It is out of fashion in these days to look backward rather than forward. About the
only American given to it is the Southerner, who persists in his regard for a certain terrain, a
certain history, and a certain inherited way of living. He is punished as his crime deserves.
He feels himself in the American scene as an anachronism, and knows he is felt by his neighbors
as a reproach.
Of course, he is a tolerably harmless reproach. He is like some quaint local character of eccentric
but fixed principles who is thoroughly and almost pridefully accepted by the village as a rare
exhibit in the antique kind. His position is secure from the interference of the police, but it is of
a rather ambiguous dignity.
These opening paragraphs are taken from John Crowe Ransom's "Reconstructed But
Unregenerate" included in I'll Take My Stand by Twelve Agrarians. He is referring
Southerner, but it would be a close step to replace Southerner
with working class white today.
This exercise of replacement is not appropriate throughout the entire piece, as I would not argue
that working class whites wish to reestablish a more European system, yet the idea of
one cultural group with different belief systems operates within the larger American social
is handled in a manner that is insightful and surprisingly accurate even today.
Ransom argues that "Progress never defines its ultimate objective"(8). This American
characteristic has permeated the personality of America. The ideal American is always
searching forward, changing, inventing and progressing. Yet this is not at the core of the
working class whites system of values. Their system is one of stability, adaption to natural
environs and the existence of moral absolutes. The progressive life is one that is constantly fluid,
where all is relative and there is little time for community, kinship and loyalty.
This progressive system is not desirable within the paradigm of the working class white. And
the fact is,
mainstream Americans doubt the value of the progressive system as well. The world of "white
trash" or "good
country folk" is alternately used by outsiders as one of derision or nostalgia. As we have seen in
the media section, the mainstream
often looks to the working white culture when it begins to have doubts about the present state of
society. Particularly when government appears to make immoral choice (during the Nixon era and
the Vietnam war), there is a desire to reassure the goodness of Americans by characterizing working class
whites as the backbone of the country, with honest, simple values.
America is quickly losing the regional distinctiveness of the South through their race for
progress. Society is demoralizing the working man through typecasting as rednecks
hillbilly's. Yet America may be destroying a part of itself that should have been explored
to. The man who represents lack of formal education, hard physical labor, kinship loyalty and
traditional lifestyles is being trampled upon because of the guilt and questioning which his
existence creates in the world of progress, business and affluence that America is now so
Ransom describes the battle between agrarian and industrial thus:
The industrialists have a doctrine which is monstrous, but they are not monsters
personally; they are forward-lookers with nice manners, and no American progressivist is against
them. The farmers are boorish and inarticulate by comparison. Progressivism is against them
in their fight, though their traditional status is still so strong that soft words are still spoken to
them. All the solutions recommended for their difficulties are really enticements held out to
them to become a little more cooperative, more mechanical, more mobile--in short, a little more
industrialized. But the farmer who is not a mere laborer...is necessarily among the more stable
and less progressive elements of society. He refuses to mobilize himself and become a unit in
industrial army, because he does not approve of army life.
This is a model of the relationship still functioning today
between the mainstream
of American society and working class white culture. Though most are no longer farmers,
they retain a sense of rural values. And to complicate the matter further, the rural ideal is often the
dream of the working class white. They do not
desire to be partners in a law firm, or to obtain a graduate school education; they would like to
own land, not always live hand to mouth, have security in health care and be out of the cities and
factories. Much of
their frustration and anger comes from the fact that this is seldom an option. There is only so
much land available, and it is outrageously priced. There are only so many jobs in agriculture,
wildlife and fisheries, or ranching; and these now require college degrees.
So those working class whites who do not own land within their families are forced by progress,
industrialization, and the incorporation of America into the most dehumanizing of jobs -- mill
workers, unions, factories, refineries and the service industry. It is this situation that results in
many of the typical characteristics of the angry white male.