This essay was first published in Southern Partisan in the Winter, 1985.
Southerners rarely while away their leisure hours by contemplating Yankees, for there is no point in thinking of unpleasant things if one is not obliged to do so. Yet the practice does have value; to some extent, at least, we are defined by those attributes which set us apart from others, and sometimes we can be made aware of such attributes only by observing people who do not share them. Another virtue of thinking about Yankees, in the long run perhaps a more important one, is that it serves to remind us that they have repeatedly tried to make us over in their own image. Indeed, though it may seem that they have been off our backs since the demise of the civil rights movement, their latest campaign to reform us is actually well under way.
What is there about us that has made us so offensive to them? Or, conversely, what is there about them that has compelled them to meddle in our affairs? The late great Richard M. Weaver, in The Southern Tradition at Bay, addressed himself to analyzing the qualities that distinguish the South from North, and for the nineteenth century he was perfectly on target. “The North had Tom Paine and his postulates assuming the virtuous inclinations of man,” Weaver wrote; “the South had Burke and his doctrine of human fallibility and of the organic nature of society.” The North embraced rationalism and egalitarianism; the South had a “deep suspicion of all theory, perhaps of intellect,” and clung to a hierarchical and deferential social order. The North bowed down before science and material progress; the South “persisted in regarding science as a false messiah,” and remained into “our own time” (the 1940s) “the last non-materialist civilization in the Western World.”