Principalities & Powers

Capitalism the Enemy

By a margin of 63-56, the South Carolina House of Representatives voted on May 10 to pull down the Confederate battle flag that has fluttered above the state's capitol dome since 1962 and to remove it to "a place of honor" on the capitol grounds. The vote was the grand (or perhaps the petty) finale to a controversy that has lurked below the surface of South Carolina's politics for much of the last decade and has now begun to haunt the polities of other Southern states and, indeed, of the whole nation. Proponents of removing the Confederate flag argued that it is, in the immortal and typically stilted phrasing of a 1991 resolution of the NAACP, "an odious blight upon the universe," or, in the lesser eloquence of Sen. John McCain, "a symbol of racism and slavery." Supporters of the flag argued, generally, that it was not a symbol of racism and slavery, though they seemed to disagree as to what it actually does symbolize—states' rights, Southern independence, cultural tradition, or simply the martial virtues of honor, loyalty, courage, and willingness to sacrifice for a cause that most Americans associate with the Confederacy and its hapless warriors. Like all real symbols, the flag represents many different things, most of them intimately connected to each other in the enduring bond called "civilization." If the meaning of symbols could be translated into simple and clear language, there...

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