Wednesday, January 05, 2005

More on slavery and revisionism

In early December, a Christian academy in Cary made headlines for adopting, and quickly backpedaling on, a little book called Southern Slavery As it Was. A history professor at the University of Idaho puts this incident in its disturbing perspective.

As Professor Ramsey tells it, the university town of Moscow, Idaho, is the home base for the Douglas Wilson's steady attacks on the received history of the Civil War. Wilson is co-author, with Steve Wilkins, of Southern Slavery As it Was. Wilson is a Moscow preacher; Wilkins is co-founder of The League of the South. What was a skirmish in Cary was an all-out culture war in Moscow.

So much could be said about this group's tactics. Note how they use the rhetoric of the freedom movement to advance their agenda, while at the same time framing the argument as (an exclusive and monolithic) Christianity vs. "enlightened secularism," so that, in the end, the issue isn't slavery at all.

In prominent advertisements in several local newspapers, Wilson and his supporters argued that “slavery isn’t the issue.” “Establishment secularism,” they claimed, “can’t stand real criticism. It can’t bear real differences.” The advertisements suggested that the real goal of local critics of Wilson’s defense of racial slavery was “silencing dissent.”

The Cary Christian School is one of more than 165 private academies in Wilson's empire. Writes Ramsey, the incident in Moscow

made it clear that Douglas Wilson was more than just a local troublemaker and southern partisan. He had established two “Reformed” evangelical churches in town whose congregations, thanks to nationwide recruitment efforts, now represented 10 percent of Moscow’s entire population. He had founded a k-12 school called “Logos” that taught history from a “Biblical Worldview” and an unaccredited college called “New Saint Andrews,” where he had installed himself as “Senior Fellow of Theology.” Other faculty members at the college included Wilson’s son Nate, his brother Gordon, and son-in-law Ben. Wilson, it turned out, had cultivated an empire of “classical” schools based on a biblical worldview that included over 165 private academies around the country, all of which purchased educational materials published by his personal “Canon Press” in Moscow, Idaho, or affiliated “Veritas Press” in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His empire of private academies paled, however, in comparison to his real passion for home-schooling. Wilson’s view of slavery currently services thousands of home-school families around the country with materials published by Canon and Veritas Presses.

It's tempting to want to ignore this story, to leave it quietly on the fringe where it belongs. But what needs to be noted--for future reference--is a particular element of Wilson's strategy. He is picking on "small college towns with major research universities," for the reason that they are both "strategic" and "feasible" (New York City for example would be strategic but not feasible). Professor Ramsey concludes that
"[i]t may be worthwhile . . . for educators elsewhere to take notice of this tempest while it is still contained in a distant teacup and remember that our country’s commitment to civil rights and equality are in truth only a generation old."

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