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DECONSTRUCTING MISS DIXIE (This article was published in the September 2008 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture)

College football season has begun again in the South. Here in Alabama, football is more like a religion than a mere sport. Having both attended and taught at The University of Alabama from the 1970s through the 1990s, I was at ground zero of college football fanaticism, and I must confess that I once liked the game and the excitement of it all.

But there is a price to pay for elevating a mere game to such high places. People tend to lose sight of what is really important. It is not only the current student body and alumni who are prone to lose all sense of perspective on life from the opening game in early September through the bowl games in late December and early January, it is also the “sidewalk alumni” (i.e. those who didn’t attend the university). When these groups are combined in the Southern States (especially those that have Southeastern Conference football teams), the result is a massive fan base that provides unquestioning loyalty and support to their respective schools.

Many, if not most, of these college football fans in the South are conservative and traditionalist. If they really knew what the universities they support with their money and presence at football games were teaching in the classrooms, they would be shocked. While Mama and Daddy cheer on the team on football Saturdays, little Bubba and Betty Sue are being conditioned Monday through Friday by leftist professors at Southern colleges and universities to adopt the dubious cultural attitudes of their betters at Harvard and Yale. Simply put, this means they are taught to be self-hating Southerners. They are also taught to hate God. Football indeed can cover a multitude of sins.

Donald Davidson once wrote that it was a “risky and dubious” business to palm off the Ivy League and its culture on the South. The crux of the matter is, as I see it, the insatiable desire by the professoriate at Harvard, Yale, and other bastions of the elite American Ruling Class to cultivate among the South’s (and America’s) common folk the “desirable cultural attitudes” (Davidson).

At one time in the not too distant past, the objective of higher education was the nurture of something M. E. Bradford called “humane learning.” At the core of humane learning is the idea that one will ultimately learn not only about the world in general, but about one’s own place in it. In other words, the properly educated student will develop a balanced character as a result of being taught the particulars about his own place and kin and not simply rootless abstractions that speak of such nonsense as the universal rights of man, global democracy, and equality. Humane education, then, should bring out something that is already extant in man: a reverence for his own kind. As John Gould Fletcher wrote in his essay, “Education, Past and Present” (from the Southern Agrarian manifesto I’ll Take My Stand), “All that education can do in any case is to teach us to make good use of what we are; if we are nothing to begin with, no amount of education can do us any good.”

Since colonial times Southerners have known that they belonged to a distinct community based on kin and place (blood and soil) and that they were different–ethnically and culturally–from New England Yankee stock. Because of the differing origins of 17th and 18th century settlers from the British Isles (Southerners came largely from the West Country and the Celtic Fringe and Yankees from predominantly Anglo-Saxon southeast England), America has never been a uniform country, despite the efforts of those who would have all the States and the people therein re-cast in the mold of Massachusetts. Rather, America has always been more or less Balkanized, and both unreconstructed Southerners and a few good Copperhead Yankees have ignored Mr. Lincoln’s dictum that we must become “all one thing or all the other.” Such is the rhetoric of empire.

But not content to let well enough alone, the 20th-century equivalent of the “Yankee school marm” has seen fit to dictate a nationalized curriculum from the secondary grades through graduate school. We can see the manifestation of this mischief in the dubious claims made by those (both Democrats and Republicans) who advanced Goals 2000 and No Child Left Behind, as well as in the stifling uniformity known as political correctness that pervades our college and university campuses. To the Mandarin class that controls modern American education, no offending (i.e. European) cultural or regional difference is too small to be stamped out, oddly enough, in the name of “tolerance” or “diversity.”

Before the Northeast forcibly imposed its own nationalistic educational system on the entire country after The War for Southern Independence, the South’s schools and colleges were on the whole more humane and tolerant (in the true sense of the word) than their Northern counterparts. The latter institutions were characterized by a meddlesome Unitarian-Universalist strain absent from Southern schools. Southern education, based on the classical model, produced men of good character who insured the continuation of a stable, conservative society. In the North, by contrast, the prevailing system produced iconoclasts who reveled in destroying traditional social norms in the name of “progress.”

The defeat of the South in 1865 meant the end of its largely private educational system and the beginning of a system of free public education through which the region would be brought in line with national (i.e. Northeastern) standards. “The theory of universal education,” wrote Dr. Robert Lewis Dabney, “involves the absurd and impossible idea of the Leveller, as though it were possible for all men to have equal destinies in human society.” Rather than being content with his modest sphere, the dullard has been encouraged by the receipt of a diploma or degree to demand what he thinks his rightful due. Indeed, the egalitarian impulse in post bellum American education has managed to mask the fact that the destiny of the larger part of humanity has always been the alternative between hard manual labor and starvation. But today we ridicule honest labor and the working man and convince our children that it should be their goal to, as country singer Ricky Skaggs says, “get above their raising.” Thomas Jefferson (surely no shirker of honest labor), whose words are often twisted to support the idea of universal public education, actually advocated in his 1779 “Bill for a more general diffusion of knowledge” only that the poor but brilliant student should have the same opportunity as the well-heeled but lazy one. He did not demand that everyone should receive the same type of education at public expense as, regrettably, we do today in our quest for the elusive and unnatural equality of opportunity and outcome.

Traditionally, the South has not bought into the nonsense that all persons are equally educable. Those in academia would do well to remember that Jefferson championed only “those persons who nature has endowed with genius and virtue.” Yet today our schools and colleges have substituted quantity for quality and consequently turn out hordes of graduates woefully deficient in the fundamental skills of reading, writing, and ciphering; nonetheless, these young “scholars” think themselves capable of high intellectual attainment. In the spirit of Alexander Pope, who believed “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” Dr. Dabney predicted our current educational dilemma: “the common (i.e. public) schools will have created a numerous ‘public’ of readers one-quarter or one-tenth cultivated: and the sure result will be the production for their use of a false, shallow, sciolist literature, science, and theology infinitely worse that blank ignorance.” But perhaps we should not be too surprised at this turn of events. In a society polarized between an internationally-oriented American Ruling Class and a regionally-oriented populism, it is in the interest of the former to see that the latter is mis-educated, and if this can be done to larger and larger numbers of the populists’ children, then so much the better for the elites.

As one who took his terminal degree at a public Southern state university and spent nearly twenty years teaching there, I have witnessed first-hand the contemptible campaign to make Southern children into deracinated, interchangeable cogs for the New World Utopia to come. During the freshman year courses at college or university our unwitting student is given what Davidson calls “the beginnings of a [proper] social perspective and a social philosophy.” And for the young man or woman in the Deep South this more often than not means learning to reject his own place and kin. For instance, an English professor who teaches Southern Literature at The University of Alabama once told her young charges that every time they saw a white-columned mansion it should remind them of how evil their ancestors were. I asked her if she had ever considered assigning John Pendleton Kennedy’s Swallow Barn or Stark Young’s So Red the Rose to balance her more politically-correct, anti-South reading list. She replied matter-of-factly that she was not interested in presenting a balanced view of what to her was a despicable culture and civilization.

Unfortunately for us traditionalists, this sort of situation is the rule and not the exception these days, especially in the humanities and liberal arts. What Davidson termed “desirable cultural attitudes” largely means taking the sort of “world approach” to literature and history espoused by leftist such as our professor friend at Alabama. A planetary consciousness captured in the banal bumper-sticker philosophy “Think globally–act locally,” is replacing the local and regional consciousness that used to provide a beginning point of reference for Americans from all parts of the country. The Pennsylvania steel mill worker and the north Alabama plowboy both have local and family traditions that are left uncultivated in today’s global classroom.

To put it simply, there are great regional differences in America that must be taken into account when we try to educate our students. The country is quite diverse and heterogeneous in its history, culture, mores, and traditions; not only the South, but New England, the metropolitan East, the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southwest are all, more or less, self-conscious regions. However, in education (and, by implication, culture) we find ourselves dominated by the Northeast, which has made its own presumptions national, and even universal. The Ivy League schools and their offspring in the Midwest and on the Pacific coast have tremendous influence in determining the conditions under which federal largesse is doled out to the educational establishment and over setting the parameters of polite academic discourse in our larger institutions of higher learning scattered throughout what is contemptuously referred to as “fly-over country” by the elites.

Unlike the ancient nation-states of Europe, America has never had one cultural and intellectual center on a par with Paris, London, or Madrid; instead, as Davidson points out, we have only a series of regional capitals: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, and Charleston. Historically, we have not been of a single mind nationally, and we have lacked what Matthew Arnold called that “national glow of thought and feeling” common to great periods of literary and cultural attainment in the European nations. Past efforts at nationalizing American education, despite the efforts of men such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, have been abject failures. Emerson is his essay “The American Scholar” deplored the division of the nation into North and South, but as an answer to regionalism he gave us only an insipid version of “Yankee transcendentalism” which had as its goal the destruction of the very foundation of Southern culture and civilization. As Davidson wrote: “His voice was not the voice of America, but of New England, and his plan of salvation was to result not in peaceful unification but in bloody disunion.”

We are now told that the unification of America under prescriptions emanating from the Northeastern Corridor is both desirable and inevitable. Standardization is the ultimate prize sought after by the statist, imperial cognoscenti, and as a reward for their justification of Caesar, Caesar in turn has rendered to them quite generously. Federal grants and programs translate into more centralized control over education, sapping whatever independence a financially-strapped institution might once have enjoyed. To put it bluntly, federal loot is doled out largely on the basis of whether the program to be funded will produce “desirable cultural attitudes.” And when federal dollars are on the line, most college and university administrators will forsake the regional and cultural uniqueness of their institutions in order to feed at the public trough.

Federal intrusion unfortunately has had the most telling effect on our Southern colleges and universities. Not only do we find our historic symbols and traditions sacrificed to the gods of political correctness, but our classrooms have become hothouses of anti-Southern propaganda. A Carpetbag and Scalawag professoriate commonly intimidates the student who dares speak in defense of his region and its heroes or the junior faculty member who might present in his lectures or writings something other than the current imperial orthodoxy. It is all but impossible nowadays to find a course in Southern history taught by a patriotic Southerner because he is thought incapable of teaching the subject in an unbiased fashion. No one seems to give much consideration to the potential bias held by a liberal New Englander or Midwesterner. It strains credibility to imagine the situation reversed: a traditional, conservative Southern professor lecturing the students at Harvard or Yale on the moral deficiencies of their Yankee ancestors.

After all, the history of the South is much too important to be left up to Southerners. Why, if that were done the minds of the young down here might be corrupted with fables such as The War was not caused by primarily slavery or that the South’s position on States Rights and secession corresponded directly with the ideas of the Founding Fathers. Generations of Southern boys and girls might be taught that Lincoln was not really the Great Emancipator but rather a vile and ambitious politician and a tool of Northern plutocrats intent on subverting the Constitution and destroying Southern economic competitiveness as a prelude to colonizing the region and stealing its abundant resources in the name of preserving the Union. In other words, if traditional Southerners are left in charge of teaching history and literature in their own region, then the myth of a glorious democratic Union, purchased with the blood of blue-clad saints and crowned by the martyrdom of Father Abraham, will be exposed as the Big Lie that it is. In reality, we have an American Empire sired by the forebears of those who now dominate our cultural and educational institutions, and we cannot expect them to permit the truth to be taught to the descendants of those whom were branded “rebels” for having fought to defend the principles of the Old American Republic.

But Americans seem no longer capable of noticing that the Emperor is “nekkid” and up to no good (as the late Lewis Grizzard might say). And what better way of assuring this continued myopia than through the imposition of a nationalized educational system controlled by the very class that runs the Empire. What might be the results of the nationalization of education according to the uniform standards of the American Ruling Class? Generally, I believe, we will witness the inversion of Goethe’s maxim which holds that all that frees man’s soul but does not give him command over himself is evil. At present, we seem intent on withdrawing man’s control over himself in order to free his soul to no purpose other than comfortable and licentious living. In order to deflect attention from the increasingly complex and arcane machinations of the elites, who intrude into the most minute and private recesses of our lives, we are given the modern day equivalent of “bread and circuses” such as college football games. Never have so few “educated” people been willing to speak about important questions of the day. This fear of venturing beyond the bounds of respectable discourse and opinion is not yet tied to physical harm, but to implicit threats of harm and to the social opprobrium of standing apart from their fellow citizens or of risking their careers. Instead of questioning the foundations of the modern theology of centralized power, the typical American university graduate contents himself with playing the role of a nobleman in the court of Louis XIV, giving himself over to frivolous self-indulgence. He is encouraged to give free reign to his appetites, be they carnal or material, and to trust in the experts to handle all that falls beyond his ken.

Should the current educational trend away from a humane regionalism and toward a soulless nationalism continue, then perhaps in this new millennium all men will have equal destinies in American society. But those destinies will be as deracinated “human resources” cut loose from their unique cultural and historical moorings and fit only to be producers and consumers of trinkets in the global marketplace. We will have been given a design of living in which we no longer know nonsense when we hear and see it. We wish so passionately to be good moderns, up to date and in fashion, that we grasp for every new and superficial idea that comes down the pike. In our present state, a properly-functioning educational system would, I fear, injure the tender sensibilities of Americans who insist it is their right to believe in the all-too-numerous modern variants of the flat-earth theory.

By having successfully cultivated the “desirable cultural attitudes” in most every boondock and backwoods of early-21st-century America, Harvard and Yale have indeed palmed themselves off not only on the South but on every distinct and authentic region in the country. This “risky and dubious” business of which Donald Davidson wrote has worked its mischief well. Americans with university degrees ought to be well-educated enough to see not only that the world is not flat, but that we no longer live in a self-governing republic. But sadly, most give no indication that they know, or even care, that the unique and wonderful gift bequeathed to us by our forebears has been squandered in our own quest to go whoring after the strange gods of modernity. While we talk ourselves silly about abstract universal propositions in the name of the human race, the “humane learning” which M. E. Bradford encouraged us to pursue has been relegated to quiet corners, an anachronism out of step with fashionable academic society. But like all things built on sure foundations by “generations of the faithful heart,” it will endure long after the detritus of the current regime has been swept away. Now, if we could only put those football games in their proper perspective . . . .

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Dr Michael Hill is the President of the League of the South, an historian and author who resides in his family’s old home place of Killen, Alabama

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Michael Hill

Dr Michael Hill is President of the League of the South. He is a retired university professor of history and author of two books on Celtic warfare.