Quotes from American Nations

I took longer to put this up than I meant to, but here are the quotes from American Nations by Colin Woodard…… my comments follow.

p. 173 “After the revolution, four of the American nations hurdled the Appalachians and began spreading west across the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. There was very little mixing in their settlement steams, as politics, religions, ethnic prejudice, geography, and agricultural practices kept colonists almost entirely apart in four distinct tiers.Their respective cultural imprints can be seen to this day on maps created by linguists to trace American dialects, by anthropologists codifying material culture, and by political scientists tracking voting behaviors from the early nineteenth century straight through to the early twenty-first. With the exception of the New French enclave in southern Louisiana, the middle third of the continent was divided up among these four rival cultures.”

p. 179 “Political scientists investigating voting patterns have probed electoral records dating back to the early nineteenth century, matching polling-place returns with demographic information about each precinct. The results have been startling. Previous assumptions about class or occupation being the key factors influencing voter choices have turned out to be completely wrong, with the nineteenth-century Midwest providing some of the most intriguing evidence that ethnographic origins trumped all other considerations from 1850 onward.”

p. 180 “Later, when the Republicans became champions in the fight against civil rights, Yankee-dominated states and counties in the Midwest flipped en masse to the Democrats, just as their colleagues in New England did. The outlines of the Western Reserve are still visible on a county-by-county map of the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential elections.”

p. 259-261 “Meanwhile, historians at Harvard, Yale, and other Yankee institutions were crafting a mythic “national” history for students to celebrate, which emphasized the centrality of the (previously neglected) Pilgrim voyage, the Boston Tea Party, and Yankee figures such as the minutemen, Paul Revere, and Johnny Appleseed. (The Puritans were recast as champions of religious freedom, which would have surprised them, while Jamestown, New Amsterdam, and the early Anglican settlements of Maine were ignored.) In the Yankee paradigm, immigrants were to assimilate into the dominant culture which, from their point of view, was indeed characterized by the “Protestant” (i.e. Calvinist) work ethic, self-restraint, a commitment to “common good,” and hostility to aristocratic institutions. Cultural pluralism, individualism or the acceptance of an Anglo-British class system was not on the Yankees’ agenda.

In the early twenty-first century, a new wave of immigration has prompted a heated debate about what it means to be “American” and what should and shouldn’t be expected of a person who wishes to count himself as one. Conservatives like the late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington assert that America is now weakly held together by just two factors: the “continuing centrality” of a dominant “Anglo-Protestant” culture (with special emphasis on the English language and the “Protestant” work ethic) and the shared ideology of a two-century old “American Creed” championing equality, individualism, liberty, personal prosperity, and representative government. Huntington’s followers fear these precious unifiers are being broken down by their opponents, the foolhardy champions of multiculturalism and ethnic pluralism. In contrast, the multiculturalists argue that America’s true genius is to have created the possibility of a place where people of different cultures, religions, races, and language groups can coexist, each maintaining its own values and identity. Both schools argue a historical basis for their definition of American identity, and find weaknesses in the historical examples their opponents raise in defense of their views..

In fact, both sides are evoking characteristics that were true of only a subset of North America’s ethnoregional nations rather than “America” as a whole. Certainly the Calvinist work ethic has always been central to the Yankee identity at the same time that it was anathema to that of the Deep South or Tidewater, where a leisurely “pace of life” has long been seen as virtuous. (No Deep Southern aristocrat feared he would be kept from Heaven on account of idleness; much of the Yankee elite was haunted by this notion.) “Englishness,” language and all, was absolutely not at the heart of the Midlands and New Netherland identity, where multiculturalism was indeed the norm; applied to El Norte, theories of “Anglo-Protestant” cultural origins look comical. Extreme individualism is central to the Appalachian and Far Western identities but has always been frowned upon in communitarian New England and New France. “Liberty” in the sense Huntington thought of it was absolutely not part of the Deep Southern or Tidewater vision of the American identity, while representative government was championed by their slaveholding elite only to the extent that they themselves did all the representing. Far from embracing multiculturalism, Yankees have spent their history either keeping outsiders away or trying to assimilate them (and the rest of the country to New England norms. It is fruitless to search for the characteristics of an “American” identity, because each nation has its own notion of what being an American should mean.”

p. 267 “The Yankees represent an extreme example of Public Protestantism, a religious heritage that emphasizes collective salvation and the social gospel. Whereas late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Southern Baptists and other salvation-minded denominations generally judged alcoholism as an individual failing of character, Yankee Congregationalists, Northern Methodists, Unitarians, and Anglicans viewed it as a social ill in need of legislative redress. While Salvationists concentrated on saving the souls of the poor, champions of the Social Gospel fought for labor protections, the minimum wage, and other collective solutions intended to reduce poverty itself. Whereas Private protestants emphasized individual responsibility for one’s lot in life, Public Protestants tried to harness government to improve society and the quality of life. These conflicting worldviews put the two blocs on a political collision course.”

p. 283 “The northern sixties rebels regarded big business as an oppressive force that despoiled the Earth and dehumanized the individual. By contrast, the nations of the Dixie bloc have continued to promulgate policies that ensure the remain low-wage resource colonies controlled by a one-party political system dedicated to serving the interests of a wealthy elite. To keep wages low, all Dixie-bloc states passed laws making it difficult to organize unions – which their politicians sold as protecting the “right to work” – or to increase the minimum wage. Taxes are kept too low to adequately support public schools and other services.”

p. 299-300 “When Dixie-bloc conservatives captured control of the GOP in the aftermath of the civil rights struggle, Northern alliance Republicans (and Dixie blacks) abandoned the party in large numbers. Between 1956 and 1998 the percentage of New Englanders who cast their votes for Republican candidates fell from 55 percent to 33 percent, and those of New Yorkers (both Yankee and new Netherlander) fell from 54 to 43 percent, while the Yankee Midwest also saw declines that accelerated during the first decade of the twenty-first century. By 2010 the Republicans had lost control of the lower house of every single state legislature in the three Northern alliance nations, all but one of the upper houses, and seven of the thirteen governors’ mansions in states dominated by the alliance. In a flip-flop of enormous proportions, the Democrats had become the party of the Northern alliance, and the “party of Lincoln” had become the vehicle of Dixie-bloc whites.”

My comments to p. 173: This lays out the methods by which the “nations” are defined.

p. 179: This indicates that the force driving the sociopolitical differences among the nations is values.

p. 180: When people tell me you can’t generalize, I direct them to the parking lots of my very right-wing Republican area (Valley of the Sun = Phoenix, AZ) where Romney bumper stickers and anti-Obama stickers predominate until you go into the shopping center where Changing Hands Book Store and Trader Joe’s are located, then it’s all pro-Obama, pro-Democrat, pro-environment, etc. bumper stickers.

pp. 259-261: Herein lies the origin of our school textbook history. And the argument over who is an American reached its apogee when Palin told us who was a real American and who wasn’t…….. the VP nomination of a major party. That’s when I stopped taking Republicans seriously as a moral force. Appealing characterizations occur in this passage which must be borne out by voting patterns and other sociopolitical facts. The American identity varies by region as when the Buchanan supporter living in south Texas disagreed with his candidate only on issues dealing with…….. the border!

p. 267: This passage is an example of how powerful this proposal can be.

p. 283: Here the political bias is clear in his characterization. However, that bias makes the book fun to read. The “right to work” laws, which impoverish so many workers are countered by school voucher programs which give money to desperate parents in underfunded school districts.

pp. 299-300: Another example where Republican voters will object to the GOP’s defeats and victories being centered around racial politics and White opposition to Black progress.

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