This essay was originally published in The Lasting South (Regnery, 1957).
Recently when Bertrand Russell was a speaking-guest of the Richmond Area University Center, its director, Colonel Herbert Fitzroy, drove the philosopher from Washington to Richmond over Route One. After some miles the usually voluble Russell grew silent, and nothing would draw him out. Then, as if emerging from deep reflection, he said, “If all the greatest minds of our time—in arts and philosophy, pure science and the practical sciences—would collaborate to produce the most hideous method of transportation, that calculated to create the maximum in mental suffering, they would build this road.”
As an engineering project, Route One is a proudful thing to Virginians long forced to endure the plaints and abuses of travelers over its poor roads. Now no out-of-state tourist can complain of dust and mud and curves that once tested the daring skill of young hotbloods in open roadsters and forced to the speed of a horse’s trot the more cautious oldsters. Nor can stranded motorists belabor the State for the distances between service stations, and the inadequacy for modern life of those so-called service stations which consisted of a gasoline pump outside a shadowy country store, operated by a leisurely rustic to whom the innards of the automobile were an unfathomable mystery. Indeed, one of the present phenomena noted by philosopher Russell was the frequency of the shiny stations, which he had counted during his bemused silence.
To accomplish this convenience for travelers, the countryside was denuded of every vestige of its character and natural beauty, and, between the efficient service stations and the quick service eating places, the uniform ugliness designed for a people in transit holds the quality of some kind of purgatory, of a vacuum between worlds. It is the debasement of all value to the journey itself.
As such, it serves as a dreary symbol of the attitude that values only the destination and not the manner of going. There is no time for enjoyment of things along the road when the only purpose is to get there, and the only standard is to make the trip conform in details as closely as possible to the same way in which everyone else makes it. Thus, in a fluid sameness, humans stream over the white concrete purgatories as if they were de-personalized creatures who inhabit this transition between worlds.
If the Southern States had won their independence, there would be no Route One in the region which comprised the Confederacy. Tourists dedicated to zooming through a mechanized bleakness could again complain of a way of going which intruded on the frozen state of their consciousness, but for those not anesthetized to the journey the rewards would offer something along the way that has vanished from all America. They would partake of a life sustained in being for the passing moment and not for some distant end. For, to the antebellum Southerner the journey of his life was everything, and he loved with a fierce immediacy every detail of the land on which his journey was made.
With all the causes of the Confederate War for Independence, which have been harangued over for nearly a century by supposedly dispassionate scholars and avowedly passionate partisans, the one element beyond all hazard and controversy was the Southerner’s devotion to his land. There was nothing of the empty sentimentality of a national anthem in the title, The Land We Love, which General D. H. Hill gave to a collection of Confederate memoirs and records. The Southerner was identified with his land, his country, as the religious are with God. Far more than a legal inhabitant of a political entity, the individual as an immortal soul was of his land, his consciousness part of the larger consciousness, so that the man and the Southerner were one.
During the angry debates preceding the Civil War, a Senator from Michigan complained to a Senator from Virginia for referring to himself as “a Virginian.”
“I don’t refer to myself as a Michigander,” the Senator said, “but as an American. Yet, all you Southerners identify yourselves with your State.”
The Michigan gentleman was complaining of an emotional attachment to home-place which he did not understand, because such an attachment existed nowhere else in that intensity and completeness of personal identification. The Michigan Senator was, unknowingly, also stating the reason why the Southerners would defend their land against an invader.
By the mid-nineteenth century, Southern life, evolved indigenously to its land and climate, had been formed by 250 years of a regional history that marked in no sense a deviation from what became the mainstream of American history. Virginia, the country’s first colony, was different from all others except South Carolina in that its settlers, unique among pioneers, adventured to the wilderness to build a new aristocracy. Neither political nor religious dissidents, but staunch royalists and Church of England Episcopalians, the colonists developed a culture that was essentially an extension of England’s with the conditioning of the physical life in Virginia. On the model of the British ruling class, and with skillful adaptation to the local conditions, the successful planters built a society controlled by the personal principalities of plantations. This pattern of society was extended from Virginia, and South Carolina, throughout the region that became the Confederacy.
This extension of these cultures spread through the geographical areas where the similarity of the land and climate made practical the economy of a single money-crop, based on chattel labor. Economic-minded historians have made a great to-do about the inefficiency of slave labor, and listed this wasteful system as a contributor to the South’s poorly balanced economy. Actually, the South’s economy was poorly balanced for a complex of reasons, dating back to the first 150 years under the restrictions of the British and including the intangible personal elements of pride and conservatism. The extant wills of successful planters reveal that they were men of vast tangible wealth, as well as illimitable power, and the body of Southern people appeared to live poorly only by money standards which were not their own.
Almost all historians, measuring the South by foreign standards, have tried to prove some single point either on a bloodless chart or in the abstractions of human ideals. There is no chart available for the soul of man, and the abstractions are based on post facto standards. Because the South is usually studied from the outside for its weaknesses, little is learned about the matrix of a civilization which existed collaterally with the dominant American civilization, though essentially in a quite different character and with far different goals.
At bottom, the explanation of all the South’s defects is that it lost— in a war fought for its independence. The North’s war of subjugation was fought somewhat listlessly until Lincoln interjected a moral slogan on “freeing the slaves,” which, at least by his words, he did not believe in himself. Yet, such is the puissance of a moral issue interjected into arbitration by arms that following generations consider their war as a crusade for human liberty and today, even such a learned and objective journal as Time magazine, refers to the Emancipation Proclamation as the act which “freed the slaves” in Lincoln’s crusade for human liberty. Just to be factual, slavery was legally abolished in America in 1865, after Lincoln was dead. The revered Emancipation was (admittedly by Lincoln) a war measure and applied only to the unoccupied areas of the South, in which he had at the time no authority whatsoever. Where he might have had the authority to free the slaves, he did not.
Because the moral purpose of fighting to free the slaves is nobler than fighting to retain humans in chattel slavery, with its military victory the North inherited also a moral superiority. Thus, while the victor was writing history, he naturally explained his victory in terms of morality and blamed the South’s defeat on its sins. It lies in the realm of psychiatrists to explain why the physically victorious North must go on endlessly defeating the South morally, but certainly no defeated people in the world’s history have ever been subjected to so much analysis by their conquerors. As a hazard, the analyses and judgments continue because the Southern States did not learn through physical defeat that their conquerors were superior in every way, and the Union part of the United States was compelled to explain the inferiority of a defeated people within its midst who rejected its values.
Of course today, when a defeated people or a potential enemy rejects the benefits of American democracy, the United States tries to coddle them with gifts (in cash and in the presence of some of its enlightened citizens) into loving the amorphous giant of good will. However, in the South’s time of defeat, the powers of the Union used the helplessness of a region to establish, as they hoped, a permanent exploitation of its resources and people, while the moralists explained why the South had to lose for its sins. By today (while humanitarians beam benevolently on distant masses of people) the explanation of the South’s wickedness has become a habit.
It happened that this habit was formed in the post-Christian era when self-conscious avowals of social justice replaced the practice of morality. The liberal-minded individual, detached from the traditional forces outside himself (like religion) which gave meaning to his morality and moral discipline to his conduct, found an identity by joining the forces of social justice. However, unlike the older comforts, the new forces imposed no obligation upon the individual. It sufficed that he declared himself on the side of social justice. Such declarers conformed to attitudes so standardized that they could readily identify themselves with strangers and recognize a fellow cultist; these attitudes of social justice served, in a lonely world, as the fraternal grip or the convention badge in less sophisticated people.
This need to establish the larger identity was particularly urgent in metropolitan centers, as New York, where the uprooted of 48 States converge in pursuit of money and fame, or notoriety, and the aloneness of the individual, removed from place-attachment, is most acute. In New York these lodge members contain a high proportion of superficially literate individuals, of men and women who practice constantly to sharpen and refine the expression of attitudes; thus it happens that the life of the land-rooted Southerners, with its continuity of home life as the center of the social structure, receives its glibbest analyses from this cult among rootless urbanites. That they are not qualified to judge is beside the point certainly to them. Qualification would imply preparation toward an end to be accomplished. These present day Pharisees (“Thank God I am not as other men”) are concerned only with their own personal salvation, in which their confession of faith consists of assuming the verbal attitudes. No church service in the world contains a more formalized litany.
Because these attitudes of social justice impose no responsibility to understand the object most under analysis, the habit of explaining the sins of The South has become something like a game played for its own sake by amateurs.
The game, as played in New York, bears no relation to the business of life, as lived in the South. No Southerner expects it to, and for one simple reason: The Southerner knows that his region is judged outside the context of true history. This does not mean in any sense that he attributes his differentiation to the Civil War and its aftermath, or that he should be explained in terms of the personal losses from the war (that “befoh de wah we had plenty of slaves”). It does mean that he should be explained in terms of his own ideals and not those which others might wish to impose from the callous ignorance of distance. The calamitous war affected the South in terms of its historic ideals and conditioning from them, in terms of the intent of its civilization and the degree to which the region attained its intention. For the Confederacy did not represent to Southerners only the dissolution of what they regarded as a confederation of States, but the political fulfillment of the intention of their civilization.
They were at last to be free to form their own society “of its people, for its people, and run by its people.” Their attempt to form a separate nation for themselves was, then, to establish as a political entity a homogeneous society which had been 250 years in evolving.
When they were frustrated by force of arms in their attempt at independence and returned forcibly as poor relations to a society whose ideals were alien to their own, the people formed no deeper attachment to the alien ideals forced upon them than they had formed when attachment was a matter of choice. It was, however, the necessity of some conformity to the alien ideals which confused the dislocated and impoverished Southerner. Then, spiteful denunciations of his failure to conform more completely, especially in economic standards, stiffened his resistance to one standard of ideals, and, finally, created in him a determination to conform no more than necessity forced upon him. As of today, he is becoming self-conscious in the articulation and preservation of his historic ideals which failed in the test of war.
Until recently, as a shabby-genteel roomer in an opulent house, the Southerner clung sentimentally to his heritage as o£ its climactic hour in destruction. At this distillation of his culture in a struggle for life, he contemplated the heroism and gallantry. Now that he has regained some economic independence—through the Southward shifts of industry, through natively owned operations of some of the region’s resources, and through a share of Federal largess—the Southerner is beginning to throw off the mental effects of his defeat as he finally begins to throw off the economic effects.
There was more distortion than even the Southerner realized in thinking conditioned by poverty amongst a people from whom the Southerners were differentiated. Its writers and historians were inclined to write “in accommodation” as one Southern historian recently called it. Fiction writers exploited and sensationalized the less savory aspects of Southern life for Northern audiences; Civil War historians concentrated on the non-controversial military aspects, and other historians became apologists for their region. Some even professed to find springs of democracy, as currently understood, in phases of Southern life, in order to minimize the South’s differentiation.
As democracy is understood today (or, at least, as it is talked about), the South was never remotely democratic. All the manifestations of Southern life which, in the past fifty years, have been politically and publicly the most obnoxious, were the results of a clumsy, half-hearted adaptation to “the foreign ideology” of American democracy as now practiced.
The literal meaning of democracy, as the rule of “the crowd,” offered a state of affairs which was historically abhorrent to the Southerner. Among our social justice cultists there is enthusiastic lip service for man in the mass as opposed to man, alone, unique. While historically a total society was composed of many divergent elements, including those “minorities” which came into fashion when social justice replaced personal moral values, in the era of mass man any divergence is regarded as a cancer in the body politic. Negroes and Jews must be saved from a status that differentiates them from the mass, and that minority of Southerners who are willful divergents must be forced into the common mould.
More than twenty years ago Ortega y Gasset wrote that “the characteristic of the hour is that the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be commonplace, has the assurance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and to impose them wherever it will.” The switch on that in the United States is that the highly articulate social justice advocates proclaim the rights of the commonplace in order to give themselves personal distinction—though, as individuals, their lives are marked by the utmost strivings to become differentiated from the commonplace. As a political switch within a switch, the converts of Mr. Truman found his successor out-commonplaced by the Republican candidate. The devotees of the day-of-the-common-man rallied to a highly personalized individual like themselves, in Mr. Stevenson, while Mr. Eisenhower, by the act of being, represented the commonplace. This turn gives to the practical operation of American democracy something of an aspect of “who’s looney now.”
In the ante-bellum South, Eisenhower would never have been elected for representing the commonplace nor would Stevenson have been rewarded for preaching it. Theirs was a society dedicated to producing the superior man. The average Southerner did not desire a leader who would be just another man like himself: he wanted some one he could admire, look up to, and trust to be led by.
In wars, the emergency forces the abandonment of democratic lip service, and the average enlisted man wants of all things on earth not to be led by another man like himself, but by an officer especially trained and possessing the habit of leadership. The South did the same in politics all the time.
Yet, in time of war, the South fought with the most democratic army in America’s history. Officers did not need to be set apart by rigid rules. To the soldiers it was habitual that some led and others followed, and they gave no less allegiance because they called officers by their first names and went to the same parties between battles. Certainly no leader was ever followed by more selfless devotion than General Lee, whom the men greeted most casually as “Uncle Robert.” In this the soldiers expressed a deeper respect than army regulations could instill; it was the traditional respect for the natural chieftain, the patriarch. By the same token it was inconceivable that newspapers would refer to Jefferson Davis as “Jeff,” in order to make their president one of the boys.
The separation of the men from the boys, in leadership, had begun very early in the generic Southern colony of Virginia. It began with the concept of an aristocratic republic, with a ruling class similar to Britain’s. Because of the over-romanticizing of the Virginia settlers as noble “cavaliers,” and the mythical backgrounds attributed to FFV’s, beginning with Wertenbaker the fashion swung to the other extreme and lately the early Virginians have been presented as plain people at best and rogues and convicted criminals at worst.
Rogues and convicted criminals certainly came to Virginia, as everywhere else, but they contributed nothing to the formation of the social structure; and plain people, as in any society, far outnumbered those of superior backgrounds. But none as plain people rose to positions of power and those whose descendants rose (as Thomas Jefferson) had married into a ruling family. The well known families—such as the Lees and Randolphs, Washingtons and Carters, Ludwells and Burwells—were founded by educated and well connected men of substance. Whether or not their British family trees were as fancy as genealogists would prefer is no consequence; they were natural leaders who came to a new colony to establish a power beyond them at home.
During the cavalier influx enough emigrants of gentle breeding came and intermarried to satisfy anyone wishing to make a point of blood lines. The sociological point of the influx was the influence of families accustomed to position, with the habit of authority and the aristocratic attitude to life. The infusion of these royalists in the first half-century of Virginia’s existence articulated and gave physical form to the emerging concept of an aristocratic republic with its ruling class.
During the first century-and-a-half of the formation of Virginia’s republic, its relations with other American colonies were remote. As its society was modelled on that of the British country gentry, as it was attached through trade, intermarriages and the Church with the mother country, the true capital of Virginia was London. All planters shopped in London, and London was where the well-to-do “went to town.” The disagreements that arose between this Colony and England were largely economic.
From the founding of America at Jamestown, all the colonies had been oppressed by prohibitive British laws designed to protect London merchants and manufacturers. Virginia and New England reacted according to the nature of their land and their climate. Virginia readily conformed to the laws forbidding colonial manufacturing because of the golden leaf of tobacco; but the planters consistently evaded the legal restrictions which forced tobacco growers to sell only to British home markets at British controlled prices.
In turn, New Englanders, having no money crop, consistently defied the legal restrictions on manufacturing. Because each section reacted to the British restrictions “according to its nature ” New England founded a society on the industrial pattern which was to belong to the future, while Virginia and the other Southern colonies founded an agricultural pattern which was, in time, to belong to the past. New England was no more aware that its area of legal evasion was to become identified with “progress” than was the South aware that its area of compliance would eventually identify its culture with the anachronistic.
When the two sections allied in common cause against England, their alliance by no means embraced a common culture. Their cultures were becoming increasingly divergent. Because Virginia’s was here first, it is inaccurate to consider the South as the divergent element simply because the land of the wilderness yet to be settled was more suited to the New England economy than to the Southern, and that the immigrants who settled it responded more to the New England culture than to the Southern.
To be blunt, the South did not want them. A homogenous society and its rulers abhorred the presence of “a restless proletariat” and any elements of population which could throw political power to numerical majorities. The presence of a Negro slave population established the Southern order of rule indefinitely in time, as far as any man could then conceive.
This order of rule by a specially qualified minority was built in a pyramid from the county level. In an agricultural society, with few cities and none large, the county became the basic political entity, in which the potential rulers were first tried and trained, and, if promising, advanced to the State level. There the process was repeated. This selective process produced, in the early republic, the great Virginia Dynasty, and certainly no American State has ever produced so many giants in such a short period.
At the end of the golden age, with a paradise established, the planters became more parochial and less cosmopolitan. While men of size still entered politics (as Calhoun and John Randolph of Roanoke) there was a drift among the planter class toward the traditionally honored profession of arms. The quality of Southern military leadership during the Civil War attests to the fact that young men formed with the habit of authority, and trained for responsibility on the privately owned communities of a plantation, were qualified to lead in any field which the emergency demanded. Strictly from the planter class, Virginia alone produced Lee, his son Rooney and nephew Fitz; Jeb Stuart, Joe Johnston, Pickett, A. P. Hill and Magruder, Ewell and Early, half-a-dozen outstanding artillerists, and threw in—from outside the planter class—Stonewall Jackson. This, of course, does not include the regimental and brigade commanders of promise who were killed early. As these men represented the generations only once and twice removed from Washington, Jefferson, Mason, Harrison, Madison, Monroe, Henry, Pendleton, John Marshall, and all the others, manifestly the intent to produce superior individuals was achieved.
In this achievement, the emphasis on the individual produced throughout the South a strongly characteristic individualism in all the population. It was in this individualism that the Southerner cherished his hot, slumbrous and violent land. Loving his land with a passionately personal identification, he partook of the pride of the imperious plantation masters, and each man was something of a king in all his prideful uniqueness of soul.
Their society has been called “feudal” and “archaic” and less complimentary things, but chiefly it was regarded as “static” as differentiated from the Northern dynamism. Then, as now, the outside critic could never conceive that the static element in his life was what the Southerner loved. Without desire to get on in the material world and without material standards of success by which he was judged, he regarded life as a journey to enjoy. With Cervantes he would say, “The road is better than the inn.”
When the North’s industrial, conscience burdened “progress” made the Southern hedonist unendurable on the same continent, and when the Northern mercantile-manufacturing class wanted to duplicate England’s policy of operating the agricultural region for its benefit, to the confusion of history ever since there was manufactured the handy “issue” of slavery.
The South was not so static that it would never have abolished chattel slavery. In fact, there is a strong probability that the South would have drifted away from chattel slavery soon after 1860 if the vindictiveness of the irresponsible abolitionists had not retarded the emancipation movement in the South. Scarcely more than ten per cent of Southerners were slaveholders in any case; these were growing yearly less and, even with the setback given native emancipation by self-righteous busybodies, the number of responsible emancipationists within the South was growing.
Of equal importance, in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, and in the Atlanta area, slavery was in a definite state of decline and there was the steady development of industry. In this development of industry, the South never—then or now—wished to be industrialized. It wished for what the currently more prosperously stable communities have achieved—a balance of small (as opposed to monolithic) industries with agriculture and commerce. That the South could have turned to industry on its own is illustrated by the unsung but heroic ingenuity with which an agricultural people, starting with nothing, produced materials of war, including ships, under incredibly unfavorable conditions.
The issue of slavery, which has stigmatized the South’s defense of its soil ever since, was a factor which the South and time would have taken care of. There would have been no sudden “freeing of the slaves” because the Southerner—along with Lincoln—recognized the problem of Negroes in a white society. No one can ever know the extent to which efforts at solving this (as yet insoluble) problem were stopped because the South felt compelled to defend what it was. It is this defense of its existence, with the stress on slavery, that has characterized the South historically, and not what the South was defending in addition to slavery. Only a fool would believe that ninety per cent of a population would risk and give their lives, dislocate their world, to save the human property of ten per cent.
For the culture which the alliance of Southern States was defending, its people must be regarded as having a life not crucially related to slavery and certainly unrelated to what has become called “the American dream.” With Southerners freed of the necessity of defending all their institutions against a majority (whose money men wanted to and did exploit the region), slavery would have passed. With its people in a separate, though friendly country, “the American dream” would not have been expected of them.
Expatriate colonies in Paris and Mexico were not founded by seekers of the American dream, nor are Vienna and Florence visited for the study of their principles of American style democracy. Even Ireland has come into a wan and fey fashion admired by fugitives from the American standard. Indeed, it is doubtful if any prosperous nation in the world’s history has sent so many expatriates and visitors to places which represented a culture foreign to their own. The South today receives a surprisingly large quota of upper bracket expatriates and commuters who prefer even the vestigial remnants of the plantation society.
From this it can be assumed that the American, despite his verbal conformity, is not satisfied with the greying standardization of today’s so-called democracy. No people have ever been so lonely and none have sought so desperately to find identity in crowds. The day of the mass man, producing mass entertainment and mass education and mass standards, has left the resourceless individual in inarticulated need to lose his most priceless gift from God—his mortal self—in crowds.
In an independent Confederacy of the Southern States, none of this would have happened. The confusion today about the Southern States is that the South is seen only as it exists after its destruction in war, its rule by bayonet-supported exploiters, and its reaction to the impact of American democracy.
The destruction by arms and exploitation by the army of occupation caused far more than physical damage. The whole order of the South’s ruling class was destroyed. This destruction opened the way for the Southern demagogues—jeered at by the rest of the country as if the rest had no responsibility in producing them, or, indeed, as if Southerners were the only demagogues.
The rise of the lower classes after the war’s destruction turned loose in power those who removed from the traditional Southern life its style—its graciousness and high sense of personal honor. These emergent vulgarians, without honor, were only too happy to unite with carpetbaggers and absentee Northern exploiters to sell their own people into the bondage of a conformity to which they could never adapt.
In trying the adaptation, the charming second-flight world capitals of New Orleans, Charleston and Richmond, and countless delightful small cities and towns, all came under the cultural bulldozer of the American dream and, in pathetic fashion, tried to be “like everybody else.” The liberal liquor laws of Louisiana permit that small early part of New Orleans called the French Quarter to offer blandishments to tourists; Charleston, in its desuetude, props up the Battery section like a painted corpse; but Richmond, except to the most knowing, has become almost what Mencken once called it, “a suburb to nothing.”
Instead of succumbing to this partial levelling process, Southern cities would have flowered in their individual flavor. Doubtless other of the smaller cities would have grown in their own unique identities. Certainly these towns, which missed the savagery of the preservers of the Union, would have retained the warm quality in which the individual would never be lonely enough to seek crowds. This is a physical thing, illustrative of the whole.
That part of the United States which fought as the Union would have as a close neighbor (probably as ally in time of war) a society in which the individual dared to be “different,” a Southern civilization dedicated to producing the best it had and not the most commonplace. If the two countries could then have worked together, the conservatism of the South would have offered a healthful balance in politics. Ideally, as the Southerner conceived Union, the two countries could have made a reality out of confederation, and progressive-minded Southerners could have taken their talents northward and static-minded Yankees could have sought comfort beside some stream in the South. Essentially the presence of other Americans with a peculiar culture would have served, above all, as a check for the psychotic compulsion to sameness.
Even if the South, allowed its independence, had returned voluntarily with its minority rights assured, frustrated hustlers and operators could have found a haven where they were judged of themselves as individuals and not by the fit of a gray flannel suit. If a man could look at himself squarely and say, “I really do not care about being a success,” he could honorably sustain his peculiar genius for life in his own country. This could have sustained the right of the individual and prevented the need of the crowd. Most significantly, this could have sustained the true minorities in a total society and not created the fashion for differentiated minorities. The Southern white people were actually the first—if most arrogant—minority in America. Calhoun, writing eloquently about minority rights, was really very avantgarde. The Union was not then interested in minorities. It was interested in the rights of the majority, which it established by might.
As of today, where the apostles of social justice are dedicated to minority rights, minority has come not to mean, as the Southerners conceived it, a group specialized by their intentions and responsibilities, but a people specialized by differentiation from the norm. Under that definition, the Southern white is not a minority. He is a backward fellow American who oppresses a minority—the Negroes.
Sinclair Lewis, not noted for his studies of Southern life, in reviewing Thomas Wolfe very favorably, made the reservation that Wolfe excluded the Negro problem from his books. If Negroes are a social problem of America, so did Lewis exclude them from his work—as do most Northern writers. Or, if Negroes by their existence in large numbers in the South, were excluded artistically, so did Edith Wharton exclude the East Side Jews, and Marquand the Boston Irish, and James Farrell the Gold Coast inhabitants of the Lake shores.
A writer-writes from his own environment, as Wolfe did. The Negro is not a dominant part of the personal environment of the Southerner as an Individual. Negroes appear in all Southern fiction but, except in dramatized writing of accommodation, they do not influence the life of the white Southerner in such vital areas as love and religion, ambition and adaptation. Doubtless the New England manufacturers were no more influenced by the foreigners they exploited. When the foreigner rises, he does provide fictional material, but in the South—as in all of America—the Negro does not rise to the point of becoming a problem to society. He stays still and becomes a problem to society. Why should Tom Wolfe be more aware of this social problem than Sinclair Lewis? The fact that Lewis’ people turned loose freed Negroes on Wolfe’s dispossessed people should have made Lewis the responsible one.
The non-Southern American, in saddling the Southern people with a problem which the Northerner irresponsibly created, has found his own crutch in a social justice of the mind and not the heart, of a fashion and not of practicality. This the Confederate did not need. The Confederate was not lacking in social justice because members of his society continued chattel slavery after the New Englanders, following the abolition of their slave trade, became pious about a matter which concerned them not at all when they were making money from it.
Chattel slavery is, after all, not the only sin a society can commit. That, as of today, it is regarded as sinful, was as true when New Englanders made money out of the slave trade as when Southern planters used Negroes as chattels in the field. The Southerners were caught with the Negro, while the New Englanders had made their money out of the slave and grown moral about the whole thing. But slave labored plantations did not make all Southerners exist only as oppressors of a minority.
Forcible abolition made the lower class white Southerner, especially in the newer Lower South, hate the Negro freed among them in economic rivalry in their postwar debasement. Even this mutually detrimental circumstance would not have happened if the Confederacy could have handled in its own way the abolition of a dated system of labor. In Southern eyes, chattel slavery was only a system of labor, a counterpart of the pre-labor-law mills, and the order of the Southern ruling class could have been sustained with only a change in its labor system.
For refusing to change on outside directions, which the responsible Southerner knew would bring chaos to all, his whole historic society has been viewed in a distortion to its purpose and achievements within that purpose. The Confederacy politically—as of that day and under outside pressure—was formed to remove Southern people from nonSouthern interference, specifically as regards slavery. But, more fundamentally, it was formed to preserve the rule of specialized minorities in a society of individualists.
Even the fact that such a purpose can, and probably will be, regarded as monstrous in today’s verbal insistence on a neutral equality, presents a case for the Confederacy which believed in a distillation of the best.
After all, it was a Southerner, from his non-egalitarian society, who introduced into political philosophy “the pursuit of happiness” as the natural order of man.
Jefferson did, however, say “pursuit.” He declared all men equal in that pursuit; he never intended the phrase to mean, as the social justice “democrats” have perverted it, a total equality in all things by accident of birth. That is against nature. The Confederacy was formed of very natural people. It is their postwar malformation that is usually observed without compassion. As of their own day, before defensiveness set in and then all the horrors, they were people with the courage to accept politically the natural superiority of the superior, and try to found a country in contempt of the levelling of society by mass man.
Today in the South, we are jeered at by ignorant Northern tourists who possess that peculiar gift of derisiveness for anything different, and we are condemned by the half-educated pontificators who deplore our lack of a “progress” which would—if we would only try—make us undistinguishable from everybody else. It must finally be said: The Confederacy was formed, and fought for its life, in order to avoid becoming Americanized.
It achieved its glory in proportion to its difference and it was a sad day for America when another set of values was removed as a balance to middle class, competitive money standards whose goal is to establish a vast, grey anonymity. And if the United States today wish to be more effectual in world relations, our leaders could well begin by recognizing the (however hateful) fact that other peoples wish, as did the Confederates, to avoid Americanization.
Somebody once said, “Money isn’t everything.” This is a wry joke to Americans, to whom it is everything, but our leaders should understand that other people really mean it. The Confederacy lost its fight for independence because it was poor in comparison to the United States. Yet, with all that has happened to its people since the war—and is happening today—the Southerner did not lose his personal identity with his land. He is still a part of something larger than himself.
You will never have to indoctrinate a Southerner in order to get him to fight for his land. His land and himself are one. Of that land, he is an individual among other individuals who walk proudly among inequalities and diversities in acceptance of the natural order of the world. In acceptance of the natural order, he never has to preach what he does not practice. He lives by his heart, and his heart belongs to his land—in all its purblind, parochial and chauvinistic oneness. The Southerner retains the Confederate heritage of love of a place, to the point of dying for it, and, in his way, he is the most practical of all Americans. He values the journey of the moral individual in its brief span on earth.
Though the doctrine of success has influenced him (balefully in spots), like his Confederate ancestors he is most happy where least American. This is certainly intellectual treason, with nothing about it of that “if” of another Virginian, Patrick Henry, but the Confederacy is rising again—for the values it defended and the life it fought for. And there are a lot of Yankee converts.