“Taake my word for it, Sammy, the poor in a loomp is bad.”

Two professors at Mississippi State University, a sociologist and a communicationist, have decoupaged their observations, experiences, and intrapsychic projections into a “phenomenological analysis” of The Southern Redneck. If their work has any redeeming social value, it is as a kind of thematic apperception test that tells more about the authors and their manner of seeing than it does as any reliable morphology of rednecks. The Southern Redneck does illustrate that some metaphysics (or underlying value presuppositions) always shape the interpretation of events. Such is the case whether the values form a Reformational or Christian world view, or, as in the case at hand, whether they are pinioned on Marxian fundamentalism.

Seen through the authors’ preconceptions, The Southern Redneck is a vulgar, beer-filled, abusive, ignorant, hedonistic, inadequately deodorized, animalistic, cacogenic, thoroughly thoughtless, racist male who, like “the Southern white man of whatever class,” is “the meanest man in the world in any type of situation.” Their female counterparts are portrayed as “freaks of nature.” The baseline model is that of poor white trash. True enough, the Southern woods are full of people who would scale rather high on any reasonable consensus of redneckery. Often they typify persons likely to be encountered driving trucks or manning service vehicles, managing or owning Secur-U-Stor rackets, doing time as “grunts” in the pulpwood, gas-pumping or table-waiting industries, people who are the substance of military manpower quotas— people likely to pile up in “mobile homes” in the trailer parks or to fill the subsidized apartments as 20-year-old dual-gravida females achieving the good life via the career cycle of a divorcee on welfare.

A valid scale of redneckery would have to account for psychological as well as financial factors. While command over resources has a great deal to do with any social evaluation, many redneck factory workers, equipment operators, and postal drones have a great deal of money, complete with big mortgage and RV. Many have the pecuniary accoutrements of style. Rednecks comparatively endowed financially often retain attitudinal and behavioral stigmata which stand out as distinctively as the Hebraic features of a Baptist Jew, and make them as readily identifiable as a Pentecostal in a $300 suit. One magenta peanut broker (who infamously charged the tax victim public, whose lot it is to serve their betters, $12,000 for a rug with a serene sense of entitlement) served a term as U.S. President.

It is not that the composite phantasmagoria of Roebuck and Hickson is fraudulent in all particulars. The authors identify some features of the work- and live-a-day worlds of lowerclass people in terms of recreation, associations, domesticity, and language, guaranteed to bring forth a hearty “Ho hum, I’ve always said so myself” from any person who is a member of, or who regularly associates with, any of the redneck species. The authors have picked up on some subtle traits, too, e.g., rednecks do not like phonies (which may explain why certain professors feel nervous visiting redneck bars).

An abstract ideal type can perhaps be built around the commonalities of the life-styles of such culturally diverse groups as Georgia crackers, Louisiana swamp rats, Carolina lintheads, Tennessee mountaineers, Arkansas hillbillies, and Mississippi go-getters (the female works in the garment industry and the spouse will “go get her” at shift change time). If there is a culture of poverty, as Oscar Lewis contends, some modes of adjustment, attitudinal and behavioral features, and reactions to similarities of place in the hierarchy of things will result in some commonalities whether the population is situated in Mexico City, Johannesburg, or Jefferson County, Alabama. But the authors’ composite picture of the redneck is valid only in the same sense that a description of the “farm animal” as “a creature who grazes in meadows, sometimes pulls a plow or wagon, roosts in trees at night, and stands on a fencepost each A.M. and crows in the new day” is accurate. Each trait is indeed applicable to some farm animals. However, the descriptive elements are not rightly sorted, and it is rather clear that the resultant imagery is not useful as fact or type. It is this kind of distorted thinking that gives us the authors’ das Redneckery.

But the manner in which the authors combine elements finally depends upon ideological doctrine, not “research findings.” And in ideology, the authors are true believers, devoted to intrusive sermonizing inspired by the creed granted imprimatur from the synagogue of St. Marx. Any deficiencies The Southern Redneck may exhibit in terms of what C. Wright Mills called the “sociological imagination” is more than compensated for by the authors’ deftness at what might be described, with slight apology to Mills, as the sociological hallucination.

It is not that the authors are bad people, nor bearers of unwelcome news. Indeed, they are champions of the right, eager to tell us in definitive terms what the South needs. The catch is that the Southerners’ lack of adversarial consciousness makes it difficult to get the Utopian crusade defined and started.

I have no doubt that the authors report ’em as they see ’em, identifying supply-side economics as the cause of inflation, the “happenings” directed by Huey P. Long as “the most enlightened and noblest undertaking in Southern history,” and all. The authors lay aside Scripture in favor of Marx in arguing that “the world could not be redeemed through man’s belief but rather through the rising up of the poor.” They seek salvation through “social justice” and “human liberation” as inspired by the “Russian revolutionary experiment” or promoted as a “sacred Christian [sic] movement” in the South by Miles Horton, James Dombrowski, Frank Graham, and similar ilk in the 1930’s.

The authors may well believe anything their doctrine tells them they ought to believe. But it strains credulity to believe even they think that “rednecks [did] not believe that Herschel Walker eats with the white players on the Georgia team” or that “rednecks did not know that Walker goes to classes with young, white girls in Athens, Georgia.” Research “findings” or expression of an ideological fetish carried by the authors? In their doctrinal portfolio, racism must be pervasive. Their religious orthodoxy (Marxist fundamentalism) demands it.

It would probably be unnecessary lack of charity to suggest that the perpetuators of such distortions must either be: (a) charlatans; or (b) trained ignoropaths (not quite the same thing as a sociopath) who project their own dogmas onto the subjects supposedly being described. Perhaps the authors are not truly responsible for their own acts and assessments. As trained sociologists, they may well be eunuchs in matters of judgment.

It must be conceded that Roebuck and Hickson have set forth the basis for an enchanting party game. Read a line, and ask others if they think such is characteristic of a redneck. Or ask a redneck. Or play solitaire, and see how you score out. Are you fortunate enough that your wife is impressed by Marabel Morgan? Yahoooooooo—it’s a gotcha! The authors claim Morgan’s The Total Woman is regarded by redneck women as a “godsend” for salvaging their marriages. Do you have animosity toward Jerry Falwell? Better develop some quick, or it’s a gotcha. The authors claim, “The redneck’s solution to his problem is to side with the Moral Majority and leaders such as Jerry Falwell.”

Are you fearful, frustrated, alienated, hysterical, and hyperventilating “in light of the current trend . . . as evidenced by reactionary politics”? If not, you are likely to be one of the “hunting, fishing, drinking, socializing” types enmeshed in a small, closeknit “poor white subculture that has endured since antebellum times.” As such, you are a lout, a derivative of a rigid, marginal, politically isolated group in a semi-traditional society “articulated to a class system based upon materialism, traditionalism, paternalism, racism, and religiosity . . . a remarkable culture not conducive to class consciousness, economic wellbeing, or upward social mobility.”

True belief requires its demonology; knights must have dragons. The authors find President Reagan an unacceptably nonrapacious proponent of “new welfare policies [that] will cause more human suffering in the South than any other federal action since the Civil War”; a veritable genocidist, portending threat of return to “a primitively oriented criminal justice system, weakened labor unions, and the loss of some civil rights [that is, civil riots] movement gains.”

The authors wax hysterical denouncing an alleged alignment of KKK, Moral Majority, white middleclass, small pensioners, small businessmen, lower-echelon professionals, tradesmen, small farmers, rural dwellers (nomenclature theirs), and the roadhouse set with baseball caps advertising Coors: it all adds up to “a brand of conservative populism reminiscent of that preached by George Wallace . . . on the upsurge in the South.” The resultant horrors are specified as “significant victories against church and state [no, the authors did not mean in Louisville, Nebraska, where Christian education was criminalized], abortion for women, pornography, liberal congressmen, certain freedom of the press rights.” The times are evil, “The little Southern liberalism that existed in the South during the 1930s appears to be dead.”

Show me a Jeeter Lester prototype who has even heard of Jerry Falwell (albeit his grandmother may watch him on TV), much less have the cerebral capacity to make common cause with Moral Majority initiatives, and I’ll show you a rare individual. A baseline redneck female who quotes Marabel Morgan, Darien Cooper, or Phyllis Schlafly may have surfaced somewhere, but my “research findings” tell me that the probability of locating a person with such a combination of traits is less than the likelihood of finding a Spanish-speaking giraffe in a dairy herd.

How could such incongruous reasoning come to be solemnized in print? Simple. Such thinking is well within one standard deviation of the mean of accepted professorial wisdom. The picture of tobacco chewing, Budweiser-gutted simian with the moral fortitude to assess moral-political-social issues and to identify with the world view of Moral Majority is credible to them. For them, both the redneck life-style and the Moral Majority perspective are worthless and by that criteria are fungible. Such incongruous combinations of traits are constitutive to liberal cautery. How else do we explain the charges of “fascism” and “anti-Semitism” leveled against the almost sycophantically pro-Israel political and religious figures on the right.

Contrary to the authors’ representations. Southerners are not mesmerized by consciousness of race. The Southerners’ intuitive sense of place—as a human being among other human beings, not as a repository of displaced anger on a mission—combined with the lineage of republican virtue continues to provide some leavening consistency and a relatively immunizing effect to statist orthodoxy. For many Southern whites, blacks, like fire ants, are often an undesirable component of reality. However, aversion to blacks is not a component of political consciousness, except in the demonology of liberal moralesse oblige. The rednecks are rather tolerant—not requiring a whites-for-whites consciousness, although constantly faced with blacks-for-blacks political arguments. As a general rule, they join with blacks in electing faithful Democrats (e.g., blacks and rednecks united to elect George Wallace and numerous other governors and legislators in the post- 1970 era). True enough, Southern voters have never kept a proper rein on politicians. In the pre-1970 era, when segregation was almost the only issue in many elections, the voters proved gullible. Professed (though not lasting) support for segregation served liberal politicians well as a camouflage for hiding from the voters their overall commitment to an adversary culture. Far too easily fooled by this tactic. Southerners allowed men like Lister Hill, John Sparkman, and Jim Fulbright long careers. To its credit, however, the South has also sent men like Richard Russell, Sam Ervin, John Rarick, Larry McDonald, and Jim Allen to office.

The authors’ South is that of Wilbur Cash, not Richard Weaver. Like Weaver, however, the authors feel that religion is an idea which has consequences. The authors posit the religion of the Southerner as a Calvinistic, puritanical gospel which emphasizes salvation rather than class warfare, an opiate that keeps the redneck masses poor and docile. The Southern white the authors depict is racist, sectionalist, provincial, harshly Calvinistic, sensual, a hedonistic fascist who represents a detestible history and despicable folk culture filled with “a necessary Christianity and cruelty.” The authors regard as malevolent any manifestation of religion in the South which is not rooted in Calvinistic biblicism or the Reformational lineage.

The authors’ central complaint, however, is not religious but political; the redneck wants a government of the fashion which the Republic was founded to perpetuate. Rednecks “hate bureaucracy. They want the government to take a laissez-faire approach to them as individuals.” Even when removed from the South by employment. Southerners do not become displaced persons spiritually, but are oriented toward home. “They wish to stay in the South, and when they leave, they maintain their traditions elsewhere—and look forward to an eventual return to kith and kin.” Rednecks wish to avoid entanglement with government, and they buy their guns, trucks, tools, and fishing equipment as symbols of their independence, self-dignity, and regional attachments. Being men who are given to thinking in communal and associational terms rather than in artificial, contrived, rhetorical, or class interest categories, they are ill-fitted for their assigned place in Marxist dogma.

Southern poverty, as the authors assess it, is the result of sin, specifically the wickedness of insufficient unionization, resulting from an inadequately developed class consciousness. It would be pointless on this issue to debate the economics of comparative advantage with the authors, for their commitment to unionization as a cure to poverty is fundamentally a matter of faith, not reason. The ignored reality is that contemporary unions are generally organized against other workers—not against capitalists—and often are organized against any reasonable concept of the common good. Expectations that unions will work (or strike) for the common good run contrary to the very purpose of unions.

As empty as The Southern Redneck is as a report on research findings, it does give the reader a religious testament, anathematizing the South’s “fantastic historical mythology” and its cultural continuity over time with its “false consciousness tied to otherworldly religion.” The authors have their own vision. In the name of Progress, the Southern legacy and Weltanschauung should be broken and Marxist fundamentalism enshrined in a newly raised “class consciousness.” The quest is satisfied by the revolting against the old social bonds, not by reconstruction of visible new ones. No historical example, no factual reality which shows the millennium to be fictitious, can stand against the religious faith which inspires the destruction of old loyalties. It is not so much the idiosyncracies, the argot, the lifestyle of rednecks, their aversion to haute couture, or their love for country music which incites the hatred of the intellectual messiahs. It is the whole of Southern history. The Southern legacy, and those who carry forth its lineage, reflect an ancient tradition steeped in organic Anglican liberty of restraint on compulsive power and its potential for accomplishing good, as contrasted with the Gallic liberty which seeks to free the exercise of power from limiting restraints in the quest for social good. The authors spring heavy with good deeds.

If the authors could somehow enlighten their redneck subjects, could infect them with enough social science septicemia to cause them to throw off their Southernism—with its outmoded religious and political values—then society could be shoved toward “meaningful structural change,” and the “masses might be persuaded to work for the common good—[remember Ho, Mao, Idi, and Fidel?] whatever that is decided upon.” As it is, however, the intellectual messiahs find their enlightened prescriptions defeated by a “fantastic unrealistic Southern myth” with its “false consciousness, a lack of social responsibility, and . . . savage ideal likened to the ethos of Nazi Germany,” and an attendant “inexcusable failure to face Southern history and give up faulty traditions either emotionally or intellectually.”

If they could, the authors would make displaced persons of the whole human race. In a metastatically Sandinistasized universe, civilization and progress would be measured by homage to the intellectual priest-kings for their ministrations in the cause. No longer would poor Southern rednecks be afflicted by the zeitgeist of “a pernicious lost cause [that] serves no worthy purpose and keeps the South tied to a dangerous mythology.”

The victory of Yankee Springfields over Southern long rifles must not obscure the more fundamental reality that the South did not surrender its culture at Appomattox. “Since [1865] the redneck has remained religiously orthodox and has defended America’s most reactionary economic values and institutions.” That is one way of putting it. But in this context, “reactionary” is a high compliment. Roebuck and Hickson are baffled that “the more the South appears to be changing the more it remains the same—that is, its central core.” For Southerners, the central core remains nutrient living stone.


[The Southern Redneck: A Phenomenological Class Study, by Julian B. Roebuck and Mark Hickson III; New York: Praeger]