- Dollars for Dixie: Business and the Transformation of Conservatism in the Twentieth Century by Katherine Rye Jewell
The Southern States Industrial Council (SSIC) was founded at the beginning of the New Deal as an organization to resist or control reforms that southern manufacturers believed would threaten the South’s economic advantages—low wages, mill villages, and cheap raw materials—and the racial and social hierarchy which underpinned them. The manufacturing leaders who ran and funded the SSIC described a South that was socially and economically unique, arguing that their region required special treatment from the New Deal, like exemptions from what industrialists saw as the most onerous or harmful regulations. By the 1970s the SSIC had evolved into the United States Business and Industrial Council, emphasizing free markets and conservatism, and it downplayed regional distinctiveness, except to the extent that the South was the best example or embodiment of those free enterprise ideals. In this well-researched (with footnotes and not endnotes, making the work much more accessible and useful; thank you, Cambridge University Press) and relevant book, Katherine Rye Jewell asks, “How does an organization, which begins as an entity to protect southern business from national economic norms, become an advocate of national values and in the process reenvision the region’s place and significance within the nation?” (xiv). Specific policy battles, economic changes, and tactical or rhetorical decisions by SSIC leaders drew the southern manufacturing elite into the national conservative movement of the 1950s and [End Page 78] 1960s. Industrial leaders who founded a lobbying group to protect southern industry’s particular advantages and promote the growth of southern capital ended up contributing to a process that helped to kill the South’s economic identity. Contrary to much scholarship, Jewell argues that this process shows that there was no straight line from antebellum political views to neoliberalism.
The SSIC, founded in 1933, was not born as a “knee-jerk, conservative” reaction to the New Deal (22). Southerners at first hoped to use the New Deal, especially the National Recovery Administration, to achieve their goals, even as they were wary of its potential to harm the South and limit their control of it. The southern textile industry was in particularly rough shape, plagued by overproduction and declining demand, and industry leaders welcomed a cooperative solution. So the SSIC played up its role as the defender of infant southern industry and old-fashioned southern paternalism, using traditionalist rhetoric to hide its efforts at harnessing economic reforms to its own ends. This failed, and the New Deal became in the eyes of many manufacturers dangerously liberal and pro-labor. The SSIC in turn became more and more anti-New Deal, especially after passage of the Wagner Act, and it worked to become more influential among like-minded Democrats.
In the late 1930s, sectionalism and paternalism were not working as rhetorical weapons to combat the New Deal. The SSIC tried to shift to a defense of free enterprise as its justification for opposing New Deal reforms, all the while making an effort to explain the differences between the North and the South, but it was a bumpy, irregular process. The SSIC’s southern orientation made it difficult to find ideological consistency or national allies. As World War II progressed and their struggles over policy continued, “SSIC leaders stumbled into arguments that downplayed southern exceptionalism in favor of free enterprise” (167). These fights, especially over freight shipping rates, demonstrated that too strong an attachment to sectionalism could alienate potential allies. By the late 1940s, SSIC leaders made the South a place of free market, antigovernment ideology. Free [End Page 79] enterprise “replaced mill village paternalism and underdevelopment as the SSIC’s justifications for opposing economic reforms, regulations, and federal intervention” (204). The South was refashioned as the most American place rather than a region that deviated from the nation’s traditional political economy.
Unhappiness among industrial elites with the Democratic Party complicated matters. As early...