- It is a Way of Life – The Southern Agrarian movement, born in the 1920’s, is rooted deep in Southern soil. It goes back to the English Cavalier culture with its system of aristocracy and social hierarchy. Its adherents have often been known as Country Gentleman and Southern Gentleman. The need to return to this simpler, more noble, more orderly, more self-reliant way of life has never been greater than it is today. Southern Agrarianism is a cultural movement and a way of life.
- It is being close to the land – It is enjoying the bounty from one’s own garden, savoring a breakfast of fresh eggs gathered from the back yard chicken flock, and picking a sweet, juicy peach from a tree you planted. Southern Agrarianism is about being rooted in the land – not being a dependent cog in the complex machine of urban life.
In short, this is about enjoying a simple, yet elegant and refined way of life. It is about tradition and social order. It is about growing plants and raising animals and understanding the meaning of husbandry and stewardship. It is about understanding our place in the world – those who came before us and those who will follow after us.
Southern Agrarianism is a Blood and Soil movement. It takes in two of the most basic concepts in all of history: Our People, and the soil that provides the food that feeds our people. It means that, while we wish all the best toward others, our immediate family comes first, followed by ever larger circles of extended family, and then on out from there.
This being Southern Agrarianism, our people are the Southern people; those who originated in Europe and built the South. Historically, the culture of the South was most heavily influenced by the Cavaliers who fled the violence of the English civil war and settled in the South. They brought with them the English high culture which translated into the Southern Plantation culture: a hierarchy-based culture that was deeply rooted in the soil. There was a sense of kinship that was shared by both the smallest share cropping farmer and the largest plantation owner; they shared the common bond of those who live close to the soil. They were Southern Agrarians.
The Southern Gentleman – that icon of good manners exemplified by Robert E. Lee – is a big part of Southern culture. Manners and etiquette help define a culture, and the culture of Southern Agrarianism places a high value on that.
The Southern Agrarian movement in its purest form was described in the book, I’ll Take My Stand, (first published in 1930) by Twelve Southerners. Two of those “Twelve Southerners” – Stark Young and Frank Lawrence Owsley – were my cousins. Stark Young’s section of I’ll Take My Stand is titled Not In Memoriam, But In Defense; Frank Lawrence Owsley’s section is titled The Irrepressible Conflict. While I’ll Take My Stand is the starting point for Southern Agrarianism, we make no attempt to be purists. It is our starting point and our cornerstone, but it is not the final word on Southern Agrarianism.
From the Wikipedia entry for Southern Agrarian:
The Southern Agrarians bemoaned the increasing loss of Southern identity and culture to industrialization. They believed that the traditional agrarian roots of the United States, which had reigned since the nation’s founding in the 18th century, were important to its nature. Their manifesto was a critique of the rapid industrialization and urbanization during the first few decades of the 20th century in the southern United States. It posited an alternative based on a return to the more traditionally rural and local culture, and agrarian American values. The group opposed the changes in the US that were leading it to become more urban, national/international, and industrial. Because the book was published at the opening (1930) of what would eventually become the Great Depression, some viewed it as particularly prescient. The book was anti-communist. I’ll Take My Stand was originally criticized as a reactionary and romanticized defense of the Old South and the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. Some critics considered it to be moved by nostalgia…
The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has published books which further explore the ideas of the Agrarians. “All the articles bear in the same sense upon the book’s title-subject: all tend to support a Southern way of life against what may be called the American or prevailing way; and all as much as agree that the best terms in which to represent the distinction are contained in the phrase, Agrarian versus Industrial…
“Opposed to the industrial society is the agrarian, which does not stand in particular need of definition. An agrarian society is hardly one that has no use at all for industries, for professional vocations, for scholars and artists, and for the life of cities. Technically, perhaps, an agrarian society is one in which agriculture is the leading vocation, whether for wealth, for pleasure, or for prestige – a form of labor that is pursued with intelligence and leisure, and that becomes the model to which the other forms approach as well as they may. But an agrarian regime will be secured readily enough where the superfluous industries are not allowed to rise against it. The theory of agrarianism is that the culture of the soil is the best and most sensitive of vocations, and that therefore it should have the economic preference and enlist the maximum number of workers.”
Introduction: A Statement of Principles”
I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition
The Southern Agrarian is published by Stephen Clay McGehee. Born-Again Christian, grandfather, husband, business owner, Southerner, aspiring Southern Gentleman. Publisher of The Southern Agrarian. President/Owner of Adjutant Workshop, Inc. (a software development company), Vice President of Gather The Fragments Bible Mission, Inc. (Sierra Leone, West Africa), Kentucky Colonel, Webmaster – Military Order of The Stars and Bars.
The Southern Agrarian life.
(Photos by Stephen Clay McGehee)