The South in the Last Days of the Republic

There's been a lot of ink spilled just lately on the South in the Obama era. I'm disinclined to respond to it, mostly, because I think the frame is wrong.

For one thing it's wrongheaded to call the South "Neo-Confederate," and would be even if it were actually attempting secession over limited-governmenet principles. Nobody in the South intends to restore the Old Confederacy, especially on racial or slavery matters. The South retains most of its complaints as defiantly today as in 1875, but not those. On those points its heart has changed.

For another, conservatism has done very well at the state level -- and not just in the South. Conservatives are doing great things at the state level even in frozen Northern regions like Michigan and Wisconsin. It's only the Federal government that has turned solidly against conservatives, and really that makes a kind of sense. Conservatism is opposed to what the Federal government has come to represent: an ever-growing, all-encompassing force with the power to regulate all aspects of life via the state. Conservatives believe in institutions that shape and guide life, including the state but only in a limited form. A state that is too strong ends up interfering with other institutions that are at least as important: the family, the church, the bonds of individual friendship, and freely-chosen organizations such as professional organizations and private clubs.

The Federal game is still a game of patronage: elect me, and I'll vote to send power and wealth your way! Naturally conservatives are doing badly given that they want nothing to do with the game; naturally what remains of the allegedly-conservative party are trying to limit the influence of their actual voters. That's an old sport, and it's a blood sport, but the power and wealth are running out. When the Federal government falls, a fate rapidly being brought about by what have become its ordinary modes of operation, it will be conservative states that remain strong enough economically and politically to survive. Whatever the new order looks like, it will be built on that strength.

So I'm not inclined to respond to the frame. However, I did want to draw attention to two things from the debate that I particularly liked. The first is that the New Yorker piece did something I rarely see done: it took a moment to appreciate what benefits the nation has gotten out of having Southerners within it.
[T]he Southern way of life began to be embraced around the country until, in a sense, it came to stand for the “real America”: country music and Lynyrd Skynyrd, barbecue and nascar, political conservatism, God and guns, the code of masculinity, militarization, hostility to unions, and suspicion of government authority, especially in Washington, D.C. (despite its largesse). In 1978, the Dallas Cowboys laid claim to the title of “America’s team”—something the San Francisco 49ers never would have attempted.... That same year, the tax revolt began, in California....

At the end of “The Mind of the South,” Cash has this description of “the South at its best”: “proud, brave, honorable by its lights, courteous, personally generous, loyal.” These remain qualities that the rest of the country needs and often calls on.
One of the Southern voices cited by that piece responded to it, and that is the second piece I wanted to cite.
I encourage you to remember these words: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

With that in mind, I have reached out to Mr. Packer. Many of my friends hoped I would excoriate him – not only for his misrepresentation of my work, but also for the overall tone and content of his column. Others suggested that an insult from The New Yorker constitutes a compliment. And still others pointed out that any attention is good attention. (I’ve raised toddlers; I find it hard to agree with that one.)

Instead, I chose to apologize for any failings of my own that may have led him to his incorrect assumptions. I also offered to buy him some good ol’ fashioned Southern cuisine should he ever venture down this way. I sincerely hope he does.
In The Three Musketeers, Athos responds to a generous proposition by saying, "Thus spoke and acted the gallant knights of the time of Charlemagne, in whom every cavalier ought to seek his model." Likewise do I appreciate a noble and gentlemanly gesture, given that the author of the original piece made that rare effort to understand and not only to criticize.

Athos goes on to say, "Unfortunately, we do not live in the times of the great emperor, we live in the times of the cardinal." In a similar way we are unfortunate. Still it is good to hear noble words spoken, and to see a man carry himself like a gentleman.

1 comment:

douglas said...

I've heard radio host Dennis Prager say more than once that he truly believes that it's the South that will save the America we know and love, and while he's a man of the right, it's good to know that there is that perception out there.