A quarter of a century before Lyndon B. Johnson popularized the slogan "The Great Society," Donald Davidson wrote his critique of Leviathan, the omnipotent nation-state, in terms that only recently have come to be appreciated. "Leviathan is the idea of the Great Society, organized under a single, complex, but strong and highly centralized national government, motivated ultimately by men's desire for economic welfare of a specific kind rather than their desire for personal liberty. " Originally published as The Attack on Leviathan, this eloquent volume is an attack on state centralism and an affirmation of regional identity.
Davidson's work is a special sort of intellectual as well as social history. It reveals an extraordinary mastery of the literature on regionalism in the United States, with special emphasis on the work on Rupert Vance and Howard Odum in the social sciences. Davidson looks at regionalism in arts, literature, and education. He favors agriculture over industrialization, and "the hinterland" over cities, examining along the way varying historical memories, the dilemma of Southern liberals, and the choice of expedience or principles. His book is a forceful and commanding challenge to those who would push for central authority at the sacrifice of individual and regional identity.
Davidson concludes with a devastating critique of nationalism leading to a supra-nationalism. Ultimately, the heterogeneity of human desires comes up against the uniformity of world systems and world states. Davidson offers instead a broad world of intellectual history and commentary in which individualism allies itself with communities as a means for stemming the tide of collectivism and its base in a world state. For Davidson, Leviathan, the monstrous state, is a devourer, not a savior. As several peoples rise to strike down their own Leviathans, this courageous book may be better understood now than it was in 1938.
Donald Davidson was part of that movement in American letters known as the Southern Agrarians. He was a poet, critic, historian, and political analyst. He spent most of his life at Vanderbilt University, and was himself born in central Tennessee. He is best known as the author of The Tall Men (1927) and a collection of essays, Still Rebels, Still Yankees (1957).