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The Parts and the Whole

ISSUE:  Autumn 1938

American Regionalism: A Cultural-Historical Approach to National Interpretation. By Howard W. Odum and Harry Estill Moore. New York: Henry Holt and Company. $5.00. The Attack on Leviathan: Regionalism and Nationalism in the United States. By Donald Davidson. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. $3.00.

The two books here considered deal with regionalism both as a fact and as a program. “American Regionalism,” by Howard W. Odum and Harry Estill Moore, deals particularly with facts: in one sense it is not a book at all, but a master file in which subordinate files, to become the subject of future books, are collected. And since the most important thing about a file is a key to its contents, a brief catalogue seems the most appropriate form of treatment in presenting a review.

The first page is a collection of concepts of the region in brief definitions; a similar subsequent page collects similar concepts of regionalism. In between, the various types of regions are characterized: natural regions based on soil, topography, climate, river valleys; cultural regions based on metropolitan, rural, literary, or aesthetic unities; service regions, delineated by governmental units ranging from soil conservation to the Federal Reserve System, and private units ranging from chain stores to college athletics. These characterizations are followed by some consideration of tools for regionalism, particularly the relation of existing governmental units, such as the states, to the making and the administration of regional policy.

The second part of the book summarizes what various specialists have discovered about American regions and what some of them propose on the basis of their analysis and research: the specialists include geographers, anthropologists, ecologists, economists, political scientists, and sociologists.

The definition of a region which Messrs. Odum and Moore have worked out is: ” ‘Region’ in this volume means the composite societal region combining a relatively large degree of homogeneity measured by a relatively large number of purposes or classifications. This means it must comprehend both the natural factors and the societal factors which must, of course, include the American states and prevailing historic, economic, and culture traits.” Using groups of states and this definition as a basis, the authors have designated six major regions covering the country as a whole: the Northeast, the Middle States, the Southeast, the Northwest, the Southwest, and the Ear West. These divisions are superimposed on each of the many specialized maps that tell the American story from Average Summer Temperature to Retail Sales per Capita in 1929.

The six regions are also the chapter subjects of the last section of the book, chapters which are admittedly the weakest because in them the chartmakers attempt to turn portrait painters, and the sharpened pencil makes an inferior brush. “Driving across the great farm areas of Oklahoma or Texas . . . the sudden looming of a skyscraping building, set in the long distance, appears first as one of those beautiful mirages of this West. . . . Yet it is new reality. For the ratio of urban growth in the Southwest has been larger than that of the other regions. . . .”

The master file presented in “American Regionalism” is clearly part of the equipment of the social science laboratory at Chapel Hill of which the works of Vance, Roper, Arnett, and Kendrick, and outstandingly Mr. Odum’s own “Southern Regions of the United States,” are a part. Donald Davidson’s “The Attack on Leviathan” is just as clearly a product of the agrarian background, the milieu of “I’ll Take My Stand.” The difference is not only a difference in language—Anglo-Saxon rather than sociologese—it is a difference of attachment as contrasted with detachment.

“The Attack on Leviathan” comes from a section that once tried to go all the way to separate existence and that, conquered in the attempt, became a colony for the imperial Leviathan on the move. Regionalism, to that section, offers an opportunity to set the tradition of Turner against the tradition of Beard, and to find in regional diversity a weapon to redress the balance of power, a “usable past” on which to base a pluralism of the future. It is against this background that Mr. Davidson points out the possible divisiveness of increasing regional consciousness, and suggests that while Messrs. Odum and Moore may insist that “it must be clear that, since the very definition of regionalism implies a unifying function, it must be different from sectionalism as everywhere defined by historians,” the clarity may be greater in the laboratory than in life.

“The Attack on Leviathan” in itself illustrates this. The first two-thirds of the book suffers a little from the repetition and occasional inconsistency inevitable in a collection of essays that have previously appeared separately. Nevertheless, it contains a brilliant series of thrusts that find the weak places in Leviathan, and that, having put him out of the way, make it possible to consider not only the objectives of the war but the terms of the peace to follow. Of this group of essays, none is more successful in developing the positive content of regionalism than “Regionalism in the Arts.” In the Southern essays at the close of the book, however, Mr. Davidson on occasion shifts his attack from Leviathan to a windmill, and exhibits some of the same parochialism that he so deftly satirizes in the artist a few pages earlier. (For instance, this reviewer’s memory of the Chattanooga Conference of the Southern Policy Committee checks more closely with Mr. Daniels’s recent account, as told in “A Southerner Discovers the South,” than with Mr. Davidson’s reports.) But at its best the mood of “The Attack on Leviathan” brings forward a crucial consideration on which “American Regionalism” does not dwell at great length, yet which is central to the development of cultural pluralism in America.

If regionalism does imply a unifying function, it must of necessity include some co-ordination, some interrelation, of the indigenous, organic growth of the various regions. In the agrarian America of the founding period, patterns of life were home-made. They were locally imposed by the local community. Then the hard roads, with the telephone-telegraph poles marching beside them throwing strands of wire to left and right as they passed, diffused over the countryside a culture that came from somewhere else. Most of the youth of the community went off up the road to find where that somewhere was, and found it in a standardized metropolis. Now pluralism returns, partly as a recognized fact and a recognized value, and partly as a program against totalitarianism. In the functioning of this diversity-in-unity the social technician has an important place. But what of the relation of planning to democratic policy-making? Planning assumes a precise program made to fit a situation in which applied science has made precision prerequisite to success. It does not admit of current alternatives or of changes in the plan during its duration unless conditions materially change. Policy-making within a democracy, by contrast, assumes popular loyalty to a program to be always contingent, subject to change without notice, and assumes that current policy is nothing more nor less than the best momentarily available compromise between the groups in the field. To what extent can regional planning find a local habitation free alike of parochialism and imperialism? Only if it does so, only if a proper relationship is established between social scientists and folk, planners and politicians, is regionalism a true alternative to authoritarianism of the unitary type. Both of the books here reviewed present material pertinent to the answer.


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