South, the Whole South, and Nothing But the South
on the South
Gary North has written a
provocative piece which challenges would-be Southern defenders
to show that there is a South left to conserve. That is a tall order,
and defenders must rely on the division of labor in making an answer.
Dr. North has lived in Texas and Arkansas, and his call for a discussion
was certainly made with the best of intentions. Here I can only
tackle, peripherally, some of the issues he raises.
Is It True,
What They Say About Dixie?
canít give scientific proof of this, but go to any well-stocked
library, look around, and see if there just isnít a whole lot more
written about the American South than any other "region"
of the empire. There has been, I grant, some interest in the West
as the West, but I daresay that the body of writing on the poor,
benighted South leaves all competitors in the dust.
why might this be? There have been a number of explanations. Two
come to mind. The first is the traditional Northern theory: the
South has more ink spilled and trees timbered on its behalf than
do other regions, because the South has always been the "nationís"
number one problem.
is an economical theory. It must be true: why else have generations
of high-minded Northern busybodies devoted so much time and effort
to investigating, explaining, and drawing up reform plans for the
South? Why, indeed, except on the unworthy hypothesis that there
was something wrong with the busybodies. On closer analysis, it
seems that Northern soul-greatness has usually been ancillary to
rather concrete material interests and goals.
as the reader will have noticed, is not an anti-market website.
I refer above to material interests and goals which could only have
been realized via massive federal subsidies, tariffs, and controls
of the sort that make trivialities like saving the Union seem important
to some people. Beside that winning mix of interest, ideology, and
State intervention, little things like the horrors of war seem small.
I am not here to fight that war, or any other one. As Dr.
Clyde Wilson noted recently, we have several centuries of Southern
life to reflect upon (and critically defend) Ė and need not spend
all our time on four and half years of brutal and aggressive
warfare. This brings me to the second explanation for all the writing
on the South, namely, that the South is just a whole lot more interesting
than the rest of the empire.
seems intuitively obvious, but again I canít prove it here.
Doubters should pull a couple volumes out of the mountain of books
already mentioned. The Agrarians are central, to be sure, and soon
enough there will be "Post-Agrarians," who will take the
Agrariansí best insights and build a new outlook by engaging those
ideas with some other things we have learned along the way. The
outcome will not be the hat-in-hand, guilt-ridden, even-newer-South
approach favored by homegrown leftists and, well, external agitators
safely berthed in Southern universities.
a real outsider adds to our understanding. Michael OíBrien, a British
academic, has written many thoughtful essays on Southern literature
and thought. Over the water, he had more perspective than a truckload
of Yankee lit professors could muster. His focus on the Southís
existence in the minds of Southerners, who may not even agree on
what it is, led to misunderstandings. Hence the unfortunate controversy
about eight years ago in the Southern Partisan Ė that "evil"
magazine spoken of during the Ashcroft hearings Ė some of whose
contributors read OíBrien as saying the South is a sort of mental
delusion. We are past that, now. Not to go all hermeneutical on
you, it is the case that cultures rest on shared meanings
and mental constructs. It is the poor archeologists, who have no
records to read, who are reduced to cataloguing broken kitchenware.
cultures are "mental" does not mean that they are not
real. Moon Pies and RC cola might survive the disappearance of Southern
culture as mere artifacts taken on by the new owners. Southern culture
could survive the loss of those items and still go on, as long as
there were Southerners. This is why all the flag and statue business
can go on being Georgians, even under the Cluttered Banner favored
by the Governor of Atlanta. More monuments and statues could be
sidelined or even dynamited without getting to the heart of the
matter. We have, however, no reason to yield out of misplaced guilt
or to pretend we like it. Let the telescopic philanthropists
of New England investigate the history of their own shipyards, for
Thinking of our pharasaical New England brethren derailed my train
of thought. What matters here is the survival of Southern culture.
We can sort out later whether itís high or low culture. Meanwhile,
the managerial-political class who dwell in great glassy monuments
to power in Northern cities, especially the city which Rules the
World, have other plans.
need not feel singled out. The managers are visionaries, even if
their vision consists of big State-capitalist profits for their
friends, bombing foreigners just to do it, and ruining whatever
came before their time so as to make themselves feel important,
with it, immortal. If they wish to eradicate the South, "itís
not personal," as an Italian-American says in one of those
movies. Southerners, alas, do take things personally.
Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down
somehow brings me to music Ė "both kinds, country and
western." Thatís Rustic and Occidental music to you, sometimes
learnedly referred to as Bucolic and Hesperidean music. In fact,
there isnít that much Western to it. You have follow that cowboy
poetsí convention in Elko, Nevada, for that, or stock up on CDs
as Clyde Wilson has noted, "country music" is an accepted
euphemism for Southern music. Not that other folks havenít cottoned
to the notion and adapted it for local purposes. Take the Australians,
for instance Ė but we donít have time for that discussion. Take
the rest of the United States, they listen to it, too, not to mention
our good friends who live north of the Yankees. If country
music fans made national policy, the South would get treated better.
against Dr. North, country music has always been about divorce and
cheating Ė among other things. At a time when entertainment spokes-
phonies and leftist academics defend Rap music for its well,
whatever they defend it for it is not too much to claim that some
country music is just "social realism." Of course itís
that and more.
was living in Fort Pierce, Florida, in the early 1970s, when Gary
Stewart lived there in spite of then being famous on country
radio. About once a week the local paper reported that the police
had to go over to his house, again. Lifestyle, I guess. I suppose
thatís how he met the Allman
Brothers, who backed him on a classic album called "Okeechobee
Purple." But Gary Stewart at his best makes Dwight
Yoakam sound like a mild-mannered merchant of moderation.
did hardcore honky-tonk songs that served anyone well who was undergoing
a divorce in those years. His oeuvre was no worse, in the
end, than all those Irish songs about drunken merriment and the
resulting brawls. More powerful, though; enough to make a mild academic
consider pulling on his boots, going to a shingle-sided bar, and
starting a fight.
yes, thereís bluegrass. Peter
Rowanís seven-minute "Land of the Navajo" says more
about Indian affairs in the 19th century than all the
bulletins published by the Bureau of the same name. I guess thatís
the function of art. I donít recall the song as all that PC, either,
just resigned and realistic. Like country music, bluegrass is a
form with wide appeal far outside its homeland. Take the classic
and in the Way" album, with Jerry
Peter Rowan, John Kahn, and one Southerner, the amazing Vassar
Clements of Kissimmee, Florida. Does it get any better?
Musical Genre on the Lost Highway?
grant that country radio has been on a downhill slide for ten or
fifteen years. Part of this fits an old cyclical pattern. In the
early sixties you either had songs with that bawm-bawm-bawm guitar
lick, or overproduced ones with whole string sections and choruses
(quit blaming poor Chet
Atkins for all of that). This created an opportunity for the
redoubtable Buck Owens to go global with the then-renegade Bakersfield
sound, a creative extension of the honky-tonk jukebox songs of the
forties. And donít forget Merle
Haggard, heís still around. Oddly, when Dwight Yoakam reinvented
the bawm-bawm-bawm sound in the mid-eighties, he was hailed as a
traditionalist. So much for the historical sharpness of the music
was creative destruction. Then came another stagnant period, punctuated
by early country-rock and the last gasps of Jerry
Lee Lewis, and laid low, finally, by Waylon,
et alii by the late seventies. The rise and fall of the Texas
Poets especially Guy Clark is another saga. "Lifestyle"
issues which beset musicians as a class are not a big problem, unless
the artists choose to write about nothing else (a problem of the
"Outlaw" movement). You may have men (and women) behaving
badly in country music, but there, unlike rock íní roll, there are
aspect of current top-forty country radio which seems dangerously
non-cyclical is the prevalence of really bad country-rock to the
exclusion of all else. Any day now, someone will reissue "Purple
Haze" with a twangy vocal part, and country radio will inflict
it on us and not as a joke. This is where cheaper CDs,
the Internet, Amazon.com, and the rest help out. Merle is still
out there, even you have to hear him interviewed on the Australian
Broadcasting Corporationís web program. They even interviewed the
great keyboardist Hargus "Pig" Robbins. Itís not much
work any more to find tons of real stuff for sale country, bluegrass,
Cajun, Celtic, Cape Breton fiddling, etc. (The tough one is finding
know the old saying: "In bluegrass the words are there to support
the music and in country music itís the other way around."
Perhaps so. I doubt that Dr. Northís yeoman/poor white distinction
actually holds up. And donít even get us started on Hank
Sr. Anyhow, just as there is a reactionary conspiracy to bring
technique, skill, and representation within Western forms back into
painting, so too will country music produce its own reactionary
recovery, but not on FM radio.
Atlantans Does It Take to Screw in the New South Lightbulb?
and just after the War of 1861-1865, a lot of folks wanted to abolish
the South. The meaner class of Yankees editors, ministers, and
politicians proposed decidedly genocidal methods. In the nineteen
fifties and sixties, many books announced that Modernization was
abolishing the South. Heck, the South was only "about"
slavery and state-codified segregation. Why, thereís no reason
to have a South, if you get rid of all that.
Success Alarms Chattering Classes
in the eighties came a mob of articles and books about the economic
transformation of the South. Damned if Dixie hadnít "rejoined
the Union" and gotten all productive. This was real news.
the Northern observers had further thoughts. Whiny Northern social
scientists dug deeper, invented complex questionnaires, ran statistics,
and found out to their great unhappiness that the productive,
newly industrialized, New-New South was still identifiably Southern.
turned to vilification. The timing is very interesting. A prosperous
South might be a bigger problem than the disease-ridden, impoverished,
mentally stunted South of liberal lore and legend. Imagine all those
millions of mean, flinty-eyed crackers taking care of business.
The Journal of Southern History spent several fun-filled
years deconstructing the South, even making the tiresomely predictable
comparison with a twelve-year period of German history. (The journal
has now gone on to another phase.)
Right Ainít Got No End"
began the Third Reconstruction. Like Ireland, the South, whatever
it may be, had absorbed or deflected its conquerors. There were
still Southerners, which brings us back to the realm of culture
and ideas. Our Northern friends, afraid that their previous reforms
have failed to address the real problem, now wish to eradicate all
forms of Southern consciousness. In this they do the work of the
Leviathan state, but that is nothing new. Hence their need to control
education and all spheres of public life and communication. Dr.
North was absolutely right to put education on center stage. Southern
educational institutions are, on this analysis, part of the problem
and must be by-passed wherever possible.
of the type referred to above are discontented world-improvers,
restless moral imperialists, and can-do pragmatists Ė theyíll think
Iím handing out compliments here because they donít have an ontology.
Southerners generally have one, even if they donít all know the
word for it. To put it another way, Southerners basically accept
the human condition; Northerners treat it as just another technical
problem which will soon be cleared away by scientific study and
political initiatives. The abject and costly failure of that vision
has a specific name: we call it the 20th century.
failure doesnít much matter to those who aim to fix the South. They
mean to raise the price of remaining Southern, just as England raised
the price of maintaining Gaelic culture. Ireland exists today, though
shorn of its original language. Billy Kay notes in The
Mither Tongue that the conformist Scottish middle classes,
keen to get on with trade on English terms, have said for over a
century that Scots is "deeiní oot." His book shows how
alive Scots is. Small comfort just now, but the first step in making
a defense is having a correct assessment of the threat.
for the South, esto perpetua.
Joseph R. Stromberg is the JoAnn B. Rothbard Historian in Residence
at the Ludwig von Mises Institute
and a columnist for Antiwar.com.
© 2001 LewRockwell.com