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Every now and then someone highlights the overlap between today’s Republican states and the slave states of the former Confederacy. As clichéd as the point may be, it remains indispensable to understanding what is happening in American politics today:
The core of today’s Democratic party consists of the states of New England and the Great Lakes/Midatlantic region that were the heart of the Union effort during the Civil War.
The core of today’s Republican party consists of the states that seceded from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America.
Don’t be misled by the contemporary red state-blue state map which makes the mostly-red Prairie/Mountain states look as important in the Republican coalition as the South. A cartogram which shows states by population is far more accurate:
caption: Red and blue states, 2008, with states proportional to their number of electoral votes
As the cartogram shows, in terms of population and votes the South vastly outweighs the thinly-populated Prairie/Mountain states, even though the latter get disproportionate representation in the U.S. Senate and the electoral college.
The cartogram provides a pretty good reflection of the situation perceived by conservative white Southerners, by depicting a besieged South encircled and on the verge of being crushed by multiracial, polyglot, immigrant-friendly, secular humanist, progressive Blue America.
From the nineteenth century to the twenty-first, the oligarchs of the American South have sought to defend the Southern system, what used to be known as the Southern Way of Life.
Notwithstanding slavery, segregation and today’s covert racism, the Southern system has always been based on economics, not race. Its rulers have always seen the comparative advantage of the South as arising from the South’s character as a low-wage, low-tax, low-regulation site in the U.S. and world economy.
And they will continue to do so, because they don't think of their workers as "people". They are "human capital," and the hungrier and more desperate they are, the better.
The Southern strategy of attracting foreign investment from New York, London and other centers of capital depends on having a local Southern work force that is forced to work at low wages by the absence of bargaining power.
Anything that increases the bargaining power of Southern workers vs. Southern employers must be opposed, in the interest of the South’s regional economic development model. Unions, federal wage and workplace regulations, and a generous, national welfare state all increase the bargaining power of Southern workers, by reducing their economic desperation. Anti-union right-to-work laws, state control of wages and workplace regulations, and an inadequate welfare state all make Southern workers more helpless, pliant and dependent on the mercy of their employers. A weak welfare state also maximizes the dependence of ordinary Southerrners on the tax-favored clerical allies of the local Southern ruling class, the Protestant megachurches, whose own lucrative business model is to perform welfare functions that are performed by public agencies elsewhere, like child care.
The Southern system is essentially about class and only incidentally about race. That is why, following the abolition of slavery, the Southern landlord elite exploited black and white tenant farmers and child workers indifferently. Immigrant workers without rights to vote or organize unions have always appealed to the Southern employer elite.
While they demonize “the federal government” as though it were some external force, Southern conservatives are actually afraid of democracy—national democracy. They are afraid of their fellow Americans outside of the region they control. They are afraid that national majorities will impose unwelcome reform on the South, at the expense of their profits and privileges, as national majorities did during Reconstruction, the New Deal and the Civil Rights revolution.
The Southern system is also threatened by internal democracy....
This fascinating book is the first volume in a projected cultural history of the United States, from the earliest English settlements to our own time. It is a history of American folkways as they have changed through time, and it argues a thesis about the importance for the United States of having been British in its cultural origins.
While most people in the United States today have no British ancestors, they have assimilated regional cultures which were created by British colonists, even while preserving ethnic identities at the same time. In this sense, nearly all Americans are "Albion's Seed," no matter what their ethnicity may be.
The concluding section of this remarkable book explores the ways that regional cultures have continued to dominate national politics from 1789 to 1988, and still help to shape attitudes toward education, government, gender, and violence, on which differences between American regions are greater than between European nations.
Who Built America? explores fundamental conflicts in United States history by placing working peoples’ struggle for social and economic justice at center stage. Unique among U.S. history survey textbooks for its clear point of view, Who Built America is a joint effort of Bedford/St. Martin’s and the American Social History Project, based at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and renowned for its print, visual, and multimedia productions such as the "History Matters" Web site. With vivid prose, penetrating analysis, an acclaimed visual program, and rich documentary evidence, Who Built America? gives students a thought-provoking book they’ll want to read and instructors an irreplaceable anchor for their course.
The American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning is dedicated to renewing interest in history by challenging traditional ways that people learn about the past. Founded in 1981 and based at the City University of New York Graduate Center, ASHP/CML produces print, visual, and multimedia materials that explore the richly diverse social and cultural history of the United States.
I expect to see the red-blue map realigned in this election. Romney is the most electable canddiate, not Obama. Obama has stepped on too many toes and has been alienating his own support base.
The middle class that he has worked so hard to cultivate and regenerate is naturally Republican; the GOP and its policies under Romney and Ryan favour small business more than anyone else.
Entrepreneurs, smallholders, afluent middle classmen: these are the base of the Democracy's electability now, and the GOP has a more atractive package to offer them.
i.e that an uneducated non unionized work force
is always beneficial to business owners (job creators)
Making it racial isn't the issue, I agree with you. However, the underlying dominant culture has a whole lot to do with things.
Originally posted by HostileApostle
Is anyone really surprised?
I think if the GOP put slavery to a ballot vote within their party, it would pass soundly.
North versus South: Two Definitions of Liberty
Michael Lind first called out the existence of this conflict in his 2006 book, Made In Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics.www.powells.com... He argued that much of American history has been characterized by a struggle between two historical factions among the American elite -- and that the election of George W. Bush was a definitive sign that the wrong side was winning. ***
Which brings us to that other great historical American nobility -- the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.
As described by Colin Woodard in American Nations: The Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, the elites of the Deep South are descended mainly from the owners of sugar, rum and cotton plantations from Barbados -- the younger sons of the British nobility who'd farmed up the Caribbean islands, and then came ashore to the southern coasts seeking more land. Woodward described the culture they created in the crescent stretching from Charleston, SC around to New Orleans this way:
It was a near-carbon copy of the West Indian slave state these Barbadians had left behind, a place notorious even then for its inhumanity....From the outset, Deep Southern culture was based on radical disparities in wealth and power, with a tiny elite commanding total obedience and enforcing it with state-sponsored terror. Its expansionist ambitions would put it on a collision course with its Yankee rivals, triggering military, social, and political conflicts that continue to plague the United States to this day.
David Hackett Fischer, whose Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways In America informs both Lind's and Woodard's work, described just how deeply undemocratic the Southern aristocracy was, and still is. He documents how these elites have always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press. (Lind adds that they have historically been profoundly anti-technology as well, far preferring solutions that involve finding more serfs and throwing them at a problem whenever possible. Why buy a bulldozer when 150 convicts on a chain gang can grade your road instead?) Unlike the Puritan elites, who wore their wealth modestly and dedicated themselves to the common good, Southern elites sank their money into ostentatious homes and clothing and the pursuit of pleasure -- including lavish parties, games of fortune, predatory sexual conquests, and blood sports involving ritualized animal abuse spectacles.
But perhaps the most destructive piece of the Southern elites' worldview is the extremely anti-democratic way it defined the very idea of liberty. In Yankee Puritan culture, both liberty and authority resided mostly with the community, and not so much with individuals. Communities had both the freedom and the duty to govern themselves as they wished (through town meetings and so on), to invest in their collective good, and to favor or punish individuals whose behavior enhanced or threatened the whole (historically, through community rewards such as elevation to positions of public authority and trust; or community punishments like shaming, shunning or banishing).
Individuals were expected to balance their personal needs and desires against the greater good of the collective -- and, occasionally, to make sacrifices for the betterment of everyone. (This is why the Puritan wealthy tended to dutifully pay their taxes, tithe in their churches and donate generously to create hospitals, parks and universities.) In return, the community had a solemn and inescapable moral duty to care for its sick, educate its young and provide for its needy -- the kind of support that maximizes each person's liberty to live in dignity and achieve his or her potential. A Yankee community that failed to provide such support brought shame upon itself. To this day, our progressive politics are deeply informed by this Puritan view of ordered liberty.
In the old South, on the other hand, the degree of liberty you enjoyed was a direct function of your God-given place in the social hierarchy. The higher your status, the more authority you had, and the more "liberty" you could exercise -- which meant, in practical terms, that you had the right to take more "liberties" with the lives, rights and property of other people. Like an English lord unfettered from the Magna Carta, nobody had the authority to tell a Southern gentleman what to do with resources under his control. In this model, that's what liberty is. If you don't have the freedom to rape, beat, torture, kill, enslave, or exploit your underlings (including your wife and children) with impunity -- or abuse the land, or enforce rules on others that you will never have to answer to yourself -- then you can't really call yourself a free man.
When a Southern conservative talks about "losing his liberty," the loss of this absolute domination over the people and property under his control -- and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws that he was once exempt from -- is what he's really talking about. In this view, freedom is a zero-sum game. Anything that gives more freedom and rights to lower-status people can't help but put serious limits on the freedom of the upper classes to use those people as they please. It cannot be any other way. So they find Yankee-style rights expansions absolutely intolerable, to the point where they're willing to fight and die to preserve their divine right to rule. Once we understand the two different definitions of "liberty" at work here, a lot of other things suddenly make much more sense. We can understand the traditional Southern antipathy to education, progress, public investment, unionization, equal opportunity, and civil rights. The fervent belief among these elites that they should completely escape any legal or social accountability for any harm they cause. Their obsessive attention to where they fall in the status hierarchies. And, most of all -- the unremitting and unapologetic brutality with which they've defended these "liberties" across the length of their history.
When Southerners quote Patrick Henry -- "Give me liberty or give me death" -- what they're really demanding is the unquestioned, unrestrained right to turn their fellow citizens into supplicants and subjects.