The Sanity of the South
In an era of unhinged rhetoric and destructive ideas, the history of the South offers perspective
Depending on who you are, Southerners in the United States are either the craziest people in the world or the sanest. If you've read this newsletter, you know I am not about to make the case for why they are the craziest except to say that they are an outlier, and typically, outliers receive the designation crazy for acting in ways others do not expect or want them to.
In the midst of the pandemic, media outlets, especially our favorite enemy outpost, The Tennessean, have not shied away from demonizing and mocking the South. As if some latent nerve impulse excited by ancestral memories of the Civil War awakened at the New York Times, the South often gets castigated for the country's ills deserving or not. Why coastal elites take such great concern with a people that largely want to be left alone is a curious development and speaks to deeper issues, but suffice it to say that Southerner's decision to do things their own way, regardless of the ill effects to their health, doesn't make Coastal Elites sad and soften their hearts. It makes them angry.
But why do Southerners act this way? This is a question you rarely see asked except to say, "They are racist or something," which in modern parlance, explains everything if you are sufficiently stupid.
There's a strong case to be made that Southerners are the only group of people keeping the United States from veering towards the hysterical COVID policies of Austria and Germany. Yes, Biden's speech yesterday was surreal and mildly comical to many of us, but those are just words. Your Northern and Coastal counterparts likely felt similar revulsion when Donald Trump took to the microphone. Maybe we can unite over this, but probably not. Nonetheless, lockdowns are not returning and there's a fair chance that because of the actions of states in the South such as Tennessee, Texas, and Florida, vaccine mandates will fall flat on their face.
The typical Southerner is characterized as a White Christian, but people often forget that 54% of the nation's Black population — that make up 20% of the South's total population — live in the South. Southerners, despite only making up about a 1/3 of the nation's population, account for almost 50% of its service members. 80% of service members nationwide have a parent or sibling who also served which speaks to the lineage the South passes on to its inhabitants. Of their character, William T. Sherman once said:
War suits them, and the rascals are brave, fine riders, bold to rashness … and they are the most dangerous set of men that this war has turned loose upon the world. They … must all be killed or employed by us before we can hope for peace.
The militant nature of the South speaks to an Old World affinity for the now out of fashion virtue of honor. It seems that it's this reputation for and relative comfort with violence that fosters the South's foreboding reputation in the modern Left's imagination. The region does, after all, account for nearly 50% of the nation's murders.
The South also tends to have a significantly lower population of immigrants than other US states which is to say is that Southerners tend to be of older American stock, regardless of their race. With legacy and familial ties to the area, they are steeped in the history of the nation and the South in particular. Nowhere else is closer to the stains of American history from slavery to Jim Crow to the Civil Rights movement of the 60s.
Having witnessed, learned about, and in many cases, been directly complicit in some of America's worst moments, Southerners feel shame and guilt on a level that the rest of the country simply does not. Following the Civil War — which ravaged, impoverished, and destroyed Southerners' way of life — and the conclusion of the Civil Rights movement, its people learned a crucial lesson and gained a more realistic view of human nature. Its homes, families, and institutions had fallen. Drive around the great city of Nashville and you can still see the scars from both events — artifacts absent from elite enclaves like New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area.
Losing continuously over 150 years, the South has gained a healthy distrust of authority and of utopian visions promising to solve all its problems. Through all of this, the South gained a more realistic view of human nature — punishment received, corrections issued, and behavior adjusted. Compare this to the crimes of the present wherein bureaucrats like Anthony Fauci work without fear of consequence, and wars in faraway countries unravel with not a single condemnation issued. The South has not been so lucky.
It is through trials and tribulations that a people grow. While the rest of the country can claim some level of naivete — having never directly experienced defeat and refusing to admit defeat or face the consequences of defeat when it does happen — the South does not and cannot affect the same attitude. You see the same disposition in immigrants who come to the US from authoritarian regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, and elsewhere. Both groups' skepticism towards authority and "Blanket Solutions" doesn't come from a crude and simple-minded understanding of the world, but direct experience via memories passed down through the generations or oppression experienced abroad. One could say that the South, which has seen its population grow faster than any other region in the US, is set for a comeback — one in which utopianism holds no purchase — as cracks begin to emerge in D.C.'s latest attempt to create a New Jerusalem on the banks of the Potomac. Along with a healthy spirit of self-reliance, personal responsibility, and civic duty — all of which the South expresses to a high degree — the dominant quality of a well-governed Republic is meeting people where they are and not where they should be. As far as worthy candidates to take up this responsibility go, the Southern states are chock full of them.