Friday, October 17, 2014

History is destiny

Europeans think that 100 miles is a long way.  Americans think that 100 years is a long time.
- Unknown
This is the smartest thing I've read since, well, this.  Why is it impossible to heal the Red/Blue state divide?
Conflict wasn't baked in to the American experiment because one side wanted slaves and the other didn't. That's naive "I can look back 150 years; I'm a scholar!" thinking. Conflict was baked in to the American experiment because the continent was settled by two peoples who have despised each other for a thousand years and committed the worst atrocities imagineable on each other every time they got the chance.
Go read it all.  It's a millennium of ancestral hatreds pushing the current political landscape.  And since history is destiny, this is obligatory:

UPDATE 17 October 2014 15:43: There's a good discussion of in-group vs. out-group dynamics and 800 year hatreds here.


Jeffrey Smith said...

Interesting but confused. For one thing the Cavaliers more neatly overlay Progressives and Roundheads the Tea Party.
What he identifies as pro Big Government complaints in the DoI were really an early version of states rights (central government interfering in local government or outright centralizing what had been in local hands).

William Newman said...

I agree with Jeffrey Smith.

In particular, the 19th century seems to have seen a great realignment. E.g., the Whigs went away and Labour appeared, and the factions in 1900 didn't translate tidily onto factions of 1800. It seems to be sometime late in the 19th century that Labourites started systematically turning "liberal" from more or less Whig to more or less Labour, and a little after that that they had enough clout to make it stick.

In 1800 status rivalry against the established church and against formal hereditary aristocracy helped motivate alliances between government functionaries and productive businessmen. By 1900 the established church and the formal aristocracy had been cast down so decisively that they were no longer a unifying rival, and indeed the government functionaries and productive businessmen had become each other's major status rivals. Meanwhile there were important new factional interests, notably labor unions; there were also a lot more government functionaries than before, and they had achieved more control over the education of the young than most established churches had had in the height of their power.

In 1800 the state drew a lot of its legitimacy from respecting trust-but-verify traditional institutions dating back to well before Europe started experimenting with absolute monarchy. By 1900, those were less important; I conjecture that the ridiculously obvious level of success in economic expansion and territorial expansion had let the government rely on a sort of "mandate of heaven" presumption that they must be doing something right. In 1900 the jury system was not a dead letter but it doesn't seem to have had the status it had in 1800. Criminal prosecution continued, but with significant changes, notably victims losing the power to prosecute criminal offenses: now the victim's was protected by the right to ask a state official to prosecute, and the state official had absolute discretion not to prosecute, or to screw up the prosecution as badly as he might like. Limitations on self-defense were in flux, with race relations and labor relations making excuses for some bad laws and other terrible laws, generally exhibiting zero interest in trust-but-verify attitudes. Professional police were introduced in the first half of the century, and it's interesting to see vestiges of the trust-but-verify aesthetic in Peel's principles, but they became something of a dead letter by 1900. The one trust-but-verify mechanism that is alive and well is freedom of speech and the press, which is arguably as vigorous today as it was in 1800, and formally stronger in some ways, although it's under attack in various ways as the Progressives come to think of themselves as the only legitimate authority be inhibited from doing whatever they choose under whatever pretense they choose, rather than honestly first among equal factions that realistically worried about limiting other factions holding and misusing the levers of power.

If you insist on a continous thread through the 19th century, you can conclude that Cromwell's coalition of Puritans and other Nonconformists must be today's Progressive coalition. I think that's too much of a stretch: the Union Army might correspond to Cromwell's, OK, but both Cromwell's and the Union Army tried to build themselves on Joe the Plumber, and the Progressives are more interested in remaking him to be less of a status rival. Also, the Progressives have been too powerful too long to compare to the Puritans: e.g., multiple generations of professional educators and tenured university faculty have advanced risen by being politically correct, which gives a dynamic quite different from anything around Cromwell. Relatedly the strong and growing Progressive hostility to objective meritocracy is different from anything in Cromwell's young regime, though of course it could naturally have developed if he had succeeded in making the hereditary Protectorship stable for multiple generations.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

I call BS. People with British Isle heritage like that? How big a proportion of the country? Minimal at this point.

A Reader said...

I think the "Virginia aristocracy and Scots-Irish yeomanry" thesis only explains the Confederacy and the American South to a limited extent. It assumes among other things that these two groups had and recognized monolithic interests. Maybe the F.F.V. did because they had been marrying each other for a few generations, but I doubt that the poor white trash of Alabama had any sense of self-interest held in common with the poor white trash of Tennessee, Georgia, or the Carolinas beyond The Cause itself. I use 'poor white trash' as a descriptive, not a perjorative.

The theory also ignores the demographic diversity that existed during the War Between The States and which has only increased since. It ignores the Cajuns and the Texans, for one thing. The demographics of Louisiana and Texas, even back then, were more complex than that. Were most Texans either Scots-Irish, Anglo-Irish, or Anglo-Scots by 1861? Probably, but that's not the whole story. The demographic corner cases like the Tejanos, mestizos, and mulattoes also mattered. The Texas Deutsch in places like Gillespie County - that's Fredericksburg, Texas for those who haven't had the privilege to visit it (Y'all come on now!) - voted against secession, for Pete's sake. From our perspective, white is white, more or less. From the left's perspective, whiteness precludes ethnicity, as if New Jerseyians of Italian extraction were functionally equivalent to the Germans and Scandinavians of the Upper Midwest, the Scots-Irish hillbillies of the Appalachians, or the All-American mutts of fly-over country. Back then, white ethnicity made a lot of difference. Each new wave of immigrants got its fair share of unfair treatment from previous waves which had quickly gone nativist.

Having said all this, the author's larger point, which is that we are still dealing with the consequences of the Barons' Wars of the 13th Century and the English Civil Wars of the 17th century, as well as our own civil wars - both of them - strikes me as valid. In one sense, civil wars never end unless one side completely annihilates the other. The shooting may stop, but the enmity which produces it is much harder to eradicate.