The Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism

Overview

In recent years American conservatism has found a new voice, a new way of picking up the political pieces left in the wake of liberal policies. But what seems innovative, Eugene Genovese shows us, may in fact have very old roots. Tracing a certain strain of conservatism to its sources in a rich southern tradition, his book introduces a revealing perspective on the politics of our day. As much a work of political and moral philosophy as one of history, The Southern Tradition is based on the intellectual journey of...
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Overview

In recent years American conservatism has found a new voice, a new way of picking up the political pieces left in the wake of liberal policies. But what seems innovative, Eugene Genovese shows us, may in fact have very old roots. Tracing a certain strain of conservatism to its sources in a rich southern tradition, his book introduces a revealing perspective on the politics of our day. As much a work of political and moral philosophy as one of history, The Southern Tradition is based on the intellectual journey of one of the most influential historians of the late twentieth century. To appreciate the tradition of southern conservatism, Genovese tells us, we must first understand the relation of southern thought to politics. Toward this end, he presents a historical overview that identifies the tenets, sensibilities, and attitudes of the southern-conservative world view. With these conditions in mind, he considers such political and constitutional issues as state rights, concurrent majority, and the nature and locus of political power in a constitutional republic. Of special interest are the southern-conservative critiques of equality and democracy, and of the Leviathan state in its liberal, socialist, and fascist forms. Genovese examines these critiques in light of the specific concept of property that has been central to southern social and political thought. Not only does this book illuminate a political tradition grounded in the writings of John Randolph and John C. Calhoun, but it shows how this lineage has been augmented by powerful literary figures such as Allen Tate, Lewis Simpson, and Robert Penn Warren. Genovese here reconstitutes the historical canon, reenvisions the strengths and weaknesses of the conservative tradition, and broadens the spectrum of political debate for our time.

As much a work of political and moral philosophy as one of history, The Southern Tradition offers an in-depth look at the tenets and attitudes of the Southern-conservative worldview. Opening a powerful new perspective on today's politics, Eugene D. Genovese traces a distinct type of conservatism to its sources in Southern tradition.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Genovese Roll, Jordan, Roll, LJ 9/1/74 examines the philosophical, historical, and cultural foundations of Southern conservatism. He contrasts it not only with Marxism and other perspectives of the political left but also with those strains of conservatism that emphasize the primacy of unfettered individualism and laissez-faire economics. According to Genovese, the distinctive characteristics of Southern conservatism include not only support for the broad ownership of private property but also a belief that "socially determined moral restraints" should restrain the activities of the marketplace. While broadly critical of aspects of modern political, economic, and social conditions, Genovese does not offer specific proposals for change; nor does he present a well-defined philosophical framework in which to ground change. But he suggests that Southern conservatism, despite its limitations and contradictions, offers insights that can inform such efforts. A useful addition to the political philosophy and history collections of academic libraries.-Thomas H. Ferrell, Univ. of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette
Booknews
A historical overview that identifies the tenets and attitudes of the southern-conservative world view. Considers political and constitutional issues such as state rights, concurrent majority, and the nature and locus of political power in a constitutional republic. Analyzes the contributions of literary figures such as Allen Tate, Lewis Simpson, and Robert Penn Warren. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR booknews.com
Washington Post Book World

It would be difficult to imagine a more precise or lucid depiction of genteel Southern conservatism than that offered herein by Eugene D. Genovese… Penetrating and persuasive.
— Jonathan Yardley

London Review of Books

Eugene Genovese is a Marxist historian with conservative affiliations who has had a greater impact on current interpretations of the Southern past than any other scholar with the possible exception of C. Vann Woodward… Iconoclastic, defiant and thoroughly engaging, this Jeremiah finds little ground for optimism. He warns allies and foes alike of future perils and seeks, probably in vain, a usable conservative tradition…cleansed of the racism and economic materialism that once constituted much of its ideology… Last year's mid-term elections suggest, however, that Genovese is no longer in a minority, nor the South the pariah it once was: his exposition of the tensions between conservative social ideals and actual practice makes The Southern Tradition a study far richer in meaning than liberal critics are likely to recognize.
— Bertram Wyatt-Brown

National Review

Brilliant…learned, deep, cogent, and provocative, guaranteed to churn the brain.
— Forrest McDonald

Partisan Review

At once a bold tract for the time and a cogent summary interpretation of the complex relationship of the history of the American South to the history of the nation… [This book is] a rich distillation of the thinking of the South that is embodied in a series of remarkable studies [by the author].
— Lewis P. Simpson

Southern Partisan

The notion of a Southern political tradition can be understood as conservative, complete, and consistent with its roots. Eugene Genovese's The Southern Tradition poignantly articulates these qualities…[and] pertinently reviews American conservatism's intellectual roots.
— Won Kim

Commentary

Eugene D. Genovese, one of America's most distinguished historians, has previously written extensively about different aspects of Southern history. Now, in this volume—succinct, erudite, and eloquent—he describes and (at any rate partially) praises the distinctive Southern tradition of conservatism, from its beginnings to the present time… Genovese's hints throughout this book as to the kind of Left he would like to see are appealing as well as intellectually stimulating.
— Peter L. Berger

First Things

This is a compelling and provocative book. The work of a devout leftist who is also one of this country's leading historians, The Southern Tradition is a perceptive and sympathetic portrayal of one of the main currents in American conservative thought. It is also historical revisionism of a very high order… It is one measure of the power of this book that even a conservative reader comes away wondering if he might not be right.
— A. J. Bacevich

Choice

In roughly 100 pages, Genovese presents a thoughtful, scholarly analysis of political philosophy, the role of government, and how the white South plays into this… A significant asset to any political theorist's collection.
— L. L. Duke

Times Literary Supplement

[Genovese] brings to this study of the southern tradition a rare if not unique combination of points of view and standards of scholarship.
— C. Vann Woodward

Perspectives on Political Science

The Southern Tradition is a very important book. Genovese calls us to task by identifying meritorious principles of the southern tradition and their relevance to contemporary politics. All serious students of U.S. politics should read this book.
— Marshall DeRosa

Washington Post Book World - Jonathan Yardley
It would be difficult to imagine a more precise or lucid depiction of genteel Southern conservatism than that offered herein by Eugene D. Genovese… Penetrating and persuasive.
London Review of Books - Bertram Wyatt-Brown
Eugene Genovese is a Marxist historian with conservative affiliations who has had a greater impact on current interpretations of the Southern past than any other scholar with the possible exception of C. Vann Woodward… Iconoclastic, defiant and thoroughly engaging, this Jeremiah finds little ground for optimism. He warns allies and foes alike of future perils and seeks, probably in vain, a usable conservative tradition…cleansed of the racism and economic materialism that once constituted much of its ideology… Last year's mid-term elections suggest, however, that Genovese is no longer in a minority, nor the South the pariah it once was: his exposition of the tensions between conservative social ideals and actual practice makes The Southern Tradition a study far richer in meaning than liberal critics are likely to recognize.
National Review - Forrest McDonald
Brilliant…learned, deep, cogent, and provocative, guaranteed to churn the brain.
Partisan Review - Lewis P. Simpson
At once a bold tract for the time and a cogent summary interpretation of the complex relationship of the history of the American South to the history of the nation… [This book is] a rich distillation of the thinking of the South that is embodied in a series of remarkable studies [by the author].
Southern Partisan - Won Kim
The notion of a Southern political tradition can be understood as conservative, complete, and consistent with its roots. Eugene Genovese's The Southern Tradition poignantly articulates these qualities…[and] pertinently reviews American conservatism's intellectual roots.
Commentary - Peter L. Berger
Eugene D. Genovese, one of America's most distinguished historians, has previously written extensively about different aspects of Southern history. Now, in this volume—succinct, erudite, and eloquent—he describes and (at any rate partially) praises the distinctive Southern tradition of conservatism, from its beginnings to the present time… Genovese's hints throughout this book as to the kind of Left he would like to see are appealing as well as intellectually stimulating.
Times Literary Supplement - C. Vann Woodward
[Genovese] brings to this study of the southern tradition a rare if not unique combination of points of view and standards of scholarship.
Perspectives on Political Science - Marshall Derosa
The Southern Tradition is a very important book. Genovese calls us to task by identifying meritorious principles of the southern tradition and their relevance to contemporary politics. All serious students of U.S. politics should read this book.
First Things - A. J. Bacevich
This is a compelling and provocative book. The work of a devout leftist who is also one of this country's leading historians, The Southern Tradition is a perceptive and sympathetic portrayal of one of the main currents in American conservative thought. It is also historical revisionism of a very high order… It is one measure of the power of this book that even a conservative reader comes away wondering if he might not be right.
Choice - L. L. Duke
In roughly 100 pages, Genovese presents a thoughtful, scholarly analysis of political philosophy, the role of government, and how the white South plays into this… A significant asset to any political theorist's collection.
Drew Gilpin Faust
A heartfelt lament about the crisis of the modern world and the failure of the Left to address what Genovese sees as the critical flaws in current society. An important book.
Cleanth Brooks
A very illuminating account of the Old and New South. It corrects misunderstandings and not only lights up southern history from a new perspective, but also relates its conservatism to that of the northern states. It is clear, lively, and spirited.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Eugene Genovese was Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at the University Center in Atlanta, Georgia. His books include the award-winning Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made.
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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction 1
1 Lineaments of the Southern Tradition 11
2 Political and Constitutional Principles 41
3 Property and Power 79
Notes 105
Acknowledgments 129
Index 131
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