Thoughts on Flags for July 4th
Flags are symbols; they necessarily represent certain things. And they represent as much by what they are not, what they do not feature, as by what they are and what they do feature.
The Stars and Stripes is a rather typical flag representing Enlightenment ideas. Its symbols abstractly represent physical entities: the stripes the original 13 colonies and the stars the sum total of states added to the Union. As the states comprised the Union, not the Union existing before the States as Abraham Lincoln absurdly taught, the Stars and Stripes flag certainly can be seen as a proper symbol of a republic in which constituent parts are equal parts of the whole, which in fact determine the whole (which is an idea antithetical to the post-Lincoln and especially post-FDR concept of centralized democracy in which the parts are utterly ancillary to the central government). Because the largest symbols are the stripes and they represent the original colonies, the Stars and Stripes flag can even be said to rightly indicate a proper sense of historical understanding and respect.
That the Stars and Stripes flag came to stand for an imperialist democracy sanctimoniously bestriding the globe does not alter what its symbols are and mean. The fault lies not in the symbols on the flag or with the flag itself (more on that below) but in men who violently have abused the nation’s foundational precepts and utilized the Stars and Stripes as one way to suggest that they are the natural continuity from the nation’s founding rather than revolutionaries who fashioned something that the American Founding Fathers would have found abhorrent.
That said, it is incumbent to note that because the Stars and Stripes is a flag that reflects the Enlightenment, it is a symbol of a nation that at least wishes itself to be known as defined by neither religion nor ethnicity and the basic culture of a particular religion and/or ethnic heritage. The Stars and Stripes as a flag symbol works best to indicate the nation is one based on some variant of Enlightenment philosophy and sentiment. The symbols assert that which is most important to the nation, and the symbols of the Stars and Stripes declare that what is most important to the United States is not God, is not Christianity, is not even a Christian people, but is instead the nation’s constituent parts. That is a secular stance, a rather militant one, form which it is logical to infer that the final authority for the nation is not God or Christianity but its people – who are bound not by ties of kinship and common worship and morality but by adherence to an abstract set of Enlightenment beliefs - and its political structures. Enlightenment man has declared himself the replacement for Christ the King.
The Stars and Stripes is thus a perfect flag for what both Liberals and Neoconservatives preach the United States is: a proposition nation. A proposition nation is one based on a proposition, an ideology, a secular faith. And it is important to note that such ideas were part and parcel of the Founding Fathers and their generation. It is not, therefore, a ridiculous fabrication for a Liberal or Neocon scholar or journalist to assert that the United States was from its inception one that was based on a liberal Enlightenment proposition. They are telling a partial, and indispensable, truth.
The remainder of the truth is twofold. First, that even many of the Founding Fathers who were most thoroughly imbued with Enlightenment Deism observed that their republican experiment could not work unless the nation was governed with sound, conservative Christian values and morals is the best warning for all devotees of the proposition nation. Second, the basic Christian identity of the nation’s culture was obvious and unchallenged until after World War II, and the challenges and then Federal Government enforcement of anti-Christian, anti-traditional legislation and policy coincided with a drastic slide in public morals and general decency.
I think that today we should all be able to recognize that the best that can be hoped from a proposition nation is what the United States has for its history: as long as basic, conservative Christian values and identity define the average citizen and the nation’s public life, the nation as a whole will continue to overcome its problems and produce healthy culture and a promising future; and when the proposition nation loses Christian identity and values as normative, it will degenerate into a moral cesspool that can be controlled only by a tightly centralized authoritarian government. In other words, when the Christian values and identity no longer control the basic national culture, the nation will lose its freedoms and become far more of a tyranny than any American colonist ever lived under.
The Confederate Battle Flag is the antithesis of the Enlightenment Stars and Stripes, which, in its serving to symbolize abstractions and manmade political structures of the Modern world and its philosophies is much closer to Marxist and Nazi flags than to the Confederate Battle Flag. The Confederate Battle Flag is not something created by Americans to represent abstractions or American political structures. It has a long cultural history. The heart of the Confederate Battle Flag is the Saint Andrew’s Cross, which is an ancient Christian symbol, one that has been used by various peoples perhaps especially in Eastern Europe. Once I even met a Filipino Catholic who informed me that he honored the Confederate Battle Flag because it is a Saint Andrew’s Cross and that the Spanish Cross of Burgandy was likewise a saltire, which he saw as important to his being a Filipino Christian. That ancient history of the symbol can be denied, just as men can deny that the Latin or Celtic crosses are Christian symbols.
It is not enough, I submit, to know that the Saint Andrew’s Cross is a Christian sign and thus the Confederate Battle Flag is likewise a Christian flag. We must also know that from at least the time of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, the Saint Andrew’s Cross flag, which is tied to Scottish history by ancient oral history that claims bones of St. Andrew were brought to Scotland , has been the national flag of Scotland. Scotland also a flag that represents the monarchy; that is indispensable knowledge because it helps highlight that the Saint Andrew’s Flag signifies not a political position, nor a royal family, nor a ruling class: it signifies the Scottish nation, Scottish people, and Scottish culture.
If the South had virtually no people of Scottish ancestry, we could claim that it is a mere coincidence that the Confederate Battle Flag, which Southerners early and in large numbers came to see as representing them, features the Saint Andrew’s Cross. But because of the defining character of Scots-Irish culture in Southern culture, perhaps especially its military culture, it defies logic to see the Confederate Battle Flag as anything other than one that signifies two things simultaneously: 1) Christian identity as defining the South and 2) Scottish and Irish (the Saint Patrick’s Cross flag is also a saltire) culture defining the South.
While the Stars and Stripes is a flag that signifies a proposition nation, the Confederate Battle Flag signifies Christian and Scottish/Irish cultures as defining the nation. Is it any wonder that all anti-Christian individuals and groups, as well as all anti-Scottish individuals and groups hate and wish to exterminate public use of the Confederate Battle Flag?
Perhaps the best way to understand the importance of the Confederate Battle Flag, which captured hundreds of times more respect and love from Southerners than the Stars and Stripes based Stars and Bars, is to see it as a symbol of the recognition that the proposition nation must be rejected. And the Confederate Battle Flag declares what culture is to be seen as defining the Confederate States of America, which culture also defines the South: Celtic Christian. Had Southerners been English in any meaningful cultural sense, they would have adopted a form of the Saint George’s Cross. Had Southerners been defined by Enlightenment determined abstractions, the Stars and Bars would have been adored and any ‘battle flag’ would have reflected it or at least also reflected Enlightenment abstraction.
As Richard Weaver observed, ideas have consequences, and as that is so, then all things have signification. The Stars and Stripes is a production of Enlightenment sensibilities and philosophy; the Confederate Battle Flag is a reconfiguring for local circumstances of an ancient Christian symbol that also had been the flag symbol of Scottish culture for at least five and a half centuries. The two flags signify very different ideas about nation and its defining culture, and the ideas behind each flag have very different consequences.
Jimmy Cantrell ( firstname.lastname@example.org
Author of How Celtic Culture Invented Southern Literature HERE