Polemics & Exchanges: October 2022

Is the ‘Lost Cause’ Lost?

Dear Prof. Gottfried, for my letter to make any sense, I must note that I am a twentysomething Southerner whose ancestors arrived in this land prior to the creation of the United States, and whose relatives fought on both sides of the [Civil] War. Last night I read for the second time “No Capitulation: A Call to Southern Conservatives,” your speech-turned-article on the Chronicles website. To be frank, I had never really paid much attention to the problems you described until after I had read your article for the first time. Now, I am constantly reminded of your article almost every time I hear a Republican or “conservative” commentator speak.

What course of action, if any, would you recommend? Defending the South brings forth enemies and the ever-looming threat of “cancellation” from academic settings, even in the South. I want to do right; I want to honor my ancestors. I have no idea as to what I should do.

I know you are a rather busy man, but I would appreciate any advice or words of wisdom you think might be helpful in my situation.

—[name withheld at the writer’s request]
Williamsburg, Va.

Prof. Gottfried replies:

Unfortunately, I see no way—short of a total inversion of America’s political culture—that will allow Southern conservatives to regain their lost acceptability.

There are several reasons for this. One, most of those who go by the designation “conservative” and who happen to live in the South are not traditional Southern conservatives. They are mostly neoconservatives who push for larger military budgets and crusades for global democracy.

Two, the only nationalism or regionalism that is allowed to thrive in contemporary American society must be compatible with the interests and sensibilities of the woke left, or at least not stand in contradiction to them. Black racism and black nationalism are therefore fine, but not a movement that focuses on anything as politically incorrect as Southern heritage.

Three, Southern conservatives have no influence beyond their shrinking fraternity. They don’t even have any significant influence on the present version of the conservative movement, from which they were pushed out years ago. Alas, Southern conservatives have become powerless even in the regions where their presence was once strongly felt.

What might conceivably reverse the fortunes of Southern conservatives is to gain control of the appropriate resources necessary to create their own political pressure group. Southerners might follow the course charted by American Jews, who have used media, institutional, and academic power to push those in high positions into adopting their pro-Israeli stands.

Unlike the Southern conservatives, however, Zionists have been able to fit themselves into a fashionable anti-fascist narrative. They can claim to be speaking for their brethren who suffered under the Nazis, and before that, for Jews who were subject to anti-Semitic Christians. Southern whites don’t have such a useful victim card, although admittedly they suffered grievously in a brutal Northern invasion and its ugly aftermath.

Southern conservatives have also not been particularly adept in presenting their case as suppressed, would-be creators of a legitimate nation-state. In my view, they have devoted too much energy to defending or apologizing for slavery, even though most Southerners and their ancestors did not own slaves. Like the Bretons, the Irish, and the Catalonians, antebellum Southerners were a self-conscious people who were frustrated in their effort to form their own nation-state. Those who attempted this and resisted an invasion by their eventual conquerors have been dehumanized and are now having their monuments desecrated.

This is reminiscent of the ugly behavior, during the Spanish Civil War, of both Nationalists and Republicans, who found ways of insulting each other long after their bloodbath was over. In the American case, such an outcome was long delayed by the willingness of the triumphant Northern side to treat defeated Southerners as honorable Americans and even to bestow on their veterans the same pensions given to Northern soldiers. That admirable behavior has now been replaced by public displays of loathing for Southern heritage, a rite in which the descendants of Confederate veterans now obligingly join.

Unfortunately, I am forced to conclude that my advice will have no likely effect on the future of our reader’s cause. His cause is probably too weak by now to go anywhere. Indeed, it has become so weak that even prominent Southern members of America’s would-be conservative class try to attract support from blacks and the left by dumping nonstop on the “treasonous,” slaveholding South. The new version of the “Southern conservative” doesn’t care much about Southern pride. He too happily rants against the display of the Confederate Battle Flag, even on racing cars, and is unwilling to allow Confederate monuments to stand anywhere on the planet. Zionist lobbyists may be more obtrusive but, in some ways, are more admirable. They’re not embarrassed to stand up for ancestral loyalties.

Loss of Elegance

Every month when I receive my issue of Chronicles the first thing I turn to is Taki Theodoracopulos’ column. His entry in July (“End of Empire, End of Manners”) on the loss of elegance and good manners especially resonated with me. In lamenting the “proletarian barbarization” that is all-encompassing in our culture today, he put his finger on what the literary and social critic Paul Fussell identified more than 30 years ago as “prole drift,” the inexorable downward tendency of our culture toward crudeness, coarseness, and corruption in everything from aesthetics to attire. Nowhere is this more evident than in the matter of male appearance and manners.

The man of today is a slob. This downward process has been proceeding apace since the 1960s. Go to any airport and see him shuffling along in his baggy shorts, shirt hanging askew, his gunky gym shoes and his beard-stubbled face staring bovinely ahead.

Taki may have had a point when he blamed the loss of elegance on the decline of empire; I think it is attributable to the inevitable downward pull of contemporary democracy toward the very lowest common denominator in our morals, manners, and in what we aspire to as worthy and beautiful. Our movies today are mostly garbage, but half a century ago Hollywood contributed to the concept of understated elegance exemplified by men such as Cary Grant, Walter Pidgeon, and William Powell, men who practiced the art of being gentlemen.

Taki’s friends labeled him a snob for paying tribute to our lost ideals of elegance; even his wife seems to have chastised him. But take heart, Taki. There are still those of us who, along with you, pine for the lost days when grace, propriety, and charm set the standards to which we could all aspire; those of us who follow your column with empathy and admiration.

You are not alone.

—Gary Gober
Spring Hill, Tenn.

Dear Taki, of course you and Mrs. T. are right! I can’t believe what I see in the airports, on New Jersey beaches, et cetera. Back in the late ’70s I was meeting my son in a suburban Philly restaurant; he arrived on his bike, not with me. I thought he looked nice for his age in knee-length pants, but we were not admitted because he wasn’t wearing long pants. The maitre d’ at Mrs. T’s hotel should have done the same: “No shoes, no shirt, no service” was a common sign at Jersey Shore restaurants during the summer, when I was young in the 1950s.

I was in Prague twice, 1989 and 1991. The Intercontinental was the city’s best hotel then and I’d stay there again but I know ritzier chains are there now. In ’91 the actress, singer, and dancer Shirley Temple Black was our ambassador to Czechoslovakia (and before that, chief of U.S. diplomatic protocol). I saw her several times at the hotel; I saw no proletarian barbarians then!

I still look presentable most of the time but I admit that I have to watch my vocab. In my urban Irish family we kids learned S.O.B. before Dick and Jane, but that was too long ago to be an excuse! You are right about the Met Gala—what happened to the world you wrote about in Princes, Playboys, & High-Class Tarts?

—Georgia B. Makiver
Lansdowne, Pa.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.