“I am not moved by the Negro’s demand for social justice and equality (worthy as those causes may be); I am interested in order and civilization, which in a crisis take precedence over all other aims.”
– Allen Tate, 1967
I’ve always thought of this statement as the essence of Southern conservatism: for the Southerner, the preservation of order and civilization takes precedence over the implementation of the Yankee’s universal abstract ideology. John C. Calhoun bluntly argued that the preservation of our race, culture and civilization is more important than fidelity to liberal abstractions.
From Michael O’Brien’s book The Idea of the American South, 1920-1941:
“The progressive movement had, however, removed one item to the margin of the agenda – race. All the Agrarians and Odum were racists and believers in the segregation system. Their relative comfort in such a situation was a measure of the success of the previous generation in establishing a new racial status quo. They had all come of age after segregation was well established. Their education and social training had confirmed the color bar as a normal and proper state of affairs. None seriously questioned the inferiority of the Negro. From the perspective of the 1970s, after a decade in which the formal structure of segregation collapsed with considerable speed, it is difficult to recall how solid the Jim Crow system looked between the world wars. As George Tindall has written: “In the 1920s the new peculiar institution of Negro subordination had reached its apogee as an established reality in law, politics, economics and folkways – under attack from certain minorities in the North, to be sure, but not effectively menaced and indeed virtually taboo among respectable whites as a subject for serious discussion.”
This is highly revealing passage that tells us a lot about our own times:
First, the Boomers in the Southern heritage preservation movement are not only wrong about the historical Confederacy being a modern day multicultural paradise that was opposed to “racism,” but they are wrong about virtually the entire history of the South up until their generation.
Second, we have forgotten that blacks had exited the stage of Southern politics when Rep. George H. White of North Carolina gave his Farewell Address to Congress in 1901. From 1901 until the 1970s, only Whites participated in the Southern political sphere and in this context race realism and segregation were the mainstream. Thus, there were Southern conservatives like Allen Tate and Southern progressives like Howard Odum, but the overall framework of segregation was not in dispute and it was highly taboo in the South to question it. The people who believed in social equality were marginalized.
Third, we forget that the idea that “racism” has anything to do with morality is a very, very modern idea. The term “racism” was virtually unknown in the West until the 1930s and 1940s. It wasn’t until the 1960s that it reached a critical mass. The Baby Boomer generation was the first generation in American history to be raised to believe that “racism” is immoral. They were also raised to believe the other -isms and -phobias – sexism, anti-Semitism, nativism, xenophobia – were also related to morality.
From a historical perspective, the Southern Baby Boomer who believes that hundreds of thousands of blacks fought for the Confederacy, who is a Republican who believes in mainstream conservatism (not to be confused with authentic Southern conservatism), who believes in the “Judeo-Christian” religion and is highly opposed to anti-Semitism and who is an integrationist who is comfortable with his daughter engaging in interracial relationships and who believes that all the -isms and phobias (racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc., etc.,) are the hallmarks of morality is a fascinating object to study. In the broader scope of Southern history, you can clearly see how their generation was molded by the television and the hyper consolidation of the 20th century mass media.