Monday, August 20, 2007

The Southern Tradition

Book Review: The Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism by Eugene D. Genovese, Harvard University Press, 1994

Mr. Genovese, a former Marxist but excellent historian nonetheless, brings before us an array of Southern agrarians who should be studied but who are generally ignored by mainstream conservative-liberal pundits. Genovese does justice to the varied opinions of M. E. Bradford, Andrew Lytle, Alan Tate, and Richard Weaver while also focusing on the common ideas shared by all the agrarians. While they differed on the subject of what a just government should be, all the Southern agrarians were united in their critique of capitalism – the religion of the Yankee conservatives.

The agrarian critique of capitalism is, in my opinion, irrefutable. The problem with the free-market capitalism of the Buckleys, the Novaks, the Gilders, and the Limbaughs, is that an unrestrained free-market completely destroys the traditional values necessary to sustain a free-market economy. If families, neighborhoods, and God himself is made subject to the free-market, then all is cheerless, dark, deadly, and chaotic. People will turn to socialism or fascism to escape the capitalistic nightmare. And it is indeed a nightmare. Capitalism has shown itself to be more devastatingly destructive of hearth and home than communism or socialism. As dreadful as Poland was under communism, the Polish people did not face as great a danger to their faith and their families as they now face in the form of the democratic capitalism so adored by the late Michael Novak, Wall Street, and Rush Limbaugh. Our benighted nation, far from holding out a beacon light to the rest of the world, instead illustrates the terrible dangers of unchecked human pride. We are indeed a "city built on a hill" – we are a satanic city built on a hill of technology and dead souls.

Yet the free-market conservatives drone on and on, preaching happiness for all, if we would just support the capitalist crusade in Iraq and adopt the flat tax.
The free marketers wish no one ill, but their happy dream of a well ordered international economy of morally indifferent affluence for many and misery for those who cannot compete – a dream that constitutes my own private nightmare – is becoming a reality. We may indeed be on the threshold of a brave new world of affluent depravity for a good many people, perhaps even a majority of Americans. If so, I am glad to be too old to have to live with the worst of what is coming.
I have no quarrel with Mr. Genovese's presentation of the Southern agrarian case against capitalism. I do disagree with him on the issue of racism. While admiring the agrarians, Mr. Genovese deplores their racist support of segregation. Donald Davidson is especially singled out for his opposition to integration. Mr. Genovese is schizophrenic. He fails to understand that without segregation, the values of white Southerners whom he admires, such as Donald Davidson, would be no different from the values of the Northern capitalists, whom he deplores. New south "conservatives" like Newt Gingrich can be part of the New World Order because they are willing to trade Christian civilization for the new multi-racial, free-market world. But it is a spiritually impoverished world that Newt and the integrationists love, and it will come crashing down on everyone's head regardless of color. And then there will be, oh rapture of raptures, equality – albeit the equality of the dung heap.

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