The South as a culture of honor

I’ve been reading and thinking about the differences among American regional cultures, and especially the difference between the culture or cultures of the South and the culture of the New England Yankees.

I believe that one reason for the clash is that the South is predominantly a culture of honor and the Yankee culture is predominantly a culture of virtue.

David Blight

The other day my e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a link to the text of a lecture by David Blight, a history professor at Yale, that is an excellent discussion of this.   I link to it today.

A culture of honor teaches you to behave in a way that people are forced to respect you.   A culture of virtue teaches you to follow moral rules no matter what people think.

These are not polar opposites.  An honorable person and a virtuous person will do the same things most of the time.   But a person of honor will not tolerate an insult or a slight that a person of virtue might shrug off.   A person of honor will usually put loyalty to kindred over loyalty to principle.

When I write of the culture of the South, I mean specifically the white people of the South.  But I think the African-American culture is, in its own way, also a culture of honor.

I think the honor vs. virtue conflict is at the heart of the dispute about statues of Confederate generals.  The argument is that the Confederate generals represented a cause that is objectively bad, and therefore they should not be honored.

Southern white people dispute this version of history, but I don’t think it is predominantly an argument over historical fact.   For white Southerners, the statues are a symbol of ethnic pride, and the people who want to tear down the statues are attacking them personally.

What I would like to see is the Confederate statues gradually replaced by statues of great Southerners who were noted for something else besides fighting for slavery.


The Southern Memory of the Civil War by Prof. David Blight for Open Yale Courses.


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