Important Books to Understand Our America Today

Leave a comment

This will be an uncharacteristic Blog Post, since its point is to offer you several amazing resources to understand why our Nation and North America seem to be going crazy right now. I have added some additional resources in this version of the Blog Post.

Please, whether on the Right or the Left, read these books!

The Four Folkways of America

The first is a ground-breaking, seminal volume of American Colonial History, Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fischer.

41mk6HtCC0L._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_

Using meticulous folkways scholarship (history from the ground-up, the history of real people, not just of princes, kings and presidents), Fischer demonstrates that the four great migrations from Britain and Ireland during Colonial times have decisively shaped the character of our Nation, even down to the present day.

Briefly, and in a much compacted description, here are those groups:

The Puritans of New England, who believed in Ordered Liberty. While originally quite severe religiously, their legacy is one of an ordered society, with freedom, but also justice for all, and a hallmark of care for the poor and the downtrodden. It is an obligation that those who are more well off must assist those who are less-well off. Education was prized. Greater New England is the northern tier, all across the United States. I was initiated into the ways of New England during my time studying in New Haven and Cambridge. Their ways are inspired by their deep Biblical Faith. The entrepreneurial spirit was strong in New England. Sam and John Adams were Founders from New England. Athletic Competition was encouraged in a balanced way, and both Baseball and Football have their origins in New England, especially at Yale and Harvard.

Yale in New Haven, CT

Yale in New Haven, CT

The Quakers of the Delaware Valley, who believed in Reciprocal Liberty. Before Quakerism turned in on itself and withdrew from active society, it was a major religious and social movement in the 17th century Colonies. The Quakers set out to create a deliberately diverse society where I respected your Liberty and you respected mine. Service of the community, and especially of the poor and weak, were powerful ideals, and those who did not do so were punished. They were also avid entrepreneurs. Education was welcome, if not as highly prized as in New England. Their legacy is one of a fair, equitable society, highly competitive in business, and with social supports for all. Benjamin Franklin was a transplanted son of this culture.

The Delaware Valley

The Delaware Valley

The Cavaliers of Virginia, who believed in Hierarchical Liberty. These Royalist Anglicans were often brave men and women, and some of our most revered Founders, such as Washington and Jefferson came from this stock. Their take-away from the culture was that of the heroic leader, the self-made man. However, Virginia Cavalier society had many very dark aspects. Hierarchical Liberty meant that the higher up you were in society, the more liberty you had. The King was the most Free person, and African and Indian Slaves, at the bottom, had no liberty at all. At each rung of society, men had more liberty than women. You were actively encouraged, even obligated, to dominate those beneath you, socially, economically, verbally, and physically. Beatings of underlings were common, and perfectly legal.

The majority of the population were poor white workers. The higher-ups dominated society. The preferred sport was killing. The higher you were in society, the more noble the animal you could hunt. Even race slaves killed animals, who were beneath them. Children were trained to kill insects and small animals, only to graduate to larger game later.

Education was prized for the upper classes, but those same upper classes were terrified of education for the lower classes, and did everything they could to prevent it.

Jefferson's Monticello

Jefferson’s Monticello

The Borderers who prized Natural Liberty. The Borderers came from the Borders of Scotland and England, and also from Northern Ireland. These areas had been in virtually perpetual warfare for hundreds of years. Their areas were known to be hotbeds of thieves, brigands and roving gangs. Coming to North America, they were shunned by the other three groups, and pushed to the Border highlands, the mountains such as the Ozarks and the Appalachians.

For Borderer culture, you could do anything you were strong enough to do. Natural Liberty meant virtually no restraint on personal actions. Andrew Jackson, one of our most horrendous and barbaric Presidents came from this stock. The famed feuds of the hills marked this culture. Education was disdained as a waste of time. Fighting and feuding were sports. This culture gradually moved west throughout the Southwest to Southern California. It was an intensely clannish society, and anyone not from your immediate family and friends was automatically though of as a foe and treated that way. Anyone different in race or culture was the enemy.

Interlocutors on Facebook and elsewhere who champion unlimited and completely unrestrained gun rights are clearly sons and daughters of the Borderers. “My Rights” clearly trump “Your Rights” in this view.

Greatvalley-map

As other immigrants came to the Colonies and later to the United States most imbibed one or more of these cultures. New York, and especially New York City, originally a Dutch Colony, was in some ways separate from this schema, and became a place where all could interact, as it is today.

new_amsterdam_foto1

Fischer traces these folkways through our history, and into the late 80s when the book was published. It is easy to extrapolate to our own day.

american-progressives

Today’s American Progressive factions are the cultural descendants of the New England Puritans and the Delaware Valley Quakers. The aristocratic wing of American Conservatism (Bush, et al.) are the cultural heirs of the Virginia Cavaliers, while the Trump mob, the Tea Party, and their ilk are the societal scions of the Borderer culture.

tea party funding

Fischer convincingly demonstrates that to date, there has been only one time in American History when the four factions came together, united and cooperated fully: World War II. The respective strength of each faction was needed to defeat the great evil of the Axis powers. If you’d like to terrify yourself to see what it would have been like if we’d lost, read Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castleand/or watch the Amazon Series based on the novel.

51117B9VzxL._PI_PJStripe-Prime-Only-500px,TopLeft,0,0_AA160_

One would hope that we could pull together once more to battle the evils of fundamentalism and fanaticism.

In 2008, Fischer continued his folkways work with Champlain’s Dream, about the French and their North American influence.

51Tkn9I1TyL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_

The Eleven Nations of North America

Journalist Colin Woodard’s 2011 work American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America builds on, extends, and updates the work of Fischer and others. (There is a good literature review in his introduction.)

515uMZICQ1L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

Woodard convincingly argues for 11 separate nations that exist within Canada, the U.S. and  Mexico, all of which are Federal States.

Here is a map from the excellent blog by JayMan. There are many other maps at this very well-done blog which illustrate both Fischer’s and Woodard’s works:

north-american-nations-4-3

Woodard freely admits that his book cannot  cover everything, and notes that he is not dealing with Hawai’i, which is part of the nation of Polynesia, and South Florida, which is part of the nation of the Spanish Caribbean. He also does not work with the distinctive nations of the core of Mexico and Central America, which would include Hispano-Aztec, Greater Mayan, Anglo-Creole, etc. One work can only do so much.

Woodard is nuanced and careful in his analysis and traces the 400 years of our history down to 2011. In the politics of the 21st Century US, we have essentially chosen up sides. For the most part, the alliances run something like this:

Yankeedom, New Amsterdam, and the Left Coast face off against the Deep South, Greater Appalachia, Tidewater, and the Far West. El Norte and New France are frequent allies of Yankeedom’s coalition as well. The Midlands go both ways.

I should note that in this book, “nation” means a group of people with a common cultural and–if you will–folkways heritage, while “State” means a governmental entity.

I can vouch for this schema. I myself came from a Border City, Phoenix, on the edge between El Norte and the Far West. My parents are from El Paso, part of El Norte. I was then initiated into the ways of Yankeedom at Yale and in Cambridge MA (Weston, Harvard, Holy Cross), and into the ways of New Netherlands at Fordham. I taught in Phoenix, L.A., both connected to El Norte, and then moved permanently to the Left Coast in San Francisco. It is no wonder that I am firmly part of the Yankeedom alliance.

One of the most important things in both Fischer’s and Woodard’s studies is that our current divisions are not new. The fact is that these North American Nations have ALWAYS been in conflict with one another, and this has shaped the histories of Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

As for the United States and Canada, as we have noted earlier, the alliance that was formed to defeat the Axis in World War II was perhaps the only time that all these nations pulled together for a common effort. Time will tell if we can do it again and take common cause for the good of all.

The Union Won the War, but Lost the Battle

Two books by James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me, and Lies Across America, lay bare another seething wound that our Nation has not yet fully recovered from: Racism.

51JbV2jddoL

51elf4Ux8PL

These books are about many other things as well in American History, but the most salient point for this discussion is that White Supremacy (=supremacy of the descendants of Northern European immigrants) has been, and still is, an enduring evil in America. Loewen has many other works on similar themes. (Loewen is white, Harvard trained Sociologist.)

(Roediger’s Working Toward Whiteness elucidates how certain other European and other ethnic groups have been included in the designation of “White.”)

In brief, Loewen convincingly shows that the “others” in America, Native Peoples and those of African descent, have routinely been put down. I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip here, we just need to be honest about our own history if we are going to change it.

The tragedy of the extinction of Native peoples and cultures is well-known. Charles Mann’s 1491 explains the unprecedented loss to humanity that the extinction of the Native peoples and cultures of the Americas caused.

slavery

Concerning Race Slavery, and in particular, African Slavery in the U.S., we know that this issue came to a head in the Civil War. And yes, the Civil War was primarily about Slavery. The Union won the War, and African-Americans gained full citizenship, legally and in the Constitution. During Reconstruction (1865-1877) a great deal of progress was made in equality. However, after Reconstruction things began to fall apart. 1890-1940 was the nadir (low point) in race relations in the U.S.

How did this happen? The primary engine of reversing the gains of Reconstruction was the success of the forces of the Neo-Confederacy. Northern Progressives lost interest in supporting equal rights, and the Neo-Confederate forces, such as the Daughters of the Confederacy and others waged a wildly successful campaign of disinformation which transformed the mental landscape of America.

United Daughters of the Confederacy

United Daughters of the Confederacy

They lied bald-faced about the Civil War and Southern Society. The Bizarro World version that they convinced America of lasts to the present day. Here’s how their lies go:

  1. The South was a beautiful and serene culture where loving Plantation Owners cared for their beloved Black Slaves and kept them happy. The Blacks were only too happy to receive this largesse and enjoyed being Slaves.
  2. The Civil War was not about Slavery at all, it was the War of Northern Aggression based on economics and social norms.
  3. Southern Whites and Blacks united to defend their States’ Rights and their Southern Way of Life. Outgunned, this noble endeavor was The Lost Cause. Monuments across the Country commemorate their nobility and bravery.
  4. During Reconstruction, Northern “Carpetbaggers” came to the South to take advantage of the defeated South, and enriched themselves corruptly.
  5. African-Americans, too newly freed, could not handle equality and failed because of this.
  6. American Society settled into a correct balance, with superior Whites leading, and happy “Good Darkies” playing their expected roles.
  7. After more than 100 years of “Freedom,” the problems in the African-American community demonstrate the truth of the Confederate beliefs.
Uncle Jack, the "Good Darkie"

Uncle Jack, the “Good Darkie”

Each of these points is easily disprovable by black-letter history, and Loewen’s work in these volumes and others provides ample evidence of this. Here’s a summary:

  1. Blacks hated being Slaves, and were badly treated. They were literally treated as property. Southern Plantation Owners were cruel and hateful. Gone With the Wind is a big lie. Most of the population of the South were poor Whites. Only the upper classes prospered.
  2. The Civil war was all about Slavery. The documents of succession prove this conclusively.
  3. The South was actively against States’ Rights. They wanted the Federal Government to suppress the Rights of other States to refuse Slavery, and to not enforce laws on the return of run-away Slaves. They insisted that Slavery and all its laws be imposed on all States and Territories. Only a very, very few Blacks fought willingly for the South. Most revolted as soon as they could. There was nothing patriotic or noble about the Confederacy. The monuments erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy and others lie, and honor traitors and racists.
  4. Northern Republicans came to the South and did the right thing. Reconstruction failed because legal and political equality was emphasized over economic parity.
  5. Freed African-Americans did very well with freedom. They excelled.
  6. After Reconstruction, and especially during the Nadir (1890-1940), all means were used to disenfranchise Blacks, especially in the South, to segregate them and keep them down all over the U.S. Persecutions, lynchings, the KKK, et al.made it very clear that Blacks had better stay down, or they would be killed. Amazingly, some remarkable African-Americans succeeded even under those conditions. The “Good Darkie” is a lie. Blacks were (understandably) terrified of Whites.
  7. Even though African Americas had “legal” freedom, it was virtually worthless in any real sense of being able to succeed equally. It was not until 1940 and the War that things really began to change. Even today, people think that the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia (the “Confederate Flag”) stands for the Noble South. It stands for treason, racism and hatred.

hqdefault

The Confederacy had won the propaganda battle. It is time to end the myth of the noble Confederacy and eliminate the idea that descendants of European Whites are superior once and for all. We need everyone to band together to fight the evils of our days.

Idiot America

Finally, there is a very funny, and also frightening true book that I recommend to everyone:

51v2ZhvJh3L._SX269_BO1,204,203,200_

Journalist Charles P. Pierce traces the history of how “stupidity became a virtue in the Land of the Free,” convincingly. He correctly deduces that American Society is being run on three principles today–at least in the popular discourse:

1) Any theory is valid if it sells (books, or candidates)

2) Anything can be true if proclaimed loudly enough

3) a) Fact is that which enough people believe

b) Truth is determined by how strongly they believe it

I do not care in the slightest whether my friends and interlocutors are “liberal” or “conservative,” whatever those terms mean today. But our discourse, especially our national political discourse must be ruled by reason, and guided by genuine expertise. Without this, we are lost in the nightmare world of the superb comedy Idiocracy.

Along the way, Pierce is at turns mordant and funny. I love that he uses my favorite crank from American History, Ignatius Donnelly, as an example of how important cranks were in our history, and the place they played. Unfortunately, cranckery has been mainstreamed today, and so has lost its social value.

In this election year, this is once again a very important work.

Please read these books and open your mind to the truth of our history, and what a wonderful world we can build if we face things square on and fight for change.

Thanks for Reading!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s