“…from every part of Europe.”

By then, the king’s authority in America had been practically demolished, and his imperial interests elsewhere were being challenged. America was on its way to securing an independent destiny, basing the case for separation upon differences rather than likenesses between the two countries. Yet, the new nation revealed a natural kinship with the old world it professed to reject – not only with England, but with numerous other countries. In his Common Sense, Thomas Paine castigated the “false, selfish, narrow, and ungenerous” notion that England was the parent, or mother country of America. “Europe, and not England,” he protested, “is the parent country of America.” The New World had for years, he added, offered asylum to the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty “from every part of Europe.” That observation was heartily endorsed just a few years later by Michel-Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur, former French soldier and sometime resident of New York, in his Letters from an American Farmer. “What then is the American, this new man?” he asked in a widely quoted passage from that book. “He is either an European, or the descendant of an European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. . . . Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”

Such observations were justified. One-third of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were of non-English stock, eight being first-generation immigrants. It was in recognition of the mixed European background of so many Americans that John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson later proposed that the official seal of the United States bear the national emblems of Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, and Holland as well as of England, thus “pointing out the countries from which these States have been peopled.” (This idea was abandoned.) The list might well have been much longer. There were Jews from Eastern Europe and from Spain and Portugal (via South America), Swedes, Walloons, Swiss, and still others. Many came, as Paine stated, in search of asylum. But they also came with an intent to preserve and refresh those aspects of life in their homelands which they best remembered and most highly valued.

In the world of 1776, Europe boasted a rich civilization, alive with dynamic ideas and with flourishing arts, with promising new concepts and methods in the sciences. The rudiments of modern industry and business administration were well founded, and social reforms were being undertaken, which Europeans took with them as they colonized and traded. They had come in contact with Eastern civilizations, above all, China, and this experience added significantly to the cosmopolitan culture of the Continent. The Pacific Ocean had been explored, and Australasia discovered; the knowledge gleaned from such expeditions was accelerating an ecological revolution of universal importance. This abundance of experience and knowledge that characterized the world of 1776 was the inheritance America shared as a birthright.

From The World in 1776
by Marshall B. Davidson
Kindle Locations 237-261

* * * *

This early diversity has been an ongoing interest of mine. I noticed this passage and was reminded again of this less known side of American history.

What particularly caught my attention was that, “One-third of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were of non-English stock, eight being first-generation immigrants.” It wasn’t just that several of the colonies had non-English majorities. The non-English ethnicity was even a major part of the ancestral background of the so-called founding fathers, among others in the upper classes.

I always wonder why such amazing facts aren’t typically taught in US schools. This is the kind of thing that would make history more interesting to students. Instead, we get over-simplified and dumbed-down boring accounts of our shared past. The actual full history would be too radical for respectable public consumption.

For more details, see my previous posts:

“Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.”

General American and the Particulars of Our Origins

Origin of American Diversity

The Root and Rot of the Tree of Liberty

The Fight For Freedom Is the Fight To Exist: Independence and Interdependence

From Bad to Worse: Trends Across Generations

I came across recent data on the increasing mortality rates for middle-aged Americans (as pointed out in a comment from a post on Social Darwinism). It’s been written about in a number of places: David Cay Johnston at Al Jazeera America, Ian Sample at The Guardian, and elsewhere. The Atlantic article by Olga Khazan included two telling graphs:

The first thing I noted was that this is precisely about my generation, the first wave hitting their 50s these past few years. The infamous Generation X was known for its social problems in youth and now here we are again, carrying our problems into middle age. It is interesting that I have yet to see anyone else observe that this is a generational phenomenon, besides a rare comment.

This trend actually began during the Boomers, as the shift for 45-54 year olds followed 1998, but it has been worsening with Generation X. Before that, there had been a steady decline for the mortality rates of the middle-aged of the GI Generation and Silent Generation, bottoming out with the first wave of the Boomer Generation. As the chart shows, it was only over this past decade, when the GenX vanguard came into this age demographic, that the rates climbed back above where it was in 1990.

With Generation X, following the post-WWII baby boom, there was obviously a decline of the birth rate which also began as a shift with the late 1950s Boomer birth cohort, although the baby bust didn’t hit a low point until the middle of GenX. This nadir was in 1975, the year I was born. My generation was the first highly aborted generation, but its a bit odd that the birth rate began its decline about a decade in advance of abortion rate increase.

This also was a time of increasing childhood poverty, even as elderly poverty was decreasing. Funding and welfare directed toward children went on the decline during this era, although it did shift back up some with the following Millennial Generation, even as childhood poverty rates remained high:

Poverty by age

I see that child poverty hit one peak in 1983, when I turned 8 years old. The last time it had been at that level was decades before. It is strange, however, that the elderly poverty rate kept on its continuing decline. This decline of poverty has been mostly focused on the GI and Silent generations, having dropped from a high level with the Lost Generation. It dropped again in the 1990s, with another low point for the first wave of Millennials, and then rose again with the Recession back to where it was when I was a kid.

At the same time, GenXers had parents with high rates of being divorced or otherwise single. This corresponded with high rates of working mothers and kids being left alone at home after school. Mine was a generation of latchkey kids, not seen since the Lost Generation. Also, the rates for childhood and youth paid labor hadn’t been this high since early 1900s when Lost Generation kids worked as newsboys and in factories and mines.

Writing about Generation X in the early 1990s, Neil Howe and William Strauss put out a book, 13th Gen, that was published in 1993 (they designated this the 13th Generation, since that is what it is in the order of Anglo-American generations). The year 1993 was around the time the last wave of GenXers were either exiting elementary school or entering high school (I graduated in 1994), depending on the endpoint given for this cohort. These authors place the last year of GenX as 1981, although some place it as late as 1984. The first wave was sometime in the early-to-mid 1960s, with an approximate two decades in between.

From that view of the early 1990s, Strauss and Howe wrote that,

“Every day, over 2,5000 American children witness the divorce or separation of their parents. Every day, 90 kids are taken from their parents’ custody and committed to foster homes. Every day, thirteen Americans age 15 to 24 commit suicide, and another sixteen are murdered. Every day, the typical 14-year-old watches 3 hours of TV and does 1 hour of homework. Every day, over 2,200 kids drop out of school. Every day, 3,610 teenagers are assaulted, 630 are robbed, and 80 are raped. Every day, over 100,000 high-school students bring guns to  school. Every day, 500 adolescents begin using illegal drugs and 1,000 begin drinking alcohol. Every day, 1,000 unwed teenage girls become mothers.

“Assessing the harsh living environment of today’s rising generation, once national commission recently concluded: “Never before has one generation of American teenagers been less healthy, less cared for, or less prepared for life than their parents were at the same age.” In the 13er cult film Heathers, one teenager put it more bluntly: “You don’t get it, do you? Society nods its head at any horror the American teenager can bring upon himself.”

“Thirteeners may or may not be a “bad” generation, but what is not debatable is that their condition is bad. Even their worst critics have to admit that whatever badness they are is a reflection of how they were raised—of what other people did to them, thought of them, and expected from them—and of what happened in the adult world throughout their childhood years.”

Strauss and Howe point out that all of this is worse for minorities (p.120):

“The young male residents of Harlem are less likely to live to age 40 than the young male residents of Bangladesh—and face a higher risk of being killed by age 25 than the risk faced by U.S. troops during a full combat tour in Vietnam.”

At Alternet, Dan Hoyle made a similar observation (The Jail Generation):

“Although juvenile poverty rates have steadily declined, the percentage of children raised in single parent homes has risen from 12% in 1970 to 28% in 1998. Although it is unclear how large a role increased prison populations play in this phenomenon, the increase has been most marked among those populations that have high incarceration rates. In 2000, only 38% of black children were being raised in two-parent homes.”

There are studies that have analyzed this. Mass incarceration has played a major role in the breakdown of families and communities. GenX was the first generation to be targeted by the drug wars and mass incarceration, and this has left some communities with most of the men either in prison or caught up in the legal system. It has been devastating, especially for poor minorities, but it has harmed the entire generation to varying degrees.

Some of the articles about the middle age mortality have blamed it on increasing drug use. There might be some truth to that. If one really wants to understand that problem, the best analysis available is Johann Hari’s Chasing the Scream (see here). Still, it isn’t clear that drug use has changed all that much, even ignoring abuse of prescription drugs by earlier generations. Though drug addiction rates do vary a bit over time, they remain surprisingly stable this past half century—for anything earlier than that we don’t have accurate data.

Sure, the drug wars make everything about drugs more dangerous. Yet that is no different than how Prohibition made every aspect of alcohol riskier and more harmful. Hari, for example, explains how black markets end up making illegal substances more potent and hence more addictive. So, it is government policies that have this biggest impact on changing public behaviors across generations. Different conditions lead to different results, unsurprisingly.

Some of it is a change in attitudes, which is behind the change in government policies. Strauss and Howe make clear how the earth shifted under the feet of GenXers, just as they were learning to walk (pp. 59-61):

“Circa-1970 polls and social statistics showed a negative shift in public attitudes toward (and treatment of) children. As millions of mothers flocked into the work force, the proportion of preschoolers cared for in their own homes fell by half. For the first time, adults ranked autos ahead of children as necessary for “the good life.” The cost of raising a child, never much of an issue when Boomers were little, suddenly became a hot topic. Adults of fertile age doubled their rate of surgical sterilization. The legal abortion rate grew from next to nothing to the point where one of every three fetuses was terminated. In 1962, half of all adults believed that parents in bad marriages should stay together for the sake of the children. By 1980, less than one fifth of all adults felt that way. America’s great divorce epidemic was underway.

“Divorce. The fact of it, the calculations influencing it, the openness about it, the child’s anxiety about it, the harms from it, the guilt after it: Here lay the core symptom of Silent nurture of the 13th. America’s divorce rate doubled between 1965 and 1975, just as Atari-wave 13ers passed through middle childhood. at every age, a 13er child born in 1968 faced three times the risk of parental break-up faced by a Boomer child born in 1948. Silent parents, authors, and screenwriters addressed divorce as though it were an episodic childhood disease like the chicken pox: something you catch, get sick from, and then get over. […] provoking children of secure families on the fragility of their world. […]

“But if parents liked to stress the “positive” side of divorce, children were left staring at the dark side. according to one major survey of 1970s-era marital disruptions, only one-fifth of the children of divorce professed being happier afterward—versus four-fifths of the divorced parents. […] Of all child generations in U.S. history, 13er kids are the “onliest,” their families the smallest, their houses the emptiest after school, and their parents the most divorced. Three of five 13ers have zero or one sibling, versus less than two in five Boomers at like age. Over the span of this one generation, the proportion of children living with less than two parents increased by half, and the proportion of working mothers of preschool children doubled. fewer than half of all 13ers are now reaching age 16 in households with two once-married biological parents. One 13er in five has half-siblings. If the proliferation of half-thises and step-thats was a challenge for the greeting-card industry, it was devastating to the kids themselves.”

To continue (p. 66):

“Academic journals suddenly abounded with articles about a brand new topic: family violence. Over the 13er child era, the homicide rate for infants and children under four rose by half, the number of reported cases of child abuse jumped fourfold, and the number of vulnerable “latchkey” children fending for themselves after school more than doubled.”

This was a messed up generation, in so many ways. The data makes this clear. I recently showed, for example, how ‘slutty’ was my generation as teens. But the pivotal issue is this was the world into which GenXers were born, and it was all that my peers knew. We were told that we were a bad generation and we came to believe it, a bad generation for a bad era (pp. 87-89):

“When something goes badly wrong, a 13er’s first instinct is to blame himself. That makes some sense, given the world he inhabits. Consider how the public health risks of American teens have changed since the 1950s: Compared to teenagers a third of a century ago, 13ers face a sharply lower risk of dying from accidents or conventional diseases, but this advantage has been almost entirely offset by what elders look upon as “self-inflicted” risks. In the ’50s, the worst threats to youth were random diseases like influenza and polio that attacked good and bad kids with equal cruelty—afflictions that have been mostly conquered. Now, the worst dangers are behavioral. AIDS. Drug and alcohol abuse. Eating disorders. Homicide. And, of course, suicide. Almost by definition, “good” kids are the ones who avoid these dangers, and “bad” kids are the ones who get plastered. […] By almost any measure, the first Atari-wave 13ers, born from 1961 through 1964, mark an extreme for the sociopathology of American youth. They set the all-time U.S. youth records for drunk driving, illicit drug consumption, and suicide. They have been among the most violent, criminal, and heavily-incarcerated youth cohorts in U.S. history. Among later-born 13ers, the picture is brightening some—but not much. Many more kids than a quarter century ago continue to inflict upon themselves (and others) the most violent forms of adolescent trauma.”

Indeed, my generation was violent. After dropping mid-century, violence shot up both toward self and others. Suicides are more common among whites for some reason. But during the spike, blacks almost caught up with the white suicide rate.

Most of that increase was among the younger demographics. Why is that? Many have pointed out the rise and fall of heavy metal toxicity from pollution, especially lead additives in gasoline, although an earlier spike was related to lead in paint and farm chemicals (see here, here, here, and here):

Graph showing correlation between lead exposure and violent crime in USA


I’m always surprised this kind of data isn’t brought up more often. It is clearly related.

One might expect children who had higher rates of pollution exposure and hence toxicity, which is to say poisoning, would as adults show health and behavioral problems and that this would then extend into continuing health and behavioral problems as they aged. That an increase in middle age mortality would be seen among this population is the opposite of shocking. Heavy metal toxicity really messes up the body, not just the brain, and the negative effects are lifelong.

Throw on top of this a generally worsening economy and prospects for this generation. What would one expect? Certainly not improvement in the rates of social and physical health.

I’ll end with one last passage from Strauss and Howe (pp. 98-101):

“It’s a well-known complaint that American living standards, on average, have flattened out ever since American productivity began stagnating in early 1970s. What’s less well known is how this leveling of the national average has concealed vastly unequal changes in living standards by phase-of-life, and how the interests of older Americans have been protected at the expense of young people. Consider the following core indicators of economic well-being: worker pay, total household income, household wealth, home ownership, and the likelihood of poverty. From the late 1930s to the early 1970s, all these indicators improved briskly for every age group. Since then, they have diverged markedly across different age brackets. For households headed by persons over age 65, these indicators have continued to improve as though nothing had gone wrong. For age 35 to 65, most of them have just held steady. But for households headed by persons under age 35—the age bracket 13ers have been entering ever since the 1970s—every one of these indicators has gotten worse. Some have fallen off a cliff. […]

“13ers came to realize that they bore most of the burden for the Reagan-era prosperity that so enriched their elders. They watched the drawbridge slam shut on most of the lucrative professional monopolies dominated by older age groups. They watched U.S. manufacturers respond to efficient global rivals by downsizing through attrition, letting their high-wage older work force age in place. They watched the total number of Fortune 500 jobs (cushy benefits and all) reach its historic peak in 1979—just when they first came to the job market—and then head south ever afterwards Those paths blocked, millions of 13ers wedded their future to the one economic sector in which real pay declined, fringe benefits evaporated, and investment and output per worker showed literally no growth at all: the unskilled service sector. Ronald McDonaldland

“During the Bush years, most of today’s 40 million 13ers living on their own hit their first recession. And behold: This was the only cyclical downturn ever recorded in which all the net job loss landed on the under-30 age bracket. Not on Boomer post-yuppies, not on Silent prime-of-lifers, certainly not on G.I. retirees. Subtract 13ers from the employment tally, and presto: No recession! […]

“[13ers] are beginning to ask harder questions about the policy gridlock over most of the issues vital to their economic future. Like why the college class of ’92 faces the most difficult job search of any class since the Great Depression, with nearly a third of entry-level jobs disappearing and average pay falling for those who remain. Or why the proportion of college grads taking jobs that don’t require college degree has doubled over the last decade. Or why the federal deficit keeps growing on their tab. Or why the income tax rates on billion-dollar investments are held down while FICA tax rates on the first dollar of wage income keep rising. Or why unemployment benefits are extended for households already receiving checks, but nothing is done for the most younger households can’t qualify. or why senior citizens get to clamor for yet a third layer of health insurance when one-fourth of all 13ers have no insurance at all. or why a skimpy urban youth bill, drafted in the wake of the L.A. riots, is allowed to grow into a giant Christmas tree of goodies for affluent older people. […]

“Since the early 1970s, say many economists, America has been undergoing a “quiet depression” in living standards. A bit more pointedly, columnist Robert Kuttner describes 13er as suffering from a remarkable generational disease . . . a depression of the young” which makes them feel “uniquely thirsty in a sea of affluence.” From 1929 to 1933, the bust years we call the “Great Depression,” real household income fell by 25 percent all across America. Now once again: what was the dip in age-bracket income that 13er have suffered since replacing Boomers? Twenty percent for young men? Thirty percent for young parents with children? Thirteeners get the message, even if others don’t, about a “quiet” trauma today’s older people would regard as a history-shattering catastrophe if it fell mostly on their heads.”

Cold War Ideology and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

I learned of a new author, Andrew Alexander, the same year he died. I came across him because of a book he wrote on the Cold War, America and the Imperialism of Ignorance: How America Won the War and Lost the Peace – US Foreign Policy Since 1945. I’ll add that book to my reading list for all Americans, even if Oprah doesn’t include it in her book club list.

Alexander was highly critical of Cold War policies and propaganda (and its continuing influence), having seen it as some combination of ignorance and delusion. But he was no radical activist, academic revisionist, or dogmatic ideologue trying to defend left-wing politics. Besides being a respectable editor, journalist and columnist for The Daily Mail, he was a Tory conservative (and once a Conservative candidate), Thatcher neoliberal, right-wing British patriot, and hardline anti-communist. As Simon Jenkins at the Guardian puts it, “No one could possibly call him leftwing, let alone a pacifist appeaser. He has no illusions about the evil of Stalin or Mao, any more than he has about Saddam and al-Qaida.” David Duff, in an Al Aribaya News article, states it simply when he calls Alexander “a crusty Tory of the old school.”

Alexander’s social circle included many in the British political and economic elite. He wasn’t some nobody attacking his perceived superiors in hoping to make a name for himself. His career has been well established for a long time. His is not an angry commentary from an outsider, but a set of long considered concerns directed toward his own ideological peers and associates. He makes this clear in the dedication to his book: “To my numerous friends in the Conservative Party whose relentless belief remains to this day that the Cold war arose from the aggressive ambitions of the Kremlin, thwarted by the bold response of our American friends. Their refusal to contemplate any other explanation has spurred me on in this, my survey of US foreign policy over the last sixty-five years.” His book was an offering to friends, not an attack against enemies. It was his love of country that made him take this issue so seriously, as he worried about the costs wasted and damages done.

It is interesting to read the views of someone like him. It is hard to imagine a conservative of that variety in the mainstream media of the United States. From a Guardian article more than a decade old, he offered this gem (The Soviet threat was a myth):

“One can, of course, understand why few in the west want the orthodox view overturned. If that were to happen, the whole edifice of postwar politics would crumble. Could it be that the heavy burden of postwar rearmament was unnecessary, that the transatlantic alliance actually imperilled rather than saved us? Could it be that the world teetered on the verge of annihilation because post-war western leaders, particularly in Washington, lacked imagination, intelligence and understanding? The gloomy answer is yes.”

That is a damning conclusion, especially considering it comes from a conservative. To give some perspective, here is a passage from his book’s first chapter, The Flawed Cold War Orthodoxy (Kindle Locations 137-154):

“A wider look at history shows that a strongly interventionist US foreign policy is nothing new – though the current power to intervene globally is. A century ago, an American incomprehension of the outside world was exemplified by President Woodrow Wilson, so determined to remake countries in the American image after the First World War. His mixture of benevolence and ruthlessness may be summed up in a dispute with Mexico in 1913, when he announced ‘I will teach the Latin-Americans to elect good men’ followed by bombarding the town of Vera Cruz. His gunboat diplomacy intensified such feelings of nationalism and anti-Americanism that Germany hoped to make Mexico an ally in an attack on the USA in 1917 – famously exposed in the Zimmermann telegram, decoded by London.

“In 1945, the USA dedicated itself in Wilsonian language to bringing ‘democracy and freedom’ to the countries occupied by the Soviets at the end of the Second World War. The goal was high-minded. But there was a puzzling refusal to acknowledge the Soviet claim that two invasions by Germany in twenty-seven years made the firm control of Eastern Europe essential to Russian security. Truman insisted on seeing the Soviets as the determinedly expansionist enemy of the free world almost from the day he assumed office. They were, he said, ‘planning world conquest’.2

“The United States over which he presided had emerged from the Second World War with a military and economic supremacy unparalleled in history. Of the three powers which defeated the Axis alliance, the USA was unique in ending the war wealthier than when it began. By contrast, Britain’s income was down by a third with much of its overseas assets sold to buy armaments from the USA. In the case of Russia, which had been responsible for destroying the vast bulk of Hitler’s forces, the loss of income was immeasurable. Soviet statistics, always dubious, have never provided a wholly reliable picture of national income. But the scale of the devastation, involving at least twenty-two million and possibly twenty-seven million military and civilian deaths, speaks for itself.

“There was in fact no evidence in 1945 that the Soviet Union had a sinister plan to conquer the West. The threat perceived by Truman and others was imaginary – though no less powerful for that – stoked up by years of fearing the deadly spread of Communism.”

Alexander is able to write with such authority because he has gone to the direct words of Stalin and others. Mining records that weren’t available to earlier historians and journalists, his writings on the Cold War includes many telling quotes. What becomes clear is that Stalin was simply another nationalist despot with nationalist concerns. He worried about his own power and position, and of course he took seriously his role as leader of the country he ruled. He was a Russian nationalist, not an ideological communist and Trotsky internationalist (Stalin, by the way, assassinated Trotsky). Alexander states this in no uncertain terms (Kindle Locations 195-202):

“Given the German invasions, it would not have mattered whether the government in Moscow had been Communist, Tsarist or Social Democrat. It would still have insisted on firm control of these countries through which invasion had come; and bound to regard with deep suspicion any attempts to prevent it. In any case, Moscow could never forget that it was British and French policy in the interwar years to make Eastern Europe a barrier against the Soviet Union, even to consider – crucially – allowing Hitler a free hand against Russia. Colonel, later President, de Gaulle noted that even after the start of the Second World War:

“Certain circles saw the enemy in Stalin rather than Hitler. They busied themselves with finding means of striking Russia, either by aiding Finland or bombarding Baku or landing at Istanbul, much more than in coming to grips with Hitler.”

There is an intriguing insight about Stalin and non-Russian revolutions. Alexander explains that (Kindle Locations 161-165):

“Stalin’s attitude to the so-called world proletarian revolution is essential to understanding his personal and political motivation. He was, like the despot throughout the ages, principally concerned with his own survival rather than with ideological issues. He abandoned the grand global ambition of the world proletarian revolution in 1924 when he proclaimed that, henceforth, the aim was to be ‘socialism in one country’. To believe that he remained at all times a devout ideologue is to misread his character.”

One suspects those who saw Stalin as an ideologue were maybe projecting their own dogmatic tendencies. These Western ruling elites wanted an ideological war, whether or not Stalin wished to participate. “The determination of the West to see every Soviet move as explicable in terms of the pursuit of the world proletarian revolution provides one of history’s great ironies: the West took Communist doctrine more seriously than Stalin” (Kindle Locations 180-181). These ideologues were eventually able to force the hand of the Soviets to join this game of ideological battle, as they insisted on goading the Soviet government into aggression. In discussing the “European powers’ readiness to follow the American lead,” Alexander makes the point that “ironically…” (Kindle Locations 114-121),

“the launch of the Cold War by the USA did in due course bring into existence the very danger which had been imagined. It made frantic defence measures seem sensible. Threatened by President Truman, Russia responded by a vigorous programme of rearmament and an even tighter clampdown on Eastern Europe. With the refusal of the USA to respond to peace initiatives launched by the Soviet leadership on the death of Stalin in 1953, the Kremlin fought back under the new and more assertive leadership of Nikita Khrushchev. American and Western power in general was challenged wherever it could be found. It became rational to talk of a Communist threat and of the danger of a Soviet Union with a nuclear armoury. What was inaccurate was the assumption that a new military threat had come into being when the wartime allies finally came face to face in Germany.”

I sometimes find myself talking about the Cold War. I’m on the tail end of the Cold War generations, when that era was winding down. It’s just a childhood memory to me, mostly as portrayed in the fictionalized accounts of Hollywood movies and tv shows. I sense how different older Americans often respond to Cold War history. What to me just seems like propaganda to many who are older seems tangibly real. The ideological terms of capitalism versus communism so fully define and determine their sense of reality.

I found it interesting that even the Soviets talked about defending freedom and democracy from American greed, immorality, and destructiveness. Both sides were often making similar arguments. I’ve come to the conclusion that it never was about ideology. You can see evidence of that in how easily formerly communist Russia and Maoist China have come to embrace variants of capitalism.

It seems to me that the greatest threat to the United States has always been fascism, not communism. You can also see the evidence of that in how easily this country has taken on forms of crony capitalism, corporatism, and inverted totalitarianism. But it isn’t an ideological issue, per se. It is partly just about power and in the US power has always been tied up with capitalism, not any opposing ideologies. Even the most left-wing progressivism in the US merely sought to reform capitalism and did so to protect against anything further left.

Plus, I see the cultural angle being so much more important. That is seen with Stalin. He was a Russian nationalist, first and foremost, through and through. The United States has never been an ethnically homogeneous country like any of the communist countries or, for that matter, any of the traditionally fascist countries. Diversity has been a great protection for the US against the worst forms of authoritarian takeover.

In terms of Russia and Eastern Europe, there was never much of an issue, since only a small part of America’s population comes from that part of the world. The main reason fascism was a threat in this country wasn’t even the dominance of plutocratic capitalism, but because so many Americans came from countries that became fascist. Many German-Americans, the single largest ancestry in the US, proudly marched in the streets carrying flags and banners with the swastika. The characteristics of the American people that resonated with fascism were cultural rather than ideological. Even ignoring ancestry and issues of national loyalty, this resonance included America’s populist folk religiosity, a defining feature of fascism and quite opposite of official communist ideology. The same social and political forces that brought fascism to Europe also brought the German Bund and Second Klan to America.

Yet we go on arguing about ideology. It never was about ideology. It still isn’t. So many ideological debates ring hollow. Like the Cold War, the culture wars were simply a spectacle of distraction. Most Americans agree about most things. There is no grand ideological conflict in America, although there is a class war between the economic elite and everyone else (Joe Bageant made the argument that 60-70% of Americans are actually working class, those with little economic freedom and self-determination), but a class war in raw form is still not directly an issue of ideology. There certainly isn’t any threat of communist takeover. Even Bernie Sanders is simply a moderate mainstream social democrat and not a radical dogmatic ideologue.

I doubt the ideological Cold War will end until the last person with living memory of that era has left this earth. It has been such a powerful force in ruling over our collective psyche, strangling our ability to imagine anything else. We can only hope that with historical distance its grip will loosen and its influence fade.

Liberty in Spanish Florida

I was perusing books on early America. It’s one of my favorite topics, as it involves so many issues and influences. There were many interesting books I found, of course. But one in particular grabbed my attention. It is Black Society in Spanish Florida by Jane Landers. Here is the synopsis:

The first extensive study of the African American community under colonial Spanish rule, “Black Society in Spanish Florida” provides a vital counterweight to the better-known dynamics of the Anglo slave South. Jane Landers draws on a wealth of untapped primary sources, opening a new vista on the black experience in America and enriching our understanding of the powerful links between race relations and cultural custom. Blacks under Spanish rule in Florida lived not in cotton rows or tobacco patches but in a more complex and international world that linked the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, and a powerful and diverse Indian hinterland. Here the Spanish Crown afforded sanctuary to runaway slaves, making the territory a prime destination for blacks fleeing Anglo plantations, while Castilian law (grounded in Roman law) provided many avenues out of slavery, which it deemed an unnatural condition. European-African unions were common and accepted in Florida, with families of African descent developing important community connections through marriage, concubinage, and godparent choices. Assisted by the corporate nature of Spanish society, Spain’s medieval tradition of integration and assimilation, and the almost constant threat to Spanish sovereignty in Florida, multiple generations of Africans leveraged linguistic, military, diplomatic, and artisanal skills into citizenship and property rights. In this remote Spanish outpost, where they could become homesteaders, property owners, and entrepreneurs, blacks enjoyed more legal and social protection than they would again until almost two hundred years of Anglo history had passed.

One part stood out to me. It is the statement that, “Here the Spanish Crown afforded sanctuary to runaway slaves, making the territory a prime destination for blacks fleeing Anglo plantations, while Castilian law (grounded in Roman law) provided many avenues out of slavery, which it deemed an unnatural condition.”

That touches upon a key difference between English and Spanish societies. It is a difference, as pointed out, that is ancient. Spanish culture and legal traditions were more influenced by the Roman Empire. England was more mixed in its influences, but a major influence was Germanic tribes. (I’ve written about this before.)

This demonstrates the power of ideas, as something beyond mere abstractions and ideals. Ideas are rooted in entire social orders and worldviews. In Germanic tribes, to have been free meant being born into and as a member of a free society. It was your birthright. Liberty in Roman society, however, wasn’t a given right for being born and so not the automatic default state.

Thinking about it that way, it seems obvious that being born free is better. But there is a dark side to this. If you aren’t born as a free member of a free society, then your freedom is as if non-existent. In Roman and Romanized societies, even if born a slave, it wasn’t necessarily a permanent state. Many regular citizens would find themselves temporarily enslaved, which was more along the lines of indentured servitude. Even a captured prisoner of war could work their way out of slavery.

The English in adopting a Germanic view of freedom also inherited the opposite side of the coin. To be a slave was a permanent condition you were born into. Even if you were enslaved as an adult, it was assumed that there was something inferior about you and your people that allowed you to be enslaved. It was conveniently ignored, of course, that Europeans were being enslaved at the same time by non-Europeans )(e.g., Arabs).

So, in Spanish Florida, an African-American would find more hope in a society more fully based on the social norm of liberty. Simply being of African ancestry wasn’t considered a mark against your inherent moral worth and character. You’d likely still experience prejudice, but it still allowed more opportunities.

This isn’t about just the past. The Anglo-Saxon view of freedom is still being used to justify prejudice and oppression of African-Americans. Every generation of racists and racialists, bigots and supremacists comes up with new rationalizations. There are new reasons that are popular today, but it is the same basic justification of racial hierarchy. Instead of being marked by God as the descendants of Cain or whatever, the permanent underclass of minorities is assumed to have inferior genetics or culture.

Many white Americans, especially right-wingers, talk about liberty. But they don’t really believe in it. Yes, in its original form, liberty did arise out of a slave society. Yet it wasn’t one of a racial hierarchy. Being enslaved didn’t inevitably imply anything about you as an individual or your people. That is different today. No matter how an African-American may struggle to get out of poverty, they can never escape their blackness and all that it symbolizes. It is a permanent yoke around their neck.

Alan Moore, Comic Books, and Generations

I came across a year old article about Alan Moore, written by Alison Flood in The Gardian. In it, some comments from an interview are quoted. It is supposedly his last interview, so he claims.

My first take was that Alan Moore had become a crotchety old man. For those of us who are male, it is hard to avoid this fate. I’m halfway there myself. The world passes us by, no matter how hard we try to keep up. Growing old and approaching death can put one in a bad mood.

Much of Moore’s commentary comes off as a petty, emotional rant that was fueled by frustration and bitterness. I get it. I could imagine all the critical attention an artist receives could wear a person down after a while. It would be hard to hold it all at arms length and consider it neutrally or just ignore it. I sympathize. Even if he is a crotchety old man, he has every right to be so.

Anyway, his major gripe seems to be the following:

“To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence […] I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”

Wasn’t he once a child who innocently loved comic books? He overlooks the fact that these days, just as in the past, most people who read comic books and watch the movies based on them are those on the young end of life, not crotchety old men. He seems to have forgotten what it was like to be a child. I’m sure he read all kinds of cheap entertainment crap as a child, but it drew him into the comic book world and inspired him to try his own hand at the form.

His complaints could also come off as being arrogant and somewhat hypocritical. He is complaining about the very field that made him famous and I’m sure quite wealthy. It’s as if he is arguing that, since his own great accomplishments, there is nothing original left to be done with superheroes. This is naive as well. As I write, there are comic book artists pushing the form in entirely new directions, including in terms of superheroes. Just like Moore and his peers did, every new generation will re-create the entertainment media in entirely new ways with new messages.

Another thing More takes issue with are the accusations that he isn’t being appropriately sensitive to racial and gender issues. He spent his life trying to be a sensitive white male and then many who are younger dare to complain that he isn’t being sensitive enough. His defense for his portrayals of sexual violence toward women is that they aren’t any more overrepresented than are the the acts of non-sexual violence. It doesn’t occur to him that it is problematic that both are being overrepresented, as compared to normal life.

Over at popmatters.com, Shathley Q discusses an entirely different interview with Rob Salkowitz. A useful point is made:

“Rob muses on the idea that there’s always a kind of generational lag in comics. It’s the idea that comics’ fandom shifts generations much earlier than comics’ creators. And that the art isn’t always up-to-speed with the artists.”

That lag time is quite apparent in the case of Alan Moore. Several new generations of new comic book audiences have entered the scene since he started his comic book career. Even younger GenXers were still in their diapers when he published his first work. Generations Z and Y weren’t even in existence yet.

That wasn’t always the case. When Moore was a kid, most comic book artists were barely beyond being kids themselves. Back then, it was a young field, in more ways than one. Comic books were only coming into significant popularity the decade before Moore was born.

It was that popularity that got parents and authority figures so worried. The kind of complaints Moore makes now are reminiscent of the complaints back then. These juvenile entertainments were making their way into mainstream influence. With the rise of youth culture, it was as if the entire society was turning juvenile. It was the rise of youths as a major market force. The Comics Code Authority was established the year after Moore was born. Because of this, the 1960s saw the rise of underground culture, including new comic books avoiding censorship.

Another angle to consider is to the earlier context of comic book violence, including sexual violence. The early critics were particularly irate by the violence-and-sex-obsessed nature of the medium, and their criticisms certainly weren’t based on feminism. It is interesting that even, though Moore complained about people holding onto the established comic book superheroes, he defends his own use of that old school comic book sexual violence. Why does he criticize others for the former while defending the latter against the critics who he sees as attacking him? It is strange how strong an argument he makes for his right, almost moral obligation as he states it, to portray sexual violence. He apparently is quite attached to it.

Those are just some semi-random thoughts. My main interest was how generational experience might have shaped some of Moore’s opinions. He was a Boomer, the early popular comic book artists were GIs and Silents, and in recent decades new generations of comic book fans have become artists in their own right. A lot has changed over that time. Moore seems to have an uncertain relationship to that change, embracing it in some ways and demanding even greater change, while in other ways still being stuck in an old mentality.

Costs Must Be Paid: Social Darwinism As Public Good

I was considering the state of the world, both happier and less-than-happier changes. On the less-than-happier side, one piece of data has had me scratching my head for years.

The wealthier are worse off in higher inequality societies than in lower inequality societies, at least in terms of comparable societies where other factors are more similar, specifically when comparing European countries. When great disparities dominate, the wealthy have higher rates of health problems, homicide, etc. It’s not just about the rich saying, screw the poor!  So, what is going on? Why does inequality grow when it is causing so much harm, even to those with the power and self-interest to do something about it?

I’ve sometimes wondered that the self-appointed elite aren’t as smart as they think they are, that they fall prey to cognitive biases just like the rest of us and in some ways to a worse degree. For example, the wealthy tend to be more well educated and higher IQ, while also being more prone to the smart idiot effect—overestimating what they know and not recognizing what they don’t know, which is to say they are so used to being treated as experts (by other wealthy people) that they forget that whatever expertise they may genuinely have tends to be extremely narrow and limited… or, to put it simply, they lack humility and self-awareness, not to mention other-awareness.

That would relate to a study I’ve mentioned before. Supposedly, people in the lower classes are better than those in the upper classes at accurately reading the body behavior and facial expressions of others and using that to perceive the subjective experience of those others. Those who are without power are forced to pay close and careful attention to the world around them to ensure survival, especially in terms of understanding those who hold power over them. Because of this, if you want to know the inner truth of a society, talk to the servants, maids, janitors, nannies, etc for they are the people who see what no one else sees.

From this perspective, those who act destructively may not be doing so on purpose. They know not what they do. That is my normal line of thought. But a different connection popped into my mind. What if on some level they know exactly what they do?

There is yet another study that points to a more general pattern in human nature. The study was set up to allow a choice between socially positive behavior and selfish behavior. It also gave the opportunity to choose how to respond. The researchers found that many people were willing to knowingly sacrifice their own good in order to punish someone who they perceived as having acted wrongly and without proper respect and concern for others. It was as if some people felt certain social norms had been betrayed and that defending them was worth the cost.

It is easy to see how this could be a positive force at times. Our entire legal system, when it works well, is supposed to put bad people away. If there are no consequences to socially harmful behavior, then social trust is undermined and social capital declines. Bad would lead to worse. But it is obviously comes at high cost to punish and imprison people. In this sense, something is being created, a hopefully good society.

Not punishing the guilty would be a moral hazard. We see this where corruption and cronyism dominates. It makes it harder for others to act in socially beneficial ways, because instead of punishing bad behavior it is rewarded. In such a world, an honest person won’t be able to compete with the dishonest and so will find themselves on the short end of the stick, the honest politician not getting elected and the honest businessman going out of business.

The world we have has been made to be the way it is. Social Darwinian meritocracy isn’t just rhetoric for those who genuinely believe in it. I’d argue that most people in power (and those who benefit from their power) do hold the conviction that they deserve their wealth and position (not just the ruling elite but also the middle class and aspiring middle class). From this perspective, they see everyone else as undeserving.

I’ve had arguments with people that go along a strange path. Those who disagree with social programs that help others don’t always do so because they believe they are ineffective. Such people will sometimes admit or consent to the possibility that the targeted populations will actually be helped and their lives improved. But they still think it shouldn’t be done. Those other people deserve their problems and don’t deserve anything to be taken away from the more deserving. All the wealth, power, opportunities, etc are controlled by certain people for a reason. It would be unfair to even out the playing field, to allow the inferior to challenge and possibly harm the social order that is already working so well for the deserving.

It’s not just that these people lack imagination. Sure, the world maybe could be made better for everyone. But then that would eliminate what makes this society so great and superior. In many ways, it comes at an extreme cost to maintain a Social Darwinian meritocracy—police state and mass incarceration for social control and just enough welfare to keep the masses from revolting. It would be cheaper to have a less oppressive and more egalitarian society, but those in power are willing to pay the costs to have it this way, even when the costs personally harm them, just as long as it harms the undeserving even more.

Having a massive permanent underclass isn’t just about keeping people down in a simple sense. Those in power love to lavish praise and resources upon the few people who escape that hell, for the few that escape prove that they are deserving and so prove the system is working. That many deserving people don’t escape is fine, because the perception of moral worth in this society isn’t based on the good of all. The only thing that is required is that some people sometimes are able to move upwards. If that social and economic mobility were easy and more evenly expressed, then to the winners it would seem to be of less value and worthiness. Struggle and suffering is part of the design.

Within this worldview, all the social costs are necessary for the social good. It just so happens that most of the social costs fall on those already disadvantaged, but it even comes with costs to those at the top. A surprising number of people apparently find these costs worth paying, as an investment toward the status quo. The costs aren’t a loss or waste. Anytime a politician tells you that government is inevitably a failure, that government is the problem and not the solution, they are lying and they know they are lying. The system is working just fine, even if the purpose and the beneficiaries are being hidden from public view.

Scottish Emigrants, Indentured Servants, and Slaves

The following is from Scottish Emigration to Colonial America, 1607-1785 by David Dobson (p. 29-30). The author is explaining the early political and social conditions that led many to leave Scotland. More well known are the Irish emigrants because of their later large numbers, but the Scottish played a major role in the conflicts and changes at the time.

“Emigration seems to have received a fresh impetus around 1631 for reasons that are unclear. In Scotland, although there was more immediate access to Ireland, some were considering the possibility of New England. A letter from John Kerr in Prestonpans to a correpsondent in London indicates that religious intolerance was a factor: “For there be many . . . that inclyne to that countrie [New England], if so be that the persecution by the prelates continue, I mean not so much of ministers that are abused, as near 60 young men that are of rare gifts who cannot get a lawful entry into the ministry also divese professions of some good means that labor to keep themselves undefyled.” The religious policies of the Stuarts had encouraged, if not enforced, emigration to the plantations. As early as 1619 Archbishop Spotswood had threatened nonconformists, or dissident ministers in the neighborhood of Edinburgh, with loss of their stipend and even banishment to America. The Civil War, which in its aftermath led to the mass deportation of Scottish prisoners of war, attracted American colonists, who gave active support to the king or to Parliament. Cromwell received the active support of a number of New Englanders while the king tended to receive support from Virginia and the West Indies. Among those who returned to fight for Charles I was David Munro of Katewell, who had emigrated from Scotland to Virginia during 1641; he served as an officer in the Scots army that invaded England in support of the king in 1648. He was captured after the Battle of Preston in 1648, transported back to Virginia, and disposed of as an indentured servant. The practice of banishing political, religius, and criminal undesirables had long neen established and American soon became one of their destinations. As early as 1618 the king proposed to banish “notorious lewd livers” on the borders of England and Scotland “to Virginia or other remote colony.” The practice of banishment to the plantations as a punishment was to be fully utilized later in the seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth century. Among the Edinburgh records there is reference to an attempt by a merchant to recruit emigrants for Virginia: “21 July 1647. Ordaines proclamation be sound of drum to pass throw this brugh and liberties thairof at the desire of David Pebles marchand to invite such sort of persones, men and women, as he can agrie upon guid conditiones to goes with him to Virginia and make ane plantaion thair.” Peebles evidently succeeded in recruiting immigrants for his plantation in Virginia, he is later recorded with his family and sixteen indentured servants settled on an 833-acre land grant at Powell’s Creek south of the James River in Virginia in 1650.”

David Peebles is one of my ancestors.

My father’s maternal grandmother was born a Peebles, and he used to visit her in Mississippi. That family line, after settling in Virginia, would head down to the Deep South and then end up in Texas, which is where my great grandmother was born, as was my grandmother. Some of the Peebles clan were slave owners until the American Civil War. In my direct family line, I was able to find at least one record of 19th century slave ownership, from the 1830 census for Wiley Peebles, the generational halfway point between David Peebles and myself.

It’s interesting to see the description from the passage above. I previously had come across a record showing David Peebles had brought a bunch of people with him as dependents. I figured they were probably slaves, but it turns out that they were indentured servants. I suppose slavery was not yet as common as it would later become, considering slavery as an institution had only been legally formalized about three decades before. Plus, indentured servants were probably cheaper and easier to attain, at least for a person living In Scotland surrounded by landless peasants and other desperate people who wanted to escape to the New World.

The reason for indentured servants, and increasingly later slaves, went beyond just having workers for a plantation. The law was set up at the time such that the more dependents one brought (family members, indentured servants, and slaves) the more acres of land would be granted by the local government. In the early colonial era, prospective plantation owners needed to gather enough dependents in order to get the land needed to make a plantation possible. This is how the rich and powerful ended up with most of the best land in places like Virginia.

Still, that doesn’t disprove that he might have owned slaves as well. In her book An American Heritage Story, Gloria Peoples-Elam offers this enticing detail (Kindle Locations 398-400):

“Another very interesting entry into the journal is the following: “Capt David Peiblis is hereby tolerated and permitted to reteine and keep an Indian according to the rules and prescriptions of the Law in that Case provided.” Apparently, Captain Peebles had an Indian as a slave or a worker.”

He was sometimes referred to as a captain. He led a militia in at least one battle with a Native American tribe, maybe the Mohawks. It is surmised by some that he received an injury during the fight because he stops showing up much in the records. His being “permitted to reteine and keep an Indian” probably doesn’t indicate a relationship of freedom and friendship. Slavery wasn’t an uncommon fate early on for captured Native Americans.

Even indentured servitude wasn’t necessarily better. I’ve read before that in the early colonial era, most people didn’t survive to see the end of their indentured service, for the conditions weren’t conducive to health. It might be unsurprising that seeking escape wasn’t limited to slaves (or captive natives). Here is another example from the Peebles’ household, although following David Peeble’s death. In speaking about his wife, who had taken over the responsibilities of the family, Peoples-Elam says that,”She was exempted from tax on “two persons escaped”— indentured servants who had run away” (Kindle Locations 443-444). Those two persons apparently weren’t feeling happy, contented, and optimistic about their situation.

My ancestor, David Peebles, obviously had been a man of means and well-respected in the community, often finding himself in positions of authority. Even before Virginia, he either had great wealth, owned a lot of property to be sold, or had connections to borrow money. When he sought indentured servants for his plantation, that would have required a lot of money to pay for the passage, feeding, and housing of all those people—while also supporting a family. There were many wealthier British emigrants at the time, as the instability and violence during that era gave good reasons for people to flee.

The evidence apparently is even stronger than what I initially realized, at least to the degree that his father’s position implies something about his own position, a fair assumption to make a time when so much was inherited. Peoples-Elam writes that (Kindle Locations 261-268):

“By 1636, the name of David Peebles appears and is listed as “lawful son of Robert Peebles, decd., Burgess of Dundee in 1538.” This was the beginning of the direct ancestry that can be definitely traced back to Scotland.

“As a Burgess of Dundee, Sir Robert was a representative of a burgh or borough, which is a corporate or chartered town in Scotland. He would have been called a Vassal to the Crown. That meant that in times of the feudal system of Scotland this was a person holding lands under the obligation to render military service or its equivalent to his superior. This is shown by the fact that royal charters and Acts of Parliament were addressed or referred to as burgesses. Toward the Crown the burgess had the duties of helping to guard the burgh, of serving with the king’s army when called upon and of paying royal taxation. The latter would not have been the best part of being a burgess but to hold that distinction was necessary.”

A vassal to the Crown is a fairly high position. It would offer many things: wealth, land, authority, power, influence, connections, political franchise, etc. It was the propertied class (just below titled aristocracy) at a time when few had property, as property ownership was determined by the feudal order. As such, his father would have had been part of the upper classes, not part of the far reaches of ruling elite but still with significant position at least at the local level. So, when David Peebles refers to himself as a merchant (marchand), he might have meant something far beyond a mere businessman, trader, craftsmen, or farmer.

Another interesting thing is the specific historical context.

Virginia was settled by a fair number of Royalists, supporters of the Crown. They were often referred to as Cavaliers because of courtly fashion (the term cavalier being related to cavalry and chivalry, from Old French chevalier). The term was used as a general label for courtiers and Royalists, but some of them were Norman-descended aristocracy from southern England (and those that weren’t sought to style themselves as such). David Peebles, however, was Scottish. Some Scottish did fight for the Crown, but I don’t know if this included my ancestor and his kin. Scottish Royalists were typically Highlanders, whereas David Peebles was apparently from the Borders (although it might be noted that the Cavaliers didn’t have a high opinion of any of the Scottish—see Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War by John Stubbs; also see Soldiers and Strangers: An Ethnic History of the English Civil War by Mark Stoyle, as reviewed by R.C. RichardsonEnglish chauvinist prejudices were rampant. An English officer in 1639 devoted several lines to a litany of hostile adjectives that describe “the scurvy, filthy, dirty, nasty, lousy, itchy, scabby, shitten, stinking, slovenly, snotty-nosed, villainous, barbarous, beastial, false, lying, roguish, devilish” Scots.). The fact that my ancestor immigrated to Virginia and was easily assimilated into the social order does seem to imply that he likely had some association with the Royalist cause.

In support of this conclusion, I noticed that David Peebles put his notice up for emigrants a month after the king was captured by the New Model Army. He arrived in Virginia the same year King Charles I was executed, which was a year before Cromwell occupied Peebles, Scotland (just south of Edinburgh); that was the year directly following the execution of Charles I. Interestingly, in the American colonies (according to Enclyclopedia Virginia), “by 1650, most Virginia Puritans had left the colony for Maryland or Massachusetts.” So, the Cromwell supporters, Roundheads, were leaving Virginia just as those like David Peebles were arriving. Virginia was first settled by Puritans, but it would become seen as Royalist stronghold, not that it ever played a direct role in the English Civil War, as it remained officially neutral in the colony’s government seeking to encourage free trade with all sides.

I’d point out that Peebles, Scotland was an old royal burgh and resort. The people of the area may have felt particular loyalty to the former Scottish king, James VI, who became the king of England, James I (he would sometimes meet in Peebles in his official role). Many Scottish came into conflict with English rule, but that wasn’t true for all, as ethnic nationalism wasn’t fully formed yet. The Scottish didn’t see themselves as a single people at that time. Britain was a diverse place with no clear separation between Scotland and England. King James I died in 1625 and I’m not sure how the memory of his rule would have influenced loyalties during the English Civil War(s), in terms of the broader War of the Three Kingdoms.

Anyway, in its having taken root in Virginia where David Peebles’ plantation was located, Cavalier culture would be held up later on as what defined the American South, even though few Southerners were of Anglo-Norman ancestry. It was an aristocratic value system and social order: strict social hierarchy, privilege of white male landowners, noblesse oblige, and culture of honor. It was an echo of the old chivalric code of feudalism, an image of ancient nobility. It was what the plantation owners modeled themselves after and it became a collective identity among many Southerners in defining the South as a region with a culture that was supposedly unique and coherent, although in reality this was more of an invention. Even the Southern dialect didn’t fully develop until the commingling of Southerners in the Confederate Army. Here is a brief synopsis of the background (from Enclyclopedia Virginia):

“Having initially resisted England’s Commonwealth regime, and having reinstalled a former royal governor of its own accord, Virginia was in an excellent position to plead its loyalty to the king after the Restoration. Indeed, the colony even gained a reputation as a Royalist stronghold—a reputation some Virginians cultivated by exaggerating the number of Royalist officers, or Cavaliers, who migrated to the colony after 1648, and claiming that most Virginians were descended from the English aristocracy. While a number of Royalists—including members of the Washington, Randolph, Carter, and Lee families—sought refuge in Virginia, most remained in England or settled in Europe. And most immigrants to Virginia in the seventeenth century were indentured servants, not English gentry. Regardless, the Cavalier myth—perpetuated by romantic, nostalgic depictions of Virginia plantation life in literature and historical studies—took hold in Virginia and persisted throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Some scholars view the Lost Cause interpretation of the American Civil War (1861–1865) as an extension of the Cavalier myth.”

I’m sure that many of my ancestors on the Peebles line took the Cavalier identity seriously, especially during and in the decades prior to the Civil War, in which some of them fought.

In Britain, aristocracy took root along with feudalism. With the land enclosures, the desperate and impoverished landless peasants often became indentured servants, sometimes on plantations (the first attempt of the colonization project being the Ulster Plantation in Ireland, where many Scots-Irish ended up, although I’m not sure how much indentured servitude was used at that point). It was essentially a revamped form of feudalism. That then led to slavery which was an even better balance between the new capitalist plutocracy and the old feudalist social order, without any of the Commons stuff to get in the way.

In such a society, minorities and the poor had few rights, freedoms, and protections. Prior to slavery, indentured servants were the lowest of the low in a society where that could mean being beaten, tortured, raped, or worked to death. An indentured servant was literally worth less than a slave, for they were simply disposable labor. The master of an indentured servant couldn’t even make money by selling off the children.

Indentured servitude was useful during that transitional era, as cheap labor but more importantly for social control. Slavery served the same purpose after the ending of indenture, as it was used to maintain not just the color line but also class hierarchy. In its being rooted in feudalism, it offered the sense of an unchanging stable order. What always was would always be, so it seemed to many before it all came to an end. In defending slavery, they were fighting for an entire worldview and way of life.

In Virginia, a Civil War battle happened on a Peebles farm (and, at an earlier time in Virginia, Nat Turner’s rebellion led to the killing of a slave overseer by the name of Peebles). I would note that my Peebles family was in Texas during the Civil War. That was the area where slavery lasted the longest, as it took a while for slaves there to hear of the news that they had been freed. Once that news had arrived, that would have been the end of an era for the Southern lines of the David Peebles descendants in America.

Spirit of ’76

Spirit of ’76 (sentiment)
by Wikipedia

Historian Mellen Chamberlain wrote that the spirit of ’76 was embodied by Levi Preston, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War. Chamberlain asked Preston, then 91 years old, “Why did you go to the Concord Fight, the 19th of April, 1775? My histories tell me that you men took up arms against ‘intolerable oppressions.'” Preston responded:

Oppressions? I didn’t feel them. I never saw one of those stamps, and always understood that Governor Bernard put them all in Castle William. I am certain I never paid a penny for one of them. Tea tax! I never drank a drop of the stuff; the boys threw it all overboard. We read only the Bible, the Catechism, Watt’s Psalms and Hymns, and the Almanack. Young man, what we meant in going for those redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to William Smith
(commenting on Shay’s Rebellion)
Paris, November 13, 1787

What country before ever existed a century & a half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.

Fries’s Rebellion: The Enduring Struggle for the American Revolution
by Paul Douglas Newman
p. xii

While one recent historian located Shays’s Rebellion as “The American Revolution’s Final Battle” and another described the Whiskey Rebellion as the “Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution,” the Fries Rebels would have disagreed with both implications. Rather than a story consigned to paper and concluded, the Revolution to them was a perpetual narrative for successive generations to retell, an experience to be relived, and an enduring struggle to be reengaged. Their rebellion testified to the democratizing forces in politics and society unleashed by the American Revolution. To them, the Revolution was more than a War for Independence, the founding of a national republic, or the parchment documents that defined each. It was a political, economic, and social process of expanding popular sovereignty. The Revolution was a spirit to be constantly revived and a set of political principles to be frequently redefined— always in a democratic direction— to provide more local and personal control of daily life as well as increased power over broader collective policies. The Fries Rebels believed they were upholding the Revolution’s promise and founding ideals, even when they engaged in their own discriminatory, majoritarian behavior against some of their neighbors. Perhaps other Americans equally estimated that the people could directly expand their own role in local, state, and federal government, making it more democratic and less republican in the fluid days of the post-Revolutionary political settlement when parties were only beginning to form and authority seemed so weak. Even if this was not the case, the Fries Rebels appear to have thought that way, and if we listen closely enough, we can hear them tell us so.

Benjamin Rush in 1787
“Address to the People of the United States”

There is nothing more common than to confound the terms of the American revolution with those of the late American war. The American war is over: but this is far from being the case with the American revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the great drama is closed. It remains yet to establish and perfect our new forms of government; and to prepare the principles, morals, and manners of our citizens, for these forms of government, after they are established and brought to perfection. […]

PATRIOTS of 1774, 1775, 1778—HEROES of 1778, 1779, 1780! come forward! your country demands your services!—Philosophers and friends to mankind, com forward! your country demands your studies and speculations! Lovers of peace and order, who declined taking part in the late war, come forward! your country forgives your timidity, and demands your influence and advice! Hear her proclaiming, in sighs and groans, in her governments, in her finances, in her trade, in her manufactures, in her morals, and in her manners, “THE REVOLUTION IS NOT OVER!”

Capitalists Learning From Socialists


Even The Wall Street Journal Is Asking Questions About How Ownership Should Work in a Democracy
by Gar Alperovitz

The piece begins with the simple imperative: “If Western countries want to disprove the dire forecasts of Karl Marx, we must think creatively about how to make the middle class more prosperous and secure.“

Let that sink in for a minute. The threat, according to this featured piece in The Wall Street Journal, is not just Marxists and their ideas, but the possibility that they might be right about capitalism after all. The author strikes the same note in his conclusion:

[…] Marx did have an insight about the disproportionate power of the ownership of capital. The owner of capital decides where money goes, whereas the people who sell only their labor lack that power. This makes it hard for society to be shaped in their interests. In recent years, that disproportion has reached destructive levels, so if we don’t want to be a Marxist society, we need to put it right.

[…] the oddity of the WSJ, bastion of capitalism’s most defended ideological heights, running such a forceful indictment of the current system and its tendency to reproduce and deepen levels of inequality inimical to democracy cannot be ignored: The system question may not quite be on the table in the mainstream media in the way it ultimately needs to be, but it’s getting close.

Confession of Faith
Theodore Roosevelt
August 06, 1912

I am well aware that every upholder of privilege, every hired agent or beneficiary of the special interests, including many well-meaning parlor reformers, will denounce all this as “Socialism” or “anarchy”–the same terms they used in the past in denouncing the movements to control the rail-ways and to control public utilities. As a matter of fact, the propositions I make constitute neither anarchy nor Socialism, but on the contrary, a corrective to Socialism and an antidote to anarchy.


“Socialism, II — Where We Can Work with Socialists”
Outlook 27 March 1909
by Theodore Roosevelt

It is true that the doctrines of communistic Socialism, if consistently followed, mean the ultimate annihilation of civilization. Yet the converse is also true. Ruin faces us if we decline steadily to try to reshape our whole civilization in accordance with the law of service, and if we permit ourselves to be misled by any empirical or academic consideration into refusing to exert the common power of the community where only collective action can do what individualism has left undone, or can remedy the wrongs done by an unrestricted and ill-regulated individualism. There is any amount of evil in our social and industrial conditions of today, and unless we recognize this fact and try resolutely to do what we can to remedy the evil, we run great risk of seeing men in their misery turn to the false teachers whose doctrines would indeed lead them to greater misery, but who do at least recognize the fact that they are now miserable. At the present time there are scores of laws in the interest of labor — laws putting a stop to child labor, decreasing the hours of labor where they are excessive, putting a stop to unsanitary crowding and living, securing employers’ liability, doing away with unhealthy conditions in various trades, and the like — which should be passed by the National and the various State Legislatures; and those who wish to do effective work against Socialism would do well to turn their energies into securing the enactment of these laws.

Moreover, we should always remember that Socialism is both a wide and a loose term, and that the self-styled Socialists are of many and utterly different types. If we should study only the professed apostles of radical Socialism, of what these men themselves like to call “scientific Socialism,” or if we should study only what active leaders of Socialism in this country have usually done, or read only the papers in which they have usually expressed themselves, we would gain an utterly wrong impression of very many men who call themselves Socialists. There are many peculiarly high-minded men and women who like to speak of themselves as Socialists, whose attitude, conscious or unconscious, is really merely an indignant recognition of the evil of present conditions and an ardent wish to remedy it, and whose Socialism is really only an advanced form of liberalism. Many of these men and women in actual fact take a large part in the advancement of moral ideas […] The Socialists of this moral type may in practice be very good citizens indeed, with whom we can at many points co-operate.

Theodore Roosevelt, an Autobiography
by Theodore Roosevelt

many of the men who call themselves Socialists to-day are in reality merely radical social reformers, with whom on many points good citizens can and ought to work in hearty general agreement, and whom in many practical matters of government good citizens well afford to follow.


Teddy Roosevelt’s “Socialist” Party Platform
by Timothy Ashby

by Amygdala

Bernie Sanders’s Presidential Bid Represents a Long Tradition of American Socialism
Long deployed by the right as an epithet, this form of left-wing populism is as American as apple pie.
by Peter Dreier

How Obama’s Embrace Turned Teddy Roosevelt Into a Socialist
After Obama cited Roosevelt in his Kansas speech, Fox News has decided that TR peddled “socialistic nationalism.”
by John Nichols

Sanders’s ‘socialist’ policies sound a lot like Teddy Roosevelt’s and Reagan’s
by H.A. Goodman

The Moral Imagination of Fear

When the authoritarians finally and fully take over the United States, they will do so by fear-mongering about authoritarianism.

They will say that government is the problem, that mobocracy is the danger. They will say that they are being oppressed when the poor and minorities, workers and immigrants demand equal rights and freedom, equal representation and opportunity. They will accuse of others the very authoritarianism they seek to promote.

It is no accident that in this country that there is an overlap between authoritarianism and the conservative movement. Many studies have shown this strong correlation. These people don’t fear authoritarianism, but rather the possibility of sharing power with others, which means the loss of their privilege and position.

As they lose power in the numbers they once held, they will become more vicious and devious in their manipulations of that waning power. Sure, they will likely wrap themselves in the American flag and hug the cross, but it won’t end there. They will do anything and everything. They will even embrace the rhetoric and tactics of the political left, as they take on the mantle of populism and progressivism. They will offer the solutions to the problems they created.

The attack is merely the first step. That is where fear takes over, the battlefield that ever favors the demagogue or worse still the dictator. Only then will they offer their stark vision.

Birds of a Feather
by Corey Robin

Nixon to Kissinger:

We’ve got to destroy the confidence of the people in the American establishment.

Mao to the Red Guards:

Bombard the headquarters.