Remembering a prominent ISI alumnus
Albion’s Seed: American Cultural Origins and Political Conflict, Part Two
Historians of American politics have gone through phases of interpretation where the enduring political variations in our Republic have been alternately attributed to everything from economics to gender relations to ethnic background to geography. However, the wealth of insight to be gained through a theory of American politics which uses the lens of regional social patterns has not been utilized nearly enough.
Last week, I covered David-Hackett-Fischer’s finding that regional divisions in American culture can be traced back to the sub-groups of Britons that first settled their respective regions. Hackett-Fischer closes his work with a demonstration of the predictive power of a sectional analysis in voting patterns between the years 1800-1980. American Southerners who originated in the South of England voted quite often for candidates who embodied their regional respect for aristocratic virtue and paternalist regard for the lower classes. The decedents of Northeastern Puritans elected candidates like the Adams who were more wary of warfare and more heavily anti-slavery.
What does this trend mean in light of our views of the ideal of personal decision making and rational assessment of public policy issues when voting? Are we doomed to hold the political opinions of the first settlers to populate our region? Cleary not. We have too many instances of significant shifts in political viewpoints to give way to fatalism. However, a prudent apprehension of human nature and the seduction of ancestral traditions should inform our attempts to win hearts and minds to the side of liberty.
Recognition of the values and patterns of an American of Scotch-Irish ancestry should tell us what aspects of the conservative philosophy should be highlighted. The rugged individualism of personal responsibility and personal regard for one’s family affairs should be emphasized to this Scotch-Irish American. We should acknowledge the inspiration of a single-minded devotion to honor and a willingness to fight at any cost for the good, the true, and the beautiful. To the New England descendant of the Puritan migration, we should demonstrate the moral rectitude and rational validity of our ideology and public policy prescriptions.
Clearly, our globalized age has vastly eroded the regional variations of our nation, yet there is still profit to be had by an awareness of the weight of folkways and traditions which socialize us. Every person has a different journey to their social and political conclusions, but it is remarkable how often the sub-culture of one’s upbringing aligns with the views of one’s adulthood.
Check back next week for the final installment of this series on sub-cultures and political variation where I will examine the sociological data of two other scholars who have found some shocking contemporary cases of the influence of cultural origins.
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