Writing in De Bow’s Review in 1862, J. Quitman Moore explains the ethnic and cultural differences between the Anglo-Saxon and Normans, Puritans and Cavaliers, Yankees and Southerners:
“But, when the eye was turned from the contemplation of these social phenomena to a survey of the political institutions of the country, it required no remarkable strength of observation to discover that there were two distinct nationalities existing on the soil of Great Britain; and of the two, the Norman was the ruler.
The Teutonic and the Latin – the Northern and the Southern – types of civilization, with their diverse social systems, their incompatibility of ideas, opinions, and institutions, and their ineradicable national prejudices, were brought into the presence of each other, under the exigencies of a compulsory political union; and so long as the dominant race maintained the principles and institutions that were the native outgrowth of its civilization, its ascendancy was complete.
Aristocracy, based on the feudal relation, is the natural expression of the political thought of the Norman – a social condition, resting on the principle of subordination, and recognizing the family as the primary basis of social union. Democracy, founded on the idea of an unlimited individualism, and without any reference to the conservative organism of institutions, is the fundamental conception of the political philosophy of the Teuton or Saxon.
The English constitution is the result of a compromise between these two hostile systems, with the Norman element always in the ascendant, save during the brief reign of Cromwell.
But the Roundhead, at once a religious fanatic and a political agitator and reformer, could conceive of no government but the rule of the Saints, and form no other idea of the principles of civil liberty than what the levelling philosophy of the covenant taught. A bigot in faith and an idealist in speculation, his sentiments were violent and his convictions impracticable. A visionary from principle and a revolutionist from interest, his prejudices allowed no compromise, while his passions fed equally the flame of his cupidity and ambition. Austere in his morals and inflexible in his principles, he set up his own conduct as the standard of right, and sought to dictate the opinions and control the convictions of others. Rude in his manners and morose in his disposition, he practiced the profoundest dissimulation, while attaining credit for sincerity, and concealed his real character and designs under the cloak of hypocrisy. . . .
Opposite under the banner of the king, stood the Cavalier – the builder, the social architect, the institutionalist, the conservator – the advocate of rational liberty and the supporter of authority, as against the licentiousness and morbid impulse of unregulated passion and unenlightened sentiment. No idealist, enthusiast or speculative system-builder, upheaving ancient landmarks and overthrowing venerable monuments; but a realist, a practical and enlightened utilitarian, bowing to the authority of experience and acknowledging the supremacy of ideas, forms and institutions that had received the hallowing sanction of time . An institutor by genius and a ruler by race, his pride was at once the sword of his most eminent virtues and greatest weaknesses, while honor was the touchstone of his character. Chivalrous in sentiment and magnanimous in deed, glory was his ambition, and loyalty the inspirer of his every thought, impulse and action. Elevated in his ideas and tolerant in his views, his selfishness was vicarious and his very faults wore the semblance of virtue. Unyielding in his principles, but compromising in his opinions, his conduct was governed more by sentiment than reflection, and more by association than either. Courtly in his manners and splendid in his tastes, a knightly generosity he practiced even toward his foes, and never lost his faculties in volumptuousness. Without being an abject advocate of passive obedience or a supporter of arbitrary power, he yet took ground against the revolutionary party, not as an enemy to liberal institutions or a well-regulated liberty: but, discovering in the doctrines and principles of the revolution a greater danger to the social and political system than from the alleged existing abuses, he preferred yielding his loyalty rather to institutions than abstractions, and felt it a duty to attempt to quench the lights of the incendiary philosophy, whose torch had been applied to the noblest monuments of civil wisdom yet erected by the genius of man …”
I’ve ridiculed and lampooned “conservatism.”
The funny thing is though, I am a conservative myself. I’m just not a “mainstream conservative” who sits around invoking the authority of “speculative system-builders” and their flailing dogmas which are unsuited to the 21st century. I don’t use the word “conservative” to describe my views because it is now so associated with the Jonah Goldbergs and Glenn Becks of the world.
Historically speaking, Dixie has been a Slave Society. We had an economy and culture based around the old plantation complex that mixed slave-labor and with free-labor. This made the South different than the rest of the United States. It made us an authoritarian people. It made us a socially conservative people. Sectionalism is an enduring phenomenon in American history because of this.
Southern conservatism was authoritarian and paternalistic. It celebrated the ideal of leisure and aristocratic independence. Strangely enough, this is why it is so inflected with populism because it was never grounded in liberal abstractions. The Southern master was the steward of his plantation and it was his responsibility to care for his wife, children and servants. He felt a sense of obligation to society too which is entirely missing under the liberal democratic free-market capitalist system. I’ve absorbed this sense of duty to society myself by spending so many years lost in my books.
Life in the Old South was social in a way it isn’t today. It was slower paced. This is why Southerners celebrated the classics while Yankees celebrated the moderns. The latter saw life as a race to make and accumulate as much money as possible whereas the former had a notorious disdain for it and were perpetually broke and in debt due to their spending. For the Southern planter, money was a means to an end like hospitality. For the Yankee businessman, money was an end in itself. You will never find the modern day free-market capitalist businessman opening his home to the public and interacting with ordinary people in his community in a friendly and familiar way in order to display classical values like gentility and hospitality because we don’t produce elites with that mindset anymore.
“Mainstream conservatism” in America is conservatism as classical liberalism which atomizes and dissolves society into a Thunderdome of rights-bearing individualists who compete in the marketplace. It is said that their selfish and singleminded pursuit of their interests above the good of society as a whole leads to the best possible outcomes. This is what the mainstream conservative celebrates as individual liberty. In their eyes, the wage slave who lives in absolute thrall to his employer is “free” under their system. It is also said that because everyone is “equal” under their system that ascriptive characteristics like race, sex, culture, religion, talent and natural ability which are largely or completely inherited are either irrelevant or have no social significance because it is only “the individual” that matters.
Southern conservatism attempted to build an organic social order around a more accurate take on human nature. Among other things, it had no problem accepting inequality as natural whether it was in race, sex, class, education and intelligence, age, refinement or other differences. It took for granted that human beings are naturally tribal rather than individualistic. It agreed with Aristotle that humans are social beings and that man was meant to live in society. Instead of trying to force society to bend and conform to futile liberal abstractions, Southerners attempted to build a more harmonious society around these differences. Notably, masculinity and femininity were celebrated and accentuated as being complementary in the Old South, whereas today the situation is entirely reversed and women are encouraged to become poor men and men are encouraged to more womanlike in order for both to become more “equal.”
The great Southern fire-eater William Lowndes Yancey once put it this way:
“That same spirit which would turn everything into gold … has invaded the sphere of woman. Yancey contended that northern men had desexed women, had “brushed the down from her cheek, and raised the stiff beard in lieu. Materialism in the north condemned women as worthless in their vocation as mothers and thrust them into the workplace. Horribly, northern society had led women to believe “that the rights of man are also woman’s rights, and that the editorial chair – the medical – the legal and clerical professions should be filled by her, as well as by men.” Northern women had mounted the speaker’s platform and joined in “public harangues,” and some wore “Bloomers,” ready “for bestriding a fence or a saddle as utility shall demand.”
Mental illnesses like modern day transgenderism wouldn’t have come as any surprise to the Southern critics of “Free Society” like Yancey and Fitzhugh.
George Fitzhugh, who was unquestionably the most penetrating Southern antebellum critic of free-market capitalism and the liberal paradigm, would have immediately recognized transgenderism as but the inevitable outcome of the logic of Free Society. It is taking the logic of individualism, self expression, equality, freedom and hostility to human nature to its ultimate extreme of self mutilation.
Note: There is so much ground to cover here. We’ve barely scratched the surface. I haven’t even gotten started yet on deep dives into Southern political theory.