A Note of Sympathy to France from the South

29.09.2021

Now the people of France know, following the AUKUS submarine agreement, the treachery of the Yankees. This is something Southerners have had to live with for more than 150 years. But in the shared experiences of these betrayals, there is hope that something good may come of them, that closer ties may be developed between these two peoples.

There are many reasons for a close friendship between France and Dixie. First among them is the fact that French blood is quite thick in Southern veins: Many Frenchmen settled in the Southern States, from Natchitoches, Acadiana, and New Orleans in Louisiana to Mobile, Alabama, to the Huguenot settlements in South Carolina and Virginia. And their contribution to Southern culture continues to this day in street names (Amalie, Duval, and many others) and other place names, Cajun music, and even in the name of one of the South’s premier organizations defending Southern ways, the Abbeville Institute (Abbeville, South Carolina, is named after a French town).

Going further, both peoples have been deeply influenced by the culture of classical Rome and by Christianity; and both extol the virtues of the agrarian way of life.

All of these things taken together have led writers to note a similarity overall between the French and Southern cultures. Professor Richard Weaver writes the following on that theme:

‘The South’s attitude toward the ends of living has deeply influenced its mores and institutions. In the eyes of its energetic neighbor to the north it has never been sufficiently up and doing. But there is a profound difference between accepting your place and your role and working out the most practicable regimen of enjoyments, and conceiving life as an unceasing struggle which has as its object the reordering of everything. “Southern inefficiency” is a notorious phrase, but then “efficiency” is a term out of science and business. If you set little store by science and business, you will not be much influenced by the rhetorical force of “efficiency.” True, life cannot be lived without some sense of making progress, but progress may occur through intensification and elaboration; and the art of living in the South remains a rather complex thing. The saying of John Peale Bishop is worth recalling, that the South excelled in two things which the French deem essential to civilization: a code of manners and a native cuisine. Both are apt to suffer when life is regarded as a means to something else. Efficiency and charm are mortal enemies, and Southern charm indubitably derives from a carelessness about the efficient aspects of life.’

--‘The South and the American Union’

John Crowe Ransom, another major Southern literary figure, writing about the stable European conservatism of the South (over against the restless innovations of the Yankee North), says,

‘I have in mind here the core of unadulterated Europeanism, with its self-sufficient, backward-looking, intensely provincial communities.  The human life of English provinces long ago came to terms with nature, fixed its roots somewhere in the spaces between the rocks and in the shade of the trees, founded its comfortable institutions, secured its modest prosperity—and then willed the whole in perpetuity to the generations which should come after, in the ingenuous confidence that it would afford them all the essential human satisfactions.  For it is the character of a seasoned provincial life that it is realistic, or successfully adapted to its natural environment, and that as a consequence it is stable, or hereditable.  But it is the character of our urbanized, anti-provincial, progressive, and mobile American life that it is in a condition of eternal flux.  Affections, and long memories, attach to the ancient bowers of life in the provinces; but they will not attach to what is always changing’ (‘Reconstructed but Unregenerate’, I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition.  Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, [1931] 2006, p. 5).

Aside from these general likenesses, there is the fact that both peoples admire particular aspects of one another’s culture.

There is the Southern captivation with French Norman martial prowess; the South has long admired Guizot’s historical writings; Louisa McCord translated Bastiat’s Sophisms of the Protective Policy into English and got it published (1848); and David Middleton has written an entire volume of poetry, The Habitual Peacefulness of Gruchy (2005), that affectionately describes the paintings of Jean-François Millet.

Likewise, French literature and art were affected by the poems of Edgar Allen Poe; the stories of William Faulkner are much appreciated in France; the famous French sculptor Antonin Mercié thought highly enough of General Robert E. Lee to create a noted statue of him (which has sadly been defaced by modern haters of all things virtuous and traditional); and there is also a great love of jazz in France, a musical style that was born in the South.

A great opportunity for a close friendship between Dixie and France was certainly missed in the War of Northern Aggression (the ‘Civil War’, 1861-5). The international politics of the time simply weren’t favorable for the consummation of such a bond between these two natural allies. Yet the potential for a lasting friendship is reflected in the burial of four Confederates in Paris: Judah P. Benjamin, John Slidell, François Le Mat, and Ambrose D. Mann.

But things, as they say, have changed: France has been ‘stabbed in the back’ by the Yankees in Washington City in the AUKUS deal; Dixie continues to have her limbs hacked apart by these same Yankees, in the sense of an attack on the South’s centuries-old culture and in the sense of her sons and daughters being blown to pieces in the Yankee wars of conquest overseas. It is understandable that France has lost faith in Yankee-dominated Washington, but we think that she will find trustworthy partners in the plain folk of the South as well as their State and local governments. Southrons have picked up a few bad habits from the Yanks, which they need to get rid of, but on the whole, the French people and their government officials will probably find us more pleasant friends than the cold, ruthless, business-minded Yankees they have often dealt with in the past.

The South has her hands out once again in friendship; we hope the French will take them this time.