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.

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One thought on “Excerpt- On the Strengths of a Class Society

  1. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/02/20) | The Reactivity Place

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