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EP PODCASTSXML

September 7, 2012

Another Take on American Divisions

Better Off Without 'Em coverStipulating hypothetically that religion is the big dividing line in American life (per last week's show), it seems not unreasonable to make a case that religious divisions manifest mainly through sectional politics. Taking it a step further one might well wonder about sectional differences generally, despite the taboo. Lucky for us, Chuck Thompson has spent two years exploring the South with a skeptical eye and has written up his findings in an extremely funny, somewhat vulgar satire titled Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession (Simon & Schuster, just published). Taboo or no, he's put his finger on certain things worth thinking about. Thanks Chuck! Total runtime fifty nine minutes. Nē frontī crēde.

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« American Divisions | Main | Mormon Madness »



Comments

Very interesting discussion. Two questions spring to mind...

1. I am surprised that no one brought up the issue of how Hispanic demographic pressure would affect the American South if it became a separate country.

http://www.hacu.net/images/hacu/OPAI/2012_Virtual_Binder/2010%20census%20brief%20-%20hispanic%20population.pdf
(see page 4)

Would secession create civilizational faultlines within the South or might the American South (without the North) better integrate a massive inflow of Mexicans by synthesizing American Southern and Mexican oligarchic structures into some sort of neo-casta system? You could have (to oversimplify somewhat) an Anglo-Castilian evangelical Christian upper strata, a dwindling middle class composed of mainline Protestants and Americanized Catholics, and large mass of peons divided between Catholic mestizos and increasingly proleterianized poor whites.

This is not a joke, it is a serious question.

2. Historically, was Protestant fundamentalism consistently stronger in the South? After all, "Dixie" is a much more secular hymn than "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

[Thanks, Jonathan — excellent questions. On the first you may be right in the long run although my sense is that things are for the moment anyhow moving in the opposite direction, e.g., the local culture getting 'worse'. On the second I believe fundamentalism was historically stronger in the South, due in large part to population movements during the Great Awakening, but my history is a bit hazy. I'd been thinking, indeed, that this would be a great subject for an interview. g.]

About Cascadia

I visited Oregon for the first time about a month ago, even though I live in British Columbia, not very far away.

It was very hard not to notice the cultural affinities — "Cascadia" seemed real. But then, about 150 years ago it was real! The territory between Alaska and San Francisco was part of the British empire, managed from Fort Vancouver by the husband of one of my great great aunts.

That fort never fired a shot in anger. People from a large cross section of the world were getting along very well together, and living prosperously. Then a guy called Polk decided to offer free land to anyone willing to make the trek from the nascent country to the east. Thousands took him up on this, and walked the 2000 mile Oregon Trail, only to discover at the end that he had neglected to mention that he had no right to do this!

Like the Revolutionary War, this was another unfortunate event in history in my view. It is hard not to think that the people of Oregon would be happier and better off living in the successor to that territory.

I think part of the resistance both to the idea of secession and more deeply, to the idea of changing or even jettisoning the current Constitution is that in a general way for Americans the nation or nationalism forms an amalgam with religion. The Constitution is thus a sacred document, the Founding Fathers have practically a divine function of revelation and thus of almost more than human wisdom. There is thus a confusion between essential principles and their particular application.

Similarly, we have "one nation, under God, indivisible..." This conflates two different and incommensurable ideas, so that it is as if the nation would cease to enjoy divine favor were it to be conceived of as divisible.
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Bloomberg Ranks Most and Least Miserable States
http://bit.ly/RIO5yP

[Thanks, John -- I agree. g.]

The nation always forms an amalgam with metaphysical forms to some extent. That is pretty much universal, be it Roman Catholicism in France, Eastern Orthodoxy in Russia, or Theravada Buddhism in Thailand.

What is relatively unique in the American experience is how a single foundational text, rather than, as is usually the case, common tradition passed down the ages, is the focus of national identity. That America was founded, in large part, by the most literalist-minded of Protestants seems to be the key factor here. Widespread American reverence for the Constitution does appear to be an extension of sola scriptura doctrine. It may also explain why American jingos, as opposed to most of their foreign counterparts, are not that interested in history.

[The literalists are the ones in the Appalachian hollows who think, because incest occurs in the Old Testament, it must be an OK lifestyle for them, too. But seriously, I don't think it's accurate to say that early American settlers were the most literalist of Christians. In any case, it's a good and interesting question that deserves to be sorted out . g.]

Re: "The nation always forms an amalgam with metaphysical forms to some extent. That is pretty much universal, be it Roman Catholicism in France, Eastern Orthodoxy in Russia, or Theravada Buddhism in Thailand."

What is relatively unique in the American experience is how a single foundational text, rather than, as is usually the case, common tradition passed down the ages, is the focus of national identity. That America was founded, in large part, by the most literalist-minded of Protestants seems to be the key factor here. Widespread American reverence for the Constitution does appear to be an extension of sola scriptura doctrine. It may also explain why American jingos, as opposed to most of their foreign counterparts, are not that interested in history.

ONe has to beware a real optical illusion here. The US is a nation in the strictly secular sense of the word, and is founded philosophically largely on Enlightenment ideas. The Constitution is obviously not a revealed document, and has never been taken to be one. It tends to usurp such a function, doubtless due to our peculiar historical roots in New England, among other factors. Traditional lands in Asia and in the Middle East are not originally countries in this secular sense, Politics in our sense scarcely existed there before strictly modern times and the colonial enterprise. The temporal power was hereditary, its function was sacral in nature, and in respect of the religious tradition it was the protector. The same holds true for the France of Joan of Arc and St. Louis, or "Sacred Russia," and elsewhere. As is well known, in the West everything began to change more or less in the 14th century, and the modern world is the latest phase of such changes which crystallized definitively during the Enlightenment, and has now spreads its influence and presence throughout the entire globe and transformed it.

For more on the nature of temporal power in traditional societies, see: "Sacred Royalty, From the Pharaoh to the Most Christian King," by Jean Hani. It has been translated from the French into English, and there is also a Spanish edition.

[Mormonism, btw, does tend to treat the Constitution as a revealed, sacred text. g.]

Thank you, George, I didn't know that. It is troubling.

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