Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Beauty, Ugliness, and Southern Agrarianism

Southern Agrarianism is a tradition-based aesthetic. It is, of course, about agrarianism, about appreciating the traditional and the rural, and having our roots deeply embedded in the soil, but it is more than that. It is an appreciation of beauty. Plants will still grow in a trash-filled dump, and chickens are raised in third-world slums, but there is more to it than that. Much more.

We have our vegetable garden, but a part of it is always set aside for cut flowers (mostly Zinnias), and we have a rose garden in the front, where we enjoy sitting on the bench with coffee and tea as we watch the sun come up. Is that “agrarian”? Strictly speaking, no; however it is Southern Agrarianism.

A recent article in The Federalist noted the current cultural trends that seem to normalize and glorify ugliness – obesity, tattoos and piercings, buildings that look like a Soviet prison, etc. On the other end of the scale is the beauty advocated by the late Sir Roger Scruton.

Beauty is our English language. Ugliness is the profanity and urban “trash talk” that seems to have spread throughout Western culture.

Beauty is classical music, folk music, and other traditional forms of musical artistry. Ugliness is rap “music” – which is not music at all.

Beauty is traditional art. Ugliness is “modern art”, appreciated only by those who smugly pretend that they understand the deep meaning of some paint splattered across a canvass – and if you don’t, then it’s because you’re a simple rube who isn’t attuned to the “artist’s” intention.

Beauty is traditional, classical architecture, whether it is a humble but cared for farm house, or a magnificent stone monument designed to inspire. Ugliness is the concrete, steel, and glass modernist style that seems designed to belittle and depress the spirit.

Beauty is the system of manners and etiquette that serves to keep a society running smoothly in spite of competing agendas. Ugliness is the “Me first. Do your own thing” attitude that seems to be in control in modern society and promoted by the media.

Beauty is a family where family comes first, where multiple generations come together, and where they understand that they are only one link in a chain that extends back in time and forward to generations yet to be born. Ugliness is the trend of glorifying childlessness, single parenting, one night stands, and unwed motherhood.

Embrace Tradition – Reject Modernity.


  1. Jenny

    I love this.
    Until I found your site a few years back, I had no idea that what my Husband and I were striving towards in our lives had a name a description…..
    Thank you, from a wife on a small humble homestead in South Central Coastal Florida.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Thank you, Jenny. Just knowing that there are others “out there” who share the love of our beautiful land and people is a huge encouragement.

  2. Richard E Smith

    Stephen, your mention of traditional values has been an important theme to me in my retirement years. My wife and I talk often about how little we recognize in our country these days. We hope our children and grandchildren will find the beauties you describe above as commonplace as they once were in our day. Thank you for this uplifting message.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      The hope for our grandchildren is a big part of my motivation. We have six, and they are all within about 4 miles of here, so they are a big part of our daily lives. We can do nothing about the rest of the world, but we can make sure that our families get to enjoy the beauty of a traditional life. Let the Restoration begin!

  3. Heather

    Mr. McGehee, another one of your excellent essays! And I thoroughly agree. My husband always has flowers in his gardens, too, and it is so lovely just to go out and sit by them as the sun sets. Your site is so welcome after all the ugliness we are subjected to daily. And it was wonderful to hear you speak of real music, not all the four letter words “music” so many people listen to these days. You fill me with hope that beauty will continue as a value!
    Thank you.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      God bless you, Heather. Thank you for reminding me that there is still much beauty in the world, and the need to write about it to share with others.

  4. Stephen Clay McGehee

    Thank you all so much for your kind words! The encouragement means more to me than you’ll ever know. Be well, my friends, and God bless!

  5. Karen Conley

    Thank you for this beautiful commentary. You have put into words what I have been thinking for some time now. We now live in a society where only the crude and obscene things of this world are glorified and the things of beauty, including God’s holy Word are reviled and ridiculed. Please keep these insightful articles coming. They are a blessing to the injured souls of normal folk.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Karen, thank you for the kind words. That is what keeps me motivated. I have a few post ideas, and a few that I’ve started. Unlike in the past, I won’t try to set a schedule for posting, but rather post when I have something that I think is a worthy topic. Be well, my friend.

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