Southern social theorist George Fitzhugh (1806-1881) held views of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and the Enlightenment ideas upon which it drew great influence which were quite common of Southerners in the mid-nineteenth century. Jefferson’s claim about universal equality were rejected by Southerners of the Romantic Age as they more openly embraced the neo-classical values of the New World plantation civilization (called the “Golden Circle” by many of that period) and developed their own national identity which challenged the Progressive worldview inherent in Americanism.
In his famous work Sociology for the South: Or the Failure of Free Society (1854) Fitzhugh described Jefferson as “an enthusiastic speculative philosopher.” He attacked the “abstractions… which we professed, but professed falsely, to found our governments.” And the illiberal Virginian Fitzhugh noted that “all men are not born physically, morally or intellectually equal” and “their natural inequalities beget inequalities of rights.”
True to the paternalistic values of his civilization and culture Fitzhugh posited the Southern social system as being the most humane. He argued that:
The weak in mind or body require guidance, support and protection; they must obey and work for those who protect and guide them – they have a natural right to guardians, committees, teachers or masters. Nature has made them slaves; all that law and government can do, is to regulate, modify and mitigate their slavery. In the absence of legally instituted slavery, their condition would be worse under that natural slavery of the weak to the strong, the foolish to the wise and cunning. The wise and virtuous, the brave, the strong in mind and body, are by nature born to command and protect, and law but follows nature in making them rulers, legislators, judges, captains, husbands, guardians, committees and masters.
If Fitzhugh’s paternalism seems harsh to our Post-Modern minds we should compare it with the social order we see around us. The egalitarian social welfare state (of the USA and Western Europe) claims to protect the poor but we see in the West that most poor people (especially non-Whites but also poor Whites) live in crowded ghettos where violent crime, functional illiteracy, failed schools, corrupt governments, drug abuse and destroyed families are the norm. They are given food and shelter, as were Southern slaves, but are not required to work to better or enrich society and benefit from such as humans do. Their children are instructed in liberal, Post-Modern values in the government schools they attend. The media provided to them fosters anti-social tensions and self-destructive and immoral individualism.
In seeking to reform the failed US-imposed social order around us, we Southerners (and others of post-plantation societies) would do well to study Fitzhugh and examine the merits of the neo-classical values which once made the South a healthy, moral, strong and prosperous society.