Is Classical Liberalism Liberal?

Was Classical Liberalism and Social Democracy Opposed?

utubehayter wrote:

Hold on, you think classical liberals were for social democracy? Oh boy, what Thomas Paine are you reading? The same anarchist that almost got himself killed by the Jacobins for his anti-democracy stance? And Henry David Thoreau, the “almost an anarchist” classical liberal?

Where the hell do these people preach social democracy?


“Not monarchy” does not mean “a republic”. And you are calling others ignorant?

My Response

The broadest definition of classical liberalism is all liberalism prior to the 20th century. I realize modern right-wingers have come to define classical liberalism narrowly to only refer to themselves and assert that it represents the ‘true’ conservative tradition. But some modern liberals also claim their lineage comes from classical liberalism. And it must be noted that the liberal values and vision of social democracy existed long before the Progressivism of the 20th century. Alan Wolfe writes (from A False Distinction):

[E]verywhere I go, the moment I tell people that I have written a book about liberalism, I am invariably asked which of the two I mean. Classical liberalism, my interlocutors patiently explain to me, is that wonderful notion of the free market elucidated by Adam Smith that worships the idea of freedom. The modern version, by contrast, is committed to expansion of the state and, if taken to its logical conclusion, leads to slavery. One must choose one or the other. There really is no such thing, therefore, as modern liberalism. If you opt for the market, you are a libertarian. If you choose government, you are a socialist or, in more recent times, a fascist.

I try to explain to people that in my book I reject any such distinction and argue instead for the existence of a continuous liberal understanding that includes both Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes. But so foreign is this idea to them that they stare at me in utter disbelief. How could I have possibly written a book on liberalism, I can almost hear them thinking, when this guy doesn’t know a thing about it?

[ . . . ] I think of the whole question of governmental intervention as a matter of technique. Sometimes the market does pretty well and it pays to rely on it. Sometimes it runs into very rough patches and then you need government to regulate it and correct its course. No matters of deep philosophy or religious meaning are at stake when we discuss such matters. A society simply does what it has to do.

When instead we do discuss human purpose and the meaning of life, Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes are on the same side. Both of them possessed an expansive sense of what we are put on this earth to accomplish. Both were on the side of enlightenment. Both were optimists who believed in progress but were dubious about grand schemes that claimed to know all the answers. For Smith, mercantilism was the enemy of human liberty. For Keynes, monopolies were. It makes perfect sense for an eighteenth century thinker to conclude that humanity would flourish under the market. For a twentieth century thinker committed to the same ideal, government was an essential tool to the same end.

Liberalism and conservatism aren’t specific ideologies so much as they are general attitudes. By definition, a conservative wishes to conserve and a liberal does not. This brings us to one of the problem of American politics. As Gunnar Myrdal explained, “America is conservative in fundamental principles… but the principles conserved are liberal and some, indeed, are radical.” So, conservatism will criticize the living breathing liberalism of the moment often in defense of the fossilized liberalism of the past. This is why conservatives will claim classical liberalism as their own. Liberalism of the past is safe because it’s been cleansed of all unknown, and hence uncontrollable, elements. Even though neither is a specific ideology, conservatism is forever seeking to conserve the ideologies of the past whether they are considered liberal or conservative. Conservatives in the past would have criticized classical liberalism, but conservatives today can safely admire it because it’s been made into a set doctrine. This might also explain why many Americans identify as conservative even as they hold traditionally ‘liberal’ positions. Progressive policies were liberal when they were first proposed, but now that they’ve been established for almost a century they’ve become a part of the American tradition and so many conservatives will seek to conserve something like Social Security.

Liberalism, by nature, is constantly changing, constantly pushing the boundaries, constantly trying new things (or putting old things in new contexts). As such, liberalism isn’t a single set of beliefs and policies. When conservatives are getting used to classical liberalism, liberals are already onto another original concept or system. Liberals adapt to present circumstances seeking to go in new directions. Nonetheless, there is a fundamental core to the liberal attitude. As Wolfe points out, “For Keynes, monopolies were. It makes perfect sense for an eighteenth century thinker to conclude that humanity would flourish under the market. For a twentieth century thinker committed to the same ideal, government was an essential tool to the same end.” A liberal is less concerned for the method than for the desired results (which the conservative, burdened by traditions of the past, might consider overly idealistic and pragmatically unrealistic; this reminds me of research that showed optimists are less realistic about the present but, for that reason, less likely to get stuck in present problems; therefore, it’s more difficult for the pessimistic conservative to envision a new future or to trust what a liberal envisions). As such, a liberal is willing to try any method or system to achieve the desired result, always with their ideal as the pole star to guide them. Liberalism is broad and wide-ranging because liberalism wants to expand, to liberate. Here is a general definition of liberalism:

Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis, “of freedom”)[1] is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights.[2] Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but most liberals support such fundamental ideas as constitutionsliberal democracyfree and fair electionshuman rightscapitalismfree trade, and thefreedom of religion.[3][4][5][6][7] These ideas are widely accepted, even by political groups that do not openly profess a liberal ideological orientation. Liberalism encompasses several intellectual trends and traditions, but the dominant variants are classical liberalism, which became popular in the eighteenth century, and social liberalism, which became popular in the twentieth century.

Such a definition includes classical liberalism but obviously isn’t limited to it. Liberals, starting with the classical liberals, focus on the individual. They put greater importance on the human being than on the system. The system is merely there to serve people, not the person to conform to the system. When faced with an oppressive or unfair government, liberals will seek to free themselves by limiting government (i.e., classical liberalism). When faced with an oppressive or unfair capitalism, liberals will seek to free themselves by regulating capitalism (i.e., social democracy). It’s the same impulse just responding to different problems at different times. Both responses are seeking the public good by decreasing that which impinges upon individual freedom. It’s not mere idealization of the individual. It’s an understanding that what is good for one is good for all and what is bad for one is bad for all. But at any given time the balance between public good and individual freedom is never perfect, constantly shifting in order to adapt to present realities. This is why classical liberals, faced with an oppressive social system, emphasized individual freedom. And this is why social democrats, faced with an oppressive corporatist plutocracy, emphasized public good.

The conservative, on the other hand, wants a set of principles that will stand for all time. For this reason, the conservative prefers to find a system that has proven itself over time, a tradition (whether religious, political, or economic). The commonality between the fiscal conservative and social conservative is that both want to conserve, but American tradition is such a mixed bag that there are many choices about what a conservative may choose to conserve. American conservatives are put in an odd position. America was founded on radical change. How does one conserve radical change?

American Politics & Thomas Paine

What differentiates American politics is that Classical liberals “established political parties that were called “liberal”, although in the United States classical liberalism came to dominate both existing major political parties.” The struggle of early American politics wasn’t whether to be liberal or not, but how liberal to be. Thomas Paine, for example, was a radical liberal. Compared to Paine, many of the founding fathers were conservative in that they still wanted to conserve a ruling class of landowners and of educated elite. However, compared to the British political system, the founding fathers were liberal in that they wanted to eliminate the monarchy. This was the meaning the founding fathers had in mind when they used the word ‘republic’ to describe America. The original and most basic meaning of republic was a government that wasn’t a monarchy. Power didn’t come from a monarch but from the people (‘republic’ originates from res publica: the public thing/affair, commonwealth).

The debate between Paine and some of the founding fathers is rather telling about the internal conflict of American politics (that continues to this day). It was Paine’s radical vision that inspired the American Revolution, but that radical vision was tamed when the constitution was written. Many of the founding fathers were conservatives in that they feared change. They didn’t merely want to create something radically new as Paine proposed. The founding fathers saw themselves as part of a small ‘r’ republican tradition that had it’s roots in British culture. They revolted against the monarchy not to be radicals but to conserve this republican tradition. They didn’t trust the general public any more than they trusted the British monarchy. They weren’t against an aristocracy per se. They just wanted a political elite based on a meritocracy rather than on mere inheritance. They assumed the upper class of landowners were superior to the common rabble. That is why they explicitly denied the majority of the population the right to vote or to hold public office.

Paine, however, was against all aristocracy, against all ruling elites. Paine wanted all men and women to be free, to have the right to vote and hold public office. He realized that for practical reasons representation was necessary for democracy, but he wanted democracy to be as direct, as grassroots, as localized as possible. He wanted democracy to literally be in the hands of the people, no matter how poor, no matter whether man or woman, no matter what race or religion. Paine wasn’t shy in his defense of equal rights nor shy in his criticisms of those who would disenfranchise others of their rights (Dissertation on the First Principles of Government):

But the offensive part of the case is that this exclusion from the right of voting implies a stigma on the moral character of the persons excluded; and this is what no part of the community has a right to pronounce upon another part. No external circumstance can justify it: wealth is no proof of moral character; nor poverty of the want of it.

On the contrary, wealth is often the presumptive evidence of dishonesty; and poverty the negative evidence of innocence. If therefore property, whether little or much, be made a criterion, the means by which that property has been acquired ought to be made a criterion also.

The only ground upon which exclusion from the right of voting is consistent with justice would be to inflict it as a punishment for a certain time upon those who should propose to take away that right from others. The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected.

To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another, and he that has not a vote in the election of representatives is in this case. The proposal therefore to disfranchise any class of men is as criminal as the proposal to take away property.

When we speak of right we ought always to unite with it the idea of duties; rights become duties by reciprocity. The right which I enjoy becomes my duty to guarantee it to another, and he to me; and those who violate the duty justly incur a forfeiture of the right.

Let me now respond to the first part of utubehayter’s comment:

Hold on, you think classical liberals were for social democracy? Oh boy, what Thomas Paine are you reading? The same anarchist that almost got himself killed by the Jacobins for his anti-democracy stance?

I must admit that I’m still learning about Thomas Paine. I’ve learned about Paine mostly by my reading Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye and therefore my understanding of Paine is biased by this author, although I have read a bit of Paine’s writing on its own. Here is a quote where Kaye describes why so many different types of people have tried to claim Paine as one of their own (Kindle location 767):

In words that would forever delight libertarians and anarchists, he distinguished between society and government and maintained that “society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil.” Yet Paine was neither a libertarian nor an anarchist or for that matter a Lockean liberal. He was a revolutionary democrat, and contrary to the commonly accepted view, his tale was rendered not so much as a diatribe against government, at least not all forms of government, as a narrative of democratic beginnings and commitments.

So, that is the premise of Kaye’s book. I’ll now share some sections that make the case that Paine was a social democrat who believed government played an important role. There is a concept that conservatives don’t seem to understand. A person can be both a small ‘r’ republican and a small ‘d’ democrat’. In fact, one of the first American parties was the Democratic-Republican Party (the name is used by political scientists, but the members of the party often would call it either Republican or Democratic, “the two terms often used interchangeably.[22]). Kaye explains Paine’s own understanding of republicanism and democracy (Kindle location 841):

Republicanism to Paine, as he would later explain, meant not a “particular form of government” but a government constituted for “respublica … or the public good,” as opposed to one that served “despotic” ends. And he understood the particular form of government he advanced as representative democracy: “By ingrafting representation upon democracy, we arrive at a system of government capable of embracing and confederating all the various interests and every extent of territory and population.”24

The America Paine portrayed was not thirteen separate entities but a single nation-state. Deeply concerned that the tenuous colonial alliance might fall apart, he was the first to propose the idea of convening a conference to frame a “Continental Charter.” And—making it all the more original—his democratic commitments and sensibilities led him to insist that the conference be “impowered by the people.”

When Paine spoke of democracy, he meant it in the most radical and inclusive sense as an uncompromising egalitarianism (Kindle location 1129):

“in all countries where the freedom of the poor has been taken away, in whole or in part, that the freedom of the rich lost its defence,” he insisted that “freedom must have all or none, and she must have them equally.”61 Paine was not naïve. He knew freedom could be dangerous, but he pointed out that “if dangerous in the hands of the poor from ignorance, it is at least equally dangerous in the hands of the rich from influence.” Dismissing neither possibility, he suggested ways of addressing them. To prevent ignorance he recommended education. And to prevent political corruption he again demanded democracy: “numerous electors, composed as they naturally will be, of men of all conditions, from rich to poor.”

It’s true many of the founding fathers feared democracy, but Paine did not. One of the reasons the founding fathers feared democracy is because they feared what they saw happening in France. Paine’s response to France was to be optimistic. He hoped revolution would spread all across Europe and Paine’s writings inspired revolutionary fervor in many countries. The founding fathers feared that Paine would inspire in America what helped to inspire in France. But Paine believed in, rather than feared, the common man (Kindle location 1300):

Conceding the danger of “mobs,” Paine attributed their actions to the brutality of aristocratic societies, especially their cruel forms of punishment. Rejecting Burke’s thesis that generations were obliged to defer to their ancestors, he upheld the “rights of the living” and insisted that generations cannot “bind” future generations: “Every age and generation must be free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generations which preceded it.” And countering Burke’s propositions about the “ancient” origins of rights, he retorted that Burke did “not go far enough into antiquity,” for the “natural rights of man” went all the way back to “creation” and remained in every generation “equal” and “universal” among men. Divinely ordained, natural rights might be suppressed, but they could not be forfeited or alienated.16

Paine expressed tremendous confidence in the “genius and talents” of common people, if only governments would engage them: “There is existing in man, a mass of sense lying in a dormant state, and which, unless something excites it to action, will descend with him … to the grave. As it is to the advantage of society that the whole of its faculties should be employed, the construction of government ought to be such as to bring forward, by quiet and regular operation, all that extent of capacity which never fails to appear in revolutions.”

In Paine’s vision of America, he saw the possibility of a government that would help the common person. He believed a government could empower the public by putting the power of the government in the hands of the public. He wanted a government that was literally for and by the people. For this reason, he wasn’t seeking to lessen the power of the government but to increase the power of the people through self-governance. A government was only worthy in his eyes to the degree that it helped all people equally and helped all people to achieve some semblance of equality. Paine was a social democrat in that he saw the necessity of a welfare state to lessen the problems of modern civilization, not a paternalistic state but an empowering government (Kindle location 1365):

Paine did more than censure Britain’s political order. Reviving the plan he had begun to formulate years earlier but had set aside in his encounter with America, he extended his radical-democratic thinking by outlining a series of welfare programs that a revolutionary change in government would afford. Along with suggesting a progressive estate tax to limit accumulation of property, he recommended raising the incomes of the poor by remitting their taxes and augmenting the sums, distributing special relief for families with children, creating a system of social security for the elderly, instituting public funding of education through a voucher system, providing financial support for newly married couples and new mothers, and establishing employment centers for the jobless. He also rendered a most appealing image of the good society:

When it shall be said in any country in the world, “My poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am a friend of happiness”: when these things can be said, then may that country boast of its constitution and its government.27

Even as Paine pushed radicalism in a social-democratic direction, he proclaimed, “I have been an advocate for commerce, because I am a friend to its effects.” It may seem odd to many of us today, but like many eighteenth-century radicals confronting the legacies of absolutism, Paine comprehended “political liberty and economic liberty” as mutually interdependent and imagined that economic freedom served to assure equality of opportunity and results. Witnessing monarchical regimes taxing the productive classes, transferring wealth to parasitic royals and aristocrats, and punishing working people and the poor, he personally had come to view nondemocratic governments, not markets, as the fundamental cause of social inequality and oppression. Consequently, he proposed the liberation of the market and expansion of commercial activity.28

Commerce was, for Paine, “a pacific system, operating to unite mankind by rendering nations, as well as individuals, useful to each other … If commerce were permitted to act to the universal extent it is capable of, it would extirpate the system of war, and produce a revolution in the uncivilized state of governments.” As much as he appreciated the manifold potential of free markets, however, he did not hold that equality and democracy must necessarily defer to the imperatives of commerce and trade. And as his revolutionary proposal for welfare-state policies attests, he increasingly realized that the democratic governments for which he fought would have to politically address inequality and poverty.

If you had any doubts about Paine being a radical social democrat (which isn’t the same as socialist or communist), the following should eliminate all doubts entirely (Kindle location 1562):

In July 1795 Paine published Dissertation on First Principles of Government, fervently reaffirming his commitment to republican democracy. While he granted that “property will ever be unequal,” he argued against the right of any regime to divide the citizenry into civil or political ranks by wealth and rejected the notion that owning property afforded any entitlements. Furthermore, he demanded the establishment of universal manhood suffrage. And laying down that “the only ground upon which exclusion from the right of voting is consistent with justice would be to inflict it as a punishment for a certain time upon those who should propose to take away that right from others,” he proclaimed. “The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which others are protected.”49

When, regardless of his complaints, the government proceeded with its constitutional plans, Paine withdrew from the Convention and went to work on finishing the second part of The Age of Reason. That autumn he again fell seriously ill, and rumors flew around the Atlantic that he had passed away. But Mrs. Monroe nursed him back to health.

Back on his feet, Paine immediately set himself to writing a series of new pieces, including the highly original Agrarian Justice. He had come to see all the more clearly that inequality and poverty were the consequences not simply of exploitative systems of taxation and government expenditure but also of economic power and the payment of inadequate wages. “Civilization,” he wrote, “has operated two ways: to make one part of society more affluent, and the other more wretched, than would have been the lot of either in a natural state … [T]he accumulation of personal property is, in many instances, the effect of paying too little for the labor that produced it; the consequence of which is that the working hand perishes in old age, and the employer abounds in affluence.”50

Paine refused to blame the poor for the economic circumstances to which they were reduced, for “poverty is a thing created by … civilized life,” which, he believed, did not exist “in the natural state.” In the face of increasing disparities, he grew increasingly impatient: “The present state of civilization is as odious as it is unjust. It is absolutely the opposite of what it should be, and … a revolution should be made in it.” And even more strenuously than he had in Rights of Man, Paine propounded that society had an obligation to address material inequality and poverty through a system of public welfare. This “ought to be considered as one of the first objects of reformed legislation,” he insisted, and its aim should be to “preserve the benefits of what is called civilized life, and to remedy at the same time the evil which it has produced.”51

Paine had been led to write Agrarian Justice by Bishop Richard Watson’s sermon “The Wisdom and Goodness of God, in having made both rich and poor,” which Watson had included in his reply to The Age of Reason. “It is wrong to say God made both rich and poor,” Paine responded. “He made only male and female; and He gave them the earth for their inheritance.” Paine then held that since God had provided the land as a collective endowment for humanity, those who had come to possess the land as private property owed those who had been dispossessed of it—“on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization”—an annual ground rent. Specifically, he delineated a limited redistribution of income by way of a tax on landed wealth and property:

To create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property: And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age.

And notably, Paine did not limit the initial stake or later payments to men.52

Paine also made it clear that he was not proposing a charity but rather was advocating the “right” of the dispossessed to “compensation.” And he then enunciated an important democratic principle and practice, namely that “the payments [are to] be made to every person, rich or poor. It is best to make it so, to prevent invidious distinctions.” Those who “do not choose to receive it,” he added, “can throw it into the common fund.”53

While Paine called for a “revolution in the state of civilization,” he was not a socialist. He did not suggest redistributing or recollectivizing the land. He did not contest the right of the propertied to hold their property. Nor did he long to restore some lost “golden age.” The progress of “civilization” had created inequality and poverty, yet it had also materially improved life. Not only was the natural state clearly “without those advantages which flow from agriculture, art, science and manufactures,” but “it is never possible to go from the civilized to the natural state.” There was no turning back the historical clock.

Paine’s vision of America is radical even by today’s standard of a welfare state. I don’t think it’s fair to even call Paine’s vision welfare because he merely saw it the egalitarian protection of God-given rights. God gave us all rights, but God didn’t give the ruling elite their wealth and land. Even today, most wealth in America is inherited rather than earned wealth. We always hear the promise of America that any person can grow up to be anything, even president. But we all know that is a lie, just pretty words to uplift the peasants from the drudgery of their existence. Paine, however, actually believed in those words.

Henry David Thoreau: Liberal?

Finally, let me deal with the last part of the comment by utubehayter:

And Henry David Thoreau, the “almost an anarchist” classical liberal?

I actually don’t know what Thoreau identified as, but I’d imagine he wasn’t much interested in confining himself to labels. Thoreau probably was inspired by classical liberalism. In fact, he was inspired by many things considering he read widely including books from Eastern countries. Whether or not we label him a classical liberal, it’s for certain he was a liberal even by modern standards of liberalism. It’s funny that utubehayter thinks there is a conflict between liberalism and anarchism considering that the latter is an just extreme version of the former. You can’t get any more liberal than anarchism. Anyway, I don’t think Thoreau was an anarchist. He was just a humanist who was cared about people and was suspicious of corrupt power, both in government and in capitalism.

I’ve written about this before:

Henry David Thoreau: Founding Father of American Libertarian Thought | by Jeff Riggenbach

Thoreau was a liberal libertarian who argued for egalitarianism and later inspired civil rights leaders such as Ghandi and Martin Luther King jr. Also, I’ve never seen any example of Thoreau defending property rights as do conservative libertarians. When he moved to Walden, he lived on someone elses property (Emerson’s property as I remember which Emerson had inherited from his wife). He did his own work as he was very industrious and knowledgeable, but he was perfectly fine with receiving gifts of goods he needed and borrowing tools.

“Near the end of March, 1845, I borrowed an axe and went down to the woods by Walden Pond, nearest to where I intended to build my house, and began to cut down some tall, arrowy white pines, still in their youth, for timber. It is difficult to begin without borrowing, but perhaps it is the most generous course thus to permit your fellow-men to have an interest in your enterprise. The owner of the axe, as he released his hold on it, said that it was the apple of his eye; but I returned it sharper than I received it.”

Thoreau had some anti-statist tendencies for sure, but this wasn’t based on his feeling territorial about the home he built or protective of his private property. He apparently wasn’t even bothered by minor acts of theft.

“I was never molested by any person but those who represented the State. I had no lock nor bolt but for the desk which held my papers, not even a nail to put over my latch or windows. I never fastened my door night or day, though I was to be absent several days; not even when the next fall I spent a fortnight in the woods of Maine. And yet my house was more respected than if it had been surrounded by a file of soldiers. The tired rambler could rest and warm himself by my fire, the literary amuse himself with the few books on my table, or the curious, by opening my closet door, see what was left of my dinner, and what prospect I had of a supper. Yet, though many people of every class came this way to the pond, I suffered no serious inconvenience from these sources, and I never missed anything but one small book, a volume of Homer, which perhaps was improperly gilded, and this I trust a soldier of our camp has found by this time.”

Watching this video helped me to articulate the difference between the two wings of libertarianism. A conservative libertarian tends to argue for rights in terms of capitalist terminology (e.g., property rights and contractual rights). And a liberal libertarian tends to define capitalism in terms of civil rights. This shows a difference of priority. Conservative libertarians are more accepting of hierarchical power and liberal libertarians prefer egalitarianism (liberalism being the common thread between libertarianism and anarchism).

“I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough.”

Political Labels – Meaningless? Divisive?

I keep coming across the problem with political labels. I’m actually a fan of labels when they are used to accurately represent fundamental differences, but too often that isn’t how they are used. I probably don’t have much hope to disentangle that which has been intentionally tangled. Still, I can at least explain my own understanding of the entanglement.

First, there is a difference between European and American political histories. In Europe, conservatism has traditionally been supportive of government. In America, conservatism opposed the government because the government was founded on a liberal vision. So, American conservatism is radicalized and contradicts traditional conservatism. To speak of the conservative tradition in America is to speak of an idiosyncratic tradition. The American conservative tradition isn’t traditionally conservative. It’s more complex than that, but there is a basic truth to this explanation.

Second, there is a difference between mainstream politics and majority public opinion. America was inspired by a vision of populist liberalism, but the founding fathers were mistrusting of this vision and so they created a new entrenched ruling elite (rich white males, landed aristocracy, plutocratic owner class). So, American politics has an inherent conflict. The original vision that inspired the American Revolution has yet to be fulfilled. This puts conservatives in a weird position when they try to defend the American tradition. Are they defending the radically liberal vision or are they defending the ruling elite? In some sense, the two are so mixed that they can’t easily be separated. The founding fathers were liberal for their day and yet socially conservative compared to present society, especially in their favoring a hierarchical society built on slavery where most citizens are disenfranchised from voting and holding political office.

Third, about a century ago through lies and deception corporations gained the legal rights of personhood. At that time, there was a populist revolt against the capitalist oligarchy. But it didn’t last as the ruling elite quickly destroyed it and co-opted the rhetoric. With corporate personhood, the founding father’s plutocracy was turned into a corporatocracy. Yet it’s a corporatocracy that retains the external elements of America’s social democracy. Corporatocracy is what Ike was warning about when he spoke of the Military-Industrial Complex. The 20th century has been the history of that warning not being heeded. The result is that the entire mainstream political spectrum has been pushed toward the right (toward a fiscal conservatism defined by the plutocratic ruling class of business owners, CEOs, bankers, investors, lobbyists, and corporatist politicians).

Fourth, there used to be a left-wing and a right-wing in both parties. This changed when the entire country had a political switch over the past half century or so. The Democratic Party used to be strong in the South, but is now strong in the North. However, the Democratic Party still is strong with poor, minorities, and other disenfranchised demographics even in the South. And the Democratic Party has maintained both a left-wing and a right-wing (Democrats are almost equally divided between those who identify as liberals, conservatives, and moderates). The Republicans were the party of Lincoln, the leader of the Northern Aggression who forced the South to end slavery. Republicans were the party that defended government instead of attacking it. Republicans were called that because they believed in the ‘republic’ which is the government. Earlier in the 20th century, there were still many progressive Republicans like Eisenhower. But there was a purging of the left-wing of the GOP which has caused the conservative movement to become radicalized toward the far right, specifically the far right of social conservatives. This radicalization has, as research has shown, led the conservative movement to become strongly aligned with right-wing authoritarians (a specific label with a specific definition as used in research).

All of this together has led Americans to have a very confused sense of politics.

When polled: If Americans are given a choice between identifying as liberal, conservative or moderate, the majority chooses moderate. If Americans are only given a choice between liberal or conservative, the majority chooses conservative. However, when asked about specific political positions and policies, liberals and moderates are largely in agreement. What usually is defined as ‘liberal’ positions are supported by a majority of Americans.

So, there is an apparent contradiction between what Americans label themselves as and what Americans actually support. This is because for decades the word ‘liberal’ has been portrayed in very negative terms which the American public has internalized. Mainstream politicians and media pundits have increasingly portrayed liberalism as the far left which is obviously not the case since moderates and the majority agree with liberals. The political spectrum has been pushed so far to the right that the far left is almost entirely excluded from public debate. The vacuum left from the banishment of left-wingers has forced moderate liberals to fill that position on the left end of the spectrum.

The political center in Washington isn’t the political center of the American public. Most Americans are moderates, but most politicians are polarized in their rhetoric. Also, most activists are polarized as well. This leaves a moderate silent majority which is in fact the liberal silent majority. Most liberals are probably so silent because they don’t even know they are liberals.

On top of that, the majority of Americans don’t vote because America has a history of disenfranchising the masses (which was intentionally created by the founding fathers). Conservatives, like the founding fathers, don’t trust the masses and are suspicious of democracy because it gives power to the masses. The silent majority isn’t just silent but silenced. Our political system is technically a democracy (however imperfect and corrupt), but even admitting this fact is a concession conservatives are unwilling to make. Conservatives will say that we live in a republic, not a democracy. I find that funny since there is no inherent conflict between the two. Yes, we are a republic AND we are democracy. Anyway, there is nothing inherently good about a republic. China is a republic.

A further confusion is that many Americans, especially among conservatives, don’t understand the difference between a liberal, a socialist, a communist, and a fascist. It’s all one and the same to them. As I’ve already pointed out, the contemporary American liberal is actually a moderate and, I would add, a small ‘r’ republican (in that they support our republican government). Beyond that, a socialist isn’t a communist isn’t a fascist. Socialism is a broad category which gives power to individuals and to communities of individuals. To varying degrees, socialism can be found in many churches, local organizations, unions, etc. Communism and fascism, on the other hand, are specifically about governments. A communist government owns the means of production. And a fascist government is controlled by those who own the means of production. But the distinction is often blurred. For example, the Nazis were fascists who used socialism to label themselves while killing and imprisoning socialists as well as communists. If you were a socialist being killed or imprisoned by Nazis, you wouldn’t be comforted by the fact that Nazis labeled themselves as ‘socialists’.

Yet another confusion, especially among conservatives, is that libertarianism and classical liberalism is true conservatism. Now, that is a confusion of labels worthy of a propagandist. The original libertarians and classical liberals were radically liberal and not conservative in any sense. Some of them thought free markets were potentially beneficial, but they were also very wary of capitalism not constrained by the morality of public good. The first libertarians were labor movement socialists (which makes it all the more ironic that most self-identified libertarians today are mostly from the privileged upper class). The godfather of American libertarianism, Henry David Thoreau, criticized the capitalism of his day which is the very same 19th century capitalism that right-libertarians today like to romanticize. The original vision of America was described by Thomas Paine who was a classical liberal of the bleeding heart liberal variety. Even so, left-libertarians like Thoreau and radical liberals like Paine are today so far to the left that they are no longer even included on the political spectrum. Even militant secessionists get more media attention and mainstream respectability. Washington politicians are simply being good conservatives when they speak about overthrowing the government, but when a moderate liberal defends the moral justification of the government they get labeled as a far left socialist.

The confusions abound. Many people think of America as a Christian nation, but only a minority of Americans regularly attend church and atheists know more about the Bible than most who claim to be Christian. Republicans use fiscal conservatism as rhetoric, but when asked it’s self-identified liberals who state the most interest in balancing the budget. Tea Party supporters and many right-libertarians idolize the constitution, but some of these people have proposed repealing the 14th amendment just because they don’t like immigrants and they’ve sought to take away the rights from the working class by busting unions. It’s hard to know what to make of all this.

Even though I think of myself as a liberal, I don’t mean to just blame conservatives. When I read about traditional conservatism, I find elements of it quite appealing. I’ve always been mistrusting of radicalism and not just because the radicalism of American conservatives. I’m like Paine in that I want to believe in our democratic government. Paine would be disappointed to see our country becoming ever more fascist, but he would be quite uplifted by the fact that the government finally ended slavery which he wanted the government to do right from the beginning. I want to believe in America, including the government. In this sense, I’m ‘conservative’. But being this kind of a ‘conservative’ in America means that you’ll likely feel more at home with those who identify as ‘liberals’. As such, I praise conservatism even as I criticize conservatives.

I had no grand purpose in analyzing all these labels. I just wanted to explain my own understanding. I keep hearing the same muddled labels being argued about… which is annoying. I also find it annoying when someone claims the labels are meaningless, that the left/right dichotomy was created to divide and conquer. My problem is most people who think labels are meaningless seem to do so because of ignorance about the history of those labels. Yes, those in power do use tactics of divide and conquer, but they also use tactics of keeping the public so ignorant that they can’t make intelligent distinctions.

I feel harshly judgmental (which isn’t unusual for me), but that isn’t the point. Maybe those who think the labels have become meaningless are right. I don’t know if it matters. The labels themselves, of course, are just words. What matters is that which words are intended to represent. From my perspective, the loss of meaningful labels is the loss of meaningful discussion. What these labels represent is history. There is something sad about the collective forgetting of our collective past.

– – –

After writing the above, I had some further thoughts (surprise, surprise). I want to expand on a few points I made and maybe offer some corrections or clarifications.

I think the confusion of politics has always existed in America. It goes beyond the radicalization and polarization of the 20th century.

I was particularly thinking about political groups such as right-libertarians, objectivists, and anarcho-capitalists. I often consider these groups to be ‘conservative’ in the broad sense. Certainly, they are right-wingers. It makes me wonder what is the relation between conservatives and right-wingers. As I already pointed out, liberals and left-wingers often have very little in common. Many left-wingers choose not to identify as ‘liberals’ and many self-identified liberals disavow left-wingers. I’ve noticed similar dynamic can be found between right-wingers and conservatives (which, to an outsider like me, often appears as a conflict between those who emphasize fiscal conservatism and those who emphasize social conservatism).

The confusion in this area has two main aspects.

  1. Those on the right tend to conflate liberals and left-wingers and those on the left tend to conflate conservatives and right-wingers.
  2. If you go far enough to the right or left, you often end up around the same place: left-libertarians and right-libertarians, anarcho-syndicalists and anarcho-capitalists, etc.

Both the left-wing and right-wing in America have some origins in classical liberalism (because America has its origins in classical liberalism). My complaint is that the right-wingers often want to claim classical liberalism for themselves. I’ve argued that classical liberalism has more in common with the left than the right. Ignoring the two wings, it’s obvious that liberalism in general has its origins in classical liberalism, although much has changed since the time of classical liberalism. On the other hand, one would have to make a major stretch to argue that contemporary conservatism overall has much to do with classical liberalism. Right-wingers make a simple mistake in assuming that classical liberalism automatically means minarchism or anti-statism. The early classical liberals, prior to the American and French revolutions, were against the governments of the time because those governments were monarchies with state-sanctioned religions. But they weren’t against all government in principle. For damned sure, classical liberalism isn’t just another name for anarchism.

That said, I must admit that I’m not an expert on classical liberalism. I think some right-wing ideologies have a case for their origins in classical liberalism, but they don’t have a case for sole possession of classical liberalism nor as the rightful inheritors, the official standard-bearers of all classical liberalism. When they attempt to make this argument, they discredit themselves with their own arrogant self-righteousness. I’m willing to share classical liberalism with them, but I won’t allow them to eliminate the liberalism from classical liberalism.

Here is what I see as the source of the confusion about classical liberalism. I’ve noticed two diverging tendencies within the founding generation of America. Both were liberal relative to the monarchy they were collectively opposing, but one was more liberal than the other. Some of the founders wanted a ruling elite based class, education and property. These founders were successful in implementing this vision to varying degrees in federal and state laws. Opposing them, were those who agreed with Paine which largely included those not a part of the ruling elite (Paine himself was born into the working class). Paine’s vision inspired the American Revolution, but was shoved to the side once the American ruling elite was freed from the British ruling elite. Paine was a radical liberal in the tradition of social democracy and so that meant that Paine was a classical liberal who didn’t hate government. He realized that a democratic government was the only protection from a new ruling elite. And many of the other founders feared democracy because they realized it limited their own power as the ruling elite while empowering the average person (i.e., the ‘mob’).

So, the right-winger today who self-identifies as a classical liberal tends to be in the American tradition of a capitalist ruling elite (plutocracy) that opposes other ruling elites (such as monarchies and often government in general) while simultaneously opposing the vast majority of citizens who potentially could oppose their own position of ruling elite. They see themselves as part of a meritocracy and so believe that they, unlike others, have earned their position as the ruling elite. However, it’s a bit misguided to call this classical liberalism. Classical just generally refers to the liberalism prior to the 20th century. Paine absolutely was a classical liberal. He was definitely liberal for politics of his day and his vision is still radically liberal by today’s standards. The right-wing founders were liberal in wanting to replace a monarchy with a republic, but they were conservative in wanting to maintain a ruling elite. I find it almost disingenous to call people classical liberals who feared giving people basic freedom and human rights. Paine wanted everyone to be absolutely and equally free, but many of the founders didn’t want to end slavery or give voting rights to all citizens because they believed maintaining their own freedom necessitated limiting the freedom of others. That is a very distorted and uninspiring notion of classical liberalism.

Many right-wing libertarians to this day find themselves in this conundrum of simultaneously praising and fearing freedom. Many right-wing libertarians and minarchists are fine with any constraints on freedom that help maintain their position of power and the social order that upholds it (e.g., strong border control and military). They like capitalism (or rather their version of big business corporatism) even if it means (or because it means) undermining democracy and disempowering those of the lower classes (e.g., union busting, Citizens United). This attitude may have elements of classical liberalism in terms of rhetoric, but it is also a response of wanting to deny the unadulterated and unrestrained vision of classical liberalism as proposed by Paine. Even though it seemed relatively liberal a couple centuries ago, this right-wing ‘classical liberalism’ is extremely conservative compared to the present leftwing ideologies that seek to free and empower all people of all classes and races. I prefer my classical liberalism taken straight and not watered down.

Unlike most of the founders, Paine was a genuine progressive. It is interesting to note that progressivism isn’t always or entirely aligned with big government and with liberalism. Some of the founders who wanted to maintain the status quo of a ruling elite (meaning they were afraid of Paine’s populist progressivism) were for that reason also for having a strong central government. Paine didn’t disagree with having a strong central government, but he wanted it to be balanced by localized grassroots democracy. The ideal of progressivism existed at the beginning of America’s political tradition. Progressivism and populism have tended to gone hand in hand. In the Populist Era a century later, Paine’s vision was reawakened but it served both socially conservative agendas (e.g., religious revivalism, Prohibition) and socially liberal agendas (e.g., feminism)… and, oddly, it often was the seemingly social liberal feminists who were promoting the socially conservative agendas such as Prohibition. Still, at the heart of it, there was the same basic impulse that motivated Paine. The Populists were progressive in that they believed by making changes in the social order the average person would be empowered to change themselves. It’s the ideal of grassroots democracy, of direct political action.

Once upon a time, the Republican Party was the progressive party. Republicans ended slavery and maintained the union, created the national park service, built the interstate highway system, created the EPA. Et Cetera. These aren’t inherently liberal or conservative issues. Maintaining the union was maintaining the status quo and protecting the social order, both conservative impulses in a fundamental sense (although they’ve come to be identified with contemporary liberals). Conservative used to mean ‘conserving’ such as conserving land and resources by creating national parks and by creating the EPA which protects (i.e., conserves) the environment. Even unions aren’t inherently liberal. Maintaining living wages for workers maintains social order and ensures a healthy community and stable families (all of which are issues central to conservatives) which is why Catholic communities have also tended to be union communities.

In conclusion:
The liberalism of America’s past gets claimed by many American conservatives today.
And the conservatism of America’s past becomes identified with Americans labeled as liberals today.
But the radical left of America’s past and present usually gets forgotten and ignored.

– – –

I just finished writing another post that is in some ways a continuation of what I wrote above:

Is Classical Liberalism Liberal?

By the way, this is a topic I’ve grappled with often. This post is a summarization of analysis I’ve made and data I’ve gathered in previous posts:

Bashing My Head Against a Brick Wall: Love of Truth or Masochism?

I’ve come to a point of frustration. Let me explain.

A conclusion I’ve flirted with for many years is that humans are fundamentally NOT rational (which isn’t necessarily to say humans are irrational; a better word is ‘arational’). Humans have some minimal capacity for rationality, but I suspect most of what is considered ‘rational’ is too often largely just rationalization. This is no grand insight per se. Still, I’ve resisted it. I want to believe that humans can be persuaded by facts. I want to believe that truth matters. However, I think it ultimately comes down to the fact that people don’t change much once set in their ways (which tends to happen early in life). As such, people don’t usually change their minds even when confronted with new facts and new ways of interpreting the facts. It’s just that people die and new generations come along (with new biases). The best hope one has of changing another’s mind is to meet them when they are a small child. After that point, there is little hope left for any further change.

Debating most people is about as worthwhile as bashing your head against a brick wall. Even worse, the people most interested in ‘debate’ tend to be the very people who are least interested in truth. It’s rather ironic. People tend to seek out debate because they want to ‘prove’ themselves right, not to explore possibilities, not to learn something new. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between. You might bash your skull to a bloody pulp before you find them.

And, no, I’m not excluding myself from my own criticisms. I know from my own experience how challenging it is to try to be ‘rational’ (objective, emotionally neutral, self-critical, aware of cognitive biases, being on guard for logical fallacies, genuinely trying to understand different viewpoints, being fair toward another’s argument, considering all the data instead of cherrypicking, and on and on). It’s hard enough for me to deal with all this within myself. It’s just too much to have to try to deal with it in other’s as well, especially when those others in most cases don’t want to (or don’t have the capacity to) deal with it in themselves. Spending so much time online, I end up interacting with many people who don’t bring out the best in me and who put me in a generally combative, irritable mood. And it’s my fault for being so easily effected. I’m the way I am. People are the way they are. There is nothing that can be done about that. In this post, I merely wish to explain my frustration.

– – –

I’ll give some examples.

I recently wrote about the differences between Southern and Northern cultures. There are two ways of treating these differences. The standard liberal view is that cultures are different with both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ aspects. The standard conservative view is that some cultures are inherently or fundamentally superior. The problem with the conservative view is that conservative states and societies don’t rank well on many factors most people consider worthy (education, health, economic equality, etc). The conservative will often dismiss this data outright or rationalize it away. And, of course, a lot of (most?) conservatives have little interest in conceding to the liberal view of openminded and tolerant multiculturalism. As a liberal, how do I win or how do I find a win/win middle ground of understanding? I often can’t.

When I was writing about the Southern/Northern culture issue, I also brought up the related issue of race and IQ because it’s a favorite discussion of conservatives. As a liberal, I have a bias toward believing in egalitarianism. It bothers me on a fundamental level that conservatives are always seeking to prove others (usually those different than them) are inferior. Nonetheless, I’m inclined to defer to science on these kinds of issues. Facts are more important than my beliefs and preferences. I take it seriously when conservatives reference studies suggesting a correlation between race (i.e., racial genetics) and IQ. Because I take facts so seriously, I’ve researched the subject extensively by looking at all the studies I could find along with meta-analysis of the studies. It’s true there are some studies that suggest a possible correlation between race and IQ. But what these conservatives don’t wish to acknowledge is that there are also many studies showing no correlation between race and IQ and also many studies correlating IQ to many other factors. Simply put, the data is complex and the research is inconclusive. There is no scientific consensus, as far as I can tell.

I find odd this conservative attitude. These conservatives will cite research that supports their preconceived conclusions while ignoring all the research that contradicts their views. They completely ignore the issue of scientific consensus. I’ve found conservatives quite suspicious of scientific consensus. Conservatives like science when it agrees with them, but they realize scientific authority is a two-edged sword. Once you accept scientific consensus, you eliminate your ability to cherrypick the data. As a comparable example, most conservatives utterly despise the fact that most scientists in all fields and vast majority (98% as I recall) climatology experts who are active researchers agree that the data supports the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). It took decades for conservatives to accept global warming was even happening, but seemingly most still don’t accept that humans contribute to global warming. So, despite the strong scientific evidence and strong scientific consensus, conservatives are wary about science when it disagrees with their beliefs. They’ll ignore what most scientists conclude about AGW and instead they’ll find the small minority of studies and scientists who agree with them.

Accordingly, science is just there to be referred to when convenient and ignored when inconvenient. I don’t understand this attitude. I just don’t get it. If the majority of experts agree about something, I won’t be so presumptuous as to claim that I know better nor will I simply cherrypick the data that agrees with me. Why would I do this? What is to be gained by such anti-intellectual tactics?

One last example. I was looking at reviews of some books by Jim Wallis. One reviewer (in reference to God’s Politics if I remember correctly) mentioned the abortion issue. The person was criticizing the ‘moderate’ position that Wallis was proposing. As I understand it, Wallis is against abortions except when they are absolutely necessary (such as to save the mother’s life) and so is against banning abortions entirely. This position is ‘moderate’ in two ways. First, it strikes a balance between the practical and the moral and seeks a middle ground between two extremes (of pro-life and pro-choice). Second, it is the view held by most Americans and so is the ‘center’ of public opinion. The critical reviewer was promoting the common conservative view that abortions are bad and so compromising principles is to let liberals win. In a sense this is true because compromise is a liberal principle but not a conservative principle. Polls show that liberals support and conservative don’t support compromise. Even independents, although more supportive than conservatives, don’t have a majority that supports compromise. So, when Wallis is promoting a ‘moderate’ position he is by default promoting the ‘liberal’ position. Also, on many issues, most Americans hold positions that are ‘liberal’ (even though Americans don’t like to label themselves as ‘liberals’).

It just seems like liberals in America always lose even when they win. The liberal can have facts and public opinion on their side… and, yet, liberals are treated like an elitist minority to be dismissed and distrusted. It’s understandable that conservatives are wary about science considering most scientists identify as ‘liberals’.

– – –

All of this has made me increasingly pessimistic. I grew up among idealistic liberals which rubbed off on me a bit, but I’ve over time become cynical in response. What is the point in bringing up facts and analyzing the data? Those who agree with me probably already know what I know or are at least open to learning. And those who disagree with me probably won’t accept the facts no matter what.

My frustration isn’t entirely limited to those on the right. I often find a simplemindedness in the idealism and egalitarianism on the left. Even so, I rarely find the same radical anti-intellectualism on the left as I described above. Plenty of liberals don’t understand science and misrepresent scientific research, but they tend to do so out of an admiration (albeit a confused admiration). There are, for example, the New Age type liberals who want to turn science into a pseudo-religion about the beauty of nature and the wonder of the universe. It’s well intentioned even if naive. From my view, this liberal simplemindedness is mostly harmless. Liberals generally aren’t interested in trying to use science against some race or culture. This isn’t to say I don’t feel frustrated by the liberal New Age woo, but it doesn’t usually make me angry and it won’t make me lose all hope in humanity. Even if a liberal dismisses out of hand scientific studies suggesting a possible correlation between race and IQ, they do so because of worthy ideals of egalitarianism. Liberals want to make the world better for everyone, not just better for one group. Liberals are correct that many conservatives will use any scientific research, with or without scientific consensus, against those they perceive as ‘other’. Yes, we should be wary of ulterior motives when scientific research is being cited.

It’s hard for me to grapple with my frustration or to fully understand it. It’s my own personal issue (which relates to the depression I’ve experienced for a couple of decades), but it’s obviously not just about me. I’m a liberal in a society that is dominated by a conservative ruling elite. I see the polls showing most Americans agree with liberals like me on many issues, but none of that seems to matter. Those with the most power and those who are loudest aren’t generally the liberals. It’s rare for the majority public opinion to become visible such as with the protests in Wisconsin. The liberal majority is largely a silent majority. Most ‘liberals’ (whether or not they identify themselves as such) are ‘moderates’ and so they aren’t radicals who want force their opinion onto others. Anyway, polls showing what most Americans believe or support is quite likely irrelevant to most conservatives. Either they just know most Americans agree with them (no matter what the polls may show) or else the general masses isn’t to be trusted (any more than the intellectual elite).

I’m just frustrated. I have many non-fiction books that interest me and many posts I’d like to write if I had the time… but what is the point? Time is a precious commodity. I could be spending it on activities less frustrating. Yes, I enjoy learning new things, but the process of learning can be less than enjoyable at times because of those I run into while doing research online. I think I just have to accept that what interests me isn’t what interests most others, including in many cases most other liberals. I can get obsessive when my curiosity is piqued. It’s not unusual for me to spend weeks or months doing research and thinking about some subject before writing about it and it can take equal amount of time to gather my thoughts into the form of a post. After all that, very few people typically will ever read what I write. I largely do it for my own reasons and so this shouldn’t matter, but it does matter. It just makes me feel isolated. Truth matters to me in the same way God matters to a religious believer. Truth is my religion. There I said it. I know it sounds silly. I know most people don’t idealize truth in this way and to this extent. It’s because truth matters to me that I want to communicate my own understanding of truth. I want truth to matter to other people. I want to live in a society that values truth above all else. But that isn’t the world I live in.

Honestly, does truth matter? Why should it matter? Why should anyone care about truth?

My frustration makes me feel cynical, but I don’t want to be a cynic. Still, I do understand the attraction of ‘giving up’. As Thomas Ligotti once wrote, in response to superficial optimists (which can apply to all the superficialities of human society): “Once you understand that, you can spare yourself from suffering excessively at the hands of ‘normal people’, a pestilent confederation of upstanding creatures who in concert keep the conspiracy going by rehashing their patented banalities and watchwords.” I can’t begin to explain how much I sympathize with Liotti’s words, but he presents a conclusion of radical pessimism that goes far beyond even my own frustration. What I like about his advice is that bashing one’s head against a brick wall becomes unnecessary and avoidable once one realizes the brick wall for what it is. The brick wall ain’t going to move, not easily anyway. Even the best of us can only bash our heads against a brick wall for so long. I can’t say I’ve given up on my ideal of truth. I just need to let my fractured skull to mend a bit for the time being. Maybe I should read some fiction.

Muslim vs Rightwing Violence

I was having a discussion on YouTube and terrorism came up.

Here are a couple comments from happykillmore88:

Wow that video and report are comical and sad. 45 muslem as opposed to 80 non muslem domestic terrorist activities. You have an instance ~30% of all domestic terrorist attacks being committed by one particular unified demographic of people and its doesn’t warrant interest because its not ‘pc.’ And you are seriously reporting to me as contrary to my view? If you want an educated opinion on muslims in America consult colonel allen west.


right wing hate groups are a stratified remnant of a bygone era, and do not represent people like myself. Muslim terrorist activities are representative of the fact that it is statistically easier for a muslim to ‘misconstrue’ the words of the Quran. This is occurring at a per capita rate several times higher than in the EVIL RIGHT WING RACIST BIGOT PARTY and its growing because in America free speech is only ok if its pc anymore. Also when you label me a bigot I win.

The comment was in response to this video I shared with this person:

It’s the general ignorance of this person (happykillmore88) that bothers me so much. But, in his mind, if I point out the fact that he is an ignorant bigot, then he wins. Huh? Ignorance is bad and bigotry is bad, but there is something immensely worse when the two are combined.

I’ve noticed how rightwingers (and the media as well) tend to treat all Muslims as a single group. Any Muslim violence is the responsibility of the entire world’s Muslim community. If someone commits an act of violence an they are Muslim, it must be because they have a Muslim agenda and that somehow that Muslim agenda is inherent to all or most of Islam. Christians, on the other hand, commit acts of violence all the time and rarely does it get blamed on the entire Christian community or the entire Christian religion. Often it doesn’t get blamed on Christianity at all. Every Christian is unique and yet every Muslim is the same.

In reality, there is no singular Islam that unites Muslims all over the world. When a terrorist who is Muslim commits an act of violence, their reasons are diverse: personal revenge for loss of family or friends, perceived defense of their particular ethnic community or nation, to uphold the ideology of the sect they belong to, etc. Not all Muslims agree about anything, especially not about their ideological views of Islam. The Muslim in Afghanistan fighting US soldiers to defend his country and family isn’t the same as the 9/11 terrorists. Neither of those is the same as the oppressive Saudi royal family that is the ally of the US govt. And none of those are the same as the average upper class Muslim who has peacefully lived their entire life in the US. There is no Islam that is a “one particular unified demographic of people”. As such, there is no singular Muslim terrorism, just diverse acts committed by diverse people for diverse reasons. To think otherwise is the worst kind of bigoted ignorance.

Let me use an example on the non-Muslim rightwing side. Jim D. Adkisson who shot several people (and would’ve have shot everyone if he hadn’t been stopped) at a Tennessee UU church was a rightwinger. He shot the UU people simply because he hated liberals and gays (the exact same things Muslim rightwingers hate). That shooting incident only received brief media attention and most people probably don’t even remember it. If he had been a Muslim shooting those people because they were Christians or Americans, the media (especially and ironically, the rightwing media) would have obsessed over it for months and no one would ever forget about it. It’s a double standard even seen in the so-called ‘liberal’ media.

Consider Scott Roeder as another example. He was a Christian who killed Dr. Tiller for ideological reasons of stopping abortion. After the event, all over the web and in the media there were rightwing Christians who praised Roeder’s actions or who made excuses for it. I was shocked by how supportive so many on the right were of terrorism when it fits their own agenda.

Similarly, consider the recent hearing on Muslim radicalism and terrorism. It was started by Peter King who in the past has supported and helped raise money for the IRA which is a Christian terrorist group. The IRA killed many innocent civilians in shootings and bombings. The innocents killed included British who are our political allies and also an American. King has never renounced his ties to the IRA nor criticized the IRA’s terrorist acts. Also, to get back to an earlier point, no one in the US media has portrayed the IRA as representative of all Christianity.

The Muslim hearing demonstrates a problem within the media. The American Muslim community has helped stop many of the terrorist plans. The American Muslim leaders have numerously criticized terrorism. But the media ignores all this. Then those in the media wonder why we don’t hear about Muslims speaking out. Well, we don’t hear it because the media (including the ‘liberal’ media) rarely reports it and when reported it ain’t front page news. The best example of this involves the planned Islamic center some distance away from Ground Zero. The guy who has been promoting it is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. He had been officially working with the government to help build bridges to the Islamic communities in the US and in other countries. He was doing exactly what rightwingers claim Muslim Americans aren’t doing. Even so, both rightwing and liberal media almost entirely ignored Imam Rauf’s activities until the plan of the Islamic center came to public attention. The Islamic center was designed with the intention of being a community center that would help the Muslim American community be less isolated. But rightwingers attacked the plans because Imam Rauf was a Muslim just like the 9/11 terrorists.

So, why do Christians get to build Christian churches and community centers near the locations of violence committed by Christians and the media says nothing? Why are Christians considered innocent until proven guilty but Muslims are tried in the court of public opinion?

To get back to the YouTube discussion, according to happykillmore88, “rightwing groups are a stratified remnant of a bygone era, and do not represent people like myself.” Let me break that down. Bygone era? The militant rightwing emerged strongly in the 1990s and only died down for a time after 9/11. The 1990s isn’t exactly a bygone era. Also, the rightwing terrorism of that time included the largest domestic terrorist attack in US history. Still, even after 9/11, rightwing terrorism was far from being insignificant:”The terrorism preventions for 2002 through 2005 present a more diverse threat picture. Eight of the 14 recorded terrorism preventions stemmed from right-wing extremism” Also, it should be noted that domestic rightwing terrorists (unlike domestic leftwing terrorists and like Muslim terrorists) have tended to pursue “targeting people.” And if you thought rightwing violent radicalism was decreasing in the US, you would be sadly mistaken:

Christian terrorism has returned to America with a vengeance. And it is not just Roeder. When members of the Hutaree militia in Michigan and Ohio recently were arrested with plans to kill a random policeman and then plant Improvised Explosive Devices in the area where the funeral would be held to kill hundreds more, this was a terrorist plot of the sort that would impress Shi’ite militia and al Qaeda activists in Iraq. The Southern Poverty Law Center, founded by Morris Dees, which has closely watched the rise of right-wing extremism in this country for many decades, declares that threats and incidents of right-wing violence have risen 200% in this past year—unfortunately coinciding with the tenure of the first African-American president in US history. When Chip Berlet, one of this country’s best monitors of right-wing extremism, warned in a perceptive essay last week on RD that the hostile right-wing political climate in this country has created the groundwork for a demonic new form of violence and terrorism, I fear that he is correct.

In the TYT video at the top of this post, Cenk Uygur was referring to info from Data on Post-9/11 Terrorism in the United StatesI noticed several important details in the report:

  • “The report is deliberately more inclusive of Muslim violent extremists. The Muslim dataset accounts for both U.S. and foreign-originated plots. The nonMuslim dataset is restricted only to U.S.-originated plots.”
  • “There were 80 total plots by U.S.-originated non-Muslim perpetrators against the UnitedStates since 9/11. In comparison, there have been 45 total plots by U.S. and foreign-originated Muslim perpetrators since 9/11.”
  • “Evidence clearly indicates a general rise in violent extremism across ideologies.” “Yet, there is little evidence of rising ideological extremism among Muslim Americans.”
  • “Muslim communities helped U.S. security officials to prevent over 4 out of every 10 Al-Qaeda plots threatening the United States since 9/11. Muslim communities helped law enforcement prevent three-quarters of all Al-Qaeda related plots threatening the U.S. since December 2009.”

The first point seems odd to me. I don’t know why they included foreign-originated Muslim plots but not foreign-originated non-Muslim plots. Even with that discrepancy, the domestic non-Muslim plots still outnumber almost by twice the Muslims plots with domestic and foreign combined. Unlike like rightwingers, there is little evidence that Muslim American extremism is increasing… and, in fact, Muslim Americans have been a major force in preventing terrorism.

It just seems odd and hypocritical that the media and politicians focus so much on Islamic terrorists when the worst acts of domestic terrorism have come from rightwingers who aren’t Muslim. The Oklahoma City bombing to this day remains the largest and worst act of domestic terrorism in US history.

The fact that the 168 deaths at Oklahoma were the result of Americans killing Americans in the name of America has made the incident in some ways harder for the nation to process than 9/11 and the less complicated enemy, al-Qaida. “It made a terrible difference that this was homegrown terrorism,” says Almon-Kok. “It left you with nothing to trust or believe in, apart from my faith that this city did everything it could in the aftermath, and that we have a legal system which, for the most part, works. But that doesn’t answer why fellow Americans wanted to come killing our kids.”

Perhaps this is why the Oklahoma bomb is not as centre stage in America’s collective memory as it should be. When Al Gore was interviewed about the extreme right by Larry King recently, there was no mention of Oklahoma. Coverage of last month’s arrests of militants belonging to an offshoot of the same Michigan militia that McVeigh belonged to omitted to mention the bomb, days away from its 15th anniversary. There is extreme awkwardness around this enemy within, but also current concern about reverberations of McVeigh’s cause: war against the American government.

Even with this horrific history of rightwing extremism and violence, rightwingers can get away with all kinds of statements that no other group could get away with. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t hear in the media or see online some rightwinger inciting revolutionary overthrow of the government, promoting the killing abortion doctors, suggesting President Obama needs to be eliminated, or some other equally incendiary rhetoric. Could you imagine the outrage if a Muslim American made the exact same kind of statements as do these rightwingers do on a regular basis? Could you imagine a Muslim American politician putting crosshairs on his/her opponents as Palin did? Could you imagine a Muslim American politician talking about 2nd Amendment remedies as did Sharron Angle? Could you imagine a Muslim American pundit praising, justifying or making light of the murder of an abortion doctor killed by a Muslim American? So, why is all this acceptable for rightwingers? Is it because the rightwingers see themselves as the majority, as “Real Americans” and therefore above the law, above common decency?

It really does seem to be a double standard of how American rightwingers and the American media treat minorities, whether the minority is Muslism or blacks or any other group. Frank Schaeffer noted this double standard in relation to how black Christians are treated differently than white Christians:

When Senator Obama’s preacher thundered about racism and injustice Obama suffered smear-by-association. But when my late father — Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer — denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr.

Let me go back to one part of what happykillmore88 wrote:

Muslim terrorist activities are representative of the fact that it is statistically easier for a muslim to ‘misconstrue’ the words of the Quran. This is occurring at a per capita rate several times higher than in the EVIL RIGHT WING RACIST BIGOT PARTY and its growing because in America free speech is only ok if its pc anymore.

Considering the actual data, what does he even mean by these statements?

How is it statistically easier for a Muslim to ‘misconstrue’ the words of the Quran? If you put a bunch of Muslims together, you’d unlikely find any more agreement between them than you’d find with a diverse group of Christians. When I hear statements regularly made by American Christians, I don’t think they have any statistical difficulty in ‘misconstruing’ the Bible to fit their ideological agendas.

How is Muslim ‘misconstruing’ occurring at a per capita rate several times higher than rightwingers? When someone uses ‘per capita’ in making a statement, it would seem they are referring to some specific data… but he offers no data. I don’t get how free speech isn’t politically correct anymore nor how being politically correct increases Muslim ‘misconstruing’ of the Quran which I guess then supposedly increases Islamic terrorism.

He seems to imply that my demanding factual correctness is somehow my forcing political correctness. This seems to be another case of rightwing projection. Rightwingers seem to believe it’s politically incorrect when someone states the actual facts about rightwing violence, but rightwingers are incapable of seeing this demand for political correctness in themselves. So, when someone points out that a rightwinger’s claims aren’t based in facts, it’s actually the other person who is being pc for not allowing the rightwinger to make false statements.

Oh, silliness.

For further data on rightwing violence and rhetoric, see:

The Second Wave
Nativists to ‘Patriots’
The_Second_Wave.pdf (pdf, 348.89 KB)
Insurrectionism Timeline
Anti-abortion Violence
Attack on MoveOn worker is just the latest example of right-wing violence
Conservative media figures have history of violent rhetoric
Violence vs Empathy, Indifference vs Unhappiness
Do Rightwingers Love War?

White Supremacy Defeated… yet again

I keep coming across racists/racialists who are obsessed with IQ. I dealt with this some in what I posted yesterday. Here is the relevant section:

The white supremacists love IQ because African Americans on average have lower IQs. The white supremacists argue that this is genetic, but there is no conclusive evidence for this hypothesis and much evidence against it. For example, the IQs of all children tend to be more similar and significant IQ differences are mostly seen in later education. The most obvious and simplest explanation is poverty. There are many factors related to poverty that are known to impact brain/cognitive development and hence IQ: pollution (such as lead poisoning from older houses), malnutrition (especially during pregnancy and early childhood), social stress, lack of educational resources, etc.

Here is a map showing the IQ differences in America with, once again, the same North/South divide (with the exception of West Virginia with its Scots-Irish population). The source of the map was using it apparently to make an argument for racism/racialism:

“Finally, it can be viewed in relationship to race. Alone, the racial composition of a state‘explains’ 72% of that state’s estimated IQ, with the two correlating at a robust .85. Expenditures per student, teacher salaries, and classroom size combined explain a paltry 15%. Considered independently, they are statistically insignificant and explain virtually nothing.”

There are different measures of IQ. This map is measuring math and science test scores. There does seem to be a correlation with ethnic diversity and lower average IQ (such as with California and the Southern states), although the ethnically diverse Texas is similar to some Northern states.

This map, however, makes the issue of race seem simpler than it actually is. When looking at other maps of IQ data, black populations in some Northern states have on average higher IQs than black populations in Southern states. And, even more significantly, white populations in many Northern states have on average higher IQs than white populations in Southern states (excluding Texas). So, doing comparisons just within single races, there are IQ differences that show a North/South divide for both black and white populations. However, the difference is most clear for white populations. This can only be explained, as far as I can tell, by poverty being the central factor in IQ differences. Blacks experience higher rates than whites of poverty in all states, but whites mostly just experience high rates of poverty in the South.

It seems the maps of IQ are essentially just another way of mapping poverty. So, why does poverty show a North/South divide? I’d also include in this question the issue of wealth disparity which also shows a North/South divide:

The 10 Most (and Least) Tolerant States in America

California and Texas are good ways of disentangling the poverty from wealth disparity. Both are wealthy states with high wealth disparity which causes them to measure positively on some indicators and measure negatively on other indicators. However, excluding Texas, most Southern states are both poor and have high wealth disparity. Many Northern states have both wealth and low wealth disparity, but there are states like Iowa which are relatively poor and yet have low wealth disparity. In a developed nation like the US, wealth disparity seems to be the more important indicator of social health (rates of high school drop outs, bullying, STDs, teen pregnancy, etc).

I decided to make a new post just with this material because of a response someone gave me on YouTube. NAARandom wrote:

“Whites in Northern states have higher average IQ than whites in southern states”

The south is “dumber” overall because it has a larger proportion of blacks than the north. The intra-racial differences in regional IQ are, at most, 3 points for blacks and 1 or 2 points for whites, and this can be easily explained by selection effects (more intelligent, ambitious, upwardly mobile southerners generally moved north, at least until the late 1940s, early 1950s).

As for southern west coast states having large ratios of nonwhites but “not the same degree of problems”, the two majority nonwhite western states (California and New Mexico), are having quite a few problems. The problems of California are relatively recent (probably in part because their rise in nonwhite population is a relatively recent phenomenon), and New Mexico has been near the bottom in most indicators for quite a while. To the extent that these problems are milder…

…in the west, it’s largely because they have different groups of nonwhites. Northeast Asians, for example, tend to have slightly higher IQs (by 3 to 6) than whites, so their presence in California partially offsets the economic effects of the huge mestizo population, which also has a slightly less severe depressing effect on average IQ than blacks (average Hispanic, which mostly means mestizo, IQ is 89, as opposed to 85 for blacks).

I find it endlessly amusing that people will avoid the simplest answers based on the data when it doesn’t fit their preconceived ideology. It’s scientifically known that poverty (and the factors related to poverty) has a negative impact on brain/cognitive development which is what is being measured by IQ tests. On the other hand, the hypothetical causal relation between racial genetics and IQ is unproven. There has been a fair amount of research and yet no conclusive data so far and no scientific consensus. So, why do racists/racialists prefer the inconclusive data instead of going with the simplest and most obvious explanation?

I realized this was a good opportunity to see if further data upholds the simplest and most obvious explanation of poverty. NAARandom mentioned Hispanics and Northeast Asians. NAARandom points out that Hispanics have higher average IQ than blacks, whites have higher average IQs than Hispanics and blacks, and Northeast Asians have higher average IQs than all of them (this is the case for the average IQ of all Asians in the US). If the poverty explanation is correct, a similar pattern should be seen.

In fact, that is the case with one exception. Yes, Hispanics have a lower poverty rate than blacks. Yes, whites have a lower poverty rate than Hispanics and blacks. Yes, Asians have a lower poverty rate than Hispanics and blacks. But, no, Asians don’t have a lower poverty rate than whites. Actually, Asians have around the same as or even slightly higher poverty rate than whites (depending if Pacific Islanders are included as part of the Asian demographic). Poverty alone explains the lower average IQ of Hispanics and blacks, but poverty alone doesn’t explain why whites have a lower average IQ than Asians. I suspect it’s just a matter of the intelligent (i.e., wealthy) Asians moving to Western countries. However, if one insists on racial genetics explanations, then it would be logical to assume whites (once adjusted for poverty) have inferior genetics.

I personally think that such an argument is just as silly when used against minorities as when used against whites. There are always complex factors, but it’s rational (going by Occam’s razor) to go with the simplest explanation. We know poverty causes lower IQ and we know poverty rates are different racial demographics. We know that black Americans have experienced centuries of enslavement and oppression which caused their present high rates of poverty. We know white Americans experienced centuries of privilege and opportunity which created their present lower rates of poverty. We know that whites in areas with higher poverty rates have lower average IQs. We know that blacks in areas with lower poverty rates have higher average IQs. We know all this. So, why speculate about racial genetics and IQ which we know so little about?

Related to poverty is the factor of wealth disparity. Many of the states (but not all) with high rates of poverty also have high rates of wealth disparity. The states with both whites and blacks with lower average IQs are states with both high rates of poverty and high rates of wealth disparity. Even if you wanted to try to blame their poverty on being dumb, you couldn’t blame the high wealth disparity on their being dumb. Afterall, if most of the smart people (white and black) left these problematic states, then wouldn’t all the population end up being poor and stupid instead of having an elite with most of the wealth?

To me, it seems like a vicious cycle. These poor conservative states are mostly the former slave states and so have societies that were based on class and race. For centuries, the ruling elite of these states intentionally created a poor and disenfranchised class (including both whites and blacks). We know that poverty causes low IQ. And we know that low IQ causes poverty. When you have a society that is built on a certain class staying stupid and poor, why would you expect any other results? You don’t need racial genetics to explain any of this. In fact, racial genetics has no explanatory value considering poor whites in poor states are experiencing similar problems as the poor blacks in poor states. Why not just accept the obvious? Why use convoluted logic to try to prove one’s racist/racialist beliefs? Why?

I brought up Southern West Coast states as an example of states with racial diversity and yet fewer problems than states in the Deep South. NAARandom pointed out that California also has problems. Yes, but fewer than the Deep South. California is more similar to Texas, both massively wealthy with high wealth disparity (also, California has the 5th and Texas the 3rd largest black population). Let’s look at Texas since few other states have such high rates and a long history of racial diversity. The blacks in Texas have an average IQ (92) around 5 to 7 points higher than the national average for average black IQ (depending if you go by the average of 85 or 87) and only 3 points below the Texas overall average (i.e., all races). What is one thing that distinguishes Texas? The most obvious factor is that Texas is wealthy. I’m sure, because of that wealth, blacks have more opportunities for education and self-improvement. Look at Alaska which is also a wealthy state and has the lowest wealth disparity in the entire country (by the way, Alaska has many positive factors, correlated to low wealth disprity, such as the best state for low rates of low birthweight). Blacks there have an average 95 IQ which, interestingly, is the average IQ of all Alaskans and which is the highest average black IQ in the country. This is even with blacks experiencing higher rates of poverty than whites in states like Texas and Alaska.

– – –

In the video where NAARandom responded to me, the issue of violence and race is brought up. That happens to be one of the issues I also analyzed in my post from yesterday. If you look at maps of various kinds of violence and homicide, you find a consistent pattern. Here is one example of a gun violence map (note that this is one of the factors on which California rates well):

So, how can this be explained? The white supremacist will immediately jump to the explanation of blaming it on the blacks simply because blacks live in the region. I’d respond in two ways.

First, a map of black doesn’t directly correlate with the gun violence map.

File:USA 2000 black density.png

Second, a study of this violence proves there is no correlation between Southern black populations and Southern high rates of violence.

A Matter of Respect
James D. Wright

Culture of Honor makes a compelling case that there is something about Southernness itself that accounts for the link between region and violence. The case begins with a review and reanalysis of the extensive research on region and homicide. University of Michigan psychologist Richard E. Nisbett and University of Illinois psychologist Dov Cohen find many common explanations for the South’s higher homicide rate wanting. The legacy of slavery is probably an inadequate explanation because the non-slave regions of the South show the highest homicide rates; temperature fails as an explanation because the cooler upland regions have higher homicide rates. Relative poverty rates cannot be ruled out as a causal factor, but the regional effect remains even when poverty is taken into account.

Two other results point to a fundamental cultural factor. The regional effect does not seem to operate in big cities (big-city homicide rates are about the same in the South as elsewhere); it appears only in small cities and towns (Southern small towns are a lot more violent than small towns in other regions). Also, there is little or no regional difference in black homicide rates, only in the white rates. So the Southern distinctiveness in homicide and violence is concentrated among small-town whites, strongly suggesting the impact of regional culture.

– – –

The entire argument of the white supremacist falls apart like the meaningless bigotry that it is. People are racist because they want to be racist. Yes, a racist can cherry-pick data to rationalize their racism, but they probably wouldn’t be looking for data that supports racism unless they already wanted to be racist. They are, of course, free to be racists. As has been said before, everyone is free to have their own opinion, but that doesn’t mean everyone is free to have their own facts.

America’s North/South Divide (& other regional data)

I’ve observed in the US certain regional patterns of culture and demographics, the North/South divide being the focus of my present analysis. The basic pattern of a North/South divide originated with the first colonies and was emblazoned upon the national psyche through the trauma of the Civil War. And, despite the change that has happened since, this basic pattern persists. It persists because culture is deeply entrenched and because demographics change slowly.


Some of the data I will present and analyze is:

  • voting trends
  • labor unions
  • social problems
  • wealth disparity
  • religions/denominations
  • dialects
  • nationalities
  • taxation
  • IQ differences
  • psychological traits

Be forewarned that my analysis is lengthy. If you lack the motivation or time to read it in detail, you can still grasp the gist of my analysis by skimming the text or even by just looking at the mapped data. I eventually plan on breaking this up into smaller posts, but until then it will remain as is.

By the way, I’m open to suggestions. If you think some of my data is incorrect or partial, then please offer links or other references. If you think my analysis is overly biased or inadequate, then please share your own views.

 – – – 

Let me begin with some comments about the region I consider home, the Midwest.

There is something many don’t understand about the Midwest. States like Iowa, where I live, have tended to be Democratic states for a long time (and, looking further back, much political activism happened in the Midwest during the Populist and Progressive eras… which laid the groundwork for the present Democratic Party). Even as Democrats have lost some power and popularity recently, Iowa and much of the Midwest has remained Democratic leaning. Isn’t that interesting?

Political Party Affiliation (2009)From ’08 to ’10

State of States Political Party Affiliation, 2008

State of the States Political Party Advantage Map, 2010

(If you’d like to see presidential election results going back to 1789, here is a useful interactive map. It’s interesting to see how the two parties flipped between the North and South.)

I want to make note of something very very important. The South isn’t strongly Republican, especially not in the way that the North is strongly Democratic.

So, why do Southern states so often go to Republicans? One obvious explanation is that wealthy Southerners tend to vote Republican and poor Southerners (in particular, the poorest of the poor) tend to vote Democratic, but the South is such a class based society that poor people (in particular, poor minorities) are almost entirely disenfranchised from the political system. If all the poor and all the minorities were to vote, the South possibly could become a Democratic stronghold (or, at least, far from being a Republican stronghold). Rich whites have known of this danger ever since Reconstruction followed the Civil War. It’s not unusual to hear conservative leaders speak about the dangers of democracy which they call mobocracy because they understand that a functioning democracy would undermine their own power (which is becoming a greater issue as the traditional white political elite face a world where whites are becoming the new minority; and which is specifically becoming an issue in the South as the recent census shows Northern blacks are moving to the South in larger numbers).

Now about the North. Why is it that the Democrats aligning with the Civil Rights movement caused the Democratic Party to lose the South (i.e., lose the rich white ruling class in the South) and yet not the Midwest? I could point out the fact that there is not much of a rich white ruling class in the Midwest. But why does this socio-economic cultural difference exist in the first place? Why has a socially and religiously traditional state like Iowa never entirely turned away from Democrats and even is one of the first states to pass a law legalizing gay marriage?

There is an extremely simple answer, but it’s maybe deceptively simple. Before I go into detail about that explanation, I want to provide some more specific data about voting habits in the North vs the South. The divide doesn’t just exist on the level of states but also on the level of cities:

  • racial diversity with many African Americans vs strong Caucasian majority
  • large concentrations of the poor vs large concentrations of the wealthy
  • a population of less educated vs a population of well educated
  • more single people vs more married people
  • large urban areas vs smaller urban areas,
  • former industrial cities vs white collar cities

Basically, Northern liberals vs Southern conservatives is a war of class and race. 

The Most Conservative and Liberal Cities in the United States
The Bay Area Center for Voting Research

America’s voting patterns are split by region, with the Midwest and Northeast predominantly voting for liberal candidates, and the West (with the exception of the coast) and South voting for more conservative candidates. These results confirm the preconceived notions that many have about the conservative nature of the South and liberal nature of the Northeast, but also surprisingly found conservative trends in the West and liberal leanings in the Midwest that defy traditional stereotypes about these areas of the country. 

A number of important demographic factors determine whether cities vote for liberals or conservatives, with race being the most important factor. Cities with predominantly large African American populations ended up as the most liberal cities in America, while the cities with the largest Caucasian populations wound up as the most conservative. These strong correlations seem to indicate that African American votes continue to support primarily liberal candidates. A survey of income and economic status indicates that poorer and less educated than average regions also tend to vote for liberal candidates at a higher rate than their conservative counterparts, indicating that liberal candidates may be ahead in capturing those with concerns about the state of government run social programs and poverty. 

Another major correlation appears between marriage rate and the tendency to vote for conservative candidates, as liberal cities appeared to have more single voters than conservative cities with marriage rates at or above the national average. This data indicates that family centered voters surprisingly voted more for conservative candidates, demonstrating the success of conservative candidates to appear as the more moral, family oriented candidates in a way that did not appeal as much to single voters. Population size also seems to have a significant effect, with larger urban environments tending to favor liberal candidates by a wider margin than those with smaller population sizes, demonstrating the success of liberal candidates in large metropolitan areas where concerns about social programs and poverty spoken of against the incumbent Bush administration were most salient. Suburban or mid-sized cities were on the whole more conservative and split in the 2004 presidential election, with conservative candidates receiving more votes in these areas than from their urban counterparts. These demographic issues indicate that racial makeup, income rates, regional location, marital status, and population size all combine to affect the propensity of American cities to vote on either side of the ideological spectrum.

[ . . . ] In addition, liberal cities tend to be former industrial and factory based centers such as Detroit, New York, Chicago, Flint, and Paterson. On the other hand, conservative cities reflect the opposite. Colorado Springs, Orange, Garden Grove, and Provo are less industrial and more white collar and residential.

The above might create an apparently black and white picture (literally and metaphorically), but that isn’t quite correct. It’s more a matter of diversity vs homogeneity. The liberal cities have a wider range of everything. The Democratic Party attracts both blacks and whites whereas the Republican Party mostly just attracts whites. The Democratic Party attracts both poor and rich whereas the Republican Party mostly just attracts the upper classes. The Democratic Party attracts both the highly educated and the far less educated whereas the Republican Party mostly just attracts the highly educated.

The latter is interesting because the Democratic Party has both a wider range of IQ among its voters and a higher average IQ than the Republican Party. The Democratic Party has both more people with low IQ and more people with high IQ (with the Republican Party apparently dominating the average middle of the IQ spectrum). So, the extremely smart, well educated liberals are truly the intellectual elite of the entire country (I discuss the issue of IQ in terms of race and North/South divide further down).

More interesting is the fact that those who are more oppressed and disadvantaged have consistently seen that their interests are more in line with intellectually elite Democrats rather than with wealthy elite Republicans. Also, I’d assume that the relationship goes both ways. The intellectually elite Democrats perceive their interests being in alignment with or inclusive of those who are more oppressed and disadvantaged.

Let me make this even more clear. It’s not that Republicans are inherently less smart, although conservatives do consistently test lower on IQ tests (sources for this claim can be found further down). It’s that the Republican Party in using the Southern Strategy eventually lost the highly intelligent liberal demographic that once voted for them.

Democrats may now be the more intelligent party
Half Sigma

Once upon a time, the Democratic Party was the party of the less intelligent and the Republican Party was the party of the more intelligent.

But today, the Democratic Party is the party of both the less intelligent and the more intelligent while the Republican Party is the party of the middle.

 – – –

The simple answer I spoke of before relates to the Southern Strategy that caused the GOP to lose the Northern well educated class. The Southern Strategy was all about the North/South divide. Democrats had sided with the Civil Rights movement which opened up the opportunity for Republicans to gain the Southern vote. With the Southern Strategy, the GOP appealed to the Southern states that still had much racial animosity and still had a racially segregated culture. To win the Southern vote meant to take advantage of the bad feelings left over from the Civil War.

The Midwest and the Northeast, of course, had been on the side of the Union during the Civil War. Lincoln’s Republican Union had become the stronghold for Democrats in the latter half of the 20th century. The Republican Party remained the progressive party for decades following the end of the Civil War, but now the Democratic party is considered the progressive party. Essentially, the war of worldviews is still going on… just with the party labels switched.

Map of the Union and Confederate States

Map of the Union and Confederate States

The Civil War was, of course, largely even if not entirely about slavery. It wasn’t just an issue of federal power vs states rights. It was about whether new territories of the Western expansion would expand slavery or not. Southerners feared that if slavery didn’t expand then it would begin to shrink (thus threatening their own power).

Free States and Slave States, before the Civil War

Graphical Map of Free States and Slave States, before the Civil War
Map Key: Free Sates or Territories
Map Key: Slave States
Map Key: Territories open to slavery

Midwesterners were free-soilers who were against slavery or rather against a class-based culture built on slavery… because Midwestern small farmers saw the Southern plantation elite as a threat. Also, non-slave states didn’t like having the practice and institution of slavery forced on them through the fugitive slave laws. Take Kansas for example. The Kansas Territory wasn’t yet a state and so was open territory for the potential expansion of slavery. Kansans, however, were largely free-soilers and didn’t want slavery expanded into their territory. This is why Kansans fought on the side of the Union.

It’s true that international slave trade was illegalized in 1808, but it wasn’t strongly enforced and internal slave trade was still legal (a situation that allowed for a flourishing black market for smugglers):

Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade in the United States

It is difficult to explain why it was moralist sentiment was not strong enough to carry the day. One possible explanation is that even though there was strong sentiment to abolish the trade in Congress, constituencies in the South were able to exert sufficient pressure to weaken the force of the law. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention could not have forseen the effect that Ely Whitney’s cotton gin would have on Southern agriculture. The decades following the abolition of the slave trade show that United States did not have enough will to even enforce the laws they had passed.  Illegal slave trade continued overland through Texas and Florida, while ships continued to smuggle slaves in through South Carolina.27  Even though Congress passed a law in 1820 making participation in the slave trade an act of piracy and punishable by death, it was not strongly enforced.

In the 1820’s, the nature of the illegal slave trade changed somewhat. US ships were now primarily involved in the transport of slaves from Africa to other countries in North and South America like Cuba and Brazil. The British wanted cooperation from the Americans in the form of the mutual right of search and seizure. The Americans opposed this principle, not so much out of a desire to continue the slave trade, but out of a sense of national pride and an appeal to the freedom of the seas.28  The US’s refusal to enforce its own anti-slave trade laws, as well as cooperate with other nations allowed the slave trade to continue for decades to come.

Slavery and the slave trade were far from being stopped. There was big money in it. Those who benefited from slavery had lost one political battle, but they weren’t giving up. They were on the defense and were looking for ways to go on the offense. The territories that weren’t yet states were their one opportunity to expand their power (because the governments of new states were allowed to decide whether to legalize or illegalize slavery).

The Westward expansion was a vision of possibility, of what America could become. But conflict arose in the struggle for whose vision would dominate the 19th century. When people today argue about the causes of the Civil War, they are continuing that struggle about whose vision will dominate.

The Civil War had a massive impact on American society. And a majority of Americans say the Civil War is still relevant:

As the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War approaches, most Americans say the war between the North and South is still relevant to American politics and public life today.

More than half of Americans (56%) say the Civil War is still relevant, according to the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted March 30-April 3 among 1,507 adults. Nearly four-in-ten (39%) say the Civil War is important historically but has little current relevance.

In a nation that has long endured deep racial divisions, the history of that era still elicits some strong reactions.

Another recent poll found similar results with one major difference. In their sample, a majority thought the Civil War was about slavery.

In the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released Tuesday, roughly one in four Americans said they sympathize more with the Confederacy than the Union, a figure that rises to nearly four in ten among white Southerners.

When asked the reason behind the Civil War, whether it was fought over slavery or states’ rights, 52 percent of all Americans said the leaders of the Confederacy seceded to keep slavery legal in their state, but a sizeable 42 percent minority said slavery was not the main reason why those states seceded.

“The results of that question show that there are still racial, political and geographic divisions over the Civil War that still exist a century and a half later,” CNN Polling Director Holland Keating said.

When broken down by political party, most Democrats said southern states seceded over slavery, independents were split and most Republicans said slavery was not the main reason that Confederate states left the Union.

Republicans were also most likely to say they admired the leaders of the southern states during the Civil War, with eight in 10 Republicans expressing admiration for the leaders in the South, virtually identical to the 79 percent of Republicans who admired the northern leaders during the Civil War.

 – – – 

Because this is such a central issue related to what continues to divide Americans, let me respond to those who think the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. The most obvious response is to point out that there were people on both sides of the war who openly stated that their reason or part of their reason for fighting had to do with slavery. Even official documents made this issue clear:

After 150 years, the Civil War still divides the United States

In fact, the South Carolina secession document […] is pretty explicit on the point. With Lincoln as president, it states, “the Slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy”.

In its own decision to secede, the state of Mississippi was yet more explicit. Slavery was “the greatest material interest of the world”, it insisted; attempts to abolish it would undermine “commerce and civilization”.

Those are strong words. Nonetheless, the politics and economics of that time were more complex and conflict-ridden than can be accredited to the issue of slavery alone. Even though slavery was an important issue in its own right, it was maybe even more important as a symbolic issue that inspired and gave a focal point for much public debate.

However, there wasn’t much collective will, at least among the political leadership, to stop slavery or the slave trade and the compromises made by way of laws were half-hearted. Yes, the Civil War was about states’ rights, to be specific, the states’ rights to continue with slavery if they so chose. Even though people feared slave revolts, there was still big money in slave plantations and that money was backed by entrenched power and traditional culture.

Greed not withstanding, fear was probably the greater force at play… with moral apathy being the result. Americans (by which I mean white Americans) were in what they perceived as a no-win situation. The slave population had grown so large that revolts were bound to happen and people had heard about the horrors of the Haitian slave revolt which led to outright revolution (1791-1804). Americans (ahem, white Americans) had just finished their own revolution and didn’t want a new one. On the other hand, trying to eliminate slavery presented other fearful possibilities. Giving blacks their freedom might just make them even more likely to revolt. You know how it is when you give someone a taste of freedom. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t:

The one issue that best demonstrates the difference between moralists and pragmatists was the issue of forfeiture, or what should be done with the confiscated slaves.

Some representatives argued that it was not only the government’s duty, but its right to manumit the seized cargo. Mr. Sloan drew a comparison to British law where any slave who entered Britain was automatically freed. If the slaves were to be forfeited to the national government and became property of that government, it was Congress’ prerogative to set the slaves free.17 Others emphasized the moral hypocrisy of stopping the slave trade, but then turning around and selling the cargo anyway. Mr. Smilie of Pennsylvania argued that if the slaves are not set free, the United States cannot “avoid the odium of becoming themselves slave traders.”18  Representative Pitkin of Connecticut lamented that the profit from such forfeited slaves would be “lodged in the public coffers.”19

The pragmatists opposed the manumission of the slaves on the basis of practical matters alone, not  principle. Mr. Alston argued that because of the laws of the individual states, the government “cannot . . . prevent them from being slaves once brought into the United States, the only way is to prevent importation.”20  This, however required that there be sufficient incentive on the part of all states to enforce the law. Because nearly all the imported slaves arrived in the south, where slavery was legal, large numbers of blacks would be freed on Southern soil. Mr. Early argued that Southerners would be unlikely to cooperate with the law out of fear that large numbers of freed blacks would lead to insurrection and revolt.21  Forfeiture seemed to be the only means of prevention.

When people say that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, they are making the case that many made before the Civil War. Many people didn’t agree with or care about the moral argument against slavery. They saw it in terms of economics and in terms of the rights of states and of owners (the rights of blacks, specifically the right of blacks to own their own bodies, being conveniently left out of the equation). These people wanted to avoid the moral argument for the very reason they knew they couldn’t win the moral argument. Public opinion, on that issue, was moving against them. But, when stated in terms of rights, slavery became more palatable to many whites of the time (especially businessmen and investors; but maybe not so palatable to the free-soilers, though, who had their own vision of individual rights).

It’s interesting to consider the history of states’ rights. One of the early origins of this argument was in relation to Native Americans. The governments and local populations of states wanted the land Native Americans claimed as their own. States’ rights was a  way of trying to bypass the federal government in order to steal the land from Native Americans in a more direct fashion. So, legal and constitutional claims of states’ rights were used to deny the rights of Native Americans and then later to deny the rights of blacks.

Whether or not the end of slavery was inevitable, the Civil War was probably inevitable. The moral arguments and the pragmatic arguments simply couldn’t find a shared solution to the complex issues surrounding slavery:

The Congressmen themselves seemed to grasp the rift that divided them. Nathaniel Macon, Speaker of the House believed all members were truly united in their goal: “I believe that on this subject there is but one opinion, which is effectually to prohibit the importation of slaves into the United States. This sentiment, I believe, pervades the breast of every member of the community.”22  While that may be true, he made his position clear in the debate on forfeiture: “I still consider this a commercial issue. . . .We derive our powers of legislation, not from the law of nations, but from the Constitution.”23  Mr. Smilie, making one last appeal to the supremacy of morality countered: “but this question is connected with principles of a higher order than those merely commercial.” He then refered to the Declaration of Independence and its central creed that all men are created equal.24  These two positions succinctly sum up the differences in thought over the means to abolish the slave trade. The question remained, who prevailed?

During January and February 1807, the House of Representatives and the Senate worked on developing mutually acceptable bills. The final vote in the House was 63 for, 49 against. President Thomas Jefferson signed the bill into law on 2 March 1807. In the bill itself, one can see that pragmatic concerns about implementation won out over the moralistic point of view. First, the bill contained provisions for the forfeiture of confiscated property, but such property would be under the jurisdiction of the district court were a slaving ship was seized. Provisions made for the “disposal” of confiscated slaves was not to “contravene” the laws of that specific state. This meant that if seized in Southern territory (which was the likely outcome), blacks would remain enslaved and be auctioned off nonetheless, completely contradicting the spirit of the act. Penalties were comparatively light, consisting primarily of fines.25  In December 1806, Mr. Hastings of Massachusetts had called for much stronger penalties: “It is  certainly a crime of the highest order. Piracy, forgery, and sinking vessels with intent to defraud underwriters, are all punished with death. Yet these are crimes only against property; whereas the importation of slaves, a crime committed against the liberty of man, and inferior only to murder or treason, is accouted nothing but a misdemeanor.”26  This is yet another example of the defeat of the moralists.

Looking into the history of that era, I sense the earliest emerging of that divide (prior to its more fully manifesting as North vs South). We still see this conflict of visions: moral (egalitarianism, human rights, etc) vs pragmatic (economics, ownership rights, etc). It’s the same basic argument of liberalism vs conservatism. The argument began even before the American Revolution happened. Thomas Paine was advocating a radically egalitarian vision (freedom and rights for all, including blacks and Native Americans; and an early version of social security to help the lower classes in their elderly years). Oppositely, many of the founding fathers such as John Adams feared democracy and wanted a political elite to be established so as to maintain order (the order of the ownership class that is, the fear of social conflict and division being the reason slavery wasn’t abolished with the writing of the constitution).

 – – – 

In the Eastern half of the country, the North/South divide remains as true today as it did a century ago. It’s not just a political divide. The two visions of America aren’t merely an issue of ideology. I’d argue it’s more fundamentally a cultural divide. We Northerners tend to be more supportive of social egalitarianism: civil rights, workers unions, et cetera. As long as you work hard, everyone should be given a fair chance to succeed. Despite both having a traditional culture, Midwestern traditionalism didn’t originate from a class-based society and Southern traditionalism did originate from a class-based society.

Most people don’t think of workers’ unions in geographic terms, but even union membership shows a North/South divide — see here:

Union Membership in the United States


Where unions are strong so is the Democratic Party. And where unions are weak so is the Democratic Party. Unions are the only organization that represents the working class. As I pointed out above, the Midwest was a hotbed for the Populist movement which set the groundwork for many Progressive policies. A main element of the Populist movement was the workers movement. Unions were born out of this. Also, this relates to the fact that the free-soilers were small farmers who, during the Populist era, joined forces with the labor movement. Notice that the unions are weakest, unsurprisingly, in the states which were formerly the pro-slavery strongholds. Unions are symbolic of the egalitarian ideal and the Northern culture that supports it.

Egalitarianism is a central ideal of social liberalism. It’s interesting that even gay marriage can be defended according to the social values that are traditional in states like Iowa. According to an analysis of various data, Northern states tend to be more tolerant and Iowa ranks as the 12th most tolerant. Also, notice how the above maps with their North/South divide match closely with a map of income inequality (which also correlates to the rates of social problems) and with a map of poverty:

Gross Domestic Product by Industry

% in Poverty Income Map

I can only credit such a divide, such a stark contrast with the power of culture. It’s not just a North/South divide in the whole country. The North/South divide only clearly shows up in the Eastern part of the US. The Southern states closer to the West coast (which also deal with high diverse populations) look relatively good on many rankings compared to the Southern states toward the Eastern coast. This Eastern North/South divide has consistently existed for at least since the Civil War and I suspect before even then. I find that endlessly fascinating. As I pointed out above, income inequality correlates to social problems. Here are just a few examples of social problems mapped out (compare the North/South pattern as seen in the maps of income inequality and poverty) — school performanceteen pregnancygun violence, obesity & diabetes, disability, unmarried & single parents:


Map of obesity rates by county. For data, see link above.Map of diabetes rates by county. For data, see link above.

Here is another map which would explain one cause of some of the health issues. It’s a map of areas that are food deserts. There are a high percentage of poor people living in these areas who don’t own a car nor are near a supermarket. This means they are forced to live off of food from convenience stores. It’s not that all food in a convenience store is unhealthy, but the cheapest food that poor people buy tends to be very unhealthy.

food deserts, food desert map, food

So, health problems are caused by an unhealthy diet which is caused by lack of access to healthy food, but that doesn’t necessarily get to the most fundamental cause. Why don’t supermarkets build in these areas? Is there no way to make a profit off of poor people except by slowly killing them with unhealthy food? I have to wonder if there isn’t more going on.

It’s in poor conservative areas like this that there are also less access to affordable health care. Conservatives are on average more against funding social services that help the poor (i.e., those judged as being undeserving by their low status on the ‘meritocratic’ totem pole). Not all poor areas have these problems. Why is it that California has an area of poverty and yet has no food deserts? Is it for the reason that California is more liberal and liberals (i.e., liberal communities and governments) take care of their own? Like California, Texas is also wealthy. Why does Texas have food deserts when California doesn’t? In one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest country in the world, why does Texas have food deserts at all? Obviously, Texas has high wealth disparity which is a cause of food disparity, but why do conservative states have so much wealth disparity in the first place?

I was looking at population density and was wondering about the possible correlation to food desert regions.

To be fair, maybe the difference of food desert regions between California and Texas could be partly explained by a difference in population density. However, differences between liberal and conservative states in general, specifically between North and South, can’t be explained just by population density. Let me use my own state as an example again. Iowa, and this non-industrial part of the Midwest in general, has low population density and yet isn’t a food desert. Iowans have a fair amount of poverty. Why is it profitable for grocery stores to operate in poor Iowa but not in rich Texas?

– – –

Here is an interesting way of mapping together some of the above data along with other data as well. A recent study compared states according to the measurements of peacefulness (I discuss in detail the issue of violence further down in this post). The peace index consists of five main indicators:

  1. number of homicides per 100,000 people
  2. number of violent crimes per 100,000 people
  3. number of people in jail per 100,000 people
  4. number of police officers per 100,000 people
  5. general availability of small arms

US Peace Index (state comparison)

The USPI also finds that a state’s ranking is strongly correlated with various socio-economic factors including the high school graduation rate, access to health insurance and the rate of infant mortality. Significant economic correlants included the degree of income inequality and the rate of participation in the labor force. Meanwhile, factors such as median income and a state’s political affiliation had no discernable impact on a state’s level of peace.

Regionally, southern states were identified as being the least peaceful, while states in the northeast were most peaceful. The peacefulness of states in the Midwest and West was about equal, with Midwest states being slightly more peaceful.

United States Peace Index 2011 – Ranking

United States Peace Index 2011 - Ranking

Of course, high rates of social problems such as violence ultimately equates to low rates of experienced well-being.

Well-being of nation

– – –

For the sake of amusement, here are some maps to show social problems as translated into the 7 Deadly Sins:

Greed & Envy

Wrath & Sloth
Gluttony & Lust
It’s funny that the one sin the North excels at slightly is Sloth which is measured according to: “Expenditures on art, entertainment, and recreation compared with employment.” Basically, it just means Northerners have more fun and have more high culture. As far as sins go, that is definitely the one to choose.

Another interesting thing is that the Midwest rates low on all the sins. It doesn’t look like Iowa gets touched by much red other than a bit of the Sloth. We Iowans apparently are a religiously pure people… who yet (at least, us Eastern Iowans) still know how to have fun and aren’t entirely uncultured.

Greed is the only sin that doesn’t at all follow a North/South divide. I don’t know what this particular data might mean as I’m not sure what exactly is being measured. Obviously, measuring the “Average income compared with number of people living below the poverty line” is not the same thing as measuring income inequality or poverty. The map shows the Northeastern states as being high on ‘Greed’ and the Southern states (excluding Florida and Texas) as being low on ‘Greed’. However, the maps of income inequality and poverty are the complete opposite.

 – – –  

Before I move on, I want to share a map that brings a lot of this together in a larger picture and shifts the way we normally think. The US is the wealthiest country in the world and so it’s easy to forget how big the divide is in this country. We talk about poor developing countries, but we don’t talk about poor developing states. Fortunately, someone decided to map the data.

Infographic: Does America Have “Developing States”? 


The Human Development Index is a metric that measures the life expectancy, education, and standard of living in an area. It’s usually used to sort the world into “developing countries,” like Bangladesh and Burundi, and “developed countries” like the United States and Western Europe.

But this interactive infographic actually uses the Human Development Index to show differences between the states here in America. The highest on the list are Connecticut, Massachusetts, and other states in the northeast. The lowest are the Appalachian states.

Should we start thinking of West Virginia and Tennessee as “developing states”? It’s a little patronizing, but it does make you think about the costs of America’s regionalized coal production, for example, in a new way.

 – – –

Pause for a moment and let all that data sink in. Look at all those maps, really look at them. Imagine all of that data superimposed onto a singular map that is our country. Instead of seeing abstract statistics, imagine the real people who are experiencing these problems, who daily face challenges and suffering that could break the best of us.

Look at the conservative areas of the South and Appalachia. Now imagine that all states, all regions, all the country was dominated by a similar conservative culture. Imagine that all government (local and federal) was run by a majority of conservative politicians. Imagine spread across the entire country the same degree of social problems, the same high rates of: poverty, wealth disparity, violent crime, incarceration, intolerance, broken families, illiteracy, high school drop outs, teen pregnancy, low birth weight, infant mortality, STDs, lack of healthy food and health care for the poor and working class, and on and on. Imagine all of that combined.

Imagine that America was a developing country where people still struggle for basic rights and opportunities. Imagine an America that had no strong tradition of liberalism, no liberal party that could compete with conservative Republicans, no rich liberal states to pay for the infrastructure and social services in poor conservative states. Imagine that a progressively liberal president like Lincoln was never elected and so slavery was never abolished, that no Populist movement ever arose to challenge the Robber Barons, that no Progressive era came to create a social safety net, labor laws, child protection and environmental regulation, that no Civil Rights movement ever happened, that segregation never ended, that women and blacks never fought for and won voting rights.

Heck, go back even further right to the beginning of the country. Imagine that there was no Thomas Paine to communicate to the masses an inspiring liberal vision about what America could be, that early Americans weren’t inspired by that radically democratic vision to such an extent that they risked their lives fighting for radical change against an established conservative elite. Imagine that the liberal values of social democracy never took hold on American soil, that we never gained independence, that a constitution of classical liberal values was never written, that an egalitarian society of representative democracy was never established.

Imagine an America with no liberalism whatsoever or else an America where liberalism forever remained insignificant and powerless.

I don’t know what America would be like if it were almost exclusively conservative in all aspects and in all regions. But, to speculate based on the known data, there is no reason obvious to me for why one would think it would be a better country… not that I mean to imply that the polar opposite would necessarily be better. I just want liberalism to get its due, to be acknowledged for the positive force it has been in this country.

I want to be clear, however, that I’m not arguing conservatism is inherently and inevitably a negative force. I could imagine a conservative country that didn’t have all of these problems originating from America’s radicalized conservatism obsessed with class and culture war and haunted by hyper-individualism and anti-intellectualism. A well established traditional conservatism could make for a very good society in certain respects. Some indigenous societies, for example, are both very socially conservative and very stable. But America’s radicalized conservatism isn’t the same thing as traditional conservatism.

In my mind, I can hear the conservative’s counterargument. They would argue that the US is a republic, not a democracy (the latter being identified with the oppression of the majority, with unconstitutional government overreach). They would, of course, say that the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery but instead was about state’s rights, about the federal government infringing on constitutional rights of liberty and self-determination. They would say that slavery would’ve ended on its own because a free market would eventually result in slavery being unprofitable, that fiscal conservatism inevitably leads to liberty and that Lincoln’s brutally forcing the end of oppression against blacks led to an oppression against Southerners. They would argue that the real problem was how the Civil War caused immense destruction and how Reconstruction undermined Southern culture. The conservative imagines his own vision of America where the War of Northern Aggression never happened and no Reconstruction followed, where the Southern economies had continued to grow unthwarted, where none of these social problems ever developed. It’s a nice dream.

I’ve discussed some of this earlier, but let me add some further thoughts. Ignoring the revisionist history and the mindless debate about republic vs democracy, I’m not sure I have a strong opinion about the case being made for secession. I understand the argument that the federal government supposedly didn’t have the right to infringe on the rights of Southerners. But Southerners didn’t have the right to infringe on the rights of blacks. And neither had the right to infringe on the rights of Native Americans. There was a whole lot of infringing of rights happening on all sides. The Civil War was obviously not beneficial to the South in the short term, but it’s not clear that the South would have been better off if they had been left alone to continue on with their immoral system of slavery. Yes, slavery may have ended on it’s own if given enough time, but then again maybe not. Slavery easily could have gone on for another century. Or slavery might never have ended at all, might have taken on new form to adapt to the changing economy. I just don’t get the argument for not dealing with an immoral situation in the seemingly naive hope that it would eventually resolve itself.

My own view is that the most fundamental differences between the North and South are greater than and probably prior to the Civil War. The Civil War was just an outward manifestation of a conflict that had to be dealt with, one way or another. I see this conflict to be primarily on the level of culture (and the demographic issues and patterns underlying culture: religion, nationality, etc). The broad outlines of our present cultural divisions began to show with the earliest colonists. Some people interpret Alexis de Tocqueville as having predicted the Civil War with his observations of American culture. The seeds of conflict can be seen right from the beginning. Allowing slavery to legally continue was a concession made in order to unite the country, but it was a pact made with the devil. If the founding fathers had lived up their moral responsibility, Lincoln wouldn’t have had to confront the results of their moral failure. The Civil War was a bad solution to an even worse problem.

– – –

I’ll now shift gears by returning to the original impetus of this whole line of thought.

I had a debate where I was arguing about the cultural difference between the North and South (the very debate that led me to do much of this research and analysis). The central basis of my argument was that differences in religion are a factor behind this difference in culture. I hadn’t looked at the data closely enough at that point and so my argument was partly just based on my own experience of having lived in both the North and the South (along with a general familiarity with diverse data about different states).

I was specifically considering my experience of Iowa and what I thought makes it distinct.

If I recall correctly, the first church in the Iowa territory was a Unitarian church. Unitarianism was popular among Northerners such as some people among the Revolutionary generation. It’s important to note that the difference between Unitarians and the Calvinist fundamentalists (who are mostly in the South) is that the former believe that all are saved and the latter believe only a select elite are saved (a massive cultural difference).

The other thing I recall from Iowa history is that Quakers helped build the some of the early public schools. This valuing of education was central to the Populist and Progressive eras in the Midwest. Education was how farmers and the working class fought back against those who sought to exploit them. I think related to this is how widespread Catholicisim is in Iowa. Like the Quakers, Catholics built schools everywhere they went.

The last observation is that Iowa is Amish country. The Amish are Anabaptists who have been a driving force behind the pacifist tradition in American history (and the Southern Scots-Irish Calvinists have a culture quite opposite of pacifism).

There is something about these religions (Unitarians, Quakers, Catholics, and Amish) that is uniquely Midwestern and, more generally, Northern. As I was looking at the above maps, I was wondering what maps of religions would look like and whether they would confirm my personal observations. The following are the maps I could find for all the different religions. But first let me show you a map of atheism just for additional context:

Unsurprisingly, rates of atheism are lowest in the South. It’s particularly unsurprising that rates of atheism are highest in the Northeast. On the more surprising side, rates of atheism are (relative to the South) higher in the Midwest and even higher in Mormon country. So, in relation to the other maps, even atheism shows a North/South divide.

Let me now show a general map with several different religious traditions shown:

Do you happen to notice a North/South divide? However, the religious divide is less clear at the most Southern points of the US. Catholicism has been in Texas for a long time (almost certainly longer than Protestantism) and the Cubans have brought Catholicism into Florida. Now here are some relevant examples of maps for individual religions:

(To see more of these religious maps, go here.)

There are particular religions that are mostly found in the North or mostly found in the South. I think this is very significant for the reason that religious differences are a strong indicator of cultural differences.

I was also thinking about this in terms of the those who fought for American independence and helped found the country (after all, they had a greater impact on American culture than almost any other group in American history). The founding fathers, many of whom were born in or lived in the Northeast, were religiously diverse including a fair number (depending how terms are defined and what evidence is used) who were Deists and Unitarians or who held beliefs that were in part Deist or Unitarian (for further reading, see here).

The Revolution of Belief

Deist-Orthodox Charts

The chart below explores the differences between orthodox Christian action and beliefs and Deist actions and beliefs as it specifically deals with eight of the Founding Fathers.

I chose to look at the years from around 1770 to 1800 as the defining years to establish the particular belief set up in these charts. A couple of these men had a change of heart from earlier years, and a few have been rumored to have yielded to more traditional feelings of religion very late in life.

The Chart Categories

Much of what is inferred about the founding fathers and their religious beliefs cannot always be taken from their letters. There are other ways above and beyond their letters that I have outlined in their church actions. Again, this informational content comes from the book, “Faiths of the Founding Fathers” by David Holmes, although these tables are entirely my creation.

From their actions, the following ideas are considered indicators of Christian orthodoxy, Deism, or some combination of both:

U.S. Presidents

Actions: Communion, Confirmation, Church Attendance, Vocabulary

  Communion Confirmation Attendance Vocabulary
Washington No No Yes Mostly Deist
Adams, John not applicable not applicable Yes Both
Jefferson No No Yes Deist
Madison No No Yes Deist
Monroe No No Yes Mostly Deist
Franklin No No Yes Deist
Paine, Thomas No No No Deist
Adams, Samuel not applicable not applicable Yes Orthodox

Beliefs: Resurrection, Christ-Divinity, Trinity, Miracles

  Resurrection Christ-Divinity Trinity Miracles
Washington ? ? ? ?
Adams, John Yes Yes No Yes
Jefferson No No No No
Madison ? ? No ?
Monroe ? ? ? ?
Franklin No No No ?
Paine, Thomas No No No No
Adams, Samuel Yes Yes Yes Yes

Significantly, of 204 founding fathers, apparently only one was explicitly and solely identified as a Calvinist (Fisher Ames). However, others could be included as Calvinist (depending on whether Calvinism is being defined as a specific religious denomination or a general religious affiliation; technically, Calvinist denominations include: Pilgrims, Puritans, Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist and Reformed) or as partially Calvinist in terms of certain beliefs (such as the depravity of human nature; however, such a belief or similar beliefs were also common in other Christian denominations, e.g., Catholic original sin).

Most importantly, there are two distinctions to be made here. First, there is a vast difference between the Calvinism of the South and the Calvinism of the Northeast (the former being the main influence on the fundamentalist tradition and the latter being the denominations more common among the founding fathers). Second, Calvinism was popular in early America, especially among the general population, but it lost membership and influence over time. Some of the Founding Fathers such as Benjamin Franklin and John Adams had been raised in Calvinist homes, only to renounce Calvinism as adults.

Religious Affiliation of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America

Religious Affiliation
of U.S. Founding Fathers
# of
% of
Episcopalian/Anglican 88 54.7%
Presbyterian 30 18.6%
Congregationalist 27 16.8%
Quaker 7 4.3%
Dutch Reformed/German Reformed 6 3.7%
Lutheran 5 3.1%
Catholic 3 1.9%
Huguenot 3 1.9%
Unitarian 3 1.9%
Methodist 2 1.2%
Calvinist 1 0.6%
TOTAL 204  

 – – – 

Now I’ll show some maps showing other indicators of cultural differences.

Here is some info about American dialects.

It’s interesting to note that the region I live in is the very center of Standard American English. Looking at this small region, it seems very odd how the English spoken here became Standard American English. From what I’ve read, the English of this region spread during the Dust Bowl years when many farmers left the Midwest and went West. Also, I suspect that early national radio and tv stations intentionally chose people from around this area to be news anchors. It’s the approximate center of the country, after all. Maybe this central location makes the dialect linguistically closer to and more easily understood by speakers of all other dialects. Also, the region of Standard American English is part of the larger regional dialect known as the Midland American English, specifically North Midland. The lower edge of the Midland region approximates the border between free states and slave states.

American English Dialects

And, of course, dialects are based in ancestry. Those concentrated in the South are Hispanic, African-American, and Scots-Irish. I’d also add the Cavaliers (the aristocrats and loyal Royalists) from Southern England who settled Virginia (which, along with the Scots-Irish and two other British immigrant groups, is discussed in the book Albion’s Seed).


English & German


Irish & French


Norwegian & Swedish


Asian & Hispanic

Scots-Irish & African-American

File:Scotch irish1346.gif

File:USA 2000 black density.png

Two details interest me about the Scots-Irish.

First, there is a large clump of Scots-Irish in Texas (not so surprising) and a large clump in Southern California (more surprising). One thing that is mentioned in something I was reading (quoted below) is that the Scots-Irish and Quakers were two major groups pushing the Western expansion. It’s partly for this reason that the conflicting worldviews of these two groups have been central to what American society has become.

Second (and more relevant to my analyis), there is concentration of Scots-Irish around South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. This general area is part of Appalachia which also extends into some Northern States (such as Pennsylvania which is traditional Quaker territory, much different than Southern Appalachia).

White Voters, Obama and Appalachia

First, let’s define how we’ll be using “Appalachia.”  In the 1960’s, one out of three people in Appalachia   lived poverty, per capita income was 23% lower than the national average, and the region was rapidly losing population.  In 1963 the Appalachian Regional Commission was created by Congress and President Kennedy to address the problems in the area highlighted in the map.  Since the 1960’s counties near Atlanta, Huntsville AL and Pittsburgh have become wealthier much more developed.  But much of the region remains well below national standards in most measures of economic and social well-being.

The ethnic and cultural character of this part of the country has been more static since the 19th century than anyplace in America.  Outside of some of the new growth areas north of Atlanta or Huntsville, or in some of the college towns, most of the people in Appalachia trace their heritage back to immigrants from the borderlands of Northern Britain who began settling the region over 200 years ago.  Outside of the Northern part of Appalachia—Pennsylvania in particular—relatively few Eastern or Southern Europeans from the great waves of immigration that started in the 1880’s have moved in to the area.  It’s the most homogeneous region in America.  The region is home to few Catholics, and is heavily Baptist and Methodist.

In the 19th century, migrants from Appalachia moved west.  People from Appalachia settled and put their stamp on the Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas, on Okalahoma and the southern Plains, on North Texas, and eventually they were a big part of the initial growth of Southern California.

This same general region of and around Appalachia, interestingly, is also where there are concentrated those who identify simply as ‘Americans’. I find that amusing. It could be that these are just poor Americans who are unaware of their own ancestry and so simply identify as American. But I suspect it’s, at least, partly a cultural identity. The Scots-Irish are very ethnocentric and I’m willing to bet that this is the origin of conservative oft-stated belief that they are ‘Real Americans’. Why would conservatives want to claim their own European ancestry when they are always criticizing Europeans as socialists?


I was recently reading Deer Hunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant. It gave me great insight into the Scots-Irish culture. Bageant explained it in terms of a specific Calvinist tradition (Kindle location 2357):

“Since arriving in America during the first seventy-five years of the eighteenth century, Calvinist Ulster Scots have constituted a parallel culture to that of enlightened Yankee liberals. Scots-Irish Calvinist values all but guarantee anger and desire for vengeance against what is perceived as elite authority: college-educated secular people who run the schools, the media, and the courts and don’t seem to mind if their preacher is a queer. One Calvinist premise has always dominated: The word of God supersedes any and all government authority. Period. That same flaming brand of Calvinism brought here by the Ulster Scots launched American Christian fundamentalism. Now it threatens to breach the separation of church and state. Worse yet, its most vehement elements push for a nuclear holy war.”

This culture formed much of Southern tradition, especially the tradition of fundamentalism. These Scots-Irish weren’t the plantation owners. In fact, they were quite the opposite in being poor. But in modern America it’s the Scots-Irish culture that has come to define the South (and, more broadly, to add a distinct flavor to the American identity): kinship affiliation, family values, ethnocentric pride, nationalism, xenophobia, fundamentalism, working class identity, lack of prudishness, machismo, heavy drinking, gun rights, property rights, territorialism, libertarian values of autonomy, anti-intellectualism, anti-elitism, etc. The Scots-Irish were the complete opposite of the Puritans who first settled the Northeast, even though both were Calvinist. Talk about cultural differences.

 – – – 

The following is a very detailed article analyzing a particular set of British immigrants. The author explains much about the Scots-Irish and the historical reasons for their culture.

Yo, Pundits! Here’s What’s Up With the Republicans
By Geenius at Wrok

We have two dominant political parties. Each of those parties is built upon two of the four primary waves of migration from Britain that defined America in its earliest years. Historian David Hackett Fischer, in his book Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, identifies these waves as:

  • Puritans, who settled in New England;
  • Cavaliers, who settled in Virginia;
  • Quakers, who settled in the Delaware River Valley; and
  • Borderers, who settled in the “backcountry,” as Appalachia and the Highland South were termed back then.

These four waves weren’t the only immigrants to bring their cultures to America — there were also Dutch colonists and Jews in the Hudson River Valley, French colonists in Louisiana and Maine, Catholics in Maryland and Huguenots in South Carolina — but they came to dominate American culture and politics, for two reasons. First, they held not just local power but regional power. Second, they migrated westward.

Through the 18th and early 19th centuries, politics revolved on a Puritan–Cavalier axis. The Civil War was fought, essentially, between Puritan abolitionists and Cavalier slaveholders. But in the late 19th century, the descendants of Quakers and Borderers settled the West, while the descendants of Puritans and Cavaliers mostly stayed east of the Mississippi River. Consequently, the balance of power began to shift, and the four cultures found themselves on more equal footing. Today, if anything, the Quaker and Borderer strains in our culture and politics are stronger nationwide than the Puritan and Cavalier strains. Since the political realignment of the 1960s, we have essentially had a Northern Party (the Quaker–Puritan Democrats) and a Southern Party (the Borderer–Cavalier Republicans), with the Great Plains and the Mountain West leaning toward the Republicans until just recently.

[ . . . ] Conflicts between the newly arrived Borderers and the Quakers who resided around the Borderers’ primary ports of entry, Philadelphia and Newcastle, Del., encouraged the Borderers to move upland into the Appalachian mountain range and south into Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas, then across what was then the “Southwest” — Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. In the 19th century, they crossed the Mississippi River and migrated into Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. These areas were already populated by proud and fierce Native American nations that tried to fight off the new settlers, creating a new environment of perpetual strife to replace the one the borderers left behind in Britain.

When looked at closely, aspects of this culture can appear hypocritical. For example, Southern states are socially conservative and yet rate very poorly on living up to socially conservative values.

The Borderers also displayed a degree of sexual freedom that appalled Americans of other cultures, and premarital sex and pregnancy were rampant.

Is this where the “Republican = Borderer” equation breaks down? True, no one can reasonably point to the Republican Party as the “pro–promiscuity and early pregnancy party.” But here’s an interesting fact: For all the Republicans’ family-values talk, the Highland South remains the region of the country where teen pregnancy rates are highest. In fact, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense: If you look around you and see social disorder everywhere, of course you’re going to panic and look to someone to save you from it. (If you live in another part of the country and don’t see that degree of social disorder, of course, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about.) It’s also telling that, for all the talk of abstinence and purity pledges and so forth, when teen pregnancy happens under one’s own roof, suddenly it’s no longer a threat to the social order but rather a chance to show your love and forgiveness!

Relevant to my own thoughts, the author discusses how the Republican Party has incorporated much of the cultural worldview that came from the Scots-Irish. What is particularly relevant is how this culture originated in poverty and wealth disparity. Along with this, the author explains why property rights are prioritized over human rights.

Today’s Republican Party tolerates inequality of wealth because Borderers have historically experienced more of it than any other culture in America. Despite the myth of the meritocratic, sweat-of-one’s-brow frontier, the backcountry was characterized by “a system of landholding characterized by a large landless underclass of tenants and squatters, a middle class that was small by comparison with other colonies, and a few very rich landlords,” Fischer writes.

With some exceptions, landed wealth was always highly concentrated throughout the Southern highlands, as it would be in the lower Mississippi Valley, Texas and the far Southwest. Inequality was greater in the backcountry and the Southern highlands than in any other rural region of the United States. (749)

Violence has pervaded Borderer life for literally a thousand years. Rather than place their trust in the political systems that exploited them, Borderers developed their own system of retributive justice and vigilantism, one which punished property crimes far more severely than crimes against people: a rustler might be hanged, while the rapist of a young girl might be fined a shilling (768). Here we see the roots of American “gun culture,” the attitude that shooting trespassers is acceptable and the prioritization of property rights over civil liberties. We also see a tolerance of violent acts in general, from domestic violence to abortion-clinic murders to shooting wolves from airplanes.

This kind of violence seems strange. The data shows the violence concentrated in Southern states, but why? How does a culture of violence develop in the first place? Is it just violence perpetuating violence? Or is there something specific about a culture that predisposes people to violence?

The Scots-Irish Vote

Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen, psychology professors at the University of Michigan and University of Illinois, conducted an in-depth study in the 1990s examining what they dubbed the “Culture of Honor” prevalent in the South. In trying to find out why violence rates were significantly higher in the South, they discovered that white southerners tended to be much more likely to resort to violence to defend their property or honor than whites in other parts of the country. Their studies controlled for poverty rates throughout the region, as well as for other factors including weather (warmer areas tend to be more violent) and the legacy of slavery (areas with fewer blacks actually experienced more violence amongst whites, they found). This trend was not nearly as strong in the larger, more metropolitan cities of the South but was especially prevalent in the small, more isolated and culturally distinct small cities and towns throughout Appalachia and the rural South. These are the areas where the Hatfields and McCoys, the Turners and Howards (all Scots-Irish) feuded for years. The psychologists then ran a series of experiments where they antagonized both southerners and northerners, and found that southerners were much more prone to violence when slighted.

Nisbett argues that many of the cultural traits of the modern South can be traced back to the heritage of the population’s descendants. “The Scots-Irish were a herding people, while people from the north [of the U.S.] were English, German and Dutch farmers. Herding people are tough guys all over the world, and they are that because they have to establish that you can’t trifle with them, and if you don’t do that then you feel like you’re at risk for losing your entire wealth, which is your herd. This creates a culture of honor, and the Scots-Irish are very much a culture of honor, and they carried that with them from the Deep South to the Mountain South, and then out through the western plains.”

According to Nisbett, the Scots-Irish were a warlike people distrustful of a powerful central government, a result of the herder mentality as well as centuries of fighting, first against the English and Irish, then against Native Americans, then against the Yankees. As he points out, “The Scots-Irish are very much overrepresented in the military … and you find them there because they’re a fighting people.”

I find myself fascinated with the Scots-Irish. They have such a distinctive culture which has had an immense influence on American society. America would not be the country we know, good and bad, without the Scots-Irish. Having lived in the South, I’m familiar with how much of the culture is obviously Scots-Irish.

However, the South wasn’t initially and primarily defined by Scots-Irish. The Scots-Irish were escaping a class-based society, but they immigrated into regions (e.g., Virginia Territory) where the Cavaliers had settled. One of the most obvious elements of Cavalier society was that it was class-based. They were the aristocrats who initially brought along indentured servants and later introduced the large African-American slave population. You’d think the Scots-Irish would hate this, but it was just like their homeland and the Scots-Irish seemingly just reinforced this class-consciousness. The Scots-Irish apparently prefer to have an elite that they can hate and maybe secretly admire. For all their poverty, the Scots-Irish respect the rights of property owners like almost nothing else… and the Cavaliers had plenty of property. The Cavaliers and Scots-Irish were a match made in Heaven.

 – – –

Let me share some of my own anecdotal evidence here.

While living in South Carolina, my family was upper middle class. We had a neighbor lady who was an authentic Southern Belle, although she had married below her class. Still, she lived the life of an aristocrat. She didn’t work a job. She didn’t even do her own housework or yardwork. She had a personal servant (black, of course) who took care of her every need. This lady was no longer wealthy, but she was still living the life of wealth that she had grown accustomed to from her youth.

This Southern Belle wasn’t unusual. The way she lived her life was the norm for many upper class and upper middle class Southerners. In the South, only the working class (and Yankee transplants) do all or most of their own yard work. Why would a person with money dirty their fingers when there is cheap black labor?

My mom grew up a working class Midwesterner and she taught me the mentality of a working class Midwesterner. Such a mentality is the complete opposite of the mentality of Southern aristocracy. The Midwest doesn’t have an aristocracy, no history of indentured servitude, no history of slavery, no history of plantations, no history of Cavaliers. In the Midwest, it is a point of pride to do one’s own work. In the Midwest, it’s looked down upon for one to act superior to other in one’s community. Midwesterners don’t want to stand out. Midwesterners don’t hate the elite in the way the Scots-Irish do, but even so Midwesterners have little desire to become the elite. There is an informal neighborliness about Midwestern culture.

I should point that, since I went to public schools, I knew a variety of people while living in South Carolina. My best friend in school was your traditional redneck (a term I use endearingly). I don’t know his specific ancestry, but like most rednecks he was obviously a part of the Scots-Irish culture. Some Southern people can be quite friendly as well. The difference is that there is an element of formality that comes from traditional class and race distinctions. In the South, people tend to keep to their own group. The poor and rich, the blacks and the whites tend to not mingle as much, although interestingly a history of plantation slave culture has forced a closer proximity that might surprise some Northerners (the division between people tends to be less about physical distance and more about social distance). Desegregation has forced some more extensive intermingling, but culture persists (with the help of private schools).

I’ve often tried to pinpoint a major distinction between (my experience of) the North and (my experience of) the South. The defining factor of the Midwest seems to be community (community as extended family). If you move into a community, you are a member of that community. It’s not unusual for neighbors and welcome wagons to immediately welcome someone into the community (often bringing along baked goods). The defining factor of the South seems to be family (family as the definition of community). Kinship loyalty is strong (clan mentality of the Scots-Irish?). Southerners don’t seem to warm up to strangers as quickly. However, once a person is accepted, they are treated as part of the family.

Let me use another example to clarify this difference. In the Midwest, when someone invites you over for coffee, they more often literally mean it. Genuine neighborliness is a Midwestern tradition. Midwesterners like to help each other. In the past, this might have meant raising a barn together. Today, this often means something as simple as shoveling your neighbors sidewalk. In the South, when someone invites you over for coffee (or iced tea), they may not literally want you to come over for a visit. The Southern Belle I mentioned invited my mom over for coffee when we first moved into the neighborhood, but it immediately became apparent that the invitation was merely a formality. Of course, this dynamic is a bit different with working class Southerners (i.e., Scots-Irish rednecks) who are more informal, although I don’t think they are informal to the same extent or in the same way as seen in the Midwest.

(I admit that I’m less confident about my own observations because it can be dangerous to generalize based on anecdotal evidence. The reason I’m writing this post is to see if my personal observations can be confirmed by the data. I think they are confirmed to some extent, but I’m still not entirely sure.)

 – – – 

This brings me to the cultures of two other early immigrant groups that mostly settled in the North: Puritans and Quakers.


Puritans (Virginia)

So important was the idea of a covenanted family in Massachusetts that everyone was compelled by law to live in family groups. The provinces of Conneticut and Plymouth forbade any single person to “live of himself.” These laws were enforced. In 1668 the court of Middlesex County systematically searched its towns for single persons and placed them in families. This custom was not invented in New England. It had long been practiced in East Anglia.

[ . . . ] Literacy was higher in New England than in any other part of British America… The zeal for learning and literacy in New England was not invented in America. The proportion of men and women in the Bay Colony who could sign their own names was almost exactly the same as yeomen and their wives in eastern England.

Quakers (The Deleware)

Persecution played a major part in driving Quakers to America, but it was never the leading cause. The primary religious goals of the Friends’ migration were positive rather than negative. An historian observes that the founders of the Delaware colonies wishes “to show Quakerism at work, freed from hampering conditions.”

At the center of Quaker belief was a God of Love and Light whose benevolent spirit harmonized the universe. The Puritans worshipped a very different deity — one who was equally capable of love and wrath — a dark, mysterious power who could be terrifying in his anger and inscrutability. Anglicans, on the other hand, knelt before a great and noble Pantocrator who ruled firmly but fairly over the hierarchy of his creatures.

[ . . . ] On the subject of gender, the Quakers had a saying: “In souls there is no sex.” This epigram captured one of the deepest differences between the founders of the Delaware colonies and their neighbors to the north and south. Of all the English-speaking people in the 17th century, the Quakers moved farthest toward the idea of equality between the sexes.

Acts of violence against Quaker women arose in part from their headlong challenge to an entire system of gender relations. In the 17th century, there mere appearance of a female preacher was enough to start a riot. As late as 1763 the spectacle of “she-preaching” seemed perverse and unnatural to many Englishmen

[ . . . ] Quakers refused to touch foods that were tainted by social evil. Some did not use sugar because it had been grown by slave labor. Others banned salt from their tables, because it bore taxes which paid for military campaigns.

Liberty of conscience was one of a large family of personal freedoms which Quakers extended equally to other. William Penn recognized three secular “rights of an Englishman”: first, “a right and title to your own lives, liberties and estates; second, representative government; third, trial by jury.” In Pennsylvania, these liberties went far beyond those of Massachusetts, Virginia and old England itself… The laws of Pennsylvania also guaranteed the right of every freeman to a speedy trial, to a jury chosen by lot in criminal cases, and to the same privileges of witnesses and counsel as the prosecution. These ideas went far beyond prevailing practices in England and America.

Quakers genuinely believed that every liberty demanded for oneself should also be extended to others.

The Quakers were among the most radical libertarians of their age, but they were not anarchists. Penn himself wrote in his ‘Frame of Government’ that “liberty without obedience is confusion, and obedience without liberty is slavery.” Penn instructed his governor to “rule the meek meekly, and those that will not be ruled, rule with authority.”

The British, of course, weren’t the only immigrants to have such a major impact. Later in history, the German and Irish mostly immigrated to the Northern states (by the way, one side of my family are of German ancestry and settled in Indiana). The following map is a screenshot (go here to see the interactive map) of German immigration in 1900 (the Irish immigration looks similar).

German Immigrants

Irish and German Immigration

In the middle half of the nineteenth century, more than one-half of the population of IRELAND emigrated to the United States. So did an equal number of GERMANS.

[ . . . ] Impoverished, the Irish could not buy property. Instead, they congregated in the cities where they landed, almost all in the northeastern United States. Today, Ireland has just half the population it did in the early 1840s. There are now more Irish Americans than there are Irish nationals.

In the decade from 1845 to 1855, more than a million Germans fled to the United States to escape economic hardship. They also sought to escape the political unrest caused by riots, rebellion and eventually a revolution in 1848. The Germans had little choice — few other places besides the United States allowed German immigration. Unlike the Irish, many Germans had enough money to journey to the Midwest in search of farmland and work. The largest settlements of Germans were in New York City, Baltimore, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Milwaukee.

With the vast numbers of German and Irish coming to America, hostility to them erupted. Part of the reason for the opposition was religious. All of the Irish and many of the Germans were Roman Catholic. Part of the opposition was political. Most immigrants living in cities became Democrats because the party focused on the needs of commoners.

I’ve thought about the Catholic influence more in recent years. When I’ve traveled in rural Iowa, I was always amazed by how widespread is Catholicism. I would suspect most people (or, at least, most non-Midwesterners) don’t think of Catholicism when they think of the small farming towns in the Midwest.

There are two factors that distinguish Catholicism, especially from Southern fundamentalism.

First, Catholics are extremely community-oriented. Catholic culture seems to have been very beneficial to small farming towns that were isolated and so required close-knit communities. The Catholic Church provided a strong social framework with a strong social safety net. Catholics have their own schools, their own orphanages, etc.

Second, Catholics are more suspicious of unregulated capitalism. Partly this is just because big business is a threat to religious authority. Also, the amorality of modern capitalism doesn’t fit well into the traditional Catholic worldview. These might be reasons why labor unions have high membership in areas where Catholicism has high membership. An example of this is Michael Moore who grew up in a working class family that was both Catholic and involved in union activism. Moore is still an active Catholic and claims that Jesus’ message of social justice is what motivates all of his work.

Social justice is a key element which ties together the factors of community-oriented and suspicion of unregulated capitalism. It’s not surprising that Catholicism has been central to the social justice movement in South and Central America. And it probably shouldn’t be surprising that Populism and Progressivism were particularly strong in the Midwest and North. It should be noted, though, that Populism and Progressivism also had some appeal to the Scots-Irish with their mistrust of monied elites. Populism, in particular, was able to bridge the Northern and Southern divide like no other movement since. Still, in reading about Populism and Progressivism, I’ve been amazed at how much of a role the Midwest played. Many of the policies that came out of that era such as Social Security were grounded in Midwestern ideas and values. As explained in What’s the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank (Kindle location 251):

Certain parts of the Midwest were once so reliably leftist that the historian Walter Prescott Webb, in his classic 1931 history of the region, pointed to its persistent radicalism as one of the “Mysteries of the Great Plains.” Today the mystery is only heightened; it seems inconceivable that the Midwest was ever thought of as a “radical” place, as anything but the land of the bland, the easy snoozing flyover. Readers in the thirties, on the other hand, would have known instantly what Webb was talking about, since so many of the great political upheavals of their part of the twentieth century were launched from the territory west of the Ohio River. The region as they knew it was what gave the country Socialists like Eugene Debs, fiery progressives like Robert La Follette, and practical unionists like Walter Reuther; it spawned the anarchist IWW and the coldly calculating UAW; and it was periodically convulsed in gargantuan and often bloody industrial disputes. They might even have known that there were once Socialist newspapers in Kansas and Socialist voters in Oklahoma and Socialist mayors in Milwaukee, and that there were radical farmers across the region forever enlisting in militant agrarian organizations with names like the Farmers’ Alliance, or the Farmer-Labor Party, or the Non-Partisan League, or the Farm Holiday Association. And they would surely have been aware that Social Security, the basic element of the liberal welfare state, was largely a product of the midwestern mind.

– – –

Some people argue that the main difference about the South is simply that more blacks live there. Southern conservatives, of course, would love to be able to blame all the problems of the South on blacks. High rates of poverty, wealth disparity, high school drop outs, STDs, teen pregnancy. Et Cetera. All the blacks fault? That is giving blacks a lot of credit for having so much powerful influence on Southern society. Yes, blacks have higher rates of many social problems. They were, after all, enslaved and oppressed for most of American history. To this day, the data shows that racial prejudice continues to negatively impact the lives of blacks… which I have several posts about:

African-Americans didn’t choose to become slaves and be forced into poverty. It’s rather disingenuous to claim that it’s all their fault for supposedly having ‘inferior’ genetics. It’s also disingenuous to claim their culture is ‘inferior’ after centuries of white Americans destroying their culture. Even if their destroyed culture is judged inferior (by the Western standards of white Americans), it would be unfair and cruel to blame it all on them. Anyway, that misses the point that there is something distinctively different about all of Southern culture. African-Americans didn’t dominate Southern society for centuries. The society that exists in the South was created mostly by white people.

Let me bring in the context of IQ because it’s such a politically incorrect topic. The white supremacists love IQ because African-Americans on average have lower IQs. The white supremacists argue that this is genetic, but there is no conclusive evidence for this hypothesis and much evidence against it. For example, the IQs of all children tend to be more similar and significant IQ differences are mostly seen in later education. The most obvious and simplest explanation is poverty. There are many factors related to poverty that are known to impact brain/cognitive development and hence IQ: pollution (such as lead poisoning from older houses), malnutrition (especially during pregnancy and early childhood), social stress, lack of educational resources, etc.

Here is a map showing the IQ differences in America with, once again, the same North/South divide (with the exception of West Virginia with its Scots-Irish population). The source of the map was using it apparently to make an argument for racism/racialism:

“Finally, it can be viewed in relationship to race. Alone, the racial composition of a state‘explains’ 72% of that state’s estimated IQ, with the two correlating at a robust .85. Expenditures per student, teacher salaries, and classroom size combined explain a paltry 15%. Considered independently, they are statistically insignificant and explain virtually nothing.”

There are different measures of IQ. This map is measuring math and science test scores. There does seem to be a correlation between ethnic diversity and lower average IQ (such as with California and the Southern states), although the ethnically diverse Texas isn’t dissimilar to some Northern states.

This map, however, makes the issue of race seem simpler than it actually is. When looking at other maps of IQ data, black populations in some Northern states have on average higher IQs than black populations in Southern states. And, even more significantly, white populations in many Northern states have on average higher IQs than white populations in Southern states (excluding Texas). So, doing comparisons just within single races, there are IQ differences that show a North/South divide for both black and white populations. However, the difference is most clear for white populations. This can only be explained, as far as I can tell, by poverty being the central factor in IQ differences. Blacks experience higher rates than whites of poverty in all states, but whites mostly just experience high rates of poverty in the South.

It seems the maps of IQ are essentially just another way of mapping poverty. So, why does poverty show a North/South divide? I’d also include in this question the issue of wealth disparity which also shows a North/South divide:

The 10 Most (and Least) Tolerant States in America

California and Texas are good ways of disentangling the poverty from wealth disparity. Both are wealthy states with high wealth disparity which causes them to measure positively on some indicators and measure negatively on other indicators. However, excluding Texas, most Southern states are both poor and have high wealth disparity. Many Northern states have both wealth and low wealth disparity, but there are states like Iowa which are relatively poor and yet have low wealth disparity. In a developed nation like the US, wealth disparity rather than poverty seems to be the more important indicator of societal health (rates of high school drop outs, bullying, STDs, teen pregnancy, etc).

I extend this argument on IQ in another post:

Here are two maps related to IQ. What is measured in these maps are such things as people with Bachelors degrees or more. The Creative Class, as defined and measured by Richard Florida, is mostly concentrated in the Northeast.

Creative Class & Human Capital

Fig: 7.2: The Creative Class MapFig: 6.1: The Human Capital Map

Also, these maps are showing the liberal hotspots which somewhat correlate to population density. There are two reasons for this correlation. Well educated people tend to be more liberal and areas of concentrated populations such as metropolises tend to be more liberal (with rural sparsely populated areas tending to more conservative). Partly, liberals move to such areas for the opportunities and for being near those of a similar mindset.

It’s not clear that Northerners are smarter because of some inherent reason such as culture or whether it’s that some reason such as good schools attracts smarter people to Northern cities. Likewise, it’s not clear whether liberals are inherently smarter or if being intellectually encouraged at a young age naturally leads to a liberal mindset. Either way, a correlation exists.

Beyond Red vs. Blue
Pew Research Center 

[Liberals are the] most highly educated group (49% have a college degree or more)

Why Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent
Satoshi Kanazawa

The analyses of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Study 1) and the General Social Surveys (Study 2) show that adolescent and adult intelligence significantly increases adult liberalism, atheism, and mens (but not womens) value on sexual exclusivity.

Conservatism and cognitive ability
Lazar Stankov

Conservatism and cognitive ability are negatively correlated. The evidence is based on 1254 community college students and 1600 foreign students seeking entry to United States’ universities. At the individual level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with SAT, Vocabulary, and Analogy test scores. At the national level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with measures of education (e.g., gross enrollment at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels) and performance on mathematics and reading assessments from the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) project. They also correlate with components of the Failed States Index and several other measures of economic and political development of nations. Conservatism scores have higher correlations with economic and political measures than estimated IQ scores.

College Faculties A Most Liberal Lot, Study Finds
By Howard Kurtz

By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms, with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.

The disparity is even more pronounced at the most elite schools, where, according to the study, 87 percent of faculty are liberal and 13 percent are conservative.

“What’s most striking is how few conservatives there are in any field,” said Robert Lichter, a professor at George Mason University and a co-author of the study. “There was no field we studied in which there were more conservatives than liberals or more Republicans than Democrats. It’s a very homogenous environment, not just in the places you’d expect to be dominated by liberals.”

Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media
Pew Research Center 

– – –

All of this research and analysis was mostly me trying to confirm suspicions I had about my experiences of having lived in both the North and South. It seems to me that culture is centrally important in understanding this difference. To my mind, it’s not surprising that blacks and Southerners have been negatively impacted by the poverty caused by the history of a slave society with it’s class-based culture. Also, to my mind, there is a massive cultural difference between Southern fundamentalism and Northern religious traditions (Unitarians, Amish, Quakers, Mennonites, etc). This seems obvious to me, although it doesn’t seem obvious to others.

Despite having spent many years in the South when younger, I’ve always identifed as a Midwesterner. I get tired that many people think that the rural Midwest is just a watered-down version of the fundamentalist South. My experience of other Midwestern states is more limited, but I can state with certainty that moderate Iowans are far from having a culture similar to the Southern Scots-Irish. Iowa, even though not wealthy, measures very well on most indicators. Most Northern states, whether wealthy or not, measure well on most indicators. That seems like very important data to me. It’s obvious that Northern states are doing something very much right. And, I would argue, that it seems obvious that Southern states have much room for improvement. Southern states like to threaten secession, but no one takes these threats seriously. Many Northerners would be perfectly fine if Southerners seceded. Southern states, on average, take more in benefits from the federal government than they give in federal taxes (and vice versa for most Northern states). In short, Southern states are a financial drag on the entire country.

Here are two maps showing the correlation between taxation differences and voting differences:

The red state ripoff

Over at the Fourth Branch, they’ve got a nice map showing the states that receive more than a dollar back for every dollar they pay in taxes (which they’ve coded red), and the states that receive less than a dollar back for every dollar they pay in taxes (which they’ve coded blue). Just to repeat: Red states are getting a good deal, and blue states a bad one. Here’s the map:


Remind you of anything?


Fourth Branch comments:

There is a very strong correlation, then, between a state voting for Republicans and receiving more in federal spending than its residents pay to the federal government in taxes (the rust belt and Texas being notable exceptions). In essence, those in blue states are subsidizing those in red states. Both red and blue states appear to be acting politically in opposition to their economic interests. Blue states are voting for candidates who are likely to continue the policies of red state subsidization while red states are voting for candidates who profess a desire to reduce federal spending (and presumably red state subsidization).

As an egalitarian liberal who is far from being rich, I actually don’t mind financially helping poor people in states with high wealth disparity. God knows that rich conservatives in those states aren’t likely to offer much assistance to the poor in their own communities (because it goes against their ideology of a hierachical ‘meritocricy’). There is something that makes sense to me which is, for some reason, beyond the grasp of many conservatives. I’ve written many posts about wealth disparity and the data confirms the liberal theory of egalitarianism (or at least aspects of it), the theory being that helping others is to help oneself, that to help all people individually is to help all of society collectively.

For example, obesity rates (in developed countries) are correlated to both poverty and high wealth disparity (whereas, in developing countries, obesity and poverty are negatively correlated). So, societies with high wealth disparity tend to have higher obesity rates and societies with low wealth disparity tend to have lower obesity rates. But the real interesting part is that even wealthy people have higher obesity rates in societies with high wealth disparity. The explanation is that high wealth disparity societies tend to be more stressful places to live with higher rates of violence, bullying and social conflict. All of this stress impacts the poor and wealthy alike. The body responds, as a survival mechanism, to stress by increasing fat reserves. This is particularly true for babies whose mothers experienced high rates of stress while pregnant, in which case the body becomes permanently set at fat reserve mode.

I came across another example offering support for egalitarianism. Some conservatives like to point out the fact that gays have higher rates of suicide, implying homosexuality is unnatural and inferior. But, of course, it’s rather convenient for conservatives to ignore their own complicity. A study showed that “Suicide attempts by gay teens – and even straight kids – are more common in politically conservative areas where schools don’t have programs supporting gay rights”. When one group is singled out and treated unequally, all people in that social environment will suffer the consequences.

The study relied on teens’ self-reporting suicide attempts within the previous year. Roughly 20 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual teens said they had made an attempt, versus 4 percent of straight kids.

The study’s social index rated counties on five measures: prevalence of same-sex couples; registered Democratic voters; liberal views; schools with gay-straight alliances; schools with policies against bullying gay students; and schools with antidiscrimination policies that included sexual orientation.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens living in counties with the lowest social index scores were 20 percent more likely to have attempted suicide than gays in counties with the highest index scores. Overall, about 25 percent of gay teens in low-scoring counties had attempted suicide, versus 20 percent of gay teens in high-scoring counties.

Among straight teens, suicide attempts were 9 percent more common in low-scoring counties. There were 1,584 total suicide attempts – 304 of those among gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

 – – – 

In the discussion that motivated much of my thinking, one person was arguing against my arguing for the cultural significance of this North/South divide. She was playing the politically correct card of multiculturalism. Every culture is different, but it’s not about one culture being better than another. We just all need to get along. I’m fine with that argument as far as it goes. Still, the facts are the facts… whether or not they’re politically correct.

Anyway, I found it ironic that she was using a socially liberal argument to defend the socially conservative South. It’s the social conservatives who are always making the argument for cultural superiority (often in tandem with the argument that they are the “Real Americans”): American culture is superior to the rest of the world (especially socialist Europe), white culture is superior to black culture, etc. When social conservatives stop making this argument for cultural superiority, I’ll stop pointing out that socially liberal Northern culture is superior based on many different factors. Of course, I don’t actually think so simplisitically. As a liberal, I realize and accept that many cultural differences are just differences. But I’m also intellectually honest in admitting that not all cultures are equal on all measures.

Let me summarize. The North/South divide includes all of the following: ancestry, dialects, religion, poverty, wealth disparity, violent crime, STDs, teen pregnancy, IQ, education level, and on and on. Not all states perfectly fit this divide, but most of them do. The divide is stark and the pattern holds across diverse data. This North/South divide has existed at least since the Civil War and quite likely goes back to when the earliest immigrants arrived. I don’t claim to fully understand all of the possible reasons for this divide, but the correlations are obvious. Also, much of this data has been correlated in other countries as well:

The key indicator seems to be wealth disparity. Unsurprisingly, conservative ideology promotes the acceptance of wealth disparity and liberal ideology promotes the challenging of wealth disparity. Does the difference in ideology cause the difference in wealth disparity? Or vice versa? I don’t know. What I do know is that this question is at the heart of the problems Americans are dealing with. Wealth disparity has been growing in recent decades during which conservative ideology predominated. Mere coincidence? I don’t think so.

– – –

Nonetheless, there are always a lot of diverse factors underlying the diverse data. My conclusions, therefore, are tentative.

For example, consider the high rates of violence in the South. What is the cause?

It’s true that, in general, warmer climates (i.e., Southern regions in the Northern Hemisphere) tend to have higher rates of violence. I guess high levels of heat tend to make people irritable and feisty.

Even so, the research done by Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen (mentioned above in some of the quoted material) shows that the violence in the Southern US is caused by factors besides just irritatingly hot climate. I still wonder about this. I imagine other factors similar to climate could also have an impact on culture. I did notice that many Northern Europeans immigrated to the Northern US. It seems there might be a correlation of factors involved in why particular people develop particular cultures in particular regions and why particular people with particular cultures are attracted to particular regions.

It’s always easier to point out correlations than to determine causations. Nisbett’s and Cohen’s research is a good example of this.

A Matter of Respect
James D. Wright

In sum, Nisbett and Cohen make a strong case that the South is truly (not just accidentally) distinctive in its attitudes and behaviors concerning violence. Unfortunately, that does not necessarily tell us very much, if anything, about the ultimate source of the distinction. To say that the observed patterns reflect a generalized “culture of honor” restates but does not explain those patterns. If there is, indeed, a culture of honor in the South that lends itself to violence, where did it come from? And why is it uniquely Southern? Here Culture of Honor is rather thin and unpersuasive: “We believe that the southern culture of honor derives from the herding economy brought to the region by the earliest settlers and practiced by them for many decades thereafter.” Elsewhere the authors refer to the Scotch-Irish origins of the early South, the hard-scrabble herding economy of the era, and the “worldwide” association between herding economies and “concerns about honor and readiness to commit violence to conserve it.”

Nisbett and Cohen call this argument “the weakest part of our thesis,” with good reason. The implication is that Yankees of Scotch-Irish origins would be just as prone to violence as Southerners, which is not likely to be the case. This is not to suggest that the herding thesis is wrong, only that it seems rather a stretch as argued here. One would like to see evidence on the origins of the Southern culture of violence that is as persuasive as the evidence of its existence.

It also can be easier to determine what isn’t the cause than what is. What Nisbett and Cohen found was that the violence was lower in slave regions than in non-slave regions, in black populations than in white populations, and in cities than in small towns. Even poverty was ruled out as a cause of this high rate of Southern violence. When all factors are calculated, it’s specifically rural white Southerners who are most violent. Therefore, it would be unfair to blame all Southerners. As the above quote points out, we can’t prove that it can be explained by culture… but, then again, it’s hard to imagine what else could explain it.

It’s true that Scots-Irish are found elsewhere and yet these high rates of violence aren’t found elsewhere. However, maybe the cause is twofold. Maybe Scots-Irish culture only manifests this kind of violence when placed in the context of a larger class-based culture (i.e., the Southern culture largely created by the Cavalier aristocracy). As such, Scots-Irish maybe are perfectly peaceful people until provoked by some authoritarian aristocratic elite.

Still, this is just speculation.

As another example, I recently analyzed a study that showed metropolises in the North were more ‘segregated’ according to the authors definitions and methods of measurement. The study seemed problematic to me in that, the focus being narrow, the data was very limited and hence easily misinterpreted. It wasn’t clear to me that the pattern found by the researchers was in the real world data or merely in the way the authors spliced up the data.

That relates to the danger of my present attempt at interpreting the data. I don’t know all the complex details of all this diverse data and so I could be misinterpreting. I offer so many examples in the hope of decreasing the possibility that I’m cherrypicking data to fit my own biases and preconceptions. Any single data could be wrong or misleading, but a perceived pattern becomes more relevant when seen across many sets of data.

I’ve made a case for a pattern I’ve noticed, but it’s up to others to decide if my analysis of the data is valid. I won’t claim any absolute conclusions. I prefer following my curiosity rather than merely trying to prove my own preconceptions. I just find all of this fascinating, whatever it may mean. The kind of data I’ve presented seems to say a lot about American society, seems to show that real differences do exist. I find it sad that the mainstream media rarely investigates such issues. At best, it gets portrayed in terms of red vs blue during election campaigns. My point, however, is that what we think of red vs blue is based on (or, at least mired in) deeper cultural and demographic issues.

The personal is political, and the communal is political as well. We individually are formed by our social environment and we collectively shape that environment. But too often we get lost in the details of life and so don’t see the big picture. And too often we are so focused on our own views and our own lives that we don’t see the larger society we are a part of. Culture matters. Demographics is destiny.

– – –

Just for the fun of it, let me throw out some other mapped data.

I should point out that, looking at various data, I noticed there often is a West/East divide as well. The US can be divided in many different ways depending on what data is emphasized and depending on how small of pieces one wants to divide the country.

The next map is a simplistic and amusing portrayal of the North/South divide. It’s a bit inaccurate. I’m mildly offended that my home state of Iowa is included as part of Jesusland. In the last 23 years (i.e., last 6 elections), Iowa has gone to all Democratic presidents except for once (2004) which apparently is the year this map is based on. I want to secede from Jesusland.

United States of Canada vs Jesusland

A recreation of the Jesusland map; the colors differ from the original, and state lines have been added (Some versions of the map include Alberta in Jesusland)

“United States of Liberty & Education/Canada”, Canada plus blue states
“Jesusland”, red states

On a more serious note, many people have attempted to divide America into regions. For example:

A New 10 Regions of American Politics Map

A group called MassINC created a map called the “10 Regions in American Politics” in 2004 and has now released an updated version.  Some of the regions such as the “Upper Coasts” and “El Norte” are the same, although some other regions have been shuffled around.  The area called “Appalachia” in the 2004 report, for example, seems to have been expanded westward and renamed “Cumberland.”

2008 Version of the Ten Regions of American Politics

2008 Version of the Ten Regions of American Politics

2004 Version of the Ten Regions of American Politics

2004 Ten Regions of American Politics

Another example:

Quilted North America

But a different book, Joel Garreau’s “The Nine Nations of North America” has already survived the test of time. First published in 1981, it outlined a model for the nine socioeconomic regions of the continent.

The map speaks for itself, but I’ll just make a couple of comments about its strengths and weakness and also offer a side note.

  • Strengths – Quebec and Dixie are indeed very unique regions. Secession is part of their DNA’s.
  • Weaknesses – “The Foundry” is very clumsy.
  • Side Note – Dixie correlates with SEC Country and the Breadbasket with the Big 12, while the Foundary is roughly Big Ten territory (if it were shifted a bit west).

Garreau’s “Nine Nations”:

Nine Nations

I asked Joel Kotkin, the master demographer, what he thought of Garreau’s model and he emailed this response: “Garreau got the MexAmerica vs. Ecotopia right on the money. The divides are racial, cultural, climactic. Quebec is a no-brainer.”

One very interesting analysis is the Patchwork Nation. I’m reading the book based on the data, Our Patchwork Nation by Dante Chinni and James Gimpel. They also have a website: Patchwork Nation. I like the data because it looks at specific communities and then compares/contrasts those specific communities. It’s much more detailed than just looking at regions, but still it shows that particular community types tend to be found more in particular regions.

– – –

Here is some more unusual and random data.

Wine vs Beer States

Where people swear in the United States
(more swearing = brighter red)

Twitter and swearing

What’s Cooking on Thanksgiving

What’s Cooking on Thanksgiving, Mapped and Rankedpie-crust


Fig: 13.1: The Singles Map

– – –

I’ve wandered far from my original starting point, but that is fine. The main thing that my mind has been revolving around is the issue of culture. To end this discussion, let me put this all in a new context: personality traits. I think psychology can be a less threatening way of thinking about social differences.

The United States of Mind
By Stephanie Simon

Even after controlling for variables such as race, income and education levels, a state’s dominant personality turns out to be strongly linked to certain outcomes. Amiable states, like Minnesota, tend to be lower in crime. Dutiful states — an eclectic bunch that includes New Mexico, North Carolina and Utah — produce a disproportionate share of mathematicians. States that rank high in openness to new ideas are quite creative, as measured by per-capita patent production. But they’re also high-crime and a bit aloof. Apparently, Californians don’t much like socializing, the research suggests.

As for high-anxiety states, that group includes not just Type A New York and New Jersey, but also states stressed by poverty, such as West Virginia and Mississippi. As a group, these neurotic states tend to have higher rates of heart disease and lower life expectancy.

[ . . . ] While the findings broadly uphold regional stereotypes, there are more than a few surprises. The flinty pragmatists of New England? They’re not as dutiful as they may seem, ranking at the bottom of the “conscientious” scale. High scores for openness to new ideas strongly correlates to liberal social values and Democratic voting habits. But three of the top ten “open” states — Nevada, Colorado and Virginia — traditionally vote Republican in presidential politics. (All three are prime battlegrounds this election.)

And what of the unexpected finding that North Dakota is the most outgoing state in the union? Yes, North Dakota, the same state memorialized years ago in the movie “Fargo” as a frozen wasteland of taciturn souls. Turns out you can be a laconic extrovert, at least in the world of psychology. The trait is defined in part by strong social networks and tight community bonds, which are characteristic of small towns across the Great Plains. (Though not, apparently, small towns in New England, which ranks quite low on the extraversion scale.)

[ . . . ] It’s also a wake-up call for proud residents of the great state of wherever — some of whom aren’t fond of the findings. Mr. Rentfrow said he’s had to help some of them feel better. Yes, North Dakota and Wyoming rank quite low in openness to new ideas. But why label them narrow-minded and insular? Say, instead, he suggests, that they value tradition. New York may be neurotic, but he offers another way to put it: “It’s a state in touch with its feelings.”

Or take a cue from Ted Ownby, who studies Southern culture at the University of Mississippi. His state came up highly neurotic — and he suspects his neighbors would be proud.

“Here in the home of William Faulkner,” Mr. Ownby said, “we take intense, almost perverse neuroticism as a sign of emotional depth.”

If you go to the above article, there is a detailed interactive map. I’ll share two sets of static maps below showing the same data in two different ways: with state boundaries and without state boundaries.






What I like about the psychological perspective is that it’s neutral toward specific cultural values. These personality traits are neither good nor bad. In fact, the research shows that beneficial and adverse factors are correlated to all the traits. What we define as good and bad is dependent on the values we’re judging by. Any trait brought to an extreme tends to be problematic.

There are a few things I noticed.

High Neuroticism is found in the North. Neuroticism correlates with a tendency to internalize psychological problems. So, those with low Neuroticism will tend to externalize their psychological problems. It will depend on the culture whether internalizing is considered good or bad. I was guessing that high Neuroticism would correlate to high rates of suicide, but it turns out that it’s the opposite:

Text description provided below

Suicide, Big Five Personality Factors, and Depression at the American State Level
By Stewart J. H. McCann

Multiple regression analysis showed that neuroticism accounted for 32.0% and agreeableness another 16.3% of the variance in suicide rates when demographics and depression were controlled. Lower neuroticism and lower agreeableness were associated with higher suicide rates. Lower neuroticism and lower agreeableness may be important risk factors for completed suicide but not suicidal ideation or attempted suicide.

I was surprised by that data. Some have theorized that suicide and homicide are negatively correlated, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The Northeast has low rates of both suicide and violence (I assume violence rates are representative of homicide rates). The areas in the East with high suicide rates include, once again, Appalachia. However, all of the East looks relatively good compared to the West (excluding California). I’m not sure what is going on with suicide in the West. Most of the West scores low on all the traits except for Openness (maybe that is a bad combination, I don’t know).

Neuroticism was the one trait that showed the most North/South divide. In the Eastern US, the Northeast seems to have the highest rates of Openness. That is no surprise as Openness correlates with such things as education and IQ. Two traits that most of the Midwest scores highly on are Agreeableness and Extraversion. Certain parts of the South actually rate highly on Agreeableness and other parts of the South not so much.

 – – – 

Anyway, I don’t know how much psychological factors may or may not cause or be caused by other factors I’ve discussed. The main thing that is compelling is that the distinctions between regions can be objectively measured according to diverse data. There may be no single fundamental factor, just many factors creating patterns over time with some of these patterns reinforcing one another. Maybe ‘culture’ is just the term we use to label patterns that are more consistent and enduring.

The Secret of Oz

Here is a documentary I highly recommend. It’s long, but extremely fascinating. If you ever wanted to understand L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, you’ll find this an intriguing analysis. Of course, the documentary covers much material besides just Baum’s writing. It’s the best explanation I’ve come across of the history of the US economy and banking system.