Google analytics

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Southern ways, Republican ways

by John MacBeath Watkins

More on the Southernization of the Republican Party:

That chart is from  this post by Michael Lind about the extent to which the Tea Party is a Southern phenomenon. By the way, that 2% of the tea party caucus from the Northeast? That's one congressman from Maryland.

The Tea Party is somewhat amorphous, and it isn't easy to tie down where their members are from, but the Tea Party Caucus is not. As Lind points out, the areas where the Tea Party's strength is enough to elect congressmen who go on to join the Tea Party Caucus are either Southern, or areas where the dust-bowl diaspora caused Southern immigrants to settle.

Culture changes slowly. We hear a lot about property rights from the Tea Party, and we heard a lot about property in the declarations of secession issued by Southern states in 1861. Economically, the value of slaves held in this country in 1860 was about $4 billion. Prior to the Civil War, Southern Whites averaged about twice the income of their Northern brethren. It's easy to forget, now, that much of the complaint the South had was economic; racism only made the exploitation of slaves psychologically tolerable, it was economics that made slavery attractive to them.

This makes the South's resentment of the North all that much more understandable. Prior to the Civil War, the South was wealthy relative to the North. After the war, it was poor. This lost glory was entangled with race, but it was about wealth.

The charmingly-named Doctor Science at Obsidian Wings has a wonderful post about the different attitudes of Southern and Northern soldiers' attitudes to government during the Civil War, and the folkways behind those attitudes. You should read her whole post, but the thing that encapsulates the link between Southern folkways and the Republican Party as now constituted is this quote:


"The cultural descendents of the Anglican Cavaliers of Virginia believed, like the Puritans, in respect for hierarchy and authority, but their preferred government was aristocracy. Fischer quotes John Randolph of Roanoke, who said:
'I am an aristocrat. I love liberty; I hate equality.'"

I am descended, on my mother's side, from a long line of Quakers, on my father's from English, Scotch, and Danish farmers, fishermen, crofters and sailors. I have trouble wrapping my brain around how minds shaped by the Cavalier tradition in the South might work. The notion that you can have liberty without some measure of equality, at least equality before the law, is foreign to me, because a society governed by an aristocracy distributes power so unequally that liberty and justice must be only for some. But of course, that was part of the difference between the attitudes of Southern and Northern enlisted men in the Civil War. As Doctor Science points out:

"In any event, I think when Tea Partiers sneer at "government of the people, by the people and for the people", it's because that was *never* their culture or experience. The cultural forces that made the Confederacy are still there, and still count as common sense for many Americans."

No comments:

Post a Comment