The Charlotte News

Wednesday, June 21, 1939


Site Ed. Note: "Literary Critic" suggests an excursion into The Mind of the South to glean some further insight into the likes of Dave Clark and his Textile Bulletin, a figure for a type which existed:

Perhaps, however, the reader is thinking that in the case I have just been describing, and in truth in the whole development of calculation in the South, the men of industry and commerce, and probably the entire Southern people to some extent, must have finally passed over the line into true hypocrisy, so that, in the end, there was revolutionary change of a sort here.

But to suppose it would be, I think, to miss the truth. If the stamp of Babbitt was upon the new order of business men, upon the new order of ministers, the ultimate fact remains that it is not in terms of Babbitt or the Rev. Elmer Gantry that they are finally to be understood, but only in terms of the long-developing pattern of the past.

Tartarin not Tartufe, is still the true key figure. These men are simpler, more naive, less analytical than their compatriots in Babbittry at the North; they continue to be better described by that passage from Henry Adam's Education which I have quoted than by anything else. And their secret is at last the secret of that simplicity and that pervasive unreality which has always been associated with their simplicity, rather than any genuine Pecksniffery.

If they are more given to calculation than before, there is nevertheless little of downright cynicism in it. In such journals as the Textile Bulletin, in such parsons as Ham and McLendon, perhaps, but even here we must not be too sure. And for the majority, no, there is almost nothing of it. Even in their commercial chicane there is a kind of curious innocence when set against that of a Yankee captain of finance. They go about the making of money in dubious ways as boys go about stealing apples--not only without having ever once looked into or perceived but without even guessing the social implications of the case--in the high-hearted sense of being embarked upon capital sport, in the conviction that at most they are breaking the senseless rules of fusty schoolmasters.

Of the claims of society upon them they have as restricted a notion as any of their fathers in the Old South. In many ways a more restricted one, indeed; for between there lies the long story of the decay of the aristocratic ideal, a story in which this whole account of the growth of calculation in them is of course only another chapter. Morality as it is generally understood in the South in 1914--as it is commonly understood and preached by the ministers themselves--is the obligation not to break into one's neighbor's strong-box, the obligation not to commit adultery, to refrain from gambling and swearing and strong drink--the obligation, precisely, always to stand militantly for these standards, however much one may fall from them in one's personal conduct, and humbly to seek atonement for these falls. This and nothing more? Not quite.

All that I have been saying about the growth of calculation adds up, as I say, to merely another chapter in the history of the decay of the aristocratic notion of honor. Nevertheless, we should do very wrong to suppose that this notion had entirely expired. That so much is true in some fashion goes, indeed, without saying. There were many men in the South, in all classes from the scions of the old Virginians down to the small yeoman farmers, many men in industry and commerce, in whom the thing yet lived, and would go on living, a bright and vital flame, many men whose essential integrity had been but little or not at all corroded by the spirit of calculation. But, apart from these, it was possible to discover it still working strangely and deviously and intermittently in the lives and minds of exactly the men who were distinctly under the sway of the kind of calculation I have described.

Here, for example, was the master of a cotton mill, born on a great South Carolina plantation, who notoriously bilked minority stockholders in his enterprise, by using his ownership of the majority of the stock to vote himself and his sons exorbitant salaries which consumed the body of the profits--and yet might be trusted, as certainly as his father and grandfather, to repay a loan secured by nothing but his oral promise, though it cost him bankruptcy. Or here was another, infamous even in the South for his labor-sweating, a man who, having contracted his goods to Yankee merchants at a price, habitually employed cunning lawyers to break the bargain when a better price offered elsewhere--and yet a man who fiercely disowned his son for seducing a factory girl, not because there was scandal--there wasn't--not even purely because it violated his understanding of the Seventh Commandment, but also because, as he himself put it, it was the act of a cad thus to make a plaything of another human creature!

In sum, the morality which reigned in the South in 1914 was at once exceedingly narrow and fantastic. But within its limits these men were in all sincerity quite usually the sternest of moralists.

If the case is clear even in the field of commercial chicane, it is clearer yet elsewhere.

If these men were waxing always more ostentatiously religious because of the perception that it paid, it is not to be imagined that this perception was, characteristically speaking, a conscious one, or that they were not as genuinely and honestly pious as before. What they were really doing more than anything else was unconsciously contriving a bargain with Heaven, in which their assiduous performance of duties held to be pleasing to it, their ready response to the suggestion of the ministers, their raising of new and magnificent temples, should ensure its favor and both their continuance in positions they liked or their advance to positions they coveted, and their final entry into bliss.

But that very bargain itself testified to their vast removal from even the beginning of crass atheism or agnosticism--to the depth of their sincere and unstudied belief in the old Southern concept of God as the master of an earth in which every man occupied his place because He had set him there, and in the perhaps logically incompatible but always associated Southern conception that He could be dealt with, that indeed He demanded to be dealt with, on the basis of a quid for a quo. For nothing is more obvious than that men infected with any degree of doubt or cynicism concerning their faith do not either believe in or contrive such bargains.

And if, in truth, the perception of these Southerners went forward to grasp the immediate social advantages which would naturally accrue to the constant and devoted practitioner of religion in an intensely religious country--the business opportunities, the invitations to the right houses, the chances for good marriages--yet these were felt and accepted naively as merely the further natural, just, and entirely deserved rewards which Heaven vouchsafed to those who pleased it by "living right" and furnishing an exemplary model to others.

Similarly with their rising perception that the Southern status quo was admirably adapted to serve as a stage for their personal purposes. By 1914 it was an absolute axiom in the South that whoever built a factory or organized a business was ipso facto a social benefactor and a patriot of the first order. Indeed, such was the influence of the memory of the genesis of the movement, and such was the drive of the desire to further Progress, that the newspapers and other agencies of public opinion had erected a sort of tacit convention, in which they seemed to believe implicitly and which the public at large seemed to accept in the same manner, whereunder social benefaction and patriotism were the sole motives for building factories and organizing businesses!

Given that, then, and given the Southerner's native tendency to render all his impulses in terms of the highest purposes, it is easy to understand that these men would inevitably see themselves as they were represented, and translate their calculation into quite other terms--have no consciousness that it existed. Their will to maintain the status quo, as it was represented in their own feeling about it, would be simply and exactly their will to see the South go along on the road to Progress.

Nor must it be forgotten that their feeling here was itself full of reality. Almost to the last man, they were as patriotic and loyal to the South as they were pious. It was precisely these Babbitts, of course, who were building those skyscrapers in cities which had only the most dubious use for them. And who were risking their money on industrial ventures which, however calculated to bring to the towns the kind of glory they wanted, were often exceedingly questionable from the standpoint of practical business.

To say of them, as I have, that they translated their calculations into terms of patriotism is, indeed, almost to libel them. The truth is rather that calculation and patriotism, as they understood it, here moved so fully in the same direction that the latter completely absorbed and overlaid the former, to the point that it is impossible to say where the one begins and the other ends.

If they appealed to the Southern pattern, yet they appealed as men who were entirely bound within that pattern rather than as men standing without it and coolly estimating its uses. If they cried: "Yankee invasion!" against the McKelways, if they invoked Southern religion, loyalty, and individualism, yet they invoked them as one brother invokes another to hold the common bond dear. They were genuinely concerned lest the march of Progress be slowed or halted, genuinely concerned for the preservation of a pattern to which they had been born and reared.

Speaking by and large, shifty-eyed hypocrisy was the last thing to be discovered in them. They looked at you with level and proud gaze. The hallmark of their breed was identical with that of the masters of the old South--a tremendous complacency. They walked about the Southern land with the consciousness of goodness and integrity written large upon them, as men who have served God and their country well, as the Twelve Great Champions of Christendom must some time have ridden about the land of Charles, King of the Franks. (The Mind of the South, Book III, Chap. I, "Of Easing Tensions--And Certain Quiet Years", section 14)

And this:

The very passion for "Americanism" in the South was at least in great part the passion that the South should remain fundamentally unchanged. "Red perils" and "alien menaces" sound absurd enough in connection with the region--seeing that it did not have and never had had even the most minuscule radical or alien problem of its own. But then, the North had no real Red problem either, and no alien problem that called for any great excitement. Almost the sole content of immediate actuality in these phantasmagoric terrors was, as is well known, just the peril of the labor movement, to the interests, real or imagined, of the ruling classes, and particularly the possibility of a labor movement that should stand to the left of the highly conservative American Federation of Labor as shaped by Samuel Gompers, William Green, and Matthew Woll.

And when that is clear, the case of the South becomes more explicable. If the Yankee manufacturer, long accustomed to labor unions, could be so wrought upon by fears that he could without conscious hypocrisy, though of course not without the unconscious cunning of interest, see even the lumbering AFL as at least dangerously close to being Red, then it is readily comprehensible how the Southern cotton-mill baron, remembering unhappily its occasional forays into his territory, should get to see it as the flaming archangel of Moscow itself--why the organs of the Southern trade, such as the Textile Bulletin and the Manufacturers' Record, promptly set up the formula: labor organizer equals Communist organizer. (Mind, Book III, Chap. II, "Of Returning Tensions--And the Years the Cuckoo Claimed", section 16)


Literary Critic

Dave Clark Joins With The Reds To Introduce A New Principle

Dave Clark, we see by his Textile Bulletin, has turned literary critic. In a full-page editorial (reproduced elsewhere on this page today) in the current issue of his magazine, he sails into "Frank P. Graham, president of the University of North Carolina, and Paul Green, a man who lives at Chapel Hill, N.C., and writes inferior (italics ours) plays" for having "appealed to Governor Clyde Hoey to pardon the convict named Fred Beal." And argues that their interest in the case can proceed only from burning sympathy for Communists and Communism, and proceeds to insinuate that these men are Communists themselves.

But rather than that it is Dave's emergence as a literary critic that interests us. Candidly, it a little startled us at first, for it had not before occurred to us that he was an authority in the field of the bozart. And the Pulitzer Prize board--and practically the whole body of professional critics both in this country and abroad had not agreed with his verdict on Mr. Green's plays--on the contrary, had praised him as one of three or four really important living American dramatists. But then we examined into the case further, and found out what Dave was really doing was pioneering in the field, and, along with the Communists, introducing a new principle into literary criticism. Everyone knows about literary matters is aware that the Communist critics have long proceeded on the principle that any book or play written by anybody who did not agree with them completely was, in the nature of the case, a bad book or play. What Dave has done plainly is to adapt that same basis for his pronouncements on literature.

Tax History

And A Clue To Business's Cheerful Acceptance Of An Actual Tax Increase

Yesterday we hinted darkly that there was something fishy about the "tax reduction" bill which the House passed and Big Business cheered in spite of the fact that it contained an actual increase in rate over the average prevailing. We engaged to follow up today with the low-down. Here it is.

In spite of the wide distribution of equities in great American corporations, the bulk of stock is owned by comparatively few persons. Individual income taxes, which run up into the stratosphere on large incomes, are prime factor in the calculations of these persons, as they have to be. Before Roosevelt, corporations paid tax on their profits, but corporate dividends in the hands of individuals were exempt from all but surtaxes. The New Deal revised this rule and made dividends taxable as ordinary income. (This amounted to double taxation, but let that pass now.)

So, in simple self-protection, the principal owners of corporations began to let profits remain in corporate treasuries, undistributed, in order to avoid individual income taxes. But the New Deal perceived this strategem and enacted the undistributed profits tax, which soaked corporations that didn't pay out their earnings in dividends so that individuals would have to pay the super taxes upon them. The New Deal, you see, got 'em either going or coming.

This tax, however, had an unlooked for fact. It penalized small debt-burdened businesses which couldn't afford to turn over profits nor could afford to retain them and pay the other taxes. Congress heard the polls and repealed all but a vestige of the undistributed profits tax [indiscernible word] even that only to corporations which earned more then $25,000 a year.

But the [indiscernible words] corporations which earn more then $25,000 a year, and so what was left of the tax was still irksome to large stockholders in large corporations. Not so irksome as it had been, you understand, but still irksome and still a symbol of the New Deal's evil intentions toward Big Business. Congress, obligingly, is about to repeal it altogether, raising the average tax rate in corporate incomes, to be sure, but freeing directors of corporations from an onus in not paying out dividends and thus exposing profits which belong to all the stockholders, large and small, to higher-than-need-be taxes.

Under the new law, the Board of Directors of a corporation, craving to avoid individual taxation, may vote to retain any or all of its profits without subjecting the corporation's income to a tax penalty. Consequently, they are willing--nay, eager--to submit to a rate that is higher than the average now prevailing but which will not increase accordingly as they may let profits lie. That and, we say, the yen to make the New Deal eat crow.


Quibbles About Shades Of The Law Won't Settle This Question

For the Public Weal's general purpose in inquiring into costs at the Mecklenburg County Sanatorium, we have full approval. But it seems to us that they are merely quibbling when they turn to trying to find some microscopic hole in the law which makes it illegal for Mr. Harkey to act as County Purchasing Agent. The latest public-local law which applies says quite plainly that "the chairman shall... act as purchasing agent for all supplies required to be purchased by the Board of County Commissioners." And the mere fact that some anterior--or, for that matter, posterior--general law required the Commissioners to "designate some competent person" for the job, does not appear, to the lay eye, at least, to have anything to do with it.

As we have said before, this whole question plainly deserves the most thorough going into. But the way to do it is not by chasing Fata Morganas which would certainly lead endlessly through the courts, but by having some properly authorized public agency go directly after the facts. Two questions are to be answered: Does it actually, as the Weal has complained, cost $17,000 a year more to provide food, laundry, fuel, and light for an equal number of patients at the Mecklenburg Sanatorium then at the State Sanatorium at Black Mountain? And if so, why?

About what agency should be called upon to make the inquiry we are not quite sure. But lacking another, there is always the grand jury, within whose jurisdiction we believe such an inquiry would rightly fall.


Judge Chestnut Is Right; Many People Will Marvel

Said Federal Judge Calvin Chestnut in passing sentence on the former Federal Judge Manton yesterday in New York:

"In view of the nature of this case, as disclosed by the evidence, even the maximum sentence may seem inadequate to some of the public."

So it will. It can be said, certainly, that the Judge, a vain man and long a rich one, will be punished in the way that no common man can be punished--by the loss of his great dignity as the tenth ranking Judge of the United States--the highest below the Supreme Court--by his disgrace--by his status as a felon, which involves even the loss of his citizenship. Nevertheless, this tenth ranking Judge of the land accepted bribes of nearly half a million dollars for the sale of justice in his court--struck at the very foundation of the national faith and the integrity and fairness of the courts. And for that he got two years and a fine of $10,000, (which, it appears, he can pay, and so escape further prison service on that account). Moreover, he is a shrewd and learned man, and there is the long course of appeal and delay ahead. And to that may be added that, though some of the little go-betweens have been convicted, not one of the rich and powerful corporations which paid the bribes has even been indicted.

We have known Negroes and common whites who drew as long a period in prison as the judge has drawn simply for stealing $20 worth of chickens. And others who drew two or three times as much for breaking into some little grocery store and carrying off a few groceries. And more often than not even the man who steals only a loaf of bread to feed his hungry children cannot count on going off as scot-free as have the bribe-givers here. Judge Chestnut, who, of course, did the best he could under the laws as written, is right. The [indiscernible words] of the public will wonder if this punishment is adequate--if this sentence represents a punishment and [indiscernible words]--if it is calculated to impress the common people with the feeling that justice is dispensed in the land with a rigidly even hand.


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