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Superfluous Southerners

Cultural Conservatism and the South, 1920-1990

John J. Langdale III

Publication Year: 2012

In Superfluous Southerners, John J. Langdale III tells the story of traditionalist conservatism and its boundaries in twentieth-century America. Because this time period encompasses both the rise of the modern conservative movement and the demise of southern regional distinctiveness, it affords an ideal setting both for observing the potentiality of American conservatism and for understanding the fate of the traditionalist “man of letters.” Langdale uses the intellectual and literary histories of John Crowe Ransom, Donald Davidson, and Allen Tate—the three principal contributors to the Agrarian manifesto I’ll Take My Stand—and of their three most remarkable intellectual descendants—Cleanth Brooks, Richard Weaver, and Melvin Bradford—to explore these issues.
            Langdale begins his study with some observations on the nature of American exceptionalism and the intrinsic barriers which it presents to the traditionalist conservative imagination. While works like Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club have traced the origins of modern pragmatic liberalism during the late nineteenth century, the nature of conservative thought in postbellum America remains less completely understood. Accordingly, Langdale considers the origins of the New Humanism movement at the turn of the twentieth century, then turning to the manner in which midwesterners Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer Moore stirred the imagination of the southern Agrarians during the 1920s.
            After the publication of I’ll Take My Stand in 1930, Agrarianism splintered into three distinct modes of traditionalist conservatism: John Crowe Ransom sought refuge in literary criticism, Donald Davidson in sectionalism, and Allen Tate in an image of the religious-wayfarer as a custodian of language. Langdale traces the expansion of these modes of traditionalism by succeeding generations of southerners. Following World War II, Cleanth Brooks further refined the tradition of literary criticism, while Richard Weaver elaborated the tradition of sectionalism. However, both Brooks and Weaver distinctively furthered Tate’s notion that the integrity of language remained the fundamental concern of traditionalist conservatism. 
            Langdale concludes his study with a consideration of neoconservative opposition to M.E. Bradford’s proposed 1980 nomination as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities and its significance for the southern man of letters in what was becoming postmodern and postsouthern America. Though the post–World War II ascendance of neoconservatism drastically altered American intellectual history, the descendants of traditionalism remained largely superfluous to this purportedly conservative revival which had far more in common with pragmatic liberalism than with normative conservatism. 

Published by: University of Missouri Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-9

The most impressive feature about the present moment in American intellectual history is the relative paucity of traditionalist conservative men of letters. Though the American right, since the Second World War, appears to have been ascendant in politics and intellect, its supposed triumph has, in large measure, come at the expense of traditionalist conservatives who, for much of ...

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Chapter 1. Superfluous Southerners and Gnostic Northerners: Southern Cultural Conservatism, Northern Pragmatism, and American Intellectual History

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pp. 10-20

In 1927, Julien Benda published an indictment of the intellectual corruption of the age titled Le Trahison des Clercs or The Treason of the Intellectuals. Taken literally, Benda’s title appealed to an archaic meaning of clerc, which pertained to the medieval scribes who provided a distinction between the sphere of letters and those of church and state that had been previously unknown.1 The “treason” in question was the subsequent gradual betrayal by the clerks of their

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Chapter 2. Conservatism in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century America: From Sectionalism to the New Humanism

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pp. 21-30

As much as pragmatists like Oliver Wendell Holmes sought to forestall certitude and discord in the aftermath of the Civil War, southern intellectuals spoke unabashedly of intellectual conflict. In his influential history of the Confederacy, Edward Pollard, editor of the Richmond Examiner, cautioned the South against concentrating on the recovery of “mere material prosper-...

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Chapter 3. From the New Humanism to Agrarianism

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pp. 31-48

During the fall of 1928, author and native Kentuckian Allen Tate set sail for Europe under the auspices of a Guggenheim fellowship. For Tate and other aspiring artists, the twenties had been an era filled with possibilities and uncertainties. Emerging from the terrors of the Great War, the decade ushered in revolutions in finance, transportation, and communication that drastically...

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Chapter 4. The Divided Minds of Agrarianism

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pp. 49-72

Though much has been said about the making and meaning of I’ll Take My Stand, there has been comparatively little written regarding its turbulent after-math. Though a few scholars have begun to examine this period, the fragmentation of Agrarianism during the thirties remains something of an enigma and has been largely relegated to footnotes and postscripts. To an overwhelming ...

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Chapter 5. The Conservative Legacy of Agrarianism: Cleanth Brooks and Richard Weaver

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pp. 73-96

Despite the efforts of the New Humanists, the Nashville Agrarians, and a handful of like-minded intellectuals, there remained, historian George Nash observes, “no articulate, coordinated, self-consciously conservative intellectual force” in the United States in 1945. Rather, he remarked, there were merely “scattered voices of protest” that were “profoundly pessimistic about ...

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Chapter 6. Southern Conservatism and Its Discontents: M. E. Bradford and the Modern American Right

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pp. 97-107

During the winter of 1966, erstwhile Agrarian Donald Davidson wrote admiringly to a former pupil concerning his recent scholarship on American culture. With excitement, Davidson noted that the young scholar was “picking up where Richard Weaver left off when heart failure took him away” three years ago. Prior to his untimely death at age fifty-three, Weaver, a tireless defender of ...

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Conclusion. The Southern Man of Letters in the Postmodern World

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pp. 108-116

...“The man of letters,” the nineteenth-century French poet Charles Baudelaire declared, is first and foremost the “world’s enemy.” Of course, the immediate question, in view of the story of the Agrarians and their intellectual descendants, remains to what degree this adversarial disposition remains relevant within the confines of a perpetually globalizing postmodern world? Though ...


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pp. 117-150


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pp. 151-170


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pp. 171-177

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272850
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219855

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2012