Superfluous Southerners: Cultural Conservatism and the South 1920-1990

By John J. Langdale III | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Southern Conservatism and Its Discontents:
M. E. Bradford and the Modern American Right

During the winter of 1966, erstwhile Agrarian Donald Davidson wrote admiringly to a former pupil concerning his recent scholarship on American culture. With excitement, Davidson noted that the young scholar was “picking up where Richard Weaver left off when heart failure took him away” three years ago. Prior to his untimely death at age fifty-three, Weaver, a tireless defender of southern culture, had labored ceaselessly to translate Agrarianism into a broader vision of cultural conservatism which might, among other things, substantiate its relevance to the ascendant post-World War II American Right. “One of the greatest benefits Weaver did the cause,” Davidson insisted, “was in the matter of vocabulary—in redefining or rightly defining words that have been stolen from their proper meaning.” In this, Davidson noted, Weaver provided “conservatives some weapons” against the effort to “politicize our culture.”1 In his veneration of Weaver as a guardian of the written word, Davidson was essentially affirming him as a man of letters who endeavored to preserve the integrity of language in an intellectual climate typified by what Julien Benda once described as the “treason of the intellectuals.” In Davidson’s view, Weaver’s successor in this noble effort was the literary scholar and cultural conservative M. E. Bradford.

Born in Texas in 1934, Mel Bradford attended the University of Oklahoma and received a doctorate in English from Vanderbilt University where he studied under Davidson. In many respects, Bradford resembled his mentor as much as he did Richard Weaver. Bradford’s life approximated the ideal of the southern writer that Davidson elaborated in his contribution to the Agrarian manifesto I’ll Take My Stand. In his essay “A Mirror for Artists,” Davidson had

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