A Southern View: Ecology and Tradition

sp1692016Michael O. Cushman

Professor Ron Dart in his new work The North American High Tory Tradition (American Anglican Press, 2016) notes the connection between the natural world and the Tory tradition. Dart writes that “the Tory tradition has a deep and abiding respect for the land and recognizes, only too keenly, that the environment is the branch we sit on – if we cut the branch off, we will fall and experience great hurt and harm. Therefore, Tories are most ecologically minded.” The Canadian writer contrasts this classical respect for the environment with the neo-conservative elevation of trade and economics above other concerns. The point at which he hammers throughout the book is that the classical British tradition – called Toryism and which is to be distinguished from modern “conservatism” which has absorbed the spirit of Modernity from economically-driven and hyper-individualistic Classical Liberalism – is a holistic, organic and religious worldview which developed over centuries and offers much to us today.

The Roots of Southern Traditionalism

The Old South, born as British plantation colonies, inherited a traditionalist worldview from two primary sources. First, as an overwhelmingly British-descended people who began to colonize our land prior to the age of Enlightenment, our ancestors were heavily influenced by the Renaissance and its focus on the Classical World. Italian historian Dr. Raimondo Luraghi heavily concentrated on this theme in his The Rise and Fall of the Plantation South (New Viewpoints, 1978). Supporters of the King, Church and tradition – called “Cavaliers” (a word which essentially meant gentlemen and horsemen) – against the radical Puritan-led republicans took refuge on Barbados, the mother colony of South Carolina and the plantation South. They likewise took refuge in coastal Virginia. The cavalier or Tory tradition was celebrated throughout the South by social leaders. Influential Antebellum intellectual George Fitzhugh perhaps best embodied the continuation of British traditionalism in the Old South. Celebrated Southern historian Dr. C. Vann Woodward wrote in an essay entitled “George Fitzhugh, Sui Generis” that “In Fitzhugh’s philosophy the idea of progress was a modern delusion. Modern history, in fact, was a record not of progress but of regression.” Woodward noted that Fitzhugh identified the South with the English Tories and “the North and its tradition with Locke” and the Whigs.

The other primary source of Southern traditionalism is the plantation civilization to which the Old South belonged. This is the major focus of my book Our Southern Nation: Its Origin and Future and a re-occurring theme of this website.

Southern Ecology Grounded in Tradition

As Southern nationalists who are mindful of our roots in British traditionalism and the New World plantation civilization we can identify strongly with Dart’s “deep and abiding respect for the land.” Our tradition is distinct from American “conservatism”, which grew from liberal roots. Dart notes that “Tories do not separate ethics from economics.” This applies equally well to Southern traditionalists, though unfortunately not to the Republican Party leaders who dominate the New South’s politics. The Canadian writer astutely observes that “many neo-conservatives make trade, commerce and economics a virtue.” This, and their generally deracinated state and lack of organic identity, helps to explain their support for free trade deals which ship industrial jobs overseas, mass Third World immigration which drives down wages and the destruction of the environment to make way for more economic “Progress.”

As members of an organic nation with a holistic worldview we Southern nationalists hold deep respect for the wondrous natural world around us – the land of our people, our ancestors and our future.

Published on Southern Future, 23 August 2016.