Posted by: James Atticus Bowden | April 17, 2009

Southern History Month: Southern Exceptionalism

Southern exceptionalism begins with American exceptionalism.  The unique aspect of America that makes it the city on the hill – since the Mayflower folks deliberately set out to do so – up North, has been embraced by Southerners as only a defeated, chastised, reconstructed population can.  Southerners accepted the stark reality that  Southern nationalism brought the terrible scourge of war and complete defeat and occupation.  Southerners returned to their earlier enthusiasm for Americanism with dedication as much as energy. 

Southerners paid the blood tax again and again after the defeat in the first war of Southern Independence – as Americans.  Today, Southerners are over represented in the military.   Culture commands.

The Southern exceptionalism that takes a back seat to American identity and the growing “Christian” identity stands out because its so different from what outsiders assume.

  • Sense of place.  Southerners love the land.   Their land.  Even if they live in apartments, they love the land that is the South.  And the waters.  Their connection is close to mystical because it is so powerful generations after Southerners leave the farm – and live urban lives.   Southerners don’t want to live outside of the South.  They may do it, but they always know they aren’t “home.”  They definitely don’t want their kids to be raised outside of the South.
  • Sense of self.  Southerners are comfortable in their skin.  Live and let live.  And don’t tell us how to live.  The identity of place, extended family, history, food, language, and all the other reinforcing points of culture make a Southerner self-aware without being awkwardly self-conscious.  The rules of life – are known by all.  Everyone knows when someone is putting on airs, acting uppity, or too big for their britches, etc.   It means folks really, truly, totally don’t give a care how someone did anything elsewhwere (i.e. “That’s not how we do it in New Jersey… or fill in the blank).  We really don’t care or even want to hear about it – no matter how wonderful you think it is.
  • Sense of moral superiority.  This bugs Yankees and other foreigners to death.  Southerners have a quiet sense of moral superiority.   Southerners know they have better manners.  Southerners know that men are men, women are women and why there are differences.  Southerners – used to know how to curb their tongues in public – that coarsening of the culture is getting bad.  Southerners don’t live for money, measure people by money, worship money, or compromise everything for money.   Southerners -and this used to be a trademark for Virginians – especially from The Valley – talk about living in God’s Country.  They mean it.   Southerners see their personal, family history as a trail of honor and great courage – no matter how humble their circumstances.  So, while dumbYankees (one word) see some permanent PC moral stain because of slavery and racism, Southerners still feel like the moral superiors to outsiders.  Because while we are born Americans, it is by the Grace of God that we are Southern.

Southern exceptionalism is under constant attack with wave after wave of Northern immigration and the PC intrusions in government schools, business, and throughout the MSM.  It’s remarkable that it remains as strong as it is.    As the Culture War deepens and the WW against Islamists goes on and on, the evolving culture that is the South will morph, most likely, into an identity that will reinforce itself as being different from the anti-Christian, anti-semitic, PC and d’himmi world outside the South. 

Southern exceptionalism has a future.-



  1. The problem is that no one of my generation (mid-to-late thirties) has any concept of what that Southern exceptionalism means. We have been brow beat to the point of approaching northerners with our hats in our hands, almost begging for their beneficence and forgiveness.

    The Southern heart has no cause for apology as it is directly related to the land on which it resides. The uniqueness of the Southern mind is that it is unusually well behaved and organized (most of the time.) What it means to be Southern, in my view, is directly related to what it means to be a landowner.

  2. Charlie: The land, and owning some, is a huge part of the Southern pysche. Thanks.

    Time to educate your generation.

    I was talking to some folks last night – 50s and 60s – who laughed a lot when I told them I had writtten what drives Yankees crazy is when they realize Southerners really don’t care what they think. These folks laughed because in their experience it was true.

  3. Great article!! Totally agree.

  4. I disagree with this notion of Southerners loving the land. I am a CA native and lived in central TN last year. I never before met such a lot of ‘indoorsmen’ people who never go outdoors (what’s left of it). The central TN landscape there has a ‘raped repeatedly’ look to it and most people spend their time indoors out of the heat & humidity (and the ‘cold’ as they call it which sets in during winter). Maybe it’s just that the Cumberland Valley is truly a raped landscape, polluted and depleted since the original white settlement some two centuries ago. It’s become ‘traditional’ to disregard nature there.
    I am sure that proud southerners will tell me that I can’t understand because I’m not ‘from there’. That kind of logic and $4 will get you a latte in the exurban sprawl of the ‘southern town’ I lived in last year.

  5. “The Southern exceptionalism that takes a back seat to American identity…”

    Southern exceptionalism can be exceptional only in contrast with the rest of America (historically, in contrast with the North). By definition, it can not (and would never) take a back seat to American identity. A Southern exceptionalist may be “Christian first, and a Southerner second,” but s/he may never be “An American first, and a Southerner second.” After all, if one were to be an American first, then there would be nothing for Southern identity to be excepted from.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: