In “I’ll Take My Stand: The Relevance of the Agrarian Vision,” originally published in 1980 in Virginia Quarterly Review and re-published online in 2003, the critic Lucinda H. Mackethan writes about “a group of Southern Americans profoundly disturbed by the lack of humane values operating in their world.” She was referring to the contributing authors in the Southern classic I’ll Take My Stand, a small group of perhaps overly nostalgic academics, poets, and critics who looked on a Northern-dominated, heavily industrial country with disdain. But in that phrase, she could have been writing about a lot of modern Southerners, from gun-loving ultra-conservative neophobes to the Gen-Xers who’ve started organic CSAs, letterpress shops, and microbreweries.
Though I had known about I’ll Take My Stand as one of the classics of Southern studies, I hadn’t taken the time to read it until recent years. A weathered copy of a 1977 edition with a preface by Louis D. Rubin, Jr. fell into my hands, and I admittedly let it sit a while before I took it on. This collection of Southern “agrarian” essays has been regarded by some readers as the quaint visions of some hopeless romantics and by other readers as a group of diatribes that are basically racist and elitist in their Depression-era conservatism. By picking and choosing passages, a critical reader could justify either those perspectives.