In the historical development of the country, in the ethnic makeup of its past and present demography, and in the manner with which it is an Empire that pretends not to be, the United States is a country almost entirely unique to the world. In its early days, contained within it were several distinct cultural regions. Most notable among the various cultural centers was the South, an area that has been written about and studied more than any other region in American history.
Southerners maintained “concentric circles” of identity; they were primarily of English, Irish, or Scots-Irish ethnicity, and yes, they viewed themselves as American, but more importantly, they were Southern. They were Georgians, Virginians, Missourians, Tennesseeans, and they felt considerable pride in being those things – the pride that comes from a deep sense of belonging to the land and people in their community. It could be argued that Southerners abided by an American version of the “blood & soil” ideology. One could have moved there, drawn in by the cultural imagery and attraction to their dignified way of life, but your physical location did not make the people see you as a Southerner; Southerners were made, connected to the land and people through birth and familial ties. Moving to the South did not make one a Southerner.
Due to the role that partial agrarianism & husbandry played in the Southern economy, land ownership was a very effective shorthand method for determining social classes. This eventually led to the creation of social strata that, at the top, resembled the aristocratic classes of Old Europe. The families and people that made up this social class wielded significant influence in local politics and affairs. Additionally, the role of the Church in the South was one of a unifying social institution for rural communities, and the religious beliefs of the Southern people led to that now “Stateless nation” being noted in particular for their social conservatism.
The South itself was large and varied, as one can tell from this photo that shows its extent:
The states shown in deep red were officially in the Confederacy and are always associated with the South. Striped states were border states that had large degrees of overlap with the South but remained outside of the official Confederation. The South ranged from the coastal, “low-country” regions of Charleston, South Carolina down through the Mississippi Delta, all the way up to the “hill” country of the Appalachian mountains over to the Missouri Ozarks. This large physical size, coupled with the ethnic variation in settlers by region, resulted in sub-cultures forming within the overall “Southern” mantle. Urban areas, like in all other nations, were the primary source of cultural dilution, as the stream of newcomers to the regions naturally made their ways to the large cities of the South. Most of these people brought their history and views with them, resulting in urban areas being less willing to engage in secession from the Union than their rural counterparts.
The South also had a strong history of influential writers and musicians that both came from and utilized their Southern experiences in their craft. I think a good case could be made that Southern literature, poetry, and music mark it as the former cultural center of the nation. Mark Twain is quite possibly the most well-known American author, and his legacy is tied to the South. Nobel Literature prize winner William Faulkner is a Southern writer, as well as Edgar Allen Poe, Harper Lee, Margaret Mitchell, Cormac McCarthy, Hunter S. Thompson, Truman Capote, and Flannery O’Connor, among others. Their works span from those with idealistic imagery, humorous dialogue, and strong narrative (even if coupled with strong social critique) all the way to a rather unique form of Gothic fiction, “Southern Gothic”, which contains eccentric, darkly spiritual characters, decayed settings, and situations deriving from the problems that deep poverty, alienation, and violence breed. I’d imagine that this breadth of writing styles likely reflects the state of the Southern spirit before and after the devastating Civil War, from which the South has never truly recovered its former luster.
The Southern musical heritage is long and bright, and is built on both White and Black musical and lyrical contributions. “Southern music” generally ranges from old-time gospel music, to bluegrass, to Jazz, Soul, & the Blues. The infusion of English & Irish folk songs/music with African songs/rhythm results in a panoply of highly varied musical genres, and gave Southern music a distinct sound and tempo when juxtaposed against music developed elsewhere. The infusion of French influences on this Southern style resulted in unique genres that came to be associated with the Louisiana bayou as a distinctly “cajun” sound. Modern day Blues, R&B, and Rock ‘N’ Roll all owe their musical heritage to the unique Southern style.
Despite all of these things that made the South truly unique and special, the South as it was is no more. The Southern spirit and culture has waxed and waned. The few remaining Southerners exist as a stateless Nation, having been diluted and swallowed up by the cultural and economic imperialism of the “Leviathan on the Potomac”. The results of the Civil War and the poor outcomes of the reconstruction has led to a people that suffer some of the worst life outcomes in the entire country. In our culture of hyper-victimhood, the White Southerner remains one of the few people that can be maligned without reprisal and uproar. Southerners remain poorer, lesser educated, have higher rates of sexually transmitted disease, and have to deal with the unfortunate effects of diversity more than others throughout the US. The extent to which these issues affect various racial groups is up for debate, but from firsthand experience, I can attest that the White base has been heavily affected.
I was born in the South, and grew up in the countryside. I’ve traveled across it, from Tennessee to Virginia to Georgia to Arkansas. I’ve seen the depths of degeneracy the people there live in firsthand. Poor economic prospects, little sense of personal and communal identity, little to no connection to the land itself, and diverse, crime-riddled communities result in social alienation and depression for many. Oftentimes, these feelings are combated with alcohol and hard drugs, which only deepen the issues that many Southerners face. They share many parallels to citizens of the Rust belt; when economic prosperity had all dried up, the underlying cracks in the foundation began to worsen and divide. The South have been dealing with this issue since reconstruction. The pride and cultural heritage of the South barely remains in the inhabitants of the land. In most meaningful ways, the South is no more; it has been assimilated into the collective. The Confederacy doesn’t exist in any meaningful way, and if you disagree with me, let’s take a road trip through the South. It’s a shell of its former self, begging to be put out of its misery.
There are several “Southern Nationalist” groups out there, such as the League of the South, that wish to see the southern states re-form the Confederacy. Secession from the United States is a common wish that I hear from these groups. In fact, my discovery of these groups and their ideas are what prompted this re-examination of the South, from its previous glory to its current state. They are not alone in wishing to see a portion of the US head out on it’s own – that’s something I’ve wanted to see for awhile now. As tempting as it is for me to throw my hat in with them, I can’t help but to see the reality of what has happened to this region. Southerners have long yearned for a return to the old ways; a return to tradition, to community, to landedness and the aristocracy that formed from it. That Southron dream remains alive, and will remain alive, so long as there exists Southerners at heart. But it is and will remain just that; merely a dream, a wish, hiraeth….a longing for an era whose time has came and gone. Where there was once an American people of “blood and soil” sensibilities, there is no more. Their “blood” is tainted with the afflictions of modernity and an addiction to the syringe, cutoff and estranged from the “soil” they once rooted themselves in. There is no real “soil” in America, no deep identity to cling to anymore. Beneath the asphalt is bedrock. We are a superficial people.