As the country moves closer to another presidential election this fall we are left to ponder, whither America? The industrial age gravely wounded the republic; the post industrial age, the age of technology, may see the republic’s burial. Arguably the technocratic age was ushered in when the United States developed and used the atomic bomb against the Japanese. The French writer and thinker, Georges Bernanos described this event as, “The triumph of technique over reason.” And so it was and has been to the present. The rapid pace of technological innovation has called into question the very idea of a unique human nature. Like the splitting of the atom, genetic engineering seems to have accomplished C.S. Lewis’s character Screwtape’s hellish nightmare of the marriage between the sorcerer and the rationalist. We are told that technology will banish hunger, eradicate disease, allow us to be masters of our destiny—promises as old as the Serpent himself. Can technique and technology, however, be the sole or even primary foundation for a humane culture, a civilized society?
The foregoing question is rarely addressed let alone asked. If the curtain is peeled back from the marvels of our day what do we find? Information technology has so transformed the financial markets that even experienced brokers and investors liken Wall Street to a rigged casino. Agri-business firms have acted with callous viciousness towards farmers who have wanted no part of their genetically modified seed. Such businesses are not above supporting greater political consolidation to protect their markets and destroy their competition. For example the modest market share achieved by organic and sustainable farms is under constant assault by corporate agriculture and their minions in Congress. The banker bailouts, of course, are of the same species and deserve little comment given their infamy. The evils of economic and political consolidation, now referred to as globalization, are inspired by the seven deadly sins, as such consolidations have always been so inspired.
It would be tempting to present the South as the great fortress that has withstood the assault of these tendencies, but alas this was never wholly true. Our region has produced its fair share of homegrown rent-seekers, satanic mill boosters, numbskulls, petty tyrants and “progressives” of all stripes. We may have sired fewer people who believe God has given them a right to order the lives of their neighbors, but sire some we have. Nevertheless, we have also sired more sons and daughters who have been and still are the deadly enemies of the busybody and the would-be totalitarian. We have thinkers, and poets, and scholars who are concerned with the “permanent things” and their vital and necessary connection to a civilized and humane society. I am deeply grateful that some of these folks have contributed to this issue of Arator.
This issue’s contributions cover the fields of history, literature, political science, and poetry. What holds this wonderful variety of scholarship and poetry together is the wonderful vision of a human life and society that is more than a sum of techniques. Dr. D. Jonathan White’s piece speaks of the prudence and sage defense undertaken by Rhode Island and North Carolina in the period of their independence. Dr. Kyle Scott offers to us humility as a chief political virtue, and as a necessary antidote to the hubris of today’s politics. Dr. Jack Trotter examines the important social thought of South Carolina’s William Gilmore Simms, a man deeply concerned with the great questions. The Jefferson Davis scholar, Felicity Allen, has provided the first six edited letters of Jefferson Davis, each of which provide an example of a man whose dignity and grace in defeat and intense trial speaks well of both the man and the society that produced him. The other letters will appear in future issues of Arator. Finally the eminent poet, David Middleton, has graced us with verse that celebrates the culture and mores of people who belong to a certain time and actual place, and who live the virtues in the breath and movement of their simple and profoundly meaningful lives. From each of these works we see how the virtues, both the lesser and greater, are so necessary for the right ordering of man and his society. And this teaching, this cause for hope, which echoes down to us through the centuries, is among the best things the Southern tradition bequeaths to us.