Excerpt- On Antebellum Patriarchalism

The following is from Raimondo Luraghi’s The Rise and Fall of the Plantation South, pages 72-75. Here we see Luraghi, an Italian Marxist, conceding the basic benevolent nature of the Southern aristocracy, which was underpinned by the patriarchal view of society. I apologize for the choppiness (Luraghi is a terrible writer), and the occasional Marxist language. I don’t endorse everything said here, but the spirit is correct. Highlighted passages bolded by me:

In the early nineteenth century, this patriarchal, paternalistic civilization civilization was reaching its height. Pari passu, the sense of guilt was increasing inside the slaveholders’ souls. Certainly, slavery was an evil (as is any exploitation); however, the justifications that the slaveholding class brought forth were not completely destitute of any foundation. It is true that, just before the Civil War era, southern slavery had reached possibly the most mild and humane (or at least inhumane) level compatible with such a cruel institution. One is surprised to see planters (who should have been “shrewd businessmen”) going directly against their economic interest, which they are supposed to have pursued like “able moneymakers,” in order to respect the personality of their slaves. In 1835, John Basil Lamar, an important planter of Georgia, selling the slaves belonging to his father’s unwilled property, purchased four of the old blacks and a deformed boy himself, because he thought they were unwilling to leave their old homes. Although they were no longer capable of any valuable work, he decided to disburse money in order to keep them with their relatives. There were many cases like this on nineteenth-century plantations; and this certainly did not contribute, from a purely economic viewpoint, to making the plantations “very efficient” enterprises, as Fogel, Engerman, and their school allege them to have been.

There was no better witness of this situation than Charles Francis Adams, Jr. Answering a letter from his father, who, as was true of many northerners, mainly abolitionists, had a kind of contempt toward black slaves, the younger Adams wrote: “I’m getting to have very decided opinions on the negro question… I note what you say of the African race and ‘the absence of all appearance of self-reliance in their own power’ during this struggle. From this, greatly as it has disappointed me, I very unwillingly draw different conclusions from your own. The conviction is forcing itself upon me that African slavery, as it existed in our slave states, was indeed a patriarchal institution under which the slaves were not, as a whole, unhappy, cruelly treated or overworked. I am forced to this conclusion. Mind, I do not because of it like slavery any better….”

Very recently, a distinguished historian, Ludwell H. Johnson, reviewing the collection of the Jones family letters, and quoting an older one, the Fleet family letters collection, the first from Georgia, the second from Virginia, observed that those letters are “a compelling evidence” that the Old South, as depicted by writers like Thomas Nelson Page or Margaret Mitchell “did exist, and it is not the product of weak-minded romanticizing.” The same impression, I must add, is received by anybody going carefully and at length through the letters of many southern planter families.

All the vital elements coming from Africa blended, as already noted, with Elizabethan, Spanish, French, and even Italian aspects into southern culture. This rich background gave the planter class a consciousness of possessing a mentality of its own, which had almost nothing to do with the northern mentality. Perhaps it should be stressed once more, it was more akin to other American cultures….

Pondering the distinctive shape of mind of the seigneurial [planter] class of the South, one is irresistibly drawn into thinking of the agrarian “senatorial” class of the Roman Republic. The Romans were frequently good administrators, even shrewd “businessmen,” as far as the development of their properties was concerned; however, to them, business was always vile negotium. What gave human life its taste and its meaning were the so-called otia, or cultural, literary, even scientific pursuits, entertaining lavishly, cultivating friendships. Here perhaps is to be found the key to understanding why and how southern gentlemen, however concerned about their business (and in many cases managing it very adroitly), never had a capitalist Weltanschauung. And this, incidentally, in the economic war to come, would represent their chief “inferiority” in comparison to businessmen from the North. So one obtains the impression that money was to them only a means: the true aim of their lives was leisure, culture, and status. Increasing production was just a method to reach the true end: consumption.

Among the most important pursuits of the southern seigneurial class were military and political careers. A close scrutiny of the most prominent generals and officers in the Confederate army during the Civil War shows clearly that a military career was usually the choice of cadets from impoverished seigneurial families, very much as it was in the feudal noble class of Europe. Robert E. Lee is the most remarkable instance. As far as politics is concerned, to understand the aristocrat-politicians of the Old South, it is necessary to dismiss any idea we may have of politicians from our own bourgeois world. The “professional” politician was scarcely, if ever, to be found in the Old South. In our bourgeois societies, politics may represent a career in itself, frequently a business. After all, in capitalist society everything has been transformed into a commodity, to be bought and sold, whose value is to be reckoned in terms of money. So, politics, too, has become a business…

In the Old South, as in any aristocratic society, this was not usually the case. There were, of course, exceptions, but what matters here is the rule. Politicians were usually important planters with large estates. Studying their biographies closely, one gets the impression that they were not politicians at all, but planters who participated in politics. The South was no democratic society; it was an oligarchy, governed by a very intelligent, mild, shrewd, benevolent, and tolerant paternalistic class.

The Roots of Modern Southern Leftism, Pt. 1: The Novelists

Part Two continues here.

Modern Southern Leftism – it’s like a redundant oxymoron. I maintain that the Southern worldview is inherently Rightist, because it is a manifestation of a set of traditional principles which were passed to us from our primitive forefathers. Our worldview still exists, although in a weakened state – why? Because the tendrils of Leftism, spread  primarily through our sometime friends at the North and weakness within ourselves, have penetrated our people and are busily about their work of destruction. Here I will attempt to trace some of the mechanisms by which this disease was introduced in the hopes that it will give us some insight on how to go about weeding it out.

Leftism was present in the South from the start of our autonomy – of this there cannot be doubt. Thomas Jefferson was the standard-bearer of egalitarian sentiment in the early United States, and his philosophy found many friends among Southern planters and yeomen. Once tensions escalated between the dual visions of the North and South, however, the Southern aristocracy began to see the error of those ways and the South actually became more hierarchical and traditionalist as the 19th century progressed. Leftism was almost strangled in the South for good – until 1865. The War resulted in one of the most catastrophic losses of property for a people in the history of the West, causing the bulwark which the antebellum South had erected against progressivism, the traditionalist aristocracy, to lose their foundation of legitimacy.

The ground in which modern Leftism in the South grew – I identify it as “modern” to differentiate it from the Jeffersonian strain – was fertilized by postbellum Southern apologists who sought to rehabilitate the Southern image in the eyes of the North. While political and military leaders mostly either refused to be Reconstructed or retired from public life after the war, authors such as John Esten Cooke and Thomas Nelson Page sought to simultaneously glorify the Old Order while paving the way for rehabilitation between the sections. One motivation was money; the ruined South certainly had little money to spend on works of fiction. Accompanying that was the feeling that the former way of life needed to be memorialized for future generations, as well as a sincere desire to see the country reunited. In the introduction to one novel, Page wrote that he had “never written a line which he did not hope might bring about better understanding between the North and South, and finally lead to a more perfect Union.”

These writers primarily used two devices to achieve this – frequent depictions of romantic love between Southerners and Northerners and a relatively sympathetic portrayal of the Northern cause (simultaneously never deprecating the Southern). In describing the battle at Port Republic, Cooke wrote:

Three times the Federal artillery was thus lost and won, in spite of the most desperate fighting. All honor to courage wherever it displays itself, under the blue coat or under the gray; and the Federal forces fought that day with a gallantry that was superb. They died where they stood, like brave men and true soldiers – an enemy records that and salutes them.

On the subject of racial equality, the Southern opinion remained unanimously against. However, here also began rumblings in favor of the view that the Negro deserved some measure of justice for “wrongs,” most aptly represented by George Washington Cable. Descended from Germans on one side and New Englanders on the other, he was raised in multicultural New Orleans and apparently endowed with a Puritan conscience. In Old Creole Days, he chose the quadroons, a class of women possessing around one quarter Negro blood and often very white-looking (allegedly, some were even blonde haired), to illustrate his views of the injustices of the racial caste system:

“Why did they make that law?” he replies. “Well, they made it to keep the two races separate.”

Madame Delphine startled the speaker with a loud, harsh, angry laugh. Fire came into her eyes, and her lips curled with scorn. “Then they made a lie, Père Jerome! Separate! No-o-o! They do not want to keep us separated; no, no! But they do want to keep us despised.”

She laid her hand on her heart, and frowned upward with physical pain. “But very well! from which race do they want to keep my daughter separate? She is seven parts white. The law did not stop her from being that; and now, when she wants to be a white man’s good and honest wife, shall the law stop her? Oh, no.”

She rose up, “No; I will tell you what that law is made for. It is made to-punish-my-child-for-not-choosing-her-father! Père Jerome – my God, what a law.”

Here we see the universal Leftist trope – disregard the teleological foundation of a given law or custom because sometimes the results are less-than-optimal, then characterize the law as immoral or driven by a hateful mindset. Now, Cable was still an incorrigible racist by today’s standards: “Social equality is a fool’s dream,” he remarked in The Silent South. He “merely” advocated the granting of certain civil rights while maintaining the framework of segregation; which, as we know, is enough to get the ball rolling down the long decline of Leftism.

Of course, fiction writers are nearly always over-possessed of romanticism, and want to see a happy ending of reconciliation between sometime belligerents. Why did apologists and critics like Cooke, Page, and Cable enjoy such influence? Because the literary world had become unmoored from the more pragmatic aristocracy, their unrealistic ideas of fairness and peace became boundless. Fairness and good feelings are all very well and good in the abstract, but they are hardly useful ideals when the fate of entire peoples hang in the balance. Unhappily for the long-term interests of the South, these conciliatory ideas enjoyed much popularity throughout the postbellum United States.

These authors have one unifying ideal – that of “progress,” of the need to “catch up” to the modern world by removing certain pillars of the traditional South. They operated under the illusion that the South could be only slightly Americanized, and would maintain its regional character and worldview indefinitely. None of them would have agreed with or supported the ultimate manifestations of their ideas, the destruction of the Southern way of life, which we are living out today. They quite innocently sought compromise with the prevailing currents of the time – and hence created the hairline cracks through which Leftism inevitably ruptures society.

Discussion Topic: Differences Between Southerners

First, apologies for the delay in substantive posts, I’m working through some things at the moment. In the meantime, I thought it would be interesting and productive to work towards identifying the delineations between Southerners today. The idea was sparked by this passage from The Southern Tradition at Bay, in which Weaver is discussing the views of William Peterfield Trent (pages 347-348):

Southerners were sufficiently attached to their states to fight for them, and one can discover on examination that the people do differ roughly by states. The Virginian is the eighteenth century English squire, fond of bonhommie and good living, and although to the country as a whole he typifies the Southern aristocrat, he is measurably more democratic than his cousin, the South Carolinian. The South Carolinian is the seventeenth-century Royalist, masterful, conscious of his position, and because of an infusion of Huguenot blood, somewhat stern. He is the most provincial of the Southerners. He “actually wishes to be rooted in a particular parish or town. The genus loci is the god he worships, and he stands for everything that is not cosmopolitan.” North Carolina, the most bourgeois of states, is the home of the typical Southern democrat, less fancy than his neighbors, but willing to work for a good thing; and Georgians are properly denominated the Yankees of the South. Louisianians have learned how to enjoy life, but have been conspicuously lacking in ambition, and the Tennesseean may well be considered more Western than Southern, or as “with” the South rather than “of” it. All this prepares for the generalization that the Southern people are “heterogeneous in manners, but homogeneous in ideas.”

In my admittedly limited experience, what remains of the traditional Southern thede isn’t quite so diverse nowadays, and few significant differences deeper than the general Appalachia-Atlantic Coast-Gulf Coast divergence can be discerned (obviously, some exceptions exist). I did find the above description of South Carolinians rang eerily true with me, North Carolina and Georgia only slightly less so. What do y’all think? What are the chief sub-thedes that exist within the traditional areas of the South today?

Excerpt- On the Strengths of a Class Society

The following is from Richard M. Weaver’s The Southern Tradition at Bay: A History of Postbellum Thought, pages 233-234. Passages especially relevant to Southern Reaction are in bold.

That the man who came out of the Southern backwoods to fight Yankees was not laden with the virtues which make a polished society must be admitted without argument. He had lived close to the soil in a region by no means wholly rescued from the wilderness, and his tutelage had been confined to the rudimentary type which prepares one to struggle against the elements rather than to contend for place in a highly organized community. Hawthorne, viewing some Confederate prisoners during his visit to Washington in 1862, was struck by what he considered their brutishness, and certainly there was no dearth of primitive humanity in the South. But it is an interesting historical fact that the lowest types were willing to make a united front with the comparatively highly cultivated seaboard aristocrat in defense of what reduces itself to a sentiment. Stories illustrating how the diverse classes came to know and appreciate each other are to be encountered everywhere. Cornelia Phillips Spencer, who wrote of all these matters with a rare degree of objectivity, counted this one of the few benefits which North Carolina got out of the fiery trial. “It has brought all classes nearer to each other,” she wrote. “The rich and the poor met together. A common cause became a common bond of sympathy and kind feeling. Charity was more freely dispensed, and pride of station was forgotten.” As a matter of fact, there had never been a real breach between the white classes of the South, and the war actually served to strengthen a mutual esteem. John S. Wise observed the easy fusion of rich and poor in Virginia: “the two stood up together side by side, and fought and slept and died together,- never thinking which was rich and which was poor, until a time when such as survived were all poor together.” This circumstance was the precursor of the Solid South.

There is room for surmise regarding the superior power of an articulated society, such as George Fitzhugh had defended in Sociology for the South, to withstand shock. A classless society is invertebrate. A class society, on the other hand, if it is not so rigid that it prevents the ever-essential recruiting from the lower orders, has in its very structure an element of strength. Though perhaps slackening, this process of recruiting had been continuous over the South, and it had not entered into the head of the Southern yeoman that he was a man of no consideration. General Hooker in his testimony before the Committee on Conduct of War asserted that although he believed his army to be superior to Lee’s in intelligence, in physique, and in equipment, it was never able to equal the enemy in discipline “for reasons not necessary to mention.”

Most students have agreed that behind the Confederate soldier’s respect for his leaders lay the Southern social system. Unless this type of society is eaten internally by corruption, or weakened by a long history of class oppression, a superior loyalty may infuse and bind the whole. People feel kindly toward a community where each has a station in which he is respected, and where the leaders are men of character and principle rather than popularity seekers and panderers. Deterioration sets in when distrust, selfishness, and the cult of envy destroy confidence in the value of a collective effort. A people who have come to believe that there are no rational grounds for superiority, that ideals are illusions and self-sacrifice only foolishness are morally sick. These conditions prepared France for her destruction in 1940.

Southern Reaction: A Primer

Our… idea is an idea within a beaten idea, and has been a conquered idea too for eighty years, but we have not let it slip from us. We know what we want.

Ben Robertson, Red Hills and Cotton

Here I will attempt to outline a brief introduction to Southern Reaction (SRx) for the uninitiated, and give some thoughts on where we fit with the greater Reactionary and Southern Nationalist movements. These are my views alone, and may or may not be representative of the wider group of people who identify as Southern Reactionaries. My intention is to open a wider discussion with which we can hopefully make some progress on defining Southern Reaction more clearly, as well as identifying an optimal strategy towards achieving our goals. Therefore I encourage comments, critiques, and suggestions. If anyone is interested in helping us in other ways, please contact me.

Southern Reaction is a Rightist, reactionary movement with a distinct goal, the survival and propagation of the Southern worldview (for more on the concept of the traditionalist worldview, go here). The Southern worldview is the essence of what it is to be Southern. It’s a spiritual identity which manifests itself in all kinds of ways; I’m certainly not qualified to provide a comprehensive definition of the Southern identity. For now, suffice to say “I know it when I see it,” and I trust my fellow Southerners will understand my meaning. Here we are concerned with reconstituting the political and social manifestation of the Southern worldview, or achieving a lasting, independent society characterized by that worldview. We take the term “reactionary” because we are explicitly anti-progressive and seek to identify and root out all progressive, or Leftist, influence, of which the South has historically had a non-negligible amount.

Hence, we take a critical view of the Southern tradition; but we are critical from a sense of love, a willingness to learn from mistakes, to trim the fat, so to speak. Since 1865, the Southern idea has been a defeated idea. In order to move forward, to rebuild our strength, we must ask “Why?” for our survival depends on our ability to provide an accurate answer. That said, it also depends on our ability to discern the goodness, nobility, and Godliness inherent in our tradition and worldview, by which we believe it is characterized. We have no rose-colored glasses here, for our situation is dire. For this reason, our eyes are fixed on the future, although we view the future through the lens of the past. We have a goal, an endstate which we work towards. Losing ourselves in ancestor worship, while a very Southern temptation, is one which we must strive to avoid for the sake of our descendants. Eugene Genovese said it well:

Southern conservatives, as “traditionalists,” have espoused a “tradition” to be fought for, not a “traditionalism” cast in stone and worshiped as an idol.

Southern Reaction is distinct from, though not opposed to, other Southern Nationalist and Rightist groups. We can be viewed as an exceptionally Rightist group of Southern Nationalists, or as a group of Rightists who focus our efforts on the continuation of the Southern thede and worldview. Throughout the West, Rightism is experiencing a renaissance of sorts as increasing numbers of people of all walks of life grow tired of excessive Progressivism and comprehend its ultimately destructive social tendencies. Neoreaction is one such product of the wider disenchantment; but what of the Southerners of an intellectual or philosophical bent who long for a return to the traditional Southern way of life? Southern Reaction should be the proper place for them, a group which could theoretically maximize their intellectual talents. Natural aristocracies are composed of those types of people, and we’ll most certainly need them if our struggle is to bear lasting fruit.

Southern Reaction is dedicated to keeping the Southern sociopolitical and intellectual traditions alive. We reject Lockean notions of freedom and equality, instead following the footsteps of our Rightist Southern and European forebears in adopting a hierarchical view of society as exemplified by Robert Filmer, Thomas Carlyle, and George Fitzhugh. We look to understand and build on an already strong foundation of thought and utilize it to help rescue our descendants’ future from the dystopian Progressivist agenda. Here we will use polemics, apologia, and Southern historiography to establish and understand our and our enemies’ identity, but we are not satisfied with a solely internet-based group of anonymous bloggers; we are ultimately dedicated to, and strive to achieve, real world results.

Southern Nationalists reading this are no doubt saying, “We HAVE achieved real world results!” To which I concede the point. Groups like the League of the South have done outstanding work over the past 20 years, building a viable and forward-looking organization with thousands of members, and have successfully moved off the internet and onto the streets. I applaud them, and I’m grateful for their work – indeed, they’ve done so well that I feel bad offering criticism – however I don’t believe they alone can ultimately succeed in reestablishing the Southern worldview, even if they do have an outside shot at achieving political independence for the South, because street activism and populism cannot achieve Rightist results. The critique Southern Reaction presents to Southern Nationalism is that appealing to The Will of the People is always a losing gambit in the end, because The People are incapable of making the best decisions for themselves. The masses need leadership, an aristocracy with legitimate authority, which thus engenders a hierarchical society. That is, I believe, the missing piece of the puzzle.

Going forward, my vision is that Southern Reaction would complement the efforts of Southern Nationalists by concentrating on rebuilding the Southern aristocracy, the traditional source of leadership and guiding light for the South, while Southern Nationalists continue their work of cultivating and nourishing Southern traditionalism among the wider Southern populace, steadily expanding the base and keeping the wider movement relevant. Southern Reaction is exclusive by nature, and thus better equipped to purge Leftism from its ideology and stay true to Southern Rightist ideals – to carry the torch, so that when the time comes we can rebuild our society in the Right way.

The clock on our survival as a distinct thede is running because “conservative” strategies have utterly failed to conserve the traditional society. Preserving our worldview necessitates reconstructing the fading continuum between ourselves and authentic Southern traditions, myths, and outlooks, thus we prioritize Rightist thought and organization. We may differ on particulars with our friends in the Southern Nationalist camp, but we all have the same essential goal: a return to a lasting, healthy, strong traditionalist society characterized by the Southern worldview.