Statist Ideology and Total War Doctrine

General Philip Sheridan (1831-1888). Lo! The Conquering Hero Comes.
General Philip Sheridan (1831-1888). Lo! The Conquering Hero Comes.

In 1870, Union General Philip Sheridan was assigned as a guest of the King of Prussia to observe the Franco-Prussian War. At a dinner honoring Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, he shared some of his military experience and philosophy with Prussian Army officers:

“First, deal as hard blows to the enemy’s soldiers as possible, and then cause so much suffering to the inhabitants of the country that they will long for peace and press their government to make it…Nothing should be left to the people but eyes to lament the war.”

Many of the Prussian Army officers were shocked. But Sheridan’s teachings would be remembered and practiced by some units of the German Army once under the control of Adolf Hitler and indoctrinated with the statist ideology of National Socialism during the Second World War. They found Sheridan’s model, perfected against American Indians, particularly useful against French, Greek, Polish, Czech, and Serbian partisans.

What causes men to make Total War on a whole people?  How do they justify callous depredations and violence against unarmed civilians, even their fellow countrymen?  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his book, The Gulag Archipelago, describing the oppressive and brutal prison system of the former Soviet Union, makes the statement that:

“To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good.”

Solzhenitsyn also understood the critical underlying question of his statement.  By what moral compass should good or right be determined?  Should right be determined by Marxism, National Socialism, an elite judiciary, popular fashion, majority vote, or by some more transcendent standard? The constant error of mankind is to make themselves rather than God the source and standard of all law.  Man by himself is a spinning and unreliable moral compass. Refusing God as the source of law, man will fashion for himself idols. The State often becomes the chief idol of societies that have forgotten God.

Statism is a philosophy that embraces the State rather than God as the ultimate source of all law. Whatever advances the State is good. The values of statism are expansion of the wealth, territory, power, and authority of the State. The leaders of the State determine what is right without reference to any higher moral law or source of authority. The State becomes the supreme lawgiver and judge. Statism naturally tends ultimately toward totalitarian forms of government, but its initial forms are often democratic. In fact, nominal democratic form and language are frequently essential propaganda tools of the State. This can be seen in such national titles as, “The People’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam.”

 Statism in one form or another is a common engine for convincing its adherents that whatever they do in the service of the State is right and good.  Statism is easily wrapped in the flag, so its adherents can more easily twist enormous evil into “patriotic” themes. Statism also tends to rationalize lies with distortions of patriotism. The Communists had a saying that “A lie in the service of Marxism is the truth.”  But statist philosophies often permeate parliamentary democracies and constitutional republics to some extent.  Unless checked, statism is a poison that undermines the foundations of all constitutional, democratic, and republican forms of government. Even worse, it undermines all morality and values that contradict or impede the advancement of the State.

Statism is not patriotism. Patriotism is a love of one’s own people and country that is inseparable from their history, cultural, social, and religious traditions and values. Statism is often ready to jettison any of these except territory to advance or defend its power and authority. “Union” has often been glorified as a transcendent cause. But what is meant by “Union”?  If “Union” is not accompanied by mutual consent and mutual good, what are its values? It is only a territorial imperative. It is only a euphemism for statism. Union is good when it advances the common good and enhances and defends liberty.  Only in the mindset of statism does “Union” trump liberty.

In the long annals of history, statism has often been the underlying ideology used to justify incredible violence against dissenters.  Stalin and Mao killed more of their fellow countrymen stifling dissent than were killed in the Second World War. Statist violence must, however, wear a mask of virtue and patriotism.  In order to do great evil men must first convince themselves that what they do is righteous and what they have done is good and patriotic.

Therefore, unjustly perpetrated and unjustly waged war must be made into a noble crusade. Truth must be buried beneath more palatable legend. Once men have done great evil they will also go to great lengths to justify it. It may take the form of enormous monuments or enormous lies. It may take the form of even greater evil in suppressing the truth and persecuting the truthful.  Solzhenitsyn also remarked of his experience with Soviet statism that:

“Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence.”

Most Americans have been thoroughly mis-educated on the true causes of the American Civil War.  The issue of terribly unjust tariffs that enriched Northern industry at the expense of the South, which practically forced the cotton-producing states to secede, has been covered up and suppressed.  The North’s flagrant economic “Sectionalism” and perceived disregard for Southern interests and traditional Constitutional protections gave rise to strong States Rights concerns in the South.  The issues and conditions of slavery and even Union War policy have been misrepresented and exaggerated to make the Civil War a noble crusade to free Southern slaves. Lincoln’s own words, the proceedings of Congress, and a multitude of other records provide shattering documentary evidence disproving that cherished false narrative. In 1862, the famous British author, Charles Dickens, himself an opponent of slavery, observed:

“The Northern onslaught upon slavery is no more than a piece of specious humbug designed to conceal its desire for economic control of the Southern states.”During Reconstruction and even more so today, this false narrative has been turned into a propaganda device to stir up racial and ethnic grievances and even hatred to gain political power.

In its path both Southern and American symbols are being destroyed and the memory of genuine patriots and their achievements defamed, sacrificed to the lies, bullying, and stupidity of political correctness.

Has our society been in a moral tail-spin for too long to value truth? Are Americans still morally capable of dealing honestly with the true causes and conduct of the “Civil War”?  Once you have built your worldview on a lie, it is very difficult to see the truth, much less to embrace the truth.  But truth, however uncomfortable and unpopular or however deeply buried and trampled, is still truth.  It has a tendency to resurrection, though truth is hard to face after decades of believing lies. Truth is hard to bear when you have for many years justified yourself and an idolized State with lies. The standard school texts and teaching on the “Civil War” in most public and many Christian schools perpetrate enormous dishonesty as history.

We now have a generation of Americans, including most Southerners, who are shamelessly ignorant of their own history. What history they do know is laced with political deception. How many high school teachers in the South in both public and Christian schools know anything but propaganda on the causes and conduct of the “Civil War”?  How many know the full truth about the Reconstruction era? What are the penalties for them, if they step outside the chains of political correctness in their study and teaching?

Yet there are reasons for optimism. New publishing and media technology is enabling long suppressed truth to seep into new channels of public information and education despite near fanatical opposition.  Providence, courage and determination will eventually rescue truth.

But the danger of statism is always with us. In the last forty years it has become rampant in the courts and increasingly pervades government and society at many levels. When the people have forgotten God, and government has removed Him as lawgiver, our country flirts with cruel tyranny and mortal danger.

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Mike Scruggs