An author who grew up in the shadow of the Civil War, and has been fascinated by its history, noticed some odd similarities between arguments in defense of slavery and the arguments current-day conservatives make to defend white supremacy.
Conservatives frequently appeal to common sense, reason and unity to push back against challenges to the racial status quo, arguing that challenges to white supremacy are only driving them further toward the hateful fringes, according to author Eve Fairbanks in a column for the Washington Post.
"These are figures who typically dislike President Trump but often say they’re being pushed rightward — sometimes away from what they claim is their natural leftward bent — by intolerance and extremism on the left," Fairbanks wrote.
The Virginia native grew up in a conservative family, visiting Civil War battlefields and studying its history, and she has noticed the similarities between the inverted logic of current-day conservative arguments against racial justice and historic defenses of slavery.
"The prevalent line of argument in the antebellum South rested on the supposition that Southerners were simultaneously the keepers of an ancient faith and renegades — made martyrs by their dedication to facts, reason and civil discourse," Fairbanks wrote.
That incongruence was what forced a Civil War to abolish slavery, Fairbanks wrote, rather than through the political process, as it had been in Britain.
"Abolitionists were rhetorically straitjacketed by the proposition that they were the hard-liners who sought to curtail freedom," she wrote. "Northerners, not Southerners, had to watch what they said and strain to compromise so they didn’t confirm the dictatorial notion Southern rhetoricians had implanted in the public mind."
Fairbanks singled out present-day conservative Ben Shapiro, who likes to say "facts don't care about your feelings" to support his arguments, for employing the same rhetoric as antebellum slavery defenders.
"They stressed the importance of logic, 'facts,' 'truth,' 'science' and 'nature' much more than Northern rhetoricians did," she wrote. "They chided their adversaries for being romantic idealists, ignoring the “experience of centuries.”
Shapiro and other conservative thinkers like to present themselves as the keepers of controversial truths exercising their First Amendment rights in the face of oppressive opposition -- just like their historic antecedents.
"The most important thing to know about them, they held, was that they were not the oppressors," Fairbanks wrote. "They were the oppressed. They were driven to feelings of isolation and shame purely on the basis of freely held ideas, the right of every thinking man."
John Wilkes Booth never practiced slavery himself, but Fairbanks noted that he complained before assassinating President Abraham Lincoln that he no longer felt comfortable expressing his "thoughts or sentiments" on slavery freely in good company.
"Lincoln understood that antebellum reasoning was more dangerous than straightforward defenses of chattel slavery," Fairbanks wrote. "He feared that by claiming to stand for freedom, reason and civility, and by framing themselves as beleaguered victims, pro-Southern thinkers could draft new warriors who thought they were fighting for something fundamentally American, even if they were wary of slavery itself."
"And that’s what happened," she added.