Anniston Star publisher H. Brandt Ayers’s explores “the making of a Southern liberal” in his new memoir, In Love with Defeat. To some, a “Southern liberal” might be an oxymoron, something Ayers discusses in his book and that two new reviews of In Love with Defeat have picked up on.
In a review that aired on North Carolina Bookwatch, D.G. Martin points out that Ayers’s “progressive views set him apart from many of his fellow Southerners, whose culture and basic values he respects and shares. At the same time, this attachment to his Southern heritage sets him apart from non-Southerners who share his basic political views but cannot understand his attachment to the positive features of Southern culture.”
It is this dichotomy that Edwin Yoder also notes in a Weekly Standard review, that “as the great historian C. Vann Woodward taught us, the South is incurably peculiar—’un-American’ in the sense that its scarred history often negates the nation’s positive myths of victory and optimism. Its collective identity is marked by atypical experiences of poverty, defeat, and racial evil. … What Ayers means by a love of defeat is that his political and cultural tribe of Southern liberals (impatient with Jim Crow and bent on overthrowing its evils) were born to incompleteness.”
As an example, Yoder cites the formation of the L. Q. C Lamar Society by Ayers and others, intending to preserve the South’s cultural legacy while attracting new business opportunities to the South. They were ultimately overwhelmed, as Ayers describes in In Love with Defeat, by progress that eroded Southern culture; Ayers compares the thoroughly modern Atlanta to Charleston and Savannah that still preserve the Southern aesthetic.
Martin spotlights the end of Ayers’s book, in which the author “is still caught between his liberal leanings and his identification with Southerners who do not share those views. … Maybe it is a tough puzzle to understand, but [as] former Mississippi Gov. William Winter says, Ayers comes ‘as close to explaining who we Southerners are and why we act as we do,'” even if that explanation comes in the form of recognizing the contradictions inherit in the Southern identity.
Writes Yoder, “Brandt Ayers is one of those notable heirs of the knight of La Mancha, resolved to better his world, heedless of cynicism. If this was in some ways an impossible dream, he stuck to his mission, and Anniston, Alabama, the South, and the nation are the better for it.”
Read D.G. Martin’s review, archived in the Charlotte Observer, and Edwin Yoder’s review from the Weekly Standard.
In Love with Defeat: The Making of a Southern Liberal by H. Brandt Ayers, is available in hardcover and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.