Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The American Nation of Greater Appalachia: A Persistent Culture

Colin Woodard has produced a must-read book: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. The theme of Woodard’s book can be summarized simply: the original population of the North American continent was by discrete immigrations that installed distinct regional cultures. These populations then spread out across the country installing their unique beliefs and lifestyles wherever they settled. Woodard tells us that these original worldviews survived subsequent waves of immigrants with only minor modifications. Thus, they persist to this day, and if we wish to understand the political state we are in we must understand how we got here and with whom we are dealing.

Woodard’s narrative is convincing in support of his contention of cultural persistence. Given that it is an election year and politics is in the air, it might be efficacious to provide a relevant example that Woodard did not utilize to prove his point.

One of Woodard’s nations is referred to as Greater Appalachia, and its original settlers are referred to as Borderlanders.

"Greater Appalachia was founded in the early eighteenth century by wave upon wave of rough, bellicose settlers from the war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands....these clannish Scots-Irish, Scots, and north English frontiersmen spread across the highland South and on into the southern tiers of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois; the Arkansas and Missouri Ozarks; the eastern two-thirds of Oklahoma; and the hill country of Texas, clashing with Indians, Mexicans and Yankees as they migrated."

This is Woodard’s description of the culture they installed in their habitat.

"Their ancestors had weathered 800 years of nearly constant warfare....Living amid constant upheaval, many Borderlanders embraced a Calvinist religious tradition—Presbyterianism—that held that they were God’s chosen people, members of a biblical nation sanctified in blood and watched over by a wrathful Old Testament deity. Suspicious of outside authority of any kind, the Borderlanders valued individual liberty and personal honor above all else, and were happy to take up arms to defend either."

Virginia Senator Jim Webb has described this population, his ancestors, in his book: Born Fighting. His account is more detailed, but the description of these people was generally similar. Whereas Webb viewed them as the backbone of our nation, his tale left one wondering if the Borderlanders were not more likely to be the backbone of the Tea Party. This notion was examined in Born Fighting by Jim Webb and found to be compelling.

If Woodard’s contention of cultural persistence is correct, then one would expect voting patterns and political philosophies to persist. One of the hallmarks of the 2008 presidential campaign was the emergence of a vocal group demanding smaller government, and a government cognizant of a specific religious value system. The proponents of this view let it be known that their worldview included a bit of racism and a hint of violent intent. This description would seem to be consistent with that of the Borderlanders and the history of the areas in which they settled. One might then expect to see evidence of an exceptionally anti-Democrat, anti-Obama regional trend in the election results.

John McCain did not fare as well as George W. Bush as a Republican candidate except in a few locations. This source provides us with a plot of the counties in which John McCain outperformed Bush.

Now compare that distribution with Woodard’s footprint of Greater Appalachia.

The correlation is uncanny. It would seem to support, if not prove, Woodard’s thesis.

Woodard’s book teaches much and explains much. Check it out.

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