lincoln apologist” even though I barely mention Lincoln in my article:
Lincoln apologist James McWhirter penned a piece for Time magazine that labeled the song “dissident.” This is true if using the standard definition of the word, opposition to official policy, especially that of an authoritarian state. Anti-Hitler Germans were dissidents. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Sam Adams, and the rest of the founding generation were dissidents. Anti-Lenin and anti-Stalin Russians were dissidents. Demonstrators at Tiananmen Square were dissidents. It seems dissidents are those usually on the right side of history. Obviously McWhirter disagrees.
The logic here seems easy to dispute. Of course, I have no problem with dissent against unjust governments or events. Who would? And he’s right that the term is often used to describe opponents of authoritarianism, although that obviously wasn’t my meaning in the article. But, if McClanahan is concerned I’m labeling all resistance to authority as unjust (I’m not), he makes a similar fallacy by labeling all such action as good. What’s more, the relative justice of dissent is not really the point. Maryland is not independent from the United States. Indeed, Maryland didn’t secede during the Civil War and thus has never claimed to be independent from the United States. Thus, it makes no sense for an obviously loyal state with deep ties to and clear benefits from the American union to have a state song that openly calls for the dissolution of that union.
I won’t bother responding to his arguments that the Confederacy has nothing to do with slavery and Lincoln was a despot. There are more than enough places online and elsewhere to find eloquent and convincing refutations of those long discredited Lost Cause positions. However, I will quote his entire closing paragraph because it’s so gloriously hyperbolic:
As for Randall, “Maryland, My Maryland” made him famous, but he claimed one of his other poems written shortly after the war, “At Arlington,” to be his best. This work is both a denunciation of military reconstruction and a moving eulogy for the Confederate dead buried there. It is also a stirring call to action. The annotation at the beginning of the poem could have been written in 2016. Gone are the actual bayonets, but make no mistake, current efforts to cleanse the American landscape of all things Confederate is a modern reconstruction. As McWhirter unknowingly illustrated–I am giving him benefit of the doubt–this will also erase self-determination and opposition to authoritarianism from American political discourse. We might as well start toasting “God Save the Queen.” At least then Americans would be consistent in their disdain for all things “dissident.”
First of all, McClanahan can’t possibly know my opinion on the removal of Confederate monuments because I’ve made no public statements on the matter. Indeed, I go out of my way in my original article to set the two issues apart:
Unlike current dialogues about Confederate monuments, there’s really no room for debate here. We might hesitate to move or destroy marble monuments for fear of permanently losing them, but if Maryland leaves “Maryland, My Maryland” behind, the song will still exist—it will just go back to the historical record where it belongs.
But it’s the last part of his paragraph that really tickles me. Apparently, if his imaginary version of me and my PC buddies change the song and remove these monuments, we won’t just alter the country’s historical landscape, we’ll erase the very ideas of “self-determination and opposition to authoritarianism.” I had no idea I (or “Maryland, My Maryland,” for that matter) wielded such enormous power. It’s like McClanahan’s the Uncle Ben to my Peter Parker. Who knew I had the strength to obliterate democracy itself? Here, I just thought I was pointing out how absurd it is for a loyal state to have a song defying the existence of the federal government, but I’m actually summoning a horrifying Orwellian dystopia of political correctness and blind deference to authority. My God, what have I done?