I ran into this word while reading J. Mitchell Morse’s The Irrelevant English Teacher. Here’s the full sentence it came from:

The Snopesian quality of the Nixon administration is nowhere more evident than in its sour antagonism to college students and teachers, whom Nixon, Agnew and Mitchell quite rightly consider dangerous to everything they stand for — and perhaps, though this is necessarily a matter of conjecture, to all they personally are.

After a bit of web research, I gather that the word is a reference to Faulkner’s Snopes Trilogy. But I’ve never read anything from this trilogy, so could somebody give me a brief on what this word means?

  • 1
    And I wonder how it would be pronounced? "Snoaps-ian," "Snoapshan," or "Snoapeezhan"?
    – herisson
    May 17 '16 at 22:27

Faulkner's Abner Snopes is a man who see threats everywhere he turns and who feels justified in lashing out at those threats in the most violent ways he can. Nixon is often viewed as highly paranoid, and highly vindictive, and is in that sense very Snopesian (which is to say, very much like Snopes). However, Snopes is quite a complex figure whom his son is able to empathize with, and even sometimes admire, something that many would say is true of Nixon as well.

On the negative side, Nixon is regarded by many as one of the most abysmal presidents the U.S. has ever had, and, besides extending the widely unpopular war in Vietnam and being forced to resign in disgrace after Watergate, he could be quite nasty. He did not ignore his enemies, whether real or perceived--he sought to destroy them, because he took all opposition very much to heart. It often seemed that he did not see his opponents as politically motivated, but rather as motivated by personal animus (which the quote you cite clearly suggests). He thought of himself as a man of the people, and regarded academics and student anti-war demonstrators (again, refer to the cited quotation), as well as the press corps, as elitists and snobs who had no respect for him personally. Snopes, likewise, has a special disdain for those whose station in life is above his. He sees himself as a warrior for his kind (he is a tenant farmer), a sympathetic quality, but he cannot control his rage, and acts in very cruel and stupid ways--burning barns (he is a serial arsonist as well) and making his family help him, for example.

On the plus side (IMO) for Nixon, he did meet with Chinese and Soviet leaders, create the EPA, and expand the social welfare state (he even proposed universal heath care) in a way that complicates any easy assessment of his legacy. He is widely reviled, but he was a talented politician and a fascinating historical figure. Some have said Shakespearean; apparently some say Faulknerian (or Snopesian).

Having said all that, though, my guess is that, in the quote that you have cited, Morse is focusing on the negative qualities that Snopes and Nixon share (paranoia and thugishness), not on their complexity.

Here is a link that descibes Abner Snopes.

  • And... The creator of snopes.com apparently took inspiration from the same character(s): snopes.com/faq/what-are-snopes Feb 28 '20 at 6:08
  • PS: Thanks user66965 for such a superbly written and interesting answer. I found this page while researching the word snopsian after finding it in the book Norwood. Feb 28 '20 at 6:11

"Snopesian" - I'd pronounce it as "Snopes-ian", as that following the pattern of "Dickensian" and similar - simply means "of or pertaining to Snopes".


(-ian) a suffix with the same meaning and properties as -an ... Orwellian; Washingtonian

(-an) membership in social classes, religious denominations, etc., in adjectives formed from various kinds of noun bases

So, the author is ascribing the qualities of the Snopes family to the Nixon administration.

Now, what qualities... having never read these books either, I'm at the mercy of Google. It seems that the Snopes family is ambitious, grasping, sneaky, and generally out to look after themselves at all costs.


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