On July 14, 2015 a “new” novel appeared from author Harper Lee. Entitled Go Set a Watchman
, it was actually Lee’s first novel, written years before her famous 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird,
but rejected by a major publisher in 1957. And while the dramatic changes to the iconic character Atticus Finch
are creating headlines, what the novel really shows is how the optimistic expectations and assumptions behind the Civil Rights Movement, are, like the Old South
itself, gone with the wind.
As celebrated in Mockingbird,
the character of Finch proves a moral giant in the segregationist South by defending an African-American. In contrast, in Watchman,
Finch is a diehard segregationist
who defends a black man only because the law requires due process
and because he fears that if he doesn’t take the case, the NAACP will disrupt the rhythm of Southern life.
The only reason this book has been published now is because Harper Lee’s estate trustee found the manuscript in a safe deposit box. Lee herself is now 89, partially deaf and blind,
living in a nursing home, and may or may not have actually consented to publication.
Reviewers and readers have been shocked by the new “racist” version of Atticus. [The two Atticuses: ‘Mockingbird’s hero radically reshaped from ‘Watchman’s racist version,
by Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times,
July 22, 2015].
The source of the change lies more than a half century in the past, when Lee was a beginning writer. Harper Lee was close childhood friends with Truman Capote, a talented writer
good at self-promotion and noted for his offbeat interests, and accompanied Capote on his trip to a Kansas prison to interview two killers
whose brutal murders of a Kansas family he immortalized
with the book In Cold Blood
. Capote sent Lee to his publisher, Lippincott, but her manuscript was rejected. The editor suggested that Lee revise the work and tell the story as memories of one of the Finch children.
Between 1957 and 1960, however, Lee had time to realize that the Civil Rights movement was making major changes in both America and the South. So Lee’s original Atticus was modified to become a kind of white Martin Luther King,
a Civil Rights hero that liberals could empathize with. And the strategy worked. The book was serialized in Reader’s Digest
, sold sensationally, won a Pulitzer Prize, and was made into an iconic film starring Gregory Peck
Yet the character of Atticus loses something in the change. As Lee reworked her manuscript after the rejection, she retained the ethical framework of the original Atticus because she very likely believed in the basic values of human rights and individual dignity. However, she eliminated the race realism
that made the original Atticus a believable son of the Old South
. In contrast, by endowing the Mockingbird
Atticus with a very liberal view of blacks as equal in every way, wildly out of place in the Dixie of the time, Lee made a radical statement that would alienate many Southerners but would raise both Atticus (and herself) to lofty moral status.
Each version of Atticus has their own peculiar virtues and limitations. The Watchman
Atticus was cynical and saw blacks as children
unable to cope with modern life,
a typical view in the old South. He noticed differences between blacks and Whites and made judgments based upon them, as did most White Southerners who had far more daily contact with “Negroes”
than did White Northerners
of the time. In contrast, Mockingbird’s
Atticus exemplifies moral righteousness, but advances a concept of equality based on abstract legal and moral principles rather than experience. In short, he represents what many non-Southerners
wanted to believe.
Since the Civil Rights Movement
, we all have had plenty of experience with diversity. And the egalitarian vision dreamed of by liberals of the 1960s has not come to pass—forcing intellectuals to come up with new explanations for the movement’s failure.
This includes many faux
conservatives. For example, New York Times
professional token conservative David Brooks offers effusive praise to Between the World and Me,
a new book by Ta-Nehisi Coates that purports to be a letter to his son, essentially yet another version of the self-pitying “The Talk” genre that got John Derbyshire
in trouble when he satirized
them by writing a white-oriented parody.
Coates’ litany of white crimes and other kinds of malfeasance against innocent blacks is treated by Brooks with reverential respect, despite Coates’ obvious paranoia.
And Brooks says:
The American Dream of equal opportunity, social mobility, and ever more perfect democracy cherishes the future more than the past. It abandons old wrongs and transcends old sins for the sake of a better tomorrow.[Listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates While White, by David Brooks, New York Times, July 17, 2015]
This perpetuates the fatal flaw of the Civil Rights movement: in an America of “equal opportunity,” success will be determined primarily
by intelligence, which can generally be predicted by test scores and is not equally spread over all groups
. Therefore, as “equal opportunity” fails to lead to “racial equality,” Coates and other black intellectuals are driven by anger and envy
to largely abandon the use of logic, evidence, or honesty
in trying to find a way out of the racial morass.
We are trapped in this multicultural swamp because liberals never anticipated what would happened once they created an integrated America. The Atticus of Mockingbird
seemed to believe in an America where everyone is equal, but America after the Civil Rights movement is “equal” only in degradation
. In an integrated America dominated
by black influence
on popular culture
, traditional European-American culture is denigrated and degeneracy is praised.
In retrospect, Watchman’s
Atticus, cynical and crude as he is, accurately anticipates how the end of the established order in the South
would unleash destructive forces
on the entire country.
As Ann Coulter notes
in her brilliant new book Adios America!
, liberals have created a vast demographic crisis
as whites retreat out of misguided guilt and general ignorance. Because of their premise of absolute equality, our Cultural Marxist
leaders are adding millions of Third Worlders to our population, even though they will compete with struggling African-Americans whose square peg doesn’t fit the round hole of a high tech America
in which IQ plays a leading role and traits like self-control and future time orientation
have high payoffs.
In all likelihood, Harper Lee could not have imagined the harm done to her country because of policies based on the moral premises of a character like Mockingbird’s
Atticus Finch. Undoubtedly more intellectual than many in her Alabama town, she lived a reclusive life, as did fellow authors William Faulkner
and Thomas Wolfe.
Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again,
chronicling the outrage of a small town at an author who used their lives as raw material for a book, may have anticipated Lee’s dilemma.
But a half century after the “Dream
” of legal equality
was realized, we are learning that inherent human equality is simply a myth. The human-biodiversity movement
, which explores the reality of human differences, flourishes online
and is constantly flirting
with a mainstream breakthrough. Human DNA has been fully sequenced by the Human Genome Project
of 2002. Today hundreds of studies show that human groupings and races are not equal,
and “equality of outcomes” will always remain an impossible goal.
Ironically it may be the Watchman
Atticus who has the last say. Modern science supports the insight that that biologically-founded diversity
makes equality of outcomes impossible. Southerners may have known early on that blacks and whites could not live too closely and achieve harmony. The chaos of today’s America is the price we pay for the naïve faith
of the Mockingbird
Atticus.Cornelius J. Troost [Email him] author of Apes Or Angels?:Darwin, Dover, Human Nature, and Race, was a professor of science education at UCLA and chair of graduate studies at Brock University in Ontario, Canada. While at Brock Dr. Troost created an MA degree program in environmental education. He also worked on critical thinking tests for the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto