I would like to preface this piece with the admission that the genre of, “The South is Dead,” is a well-established and deeply explored topic of non-fiction within Southern literature. Like an analysis of Shakespeare’s plays, the topic will tell the reader more about himself and the writer than the actual topic in question. I believe it was this truth which led Shelby Foote to claim that there was no such thing as “Non-Fiction.”
Men far better and more educated than yours truly have been writing about this topic since Edward Pollard and the Southern Agrarians, really since independence. Yet recent events move me to put forward my own contribution to the current state of the South, both in comparison to itself, the rest of the country, and its place in the mind of “Our Spheres.”
What is the South?
It would be easier to list what the South is not rather than what it is. It’s a series of paradoxes, of seemingly insurmountable dualism. Ethnos is at the center of its existence, yet Dixie transcends any one tribe. It’s home to the Bible belt, yet the culture has an undeniably lecherous and hedonistic bent. It’s where the “Original Sin” of America (whether the sin was putting them in shackles or not picking our own cotton,) has its most frequent clashes with itself, yet whites and blacks of the South know how to live amongst each other in a way no other part of the country has replicated.
The “Dumb Redneck” is, like all stereotypes, entirely true. Yet the greatest (and most recently great) American literature has come in the shape of Faulkner, O’Connor, Percy and Foote, Robert Penn Warren, Donald Davidson, Robert E. Howard, John Kennedy Toole, Cormac McCarthy, all of it has come from below the Mason-Dixon (despite most of the above finding their way to colleges above that damned line.) The tradition of the learned Planter, while certainly reaching its Nadir in an era now two-centuries past, lives on in scholars like James Kibler, Donald Livingston, and the Abbeville Institute.
Our question remains. What is the South? It’s a place, sure. To appreciate it, one often needs to leave it. To yearn for it from the outside, yet not spoiling your taste for it by too frequent a return. But it’s more than a place.
It’s a feeling, an aesthetic, a mode of being replicable in the Jungles of Angola or the Mekong Delta; so long as the house is Greek Revival with white-washed pillars, the fields arranged with crops of cotton or sugar, and the workers from a country older than Virginia or Carolina. The house and the workers aren’t even required, one simply needs a rocking chair, a porch, and a sunset (the iced tea is optional but highly recommended,) on the winding down of a humid summer day.
This syrupy paean has not yet answered the question. What is the South? It’s a question that will never be answered. Yet I will posit that the South is, like the aforementioned William Shakespeare, a personality. Something undefinable. There aren’t enough places on earth to contain the South, yet the South hardly exists even when you’re in the middle of it. Like Borges said of the Bard, he was everyone and no one. So too I say of the South, it is everywhere and nowhere. All of America, yet none of it.
Every civilization which has ever existed, at any place and at any time, can find itself reborn, rebuilt, or resurrected within the confines of the Mason-Dixon and the Pacific (the South’s real endpoint is San Francisco bay.) Fitting, seeing how the South was built on the back of Shakespeare as much as New England was built on the back of Milton.
What was the South?
The South was a caste system, at a point where this thing called, “Civilization” used to exist. The Planters were on top (though not all Planters were made equal,) and Mississippi Millionaires would often struggle to make the guest list of Charleston garden parties and Richmond soirées. Under them you had the professional class (a gray line between them and the planters existed,) of Dr. such-and-such, so-and-so Esq., and Mr. what was his name? Under them was the Yeomanry, which had a gray line down into the “White Trash,” but a hard barrier lay between them and the Negros, which filled undercaste as dark-skins have done since the beginning of time.
This (barring all sorts of exceptions and exemptions, even for Negros,) was generally how the South existed from the years 1607-1861. This was the system that produced not only George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, the concept of the United States, and Lucky Strikes Cigarettes, but also the entire concept of a global economy. It ended in 1861 when the South turned into the most centralized military regime that’s ever existed on the North American Continent, and then in 1865 it turned into a zone of military occupation.
Ironically, it was the New Deal that (largely) ended the occupation of the South, though import restrictions for steel made in Birmingham existed until the 1960s. Yet the damage of a defeated people remained, and the countless statues which dotted the countryside were more a reminder of loss than a memory of victory. Perhaps that’s why the 29th “Blue and Gray” Infantry Division suffered the highest casualty count of any U.S. Division in the Second World War, or why the 30th “Old Hickory” Infantry Division fought so hard that their opposites nicknamed them “Roosevelt’s SS,” or why the 31st “Dixie” Division raised the Virginia Battle Flag alongside the Stars and Stripes during parades.
When the weight of history presses upon a people the memory of loss, of occupation, of humiliation, of having its agency taken and voice silenced while the story of what happened is written by the conqueror, perhaps the only thing one can do is to fit the conqueror’s vision of them. The South in the latter half of the 20th century is one long act of forced compliance. The Federal Government trampled on its own laws to desegregate, yet the South responded by becoming the racist caricature they were made out to be. Not everywhere and not equally, of course, yet enough to justify a previously un-justifiable act.
No lost cause can balm those wounds, as even though they weren’t self-inflicted, they felt like they were. Like a man knowing he shouldn’t go down a dark alley-way, yet choosing to do so and being mugged for it. This is not to decry the lost cause, nor is it to decry the Confederacy or Robert E. Lee or your favorite general or the University Grays or George C. Wallace or the violation of the Third Amendment in the 1960s and 70s or your grandmother in Corinth, Mississippi, but the point has to be made:
The South is not the lost cause. It’s not the Confederacy. No more than the Catholic Church is the Roman Empire. It’s itself. It’s everything that happened before and after that goddamned war that all Southerners (or adjacent) have to live with in the back of their minds even when they don’t want to. Whose Generals, whose fallen dead, whose Shilohs, Chancellorsvilles, Gettysburgs, Vicksburgs, Wildernesses, Cold Harbors, Red Rivers, Sailor’s Creeks, and Appomattoxes have to be revered, have to be remembered, have to be celebrated, even when it’s best to move past it.
This drove one of Faulkner’s great characters to kill himself. Yet the time for this is passing, not yet past, but passing. Perhaps tearing down the statues has a silver lining.
What can the South be?
The South is the only region of the United States that is not currently undergoing a terminal decline. As a matter-of-fact, it’s growing faster than any other region in the world. More industries and businesses move, relocate, or open locations below the Mason-Dixon than anywhere else in the country. Cities like Austin, Huntsville, Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, Charleston, Dallas, Miami, and Richmond have exploded in the past twenty years.
This is neither good nor bad. It’s something that’s happening, which will change the South quicker than the South realizes it’s been changed. The affluent society-looters from New York City and California, who gained their wealth from their willingness to loot societies, are moving South in droves to escape the consequences of their actions.
Guess what? There’s absolutely nothing we can do to stop it. I’ve made this point before, but the normies (and our enemies) have the exact same ideas we do, have had them sooner, and have more resources to act upon them. The guys on our side of things are starting to get their shit together, but my god is it taking time. And by the time it happens, most opportunities that exist at the present moment will have been accounted for or locked out.
Yet the South is not right-wing. It does not belong to our guys. It belongs to God, first and foremost, but secondly to itself. It has its own agenda which the Zeitgeist demands it fills. Perhaps this influx of snowbirds with ill-gotten gains is the Faustian bargain which needs to be made in order to make the South into what it should have been (and yet was,) all along, the United States of America.
Perhaps it will be the thirteen Southern states: Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia (with open invitations to Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware,) that will become the last bastion of “The United States.” Irony of ironies is that the South is not a nation separate from the concept of America. This is why the rebellion was doomed to fail, I suppose.
The Federal Government, the Constitution, the city of Washington D.C., all of these were creations of Southern men (this includes Alexander Hamilton, by virtue of his West Indies heritage.) For most of the Antebellum period, the United States has a Southerner in the Oval Office. The Senate is an entirely Southern institution. New England almost secedes at the Hartford Convention because, unlike the South, they are a separate country from America.
Walker Percy said that Southerners have more in common with their ancestors in 1830 than their ancestors in 1930. I’m inclined to agree. The South will be run by outsiders, the money brought in will be tied to ten-thousand strings leading elsewhere, but it will never stop being the South. Its foundations are just too good, its people are too self-aware, and its elites too well-established (and too good at what they do) to be removed.
Southern Civilization will revive, like the Phoenix it’s been made to be. Yet it won’t be flying the Virginia Battle Flag outside of Battlefield parks. It will finally free itself, or perhaps come to terms with itself, from the history pushed onto it. Perhaps then, the South will produce its great men, its epoch-defining figures. Lord knows, it’s our turn.