Front Porch: Spring 1998

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Front Porch: Spring 1998

by Harry L. Watson
Southern Cultures, Vol. 4, No. 1: Politics (1998)

For many of us, the process of self-government has become so dispiriting that politics itself has become a term of reproach, and aspirants to public office outdo one another in denunciations of the government they wish to join.

William Faulkner prefaced Requiem for a Nun with an evocative story about the origins of civic justice in Yoknapatawpha County. Starting off as comedy, the tale involved a drunken spree, a jail break, and the mystifying loss of a precious but essentially useless iron lock, but the point of it was that the leading men of Faulkner’s so-far nameless frontier settlement decided they needed to become a town: “By God. Jefferson. Jefferson, Mississippi.” And to become a town, they needed to have a courthouse, and so they built one. The process of naming their town and building their place of justice changed the men of Jefferson. “Something had happened to them,” Faulkner tells us, as they transformed themselves from a random collection of wanderers to a conscious, self-governing community.