Harmony, Order and Inequality

193781Michael O. Cushman

The Southern social order and the traditional structure of the broader plantation civilization to which the South belonged was based upon harmony and order. It sought to avoid antagonism and competition between groups by embracing the natural order ordained by God. In contrast, the “free everything and anti-every school” of bourgeois egalitarians who prevailed in the North and much of Western Europe believed that “when society is wholly disintegrated and dissolved, by inculcating good principles and ‘singing fraternity over it,’ all men will cooperate, love and help one another.” Southern philosopher and sociologist George Fitzhugh (1806-1881) of Virginia wrote that the bourgeois elements of Modernity “place men in positions of equality, rivalry, and antagonism, which must result in extreme selfishness of conduct, and yet propose this system as a cure for selfishness.” Fitzhugh wrote:

[E]quals must from necessity be rivals, antagonists, competitors, and enemies. Self-preservation, the first law of human and animal nature, makes this selfish course of action essential to preserve existence. It is almost equally obvious that in the natural, social, or family state, unselfishness, or the preference of others’ good and happiness, is the dictate of nature and policy. Nature impels the father and husband to self-abnegation and self-denial to promote the happiness of wife and children, because his reflected enjoyments will be a thousand times greater than any direct pleasure he can derive by stinting or maltreating them. Their misery and their complaints do much more to render him wrteched than what he has denied them can compensate for. Wife and children, too, see and feel that in denying themselves and promoting the happiness of the head of the family, they pursue true policy, and are most sensibly selfish when they seem most unselfish. Especially, however, is it true with slaves and masters that to ‘do as they would be done by’ is mutually beneficial. Good treatment and proper discipline renders the slave happier, healthier, more valuable, grateful, and contented. Obedience, industry and loyalty on the part of the slave, increases the master’s ability and disposition to protect and take care of him. The interests of all the members of a natural family, slaves included are, identical. Selfishness finds no place… Christian morality is neither difficult nor unnatural where dependent, family, and slave relations exist, and Christian morality was preached and only intended for such.

Fitzhugh contrasted the harmony of the natural and Godly order to the chaos and antaganism of the egalitarian dis-order, noting that, “The whole morale of free society is ‘Every man, woman and child for himself and herself.’

Source: Cannibals All! or Slaves Without Masters by George Fitzhugh, The Belkap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1960, 213-218.

Published on Southern Future, 15 June 2015.