If you want to understand how and why the South is the way it is today, you won’t find the answer in the distant past. The roots of the present crisis trace back to the Second World War and the Cold War, begin in the North and overwhelm the South during the Civil Rights Movement.
The South as it existed from Redemption through the Great Depression was a totally different world. It was becoming more homogeneous, not heterogeneous. It was poor, not wealthy and bourgeois. It had a colonial extractive economy based on agriculture and mining, not on services and commerce. It was overwhelmingly rural, not urban and suburban. It was highly personal and deeply rooted, not anonymous and alienated. It was segregated, not integrated. It was strongly Protestant, not agnostic, atheist or apathetic. It had a rural elite that celebrated traditional values based in the county seats, not a metropolitan middle class animated by economic growth. The Solid South was Democratic, not Republican. It was racially conscious, not racially masochistic. It built monuments to the Confederate dead as opposed to tearing them down. Its people got their news from other people at the country store or through the editor of their local segregationist newspaper, not through television.
The following excerpts come from Numan V. Bartley’s book The New South: 1945-1980:
“By the time Nicholls presented his analysis, the South had become an urban region, and the changing balance of economic forces further strengthened the moderate cause. In 1960 a substantial majority of the people in the thirteen southern states lived in urban communities, and approaching half – 43.5 percent of the population – resided in metropolitan areas. Thereafter a majority of the people in the thirteen southern states were metropolitan residents. With urban expansion came a vast increase in the labor force employed in retail and wholesale trade, insurance, finance, government, the professions, and similar predominantly white-collar occupations. Together, these fields composed the fastest growing sector of the southern labor market, and the relentless quest for customers and clients was the central force underlying the growth ethos. In 1940 these occupations employed one in four southern workers. In 1960 they engaged the services of four to ten employed people, and in 1980 more than half. Such enterprises clustered in metropolitan areas and fed both the growth and the insatiable appetite for further growth.
The southern white-collar legions were a rising force in society and politics. Despite the frequent references to a “new middle class,” its membership, aside from being overwhelmingly white in racial composition, was a more diverse aggregation than some contemporary accounts implied …
They were better educated and more widely informed on public issues than southerners generally and, according to opinion polls, were more tolerant on racial matters. Their families were in the vanguard of the stampede to suburbia and of the introduction of far-reaching changes in southern lifestyles. They formed the base for the open-schools movement and for the moderate position in southern politics.”
Let’s stop here for a moment and think about the consequences of the technological revolution that swept the South between 1940 and 1970. The tractor and mechanical cotton picker destroyed sharecropping which unsettled millions of people in the lowland South. Similarly, the mechanization of coal mining led to an exodus out of Appalachia in the 1950s. The television transformed Southern politics by making local racial conflicts – things like the lynching of Emmett Till or the rebuff of John Lewis on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma – into narratives of international significance in the Cold War.
The invention and spread of the air conditioner homogenized the Southern climate and made it attractive to transplants. Florida went from being the smallest Southern state to one of the largest states in the country because of the air conditioner. The bulldozer began to level the areas around our major cities which is where suburbia was created and millions of people moved from rural areas into the suburbs of the new ballooning metropolitan areas where the Baby Boomers were raised on the television.
There was a shift in power from the rapidly depopulating Black Belt, which had been the historical stronghold of white supremacy and segregation, to the metropolitan areas and their suburbs. After the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Black Belt was placed under black majority rule. The White middle class of the suburbs and the metropolitan elites became the dominant class in the South after 1970.
“Some academics and progressives bemoaned the materialism and shallowness of urban middle-class lief. Robert J. Steamer wrote in 1963 that a typical member was a “rootless nomad whose primary, and sometimes, only loyalty is to business. His political ideas are substantially barren, because at bottom, materialism is his life philosophy, but translating his thought into political maxims we get free enterprise, fiscal sanity, balanced budgets,” and certainly it was true that the South’s uptown business leadership frequently equated sensible social policy with what best served the exigencies of the real estate market. …
A South Carolina observer remarked about moderates, “I don’t think they take the Negroes seriously as people … They look at it as something … that doesn’t really have much to do with them.” Middle-class metropolitan southerners threatened the paternal order because of their commitment to atomistic individualism, consumer materialism, upward mobility, and unfettered economic development.”
Bartley is describing the world of Chrisley Knows Best.
“In The Hamlet, William Faulkner described Flem Snopes as a man “who answered Yes and No to direct questions and who apparently never looked directly or long enough at any face to remember the name which went with it, who never made mistakes in any matter pertaining to money.” By 1960 an impersonal and bureaucratic world based on formal contracts, legal procedures, and money transactions was approaching maturity. Even though wide diversity existed within white-collar ranks, the “new middle class” relentlessly undermined the paternal foundations of the old social order. The sense of roots, place, and stability that had for so long been central to the southern value system retreated before new ideological currents emanating from the metropolitan areas.”
This would be me … not a deracinated ideologue or a fanatic, but someone who clings to the old ways, values, traditions and sense of identity of the Black Belt, someone who values my roots, ancestors and social stability as opposed to chasing after social status or worshiping the GDP. I despise mainstream conservatism because I am a Southern conservative populist. We’re not retreating from mainstream conservatism anymore though. We’re going on the offensive.
“In the 1940s Ben Robertson had found “great comfort” in knowing that someone “is always keeping the home place.” By the mid-1960s middle-class houses were no longer homeplaces; they were capital investments. Men struggled to “get ahead” in an increasingly competitive society where time was money and traditional forms of leisure were passe and unrenumerative. Women endeavored with declining success to maintain family and society. The feminine mystique and the suburban ideal influenced southern women, probably more so than their peers outside the region. Motherhood and homemaking in a nice house in a suburb with good schools, convenient shopping centers, and low crime rates was the socially proper goal for middle-class and upwardly mobile women. Responding to the prevailing values of the day, many middle class women looked to family life for fulfillment in a society that became ever more individualist and work-oriented.”
Mainstream conservatism was a good philosophy for what came to be called the Me Generation. It was abstract libertarian garbage that rationalized atomistic individualism and materialism and glorified self expression and “the economy” and having no loyalty to anyone, anything and especially to any place outside of one’s self. It was a philosophy of the appetite and the ego.
“The alienation and malaise that accompanied such an individualized worldview was a theme of Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer, published in 1960. In Percy’s middle-class universe, a person lived without values, measured success by money, and alleviated boredom with periodic sexual conquests. Romance and involvement were things one found in movies, or on television. It was a prosperous world: “A beautiful boulevard, ten thousand handsome cars, fifty thousand handsome, well-fed and kind-hearted people, and the malaise settles on us like a fallout.” The malaise was not hard to understand. It “is the pain of loss. The world is lost to you, the world and the people in it, and there remains only you and the world and you no more able to be in the world than Banquo’s ghost.” In shedding the values of an older South, the New South had become a place where credit cards defined an individual’s identity. Like the cinema in The Moviegoer “about a man who lost his memory in an accident,” a person “found himself a stranger in a strange city.”
This is an interesting passage.
The most striking thing about the “white supremacy” and mass shootings narrative is that under actual white supremacy in the Jim Crow South we didn’t have mass shootings. We had plenty of guns, but none of this nihilistic anti-social rage and alienation which is at bottom an attempt to escape from the sick anti-culture that we live under in our own times. The people who engage in mass shootings want to draw attention to their profound psychological angst and pain.
“The modernist assumptions that increasingly permeated southern thought created a host of ethical and social dilemmas. “We are told,” Sullivan complained, “that human nature is ameliorable, that weakness is strength, that license is freedom, that morality is negotiable.” The extreme individualism, relativism, and pragmatism that undergirded the modernist ethos left little room for a social ethic. In an increasingly bureaucratic region, money and achievement measured success, and an impractical commitment to ethics was superfluous for, if not deleterious to, proper administrative procedure. …
So too did the changing lifestyle in the South. In particular, modern values expanded comfortably in prospering suburbia.”
The American dream of living in a nice little house in an artificial community with “good schools” adjacent to big box stores was a nursery of countless social and psychological problems. In hindsight, it was probably healthier to live in a shack with no electricity or an indoor toilet. In those days, you inherited your beliefs, values and politics from granddaddy who sat on the front porch and told you who you were and where you come from. Now, you absorb all the Jewish poison that is pulsating through the “mainstream” culture around you while in college or through being immersed in the mass media.
What’s the solution? Think of it as a great catastrophe that we have lived through. The old organic culture has to resprout from its roots in much the same way that a clearcut forest grows back.