“It is out of fashion in these days to look backward rather than forward. About the only American given to it is some unreconstructed Southerner, who persists in his regard for a certain terrain, a certain history, and a certain inherited way of living.” – John Crowe Ransom
Stripping down a man to his inmost structures and elements would be a terrible crime, something only a Hollywood screen-writer might imagine. And yet, the crime is practiced on a daily basis, if not physically, certainly in principle, by the most pious of humanitarians and do-gooders! For example, it’s not uncommon to hear a modern American proclaim, with religious zeal, his love for a particular black friend. “I love him in spite of his skin color!” he’ll have us know.
But I’ve often thought the zealous American should rephrase his statement in terms more realistic, and say: “I love my friend despite what the Lord God has made him!” Or, to put it cynically, “I love you despite yourself, black friend!” And isn’t that a display of the very haughtiness of spirit the modern American wants to avoid?
Pretentiousness, then, is the enemy of America, not Muslims, Russians or the economy. Muslims and Russians we’ll have with us always, but a damaged American spirit is something no amount of tax-supported education can mend. No; encouraging Homo Americanus to give up his egalitarianism, with all its vicious results, and having him accept a new talking point where men are loved in light of, not in spite of who they’ve been created to be, is the Herculean task of the Southerner, who finds himself, due to his unique history, in an ideal position for the job.
In times past, a “people” were considered in terms of the landscape that shaped them. Antique American Southerners know that God plants, waters, and grows people like farmers grow corn. And just like a well-tended field, the South yielded a crop of men known for their intellectual leisure and a “stop to smell the roses” attitude.
The city, on the Southern view, is a bastion of that sort of pretentiousness I described above. Somewhere among the escalators and parking garages, men are stripped to their innards. Nothing of their organic ties to the land (or their people) are remembered, and their value is found solely in terms of which trendy ideal they assent to.
This sort of “propositional man” can hardly be called a man at all. Having been abstracted from all relevant relationships and physical ties to the Earth, he is treated solely in terms of the “content of his character”. The Swedes have gone a step further in their destruction of Godly boundaries by denying the legitimacy of “sex” as a meaningful category. If they’re right, we can’t even judge the content of a man’s character, then, since it’s improper to speak of “man” in any literal sense. Homo Americanus must rearrange his religious dogma to read: “Only the content of a *person’s* character is important”.
Some Southerners have taken to calling this bastion of pretentiousness, Urbania. “Urbania” not only describes the city, but also the ideology of denying legitimate boundaries, and the advocacy for a world where industrialism and progress are the highest achievement of man. The urbanian wants complete existential freedom.
Why should this freedom from physical boundaries be undesirable? Is the Southerner justified in his mistrust of it? While the freedom promised by Urbania is tempting, upon examination, we must side with the Southerner’s view if Western culture is to survive.
A “free” man is unconstrained by his environment and sees the full establishment of all his desires. He doesn’t have to worry about his needs, since they’re all provided for. He need only worry with his wants. Whatever his desire, it will be provided. He can do whatever he wants. He’ll be godlike. (Omnipotence implies getting one’s way in all matters).
But as the existentialists have taught us, this sort of ultimate freedom is simply another word for death. Only the dead are free from the mitigating factors of life (though, in death, they’ll likely be introduced to new ones, in form of the chains they’ll have to rattle for eternity).
One cannot make a choice, even to fulfill one’s own desires, without first seeking guidance from some aspect of material reality. Even if only the pesky desires of a human stomach. (Does this mean that God is dead? It’s beyond the scope of this essay to discuss harmonization of difficult theological concepts. Suffice it to say, the real God is the only truly free being, since He is unconstrained by anything but His own nature).
The southern child by the fire-side, knows all this. We’re taught it in fairy-tales. But it’s no less true because of its being a fairy-tale. God created man to work, to have a meaningful place in relationship with his environment, and to define himself in terms of his material context (including his race and gender).
A man is what he is, precisely because he’s not “stripped down” to his inmost structures and elements. The pretentious modern, who has a religious zeal for egalitarianism, can’t see the harm that his position would bring, not only to the oh-so-precious minorities, but to all involved, even to the point of catastrophically affecting the very pillars of Western civilization.
Rousseau says that man is “born free, but is everywhere in chains”. “Oh the evil chains of place!” he’ll cry. But with all apologies to Mr. Rousseau, it’s the very chains he despises that give man an identity and distinguish him from his mute and impersonal environment.
Only by treating our neighbors in light of, not in spite of, who (and what) they are, — including their race, their sex, their sexual orientation, their religion, their language, and their people’s history, can we begin to reestablish justice and reclaim meaning from the jaws of postmodernism (and ultimately from nihilism). Only in this way can the West be saved from demeaning “color-blind” rhetoric that claims the dignity of a man’s race is unimportant in defining the man. Only in this way can both law and love have meaning.
To save the West, we must all become romantic agrarians, even when we’re trapped in the heart of Urbania.