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I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition

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First published in 1930, the essays in this manifesto constitute one of the outstanding cultural documents in the history of the South. In it, twelve southerners-Donald Davidson, John Gould Fletcher, Henry Blue Kline, Lyle H. Lanier, Stark Young, Allen Tate, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Herman Clarence Nixon, Frank Lawrence Owsley, John Crowe Ransom, John Donald Wade, and Robert Penn Warren-defended individualism against the trend of baseless conformity in an increasingly mechanized and dehumanized society. In her new introduction, Susan V. Donaldson shows that the Southern Agrarians might have ultimately failed in their efforts to revive the South they saw as traditional, stable, and unified, but they nonetheless sparked debates and quarrels about history, literature, race, gender, and regional identity that are still being waged today over Confederate flags, monuments, slavery, and public memory.

416 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1930

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 39 reviews
Profile Image for Savanna.
62 reviews
July 11, 2008
If you want to understand the difference between the South and the North, this is the book to read. I particularly recommend Allen Tate's essay, "Remarks on the Southern Religion." There are lots of outdated, misogynistic, racist, and otherwise reprehensible opinions expressed in the various essays, but there is also an immense beauty to the writing and to the agrarians love for their region. It is both a proud plea for a dying culture and an elegy, a testament to what has been lost.
Profile Image for Jeff Crompton.
401 reviews14 followers
August 21, 2018
Well, I made it to page 77....

I'm a Southerner, and I wanted to see what some of the South's best thinkers as of 1930 had to say. I knew that this book would be dated, but it's apparently still highly regarded in some circles. For the record, I managed to read Louis Rubin's 1962 introduction, the collective "Statement of Principles," John Crowe Ransom's "Reconstructed But Unregenerate," Donald Davidson's "A Mirror for Artists," and half of Frank Lawrence Owsley's "The Irrepressible Conflict" before quitting in disgust.

It became apparent right away that these writers were describing an idyllic Southern way of life that only existed for a small number of the South's residents, namely the white elite. The issues of slavery and racial equality were glossed over in disturbing ways. But I kept reading until I came to this gem by Mr. Owsley on page 77. After "explaining" that slavery was forced on the colonies by the British, he tells us why it continued after we won our independence:

"Negroes had come into the Southern Colonies in such numbers that people feared for the integrity of the white race. For the negroes were cannibals and barbarians, and therefore dangerous."

Forgive me for not being willing to further engage with this bullshit.
Profile Image for Matt.
15 reviews32 followers
November 13, 2012
Who isn’t disillusioned with the idea of “Progress” in the 21st century? It’s obvious—the use of the planets resources for the endless manufacturing of useless material stuff, the consumerist mentality, the mounting environmental disasters—business as usual will be sending humanity, collectively, headlong into the brick wall of self-annihilation. Today, this is abundantly clear to those of us capable of seeing the macrocosmic perspective...We can look at the violent effects of rampant industrialization all around us. Not so much in 1930. Then the invocation of the savior “Progress” still had an incantatory sway upon the popular and intellectual mind. The formulation of a symposium created to combat this view at such an early hour should be reason enough to read it. But more than that, what is written within is just as relevant, if not more so, today. Personally, I am astounded at the foresight of the writers. Furthermore, the sheer literary quality of the work is impressive.

(Skip the Introduction of whatever edition you get a hold of; and start, as the original authors intended, with the "Statement of Principles")

For the curious, the "Statement of Principles" can be found online, for free, here:
Profile Image for Caleb.
92 reviews10 followers
March 14, 2017
"I'll Take My Stand" consists of several fascinating, if also repetitious, essays defending the agrarian culture of the South against the nature and imposition of Northern industrialism. The rural romantic in me is attracted to some of the arguments here, particularly the critiques of industrial societies. Some passages are nearly prophetic. Take this passage from Henry Blue Kline: "Motor-cars, talking pictures, the radio, labor-saving devices, possessed amazingly great potentialities for the extension and enrichment of the leisure one might devote to humane pursuits. At some point, however, one would commence to regard these things not as means, but as ends in themselves, to become dependent upon them to be one's leisure and social activity; beyond this point it could be reasonably expected that one would only become progressively enslaved to them. Between complete moral freedom without leisure to enjoy it and maximum leisure with a minimum of freedom there was some critical eutectic point at which one could hope to attain one's fullest powers and find the richest of satisfactions consonant with one's nature."

However, the book is instructive mostly for historical purposes because of its implicit, and sometimes explicit, defense of racial hierarchy as part of Southern agrarianism. Its refusal to denounce slavery, sharecropping, and Jim Crow, and to articulate a vision of Southern agrarianism marked by racial equality, speaks to the conditions of its creation (1920s/30s Southern US) and an inability to hold on to what is valuable about the past while discarding other parts. The book's failure reminds me of our current relationship to the past and tradition: Many conservatives want to keep too much and progressives want to abandon it completely. Neither is appropriate and both bespeak a lack of discernment. I suppose Wendell Berry is a good example of an heir to the critique in "I'll Take My Stand" who separates the wheat from the chaff of tradition in order to forge ahead. The Twelves Southerners, some of whom later distanced themselves from this work, showed less discernment than Berry, despite their passionate and erudite defense against unrestrained modernity.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,555 reviews93 followers
March 29, 2014
"There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called The Old South...Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow...Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their ladies fair, of Master and of Slave.Look for it only in books for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind."

For most the Roaring Twenties were a celebration of the triumph of progress. The Great War in Europe was over, and its conclusion saw many of the old empires and forces of conservatism defeated by the liberal-democratic allies (or in Russia’s case, by soviet revolutionaries). In America, business was booming; the cities were swelling with people streaming in from the impoverished countryside, going to work in factories and celebrating American triumphs in war and peace by purchasing as many of the new gadgets that filled the stores as they could, and using credit to acquire those they couldn’t afford. But in the late 1920s, on the precipice of the Great Depression, twelve men of letters looked to the future and saw a vision of despair: the Old South’s final defeat by the forces of modernity, and with it the loss of genuine civilization. I’ll Take My Stand collects essays defending both the South as an entity apart from the rest of the American nation, and the agrarian system of life that for so long was its defining characteristic. Nearly 85 years after its release, their fears have been realized. Southrons are just as removed from farming as any other Americans, and the interstates and cookie-cutter subdivisions have reduced the southern aesthetic into the same bland sprawl that plagues the rest of the nation. Their call to arms urges a defense for a way of life that is now passed. I'll Take My Stand remains of value to modern readers, however, in offering both an appreciation of the Old South's culture beyond stereotypes and a critique of the automatic cheering-on of anything called progress.

I first heard of the 'Southern Agrarians', the symposium gathered here, in Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind, and the books are of like temperament in promoting an measured conservative response to cultural change. Both look for inspiration in tradition, both the rich intellectual, moral, and artistic traditions of the west, but are avoid of the modern embrace of the conservative label with the forces of big business. The gentlemen gathered here are most certainly not fans of business; they are 'men of letters', intellectuals and artists, who share the old gentry's contempt for the naked materialism of business. A farm is a place to grow corn, not make money, one writes. The authors and those who they look to for inspiration, men like John C. Calhoun, believed in a 'graceful' life; one supported by work, of course, but devoted not to profit but to the pleasures of a good life; time with family, living out old traditions; the art of conversation; music, and art. Where Kirk and the Agrarians differ is emphasis on farming; the southerners see the South's agricultural basis as vital to maintaining civilization, which draws wisdom from the seasons to realize there are limits to everything, and a time and place for everything under the sun. The north, with its towns and factories, long abandoned the settled wisdom of Europe, which then lived on in the South, wrote the authors; they were given way to madness, to pursuing phantasms.

All this sounds rather lovely, but the appeal of their Southern Civilization is itself limited; although they look with fear and contempt upon the centralization of wealth in the north, they defend it in their own massive plantations. Farms function better at that large scale, one writes. The virtue of economic vanishes, however, when it threatens them, and the fact that a factory can produce goods more efficiently than a homestead is dismissed as being beside the point. That's not to say the agrarians are hypocrites; another praises the Gracchus brothers, the classical heroes of the left, who wanted to break up Rome's great plantations and restore the land to the common man. They are twelve individual authors of varying sentiments and approaches; most write conventional essays, but two tell stories that illustrate the points they intend to make. On the whole, however, they lean toward 'elitism'; this is not just implied given their praise of a life of culture and leisure practiced by very few (yeoman farmers given passing mention, but), but in their disdain for the masses. One dismisses the people as superstitiously religious Anglo-Saxons who need guidance, as if the southern gentry were Norman lord. If they have that level of disdain for the Saxons, woe betide the Scots-Irish working poor! There's also the matter of race and slavery. Slavery is not quite defended, but blows against it are certainly cushioned as the institution is described as obscene more in theory rather in fact.

I'll Take my Stand is a difficult book, not so much for its writing (some pieces lean toward the abstruse, but not most) or its arguments, but for those old biases. These are not twelve members of the gentry writing, but intellectuals, and even though some of them rose to culture from farming stock, their vision of the past is more idealistic than an argument for restorative action can be based on. It's intellectual and cultural history with a little too much romance, rather like the opening of Gone with the Wind which is quoted at the lead.That farming has become the province of industrial corporations is a severe loss for the American people; that our cultural links to the past, in the form of tradition, has been shredded is likewise a tragedy; we live in an age where home skills like sewing and canning are taught not by family elders, but by government bureaucracies. Yet these arguments will not take root in the modern readers' mind, accompanied as they are by noxious weeds like elitism. It's a shame, too, because many of the ideas expressed here ought to be considered, especially the notion of a simple life versus one of acquisitive materialism. Given that such ideas are argued in other books, by less impeachable authors, I'll Take My Stand's greatest enduring appeal is in the area of intellectual history, of understanding the southern mind as it attempted to find the best response to industrialism pushing its way under the Mason-Dixon line.


The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk
Any of Wendell Berry's books on agriculture or economics, including: The Unsettling of America, The Gift of Good Land, What Are People For, and Home Economics.
Profile Image for Paula.
439 reviews15 followers
July 29, 2017
Though I would not give all twelve essays in the book five stars, each essay made its own contribution to the overall tone of the book, and some were so outstanding that I cannot fault it. The current rise in popularity of the New Agrarians vindicates the cause for which these essayists pled. Agrarianism is opposed to everything we hate about Industrialism--the destruction of community, the breakup of family, exploitation of nature as well as people, meaningless consumerism, and so forth. It is a call for a return to a traditional way of life that roots civil society in the soil, and the productions thereof, and not in machines. It promotes cooperation over competition, and courtesy over self-assertion. I have great sympathy for this point of view.

The weakest part of the book is the modern introduction (not the one originally prepared as the first essay), by Susan Donaldson. She misreads every point, turning her criticism into the typical assault on dead white males. She insists that it is about racial prejudice, though most of the essayists seem to care about the plight of the blacks, just as they do for the poor whites. The book is about the exploitation of modern industrialism, which was failing the entire south especially the black population. Donaldson also insists that the essayists were misogynists, though I see nothing in these essays to justify this claim. When they talk about the plight of the south, they are including whole families--men, women and children--not just wealthy white males. The fact that the later careers of these men revealed one to be a white supremacist and another to have sided with Civil Rights, shows that agrarianism had nothing to do with either stance. What these men had in common was their objection to Industrialism as a philosophy of life and a foundation upon which to build the future society. They make a strong case about the losses suffered with the fall of the South.
Profile Image for Sierra Abrams.
Author 2 books460 followers
January 21, 2012
Ok. Wow. I was sosososo hoping to like this book. I knew I'd like the topic (Agrarian South), but would I enjoy a bunch of 30-paged essays written by authors I'd never heard of before (give or take a few). I tried to like it. And it wasn't even the fact that they were essays that made me not like this book; that part I totally enjoyed. It was the writing. It was sometimes hard (and that's coming from someone who thinks Doestoevsky is easy), sometimes cumbersome, and sometimes boring. A lot of the time I would read a paragraph and not be able to remember what I just read. It didn't grab my attention and make me want to read more. (Ok, a few did that. They're listed below. But even those lacked...)

I give this 2.5 stars, but only because the topic (when I would hit parts that were interesting/written well/understandable) was worthy of being discussed. I did get enough out of this book to know that someday, maybe soon, I'd like to learn more about the Agrarian South.

The essays I liked:
The Hind Tit by Andrew Nelson Lytle
The Irrepressible Conflic by Frank Lawrence Owsley
Education, Past and Present by John Gould Fletcher

Profile Image for Jason Carter.
281 reviews5 followers
June 13, 2022
Written by the Twelve "Fugitives" from Vanderbilt, this book is a timeless look at the benefits of the Southern agrarian life over and against the crass industrialism of the North.

When it was written, it appeared inevitable to the authors that industrialization was coming to their beloved South; they wrote these essays to warn against uncritical acceptance of that fate. Now, some 3/4 of a century later, their prophecy has proven correct but their warnings went by and large unheeded. Except for a small remnant, even Southerners have been fooled by the siren call of "Progress".

This book should be read by all, Northerners and Southerners alike, to help us remember that there is a good life consisting in love of the land, leisure, and small town communities that is being destroyed by the suburbanization of nearly every formerly distinct town in America.
Profile Image for Jacob Jordan.
1 review
March 14, 2010
I learned about this book from reading George Nash's The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945. I'll Take My Stand is actually a collection of essays written by various Southern belletrists. From the perspective of one who wants to understand conservatism, I'll Take My Stand illuminates a strand of American conservatism that often goes unnoticed. Although conservatism is typically thought of as being laissez-faire and pro-corporation, I'll Take My Stand reveals an anti-corporate side to conservatism. A couple of the essays are mind-numbingly boring (not to mention extraneous), but overall, I feel like the book is refreshingly informative.
Profile Image for Al.
412 reviews25 followers
June 8, 2020
A good book in light of issues facing the nation today, and a good way of learning what Southerners were worried about in the 1920's. Some of the essays are pretty dense, and you can sense that while they want to retain the simpler mode of life, they knew it was fast slipping away. It left me with a distinct nostalgia because the South has changed significantly just since I was a kid. We've lost most of our distinctiveness.
547 reviews56 followers
June 1, 2023
Fun fact- liberal hero Robert Penn Warren, he of “All The King’s Men,” that warning against the tyranny of the one guy with a real following who seriously discussed wealth redistribution at the time, was one of the authorial “12 Southerners” who produced this manifesto! They were a group of scribblers, the core of whom came from the circle of “fugitive” poets around Vanderbilt, but the group also included historians and assorted other intellectuals. They wrote this series of essays to associate their region, understood roughly as the former Confederate states, with something called “agrarianism,” and to defend both against the encroachment of the North and its industrial civilization.

We’ve heard this tune before, but what makes this collection stand out is when it was written: 1930. So, about a year into the Depression, but before FDR took office, before labor grew to the strength it would attain, before the rise of a sort of “popular front” culture that brought those to the left of liberalism closer to the mainstream of American politics or society than they ever had before or would since. It was also well before the challenges to the Jim Crow system that would come with the New Deal and WWII, which were necessary but comparatively small-scale building blocks for the really epochal changes that would come with the civil rights/black freedom movement. So, why a Southern/agrarian manifesto, and why then?

Well, superficially, it came down to one Henry Louis Mencken. Mencken was America’s most popular and arguably its most respected man of letters, and the South was one of his favorite targets for abuse. He condemned the region as backwards, violently religious, hypocritical, anti-modern, etc etc on and on. The most famous of this sort of material of Mencken’s today is his coverage of the Scopes trial in Tennessee, which made the inhabitants of that state out to be so many almost sub-human rubes, hounding good men for teaching the honest, unsentimental truth. But there was plenty more where that came from. And where Mencken went, others followed. Reporters covering the region for expanding newspapers, radio shows, and newsreels painted the South (which had many poor areas that did not share in the gilt bonanza of the roaring twenties) as uniquely “benighted.” That word came up a lot- “benighted,” stuck in the dark night, not seeing the light of the new day.

Most reactions against Mencken and the “benighted South” concept – which, let’s make clear, were seldom in any meaningful sense anti-racist critiques of Jim Crow or lynch law, certainly not from the profoundly anti-egalitarian Mencken – didn’t help matters much. Local newspaper editors and preachers were ill-equipped to not come off like earnest boobs next to the Sage of Baltimore, fair or not.

But, modern culture provides resources to those resisting some of that same culture’s advances or japes. Whatever else they were, the Southern Agrarians were not parochial or naive. The Fugitives were among the first major interlocutors of modernist poets like T.S. Eliot in the United States. Others were substantial poets, essayists, novelists, and historians in their own right, steeped in what was then state of the art thought, while that state was moving quickly. Their Sewanee Review could stand toe to toe, talent-wise and in terms of literary innovation, to any American literary journal. Figures like Allen Tate and Andrew Nelson Lytle are obscure today, but literary people knew the names well, and well into the mid-twentieth century, for poems, novels, and plays that drew comparisons to Joyce, Proust, Eliot, and most of the other modernist heavy-hitters you care to name. John Crowe Ransom, for his part, was arguably the godfather behind the New Criticism, the formalist school of literary analysis that had something like hegemony over American criticism for decades. These agrarians (all of whom made their livings at universities and small magazines and not at farms) may not have liked New York. But New York liked them.

Let’s put it this way: “I’ll Take My Stand” is, emphatically, a manifesto by intellectuals from the thirties. It’s this bizarre bridge document. It has a foot in two camps people normally don’t put together: that lf similar manifestos — Futurist, Surrealist, even dada — issued by intellectual/artistic/ideological cliques in the early twentieth century, and the kind of post-civil rights confederate apologia of the type produced by Forrest MacDonald and Grady McWhiney (agree with him or not, MacDonald, like the Agrarians, was no lightweight- McWhiney, I am less convinced about). I’ve spent some time looking at contemporary neoconfederate writing, and I can tell you… this isn’t that (and that isn’t MacDonald, either, but who’s counting, other than this guy). “Intellectual” or even “intellectually sophisticated” does not mean the same thing as “smart.” This book is actually profoundly stupid. But that, too, is in line with manifestos of the period. The way I think it’s stupid probably says more about me and my time than about theirs… but my opinion stands. There’s a whole network of associations between attitudes and ideas here that strike the contemporary reader as deeply counterintuitive.

The argument advanced in “I’ll Take My Stand” is that the South is an “agrarian civilization.” While all twelve of our intellectuals wax for pages about the agrarian quality of life versus the industrial (associated with the North), we never get what I would call an adequate explanation of what this means. But of course, I’m a New Englander, a socialist, an inhabitant of a timeline where the Agrarians lost (or did they? more anon) so of course I don’t get it.

Well… what exactly did Futurism mean, if you subjected it to close scrutiny? To use a term that would come much later, and that these writers who went through intellectual training that no one does today (including these ludicrous stabs at “classical education” the right sells to idiots) would rather chew their own arm off than use, these manifestos really were more about “vibes” than anything else. Say what you want about Marinetti, he got a vibe across: motorcycles! Smoke on the horizon! Weird metal sculptures! Death! No more spaghetti!

So what vibe were the Agrarians after? As far as I can tell, an opposite of the roaring twenties and of the progressive era that came before it. That meant getting their own back against smart alecks like Mencken, but even more it meant a rebellion against what they didn’t have the vocabulary to call “mass culture.” This meant everything from heavy industry to advertising to radio to the automobile to most ideas of progress, especially those quantifiably measurable. They have a good time emphasizing the human-scale pleasures of community, sense of place, local uniqueness, etc., versus the industrial values of making everything about money and getting more widgets off the assembly line. Naturally, they dismiss any type of socialism as just industrialism gone rampant, as evidenced by what Stalin was up to at the time. Even though several of them were major contributors to pro-fascist periodicals, they got quite upset when accused of fascism themselves. Fascism involves central organization of the type they simply cannot abide, can’t you see?! That Mussolini character is an industrial roustabout! What the South needs is —homegrown— oppressors who know the names of all their slaves…

Anyway, sorry about that, North gonna North. What I’m describing up there probably doesn’t sound all that odd. Countercultural types eventually took something like it up, with varying degrees of coherence and only sometimes using the South as a prop. So did Ted Kaczynski, for that matter, though he represents the strain that came to see the sort of high culture that the Agrarians thought their preferred social order could protect as either irrelevant or part of the problem.

That’s where things get weird. The idea of agrarian versus industrial isn’t that unusual, and neither is the idea of North and South as civilizational opposites. Materially, neither makes any sense, for the same reason- the two historically constitute each other. If there’s a germ of truth in the historical alibi pro-confederates throw up, that the North fought the civil war to promote its industrial system, it’s that industry needs agriculture… but agriculture, certainly agriculture as practiced by the nineteenth century south, also needed industry. Frankly, they should have thanked us for the favor, that we didn’t boot them on their ass and let Britain make them a debt-colony, into less-interesting Brazil… And you have to wonder… in 1930, the US might not have looked like an incipient superpower, the kind of country it’d be worth sticking around in despite disagreements, especially to flighty intellectuals. It might have seemed like being the aristocratic intellectuals in a decaying debt colony that the world left alone except to extract profit from was actually a good deal…

Anyway! There I go again. Sorry, just read hundreds of pages of Southern propagandizing… I suppose we should talk some about how this book approaches race, slavery, and the war. Except for one chapter, the answer is “elliptically or barely at all.” The historiography as it stood did a lot of their work for them. Between the white revanchism embraced by the Dunning School, and the economic reductionism of a lot of progressive historians at the time, the idea that the war was a tragic mistake and that slavery really only entered into it because of addled ideologues (mostly abolitionists), was common sense with white readers, South and North. The most interesting thing about the chapter on the war in this book is that its author, Frank Owsley, wasn’t some sweaty romantic or racist, or not just one (he was definitely hugely racist). He was also a pioneer of what would be called social history, a man who did serious groundbreaking archival work on the lives of “plain” (white) “folk”… not for this essay, he didn’t need to, he just regurgitated then-established historiography’s greatest hits, but elsewhere. The rest of the Agrarians could ignore the race angle because no one made them face it.

This gets at the thing that makes this book so odd, read almost a century after its publication. The South these people are defending is borderline unrecognizable once you get to what brass tacks such artsy types can be bothered to produce. Moreover, I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t have that much to do with the South as it existed then. On top of that, while the Agrarians would no doubt look on this moment in time and despair — I mean, among other things, despair is a better modernist pose than, like, glee — in certain respects they got what they ordered, if not what they wanted.

The weirdest chapter is Allen Tate’s essay on southern religion. Tate was a big, big deal in American poetry in his day, someone who used to get bandied about as a potential Nobel laureate. Not exactly a lightweight! So what to make of an essay that proclaims that the South has the most powerful religious impulse in America, but could never truly form - a religion - because it was based in Protestantism? Tate hadn’t even converted to Catholicism at that point! That would be decades later. He just waxes wistfully on how if only the southern religious impulse could be “organized” i.e. attached to a hierarchy and stable intellectual system, how powerful it would be! Alas, he sighs tragically, they’ll just get more Northern, which as far as Tate is concerned, means more Protestant(!).

Well! What a funny little historical cul de sac. You can almost see it. Tate wrote this long before fundamentalist Protestantism made its big turn into secular politics. He lived to see it, but was insulated by intellectual fame, his eventual conversion to Catholicism, and, one suspects, booze, and died before Reagan really brought the thing home. A few fundamentalists tried politics earlier with the Scopes Trial and got their fingers badly burnt- part of what inspired this collection, in fact. Southern religion didn’t look strong, and weird aesthetes like Tate half-agreed with Mencken that it was embarrassing.

That’s the thing about all of this, with a century’s hindsight. In many respects, the industrial society that the Agrarians saw as Babylon bent over backwards to not force everyone to live an “industrial” lifestyle. Governments, banks, and employers spent the late twentieth century routing (white) people out of cities, into little fiefdoms of their own in the suburbs. The knock-on effects of this were substantial, and most of them redounded to the favor of what historians see as a distinctly Southern model. Official anticommunism helped promote a religiosity with a distinctly Southern bent, that Tate might have derided but which proved pretty fucking important down the line. Businesses based either in the South or its weird step-child the Sun Belt — Wal-Mart, Disney, franchise fast food, etc — pioneered forms of capitalist organization that emphasized the empowerment of a broad middle strata of managers to discipline and reward workers, the importance of emotional labor, workplaces as family units overseen by patriarch figures, contemporary for bureaucracy and unions, etc. Not exactly socialism, and not exactly the dark satanic mills gobbling up the piedmont.

“And not exactly what we wanted either, asshole!” you can hear the Agrarians whining from the grave. Well… it’s true. Many a pleasant field and fine old home and even civil war historical site has been gobbled up by McMansions and office parks. Southern culture is somewhat less distinct- though in no small part because Southern culture invaded the North much more successfully than Lee’s army ever could have. And it’s hard to get around the decline of family farming, a straight up victim of capitalism and Cold War policy, though given that the version of non-capitalist Southern farming the Agrarians championed was something of a chimera anyway…

The point here isn’t (much) to own the Agrarians for being wrong about things. It’s to point to the weird “long duree” of Jeffersonian fantasy, intellectual politics, very specific historical conjunctures, capitalism, and policy, that makes all of these weird ideas, images, and people sit together. The guy who made up the New Criticism got his artsy friends together to write a big Marinetti/Wyndham Lewis-style manifesto about how a fantasy of southern agrarian regionalism was the last redoubt against Moloch, only for most of them to renounce the book as youthful folly without quite realizing that Moloch was going to sell the cheap version of their fantasy to millions… I don’t know. It interests me. Definitely more than the essays themselves- it seems like a lot of these guys were half-embarrassed by intervening in crude politics at all, when there were delicate poems and essays they could be doing. Weird stuff, man. **
December 9, 2020
As Stark Young intimated in the final essay, the thrust of ITMS is the exposition of the true nature of the South. Looking around and seeing the land they loved rapidly disappearing amid the furor of modern ideals, the Twelve Southerners banded together to knit a defence of their home, a defence having more of a mystical than quantitative quality about it.

In their forwarding a defence of the South, they will likely please few modern people. The style, as some reviewers have here claimed, is too dry (of course, no man would say that a desert is uninteresting or unworthy to be studied because it is dry - in fact, that peculiar trait can be attractive), but what is probably a more accurate statement is that the work is too unpalatable for modern audiences. The much-warned sensationalism has certainly seeped into modern man's literary appetite, so a ponderous walk through twelve men's minds might indeed seem more a chore than a pleasurable stroll.

The work is at times contradictory in small details, being produced by these different minds, but overwhelming the sentiments expressed are uniform in their unique take on modernity. They defy modern categories and openly mock modern cliches. They assault the ideas of industry and capital, disregard the fetish of material and social progress, and make an all around (though perfectly respectable) ruckus.

They cannot be categorised as politically conservative, nor could they be regarded as politically liberal. One might call them social conservatives, but there is a little too much of the revolutionary about them to say they wish to merely maintain some ever-changing status quo. A Communist or socialist might attempt to claim them as their own, but their regard for property, the spiritual, and community - true, familial community, mind you, and not some manufactured, state-ordained uniformity - would defy those attempts. They would best be described as traditionalists, a word which comfortably resists the post-enlightenment attempts at pigeon-holing all political thought into the simplistic categories of "left" and "right."

So many modern ailments were correctly diagnosed by these men in 1930, that one wonders how these diseases have not yet killed the host completely. The idols of profit and progress are enshrined everywhere about us, and the heralds daily proclaim in every imaginable place and in every imaginable way the triumph of consumerism over culture. A society based around the inherently unstable concepts of an ill-defined progress (which seems intent solely on eradicating old identities or at least making them suitable to modern mores) and an insatiable industrial drive (whose method of continuance is an unfeeling "creative destruction") rather than time-honored and centuries old relationships and relations, of customs, duties, and place, is a shallow, soulless, and easily manipulated society. Modern man would do well to read ITMS, and to grieve.
Profile Image for Christa .
422 reviews32 followers
September 16, 2017
The promotion of industrialization overturned the lives of all southerners, negatively and positively. Nothing remained unaffected in the South after the Civil War. In a way, the emergence of the industrial movement from the North forced all Southerners, all races and ethnicity together against this progressive northern movement. Twelve authors banned together to express their views of the forthcoming industrial change with fervor by writing well-defined, detailed arguments against modern expansion . It was assumed that modernization would be a positive move for the South, however, these twelve authors make a compelling case against why the very nature of Southern ways, manners, heritage, land, religion, and agriculture would not prosper from the change. For example, the simple act of churning butter was an issue. Northerners considered the laid back approach to work unfitting. Why would a Southerner churn butter for hours instead of going to the local grocery mart to purchase it? With Northern progression came the eradication of true Southern history. Northerners had free range to exaggerate or depict Northern views about Southern life. For these twelve authors, progress meant destroying the Southern mind. And in some respect, I had to agree with them.
Profile Image for Jacques Defraigne.
100 reviews8 followers
January 20, 2021
The great value of this books is that it defends the great southern tradition of the traditional life against the intrusion of the modern industrial state. It achieves this by tackling the same major problem from different perspectives. Yes some essays are dated, but there are truly some beautiful essays present in the book that have stood the test of time: a mirror for the artist, education:past and present, the philosophy of progress, remarks on southern religion, the hind tit and the life and death of cousin Lucius. Especially the last two I just named are just magnificent in the way that through story they present an alternative to the ugly industriousness. I highly recommend the essays I just named!
Profile Image for Gregory Knapp.
102 reviews
October 16, 2020
I found this a very challenging and dry book, based on how some authors presented their topics. It began with the "New Introduction by Susan V. Donaldson." She clearly have a very high impression of herself and her opinions. Her writing was impossible to follow, added nothing to the book and was a turn off before getting to Chapter 1. The book is a collection of 12 authors and poets, each with a chapter and a subject. Even though I'm deep into studying the time before, during and after the civil war, nine of the twelve chapters put me to sleep. I did find the other three very rewarding.
149 reviews2 followers
May 15, 2022
Published in 1930, this unrepentant essay collection defends “The Southern way of life”. Why read essays that are so dated? Because they are, and they aren’t. The urban/rural divide continues to challenge us. Federalist issues fester like an open wound on the body politic. The South may have lost the battle, but it definitely didn’t lose the war. The cultural war still rages. The collection includes noted southern scholar and writer Robert Penn Warren’s infamous essay, “The Briar Patch.” read more at bookmanreader.blogspot.com .
Profile Image for Trey Smith.
71 reviews11 followers
August 14, 2020
A great collection of essays in defense of Southern agrarian culture in the midst of industrialism. The Life and Death of Cousin Lucius by John Donald Wade is my favorite of the collection as it follows the life of a man who was a teenager ar the end of the Civil War up through the 1920s and the changes which took place in the South and one MSN’s Stoic reaction to it. Although at times dated, well worth the read for any who appreciate agrarian society.
Profile Image for David.
128 reviews25 followers
June 30, 2021
A worthwhile read for anyone interested in a genuinely American form of traditionalism. Some may be uncomfortable with the attitude some of the writers have toward African American but racial issues at barely (if at all) touched on in most of the essays. Though subjects from art to agriculture are touched on, the uniting theme throughout is an ambivalence toward industrialism and a desire to maintain a connection to family, land, and community.
Profile Image for min.
33 reviews
April 24, 2022
Quite dense and contains a number of varying perspectives, but the writers share a common view of the value of an agrarian way of life. Observations of economy, labour and education cut to the heart of the matter. In these observations the importance placed upon human dignity and relationships read as commonsensical wisdom, but unfortunately it is a wisdom we have long lost...

Makes for a thoughtful read but leaves me in despair for the future of our industrialised world.
Profile Image for Matthew Dambro.
412 reviews62 followers
June 30, 2018
This is an amazing collection of essays written by Southern poets, historians and novelists. It was published in 1930, just as the great depression was taking hold of the United States by the throat. It was a plea to maintain the southern agrarian tradition in the face of the industrialism of the North. This slim book of thoughts remind us of much that was fine and gentle that was lost.
Profile Image for Garrett Peace.
285 reviews6 followers
February 9, 2019
Worth reading for its historical importance in Southern Lit. but not for any other reason I can think of.
Profile Image for Dan.
29 reviews4 followers
January 7, 2023
A worth while read. Another book that shows there is a great divide between being trained and being educated. I would hope for more educated people.
Profile Image for Kent.
110 reviews9 followers
December 30, 2009
As good as it gets.

Well, almost. The challenge in this book is quite telling in its analysis of the symptoms, but less so in treating of foundations. The Twelve Southerners failed in thinking the South could maintain a pre-modern tradition without a living connection to the traditions of Christendom that formed its foundation. And, as these traditions were being removed the world over, the Agrarians, following the evidence, might have reached the conclusion that this stage of the Church was coming to an end, and the solution to modernity, even if it existed in theory within a nation of the former Christendom, could not be retained in practise without either 1) a full-scale restoration of the old Christendom, or 2) a truly revolutionary sequence of events ending with the establishment of a new Christendom.

Nevertheless, it WAS the South's duty to fight modernity, and, had she possessed an unheard of degree of moral courage coupled with an unusually dedicated leadership, she might have succeeded in starting that revolutionary sequence of events right there--or if not that, at least finding a way to maintain a Christian society based on an agrarian economy, and yet somehow function within a world that had dedicated its whole soul to modernity. In it, but not of it.

Now (not to carry on at too great length) it occurred to me that the South did possess this moral courage and dedicated leadership before the War, and it showed to its best advantage during the war. From theologians like Thornwell and Dabney, gentleman like Lee, and statesmen like just about all of 'em, she had the leadership, the brains, and the courage to create the possibility of a viable traditional society that maintained its integrity while functioning in the modern world. It is one of the greatest puzzles to me exactly where this leadership went after the war. What happened?

After the War, the leaders of the Old South refused to admit their cause was lost. Oppressed by superior numbers and resources, they were compelled to yield on the field of battle, but as far as they were concerned, they had merely entered another arena, and struggled not for the possession of a fort but the convictions of men's souls. A tremendous literary outpouring opened this front of the war, and, like the early days of the physical battle, the Confederates seemed to have the upper hand.

Somewhere in there, a quiet Gettysburg took place, probably with the death of the Old South leaders. A new generation arose who preached a pragmatical acceptance of the conditions enforced by their northern conquerors--a distinct departure from the merely practical measures coexistence advised by the Old generation. The sons of the great planters turned their talents toward manufacturing; the sons of the great statesmen found new scope for their abilities in the mercenary legislatures of the New South; the preachers...well, I don't know what happened to Dabney and Thornwell's heirs. The tough, self-sufficient dirt farmers of the South became harrassed, enslaved factory workers or sharecroppers.

And the slaves? The slaves were the only class of men who produced an effective leadership than began to point the way toward solving the dilemma of a traditional society in a modern world. Booker T Washington taught the former slaves how to love their enemies, to put the sweat and sacrifice into raising their own condition and that of their neighbors. George Washington Carver demonstrated new ways to make agriculture pay--no small factor in the preservation of an agrarian society.

But their former masters could not live up to the standards of these men. They embraced a slavery of their own, and so the South lost the second stage of the war as decisively as the first.

235 reviews18 followers
May 19, 2017
If nothing else, this collection of essays memorializes the loss of a way of life, one that has now been lost so completely that some definitive boundary, a point of no return, must have been passed not long after it was written. The South as it exists today has as much to do with the South they knew and loved as the chav humming the bassline to the latest hiphop ballad has to do with the peasant ploughman singing folk chanties overheard by Wordsworth or Ralph Vaughan Williams. A South where Vergil is more of a household name than any NASCAR driver, or literary and debating societies hold a place of prestige greater than college football, where the word 'role' is spelled with the circumflex, is hard to even imagine. Even agriculture in the South, of which there obviously remains a great measure, has mostly been organized along the industrial lines so odious to these twelve southerners.

The essays herein are of somewhat uneven quality. Ransom, Davidson, Owsley, Tate, and Warren all contribute essays of stunning critical depth. John Donald Wade and Andrew Nelson Lytle both give vivid and concrete pictures of the way of life praised in somewhat more abstract terms in other essays. Fletcher's essay on education is a bit sketchy, but still very interesting. It probably overstates the differences between the traditional form of education that prevailed in the South and the North, which were, in reality, very consistent with each other before the Revolutionary War, though the South suffered a great setback in education when the Anglican church was disestablished thereafter. Lyle Lanier's "Critique of the Philosophy of Progress," on the other hand, seems very amateurish, and traffics in the broad generalizations of secondhand knowledge. Henry Blue Kline's "William Remington: A Study in Individualism" is a very curious little piece, and feels like the fragment of a novel that never quite got off the ground. Stark Young's "Not In Memoriam, But In Defense" is cantankerous but not especially insightful.

The racial politics here are bound to be a conspicuous element for the modern reader. Like all writing of a conservative cast before the 1960s, these essays, were they written today, would be called "alt-right," in the sense that they assume real differences between the races in aggregate capacity and inclination and propose to address a more or less homogeneous racial community of whites as a race existing both in-itself and for-itself, i.e. with real political interests that can be legitimately articulated in policies and positions. Needless to say, such a prerogative is reserved only for "persons of color" in the contemporary context, and white people are restricted to either rebroadcasting the racial concerns of others or in articulating their own policies and positions as if race did not exist, as disingenuous as that may be, a fact not lost on outside observers.

Overall, these essays are a remarkable window into a lost time, and as alien as that time might be to us today, there is always the possibility that in beholding something utterly different we may learn to recognize something in ourselves we have never been able to articulate.
Profile Image for Kenneth.
91 reviews
August 3, 2016
Can't agree more with the lost cause of the Southern Agrarians.

The faded Jeffersonian splendor that vanished with the industrial blight of corporate Yankee robber baron capitalism is here given the fair treatment by the leading lights of the Southern intellectual remnant.

Years later who can doubt that the prophecy of agrarians rings true now more than ever.

Not many realize in the noise of god-less euphoria created by mass-consumption that the America of antebellum history is the recognized hereditary right in this nation.

No more. Banking cartels. Easy paper dollars debt slaving the land into the devil's bondage. Floods of filth spewing from the bowels of satanic cities. Internationalism. Splendid isolation dead.

This is not the vision that is in the blood of American soil.

This is more the vision of the anti-Christ run amuck (so to speak).

Manners dead. Civility dead. Art dead.

The Southern Tradition at bay. The Southern Tradition dead.

The Vanderbilt poets in opposition to the Leviathan.

The lost cause. The technological rape of civilization.

Who can stop it. A tear-jerking anthology that reads like the eulogy of a past too close to remember.

An extinguished hope for redemption that is now ripped forever.

The apocalyptic thundering that is latent in the earth.

Wendell Berry writes much in this vein today in much the same manner.

The celebrated pessimism of the yeoman farmer who sees an America for what is by what it once was.

Now it will never be. The only place that this spirit lives is in the voice heard in relics who speak/who are respected/who are not heard or heeded/but by a ghost that is long forgotten.

A beautiful revival that is yet in the making yet will never really come. Nourished from a South that did not forget.

Profile Image for EJ Daniels.
259 reviews1 follower
October 24, 2016
A defense of Agrarianism and what was valuable in the Old South masterfully rendered by a collection of authors from various backgrounds, I'll Take My Stand posits some of the most pressing issues confronting modern man, and illustrates how those issues might be confronted by a reevaluation of progress and a re-enforcement of tradition.

Of greatest interest is the number of issues brought up by the authors that still vex us to this day; work and leisure balance, the collapse of American industry, high stakes testing in public schools. This renders I'll Take My Stand useful not only for those interested in historiography but also in our present state of affairs

I would recommend I'll Take My Stand to anyone interested in the historical and cultural legacy of the Old South and anyone interested in Americana of the early 20th century
Profile Image for Shannon.
197 reviews3 followers
February 19, 2011
Extremely interesting views of the mythical South. Sometimes I felt like Stephen Colbert was writing the text and other times I felt like it was quoting The Matrix (kill the machines!). It also reminded me of The Omnivore's Dilemma with its ideas of abusing the land and getting back to simpler, non-industrial times. They were very passionate about this beautiful ideal, but they never seemed to be able to provide the concrete facts to back it up.
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