Sunday, January 1, 2017

Birth of the Alt-Right

(Revised. Originally titled “Southern Agrarians or Southern Perennialists?”)

In 2008 when the following essay was first published there was little interest in the Agrarian notions of radical freedom. Any attempt to put the Southern Agrarians in a larger context was outrageous to the Establishment. The forces of centralization and globalism believed they had discredited and buried any reference to the book, “I'll Take My Stand” and strove to keep it that way.

My essay was an attempt to put the work of the Agrarians in a historical context that could be utilized by contemporary minds in order to connect to the past. Likewise, at the same time only a few people were interested in Perennialists like Julius Evola, Oswald Spengler, or Nicola Berdyaev who were the European counterparts of the Agrarians.

Yet there was in my opinion a direct line in American thought from the Agrarian belief in liberty and self reliance to European philosophy. This linage of ideas came to the New World from several sources. The familiar theories of Locke were augmented by Slavo-Celtic mystics like Jakob Boehme, the German spiritual populism of Philipp Spener, and even the iconoclastic Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf who helped colonize North Carolina. All these influences helped nurture the Agrarians. Their work is one of the founding documents of the contemporary movement known as the Alt-Right.

“Today we stand at the threshold of the unknown. Before us lies a new year, and we are going forward to take possession of it...We cannot see what loss, sorrow, and trials are accomplishing (in us). We need only to trust. The Father comes near to take our hand and lead us on our way today. It will be a good and blessed New Year.”      Count Nicholaus Zinzendorf (1700-1760)


Although I was aware of the Southern Agrarian masterpiece, 
I’ll Take My Stand (LSU Press, Baton Rouge) to my knowledge none of us had read it in the 1980’s when the Institute for Perennial Studies was active. I would not begin a thorough reading of it until several years after the “Herald of Perennialism” and other essays appeared. Perennialist ideas have been around for centuries so it is not a stretch of the imagination that they should surface in several places independent from one another. More than fortuitous I believe these sorts of synchronicities are Providential. Especially in the face of the materialist onslaught.

I’ll Take My Stand is a book comprised of twelve essays written by twelve noted poets and other men of letters and published in 1930. All the authors were Southern scholars many from the so-call “Fugitive Poets” movement. The book and its introduction is a critique of the modern industrial society that surrounded them at the time. It is also a distinct call to action for people outside the South.

That last point is one of the most important aspects of this book. Students of the book like Louis Rubin as well as a gaggle of materialists and other neo-Marxists are quick to dismiss and indeed cover up the fact that this book was a national call to action against the juggernaut of “industrialism”. These critics prefer to pigeonhole this book into a nook called “nostalgia” urging the public to view the book as a sentimental and even racist meandering by authors who represent the ousted “old order”. Not unlike the criticism of people who study the Bible, for instance.

The book is distinctly sectional but the critique of culture resonates with people far from the Confederate South or students of meridiana sententia. The introduction clearly states that the members of this coalition were, “…to be counted as members of a national agrarian movement.” This is not to diminish the importance to the contemporary South but to make it clear that any “…community, section, race, or age” can benefit from the wisdom within the book’s pages.

What appears below is an except of the original “Introduction: A Statement of Principles”. The whole statement can be viewed at: . I encourage everyone to read it and the entire book which is still in print.

Comparing it to other perennialist writings is natural as the Southern Agrarians share in the perennial wisdom. Their use of the term “industrialism” is so closely allied with modernism and materialism as to be interchangeable. The Agrarians disdain for the “Cult of Science” is equal to any critique of positivism and Big Science. They also insist on a relationship between God, Man, and values which is the bedrock of any classic perennialist system. The Christian notion of free will tempered with social order is implicit in these systems. In short, the Southern Agrarians and the views of the perennialist are all but identical an important observation the consequences of which will be explored in the future. -ed-


I’ll Take My Stand

Introduction: A Statement of Principles
…there are many other minority communities opposed to industrialism, and wanting a much simpler economy to live by. The communities and private persons sharing the agrarian tastes are to be found widely within the Union. Proper living is a matter of the intelligence and the will, does not depend on the local climate or geography, and is capable of a definition which is general and not Southern at all. …But their cause is precarious and they must seek alliances with sympathetic communities everywhere. The members of the present group would be happy to be counted as members of a national agrarian movement.

Industrialism is the economic organization of the collective American society. It means the decision of society to invest its economic resources in the applied sciences. But the word science has acquired a certain sanctitude. It is out of order to quarrel with science in the abstract, or even with the applied sciences when their applications are made subject to criticism and intelligence. The capitalization of the applied sciences has now become extravagant and uncritical; it has enslaved our human energies to a degree now clearly felt to be burdensome. The apologists of industrialism do not like to meet this charge directly; so they often take refuge in saying that they are devoted simply to science! …Therefore it is necessary to employ a certain skepticism even at the expense of the Cult of Science, (saying), ‘It is an Americanism’, which looks innocent and disinterested, but really is not either.

The regular act of applied science is to introduce into labor a labor-saving device or a machine. …The philosophy of applied science is generally quite sure that the saving of labor is a pure gain, and that the more of it the better. This is to assume that labor is an evil… The act of labor as one of the happy functions of human life has been in effect abandoned, and is practiced solely for its rewards.

Even the apologists of industrialism have been obliged to admit that some economic evils follow in the wake of the machines. These are such as overproduction, unemployment, and a growing inequality in the distribution of wealth… They expect the evils to disappear when we have bigger and better machines, and more of them… Sometimes they rely on the benevolence of capital, or the militancy of labor, to bring about a fairer division of the spoils: they are …Socialists. And sometimes they expect to find super-engineers, in the shape of Boards of Control, who will adapt production to consumption and regulate prices and guarantee business against fluctuations: they are Sovietists…or Communists-if the term may be used here in the European sense-are the Industrialists themselves. They would have the government set up an economic super-organization, which in turn would become the government…

Religion can hardly expect to flourish in an industrial society… But nature industrialized, transformed into cities and artificial habitations, manufactured into commodities, is no longer nature but a highly simplified picture of nature…The God of nature under these conditions is merely an amiable expression, a superfluity, and the philosophical understanding ordinarily carried in the religious experience is not there for us to have.

Nor do the arts have a proper life under industrialism, with the general decay of sensibility which attends it…If religion and the arts are founded on right relations of man- to-nature; these are (also) founded on right relations of man-to- man.

Apologists of industrialism are even inclined to admit that its actual processes may have upon its victims the spiritual effects just described. But they think that all can be made right by extraordinary educational efforts, by all sorts of cultural institutions and endowments…The young men and women in colleges, for example, if they are already placed in a false way of life, cannot make more than an inconsequential acquaintance with the arts and humanities transmitted to them. Or else the understanding of these arts and humanities will but make them the more wretched in their own destitution.

The tempo of the industrial life is fast, but that is not the worst of it; it is accelerating. The ideal is not merely some set form of industrialism, with so many stable industries, but industrial progress, or an incessant extension of industrialization. It never proposes a specific goal; it initiates the infinite series. All might yet be well…but for this:…somewhere, there will be a stream of further labor-saving devices in all industries, and the cycle will have to be repeated over and over. The result is an increasing disadjustment and instability.

It is an inevitable consequence of industrial progress that production greatly outruns the rate of natural consumption. To overcome the disparity, the producers, disguised as the pure idealists of progress, must coerce and wheedle the public into being loyal and steady consumers, in order to keep the machines running. So the rise of modern advertising…is (one of) the most significant development of our industrialism. Advertising means to persuade the consumers to want exactly what the applied sciences are able to furnish them. …

For, in conclusion, this much is clear: If a community, or a section, or a race, or an age, is groaning under industrialism, and well aware that it is an evil dispensation, it must find the way to throw it off. To think that this cannot be done is pusillanimous. And if the whole community, section, race, or age thinks it cannot be done, then it has simply lost its political genius and doomed itself to impotence.

John Crowe Ransom, Donald Davidson, Frank Lawrence Owsley, John Gould Fletcher, Lyle H. Lanier, Allen Tate, Herman Clarence Nixon, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Robert Penn Warren, John Donald Wade, Henry Blue Kline, and Stark Young.

Winter Solstice 2008; a time of reflection and renewal

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