By

Ben Lewis

October 23, 2019

McClanahan on the Southern Agrarians

I was just able to watch Brion McClanahan's portion of the AERC panel on "Remembering the Interwar Right." A few thoughts of my own.

A ) I have a certain sympathy for the South as McClanahan presents it, even though I'm not myself a southerner. One difficulty I have is that McClanahan has a tendency to romanticize the South more than even someone like Weaver (see here). I think McClanahan is in the position of defending what in modern society is indefensible - namely, the South - but I think sometimes he oversimplifies the South. That's not to say that I don't appreciate his comments, it's just an observation of some of his tendencies.

B ) I 100% agree that regionalism, be it southern, eastern, or midwestern, is badly needed in modern society. I think that each of the sections is losing its distinctiveness, and mass, nationalized society is preserving more or less the worst elements of each of these sections. The reason, for instance, that people can romanticize the South is because it had some definite virtues, but those virtues are being destroyed along with its vices. This is no less true of the other sections. As a midwesterner, I notice this as increasingly middle America attempts to be as cool as the coasts. It's a real shame.

C ) I like his interpretation of Tucker Carlson's comments, because I think that some of Carlson's concerns are valid and I want a lot of the same things he wants. But, the problem is that if you can't identify or articulate the problem correctly, your solution and proposals aren't likely to be effective. I would level this same criticism at Dan McCarthy (as Donald Devine did here), although I think McCarthy has less of an excuse because he's more widely read on conservatism than Carlson is.

D ) Here's a link to some of Weaver's comments on the South. What's interesting to me is that Weaver has very strong sympathies for the South and the agrarians, but he also criticizes the South for not producing the philosophers needed to articulate their reason for being right, and also for attempting to use symbols that have outlived their usefulness.

Overall, I liked this talk. Agrarianism in one form or another plays a role in the philosophy of the best conservative writers (Weaver, Kirk, Nisbet, Scruton, etc.), but it's not always southern. I think that Southern culture should remain, reassert itself, and improve itself by its own internal efforts, but I think that's true of all the different cultures in the country. The worst thing that can happen is this bland, stultifying generic mass culture that reduces everything to either a transaction or virtue signal.

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Update: I neglected to add this in my original comments, but McClanahan is spot on when he talks about the importance of "place." Weaver said that "To be of a place, to reflect it in your speech and action and general bearing, to offer it as a kind of warranty that you will remain true of yourself - this is what it means to have character and personality. And without these things there is no individuality."People laugh at Russell Kirk for calling automobiles "mechanical Jacobins," but increased mobility has really contributed to the decline of culture as people have become increasingly nomadic, simply picking up and moving for jobs or just for a change (which is different than moving to preserve freedom or culture). Of course, nobody can be totally against mobility, and becoming a Luddite is no solution, but we can acknowledge that there can be improper and disorganizing uses of technology.

About the author

Ben is a writer living in Ohio with his family. His reading interests are focused primarily on history and traditionalist conservatism and their relation to libertarianism. He is a contributing editor for Austro Libertarian.

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