What is the South?
By South we mean neither a direction nor a place in relation to another place. The South has long since transcended the literal meaning of the word much like the Land of the Rising Sun is Japan, regardless of being east of China.
The words South or Southern encompass a People, their land, and their ways. Just like Norway. Just like Mexico. Just like Arabia. The People and the Land are inseparable for as long the People’s descendants occupy it and for as long as their way of life, or culture, is passed uninterrupted from one generation to another.
Just like New York City, or Atlanta.
Well, not quite. There is a New York City culture of course and New Yorkers may be proud of their city. And Atlanta is full of people and many of them may love Atlanta. But whatever has arisen that stirs the heart has not arisen from the land, but rather from the infrastructure. It is the I-285 that allows them to traverse great distances quickly in order to get to house, work, school, entertainment, and food. It is layers upon layers of floorspace in the form of tall buildings packed tightly together, all connected by trains within tubes that allow people to quickly access a host of desirable places and services. It is the supermarkets and drive-throughs and restaurants where food comes from.
And food is what distinguishes a population from a People and a place from a Land. Food is more central to human life than sex, and only slightly less central than air, protection from the elements, and water. The Promised Land was called ‘the land of milk and honey,’ after all. It is food that makes a population a People by rooting them to the land which then becomes their Land.
Let’s go back to the beginning because we live in a weird age where the obvious needs to be pointed out. We are individuals with an unchanging human nature. There are two sexes, man and woman, the man possessing a masculine nature, and the woman a feminine. Their respective human natures incline them to form a long-term union. This union between man and woman is marriage, and family is born of this union. The family is a product of man and woman’s human nature, and its nature is unchanging. The individual and family are the fount of each other and neither can exist for long without the other. The individual serves and protects the family. The family serves and protects the individual. The individuals of a family are united by bonds of intense sacrificial love that drive the individual’s decisions.
From the family is born the People, the People being a naturally occurring union of families via inter-marriage for the purpose of mutual aid and protection.
The individual exists at all times in a world of danger, decay, and limited means, and it is the nature of the individual to seek its own survival, best interests, and desires, as well as the same of those he or she cares for, be that his family or his People.
Neither the individual, the family, nor the People exist independent of the land. Not just any land but the land from which the People, its families, and its individuals, have learned over the course of time to extract a living.
The family, the People, and the Land are the trinity of the individual’s security and prosperity.
Stretching backwards into unknowable history, the individual, the family, and the People have lived intertwined and inseparable on land. Forever migrating, splitting, and morphing into new Peoples to be sure, but always on land. At least those Peoples that survive to pass on their ways, I mean.
People may group themselves however they wish, but any corporate body that is not connected to the land is dependent upon those that are, and thus runs the greater risk of disintegration or dissolution.
And from the People’s struggle to survive on their Land is born their way of life or culture. That collection of habits, customs, mores, traditions, patterns, ways, means, assumptions, notions, and inclinations that answer most of the People’s questions. Culture is the People’s autopilot, their great security blanket. The wheel that need not be re-invented. It is this culture, born of the People’s struggle with their land, that sustains them over the generations, possibly centuries.
The South is one such Land. However, we are uncommon in the annals of history because we were born of two peoples who were transplanted to a new world, at almost the same time, who could not be assimilated, and yet would live side by side for an age in perfect inequality.
The union in the early 17th Century of the Briton and the African may be thought of as a tree. The Briton was the trunk, and the African the branch of an alien tree grafted upon it. This grafting of a subordinate African branch to a dominate British trunk four hundred years ago produced a strange tree, bizarrely fruitful, in some ways bitter, in some ways sweet.
There is really no tree out there like it, and I believe Southern culture will survive modern times, and that our best centuries are before us.
This piece was published at Look Away on September 26, 2023.
Mark Atkins has six wee bairns who are all seventh-generation Henry County, Tennessee, and all from the same doe. It is the people of Henry County that he most wants to reach but writes to Southerners generally. He is without credentials but rather dares to speak by the same authority as the little boy who cried 'The king has no clothes!' His core belief and starting point is that like everything, we humans have a nature, it is not so hard to understand, and to pretend that it is other than it is, is to jump off a cliff. Which is what we Americans have in fact done.