Paul Greenberg

To quote Lord Acton (and why not - everybody else does, and it gives a mere newspaper column a certain faux-scholarliness), exile is the nursery of nationalism. I have no doubt that there are Delawareans who are much more Southern than the general run of Southerners, just as some of the most fervent Zionists I've ever met are American Jews who prefer to practice their ideology at a safe remove. See George Orwell's "Notes on Nationalism" for other such examples. (Or his essay on almost any subject for that matter. He's a master of clear prose-and clear thinking. But I repeat myself. Writing is thinking.)

John Shelton Reed, the Tocqueville of Dixie, has written quite a bit about the marginal Southerner. (He uses words like "marginality" when he's being sociologist-serious rather than just plain insightful and funny as all get-out, which I'd like to think is also a Southern trait.) Anyway, according to Dr. Reed, marginality tends to intensify ethnic/regional identity. Or in plain Suthuhn, there's nothing like being a ways from home to make a man appreciate it.

The thesis of one of John Reed's more statistic-laden studies, "The Social Psychology of Sectionalism," is that Southern regional consciousness "is heightened (1) by urban upbringing and residence, (2) by education, (3) by exposure to the national mass media, and (4) by travel and residence outside the South."

In short, the farther we are from our roots, the more conscious of them we become.

Dr. Reed could have been describing all the authors of "I'll Take My Stand," the classic manifesto of the Southern Agrarians in the 1930s, which was essentially the work of urban academics and intellectuals.

Or he could have cited Richard Weaver, the Southern prophet and elegist. (For what is a prophet but one who urges his listeners to return to the truer ways of the past?) Richard Weaver spent his academic career teaching rhetoric at that great Southern institution, the University of Chicago. Go figure. It is not a simple thing, Southernness. But you know it when it's not there, as in Joe Biden.

A Southerner manque like Sen. Biden can be as amusing as the real thing, but only unintentionally. By all means, let's cut the senator from the great little (and I'm sure quite decent) state of Delaware some slack. He may not be a Southerner, but his attempt to pass himself off as one shows commendable ambition.

Hurry back,

Inky Wretch

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.