In Defense of Atticus Finch

There was a time that I considered the character of Atticus Finch to be the ideal Southern man. Finch was an aspirational figure for many young Southern attorneys of a certain time. As portrayed by the waspishly handsome Gregory Peck, he exuded an air of confidence, skill, intelligent, insight and principle, traits which the Southerners I knew held in high regard.

Perhaps Peck’s portrayal of Finch as a dignified and honorable Southern white man was popular among many Southerners because it stood in such stark contrast to the buffoonish hillbilly caricatures which constitutes so much of Southerners’ representation in movie and television. No doubt Peck’s Finch was allowed to exist because To Kill a Mockingbird artfully advanced a useful narrative in the cultural war over desegregation and integration.

However, as someone who is an attorney, from a family of attorneys, I never read Atticus Finch as a civil rights crusader. I was therefore not surprised when on her death bed Harper Lee released a highly controversial sequel which portrayed an older Atticus opposing desegregation and cavorting with odorous Klansmen. This was the Atticus I had expected all along. I had never believed that Atticus believed that Tom Robinson was his equal. Atticus did not agree to defend Tom Robinson out of some naive racial egalitarianism, but out of a deeply ingrained Southern Anglo-Saxon belief in justice and order. Certainly Atticus’ highbrow sense of how things should proceed in a white Christian society was not the only form of Southern justice, but it was one form of our traditions carried over here from the old country where common law was nurtured in England’s green hills. Atticus Finch was an Anglo-Saxon and an Anglo-Saxon is just fair above all else.

It was therefore not surprising to watch as Justice Kavanaugh, another Anglo-Saxon attorney, was filled with passion and anger to watch the process (for we Anglos do love processes) be distorted and twisted by the fiendish ghouls of today’s Democratic party. Kavanaugh is the Atticus Finch who has always been and the Tom Robinson who never was. He is an innocent man accused whose deeply held beliefs in fair process have been dashed upon the rocks of modern reality.

It is in the nature of progressivism that “progress” is never satisfied. There will never be enough progress. There will never be the perfect society. There will always be a new form of oppression to be countered. And so, as with Snowball in Animal Farm, old idealisms become the new counter-revolutionary elements in need of expulsion. The relativistic nature of the progressive dialectic is evident in the phrases “her truth” or “their truth” – truth is not objective in the progressive worldview, it is subjective and what is subjective is subject to change. Therefore, the once lauded lessons of an older progressive work like To Kill a Mockingbird will inevitably be categorized as reactionary and patriarchal as time goes on. This has already occurred with the works of past progressives like Twain, Mencken, Steinbeck and Hemingway. Atticus Finch and the traditions he represents are now categorized as reactionary. But, in a sense, they always were because Atticus represented the search for objective truth and justice, and these have never been progressive values.

And so, Atticus Finch has become one of us again at last, and I believe we should embrace him.

-By Mr. Hurst

One comment

  1. Interesting. I was very political even as a kid. Thus, I smelled the Civil Rights narrative a mile away and kept away from TKAMB. Thus I never had the opportunity to come up with a competing narrative.