Cushman on Traditionalist Conservatism in the South

calhoun712017Excerpts from the writings of Michael O. Cushman on an alternative political tradition to classical liberalism in the American South:

… Southern leaders such as, ‘[John C.] Calhoun rejected the radical individualism often associated with social contract theorists. … Calhoun’s defense of an authentic, moral community was based upon acknowledging that the only natural state is the political and social one to which a person is born’. Fitzhugh was in full agreement on this point, writing that ‘universal liberty has disintegrated and dissolved society, and placed men in isolated, selfish, and antagonistic positions—in which each man is compelled to wrong others, in order to be just to himself. But man’s nature is social, not selfish, and he longs and yearns to return to parental, fraternal, and associative relations.’

While accepting the independence of the thirteen colonies from their mother country as ‘an exceedingly natural and conservative affair’, George Fitzhugh decried the ‘false and unnecessary theories invoked to justify it’. He contrasted the South’s patriarchal order to the North’s embrace of the Enlightenment principles espoused by leading advocates of the American Revolution. Fitzhugh wrote that ‘The North is still following out most vigorously and to their ultimate conclusions the doctrines of Locke, of Adam Smith, and the Republican sages of 1776.’ He noted that ‘the doctrines of Jefferson and of the other illustrious Fathers of the Republic were being successfully employed to justify abolition, and to upset the whole social system of the South.’ While the Southern worldview was based upon ‘the experience and usages of mankind in general, upon prescription, and not upon a priori speculation’, the North was engaging in ‘a profane attempt to pull down what God and nature had built up and to erect ephemeral Utopia in its place’.


Southern intellectual and traditionalist political philosopher Richard Weaver (1910-1963) writes in “The Southern Phoenix” (1963), included in a collection of his works published by Liberty Fund:

An interesting feature of I’ll Take My Stand and a feature which made it obnoxious or incomprehensible to many was the fact that it was both anti-socialist and anti-capitalist. Before the public at a time when socialism in the guise of the New Deal was about to challenge American capitalism, it presented a third alternative in the form of a conservative agrarian social order.

… Socialism is by definition anti-conservative, and capitalism cannot be conservative in the true sense as long as its reliance is upon industrialism, whose very nature it is to unsettle any establishment and initiate the endless innovation of technological “progress.”

Once again, we see the theme of Dixie’s Classical or pre-Modern values in opposition to American Modernist values and bourgeois mentality. And we see too how the Classical values and social order of the Golden Circle do not fit neatly on the present limited Left-Right spectrum. They are rooted in an organic social reality which continues to offer hope to Southerners trapped in a destructive system of exploitation and alienation.

Published in Our Southern Nation (American Anglican Press, 2015), page 42, and on Southern Future, 12 November 2015.