What this country needs
by Clyde N. Wilson
August 20th, 2009


In one of Henry James’s less unreadable novels, The Bostonians, the hero is Basil Ransom, an impoverished ex-Confederate from Mississippi who is trying to make his way professionally in the urban North. The author wants us to see the tough, realistic, earthy Ransom as a healthy contrast to the decayed idealism of the wealthy, reformist, insular, enervated society of Boston. To the horror of the Bostonians, Ransom declares that he does not believe in Progress—because he has never seen any.
Most important, those old Southerners were tough, skeptical, canny realists, trained in a hard school of poverty and struggle, personal and regional. They had a primal connection to the American soil and the original American understanding, undisturbed by the ephemeral fads and fancies of the vast American class of pseudo-intellectuals. Compared to the dull-witted Republican rich boys and Democrat wardheelers that Northerners generally sent to Congress, they were pillars of wisdom, integrity, and gravitas. (Intelligent Yankees went into business where the real power was.) True, the Southerners were mostly not very “nice,” in the way demanded by American convention. Their realism, intransigence, and failure to repeat the fashionable platitudes tended to frighten the old women of both sexes. True, also, they sent every federal dollar they could lay hands on down to the home folks. Why shouldn’t they, when the South had been impoverished, exploited and wrecked by legislation as well as fire and sword for most of the national history? The Republicans, in their usual low dishonest discourse, condemned the Southern Democrats as big spenders. They were no more big spenders than were the Republicans when they got the chance—they were just better at it.
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