McCluskey| Southern Discomfort: How Questions are Sometimes More Important than Answers

Ric McCluskey

Like every summer in the south, specifically Mississippi, the days have been unbearably hot.  A brief walk to the mailbox can be an uncomfortable trek. Unfortunately, it’s not just the temperature that has reached a boiling point causing many of us to yearn for “cooler” days. The political climate has reached a level of tension that is as thick as the humidity on any given afternoon in Dixie.


Speaking of Dixie, let’s attempt to achieve what seems to be an increasingly impossible endeavor for most individuals and groups, today. Is there a singular topic, regarding the Confederate monument issue, that can cause both parties to have a moment of self examination?


In a strange way, self examination will often open one’s eyes to the beliefs of others. In today’s political world, we seem to forget that screaming is not the best way to convince someone. I have yet to find an area of life that vitriol helped an individual change their mind. You can scream with all your might but your efforts will fail while turmoil wins the day.


The problem with self examination is first a person has to be exposed to ideas that offer questions based on logic and not emotion. An emotion based concept will typically cause them to shut down at conception. Finally, the hardest facet of self examination is the presence of two virtues in the individual.  Humility and the maturity to admit the error in their previous stances, that were likely to have been closely held beliefs, have to be possessed.


So… Before we start, allow me to set some contextual parameters and a disclaimer that will be vitally important while reading.


  1. This article will NOT provide the remedy to the current Confederate statue debate.
  2. This article is NOT intended to inform the reader. Its intention is to pose questions for readers to ask themselves.
  3. This article does NOT provide a defense nor does it condone the beliefs of either side.


Like many of you, there is no escape from the monument debate right now. It’s dominating social media, TV and radio. You hear people discussing it at the dinner table, in the church, at the soccer field, etc. There are a couple reasonable assumptions that can be made about the two opposing groups. These assumptions are not absolute but they do provide insight to the majority within the anti-monument side and within the pro-monument side.


On the surface, these two observations may appear to have nothing to do with monuments but as this article goes on, the link will present itself. It is safe to say that-


  1. The majority of the pro-Confederate monument group identifies as “right leaning”, “conservative” or “Republican”.
  2. The majority of the anti-monument group identifies as “left leaning”, “liberal” or “Democrat”.


So, what does this mean? It provides an opportunity for “self examination” that isn’t steeped in emotional context and most importantly, it doesn’t bog down in the differing perceptions of history leading up to the Civil War. I must warn you that from this point, there will be some uncomfortable questions posed for both sides.


When discussing the Civil War, three reasons are widely debated as being the causes of the war. With each reason, ask yourself the question that follows.


  1. States’ Rights- The States’ Right to what exactly? Assuming it was a significant issue, we should be able to identify what did the Southern states identify as the “right” that the Federal government was threatening?
  2. Economics- What economic tool was the Federal government threatening to strip away from the Southern states? From an ABSOLUTE economic position, what dynamic did that particular tool provide that was so prosperous to the Southern States? Also, what dynamic did the tool possess that the North deemed so horrendous, a brutal and deadly war was justified?
  3. Slavery- No one truly claims that slavery did not lead to the Civil War. However, some debate the degree to which it contributed to the war. So, here is the hard task to perform before the questions are asked. Take the racial dynamic out of the equation. It is necessary in order to truly address the root cause and motivation of slavery, throughout history, while still pinpointing the motivations leading to the war. Now, the moral repugnance of slavery goes without being said. What dynamic did slavery provide the south with that was so vitally important to them, they would rather go to war than part with? There is an undeniable racial dynamic to slavery regarding the Civil War. So we have to dig deeper to uncover what motivations existed, throughout history, to utilize slavery when no racial dynamics existed?


Could we be over-simplifying the reasons for the war if we look at each reason individually OR is the more logical approach where we look at the reasons holistically which provides us with a very simple, linear conclusion that doesn’t seek to arbitrarily prioritize the reasons but instead illustrates the GLARING nexus between the issues.


The linear, holistic reason for the Civil War was the “States’ Right to the Economics of Slavery”.


The key word that binds the statement together in a way that answers the questions above is “Economics”. The war boiled down to the rights an individual has to his/her own labor VS the rights a centralized authority/collective has to the labor of an individual.


Ask any businessman, what are the benefits to a FREE labor force? Ask any government official, how their budget would react if all government employees worked for FREE? The economics of slavery also transcend racial dynamics which answers the previous question of “Why did slavery exist in times where the slaveowner and the slave belonged to the same race?”


So the question of the “individual’s right to his/her own labor” still remains but it also presents a paradox inherent with some very uncomfortable questions for both sides of the monument/flag debate.


This is the part of the article that if those in either group aren’t mad about what they have read, they may be upset about what they are about to read. I am going to pose these questions in the easiest and only way I know how. Let us do it by group. We will start with the Pro-Confederate Flag/Monument group. (Keep in mind that these are based off the assumptions mentioned earlier pertaining to the general political leanings of the groups)


Pro-Confederate Flag/ Monument


  1. How can contemporary, small government principles, in regards to an individual’s rights to his/her labor (involuntary methods of taxation), be reconciled with the Confederacy’s belief that a large group of the population had no legitimate right to their labor? The rights of the individual was at the mercy of the collective.
  2. In other words, if you lived in a post-Civil War south, where the Confederacy was victorious, would your Conservative principles of today lead you to demand that the INDIVIDUAL and the PEOPLE have a right to their labor? If so, would this not cause you to rebel against the Confederacy?
  3. Who truly benefited from the economic situation of the Pre-Civil War South? Did the average working man benefit from another individual having the right to their labor stripped away or was it the elite (Establishment) who benefited from the system? If you are a modern day Conservative who believes the “Establishment/Elitist” abuses the hard working, average man to preserve their own power/money, can the parallel be explored that your average Confederate soldier fought a war for a government that was trying to preserve an economic system that only benefited those we call the “Establishment” today?



Anti-Confederate Flag/Monument group-


  1. In your contemporary belief, in regards to taxation, does an involuntary system of taxation also violate the individual’s right to his/her own labor which only benefited the Elitists within the Confederacy’s society?
  2. Knowing the degree in which an individual’s right to labor was abused in the Confederate states, at what point does an involuntary system of mandatory taxes (the claim to the labor of another individual) become slavery in an economic sense? Does it have to be an absolute confiscation of the individual’s property or does an EXACT percentage trigger the economic sense of the term “slave”?
  3. Does the Confederacy not represent how a large group can stake claim to the labor of the individual using the defense that it was “vital to their society”?
  4. Does the idea of a “Social Contract” not fall apart when the collective deems that in order to have a “civilized” society, the labor of the individual has to be confiscated? If the Confederacy believed that the only way to achieve a harmonious society was to stake claim to an individual’s labor and the majority approved of that notion (slavery), is that a just “Social Contract? Finally, can you see a method of non-coercive, voluntary taxation to achieve the desires of the people/society as a more ethical, representative and effective alternative opposed to the involuntary method which is carried out by the monopoly of force by the majority against the individual (the method the Confederacy advocated)?


So, there it is. The economic view on a person’s right to the fruits of their labor was the driving factor of the Civil War. The economic gain for those benefiting from free labor was obvious and they considered it as a critical factor to their society. This is why the South perceived the effort to end their access to free labor (slavery) as an economic issue at the root with larger implications on their society.


This realization of history provides us with some strange parallels between themes and ideologies of today and the past. Have economic motivations always driven the actions of the ruling class causing them to frame those issues as “identity politics” in order to gain the support of the masses? Does the anti-flag/monument crowd share the Confederate theory of confiscating one’s labor, in a more subtle and lesser degree in the form of taxes, for the relative sake of the greater good? Does the pro-flag group support the economic theory of the Confederacy where being an individual only in certain groups protected your labor or do they stand by their philosophy of today where EVERY person has the right to his/her labor?


Some say the statues should remain to remind us of history. If they stay, will we remember when the Confederacy contradicted the Conservative belief that a man should have a right to his labor? Some say that the statues need to be removed because they represent a dark time where the labor rights of the individual was disregarded because the collective thought that the involuntary servitude of a certain class was necessary for their “society”. If they are removed, will we acknowledge the immorality of forcing someone to sacrifice the fruits of their labor and seek a just method to fund our desires as a society which will drive us forward and further away from the mistakes of the former government of the Confederate States of America?


For the sake of our Republic, I hope we answer those questions sooner than later.



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