‘Young England’ & traditional Dixie

Louis Hartz (1919-1986) was an influential Northern writer who won the Woodrow Wilson Prize for The Liberal Tradition in America. He is known for advancing the concept of “American exceptionalism,” a notion currently embraced by the mainstream in US politics. In Part Four of his acclaimed book, Hartz, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, attacks the “Feudal Dream of the South” as something which was inconsistent, doomed to failure and which “did not fit the American liberal formula.” Hartz even claims that it “did not fit any formula, any basic categories of Western social theory” (p. 147). I address this issue in my forthcoming book Our Southern Nation: Its Origin & Future, tracing the plantation model of colonization which prevailed in the South, Caribbean and northeastern Brazil (a broad region referred to by many nineteenth century Southerners as the “Golden Circle”) to the sugar isles of the eastern Atlantic and before that to the proto-plantation colonies of the Mediterranean basin and the Crusader States. Hartz does not address this connection which is now widely acknowledged by mainstream academics.

Hartz does, however, make an interesting point about leading Southern nationalist intellectuals such as N. Beverly Tucker, James H. Hammond, Edmund Ruffin and George Fitzhugh who “lash[ed] out at Northern capitalism” and ‘cherish[ed] the “conservative principle”.’ The liberal writer notes that “Southerners, when they began to break with their Jeffersonian past around 1830, duplicated in every essential aspect the argument of Europe’s feudal reaction.” In discussing and attacking these “ardent traditionalists,” Hartz points to a connection to the “Young England movement that heavily influenced Southern thought before the Civil War” (p. 146).

The Young England movement is interesting to us because it was nationalistic, neo-feudal, romantic, paternalistic and socially conscious. It was distinct then from the more liberal, egalitarian “young” movements of Italy, Germany and other continental countries. Not only did its advocates, mostly college students of aristocratic families, promote a worldview closely aligned with the neo-classical values of the plantation civilization, it also flourished during the 1840s – at a time when Southern leaders were abandoning the rhetoric of American classical liberalism and returning to an open embrace of the foundational values of the Golden Circle.

This is yet another indication of the close historic and ideological relationship between Southern nationalists and genuine Tories of the United Kingdom.

4 Comments

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  1. What will we do if not capitalism? Isn’t it the central bank that is the problem and that we need to get rid of? Isn’t it a big central government and jews that we need rid of? What would our lives be like if we were not capitalists? What would we do?

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    • The absence of communism does not necessarily mean capitalism. I have seen very good historians I respect disagree on whether the South was capitalist or anti-capitalist. It is one reason I typically use the term “bourgeois” rather than “capitalist” – to avoid giving the impression that we are communists. Certainly, the South was not a land of big cities and throngs of shop keepers. It was not a land where retailers, bankers, shop-keepers and the like set the tone of society or governed it. It some ways it was an inefficient society which allowed for greater humanity, tradition and meaning.

      I think some of this classical attitude and direction could be brought back by eliminating the central bank, as you suggest, connecting the franchise to the soil, and instituting other reforms which minimized the influence of bourgeois society.

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