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The Southern Tradition : The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism Paperback – August 27, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Genovese (Roll, Jordan, Roll, LJ 9/1/74) examines the philosophical, historical, and cultural foundations of Southern conservatism. He contrasts it not only with Marxism and other perspectives of the political left but also with those strains of conservatism that emphasize the primacy of unfettered individualism and laissez-faire economics. According to Genovese, the distinctive characteristics of Southern conservatism include not only support for the broad ownership of private property but also a belief that "socially determined moral restraints" should restrain the activities of the marketplace. While broadly critical of aspects of modern political, economic, and social conditions, Genovese does not offer specific proposals for change; nor does he present a well-defined philosophical framework in which to ground change. But he suggests that Southern conservatism, despite its limitations and contradictions, offers insights that can inform such efforts. A useful addition to the political philosophy and history collections of academic libraries.
Thomas H. Ferrell, Univ. of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


It would be difficult to imagine a more precise or lucid depiction of genteel Southern conservatism than that offered herein by Eugene D. Genovese… Penetrating and persuasive. (Jonathan Yardley Washington Post Book World)

Eugene Genovese is a Marxist historian with conservative affiliations who has had a greater impact on current interpretations of the Southern past than any other scholar with the possible exception of C. Vann Woodward… Iconoclastic, defiant and thoroughly engaging, this Jeremiah finds little ground for optimism. He warns allies and foes alike of future perils and seeks, probably in vain, a usable conservative tradition…cleansed of the racism and economic materialism that once constituted much of its ideology… Last year's mid-term elections suggest, however, that Genovese is no longer in a minority, nor the South the pariah it once was: his exposition of the tensions between conservative social ideals and actual practice makes The Southern Tradition a study far richer in meaning than liberal critics are likely to recognize. (Bertram Wyatt-Brown London Review of Books)

Brilliant…learned, deep, cogent, and provocative, guaranteed to churn the brain. (Forrest McDonald National Review)

At once a bold tract for the time and a cogent summary interpretation of the complex relationship of the history of the American South to the history of the nation… [This book is] a rich distillation of the thinking of the South that is embodied in a series of remarkable studies [by the author]. (Lewis P. Simpson Partisan Review)

The notion of a Southern political tradition can be understood as conservative, complete, and consistent with its roots. Eugene Genovese's The Southern Tradition poignantly articulates these qualities…[and] pertinently reviews American conservatism's intellectual roots. (Won Kim Southern Partisan)

Eugene D. Genovese, one of America's most distinguished historians, has previously written extensively about different aspects of Southern history. Now, in this volume―succinct, erudite, and eloquent―he describes and (at any rate partially) praises the distinctive Southern tradition of conservatism, from its beginnings to the present time… Genovese's hints throughout this book as to the kind of Left he would like to see are appealing as well as intellectually stimulating. (Peter L. Berger Commentary)

[Genovese] brings to this study of the southern tradition a rare if not unique combination of points of view and standards of scholarship. (C. Vann Woodward Times Literary Supplement)

The Southern Tradition is a very important book. Genovese calls us to task by identifying meritorious principles of the southern tradition and their relevance to contemporary politics. All serious students of U.S. politics should read this book. (Marshall DeRosa Perspectives on Political Science)

This is a compelling and provocative book. The work of a devout leftist who is also one of this country's leading historians, The Southern Tradition is a perceptive and sympathetic portrayal of one of the main currents in American conservative thought. It is also historical revisionism of a very high order… It is one measure of the power of this book that even a conservative reader comes away wondering if he might not be right. (A. J. Bacevich First Things)

In roughly 100 pages, Genovese presents a thoughtful, scholarly analysis of political philosophy, the role of government, and how the white South plays into this… A significant asset to any political theorist's collection. (L. L. Duke Choice)

A heartfelt lament about the crisis of the modern world and the failure of the Left to address what Genovese sees as the critical flaws in current society. An important book. (Drew Gilpin Faust, University of Pennsylvania)

A very illuminating account of the Old and New South. It corrects misunderstandings and not only lights up southern history from a new perspective, but also relates its conservatism to that of the northern states. It is clear, lively, and spirited. (Cleanth Brooks, Yale University)

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Product Details

  • Series: The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization (Book 1994)
  • Paperback: 154 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674825284
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674825284
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #623,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 9, 1996
Format: Paperback
Eugene Genovese must be the most interesting writer inAmerica. This New York-born professed Marxist analyzesconservatism more thoroughly and respectfully than many conservatives do. And one cannot grasp the antebellum South, which he treats just as respectfully, without him. In this little book, Genovese effectively argues that Southern conservatism is different from, and occasionally hostile to, what most people think of as conservatism. Southern conservatives are conservatives of community and tradition rather than Limbaughian market worshippers. Essential.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By R. Setliff on August 21, 2004
Format: Paperback
~The Southern Tradition~ by Eugene Genovese is a captivating, objective examination of southern conservatism and the southern tradition. The first chapter, The Lineaments of Southern Tradition, examines southern culture and conservatism in the Old South. The American South's currents such as traditional Protestant Christianity and its affinity for localism and agrarianism are all discussed in this first chapter. Genovese points out that southern conservatives accept "hierarchy and stratification as natural, necessary and proper," at the same time resisting a tendency toward sponsorship of a self-aggrandizing elite or artificial aristocracy. The interplay of political and constitutional principles with the southern way of life is examined in the second chapter. It may be the boast of southerners that the first avowed conservatives in the U.S. were southern democrats. Southern luminaries like John Taylor of Caroline and John C. Calhoun stood opposed to Jacobin egalitarian leveling, and the materialism wrought out in the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. For nineteenth century southerners, their constitutional order allowed for the peaceful coexistence of antithetical systems of property. Genovese disavows the contentions by those who dismiss states' rights as nothing more than an instrument for preservation of slavery. He recognizes that the states' rights constitutional hermeneutic is by no means peculiar to the south, as states' rights doctrine arguably had its expression intensely felt in the northern section in the early nineteenth century. Likewise, the Hartford Convention and Pennsylvanian William Rawle's commentary affirming the constitutional right of secession demonstrates regional particularism; and goes a long way to vindicate this last point. Genovese elaborates on John C.Read more ›
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This review is for: The Southern Tradition : The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism

I really like and admire the reviews previously posted and written by R. Setiff and Greg Taylor. They do a good job of presenting the basic content -- especially for the first two chapters of Eugene Genovese's book. They also present the information in a manner that is probably clearer than the actual way Genovese presented it.

I will not retrace the factual content of the two previous reviewers' reports.

Without retracing their steps, I want to say that the first chapter does a wonderful job of presenting the Southern Tradition in its historical development - from John Randolph of Roanoke, John Calhoun and Jefferson Davis, all the way through Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom as well as Richard Weaver and M.E. Bradford. However, if you expected to learn what constitutes the unqualified essential elements making up what is appropriately called the Southern Tradition, they will not be found in the first chapter and the reader will be disappointed. The reader will find a succinct, subtle and penetrating history of the South's "ideologies," however, like examining a diamond under a jeweler's eyeglass.

Thus, a reader expecting to be presented with what is the Southern Tradition right out of the gate will be disappointed. The first chapter is one big intellectual tease.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By greg taylor VINE VOICE on October 17, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
These essays were originally a set of lectures delivered by Genovese in 1993. Genovese has written on the antebellum South for decades. In these essays he is trying to seperate the intellectual wheat from the racist chaff in a tradition of Southern conservatism. I kind of think the other reviewers missed the point on this. Genovese is very clear about certain things. 1. The origins of Southern conservatism celebrated the fact that their ideas were based on a system of property,i.e., slavery. 2. The revival of this tradition in the early 20th century that Genovese sees in the Agrarians tried mightily to divest their thought of this racial foundation. They more or less failed. Or, at least, they were not successful.
Genovese's efforts are best seen as a continuation of that project of reclaiming what is deeply human and insightful from this tradition and placing it squarely on a nonracist foundation. He doesn't claim to have done more than to suggest some of the ways that that might be done.
Ryan Setliff's review speaks to one of the main conundrums that plagues the Southern conservative tradition. Yes, the Southern conservatives saw "hierarchy and stratification as natural, necessary and proper," while "at the same time resisting a tendency toward sponsorship of a self-aggrandizing elite or artificial aristocracy". The problem is that every hierarchy ever suggested by any political tradition at any time can be shown to be artificial or self-aggrandizing. The only real way out of this theoretical dead end is to either justify it by(or hide behind) a particular religion or to move on to some other form of social and political organization. Genovese is no more successful then any one else in thinking his way out of this issue.
Genovese is very good at identifying the major issues.
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