Monday, September 9, 2013

American Nations [Book Review]

Watching the political discourse/discord in the US, you would think we came from completely different nations. Well, we did, in effect, according to Colin Woodard, who has done a brilliant job of laying out eleven different regions of the US. These regions cross over and transect existing state and national borders. Woodard traces the prevailing worldview of each region back to its origins. We know from chaos theory that beginnings matter. And so it is with these regions where, for example, a Quaker settlement in the 1700s can continue to influence the worldview now, even though they may be a tiny minority. And with the mobile nature of our society, people gravitate to regions where people €˜think like them so these differences are getting stronger. 

You can get the essence of these distinctions just from his first chapter, which is available for free off the Web.

Yankeedom—€‘Settled by radical Calvinists as a new Zion, the religious utopia in New England put a great emphasis on education (note the many universities located there), local political control, and pursuit of the greater good. There is a faith in government'€™s ability to improve people'€™s lives, seeing it as an extension of citizenry and a bulwark against pernicious aristocrats, corporations or outside powers.

New Netherland (greater NYC)—The Dutch colony was modeled after Amsterdam, a global commercial trading society, multi-ethnic, speculative, materialistic, free-trading. Valuing diversity and freedom of inquiry. These ideas were passed on in the Bill of Rights.

Midlands—Formed by the Quakers, welcomed people of many nations and creeds to their utopian colonies. Pluralistic, organized around the middle class, they spawned the Heartland where government was seen as an unwelcome intrusion.  They believe that society should be organized to benefit ordinary people but are skeptical of top-down government intervention.

Tidewater—Conservative region (from the lowlands of Virginia, Maryland, southern Delaware and NE North Carolina) with a high respect for authority and tradition, and very little on equality or public participation in politics. It was founded by the sons of southern English gentry that wanted to reproduce a semi-feudal manorial society similar to the English countryside. These Tidewater elites played an important role in the foundation of the US and are responsible for many of the aristocratic tendencies (like the electoral college). (Think of Jefferson and Monticello).

Greater Appalachia—€”Founded by a wave of rough settlers from war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England and Scottish lowlands. They spread across southern Ohio, and into the Ozarks, much of Oklahoma and the hill country of Texas.

The Deep South—€”Founded by Barbados slave lords, it was known for slavery, racial segregation, and labor/environmental deregulation. It'€™s locked in an epic battle with Yankeedom and its cousin the Left Coast and the New Netherlands.

New France—€”The most overtly nationalistic, this culture blends the culture of French peasantry with the traditions of the Native people they encountered. Down to earth, egalitarian, and consensus-driven, the most liberal on the continent according to pollsters. This region includes Quebec, of course, but bleeds into New Brunswick and even the Cajun areas of the Deep South (ie New Orleans and environs.)

El Norte—The oldest of the Euro-American nations dating back to the late 16th century, the Spanish empire founded Monterrey and other northern outposts. Now it spreads from northern Mexico into California, southern Arizona, and other parts of the Southwest. Viewed by other Mexicans as Americanized, these Nortenos have a reputation for being independent, self-sufficient, adaptable and work-centered. Woodard likens the US/Mexico border to the wall separating East and West Germany, two peoples with a common culture separated by a political wall.

The Left Coast—From Monterrey to Juneau, this area was colonized by merchants, woodsmen and missionaries from New England, hence the region's similarity to Yankeedom with a faith in good government and social reform and a commitment to individual self-exploration. Many revolutions sprung from this region (with support from Yankeedom): gay rights, peace movement, environmental movement, and the information revolution. 

The Far West—€”To me, the most interesting. This region splits Oregon and Washington, representing the dry side, and then toward the east. The conditions were too harsh for the European farming methods so this region has always been dependent upon and thus resentful of government (the railroads, grazing rights, etc.). They were for years treated like an internal colony, extracting resources and prevented from building its own industry. 

First Nation—€”A vast region too hostile for the Europeans to invade (my cynical words, not Woodard's), this includes parts of Alaska, much of Northern Territories and also Greenland.

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