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The Southern Agrarians (also known as the Vanderbilt Agrarians or Nashville Agrarians) were a group of twelve American writers and poets with roots in the Southern United States who joined together to publish an agrarian manifesto, a collection of essays entitled I'll Take My Stand in 1930.
The Southern Agrarians formed an important conservative branch of American populism, and contributed to the revial of Southern literature in the 1920s and 1930s known as the Southern Renaissance. They were mostly based out of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Southern Agrarians included:
- Donald Davidson
- John Gould Fletcher
- Henry Blue Kline
- Lyle H. Lanier
- Andrew Nelson Lytle
- Herman Clarence Nixon
- Frank Lawrence Owsley
- John Crowe Ransom
- Allen Tate
- John Donald Wade
- Robert Penn Warren
- Richard M. Weaver
- Stark Young
The Agrarians evolved from a philosophical discussion group known as the "Fugitives" or "Fugitive Poets". Their studies of poetic modernism and of H. L. Mencken's stinging critique of Southern culture led them to confront the effect of modernity on Southern culture and tradition. The informal leader of the Fugitives and the Agrarians was John Crowe Ransom, though he formally repudiated agrarianism in a 1945 essay. The most eloquent exponent of the Agrarian philosophy eventually proved to be Ransom's student and Donald Davidson's friend, Richard M. Weaver. Unlike the others, Weaver taught at a Northern institution, the University of Chicago.
The Agrarians bemoaned the loss of traditional Southern culture. Their manifesto was an attack on modern industrial America. It posited an alternate direction based on a return to traditional American values.
Seward Collins, editor of The American Review, which published some essays by Agrarians in 1933, praised Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler for thwarting a communist revolution in Germany. In 1936, however, Allen Tate published a critique of fascism in The New Republic, to distance the Agrarians from Collins.
Robert Penn Warren eventually emerged as the most accomplished of the Agrarians, but he also largely repudiated their views. He became a major American poet and novelist, winning the Pulitzer Prize for his 1946 All the King's Men. He acted as a mentor to the African-American author Ralph Ellison, among many others in his career, and supported him for awards and memberships in prestigious cultural organizations. Warren left the Agrarians behind as his political and social views evolved, particularly his liberal political philosophy and support for racial integration.
I'll Take My Stand was originally criticized as a reactionary and romanticized defense of the Old South. It was viewed as little more than nostalgia. In recent years, scholars such as Carlson, Scotchie, Genovese and others have taken a second look at this book, in light of the problems of modern industrial society and its effect on the human condition and the environment.
Today, the Southern Agrarians are lauded regularly in the pro-South Southern Partisan. Their philosophy has been refined and updated by scholars such as Allan C. Carlson and the writer Wendell Berry. It has been explored in books published by ISI Books, the book imprint of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
Many of the Southern Agrarians and Fugitive poets were connected to Vanderbilt University, either as students or as faculty members. Davidson, Lytle, Ransom, Tate, and Warren all attended the university; Davidson and Ransom later joined the faculty, along with Owsley.
- Bingham, Emily, and Thomas A Underwood, eds., 2001. The Southern Agrarians and the New Deal: Essays After I'll Take My Stand.
- Carlson, Allan, 2004. The New Agrarian Mind: The Movement Toward Decentralist Thought in Twentieth-Century America.
- Morton, Clay, 2007. "Southern Orality and 'Typographic America': I'll Take My Stand Reconsidered" in Themes of Conflict in the Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Literature of the American South.
- Murphy, Paul V., 2001. The Rebuke of History: The Southern Agrarians and American Conservative Thought.
- Scotchie, Joseph, "Agrarian Valhalla: The Vanderbilt 12 and Beyond" Southern Events.
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