22 October 2011

One country, many nations?

Colin Woodard, via Dave Brockington. I’m pretty much in full agreement with Mr Brockington on this one; this is an immensely interesting map and a thesis which looks, on its face, to be intuitively convincing. I share Mr Brockington’s concerns, however, that the division of the United States into its cultural regions rather discounts the impact of successive waves of immigrants, and furthermore appears slightly deterministic (which seems to be somewhat the wrong attitude to take, particularly when speaking of phenomena like the Tea Party).

Being fully cognisant of the fact that the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data’, my own family’s cultural affiliation appears notoriously difficult to pin down. The Coopers were originally Pennsylvania Quakers (authentic Midlanders), before the War of American Independence forced my own branch of the family to migrate into the Deep South, where they stayed until two generations ago, when my grandfather relocated first to Providence, Rhode Island (deepest, darkest Yankeedom) and then to Arlington, Virginia (Tidewater), where my aunt and my father were born and raised. The Doanes, on the other hand, are Yankees through and through – but they don’t fit Mr Woodard’s Weberian ‘ideal type’ at all. Rather than being patrician, Puritan social engineers, they have been and are much more similar in temperament to the Midland ideal type: Methodist and broad-church to a fault with a very strong sense of family and place, my grandfather is a dairy farmer who distrusts big government and big religion as much as he distrusts big business. Somewhat oddly, my own ‘red Tory’ political, religious and cultural attitudes appear vaguely to be those of a High-Church or Catholic Tidewaterman (though I was raised in Madison, Wisconsin – which, according to Mr Woodard’s reckoning, is a Yankee stronghold).

Which brings me to another point. The religious culture of the Midwest is indeed heavily Protestant, but the Calvinist legacy, if it ever existed there, has long since faded to the faintest echo (except possibly in Western Michigan, but there it survived due to Dutch Reformed immigrants, not Puritans of Scotch or English extraction). The culture of the Great Lakes states has been far more closely shaped by immigrants from Central, Eastern and Northern Europe (note the preponderance of German, Swiss and Finnish culture still lingering around places like Stoughton, New Glarus and the mining towns of northern Wisconsin, or the Norwegian culture stretching all across Minnesota), who share in the anarchistic and egalitarian tendencies of their forebears, who fled from their home countries largely during the mid-1800’s (a tumultuous time in Europe). Also (applying Mr Woodard’s implicit assumptions regarding the formation and character of these cultural blocs), if Upper Canada resembles the Midlands at all, it is more likely than not an accidental resemblance, due to the constitutionally-moderate, anti-slavery and communitarian leanings of the United Empire Loyalists who settled there in the wake of the War of American Independence.

I’m not particularly sanguine, either, on a.) the intractability of the Tidewater region in its historical alliance with the Deep South, or on b.) the ease with which El Norte can be comfortably brought into the modern American progressive fold alongside, say, the New Netherlanders. During the Civil War, the High Church Episcopalians and the Catholics of the Coastal border states were heavily divided on the issue of slavery, which really was dying out, particularly in the large cities (which had begun to resemble the economy of the North). Maryland was home to one of the largest populations of freedmen in the entire country, although the vestiges of slavery lingered through the Civil War. Since then, in spite of occasional bouts of Confederate nostalgia, Northern Virginia and the Research Triangle in North Carolina have made them key swing states in recent elections (both having gone to President Obama in 2008). Since the party realignment in the wake of Civil Rights, also, both Delaware and Maryland have been Democratic strongholds.

Regarding El Norte, Catholicism runs very deep within the Hispanic and Southwest American Indian cultural template (although said Catholicism is also quite often very Low-Church, even Charismatic in flavour), and although Democratic candidates have found common ground with them on issues of immigration, they remain very culturally conservative, overwhelmingly pro-life and opposed to same-sex marriage. The faith of the average norteno is still a faith which is (in the words of Mr Lindsay) characterised by ‘compassion for the poor, disgust at wars of aggression, revulsion at the lying of countries into such wars and at gargantuan personal profiteering from them, hostility to drugs and to sexual promiscuity’.

Still, the central thesis is immensely thought-provoking, and I agree with Mr Brockington that the quibbles with Mr Woodard’s thesis do not overshadow his ability to tell an intuitively-convincing tale; and that what remains is to test his model empirically.

No comments:

Post a Comment