REVIEWSrnPaleo Prophetsrnby J.O. TaternThe Unregenerate South:rnThe Agrarian Thought ofrnJohn Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, andrnDonald Davidsonrnby Mark G, MalvasirnBaton Rouge: Louisiana State UniversityrnPress; 261 pp., $35.00rnBarbarians in the Saddle:rnAn Intellectual Biography ofrnRichard M. Weaverrnby Joseph ScotchiernNew Brunswick: Transaction Publishers;rn161 pp., $29.95rnThe 12 Southerners who contributedrnto I’ll Take My Stand (1930) mustrnhave been a terrible failure, for the Southrnas well as the rest of the nation ignoredrntheir warnings and injunctions. Yet, inrntheir failure—caused in part by the frustrationrnof the Depression and sealed byrnthe global engagement of World WarrnII—they were also a tremendous success.rnWe live in the bloated and noisy wreckrnthey foresaw, and we know it.rnThe cultural inversion that is promotedrnby big business, big government, andrneducation has made a hash of the life ofrnthe mind, and produced, as Waco dramatized,rna war on the people. The newspapers,rnas of this writing, are filled withrndire warnings about a possible foreignrnwar with an obscure country some thousandsrnof miles away that might possiblyrnpossess “instruments of mass destruction,”rnwhich might be identified if theyrncould be found. But of course our ownrneconomy has been distorted to producernincalculable weapons of mass destructionrnwith which the government routinelyrnthreatens others. Meanwhile, the restrnof the front page concerns the schedulernand whereabouts not of Saddam Husseinrnbut of the President of the United States,rnwhose devotion to duty has kept himrnfrom replying to salacious allegationsrnwhich are supposed to preoccupy us forrnthe foreseeable future.rnThe Southerners knew that ideas havernconsequences. They warned thatrnunchecked capitalism would assume Soviet-rnstyle power. They cautioned thatrnradical changes must produce radical results.rnThey forewarned an environmentalrncrisis, a loss of liberty, a swollen bureaucracy,rnand conditions which wouldrndestroy culture, virtue, and the privaternhousehold. So they urged their fellowrnSoutherners to remain “backwards,” tornrevere their heritage, and to maintainrntheir culture.rnThe South today, of course, has largelyrnembraced the rat-race as a way of life,rnbut not all of it has—nor has all of America.rnInterestingly enough, the VanderbiltrnAgrarians were taken to task in theirrntime for being reactionaries, which ofrncourse they were. The myth of progress,rna mask for power, does not permit anyrnchallenges. The Agrarians were alsorntarred as “racists,” since the Old Southrnwas in large part a slave society, and thernSouth of 1930 was segregated. But thernrace card is only another mask for power.rnScottish philosopher Adam Ferguson anticipatedrntheir case 160 years earlier inrndescribing the differences between thernclan community of the Highlands andrnthe commercial societ)’ of the lowlandsrnin his remarkable Essay on the History ofrnCivil Society (1767). We may note thatrndiscussions of race were not an issue atrnthat time and place; that capitalist developmentrncontinued; and that the issue ofrnpower has not died in Scotland to thisrnday. Should the South, because of race,rnbe exempted from any such inquiry regardingrncultural values and self-government?rnThat has been the liberal consensusrnabout the South in 1930, in 1965,rnand now in 1998, with an Arkansan inrnthe White House who has declared thatrnChechen separatism is as dangerous asrnsecession was in 1861. There’s no businessrnlike show business, and no empirernlike “democracy.”rnThe most notable contributors to TilrnTake My Stand made their mark as writersrnand academics, not as political leaders.rnJohn Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate,rnand Donald Davidson were first andrnforemost poets, critics, and professors.rnYet their dissension from the nationalrncomplacency is remembered as an injunctionrnby some, and as a horror by others.rnThey have been called sexists,rnracists, and fascists, among other termsrnthat say more about those who sling unletteredrnepithets than about those whornsuffer them. They remain distinguishedrnin claiming that neither communismrnnor gilded excess was necessary or desirable.rnAnd they remain a challenge forrntheir sense that the South, far from beingrnthe whipping boy of national mythology,rnwas actually a model for living. Theirsrnwas the most notable demurral from thernnational consensus in the 20th century.rnThe Old South was long gone inrn1930, and the “New South” of 1930 isrnnow also gone. The Southerners had therntemerity to suggest that the South, as anrnexample of a traditional society, providedrna positive image of a way to live. MarkrnMalvasi’s study of the Agrarian thoughtrnof three well-known Southerners is arnvaluable new statement of their engagementrnwith their past and their future,rnwhich then became our present.rnBalanced and critical, Malvasi’s expositionrnhas numerous merits. The first isrnto draw to our attention the value—thernenduring value —of Agrarian insights.rnThe second is to show the diverging evolutionrnof their thinking. Ransom abandonedrnAgrarianism for philosophicalrnand aesthetic pursuits, repeating a progressionrnthat was established by the Romantics.rnTate converted to RomanrnCatholicism and softened his politics,rnthough he did not repudiate the Agrarianrnenterprise. Donald Davidson wound uprnas an active reactionary, and a principledrnone. In remembering him, we have tornremember (as Malvasi does) not only hisrnpoems and other works, but the ultimaterneffects that government-enforced racialrnintegration has had upon education andrnculture in our country.rnSome may think, as I do, that Malvasi’srninsistence upon a flaw in the Agrarianrnvision —namely, a failure to apprehendrnthe nature of slavery in the OldrnSouth —is too pronounced and schematic.rnEven so, his survey is valuable for remindingrnus of the accessible virtues ofrnthe rare and imposing criticism thatrnthese three Agrarians gave to modernrnAmerica. Malvasi’s book is not at all arnrehash of old arguments but is preciselyrnattuned to contemporary concerns andrnJUNE 1998/35rnrnrn