So I’m safely back at home in the Panera of Rome, GA.

Tomorrow (the 29th—I walked most of Sunday thinking it was the 29th) is Tocqueville’s birthday. I’m trying to finish up an article on THE MIND OF THE SOUTH. There’s really quirky and brilliant book of that name by a semi-forgotten man named CASH (your melancholic-suicidal kind of Southern man). A journalist recently tried to update that book, but failed completely. So I’m trying to figure out what a Tocquevillian account of THE MIND OF THE SOUTH would be today. Here are three paragraphs:

It’s true that Tocqueville, although he described the Southern masters (who set the tone for life throughout the slave-holding states) as an aristocracy, doesn’t turn to the South for the correction to America’s otherwise excessive reliance on “general ideas.” One reason is that he tended to think either secession would eventually succeed or all that is distinctive about the South would be obliterated in middle-class, modern homogenization. He also brooded a bit about the South being consumed in a disastrous race war.

Tocqueville saw little to no evidence of outstanding southern literature, because, as Walker Percy observes, all the aristocratic literary energy was devoted to defending slavery. So there’s no evidence that Tocqueville really knew the extent to which educated Southerners were devoted to Greek and Roman philosophy and poetry—particularly to the Stoics Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. (Jefferson was an outlier in privately understanding himself as an Epicurean.)

Tocqueville (how could have anyone?—see Lincoln’s Second Inaugural) didn’t predict the way the Civil War would play out, either its unprecedented bloodiness(and its effects on solidifying southern memory and identity) or the way it delivered the South’s aristocrats from the burden of defending an indefensible institution. Nor could have he predicted, of course, the failure of Reconstruction to remove the whites and, for a while, the aristocrats in particular from power. Tocqueville did predict, in effect, that one result of the abolition of slavery would be the insistence on segregation. The root of segregation, of course, is white pride: That pride expressed itself paternalistically in the minds of the Stoic semi-dispossessed aristocrats. It expressed itself as racial “identity politics” in the minds of more modest Southerners—minds that were easy to manipulate for electoral purposes.

The next part will be about the literary greatness of those semi-dispossessed Southern aristocrats, the contribution to THE SOUTHERN and AMERICAN MINDS of artistic expressions of the experience of the slave, and the democratization of the Stoic experience in honorable and violent, Christ-haunted and patriotic, charitable and generous, place-oriented and poetic ordinary Southern life. Without using the word “regime,” I will update Brownson’s insight that Southern particularism is an indispensable correction to Northern progressive, humanitarianism universalism, just that the egalitarian devotion of the Puritanical North is a correction to the sometimes apolitical, secessionist, and selfishly tribal impulses of Southern individualism. Any ideas?

Articles by Peter Lawler

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