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Historic Southern sense of honour

November 27, 2012

As we have demonstrated on this site, Southern culture and identity sprang from an agrarian, plantation-based civilisation that once stretched from Brazil to Delaware. This was entirely different in numerous cultural, demographic, political and religious respects from the civilisation which developed in New England and the North. The Art of Manliness website recently published a lengthy, interesting and well-researched article on one of the major differences between Southern and Northern society – the understanding of honour. Brett and Kate McKay write for ArtOfManliness.com:

While honor in the North evolved during the 19th century away from the ideals of primal honor and towards a private, personal quality synonymous with “integrity,” the South held onto the tenets of traditional honor for a much longer period of time.

Unlike the Northern code of honor, which emphasized emotional restraint, moral piety, and economic success, the Southern honor code in many ways paralleled the medieval honor code of Europe — combining the reflexive, violent honor of primitive man with the public virtue and chivalry of knights.

The code of honor for Southern men required having: 1) a reputation for honesty and integrity, 2) a reputation for martial courage and strength, 3) self-sufficiency and “mastery,” defined as patriarchal dominion over a household of dependents (wife/children/slaves), and 4) a willingness to use violence to defend any perceived slight to his reputation as a man of integrity, strength, and courage, as well as any threats to his independence and kin. Just as in medieval times, “might made right” in the American South. If a man could physically dominate or kill someone who accused him of dishonesty, that man maintained his reputation as a man of integrity (even if the accusations were in fact true).

Anthropologists and social psychologists believe this form of classical honor survived and thrived in the American South and died in the North because of cultural differences between their respective early settlers, as well as the North’s and South’s divergent economies.

Click here for the full article

Also see: Dueling & a culture of honour, Manliness, honour & dueling and Honour, violence & civilisation

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