An absolutely superb book. Weaver spells out in great detail the contours and complexities of the intellectual life of the South from Reconstruction to the early 20th century, a period that saw southerners trying to make sense of why they had just fought one of the most destructive wars in history, and what their defeat meant for their place in the once-again United States of America, as well as the modern world, generally. Weaver’s exploration of these attempts does the classic job of spelling out the logic and ends of that genus of conservatism native to the American South, in ways that are still very useful today, as we still struggle to understand the significant sectional differences in our country. In many ways this continues to be essential reading for those interested in how and why American politics continues to hit roadblocks, and continues to be based in the side-by-side articulation of two largely incompatible ways of political, social, economic, and moral thinking.
Weaver’s book is based on synthesis and analysis, and not critique, and this can be jarring to the modern reader accustomed to political writings that try to present a particular viewpoint as the viewpoint, while destroying all others as problematic, at best. This is perhaps most clearly illustrated in Weaver’s neutral presentation of Southern racial thinking–a symptom of both Weaver’s approach, and the time in which he was writing this, the early 1940s. But despite such frustrations and trepidations, Weaver’s central argument is still sound and compelling: the Old South was a place of real complexity, nuance, and intellectual vitality that provides us with a different version of what America could be. When placed into juxtaposition with modernity, we begin to see flaws in both modernity and the Old South. The fifty or so years after the Civil War showed us a people thinking through the ramifications of this juxtaposition, and we can still find things of value and challenge in visiting their thinking. Weaver avoids all romantic presentation of the South, Old or New, and that is to his credit.