Two States

Rise of the Stoics

August 21, 2015

Multiple Pages
Rise of the Stoics

God bless the South.

As a Pennsylvania-born descendant of loyalists, I can’t say that enough.

From resisting tariffs to the Civil War to desegregation, the South has been a thorn in the side of the federal government for almost two centuries. I don’t, of course, condone slavery or Jim Crow, but I admire the spirit of resistance in the name of preserving a way of life. So I couldn’t help but smile and nod in approval when I read that certain counties in the South are refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Nearly two months ago, the Supreme Court, in the Obergefell decision, thrusted gay marriage upon the land. It was a long time coming, as modern America no longer recognizes the need for well-defined limits on personal autonomy. Liberals and libertarians welcomed the decision. Conservatives of a faithful bent were dismayed. The country they knew and loved had changed dramatically in the course of almost ten years.

“It’s a good rule of thumb that if you’re pissing off the Southern Poverty Law Center, you’re doing something right.”

The American South, which Flannery O’Conner famously described as “hardly Christ-centered” but “most certainly Christ-haunted,” isn’t settling for the new commandment rendered by five black-robed autocrats. Rather, many folks are fighting back. They aren’t throwing the money changers out of the temple (Fort Sumter already proved the futility of such a task) but are turning the other cheek.

An investigation from BuzzFeed News found “more than a dozen counties in which local government officials either refuse to solemnize marriages or refuse to issue marriage licenses entirely.” The prohibition on licenses isn’t just for gay couples, either. It’s an across-the-board freeze on government recognition of the sacred bond. In other words, it’s nullification without the messiness of triggering a domestic war.

The crybaby race hustlers at the Southern Poverty Law Center are incensed by the tactic. “The reason they don’t want to issue license[s] at all is because [of] anti-gay bias or a belief in traditional marriage,” said Scott McCoy, a lawyer with the hatemongering organization. It’s a good rule of thumb that if you’re pissing off the SPLC, you’re doing something right.

It’s an open question as to how long county officials can refuse to issue marriage licenses. The cultural tide is no doubt on the side of the lefty nihilists who seek to overturn the old order of things. In a society with its head on straight, there would be no debate over gay marriage. Even Oscar Wilde never went as far as to call for queer matrimony. That homosexual marriage is now firm policy in America shows just how decadent and amoral we as a people have become.

So what’s left to do besides push back? Those brave counties in the South are following the maxim of the counterculture hippies of yore: Turn on, tune in, drop out. Except they aren’t dropping acid. Instead, they are refusing to participate in a sexual culture hell-bent on forgetting the lessons learned two millennia ago.

In many ways, this attitude is representative of what Walker Percy called Southern stoicism. Stoics of the 20th-century South resisted federal intrusion into daily life as a way of preserving a culture regarded as archaic and ill-fitting by the Northern political class. In his essay “Stoicism in the South,” Percy writes about how upper-class whites were once protectors of the rights of blacks—the most symbolic example being Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision wrestled this duty away from the aristocracy and transferred it to the federales. Lee actually explores the complications of the Court’s decision in her newly released (but composed previous to her landmark novel) Go Set a Watchman. In the book, Finch calls the Brown decision “the Supreme Court’s bid for immortality”—not a far-off description of Obergefell.

Percy was careful to separate Southern stoicism from Christianity. Where the Stoic watched carefully over the rights of the underclass, he did so not out of love for human dignity but to retain heritage and tradition passed down from before. Christianity actually welcomed integration of public schools. “The Christian is optimistic precisely where the Stoic is pessimistic,” Percy wrote. With the forcing of same-sex marriage on the nation, it appears now that even Christian Southerners are forced to push back on federal overreach.

Nonparticipation is one of the few remedies left to take in a country where majoritarian impulses rule. As public life becomes secularized, faith is forced into private life. As much as I admire the social cohesion that defines a country and its people, it’s becoming increasingly clear that in America, anyone with a conservative Christian mind-set is no longer welcome to express their views. The only course of action left to take is a retreat in the form of opting out.

Thus, the one worthwhile option for conservatives looking to uphold their sincerely held beliefs is to strategically drop back from engaging in certain parts of public life. It’s already happening across the country. Bakers are closing up shop after being pressured to prepare cakes for same-sex weddings. More parents are choosing to homeschool their kids instead of sending them to public schools that teach gender fluidity. And now county officials—actual government employees—are refusing to abide by the government’s dictate on gay marriage.

The American South is normally regarded as the backwards part of the country. But on the topic of government resistance, those down-home, deep-fried, Christ-believin’ folks are well ahead of the rest of the nation.

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