I have waited a few days to see what type of tribalism might emerge in light of the discussion about gender (R. Evans) and race history regarding Paleo-Confederate Doug Wilson’s welcoming among the YRR (young, restless, and Reformed)/new-Calvinist crowd versus the more liberal younger evangelicals (more on that later). That’s the whole egalitiarian/complimentarian quarrel. Today, I briefly mention that there seems to be an assumption that Wilson’s self-published, non-peered reviewed book Black and Tansomehow exonerates the many questions surrounding why a Paleo-Confederate is so widely accepted YRR/new-Calvinist circles. The book actually raises even deeper concerns. I would argue that it’s worse.
Black and Tan is nothing more than an apologetic for Slavery As It Was. One would have expected a posture of repentance given this first monograph’s contents but, instead, readers suffer through a “reconstruction of the basic arguments.” For example, the argument that slavery in the South was “benign” (64), compared to other periods of human history, should be startling to readers who know more about the real history. Moreover, (btw, read definition of “benign” here.), anyone familiar with the development of Catholic doctrine in the encyclical tradition will be familiar with this method of “reconstruction”–namely, cherry picking that which is preferred and ignoring that which is problematic. Finally, I can’t imagine why people aren’t troubled by the logic of the argument (but that’s for another discussion another day).
[UPDATE: this book has been suggested by 2 historians I know that further demonstrates the faulty scholarship in referring to American slavery as "benign." Walter Johnson's Soul by Soul: Life inside an antebellum slave market (Harvard UP, 2001).]
The section on “Black Confederates” is a good example of how uniformed, cherry-picked historiography can lead to hagiographic conclusions. Anyone historian familiar with The Black Experience in the Civil War South by Dr. Stephen V. Ash, Professor of History at the University of Tennessee, will see why Wilson should be considered nothing more than an armchair historian at best. Ash presents a comprehensive, historical narrative of the black experience during that era that totally discredits Wilson. In the book Intellectuals and Society Thomas Sowell does a wonderful job of explaining the hubris in our culture where “intellectuals” assume that because they are experts in one are, say Bible or theology, they are experts in any area of their choosing. Doug Wilson’s background and training is in classics and philosophy. Anyone familiar his work in apologetics, for example, will see why he does so well in those contexts. It’s his sweet spot. He is often brilliant there. History is not his expertise.
I am reminded of a phrase from an old professor of mine, “just because it’s in a book doesn’t mean it’s true.” Evangelicals tend to be lazy in this area, especially when it comes to tribal texts. If you want to know what’s true about the South there is no reason to take Doug Wilson’s word for it (or mine for that matter). Study the history for yourselves and come to your own conclusions. There are several books listed at the end of this post that would be helpful.
I’m not here to write a comprehensive review of a non-peer reviewed, self-published text about the South that reconstructs Slavery As It Was but anyone reading the book should approach it with a disposition of testing, curiosity, and questions. Readers should ask first, “does the book hold up to historical scrutiny?”
Wilson is to be applauded for the denunciation of chattel slavery and racial oppression. Three cheers are in order. While admirable, distancing oneself from racism, in my opinion, is tertiary at best to deeper concerns about theology and history. The idea that Black and Tan proves that Wilson not a racist does not address the marrow of the concerns. It makes me yawn. I, for one, never charged him as such but the knee-jerk defensiveness I find telling about the way tribalism works. There is no sentence where I said, “Doug Wilson is ___________.”
What continues to trouble me, and other black leaders in evangelicalism, is the utter disregard for the sensitivity of the Southern history for blacks and the flippant dismissal of why it is that someone who professes to be a Paleo-Confederate (or any kind of “Confederate”) would be a stumbling block to many of us.
I want to close this short comment with two more concerns about Black and Tan for people to consider: (1) Many have raised issues about Wilson’s theonomic presuppositions (i.e., Christian Reconstruction). Those who are unfamiliar with Christian reconstruction will miss concerns about this in the book. I am afraid that many of YRR/new-Calvinist types have no idea what Christian Reconstruction is. I am not saying that Wilson is a full Christian reconstructionist but others have raised concerns in this area.Here’s a good discussion of this in the Journal of Markets and Morality published by the Acton Institute. The article, “One ProtestantTradition’s Interface with Austrian Christian Reconstruction as Critic and Ally,” is written by Timothy D. Terrell, Associate Professor of Economics Wofford College Spartanburg, South Carolina and Glenn Moots, Associate Professor Northwood University Midland, Michigan. This is not my battle, per se, but I would encourage reading Terrell and Moots and re-reading Black and Tan. [In case you're interested here's a more terse and less flattering connection to Wilson and Christian reconstruction by Dr. Thomas P. Rouche (Ph.D. in Classics, SUNY-Buffalo), in "Meet the Theonomists." I offer Roche only to highlight the level of theological passion surrounding Wilson.] Admittedly, I am out of the loop on many trends in evangelical subcultures so it’s entirely possible that Paleo-Confederacy and Christian Reconstruction affinities are more popular in the YRR/new-Calvinist crowd than I imagined.
(2) There needs to be some awareness that “Black and Tan” is more than a beer recipe: (a) it is a description of a coonhound dog; (b) and, less tongue and cheek and more to the point “black and tan” is the name for Black Republicans during Reconstruction. The “Black and Tan” era was a very painful and violent history in the lives of African Americans who were forced out of the Republican party by theLily-White Movement. “Beginning with the founding of the Ku Klux Klan in 1866 and escalating through the late 1860s and 1870s, Southern whites used violence to intimidate black would-be voters which at first helped solidify their allegiance to the GOP.” For someone who is credible in certain tribes as historically knowledgeable about the South, “Black and Tan” seems to be curious title for book that is an apologetic for Slavery As It Was. Even worse, to not understand (or care) why such a title would raise additional concerns for blacks in even more troubling.
Again, I am encouraging people to read this article as well:
Ramsey, William L. and Quinlan, Sean M., Southern Slavery As It Wasn’t: Coming to Grips with Neo-Confederate Historical Misinformation. Oklahoma City University Law Review, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2005. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=633361
With these concerns, and more, raising this book as some sort of exoneration of the many concerns about Wilson actually fails. There is enough reasonable doubt about Wilson’s historiography and theological presuppositions that people should be asking more questions. My hope would be that people would read history from historians and pursue more theologically curiosity about Christ and culture in all the books we read (including my own.) What I have found the most nauseating about the past few days is the assumption that I alleged Wilson to be a racist of some sort. The ensuing campaign to exonerate him of a non-charge reminded of this phrase from the same professor, “don’t hear what I am not saying.” I will always have questions about devoted followers of Paleo-Confederates because of my experience with pre-Black and Tan devotees of Wilkins and Wilson’s views about the South before the Civil-War and, unless one was around between 2004 and 2008, one should not be surprised by my questioning.
Read all that you can and come to your own conclusions.
Now that I have everyone’s attention I’d like to invite you to get a copy of my latest book The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone on the black experience. Dr. Walter E. Williams, of George Mason University, wrote and encouraging endorsement.