Popper, Hobsbawm, Voegelin, Valee and the Lost Cause - 3

The great French UFOlogist Jacques Vallee (right) noted in the middle/late 1960s that the saucer phenomena provided us as a society with the unique chance to document myth in formation – in real time, in modern times - and that we lacked the tools and strategies necessary to accurately record (for social science) this profound anthropological display. He felt we had lost an immense opportunity.

The situation was the same when those articles and writings emerged over a century ago that we tag “Lost Cause” thinking. They still exist: we can study them even now as emergent myth or as emergent tradition, but we are not yet ready for that level of analysis. Vallee observed a predicament that has not changed in forty years. The situation has deteriorated, if anything. Still being ill-equipped to observe or measure the emergence of myth or tradition, “Lost Cause” criticism is necessarily primitive and unsatisfying.

There are, as I said, available to letter readers and newspaper skimmers certain wartime Southern memes that take the form of insights or truths about the larger issues. Contemporary writers are interpreting great events and people’s relation to those events. The white Southerner is in crisis and the crisis is cosmic, touching every aspect of life: contracts, friendships, family relations, the meaning of loyalty, of nation, of justice, of personal self-respect, familial survival, and much more of course. And even now, we hear the old memes in these write-ups echoed in modern conversations with descendants of combatants.

Eric Voegelin (photo, right) writes that “symbolizations arise from a people’s experience of order” - this is a partial answer to Popper’s question of where traditions originate. Nowhere does “experience of order” bear down harder on a people than in a desperate war of independence – or a war of rebellion.

Voegelin said, that for Aristotle, “Society was a cosmion of meaning, illuminated from within by its own self-interpretation,” and this is certainly true of Southern society of the Rebellion period. Our task is to unpack that self-interpretation. Voegelin seems to be talking directly to Centennialists like Gallagher and Nolan and their attack on “Lost Cause” history when he says [emphasis added],
The symbols in which a society interprets the meaning of its existence are meant to be true [as opposed to a conspiratorial Hobsbawmian manipulation – DR]; if the theorist arrives at a different interpretation, he arrives at a different truth concerning the meaning of human existence in society. And then one would have to inquire: What is this truth that is represented by the theorist, this truth that furnishes him with standards by which he can measure the truth represented by society? What is the source of this truth that apparently is developed in critical opposition to society?
Wartime white Southern society, one might add. And this is the rub: critics of what could be called Lost Cause memes understand that criticism of “Lost Cause historiography” involves proclamations of “truth … developed in critical opposition to [Southern] society.” They use historiography to assume the role of critics of that society and its descendants. They are not studying and interpreting, they are proclaiming.

Oddly enough, the people least equipped to manage any sort of historiography whatsoever – the Centennialists – seem the most interested in “Lost Cause” historiography. But to the extent that they are focused on “correcting” various “errors” they never actually engage historiography at a “real” level, at the level of philosophy of history.

“Lost Cause” is a polemical construct, make no mistake. It’s an ism assembled from bits of analysis – Lost Causism. It in no way connects with the representational truth embedded in the self-interpretation of a society in crisis; it in no way attempts to connect with the cosmion of white Rebellion and its social and psychological ramifications. It’s a series of external criticisms. Voegelin again [my emphasis]:
More than once in a discussion of a political topic it has happened that a student … would ask me how I defined fascism, or socialism, or some other ism of that order. And more than once I had to surprise the questioner – who apparently as part of a college education picked up the idea that science was a warehouse of dictionary definitions – by my assurance that I did not feel obliged to indulge in such definitions, because movements of the suggested type, together with their symbolisms, were part of reality, that only concepts could be defined but not reality, and that it was highly doubtful whether the language symbols in question could be critically clarified to such a point that they were of any cognitive use in science.
This is the core dilemma of “Lost Cause” criticism. The Centennial Unionist, who rarely operates as an historian per se, has entered into yet another very personal, very emotional argument with the past.