Everyone Code Switches

Living in a college town, I deal with people from different places. I notice how, as a parking ramp cashier, I treat customers differently. I’m guilty of judging people by appearances and by accents. I’ve worked this job for so long that I unconsciously categorize people, you might say I profile.

It doesn’t alter the quality of my customer service or anything like that. But it amuses me because of how it does effect how I act.

I think this comes from having spent much of my life split between two distinct regions. I had to learn a new way of talking and acting when I moved to the Deep South as a kid. When I returned to the Midwest after high school, I still had a bit of the Southern accent that I had picked up. It also took me a while to stop referring to all of my customers as “Sir” and “Mam”. There were many ways of speaking that I had to drop from my repertoire, but they remained within my mind.

What many people don’t think about is that inner city dialect is a product of the South. I more often interact with people with an inner city dialect than a Southern one, but they are similar in certain ways. When I hear someone speak with a stereotypical inner city dialect, I naturally fall back to aspects of my Southern way of speaking.

This happened the other day. A black customer spoke with an inner city dialect. Instead  of saying a solid Midwestern “fine” in response to something, I said the (Deep) Southern equivalent, which is “all right” but without the last letters enunciated, more like “ah’righ”.

I would never speak this way to my fellow white Midwesterners. Sure, I’d likely respond to a white Southerner in that same way, but here in Iowa City I don’t run into too many whites from the Deep South or even whites from the inner city of Chicago. It’s mostly blacks who elicit this from me because around here it is only among blacks that I’m likely to hear the closest equivalent to a Deep Southern dialect.

When this happened, I realized what I was doing. I code switched. I didn’t code switch from white to black culture, but from Northern to Southern culture. It’s just that inner city blacks and I have both inherited a bit of the Southern culture.

I unconsciously look and listen for cues about people. I more or less treat people the same, but there are tiny shifts in how I act or speak. I only notice them when I’m actively thinking about it. It is more than just about black people or the rare Southern person I meet. For example, I switch the way I interact depending on how I perceive someone’s class. It is easy for me to code switch between middle class and working class, as I spent my life in both of those classes at different times. I know how to act in proper middle class ways, when needed.

All of this is based on my perception, of course. It is a superficial level of interaction, but that is what daily interactions tend to involve. Everyone does this type of thing and most people give it a lot less consideration. Even if you are aware of how you act in different situations, it isn’t easy to control. Although I couldn’t for the life of me intentionally speak with a Southern accent, I’d probably slide right back into it if I moved back to the Deep South.

These are the outward expressions of social identity. It’s not who we are at a deeper level, just the patterns of behavior we learn from those around us. We then carry these patterns with us for the rest of our lives, even if we leave an early influential environment that shaped us. We all have many selves, ways of acting and roles we know how to play. We can forget about some of these aspects of our identity, until something brings it out in us.

 

Southern Sundown Neighborhoods

I was thinking about sundown towns lately. They are rare in the Deep South. The reason being that poor blacks in the past lived near the wealthy people they worked for. That is still the case today.

Instead of sundown towns, the Deep South has sundown neighborhoods. A poor all black neighborhood will be next to a wealthy all white neighborhood.

I remember one clear example of this in Columbia, South Carolina. I would take Gervais St. downtown from where I lived in Forest Acres. In one stretch of the road, there was a clear divide. On one side, were poor neighborhoods and some of the so-called Projects, the government housing. A white person like me would unlikely ever purposely drive into that area. But on the other side of the road was an expensive neighborhood of beautiful large houses. No black person (or even poor white person) would venture into that neighborhood, unless they had business to do there, especially not at night.

The divide was stark. There were no walls to separate the two sides of the road. Any poor black person theoretically could cross the street and go into that wealthy white neighborhood, and vice versa, but I doubt it happened very often. That stretch of road and the neighborhoods on either side probably were heavily policed. That road was a well-maintained border, as if it were a wall.

I drove down that street on a regular basis. I stopped thinking about how strange it was. It just became part of the background. If you lived there your whole life, you’d probably never give it any thought at all. It is similar to how it never occurs to many white people in the North how the town they live in ended up all white or that it ever had a black population.

What interests me is what is not thought about and so not seen.

Southern Multicultural Traditions

I’m so often picking on Southerners, especially the Scots-Irish. It makes me feel like a bully.

The Scots-Irish are such an easy target, like any other oppressed minority group. Looked down upon even by many other Southerners, they get called rednecks, hillbilies, crackers and white trash. I try to balance my criticisms with my love of Appalachia and my sympathetic knowledge of my own family.

It isn’t hard to find those sore points in Southern culture and history. That is the sad result of being the losers in a civil war of your own making, an unnecessary war at that and worse still fought for a less than noble cause. History hasn’t been entirely kind in its judgment.

Still, the South is as much part of America as anywhere else, even with its past attempt at secession. Maybe so many Southerners ethnically identify as American or even Native American because they feel a strong need to prove their patriotic loyalty with the shadow of the past falling upon them. It might be similar to how many Irish in the North became uber-patriots following the draft riots that besmirched their image in the public eye.

The South typically gets stereotyped. Then again, Southerners have played a large part in creating and spreading many of these stereotypes, including proudly embracing them. But I’ve never been one to be ultimately satisfied with stereotypes, although I try to reveal any kernels of truth that may lay hidden within caricatured generalizations.

My studies of Southern history and culture has shown me how complex is the region. This shouldn’t be surprising for why would we expect the South to be simplistic in a way no other region is. This complexity, however, does seem to surprise many people.

There many examples of Southern complexity: Union supporters and soldiers, slave owners turned abolitionists, white agrarian socialists and black communist party members, small town environmentalists, clannish labor organizers, self-governed black towns during Reconstruction, wealthy black communities, and on and on. Because of my last post, the example I have in mind is multiculturalism in the South.

Multiculturalism is understandably identified with the North and the West Coast, but there has always been multiculturalism in the South as well. The big cities, of course, have always been cosmopolitan places tht attracted people with more socially liberal attitudes. Early on, Charleston was aready an immensely diverse place because of all the international trade that occurred there. But I had in mind the sub-region that is at the southenmost edge of the Deep South.

From Florida to New Orleans to Texas, the Spanish Empire has left a permanent impact and the French Empire also. The mestizo and creole cultures are fundamentally a part of the South as a region and integrally a part of Southern culture.

There is a monocultural set of traditions throughout the South. There is he monocultural clannishness of the rural and upper South. Also, there is a Cavalier and Barbados equivalent to the Puritan socio-political system of oppressive assimilation. But other traditions always existed. A semi-tolerant cultural libertarianism has always persisted in Appalachia and the Southern aristcrats often wished to be perceived as cultured cosmopolitans.

I particularly want to emphasize the mestizo and creole angle. When I recently wrote of a Mestizo Midlands as a multicultural ideal and reality, I wasn’t articulating a value system in opposition to the South. Rather, I was seeking a way to include the South within the broader American experience. If we are to have cultural unity in this country, we need to recognize the shared history that unites us.

Southern Pre-Capitalism (& Anti-Capitalism)

I was this past week reading from The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders’ Worldview by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese.

Several chapters caught my attention, but it will be long before I read more from it. The book is massive and very dense. I wasn’t planning on reading it at all for the time being, until I checked out some of the chapter titles, one of which is Chapter 21 – Between Individualism and Corporatism: From the Reformation to the War for Southern Independence,  pp. 649-679.

Corporatism is being used in a different way than most people are used to from discussions of politics and economics. The authors are speaking in terms of earlier American society. Corporations as we now know them didn’t exist in centuries past. The pre-capitalist tendencies of Southern society led them to hold onto this earlier corporatism.

A slave plantation wasn’t just a or even primarily a business. It was a social order and a way of life. Many plantation owners didn’t even have any capital (i.e., fungible wealth) for they were entirely invested in their land and slaves (i.e, non-fungible wealth) and this wealth was inherited. This life of inheritance was inseparable from indebtedness, both monetary indebtedness and social indebtedness.

It’s easy for us to judge slaveholders as the bad guys. They are certainly worthy of our criticism.

The arguments against slavery were well known since before the American Revolution. Abolitionism was a major force that led up to the revolution. Slaveholders like Jefferson and Washington had plenty of opportunity during their lifetimes to free their slaves and both spoke of doing so, but neither did so. Nonetheless, there was a case of a slaveholder who freed  around 500 slaves. The problem is freeing all your slaves suddenly made you relatively poor.

For most slaveholders, though, it was a very complex issue. Ending slavery meant the collapse of their entire society. They envisioned total chaos and horrific violence. I’m sure there was some guilty conscience involved. However, they weren’t entirely wrong. The end of slavery did end the world as they knew it.

The authors attempt to show that not everything about that society was bad. The South was a pre-capitalist society and Southerners were among the strongest critics of capitalism. They genuinely believed a different way of organizing society was possible. It’s ironic that they criticized capitalism because they saw it as enslaving whites which indicates they knew slavery was a bad thing. It’s equally ironic that the South has since so unquestioningly embraced the laissez-faire capitalism of their Civil War enemy and in doing so forsaken their own traditional values.

This pre-capitalist view of Southern society fascinates me.

I did some web searches on Eugene D. Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. They made for an unique couple.

Earlier in their lives, Eugene was a Marxist and Elizabeth was a feminist. Later, they both became strongly conservative. I’m not sure either ever entirely denounced those labels following their right-ward shift. I get the sense that he simply became a Marxist conservative, probably from formerly being a conservative Marxist. He certainly was anti-capitalist or mistrusting of it which is why he became attracted to Southern traditionalism as he understood it. I’m less clear about Elizabeth’s beliefs other than her shifting toward the Catholic version of traditional family values.

I can see what is appealing in the traditionally conservative Southern worldview as presented by these scholars. There is that element of corporatism which I think is the same thing as what I’ve been calling classical conservatism, but there is also that lost conservative tradition from earlier centuries that was highly critical of capitalism. Classical conservatives valued social order over all else. The paired values of capitalism and individualism was the line in the sand beyond which classical conservatism could not go. That line, however, was crossed which is why modern conservatives tend to be classical liberals instead.

In my web searches, I found some articles that are neutral and some from both sides of the political spectrum. I like to look at the diverse perspectives on two people who had diverse and non-standard ideological tendencies.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Fox-Genovese

http://reason.com/archives/2007/01/09/the-evolution-of-an-antifemini

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/severing-ties-that-bind-women-family/#more-438

http://www.wf-f.org/04-3-Feminism.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_D._Genovese#Shift_to_the_right

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/books-and-arts/108044/radical-right-wing-the-legacy-eugene-genovese#

http://networks.h-net.org/node/512/reviews/774/harvey-genovese-and-fox-genovese-mind-master-class-history-and-faith

http://thehuffingtonriposte.blogspot.com/2011/11/it-takes-one-or-former-one-to-know-one.html

https://mises.org/misesreview_detail.aspx?control=57

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/10/003-conservatisms-in-conflict-49

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/10/001-the-remaking-of-a-marxist-35

http://nova.wpunj.edu/newpolitics/issue23/lichte23.htm

http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/the-conservative-mind

http://www.dissentmagazine.org/blog/eugene-genovese-and-dissent

http://www.solidarity-us.org/site/node/2974

My Inheritance, North and South

Inheritance is an odd thing.

We take on so much from others and from the world around us. Most of the time we aren’t even aware of it. We are just who we are. We think of ourselves as indidviduals with lives built up from choices we’ve made, but ultimately we are just a conglomeration of factors that came together in a unique way, none of the factors being what we can take credit for. We may have some choice in the arrangement, not necessarily much else.

I’ve thought about this in many ways. As I’ve aged, I’ve become increasingly aware of how much I’m a product of my environment, a result of the past. This life I was given certainly wasn’t of my own choosing, even if not to claim being a mere victim of circumstance. It’s more of an experience of being humbled by how immense and complex is the world. All of society (countries, ethnicities, communities, religions, families, etc) has been built up over centuries and millennia, shaped by the hands of forgotten generations of people.

The most obvious inheritance is that of genetics. Through genetics or other pathways, I’ve inherited all kinds of personality traits, cognitive patterns and behavioral tendencies. I’ve also inherited much from the culture around me, from being a part of Western civilization and specifically from being a descendant of immigrants from Northern Europe and the British Isles, from being a citizen of the United States which is a country that arose directly out of Enlightenment thinking, from having been brought up in the New Thought Christian Unity Church which itself came out of the Evangelical tradition during the Populist Era, from being born into Generation X as the Cold War was coming to an end, from being raised a Midwesterner right dab in the middle of the origin of Standard American English, from having spent many years of my formative youth and young adulthood in the South, etc.

There is, of course, an endless list of things I could add. It’s hard to imagine who I’d be if I changed even a single one of those factors.

Let me share more specific examples.

I have my mom’s scatterbrained mind with a certain kind of mental focus that has the potential for being nearly obsessive-compulsive. I have my dad’s intellectual curiosity and emotional sensitivity, of which he inherited from his parents; and apparently somewhat skipping a generation I manifest his mother’s spiritual sensibility and predisposition of laziness/efficiency along with shyness and a need for privacy/personal space, although my social awkwardness also seems to come from my mom. I have a large helping of depression and moodiness from both sides of my family. Sadly, I have a bit of an unforgiving nature and occasional interpersonal bluntness which goes along with the depression and moodiness of my mom’s family.

As for physcial attributes: I definitely have the features of my mom’s family, mostly seeming Germanic: large bones, big feet, long toes and fingers, thick hair, hazel eyes, bump on the ridge of my nose, and receding chin. But when younger I had features from my dad’s family (Steele) which seem more English such as straight, blonde hair, although oddly when really young I had eyes slanting in the way common with Asians.

For whatever reason, my mom’s genetics seem to be overall more pronounced in me. I do feel more of a connection with my mom’s family, partly just because I saw them more often growing up. I must admit that I have mixed feelings about the Clouse family on my mom’s side. Her dad was definitely a patriarch and acted that way (her mother playing the submissive wife). He was an alcoholic which was probably his way of self-medicating depression. I can understand the self-medication part and I understand the addictive aspect of alcoholism, although alcohol has never been my preferred addiction.

I was particularly thinking about the Clouse tendency toward grudges that go on for years. I know I have some of this capacity as well and I’m not proud of it. It’s very sad the kind of impact it has had on my mom’s family. Her brothers and her dad were always fueding and sometimes refusing to speak to one another.

My mom’s dad didn’t even know the name of his grandparents and I suspect the reason for it wasn’t a happy incident. Interestingly, a lady on ancestry.com contacted me who is related on my mom’s side through two separate lines, Clouse and Edwards, which makes her both a third and fourth cousin of my mom on each of those lines. My maternal grandfather’s (Charles Eugene Clouse) grandfather was Charles E. Clouse who married Lucy Hawk. This person from ancestry.com is descended from James Clouse who was the uncle of Charles E. Clouse and who married Lula Hawk, Lucy’s sister.

(For anyone interested: The Clouse lineage descends from James Wesley Clouse of Kentucky and the Hawk lineage descends from Sampson Hawk of New Jersey. I figured both family lines were of German origin, but there are family rumors of Hawks having Indian blood and there is a photograph supposedly of Lula Hawk that could be interpreted as showing some Native American features. As for the Edwards lineage, this lady from ancestry.com and I share the same converging three lines. One descends from Hiram Edwards of Connerley Switch, Indiana whose father may have been from or at some time living in Kentucky. The other two descend through Thursie Mae Edwards of Indiana whose father was David B. Edwards of North Carolina and grandfather was Young Edwards of North Carolina and, on her mother’s side, whose grandmother’s mother was Susan Edwards of North Carolina, possibly descending from another David Edwards of North Carolina. Hiram Edwards’ son, Charles Lester Edwards, married Thursie Mae Edwards. The three Edwards lines then converged in their daughter, Inez Rosemary Edwards, who married Willie Clouse, the son of Charles E. Clouse. They also had another daughter, Jessie Ann Edwards, who is the person who is the ancestor of the ancestry.com lady. Thus, the Clouse and Edwards lines came together in at least two separate marriages just as did the Clouse and Hawk lines.)

This lady and I began corresponding about these links. I mentioned to her about my grandfather Clouse not knowing the names of his own grandparents and I told her about the Clouse inclination toward grudges. Her dad is a Clouse and she mentioned that her part of the Clouse family had the same inclination, her father not talking to his sister for years and not going to his sister’s funeral.

So, separate parts of the same family, unknown to one another in recent generations, manifested the same character trait. I’m sure at least some of it is genetics, but I doubt all of it is. I was wondering if it could be partly cultural. My mom’s family spent many generations in Hoosier Southern Indiana and before that many generations in Appalachia Kentucky. Their inclination toward grudges could be explained by the Southern culture of honor.

My mom’s dad was a very giving person, but it was the type of giving that established a hierarchical and paternalistic relationship for he would never accept charity from anyone else. He expected gratitude and deference for his gifts, maybe even a sense of indebtedness. He wanted to be respected and worked hard to escape the poverty of his working class family. As such, he wanted to be treated with respect and not be challenged. To have his authority, position or opinion challenged couldn’t just be forgiven and forgotten.

Maybe there is some predisposition of this in me, but it doesn’t manifest in this exact same way. I do have a mental checklist where I keep tabs on what people do and don’t do, say and don’t say; I can’t help it for such details of behavior just stick in my memory. And when someone crosses some particular line, I can be one of the most unforgiving people in the world. The difference maybe is that I didn’t grow up in that Southern/Appalachian honor culture and so my grudge-keeping tends to be more mild and suppressed.

It is the Southern/Appalachian culture with which I’ve tried to come to terms. It goes beyond my extended family. I too am partly a Southerner. Despite my self-idenifying as a Midwesterner and chosing Iowa as my home, I must admit that the South shaped me as well and probably in ways I’m unaware of. From 8th grade to graduation, I lived in South Carolina and went to desegregated public schools. I didn’t even know that regional differences existed prior to that time and it was a shock to my system when I first moved there, but after a while it became normal to me. I spent many years in the South following that time while in college in South Carolina and while working in the buckle of the Bible Belt in North Carolina.

So, my experience of the South is very personal. My best friend was a redneck and I dated a girl who came from a hillbilly lineage (I don’t use those terms in a disparaging way). I even learned to talk Southern. I used to fall into a Southern dialect without even trying, especially when talking to my redneck friend. To this day, I can unintentionally speak in that dialect for brief moments.

I am and I am not a Southerner. There is both much that I like and much that I dislike about the South.

It’s because of my personal experience, both North and South, that I’ve come to self-consciously identify as a Midwesterner. The South is part of me, but I know that I’m not fully a part of the South. I don’t know it in the way someone knows it who was born and raised there, who lived there for their entire life.

Plus, I never experienced the full reality of what the Deep South once was. I arrived on the scene long after the Civil Rights movement. In high school, I knew kids who dated across the race line and it didn’t seem like a big deal. But hints of the Old South were still around such as my best friend’s mom referring to blacks as “niggers”. I was living in Columbia, South Carolina which is much more cosmopolitan. And in North Carolina, I lived near Asheville which is fairly liberal and alternative, especially for that area.

However, I know the Carolina region of the South better than I know the Mississippi Delta over to the Southern Border. My dad’s mom was born in Texas, lived in Oklahoma until her early teens, and went to high school in Mississipi. She then went back to Oklahoma for college and after that taught for some years in Mississippi and Georgia.

She died when I was so young that I hardly remember her and I’ve never visited any of those places she lived in prior to her moving to Indiana. So, the culture of that area isn’t familiar to me and didn’t influence me in any direct way.

Even as a Northerner, I know the Carolina region of the South better than the entire Northeast. My dad’s dad grew up in New England. But I’ve never visited there either. The closest I’ve come to New England is living in Iowa City which is a New England style college town (i.e., a small town dominated by a single college and surrounded by rural farmland).

My inheritance from my dad’s family feels rather skimpy on the cultural front. Identifying as a Midwesterner, one would think I’m culturally more similar to my Grandmother’s Oklahoma and my Grandfather’s New England… and maybe I am in some gneral ways, but those states aren’t part of my most personal sense of America. I don’t culturally identify as a Southerner in any broad sense and yet the South is intimately connected to who I am, even though I sometimes use it as a contrast to clarify my Midwestern sensibility.

I have lived in Iowa longer than anywhere else. Iowa is unique as part of the Lower Midwest. It is the only Lower Midwest state that isn’t on the borderlands of Appalachia and the only Lower Midwest state to be West of the Mississippi. Just follow the river south and there is the Mississippi Delta (much cultural diffusion went up and down the Mississippi river, in particular the 1927 flood in the Mississipi Delta sent many blacks to the North). Also, Iowa is the Lower Midwest state that is the most influenced by the Yankiedom of the Upper Midwest. The culture of Iowa is massively different than that of South Carolina. The only way to feel culturally further away from South Carolina would be to move to the West Coast.

Generation after generation, my mom’s family slowly drifted westward and northward. Finally, with my brothers and I, our family fully escaped the remnants of Southern culture that pioneers had carried with them into parts of the Midwest such as Indiana. I blissfully was ignorant of the South up to the beginning of my teens, but then my parents brought the family all the way down to the Deep South.

Moving to the South made me self-conscious about regional cultures from a fairly young age. Still, I didn’t begin to feel the depth of the differences until I got a summer job at a YMCA camp in North Carolina. As it was a YMCA, I was surrounded by Christians which in and of itself didn’t bother me. However, as it was in the Bible Belt, I was surrounded by Fundamentalists which made understand how far was the religious right or at least how far right were some of those part of the religious right. The religious right was a worldview that was outside my zone of familiarity. Living in the South, I heard the fire-and-brimstone preaching on the radio, but I had no direct contact with it. The girl I dated there was from a Fundamentalist family. Talking to her family gave me my first experience of a culture that seemingly had little respect for or interest in intellectuality and the broader world of knowledge.

After spending three consecutive summers at that YMCA camp, I permanently moved back to Iowa. In the following years, I was still visiting my parents and the contrast of the two worlds slowly formed into a distinct sense of difference about these cultures. Maybe I was becoming more influenced by the political moderateness of the Midwest and maybe I was becoming more influenced by the liberalism of Iowa City. At the same time, it seemed even more clear that my parents were becoming more stridently conservative the longer they lived in South Carolina. My parents were losing their Midwestern moderateness, although never coming close to the radicalism of God n’ Guns Fundamentalism.

Now, my parents have also moved back to Iowa City. I see them regularly which hasn’t been the case since the mid 1990s. We’ve been coming to terms with our differences which at times has been challenging, but other similarities have made it less difficult. This process, along with recent genealogical research, has forced me to also come to terms with these differences within myself.

How do I grasp all these influences? How do I contain within myself such diversity? What exactly have I inherited?

Appalachia Meets Midlands: My Kentucky & Indiana Family History

I spent this past week with my parents in Southern Indiana doing genealogy research on my mom’s side of the family. We were staying at Spring Mill State Park and doing some research in nearby Mitchell at the courthouse and the historical museum. Most of my time was spent in Lawrence County, although some of the cemeteries we visited were in Orange County as well.

This was the second genealogical trip I took with my parents. The last visit to Southern Indiana was just a year ago. I knew very little about my family at that time and now I know a lot. I find it fascinating, but I realize talking about family history is not dissimilar to telling someone about your dreams. Most people aren’t interested.

Anyway, let me explain why it fascinates me. I’ve been reading a lot of history in recent years. Most of it has been focused on the colonial and revolutionary eras of North America, but I’ve been studying all the history that led up to that and the larger context of events. On a smaller scale, I’m curious about my mom side of the family that is a mix of early immigrants who were mostly poor ethnic types (Germans, Scottish, Scots-Irish, etc). They weren’t English. They weren’t landed aristocracy. They were the desperate poor (mostly farmers, distillers, and laborers) who sought freedom and opportunity on the frontier as the frontier moved into Kentucky and then into Indiana.

Of course, someone of Native American ancestry or even of French ancestry would describe this very differently. My forefathers and foremothers took possession of land that was formerly occupied. And Indiana where my parents come from was the location of the last great battle where Native Americans tried to hold their ground. It’s a sad history all around, sad and fascinating.

My exploration of family history has been an exploration of my feelings about what it means to be an American. I’ve always identified as a Midwesterner which to me feels like ‘normal’, simply what America means. It’s the freaking Heartland. However, when I moved to South Carolina in 8th grade, I was sometimes jokingly referred to as a Yankee. I had no concept of what a Yankee was at that time. Even now living back in the Midwest for many years, I don’t think of myself as a Yankee. I’m a Midwesterner from the lower Midwest. This is the Midlands, the extension of the Quaker colony in Pennsylvania. This isn’t Yankiedom of Puritan origins.

Many of the lower Midwestern states are split between Midlands and Appalachia, the two regions immigrants traveled to at great risk in order to escape the competing powers of Yankiedom and the Deep South. My mom’s maiden name is Clouse which is Germanic and most German immigrants found Midlands to be the most hospitable, but the Clouses on my mom’s side instead first came to Kentucky and then moved to Southern Indiana (Sarah Sally Walters who married William Jr. Fain, the grandfather of William Edward Clouse who was the second generation born in Kentucky, and Sarah Sally Walters was born in Kentucky in 1801; in that family line, the Clouses, Walters, Fains, Hawks, Stogsdills, Randalls, Waddles, Ashy’s, Welchs, and Hansfords were all in Kentucky in the early 1800s and some going back to the 1700; also, some of them were already in Southern Indiana before the War of 1812). My mom’s family has largely adopted the Scots-Irish culture and mentality of Appalachia. Both of my parents, however, grew up in Northern Indiana where Midlands culture is strong. I only knew of the Scots-Irish aspects of my mom’s family from visiting them since I was a child.

My time spent in South Carolina and North Carolina has given me some understanding of Scots-Irish culture. In SC, my high school best friend was a typical Scots-Irish redneck. In NC, a summer girlfriend was from a typical Scots-Irish fundamentalist hillbilly family, actually living in a trailer on a lonely country road nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. My SC friend had Goff as his last name. I noticed that in early Kentucky records that there were many Goffs there. For what it is worth, the Scots-Irish are part of my family history and also part of my personal experience. I could judge that culture for all of its problems, but I do have a fondness for it that became most clear to me while living in NC. Besides, Appalachia is beautiful country, ticks aside.

In some ways, that culture is the complete opposite of Midlands culture and hence opposite of my Midwestern identity. On the other hand, there has been much mixing between the two cultures and they have shared the distinction of being the main battlegrounds of the American soul. I was thinking about this recently in terms of a radio show such as Coast to Coast AM which used to be hosted by Art Bell. You can hear all kinds of views on that show. Both my uncle Bob (my mom’s brother) and I have listened to it since the 1990s, yet we otherwise have little in common. He is a fundamentalist of Appalachian culture and I’m an agnostic of Midlands culture, but an interest in conspiracy theories and aliens creates a common ground. Coast to Coast AM is a show about alternative culture. The Midlands and Appalachia have always been regions of alternative culture. It is in these places that alternative religious and political communities often settled. That is what I loved about NC, the hidden pockets of odd alternative culture.

Visiting Southern Indiana brings all of this into focus. It is where my family shifted from Appalachia into the Midlands, always following where land and work could be found, generation after generation restlessly moving on in a drift Westward. All of my mom’s lines of family converged in Lawrence County (and the counties right around it, specifically Orange County and Dubois County). The Clouses and Hawks came separately and soon married, two of those marriages ending up in the Mitchell area right around or in Spring Mill back when it was still an operational mill, an infant of one of those marriages buried in the Hamer cemetery there (the Hamers being one of the rich families that moved into the area). At that time, Southern Indiana was attractive to alternative communities and many intellectuals, New Harmony being the most famous example (radical intellectuals from New Harmony would visit the pub at Spring Mill where some of my family lived and worked). It was this radical tradition of Southern Indiana that helped form the mind of Abraham Lincoln, specifically Lincoln’s being influenced by the alternative religion and politics (socialism, feminism, abolitionism, spiritualism, etc) being promoted by people such as the Owens family of New Harmony.

This was the frontier, but not the frontier as you learned about in school. People came to frontier communities for all kinds of reasons. My family would have lived amidst great cultural, ethnic, religious and political diversity.

My mom’s paternal grandfather, Willie Clouse, was born at Spring Mill. The family was still poor and at that time they were squatters. The water mill slowly died because of engine-driven mills made them obsolete. Willie married Inez Rosemary Edwards.

On that other side of the family, two lines of Edwards married and there was also another line of Edwards a few generations back from that point. Inez’s maternal great grandmother was a Toliver who lived more than a century after having come to Mitchel as a young child as part of one of the first families to settle there. She was interviewed a few years before her death and she still remembered her childhood.

It was interesting to read about that era. The Edwards and Tolivers (along with the Way and Evans families), unlike the Clouses and Hawks, went straight from North Carolina to Indiana (some of the family on both sides — Henry Sr Waddle, Elizabeth Morris, William Fain jr, Elizabeth Whicker, Catherine Cox, and Benjamin Hansford — came from Virginia instead, although some of these families were moving back and forth between North Carolina and Virginia, and a few lines came from elsewhere — Sampson Hawk from New Jersey and one line, the Cox family as I recall, can be followed back to South Carolina; my mom’s maternal side of the family is similar, but there are several lines that in the early-to-mid 1800s went straight from the ship docks to Kentucky and Indiana).

All of this research has made history more tangible to me. Spring Mill, the home of my family that is of my mom’s maiden name, is now a preserved historical site. It’s strange to visit my great grandfather’s birth place as a visitor to a park; my mom also visited it as a child and had her grandfather point out the building he claimed to be born in. History gets turned into a theme park. The mill has been fixed back up and they grind corn as a demonstration. They even have an old lady working on a loom and a blacksmith doing his thing. To be truly accurate they’d need people to represent my family as distillers and squatters.

After a few generations of industrial growth, Southern Indiana has returned to its origin in poverty. The difference is that early pioneers had land and many opportunities to better themselves, but the poor people there now are simply getting by or trying to. Southern Indiana once was a place that attracted intellectuals and industry. People like the Owens family sought to create a better world. Later on, many famous socialists and labor organizers came out of Indiana. The tide, however, has turned. No one seems to remember Indiana for the hopes and dreams people living there had for generations. You can’t understand the conservatism and fundamentalism of places like Southern Indiana without understanding this history.

Indiana makes for a useful case history. It is a place where the effects of the past are still visible. It is a place that has been in between, split between Midlands and Appalachia. It is one of the main states where the Midwest first took form as a separate culture from the East Coast states.

Like the ancestors of both my mother’s and father’s families, my parents moved on from Indiana, although their movement no longer coincided with a Westward movement. As a kid, I was forced to move around; but as an adult, I’ve chosen to stay put here in the same Midwestern town I grew to love as a child. Most of my mom’s family, unlike her, chose also to stay in the area in which they grew up in. In this age of globalization, a sense of place is taking on new meaning in context of community and family. For the average person, there no longer is a better life to be sought elsewhere. There is no new frontier land to be settled.

 

Deep South, American Hypocrisy, & Liberal Traditions

This post is a continuation of my previous post: Deep South, Traditional Conservatism, & Future Possibilities. I have a couple of points to add to my analysis/commentary. First, I want to point out the consistent culture and politics of the Deep South, not just recently but for its entire history. Second, I want to point out an element of hypocrisy in the American psyche and how it relates to the Deep South.

* * *

Deep South’s Unique Place In American History

In the book American Nations by Colin Woodard, I found a good summary of the agenda of the Deep South or rather the agenda of the oligarchs of the Deep South who have maintained their dominance of local politics for its entire history (Kindle Locations 4915-4927):

“The goal of the Deep Southern oligarchy has been consistent for over four centuries: to control and maintain a one-party state with a colonialstyle economy based on large-scale agriculture and the extraction of primary resources by a compliant, poorly educated, low-wage workforce with as few labor, workplace safety, health care, and environmental regulations as possible. On being compelled by force of arms to give up their slave workforce, Deep Southerners developed caste and sharecropper systems to meet their labor needs, as well as a system of poll taxes and literacy tests to keep former slaves and white rabble out of the political process. When these systems were challenged by African Americans and the federal government, they rallied poor whites in their nation, in Tidewater, and in Appalachia to their cause through fearmongering: The races would mix. Daughters would be defiled. Yankees would take away their guns and Bibles and convert their children to secular humanism, environmentalism, communism, and homosexuality. Their political hirelings discussed criminalizing abortion, protecting the flag from flag burners, stopping illegal immigration, and scaling back government spending when on the campaign trail; once in office, they focused on cutting taxes for the wealthy, funneling massive subsidies to the oligarchs’ agribusinesses and oil companies, eliminating labor and environmental regulations, creating “guest worker” programs to secure cheap farm labor from the developing world, and poaching manufacturing jobs from higher-wage unionized industries in Yankeedom, New Netherland, or the Midlands. It’s a strategy financial analyst Stephen Cummings has likened to “a high-technology version of the plantation economy of the Old South,” with the working and middle classes playing the role of sharecroppers.”

The Deep South has had limited power over national politics ever since the Civil War. However, several factors have lead to their gaining power: decades of Cold War attacks and propaganda against Leftist politics, Civil Rights movement bringing Appalachia into alignment with the Deep South, the Southern Strategy which created an effective way to campaign, and the globalizing of the economics that favored deregulation and vast wealth disparities. Because of this, national politics has fallen under the sway of the Deep South worldview. The results are what has happened in recent decades (Kindle Locations 5002-5017):

“From the 1990s, the Dixie bloc’s influence over the federal government has been enormous. In 1994 the Dixie-led Republican Party took control of both houses of Congress for the first time in forty years. The Republicans maintained their majority in the U.S. House until 2008 and controlled the Senate for many of those years as well. While perhaps disappointed with the progressivism of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, Deep Southern oligarchs finally got one of their own in the White House in 2000, for the first time since 1850. George W. Bush may have been the son of a Yankee president and raised in far western Texas, but he was a creature of east Texas, where he lived, built his political career, found God, and cultivated his business interests and political alliances. His domestic policy priorities as president were those of the Deep Southern oligarchy: cut taxes for the wealthy, privatize Social Security, deregulate energy markets (to benefit family allies at Houston-based Enron), stop enforcing environmental and safety regulations for offshore drilling rigs (like BP’s Deepwater Horizon), turn a blind eye to offshore tax havens, block the regulation of carbon emissions or tougher fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, block health care benefits for low-income children, open protected areas to oil exploration, appoint industry executives to run the federal agencies meant to regulate their industries, and inaugurate a massive new foreign guest-worker program to ensure a low-wage labor supply. Meanwhile, Bush garnered support among ordinary Dixie residents by advertising his fundamentalist Christian beliefs, banning stem cell research and late-term abortions, and attempting to transfer government welfare programs to religious institutions. By the end of his presidency—and the sixteen-year run of Dixie dominance in Washington—income inequality and the concentration of wealth in the federation had reached the highest levels in its history, exceeding even the Gilded Age and Great Depression. In 2007 the richest tenth of Americans accounted for half of all income, while richest 1 percent had seen their share nearly triple since 1994.

It’s amazing when you think about it. That is a long time for an entire region to have so little power. And then when they regain power, they take national politics by storm. You might even say a perfect storm. The stage was in the process of being set for a takeover ever since the Southern Strategy began. Reagan argued he was against the Civil Rights Act because of his defense of states’ rights, the very same argument the Deep South oligarchs often used to defend slavery and originally used to steal the land of Native Americans living in their states. To rub salt into this wound, Reagan gave a states’ rights speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi that was famous for being the location where 3 civil rights workers were killed. If not for the strong racism, the Dixie bloc would not have been possible. There was very little love lost between Appalachia and Deep South, but white supremacy was something they could agree upon.

I’ve heard some argue that they’ve experienced worst racism in parts of the North. There is racism in the North like most places, but it would be disingenuous to say it is worse. The North doesn’t have a long history of killing uppity blacks and the white civil rights workers who would defend them. It wasn’t in the North where the KKK was so politically active and powerful. For all the faults of the North, violent and oppressive racism isn’t top on the list, especially not in the past century or two (although it is fair to say that long ago the Puritans were far from friendly to those perceived as different: Quakers, Native Americans, etc). The point being that the North, despite what racism existed, didn’t seek to create a politcal bloc based on racism.

There is another argument made about slavery in America being race-based and that slavery was somehow different in the past. As Skepoet wrote in response to a comment of mine:

“It’s racialization was part of the counter-enlightenment as there is NO talk of “race” before that recorded, and most prior slavery was not racialized but the result of war.  That is also true for slavery in the colonies, as there were many “endured servants” of all races, but it was increasingly racialized through time.”

Here was my counter-argument:

“I don’t know the history of racial attitudes, but I doubt that it is true that there was no talk of “race” before that time. Earlier people may not have used that term. There are many ways to speak of race since race is often connected to so many other factors in societies: culture, geography, national identity, language, religion, clothing, etc. But it would be true that globalized capitalism would lead people to make more generalized conclusions based on race as it would lead them to make more generalized conclusions about everything. I don’t think this would be limited to recent centuries, though. When the Greek and Roman empires were trading with other empires all over the world, I’m sure people began to increasingly categorize people according to ideas of race and other similar categories, although their particular ideas might look different than those of the modern era.

“Race isn’t just about skin color. The whitest of white people from Northern Europe sometimes weren’t considered ‘white’ in the US because they came from a culture very different than that of Britain. I’m sure, for example, that most Roman slaves weren’t both genetically and ethnically of Roman descent. Most slaves came from conquered people which usually meant in those days of a different race. To go further back, the Spartans had an overtly race-based slave society. The two models of Western democracy have always been that of Athens and Sparta.”

I was reading more from American Nations and so I have further clarifications. An important point is that a specifically racialized slavery was introduced by the Deep South because their colony was modeled on Barbados which was racialized slave colony. Tidewater later adopted this racialization of slavery, but never to the extremes of Deep South. Even Native Americans were enslaved to a greater degree by the Deep South than in the other colonies, sometimes shipping off Native American slaves in exchange for shipping in African slaves. Furthermore, Deep South and Tidewater were the only colonies that were primarily based on a slave economy. Here is what Colin Woodard writes on this particular issue (Kindle Locations 1447-1482):

“Of course, the Deep South wasn’t the only part of North America practicing full-blown slavery after 1670. Every colony tolerated the practice. But most of the other nations were societies with slaves, not slave societies per se. Only in Tidewater and the Deep South did slavery become the central organizing principle of the economy and culture. There were fundamental differences between these two slave nations, however, which illuminate a subtle difference in the values of their respective oligarchies.9 We’ve seen how Tidewater’s leaders, in search of serfs, imported indentured servants of both races—men and women who could earn their freedom if they survived their servitude. After 1660, however, the people of African descent who arrived in Virginia and Maryland increasingly were treated as permanent slaves as the gentry adopted the slaveholding practices of the West Indies and Deep South. By the middle of the eighteenth century, black people faced Barbadian-style slave laws everywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line.

“Even so, in Tidewater, slaves made up a much smaller proportion of the population (1 to 1.7 whites, rather than 5 to 1), lived longer, and had more stable family lives than their counterparts in the Deep South. Tidewater’s slave population naturally increased after 1740, doing away with the need to import slaves from abroad. With few new arrivals to assimilate, Afro-Tidewater culture became relatively homogeneous and strongly influenced by the English culture it was embedded within. Many blacks whose ancestors had come to the Chesapeake region prior to 1670 had grown up in freedom, owning land, keeping servants, even holding office and taking white husbands or wives. Having African blood did not necessarily make one a slave in Tidewater, a fact that made it more difficult to dismiss black people as subhuman. Until the end of the seventeenth century, one’s position in Tidewater was defined largely by class, not race.10

“The Deep South, by contrast, had a black supermajority and an enormous slave mortality rate, meaning thousands of fresh humans had to be imported every year to replace those who had died. Blacks in the Deep South were far more likely to live in concentrated numbers in relative isolation from whites. With newcomers arriving with every slave ship, the slave quarters were cosmopolitan, featuring a wide variety of languages and African cultural practices. Within this melting pot, the slaves forged a new culture, complete with its own languages (Gullah, New Orleans Creole), Afro-Caribbean culinary practices, and musical traditions. From the hell of the slave quarters would come some of the Deep South’s great gifts to the continent: blues, jazz, gospel, and rock and roll, as well as the Caribbean-inspired foodways today enshrined in Southern-style barbeque joints from Miami to Anchorage. And because the Deep South’s climate, landscape, and ecosystem resembled those of West Africa far more than they did those of England, it was the slaves’ technologies and practices that guided the region’s agricultural development. “Carolina,” a Swiss immigrant remarked in 1737, “looks more like a negro country than like a country settled by white people.”11

“In the Deep South, African Americans formed a parallel culture, one whose separateness was enshrined in the laws and fundamental values of the nation’s white minority. Indeed, the Deep South was for at least the three centuries from 1670 to 1970 a caste society. And caste, it should be noted, is quite a different thing from class. People can and do leave the social class they are born into—either through hard work or tragedy—and can marry someone of another class and strive for their children to start life in a better position than they did. A caste is something one is born into and can never leave, and one’s children will be irrevocably assigned to it at birth. Marriage outside of one’s caste is strictly forbidden. So while the Deep South had rich whites and poor whites and rich and poor blacks, no amount of wealth would allow a black person to join the master caste. The system’s fundamental rationale was that blacks were inherently inferior, a lower form of organism incapable of higher thought and emotion and savage in behavior. Although pressed into service as wet nurses, cooks, and nannies, blacks were regarded as “unclean,” with Deep Southern whites maintaining a strong aversion to sharing dishes, clothes, and social spaces with them. For at least three hundred years, the greatest taboo in the Deep South was to marry across the caste lines or for black men to have white female lovers, for the caste system could not survive if the races began to mix. Even the remotest suspicion of violating the Great Deep Southern Taboo would result in death for a black male.”

I quoted that passage in full because I wanted to be clear. The slavery of the Deep South wasn’t like anything else found in the other American colonies. As the author goes to great effort in explaining, it wasn’t just race or even class for it had a thoroughly structured racial caste system. This was necessary in a slave society where the slaves out-numbered the non-slaves, but it also was what Deep South inherited from the Barbados model of slavery. It is also important to note that this has everything to do with war. Britain was a war-mongering imperial power that conquered and built colonies. It wasn’t anything new. Empires have been warring and conquering new lands for millennia and it isn’t unusual for the conquered (typically of another race) to be made into slaves. There wasn’t anything particularly new about this. Even the Romans would ship in slaves from far away and treat their slaves brutally according to a strict caste system.

* * *

An American Hypocrisy

The hypocrisy part relates to the two regions most dominated by a capitalist worldview: Deep South and New Netherlands. The former has led to a more neoconservative authoritarian vision of capitalism and the latter a more neoliberal egalitarian vision, but it is the neoliberal vision that has been most powerfully used as libertarian rhetoric. The American colonies were already well established prior to the era of classical liberalism. However, because of the revolutionary times, classical liberalism had a great impact on what America was becoming.

Classical liberalism has had a profound impact on both the development of liberalism and conservatism in America. It is for this reason that America has never had any political tradition or party that was distinctly and solely conservative in nature. Also, classical liberalism in America has brought forth an egalitarianism that has be ever since shadowed by its ties to colonialism, serfdom and slavery. Classical liberalism was the perfect formula of promoting an equality where some were more equal than others. Even Yankeedom, born out of the Reformationist vision of Puritan egalitarianism, has had a hard time maintaining its distinct identity separate from the classical liberalism introduced into the regions to the South of it. Still, it is Yankeedom and Midlands that has remained most resistant to classical liberalism. Some people make the mistake of assuming all American liberalism originates from classical liberalism. As I explained in my discussion with Skepoet:

“The Yankees and Midlanders were influenced by the German notion of freedom where every person is born with equal freedom, no matter their parentage, their social status, or their race. The Midlands, of course, had a notion of liberty rooted in the more socialist tendencies of German and Scandinavian immigrants. [ . . . ] The two visions are the following: Northerners tend to view property rights being based on human rights; and Southerners tend to view human rights being based on property rights.”

The liberalism of the North originated in religious beliefs, rather than in secular philosophy. And these Northern religious beliefs originated from the Reformation, rather than the Enlightenment. This is why Northern liberalism, besides the exception of New Netherlands (New York City), has fought against unfettered capitalism. In Yankeedom, it was the Puritan vision. In Midlands, it was the Quaker vision. In both Yankeedom and Midlands, it was a vision of a society created by an educated middle class, rather than a capitalist elite. It was because of religious beliefs that Northerners promoted public education for all, the reason being that only if all people were literate could all people read the Bible and have a personal relationship to God. On the other hand, Deep South was originally one of the least religious colonies in America.

Because of certain historical events, classical liberalism has been associated most strongly with the South. The key figure in this development was John Locke who was born and spent much of his life in England. The odd part is that he was born to Puritan parents and so one would think he would have more in common with Yankeedom, but because of political and economic ties he became involved in the Deep South colony and the slave trade. In fact, he even wrote or helped write the Carolina constitution. This is where it becomes interesting. Through the Carolina constitution, Locke both fortified serfdom and slavery in the Deep South while also guaranteeing religious freedom. So, only the latter part could be considered liberal in any reasonable sense and it was precisely that part that was overturned by the Deep South aristocracy in order to stengthen their alliance with colonial rule in England. Deep South aristocrats basically took the classical liberal rationalizations that justified unfettered capitalism and got rid of the rest (American Nations, Kindle Locations 1422-1428):

“While not particularly religious, the planters embraced the Anglican Church as another symbol of belonging to the establishment. Locke’s charter for the colony had guaranteed freedom of religion—Sephardic Jews and French Huguenots emigrated to the region in great numbers—but the elite overturned these provisions in 1700, giving themselves a monopoly on church and state offices. Their Anglican religious orientation also gave the Deep South elite unfettered access to London high society and the great English universities and boarding schools, milieus generally denied to Puritans, Quakers, and other dissenters. Whether English or French in origin, the Deep South’s planters would also come to embrace the Tidewater gentry’s notion of being descendants of the aristocratic Normans, lording over their colony’s crass Anglo-Saxon and Celtic underclass.”

To understand the hypocrisy within Locke’s own beliefs, here is an explanation about one part of the Carolina constitution (John Locke, Carolina, And The Two Treatises Of Government by David Armitage):

“Therefore (as the Fundamental Constitutions’most notorious article put it), “Every Freeman of Carolina shall have absolute Authority over his Negro slaves of what opinion or Religion soever.”40 Though none of his later detractors could have known it, Locke himself had augmented the slaveholders’ “absolute Authority” by adding that “” in the 1669 manuscript nowamong the Shaftesbury papers.41 Had they known, that fact would have only confirmed their suspicion that “the most eminent Republican Writers, suchas LOCKE, FLETCHER of Saltown, and ROUSSEAU himself, pretend to justify the making Slaves of others, whilst they are pleading so warmly for Liberty for themselves.””

This would put Lockean classical liberalism more in line with the reactionary conservatism described by Corey Robin. A conservative critic of Locke, writing in 1776, summarized it well:

“Republicans in general . . . for leveling all Distinctions above them, and at the same time for tyrannizing over those, whom Chance or Misfortune have placed below them.”

The Republican is, therefore, the penultimate reactionary conservative. They seek to level all the traditional distinctions above them which the traditional conservatives seek to maintain. Meanwhile, they seek to maintain the traditional distinctions below them simply out of a tactical effort of keeping more radical liberals/left-wingers from challenging the entire system. To put this in realpolitik terms, reactionary conservatives want to take away the power from those who have power over them and increase the power they have over others. It’s just another way of justifying power, but it is a new form of power being put in old garb. Even as reactionary conservatives attack traditional conservatives, they romanticize about a distant conservative past, which in this case means the oligarchic republics of ancient times.

In this light, classical liberalism is correctly claimed by contemporary American conservatives. Lockean classical liberalism is conservative in that it seeks to defend a class-based society, and it is specifically conservative in a reactionary sense because it is a counter-revolutionary response to the Enlightenment belief that all men should be treated as equals. An odd aspect of reactionary conservatism is that, because it is responding to liberalism, it often takes on the forms and appearances of liberalism… and so some even confuse it with the liberalism it mimics. Reactionary conservatism is purposely distinguishing itself from traditional conservatism which is why mimicking liberalism is such a clever tactic. It seeks to replace traditional conservatism while simultaneously co-opting the tactics and language of liberalism. Both liberals and reactionary conservatives speak of freedom. How you tell them apart is by looking for whether the freedom they propose is inclusive or exclusive.

Classical liberalism was partly formulated as a rationalization for colonization. Unlike the Spaniards, the English wanted a more convincing reason for their colonial power than merely the right over the conquered. What was proposed was that those who used the land had the right to the land. Since Native Americans were perceived as not using the land, they therefore had no right to the land. This was a capitalist argument for oppression. More from David Armitage:

“Locke’s argument from divine command to cultivate those “great Tracts”of unappropriated land became the classic theoretical expression of the agriculturalist argument for European dominium over American land. Precisely that argument underlay the rights claimed by the Proprietors over the land of Carolina, according to the terms of their grants from the English Crown. The original 1629 grant had called Carolina a region “hitherto until led. . . . But insome parts of it inhabited by certain Barbarous men,” and this description hadbeen reaffirmed in Charles II’s grant to the Lords Proprietors in 1663, which had charged the Lords Proprietors “to Transport and make an ample Colony of our Subjects . . . unto a certain Country . . . in the parts of AMERICA not yet cultivated or planted, and only inhabited by some barbarous People whohave no knowledge of Almighty God.”83 The agriculturalist argument wasthe best justification that could be given for dispossession after argumentsfrom conquest and from religion had been gradually abandoned. As the English learned from the Spanish, the argument from conquest could only justify imperium over the native peoples but not dominium over American land. Nor could Amerindian unbelief alone provide a justification for dominion. As we have seen, in 1669 the authors of the Fundamental Constitutions had speci-fied that “Idollatry Ignorance or mistake gives us noe right to expell or use[the Natives of Carolina] ill,” and that article remained in all later versions ofthe Fundamental Constitutions. Locke himself later upheld just that same argument in the Letter Concerning Toleration (1685): “No man whatsoever ought . . . to be deprived of his Terrestrial Enjoyments, upon account of his Religion. Not even Americans, subjected unto a Christian Prince, are to bepunished either in Body or Goods, for not imbracing our Faith and Worship.”84 The only remaining argument was the contention (first propounded in its modern form by Thomas More in Utopia) that dominion fell to those best able to cultivate the land to its fullest capacity, not least to fulfill the divine command to subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28, 9:1). The peculiar form of Locke’s argument therefore had identifiably colonial origins, though not exclusively colonial applications.”

As it had other possible applications, it was also an argument that became generalized beyond just colonialism. In its most extreme form, it meant that those who owned the capital had the right to political power over those who didn’t own capital. In Deep South, this meant a strictly enforced class-based society where the vast majority (hereditary serfs, slaves, women, and those who didn’town large tracts of land) didn’t have the right to vote or to hold public office, and this also included through the constitution the first hereditary nobility in America. In New Netherlands (which became New York City), this meant a corrupt anti-democratic political system that was powered by vast wealth and industry (the archetype, sadly, of many other major industrial cities).

It is interesting to consider the relationship of the land use argument to the American Dream. Many early Americans saw freedom in terms of land such as Thomas Paine with his ‘Agrarian Justice’ and Thomas Jefferson with his promoting agriculture over industry. It was, after all, agriculture that originally made America so vastly wealthy. America has some of the best soil in the world and our agricultural sector is still top notch to this day.

It was the agrarian reformists, along with abolitionists and socialists, who helped form the Republican Party. The Republican Party was originally the complete opposite of the Republican politics of the Deep South aristocracy. In fact, the Republican Party started in the North and of course produced the Lincoln presidency which led the North to fight against the aristocracy, slavery and caste system of the Deep South. Many Americans outside of the South were afraid of the Deep South aristocracy forcing their culture onto the rest of the country and they had good reason to fear. The Deep South was actively seeking to expand its slavery into new territories and to enforce its slave laws even onto non-slave states. The agrarian reformist Free Soil advocates were the most aggressive in fighting against the South’s attempt to impose slavery on, for example, the Kansas territory. The majority of Kansan farmers didn’t want slavery in Kansas, but unsurprisingly many elite wanted slavery there. This is why Kansas sided with the Union during the Civil War, Kansas by the way is split between Midlands and Far West (both areas known for having an uneasy relationship with centralized or authoritarian power, especially when it is commanded by people living far away whether in Yankeedom or Deep South).

To return to Locke in my concluding thoughts, I should clarify the claim of hypocrisy. John Locke experienced persecution himself. At one point, he moved to Netherlands which probably was a major influence on his thinking. Netherlands embodied the values of classical liberalism better than any of the other colonial powers of that era. Freedom of religion and of the press allowed Locke to write and publish his own work on religious freedom while in the Netherlands. This side of Locke seems genuinely liberal, but that didn’t change the fact that as an adult he was part of and dependent on the upper class of both English and American society. His liberalism was that of a respectable gentleman and not that of the working class rabblerousers of London who inspired Paine. Still, it seems odd that Locke would get tangled, politically and professionally, in an oppressive caste society like Deep South. It was New Netherlands that more fully embodied what Locke claimed to believe. New Netherlands, like its mother country, had a relative large degree of social freedom in terms of religion, race and social mobility. It’s true that New Netherlands had its ruling capitalist elite, but it at least wasn’t based on racialized slavery and a caste system.

Locke’s failings being what they may, he seems to have maintained some genuine streak of liberalism. Despite of or rather because of his close associations with the Deep South, he wrote in reference to the Deep South aristocracy, “The Barbadians endeavor to rule us all.” The Barbadians of course had limited interest in Locke’s ideals of freedom, other than how classical liberalism might be used to help maintain their power and authority.

Deep South, Traditional Conservatism, & Future Possibilities

I have a bunch of thoughts rolling around in my head: the cultures of early American immigrations and colonies, the different types of liberalisms especially the differences between contemporary American liberalism and classical liberalism, the defense by liberals of traditional conservatism against fiscal conservatives, and maybe a few other things besides. I’ll begin with the issue of colonies and go from there.

I’m presently reading American Nations by Colin Woodard and was having a discussion about it. I find it quite fascinating, although it probably would only interest someone to the degree that they have had personal experience in different regions of the US.

I was reading about the Deep South and my little mind was blown. I spent many years living in and/or visiting the South Carlina cities of Columbia and Charleston, the latter being the originating point of the Deep South colony, but during my years there I was mostly oblivious to the history of the Deep South. That region has experienced massive change over the centuries and, whatever problems it may still have, it is far away from where it began.

Among the colonies, the Deep South was unique in a number of ways. It is the only colony that began explicitly as a slave society. It is also the only colony that was started by people from another colony, Barbados, upon which it was modeled. At the time, Barbados was well known for being the most violently and horrifically oppressive slave colony in the entire English-speaking world. The Barbados colonists were immensely rich, but they didn’t have any more land to be developed. So, the sons of the Barbados elite sought lands on other islands as well as coming to America. It was because they had so much wealth that they could be so brutal. It didn’t matter that their slaves had such short lives under these conditions because more could be bought with the massive profits made.

The Deep South was the wealthiest and most heavily populated colony in America. They had so much money that they even bought most of their goods from Britain and so the Deep South colony had little need for industry. Many of the plantation owners sent their children to boarding schools in England. Also, many of them lived in England themselves rather than living on their plantations. Deep South was the only colony to have major political representation in England which allowed them to keep taxation low within their own colony.

I’m not even sure how to describe this kind of society. It was as anti-liberal as is possible for a society to be while still being functional. It was a capitalist nightmare where everything operated according to property. The ruling minority at the top owned everything and everyone. All legal rights were based on property rights. I suppose it was some kind of proto-fascism, but typically fascism is seen as a response to socialism and this was long before socialism was formulated.

Deep South was similar to the Tidewater colony in that it was based on plantations using indentured servants and slaves, but it was urban where Tidewater was more rural. Deep South plantation owners built a major city and spent much of their time and money visiting it. Plus, Deep South plantation owners lacked the paternalism of the Tidwater where the plantation owners were expected to care for the needs of those working for them. Tidewater plantation owners lived on their plantations and so lived closely with their indentured servants and slaves. Tidewater was a very kinship-oriented society and so those living on a plantation were a part of the daily experience of family life. Deep South didn’t have this same intimate way of running their plantations.

Deep South was similar to the New Netherlands colony (what would become New York City) in that it was a society undemocratically centered around capitalism. New Netherlands for some time was managed by a corporation. So, both had elements of proto-fascism. One difference is New Netherlands wasn’t founded as a slave society, although it was New Netherlands that first introduced slavery to America. Another difference is that New Netherlands was a more multicultural, egalitarian society. If any colony could make a claim to bringing classical liberalism to America, it would be New Netherlands. They believed in the more modern capitalist dream of working hard in order to better one’s station in life. Unlike Deep South, many of the wealthy in New Netherlands weren’t born into wealth. Even African slaves could become freemen and operate their own farms and businesses. New Netherlands was one of the most tolerant of the colonies and Deep South was one of the least tolerant.

And Deep South was similar to the Yankiedom colony in that it was politically centralized and expansionist. It was Yankiedom and Tidewater that had the longest history of conflict that tied them both back to the conflicts in England, but it was Yankiedom and Deep South that were two most major forces in their competing visions. Yankiedom was focused on an educated middle class whereas Deep South was focused on inherited power and wealth. Yankiedom was built on democratic ideals that were inspired by the Reformation (such as mandatory public education to ensure everyone could read the Bible and have a personal relationship with God) whereas Deep South was built on republican ideals that were inspired by the slave oligarchies of the ancient world. Despite their differences, both would use military force to ensure their expansion and both could be less than welcoming to those perceived as outside of their social in-group.

By the way, I should clarify what is included within the Deep South. It started in South Carolina from which it expanded South and West mostly going through states along the Southern coast and ending its expansion in Eastern Texas. It came to occupy Georgia, for example, even though Georgia was colonized as a utopian society very different from the Deep South colony. So, even within the Deep South, there are pockets or mixings of other cultures. The Deep South is almost entirely bordered by Appalachia on its Northern side. Many people conflate Deep South and Appalachia for they both share a number of states, including South Carolina, and they both have influenced each other greatly. I suspect that it is the anti-authoritarian Appalachian culture that has been a moderating force on the formerly authoritarian Deep South culture, and I’m sure the formerly utopian Georgia culture probably had its impact as well.

Still, no matter what changes have occured, Deep South still emphasizes the view that property rights are prioritized above all else. This property rights focus is a major point of agreement Deep South has with Appalachia. There is this idea of ownership as the basis of liberty. It was the Deep South (and maybe Tidewater as well) that promoted the idea that only land owners should have the right to vote. This cultural heritage is what has formed the basis of what is now known as fiscal conservatism. It was the GOP’s Southern Strategy that brought fiscal conservatism to dominance in national politics.

I was discussing the problems and dangers of fiscal conservatism in a recent post. Events in the local city government have made me aware of how much influence fiscal conservatism has had on the nation. Even in this Yankee-style liberal college town in the moderate Midlands, the local government has turned to fiscal conservatism as the preferred solution for economic problems. Even radically progressive states like Wisconsin which is in a stronghold of Yankiedom, fiscal conservative rhetoric helped to elect some of the most radically right-wing politicians seen in a long time. In the endless struggle between the superpowers of Yankiedom and Deep South, it does at times feel like the latter has won the war of who will dominate public debate and hence determine America’s future.

My point, as a Midlander, isn’t necessarily to take sides in this war between Yankiedom and Deep South. The former doesn’t represent my sense of liberalism and the latter doesn’t represent any normal notion of traditional conservatism. In the past, traditional conservatives fought against capitalism and classical liberalism. It’s hard to find many vocal traditional conservatives left in the so-called conservative movement, especially not in the GOP itself. The demographic most strong in their traditional conservatism would be minorities who vote for the Democratic Party. The two party system isn’t split between conservatism and liberalism. Rather, it is split between neoconservatives on one side and traditional conservatives on the other, between classical liberals on one side and neoliberals on the other. Conservatives have stopped defending traditional conservatism for the most part and liberals have come to akwardly defend it.

As a Midlander, I realize the culture of the region I live in isn’t the most influential, even though some think of it as being the most ‘American’ since it is the Heartland, after all. If traditional conservatism as a viable and established culture still exists anywhere in the US, it likely would be found in small pockets in the Midlands Midwest, especially in the small Catholic farming towns in states like Iowa. The great conflict I see right now in this country is between fiscal conservatism and traditional conservatism. It is during hard economic times that Americans remember the importance of traditional conservatism (family, religion, community, regionalism, ‘sense of place’, government regulations, public welfare, etc). Maybe at this point such traditional conservatism has become nothing more than a romanticized reminiscence of and projection onto a distant past. America has never had much of a culture of traditional conservatism and probably never will, but I think it is good for Americans to think what it might mean for society facing so much change. One thing to keep in mind is that socialism is closer than capitalism to the original meaning of traditional conservatism. So, to contemplate traditional conservatism is to be forced to confront the failures and problems with capitalism.

In terms of demographics, I think minorities have the strongest connection to traditional conservatism because of two reasons, both related to the Hispanic population. First, Hispanics are some of the most strongly Catholic of Americans. Catholicism is one of the oldest Christian traditions left in the world and so it still is rooted in ancient traditions (unlike Protestantism, Anabaptism, Mormonism, New Thought, etc). Second, Spaniards were some of the first to colonize North America. Their arrival here precedes the Enlightenment by many centuries. Also, the El Norte colony/nation (in the Northern parts of Mexico, along the Southern border of the US, up along Southern California coasts, and into the Southwest) is one of the few places where European culture mixed with native culture.

Interestingly, El Norte is known for having a history of seeking democratic reform. As the Hispanic demographic is the fastest growing in America, it makes me wonder what this will mean for national politics in the future. Combined with that, I could see a further impact of blacks returning to the South in large numbers after spending generations in Midlands and Yankiedom where they incorporated that culture. I portend major culture clashes in the coming decades.

I’m not sure I have any clear conclusions to add. I was just trying to bring together that jumble of thoughts. I feel like there is such a confusion of issues going on that it may be impossible to disentangle what it all means and where it all is heading. In pointing out the problems of the early Deep South, I don’t mean to praise Yankiedom as the better alternative culture. I do think we could use more of the Yankee emphasis on education. However, I’d gladly point out the hypocrisy of Puritan egalitarianism at the heart of the Yankee vision of society. I’m personally fond of the Midlands, but I don’t know that the Midlands has much to offer that would be acceptable to the powers that be. I don’t even know if the growing minority population will lead to any positive change, but almost any change would feel better than the status quo at this point. I don’t know what potential is left in American society. My hope is that understanding the past might help break us free from the sense of cultural hegemony that can blind us from other perspectives.

Midwest vs Coasts: history, culture & politics

Often in reading about politics, my Midwestern worldview can make me feel like I’m working from a slightly different context than mainstream culture. The mainstream media tends to put issues in terms of Northeastern Democrats versus Southern Republicans or else East Coast Establishment versus West Coast Libertarianism/Liberalism. The Midwest is none of these.

I was thinking about this last night when I was reading American Nations by Colin Woodard (which I came across in my recent research that began with an earlier post). Here is one of the passages that made me think about this (Kindle Locations 2962-3053):

“New Englanders headed west across the northern tier of the Northwest Territory, land-hungry settlers from the Midlands were pouring into the central Midwest. The Midlanders—a great many of them German speaking—carried their pluralistic culture into the Heartland, a place long since identified with neighborliness, family-centered progress, practical politics, and a distrust of big government. Spanning the north-central portions of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, the Greater Midlands spread through central and southern Iowa, northern Missouri, eastern Nebraska and Kansas, and even northernmost Texas—an area many times greater than its original hearth on the shores of the Delaware Bay. Its settlements—a collection of mutually tolerant ethnic enclaves—served as a buffer between the intolerant, communitarian morality of Greater Yankeedom and the individualistic hedonism of Greater Appalachia, just as they had earlier on the eastern seaboard. New Englanders and Appalachian people often settled among them, but neither group’s values took hold. The Midland Midwest would develop as a center of moderation and tolerance, where people of many faiths and ethnicities lived side by side, largely minding their own business. Few Midwestern Midlanders were Quakers, but they unconsciously carried aspects of William Penn’s vision to fruition.”

(Note: Here in Eastern Iowa, there are a fair number of Quakers. Offhand, I know of 3 Quaker churches and a Quaker school in the immediate area. Demographic maps show a relatively higher percentage of Quakers in the Midwest, particularly in Ohio, Indiana and Iowa; where I live, Johnson County, is only a county away from one of the concentrated Quaker communities in the US, Keokuk County. However, maybe this only increased after the early immigrants came to the region. I noticed a 1914 book about Quakers in Iowa which notes, “Although the Quakers have not been numerous in Iowa, the influence of their attitude toward life has been considerable in the history of the Commonwealth.” Maybe living near a concentrated population of Quakers biases my perception of the Midwest slightly.)

“Most Midlanders reached the region on the National Road, which guided their settlement to the Mississippi and beyond. Pennsylvania Germans did their best to replicate the towns they’d left behind. New Philadelphia, Ohio, was founded by a congregation of Moravians and soon attracted German-speaking Mennonites. In Ohio, Pennsylvania Dutch dominated a fifty-mile-wide belt of farms south of the Yankee Western Reserve in settlements called Berlin, Hanover, Dresden, Frankfort, Potsdam, Strasburg, or Winesburg. Amish and Dunkers founded Nazareth, Canaan, and Bethlehem. Pennsylvania Dutch barns and United Brethren churches sprang up amid tidy farmhouses and fields of wheat. From the 1830s this familiar cultural environment attracted huge numbers of immigrants directly from Germany who congregated in Cincinnati.1

“In Indiana the Midlander belt of settlement was narrower due to their discomfort with the Appalachian dominance over the territory’s affairs. Indiana’s Borderlanders called themselves Hoosiers, came from the backcountry of Kentucky and western Virginia, and were ambivalent about slavery. But to Yankees and Midlanders they might as well have come from the Deep South. “Avoid settling in those states where negro slavery prevails,” a Philadelphia newspaper advised would-be emigrants to the west. “Your children will be corrupted by their vices and the slave lords will never treat you like Christians or fellow citizens.” To settle in Yankee-dominated Michigan or Wisconsin, meanwhile, meant putting up with the New Englanders’ irritating desire to make everyone into a Yankee. Many Midlanders did ultimately put down roots there (Milwaukee would declare itself the “German capital of America”), but they had to expend time and energy resisting Yankee attempts to close their beer gardens on the Sabbath, to force English-only public schools on their children, and to stamp out their Germanness. In the Midland zone, foreigners, Catholics, and others found a society untroubled by diversity but skeptical of slave labor, warfare, and the cult of the individual.2″

(Note: My mom’s family who were Germans would be included in the above mentioned ‘Hoosiers’. They originally settled in Southern Indiana from Kentucky, but I don’t know how long they were in Kentucky. If they had only stopped in Kentucky on there way to Indiana, they might not have picked up as much of the Appalachian culture. However, living in Southern Indiana, they inevitably picked up some of that culture. In fact, my mom raised in Northern Indiana still to this day speaks with some of the Appalachian dialect that she apparently got from her family. Anyway, from what I know of my family on that side, it would seem they took on a fair amount of the Appalachian culture, beyond just dialect. My ancestors probably would have maintained more of their own German culture had they initially settled in a more Northern or more Western region of the Midlands. Yankee culture tried to enforce assimilation, but the Scots-Irish of Appalachia weren’t known for being friendly to other cultures either.)

“Midlanders settled a swath of the north-central area of Illinois, anchored by the border cities of Chicago and St. Louis. Northern Missouri became a Midland stronghold as well, with St. Louis supporting two German-language daily newspapers by 1845. Bavarian immigrant George Schneider founded the Bavarian Brewery there in 1852, selling it to Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch a few years later. Continued immigration from Germany enabled Midland civilization to dominate the American Heartland despite competition from aggressive Yankees and Borderlanders. By midcentury, German immigrants were arriving by riverboat in St. Louis and from there fanning out across northern Missouri and the eastern prairies. Railroads followed, carrying immigrants from Europe and the coastal Midlands alike.3

“Germans had many reasons to abandon central Europe, where forty independent German states were squabbling over the great issues raised by the French Revolution: the legitimacy of feudalism, monarchies, and an economic system in which most people lived in dire poverty. Efforts to unify the region into a single state under a representative government failed in 1848, and many Germans looked to escape the military autocracy that followed. Even before the collapse of the so-called ’48 Revolution, liberals had wished for a place where they could build a New Germany, a model for the democratic, egalitarian society they had hoped their own splintered nation could become. “The foundations of a new and free Germany in the great north American republic can be laid by us,” the leader of one German colonization expedition to the American Midwest told his followers in 1833. “We may in at least one of the American territories create a state that is German from its foundations up, in which all those to whom the future here at home may seem . . . intolerable, can find refuge.” This and other expeditions were drawn to northern Missouri by the writings of Prussian-born resident Gottfried Duden, who extolled the region as a ready-made utopia. They were further encouraged by the new German Society of Philadelphia, which sought to found “a New Germany” in the west as “a secure refuge for ourselves, our children, and our descendants.” As the United States headed to the brink of civil war in the late 1850s, two leading German political analysts predicted the union would break into a number of independent states, some “under German rule.” These ideas are probably not what ultimately motivated the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Germans who actually made the move to the American Midlands, but they did provide the means for many of them to get there, in the form of useful information, organized emigration societies, and political assistance. No state would ever come close to being dominated by the German-born—Wisconsin stalled at 16 percent in 1860—but the 1830–1860 exodus from the Fatherland ensured that the diverse and tolerant Midlander civilization would come to dominate the American Heartland.4

The flow of Quaker migrants was much smaller, but they were drawn to the Midland Midwest for similar reasons. In the early nineteenth century, Friends still sought to separate themselves from the world, and many found it harder and harder to do so on the densely populated eastern seaboard. During the course of the century, a number of Quaker enclaves outside of the Midlands relocated to Ohio and Central Indiana. Disgusted by slavery, century-old Quaker communities abandoned Tidewater and the Deep South. Indiana eclipsed Philadelphia as the center of North American Quakers in the 1850s. To this day, Richmond, Indiana, is second only to the City of Brotherly Love in total Quaker population. Nestled among communities of Germans, Scots-Irish, English Methodists, Moravians, Amish, and others, the Quakers had found a cultural landscape almost identical to that of southeastern Pennsylvania.5

Like the Yankee Midwest, the Greater Midlands was settled by groups of families who had been neighbors on the eastern seaboard or in Europe. Unlike Yankees, they generally weren’t interested in assimilating people in neighboring communities, let alone in entire states. As in the Delaware Valley, individual towns were often dominated by a particular ethnic group, but counties tended to be pluralistic. Midwestern towns took their gridiron street plans from Pennsylvania precedents. The Germans set the tone, generally buying land with the intent to build lasting family homesteads rather than as speculative investments. They sought a permanent, organic connection to their land, taking unusual care to ensure its long-term productivity through soil and forest conservation measures first perfected on the tiny farm plots of central Europe. Whether arriving from Europe or Pennsylvania, they built their homes from stone whenever possible, as it was more durable than the wood used by the Yankees or Appalachian people.6

“Scholars have observed that the Germans insisted on entering the American melting pot collectively, on their own terms, and bearing ingredients they felt the country was lacking. Germans arriving from Europe usually had a higher standard of education, craftsmanship, and farming knowledge than most of their American neighbors, whom they found grasping and uncultured. “Americans are in their regard for art half-barbarian,” immigrant Gustave Koerner remarked in 1834, “and their taste is not much better than that of the Indian aborigines, who stick metal rings through their noses.” The Germans avoided assimilating, using their language in schools and newspapers and almost exclusively marrying other Germans as late as the 1880s. In a country rushing madly toward the frontier, the Germans distinguished themselves by their emphasis on stable, permanent, rooted communities, where families would work the same piece of land for generations. This rootedness would be perhaps their most lasting contribution to the culture of the Midlands and, by extension, the American Midwest.7″

(Note: The above is what I had in mind when I was writing yesterday my post Radicals & Reformers of Indiana. In that post, I was discussing the revisionist history that claims assimilation was the norm prior to the multiculturalism of 20th century progressivism. In reality, America was in many ways more culturally diverse and less culturally assimilated in the 19th century than it is today.)

The people of the Midland Midwest had political values that distinguished the region from both the Yankee upper Midwest and the Appalachian lower Midwest. Midland areas resisted Yankee cultural imperialism and thus voted against the new Yankee-controlled political vehicle that emerged in the 1850s: the Republican Party. Midlanders did not wish to create a homogeneous nation: Quakers championed religious freedom, at least for Christians; new British immigrants were coming for economic opportunity, not to create an ideal Calvinist republic; Germans were accustomed to living among people of different religions. While these and other groups settling in the Midlands zone may have disliked and disagreed with one another, none sought to rule or assimilate the others beyond the town or neighborhood level. All rejected the Yankee efforts to do so.

(Note: Multiculturalism is and always has been the culture of the Midland Midwest.)

As a result, throughout the 1850s a majority of Midlanders supported the anti-Yankee Democratic Party, which, at the time, was the party of the Deep South, Tidewater, and immigrants, especially Catholics. Democrats in this era rejected the notion that governments had a moral mission to better society, either through assimilating minorities or eliminating slavery. People—whether Deep Southern slave lords or the impoverished Irish Catholic immigrants of Boston—should be left to go about their business as they wished.

But at the end of the 1850s this allegiance to the Democrats began to change as tensions built over the extension of slavery to Missouri, Kansas, and other new states and territories. Midland opinion began to splinter along doctrinal lines. Religious groups whose beliefs emphasized the need to redeem the world through good works, moral reforms, or utopian experiments found common ground with the Yankees, first on slavery, and later on efforts to curb alcoholism, blasphemous speech, and antisocial behaviors; this led Dutch Calvinists, German Sectarians, Swedish Lutherans, Northern Methodists, Free Will Baptists, and General Synod German Lutherans to embrace the Republican Party. People whose religious beliefs did not emphasize—or actively discouraged—efforts to make the present world holy stuck with the laissez-faire Democrats: Confessional German Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, and Southern Methodists. Groups occupying the middle ground on these issues (Anglicans, the Disciples of Christ) were split.8

The end result was characteristically Midland: a large region of swing voters whose support could make or break nearly every future federal coalition around any given issue. On the eve of the Civil War, slavery would push a narrow majority of Midlanders into the Republican camp. Careful forensic analysis of the 1860 presidential vote by late twentieth-century political scientists has shown that this shift in Midlander opinion—particularly among Germans—tipped Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana into Abraham Lincoln’s column, giving him control of the White House. Defeated on the federal stage by the defection of the Midland Midwest, the Deep South would move to secede almost immediately.9″

My Mom’s family is mostly German-Americans who came through the Appalachian country of Kentucky and finally settled in Indiana (interestingly, Abraham Lincoln’s family also went from Kentucky to Indiana where he spent most of his childhood, the reason given for the move was partly because of the slavery issue, Kentucky being a slave state and Indiana a non-slave state; by the way, Lincoln had a personal and political connection to the utopian socialist New Harmony community that was located near the area where Lincoln’s family and my family lived; also, like Paine who inspired him, Lincoln had family ties to Quakerism and, like Paine, sought to self-educate himself as was encouraged in the Quaker tradition). My mom’s family seems to have a bit more of what people think of as the Scots-Irish culture (not known for tendencies toward socialism and self-education), but I was born in the Midlands of German-American Ohio and raised in the Midlands of various states with Iowa as my home state. Both the Midlands Midwest and Appalachia have cultures that mistrust big government, although for different reasons, the former because of a focus on local communities (local governance and civic mindedness) and the latter because of a focus on individualism and a disinterest in any collective organization beyond kinship.

The Midlands has never easily fit into the categories of Southern aristocratic conservatism or Northeastern paternalistic liberalism. Certainly, the Northeast did add a certain flavor to Midwestern culture, especially with some of the New England type of college towns that can be found as far as Iowa. However, the Midwest had to deal with multiculturalism in a way that many other regions of the country didn’t have to deal with. The closest parallel might be parts of the West Coast which makes sense considering many Midwesterners moved to the West Coast during the Dust Bowl years, thus giving to the West Coast its Standard American English. The Midwest shares with the Northeast and the West Coast a love of multiculturalism, although the Midwest gives a very different spin to it.

Midwesterners are liberal in this sense, but this liberalism isn’t always perceived by the rest of the country. Midwesterners are so laidback and not generally outspoken in politics. Texans and other Southerners may speak of live and let live, but Midwesterners genuinely live this motto to a greater extent. Many Americans outside of the Midwest might find it odd how radicaly left-wing the Midwestern states can be at times. We have high union membership, we have some states with same-sex marriage or same-sex union rights, and we have a history of socialism.

Eugene V. Debs, one of the most influential American socialists, was born and raised in Indiana. We also had many socialists communities starting in the 19th century through the 20th century, including New Harmony in Southern Indiana around the time my family moved into that area and including decades of Sewer Socialist mayors in Milwaukee. Big business and big government oppression led many Midwestern socialists to flee to Canada, but even to this day there are successful socialist communities such as Eastwind which is located in the lower Midwest. Despite the decline of overt socialism, social democracy which is closely allied with socialism continues to reign as the dominant political system of the Midwest. My home of Iowa City is a perfect example of social democracy in action.

The following is another section from the same book (Kindle Locations 3799-3819):

Despite a long history of abolitionist sentiment, the Midlands had been ambivalent about Southern secession prior to the attack on Sumter. The Quaker/Anabaptist commitment to pacifism trumped moral qualms about slavery. Newspapers and politicians from Midland areas of Pennsylvania advocated allowing the Deep South to secede peacefully. Midland-controlled northern Delaware found itself at odds with the Tidewater-dominated south of the state, with some fearing violence might break out between the sections. Midland southern New Jersey had no intention of joining a slave-trading Gotham city-state, even if northern Jersey did.

In the 1860 presidential election the Midlands voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln, except for northern Maryland and Delaware, where he did not appear on the ballot. (In those places, Midlanders voted for the moderate Bell instead.) Lincoln easily won most of the Midland Midwest from central Ohio to southern Iowa, tipping Illinois and Indiana into his column. While Midlanders voted with their Yankee neighbors, they had no desire to be governed by them. Faced with the possibility of a national dissolution, most Midland political and opinion leaders hoped to join the Appalachian-controlled states to create a Central Confederacy stretching from New Jersey to Arkansas. The proposed nation would serve as a neutral buffer area between Yankeedom and the Deep South, preventing the antagonists from going to war with each other. John Pendleton Kennedy, a Baltimore publisher and former congressman, championed this “Confederacy of Border States,” which opposed both the Deep South’s program of expansion by conquest and the Yankee plans to preserve the Union by force. It was, he argued, the “natural and appropriate medium through which the settlement of all differences is eventually to be obtained.” Maryland’s governor, Thomas Hicks, saw merit in the proposal, which could preserve the peace in a state split between Midland, Appalachian, and Tidewater sections; he corresponded with governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Ohio, and Missouri (all of which had substantial Midland sections) plus New York and Virginia to lay the groundwork for such an alliance should the Union break up.13

But the Deep South lost all Midland support after Sumter. In Philadelphia, Easton, and West Chester—Pennsylvania communities that had previously been centers of secessionist sympathy—mobs destroyed pro-Southern newspaper offices, drove pro-Southern politicians from their homes, assaulted secessionists in the streets, and forced homes and businesses to display Union flags. In Maryland the Central Confederacy proposal became obsolete overnight; Midland and Appalachian sections rallied to the Union, Tidewater ones to the Southern Confederacy. Their flag attacked, Midland sections of Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri threw in their lot with the Yankees.14″

Isn’t that interesting?

Imagine if a Central Confederacy had formed. If the South had resisted turning to violence, the Midland Midwest (and upper Appalachia) wouldn’t have turned to fight with the Northeast in defense of the Union. Also, if the South hadn’t tried to force its slaveholding aristocracy onto the rest of the country (through undemocratically forcing slavery onto new states and by forcing non-slave states to submit to the power and authority of slave states), most Americans in the rest of the country would have been fine with leaving Southerners alone. It was force, oppression and violence that Midlanders and Borderlanders refused to accept from the South. It was the principle of it that bothered these Americans. If the North had first turned to violence in a similar manner, they very well might have gone to the defense of the South.

This is why it is so important for American presidential campaigns to begin in Iowa, in the Heartland. To win the heart of America usually means to win the entire country or at least to win the popular vote. Republicans try to look good in Iowa despite the fact that Iowa in recent history usually goes to Democrats.

I don’t know if that clarifies what I was stated at the beginning of this post. I’m a Midwesterner in my outlook on life. When I come across discussions about politics, especially when it involves those on the far right or far left, I feel like my own understanding is ignored.

I don’t think it is intentional. It’s simply that most Americans are from different regions than I am from. The most densely populated regions are on or near the coasts (West and East, Northeast and Deep South), and it is these regions where most political extremists are found. If I try to join discussions with such people, I feel like I have to translate my own views into their political terms and their social context. I realize that I understand them better than they understand me. As a member of fly-over territory, I constantly am barraged by the mainstream media that comes from the coasts. Those on the coasts, however, are mostly unaware of Midwestern media and hence unaware of the Midwest in general. Sadly, because of coastal dominance, even average Midwesterners have become increasingly uninformed and misinformed about the history, culture and politics of the Midwest.

In some ways, I think the Midwest is more radical than any other region of the US. It is radical because it is something entirely different, something that challenges the very notion of what this country is, what this country has been and could become. The Midwest is largely the creation of cultures from Northern Europe such as Germany. This Northern European culture still remains in the Midwest. Like Northern Europe, the Midwest has low economic inequality and low rates of social problems. Maybe it is time for average Americans to stop defining themselves according to the worldview of coastal elites.

 * * * *

After writing the above, I realized I had forgotten about one issue that motivated my thinking in this direction. I was reading an interview/discussion and a guest post over at SKEPOET’s blog. In both, the issue of regions came up, although only in terms of comparing countries. In the first one linked, one particular section of the discussion stood out:

Keith418:  [ . . . ] I don’t see a criticism of the managed society developing on the right or on the left. Instead, people pick vaguely defined managerial forces they wish to see prevail, but the structure and core operating beliefs of these experts is seldom acknowledged or challenged. Many people on the left just want more humane and caring management – which is quite a different demand from that of the people themselves being allowed to make the most important decisions that effect their lives. There are those on the paleocon right who evidence a kind of cranky antipathy towards the managerial elites, but these folks still don’t seem truly ready to abandon the technological society these same trained experts have provided for them. The neocon right has always cultivated its own managers and think tanks and has always been quite ready to enjoy what a “big government” made of empowered managers can provided.  For both the left and the right, taking power back from those they have ceded it to will take effort and energy. Who is ready to start that process and what sacrifices will they make to get there? The alternative is just to insist on better management – and not to attack and question the power and role of the managers at all.

He does make a fair point here, but such generalizations can be problematic. Instead of just comparing countries or international cultures, I was wondering if more insight might be gained by a more fine-tuned analysis of the regions within the US (and within other countries). If we don’t look in detail at how we got here, how can we speak of where we are going and where we might end up?

The ideal of a society managed by an elite has tended to be more of a coastal phenomenon. In the Midwest, there is the ideal of managing at the local level of communities where there can be a balance between a “more humane and caring management” and “the people themselves being allowed to make the most important decisions that effect their lives”. The most notable example of this balance is that of the Milwaukee Sewer Socialists.

We ignore this cultural tradition and its future potential at our own peril. Instead of looking outside for rupture from the present system, why not look inward for the native traditions that can erupt naturally as part of the culture? If we want to avoid technocrats, then any revolution must arise naturally rather than being externally foced upon the population.

Skepoet: Would you say that right and left are largely irrelevant positions?

Keith418:  Well, even if I did, what would be gained? Why do people still cling to these terms and think and act as if they were, indeed, still profoundly meaningful? Since the ’60s – I’m thinking of Karl Hess and even before him – many have tried to point out differing, and more determining and accurate kinds of dichotomies. Centralized vs. decentralized approaches, authoritarian vs. individualistic choices, top-down vs. bottom up styles. Why, after all this time, do people keep using “left and right”? What is concealed, what unrevealed truth is carried in these terms that continues to prevent their exhaustion?

Maybe we cling to these terms because what needs to be resolved is at the ground level of culture rather than in the heavenly sphere of ideas. The devil is in the details, not in the abstractions. Likewise, to borrow a phrase from Philip K. Dick, God is in the garbage. The real fight is in the dirt and muck of local culture. That is the only place ideological conflict can be fundamentally resolved. As former neocon Francis Fukuyama came to understand, healthy institutions must arise from within a culture as part of the local traditions and knowledge of communities.

Skepoet: What do you think remains unresolved at the core of the idea of left and right then as the fact that categories do not seem to leave us would indicate?   In my mind, when categories won’t go away despite the existence of more precise semantic categories, there is something unresolved at the core of the idea. Perhaps I am wrong about this, but I suspect you approach this similarly, although it may be for different reasons.

Keith418: Well, what are the origin of the terms? They go back to the days of the French Revolution. What remains unresolved from that point? What questions were asked then that still haven’t been answered – and which our political definition still, somehow, entail? [ . . . ]

To me, these terms represent differing sides on the nature of the dream of shared human life, the great motivating metaphysical dream that floats above us and lives through us as we seek to create a world for ourselves.

Maybe so. I’m not unfamiliar with nor uninterested in such metaphysical perspective. However, for my thinking at the moment, I feel drawn to ground these metaphysical dreams in worldly particulars.

Metaphysical dreams don’t just float. They are more like the mist hovering along the ground drenching the world with its wetness, condensing into water that feeds life and then evaporating once again. Such mist follows closely the geography of hills and hollows, obscuring the world beyond the immediate place we stand even as it gives form to the air we breathe.