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PROSLAVERY EXTREMISM GOES TO WAR: THE COUNTERREVOLUTIONARY CONFEDERACY AND REACTIONARY MILITARISM*

  • ROBERT E. BONNER (a1)
Abstract

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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Drew Gilpin Faust , “A Southern Stewardship: The Intellectual and the Proslavery Argument,” American Quarterly 31 (1979), 6380

Louis Hartz , “The Reactionary Enlightenment: Southern Political Thought before the Civil War,” Western Political Quarterly 5 (1952), 3150

James Turner , “Did the Old South have a Mind of Its Own?MIH 2 (2005), 121–33

Robert E. Bonner , “Ordering Southern Thought,” Reviews in American History 33 (2005), 5463

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese , The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders’ World View (New York, 2005)

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese , Slavery in White and Black: Class and Race in Southern Slaveholders’ New World Order (New York, 2008)

Darrin M. McMahon , “The Counter-Enlightenment and the Low-Life of Literature in Pre-Revolutionary France,” Past and Present 159 (1998), 77112

David Bates , “Political Theology and the Nazi State: Carl Schmitt's Concept of the Institution,” MIH 3 (2006), 415–42

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Modern Intellectual History
  • ISSN: 1479-2443
  • EISSN: 1479-2451
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-intellectual-history
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