Recent scholarship on Southern intellectual history has tended to minimize the importance of America's most reactionary defenders of bondage. This essay revisits the significance of proslavery extremists by attending to how George Fitzhugh and a group of fellow polemicists legitimated Confederate authoritarianism during the early 1860s. By joining together as avowed counterrevolutionaries during a period of rapid change, these publicists vindicated force and “institutionalism” as an alternative to the American founders' commitment to consensual government and equal political rights. Conjuring up sweeping historical vistas and developing a modish vocabulary of organic social development helped these popular essayists gain a hearing for their strikingly frank hostility towards popular government. In their growing attention to martial themes, they forecast an impending transition within Southern authoritarianism. As emancipation made earlier proslavery efforts obsolete, the enduring affinity for martial principles among Southern conservatives demonstrated the prescience of those writers who first recast an emphasis on racial domination into an even broader species of reactionary militarism.
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