Nota Bene: This essay was written my second semester of university. In this time I wasn’t a Christian and hadn’t been exposed to many different ideas and cultures. 2018 Michael would have written a very different essay. That being said, 2003 Michael is still worth studying. 2003 Michaels still exist in the South. I am proof they are willing and able to enter into discourse and change their minds if we give them the chance. May God make it so!
Cannibals All! is often best known as a book in argument for slavery and the slave-society which was prevalent in the South during the two centuries before the American Civil War. As such, it is often read in disgust and seen as radical ramblings from a racist Southerner. However, I believe Cannibals All! brings to light a variety of topics which are still relevant in discussions concerning the South, its culture, and its place in the modern world and the United States of today. An analysation of George Fitzhugh’s Cannibals All! or Slaves Without Masters, chapter six, will show Fitzhugh’s disgust of cultural centralism and his favourable feelings towards Southern independence.
Cultural centralism is the tendency, under a free market economy, for one city to become the centre of thought and expert on qualities of behaviour and products considered to be most desirable in that market. In Fitzhugh’s day, yea, even to some extent in the modern world, Paris was/is that cosmopolitan centre. Only behaviour and products having linked themselves to the city of Paris were considered desirable or “cultured” as many like to say. “Nothing is right unless it be à la Parisienne” (60). In Fitzhugh’s eye this was a very dangerous tendency of free market capitalism. “The worst effect of free trade is that it begets centres of opinion, thought, and fashion, robs men of their nationality, and impairs their patriotism by teaching them to ape foreign manners, affect foreign dress and opinions, and despise what is domestic” (57-58). This was most definitely true. No noble Virginian or Georgian plantation owner would entertain wearing local clothing, though the local variant was of much better quality and value. The use of dialectic Southern English grammar was not permitted in the literature of the day nor in the halls of governance. Paris was the “universal model and grammar of Christendom” (60).
And so it is today. Southerners are raised learning through the television and the established education system that the Southern grammar and pronunciation of the English language are wrong, even uneducated and inferior to the various other dialects of the language. Southern fashion, values, and culture are seen and taught to be “old-fashioned” and “conservative”. All people wishing to succeed in the modern market economy of the world and especially the United States must drop their “Southerness” and conform to cosmopolitan culture and values.
Fitzhugh observed that the nature of people living in a market economy was to conform to the cultural centre, and he found this to be a most undesirable effect. “Trade and fashion conquer faster than arms,” he thought (60). In this light Fitzhugh has been proven true. What the cannons and troops of the industrial North could not do, her cultural centres, the large cities, have done. The South has been conquered. And with this conquerisation, says Fitzhugh, comes the end to genius and innovation. For, when there is only one centre to thought, one centre to opinion, one centre to what is correct and “cultured,” originality is ceased and genius is subdued, society no longer moves forwards; “Christendom” is dead.
From his views on cultural centralism Fitzhugh draws his tendency to support, at least in a limited way, Southern independence. Fitzhugh argues that, “we must unfetter genius to secure true progress (60). We must build up centres of trade, of thought, and fashion at home. We must become national, nay, provincial, and cease to be imitative cosmopolitans. We must, especially, have good colleges and universities, where young men may learn to admire their homes, not to despise them” (58-59). In Fitzhugh’s opinion the South must become independent in culture and fashion and quite possibly in governance to secure innovation and the continuance of “Christendom”.
In his mind the Latin nations of Europe (France, Spain and Italy) are prime examples of why the South must secure her independence of thought and culture. Fitzhugh finds that because of the centralisation of thought, the Latin nations no longer have art of their own, but rather continue to be bound by the art of the past. They no longer innovate, but rather continue in the traditions of old, making copy after copy of art that has already been made, each copy worse than the last. These nations, “though possessed of [the] genius,” have had no Shakespeare, no art to call their own (61). They continue forwards, or rather backwards, with the past. “Now the world has no art, but basely copies the past” (63).
Fitzhugh says that there should be measure in all things. Est modus in rebus. He wants the past to be studied as long as societies are careful not to copy it. He believes travel abroad to be a good thing as long as it is done after “age has matured your love and respect for your native land” because if travel is done before a love of home has been established one will learn to love the culture abroad and will return home only to try and change home to be more like abroad (64). However, he finds all of this very hard to do under a free market economic system, especially when your home is not independent.
Through careful study of the sixth chapter of George Fitzhugh’s Cannibals All! or Slaves Without Masters it can clearly be seen that he was against the centralisation of culture through free market economies and for the independence of the South. It is ironic that after over a hundred and fifty of it’s writing Cannibals All! still holds many relevant points for the modern Southerner. It is in no doubt that the issues discussed by Fitzhugh will continue to be the centre of much heated debate in the coming years. It is my hope, as I’m sure it was Fitzhugh’s hope, that the South finds answers to the problems presented in Fitzhugh’s book and others like it.
“We shall defend our rights.”