Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Noblesse Oblige

NoblesseObligeIn February 2011, I wrote an essay titled White Privilege – Guilty As Charged, which is reproduced below. Closely linked to this “White Privilege” is the concept of Noblesse Oblige, which the dictionary defines as “The obligation of honorable, generous, and responsible behavior associated with high rank or birth.” White Privilege and Noblesse Oblige cannot be separated by honorable men. Privilege and Obligation go together.

Some would argue that Noblesse Oblige does not apply to them because “Noblesse” means “Nobility: Noble birth or condition,” and they are not “nobility.” That is just a vain attempt to escape the responsibility that goes with privilege. Are we to believe that because Noblesse Oblige has no legal standing that we have no obligation to do more than is required? Of course not. Noblesse Oblige is at the very core of what it means to be a Southern gentleman or a Southern lady.

John F. Kennedy said, “For of those whom much is given, much is required.” which is really just a rephrasing of the words of Jesus: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”(Luke 12:48)

Lest this discussion get sidetracked into racial issues, this applies every bit as much to “American Privilege.” For all her faults and failings, those of us fortunate enough to live in America have been blessed beyond measure. We have unsurpassed wealth and opportunity and a level of freedom seen in few other places. Such opportunity can be seized or it can be squandered. Education and opportunity to excel are freely available to all.

We have an “obligation of honorable, generous, and responsible behavior.” Are we making good on that obligation? Do we truly appreciate the blessings that have been bestowed upon us? Are we doing all we can to pass those same blessings on to the next generation? If not, it’s time to get started.


White Privilege – Guilty As Charged

Stephen Clay McGehee
First published February 17, 2011

One cannot be a vocal advocate of Southern heritage and culture without encountering the topic of race on a regular basis. It shouldn’t be that way but it is, so it must be confronted head-on.

I have been reading recently about the concept of White Privilege – what our accusers define as an unearned, unmerited advantage that Whites have over other races. To that I answer, “Guilty As Charged.”

Let’s look at this White Privilege that gives me an “unfair” advantage over others:

I have the privilege of being raised by both my mother and my father in a stable home where drugs, alcohol, and crime never intruded.

I have the privilege of being raised by parents who understood the value of education and insisted that I and my siblings take learning seriously.

I have the privilege of being taught at an early age that making sacrifices today in order to have something better tomorrow is one of the keys to progress.

I have the privilege of having grandparents who taught my parents these same values – and generation upon generation before them.

I have the privilege of learning about the Western European culture – the music, the literature, the science, the art – that has enriched the lives of all who care to take advantage of that culture; freely bestowed on all who care for the finer things of mankind.

I have the privilege of having a strong work ethic instilled in me from a young age.

I have the privilege of being raised in a Christian home and taught about the wholly undeserved love of a God who would sacrifice His only Son to pay for my sins.

All these privileges were given to me, completely undeserved and unearned. They were given to me by the generations that came before me because they put the best interest of their children above all else. If other races or other groups of people choose to live for their own immediate gratification with little thought for the fate of their descendants, then that is their choice. It is my fondest hope – and expectation – that one day my grandchildren, when accused of White Privilege, will proudly proclaim “Guilty As Charged”.


  1. Karen Conley

    I agree one hundred percent. Thank you for speaking the truth.

  2. Stacy

    Thank you for speaking this truth. I too am guilty as charged. I had the privilege of being raised by both parents in a safe, loving home. Education and faith were very important to my parents and they supported/encouraged myself and my siblings. Unfortunately, this type of childhood is becoming the exception rather than the rule. There are too many excuses for not doing well…it is time for people to take responsibility for their own actions (or inaction).

  3. Ana T Rico

    I just stumbled on you website while searching for the detailed history of Robert E Lee’s
    address to his soldiers at Appomattox: “Let us go home and cultivate our virtues.” and upon closer scrutiny of your posts found this one.

    I am the daughter of Cuban immigrants and arrived at my adoptive land at the age of 13, my parents were people of small means and arrived in America well into middle age so they remained hard working blue collar citizens. I am a college graduate and an Architect by trade like a favorite patriot Thomas Jefferson a fellow Architect and Gentleman Farmer. Education and faith were important to my parents and although not privileged, they exemplified the principles you speak of.

    I was educated in the North, Boston, Massachusetts, to be specific and lived there for over a decade before returning to my home state of Florida. Before I lived in Boston I never considered myself a Southerner, although I have always been a proud American. I don’t like to hyphenate my heritage since I feel it lumps me together with other categories of naturalized citizens that don’t identify or feel for our country as strongly as I do. To use a very Southern phrase, I consider myself privileged and like you plead guilty as charged: I am Cuban by birth, American and “Southerner by the grace of God.”

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      It’s an honor to have you here – thank you for stopping by.

  4. Anthony

    In my youth I was an ardent student of all things Roman (how boring).

    How many are aware that “knighthood” originated with the Romans? The “Equites” or mounted Roman soldier. Indeed the creed of the Knight became common and most developed in the “Romance” nations – France, Spain, Italy – and those nations like Germany and the balkan countries influenced by Roman culture.

    The culture of Arturius, the Roman Briton, in England – these are the genesis of Noblesse Oblige. Knights Hospitallers and Templars.

    If you want to study engineering you learn German – for medicine it’s Greek – but for law you learn Latin – the language of Law.

    The Romans developed concepts of law and civil procedure alien to the world of warlike Greeks and Persians, piratical Carthaginians, wild Celts, and brutish Germans. Timeless concepts that we use today, and which influenced the American Founders.

    “Roman, let this be your Art; to war down the Proud, to spare the Humble.”

    The noble ideal that gave rise to a Corvus, the Fabii, Cincinnatus and Camillus – these are the seedbed of Noblesse Oblige.

    A tradition that fell from favor with the Marians – when the Romans turned from their martial origins. As has happened in America.

    By the time of Constantine young Romans were mutilating themselves to avoid military service, and citizens had taken to the hills to escape tax collectors. The once noble Romans had become so enamored of vice that Constantine abandoned Italy to the Goths.

    Without a martial tradition, America is No Country for Noble Men.

  5. Stephen Clay McGehee

    Beautifully said, sir! It’s a pleasure to hear from someone who has been with this project from the very beginning.

  6. Jim lemley

    We have noblesse obliged the black culture that they don’t try and don’t care cause we will pick up the slack no matter how bad they act. Continuing to to support their bad behavior will end up with the whole country being punished for the fault of the few. When will these people grow up as a society no admit that it’s their fault not the fault of slavery 150 years ago.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Jim, I wish I had an answer to that one. Actually, though, I think we both know the answer – as does every other honest person. We, as a society, just don’t like that answer.

      To those who love to troll topics like this: “If you pretend you don’t know the answer, then I will pretend that I don’t either.”

  7. Mark

    Nobile Obligation works when all groups are playing by the same rules and adhere to the same values. But under diversity, that’s simply not true. Culturally, genetically, different ethnic groups have different capacities. We’ve run the civil rights experiment and it has delivered ruined cities and disastrous social consequences, demoralization and destruction of the historical American nation. Noblesse Oblige doesn’t work in a multi-cultural empire.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I think the more accurate statement would be simply that Multi-culturalism doesn’t work. Nothing works when people try to mix together groups that have developed separately over thousands of years.

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