The 1930 manifesto on Southern identity entitled I’ll Take My Stand remains the most important, forward looking affirmation of national exceptionalism. Writing in preface to the 1977 edition, Louis Rubin Jr observes:
“after all, both before and after its appearance in the Depression-bound year of 1930, there have been dozens and dozens of books, and many manifestos, whose economic, political and racial prescriptions of the South have proved more accurate. Yet most such books have long since been relegated to the shelves of the library stacks, whereas the manifesto of the twelve southerners has remained alive and in print.” (xiv)
That manifesto, which positions itself in opposition to industrialization and urbanization, has alone remained able to confront the challenges that a later Southern historian, C. Vann Woodward called the “Bulldozer Revolution” in the South. As Rubin explains in his introduction, “surely it must be obvious that if such was the book’s objective, then it failed in its objective.” And certainly, from the vantage point of the current year, we can see that very little remains of the Agrarian tradition in the South. But alone among American responses to modernization, I’ll Take My Stand manages to largely escape the limitations of liberalism and frame a new “Southernism” that proposes a radical re-imagining of society and culture. In many ways, the “Twelve Southerners” anticipated the archeo-futurism of Guillame Faye, and give some precedent for introducing some ideas from the new European right. In many ways, it is important to remember that in 1930, the language used to represent “modern” phenomena was far less sophisticated.
Reactionary elements have always been associated with Southern traditionalist causes, and it is no surprise to find them in I’ll Take My Stand. The inciting incident to reaction is the same as it was for many regional and ethnic traditions across the Western World in the 19th century— rapid imposition of the financial architecture of industrial capitalism and its attendant mass culture of consumption. Stark Young identifies the cause most directly in the collection’s last essay “Not In Memoriam, But In Defense” when he observes that “following the World War [1914-1918] and its aftermath, the churches, trying to keep with the times or to clinch all the ages; the schools; the moving-pictures, and most of all, the press—have generalized our national thinking.” Southerners, he claims, have retreated in the face of this wave, and laments even the commodification of Southern women “in the advertisements confessing their addiction to some face cream or some mattress.”