Glad some other folks are now catching onto what has been obvious for quite some time! Rand Paul comes by his “confederateness” from his dad, Ron Paul – whose association with white supremacists and racists i long documented and established. That association is based on the Libertarian belief called “Right of Association” which insists that any individual has the right to associate, or disassociate with anyone for any reason he chooses…Including race. It is a defense of segregation and Jim Crow, and declares that the “Commerce Clause” upon which most modern Civil rights Legislation is based (or was before the 5 thugs in robes became a majority on the Supreme Court) is trumped by the unstated right in the Constitution.
Which is why Ron Paul could be seen frequently at lunch with white nationalist luminaries such as Don White and Jared Taylor at the local Tara Thai Restaurant near Tysons Corner, Va. Which is a small part of how positions first espoused by people like David Duke (the “Gentleman” KKK) and Jared Taylor (the “Color of Crime”) back in the early 90’s became mainstream in the Republican Party and accepted orthodoxy by it’s mouthpiece, Faux News.
In two earlier articles (here and here), I argued that the Republican Party’s extremism can be traced to its increased dependence on an electorate that is largely rural, Southern and white. These voters, who figure prominently in the Tea Party, often decline to interpret political conflict as a struggle among interest groups or a good-faith clash of opinion. Instead, they tend to identify the country as a whole with an idealized version of themselves, and to equate any dissent from their values with disloyalty by alien, “un-American” forces. This paranoid vision of politics, I argued, makes them seek out opportunities for dramatic conflict and to shun negotiation and compromise.
In what follows, I want to extend these thoughts a bit further by exploring one simple question: why is this strain of political paranoia so entrenched in the South? The answer, I believe, will shed light not only on the current state of our politics but on the evolution of American conservatism generally.
We should begin with a clarification. What we want to explain isn’t why rural voters might think their interests sometimes diverge from those of urban (and suburban) Americans. That is easily enough explained: they think it because it’s true. Rural and urban areas have distinctive concerns, and these sometimes result in incompatible demands on policymakers. These kinds of conflicts are the mother’s milk of politics, so none of this is particularly surprising or, indeed, interesting.
What is surprising and interesting is when this conflict is experienced not as a matter of interests but of identity. It’s one thing to see urbanites as fellow citizens whose policy preferences depart from one’s own; it’s quite another to argue that their policy preferences give rise to serious doubt about whether they’re really Americans. Yet exactly this is the message of all those conservative complaints about “socialistic” Democrats who ignore our constitutional traditions as they labor to install a “nanny state.” These aren’t true Americans, resolute, independent, self-reliant; they’re feckless, faux-European traitors. (Though one, in particular, may have closer connections with Africa than Europe. You know who I mean.)
To think in this way, one must identify the country with one’s own beliefs and values. Those with different preferences then become almost definitionally “un-American.” This identification has the consequence, however, that political conflicts are often experienced as personal crises; what’s at stake isn’t simply policy, but one’s own sense of self. This releases anxieties that cluster around an intensely imagined Other: liberal, conspiratorial, seditious.
This explanation of the mechanics of political paranoia may or may not be correct; I argued in detail for it in the first article mentioned above. But even if true, it leaves one important question unanswered: what prompts that first crucial step — the identification of one’s own values with the country as a whole?
A partial answer arises directly from the sociology of rural culture. Persons who live in cities learn quickly that the world is full of different kinds of people; diversity — of race, religion, outlook, speech, etc. — is a fact of life. Because of this, they tend not to connect these personal attributes with one’s ability to be a trustworthy member of the community. If they think about the conditions of citizenship, they are more likely to associate them with general qualities of character — honesty, integrity, loyalty — equally available to everyone, regardless of background.
Many rural areas, by contrast, lack this aboriginal experience of diversity; they may be characterized by high levels of uniformity in ideology, race and religion. Given this, it may be natural to assume that “everyone” believes what you believe, or worships as you worship, or looks and speaks as you look and speak. And because these attributes characterize the community as a whole, it may be equally natural to define the latter in terms of the former — to think of these qualities as necessary for responsible citizenship, for being “one of us.” Only a small step is needed to extend this logic from one’s own community to the country as a whole.
I said this answer is only partial. That’s because it explains why the identification of self with nation arises in the first place, but not why it persists. In the America of 2013, more thoroughly colonized by communications technology than any society in the history of the planet, no community is an island; each is part of the main — and The Matrix. Geographic isolation has been overwhelmed by smart phones, the internet, cable and satellite TV and Red Box. One’s own community might be an emblem of ideological orthodoxy, racial purity or religious conformity — but there is no escaping the knowledge that the country as a whole (much less the world) is not. So if we want to know why this identification endures in some environments but not others, we’ll have to add something to our account — a mechanism to explain the stubborn insistence that some people will always be outsiders. And because the South is ground zero for the paranoia that rules today’s Republicans, our explanation will have to apply with particular force and resonance to it.
I don’t think we have to look far. The explanation lies in the South’s experience with black slavery and white supremacy.
Slavery has been around a long time, of course, but in the ancient and medieval worlds it was rarely a matter of race. Slaves were often drawn from conquered peoples — they were part of the spoils of war — and were more often than not of the same race as their masters. When the ancients bothered to justify slavery at all, they usually did so on purely utilitarian grounds: you couldn’t run a successful society without it. There were occasional exceptions, Aristotle being the most notorious, but they stand out precisely because of their rarity. As the British philosopherBernard Williams pointed out, Aristotle’s tortured attempt to argue that some people were “natural slaves” convinced few and puzzled many.
This view of slavery as grounded in social (mainly economic) necessity had an important implication. It meant there was no irrevocable fund of social animus directed at former slaves. Classical civilization accepted the slave’s fate, from his or her own point of view, as a grievous personal misfortune. A slave lucky enough to gain his freedom did not face a community which regarded him with sustained suspicion and contempt. He took his place in society and enjoyed the liberties and prerogatives to which his station entitled him.
The situation was quite different in the antebellum South. Slavery there was based on race and was justified by an ideology of white supremacy. Blacks were seen as inherently, necessarily, irreparably inferior to whites, who ruled over them in accordance with Nature and Nature’s God. But this meant, of course, that even a freed slave was exiled from his wider society. He could never participate in its dominant institutions or gain acceptance from its members. The membrane dividing slave from non-slave might be legally permeable; manumissions did sometimes occur. Socially, however, it was unbridgeable.
For black Americans slavery was a holocaust and a nightmare. For white Southerners it meant (among other things) living intimately with millions of human beings who were permanent outsiders — persons whose natural incapacities, as the white South saw them, meant they could never be trustworthy members of the community. For white supremacists, citizenship had one very definite condition of entry: white skin, and the potential for moral personality that came with it. The racial divide defined the difference between civilized society and the enthralled barbarism that lay beyond and beneath it.
It would be hard to overstate the influence of this experience on the mind of the South. For one thing, it meant that the white South was, in effect, a garrison state. White Southerners lived in close proximity to a large population they routinely abused, terrorized and defiled. Fear of black violence and revolt is a constant theme of white society before and after the Civil War. The South’s noisily martial version of patriotism has its roots here, as does the region’s love affair with guns. And there are obvious connections between these facts and its stubborn embrace of patriarchy and misogyny. (Does the name “Todd Akin” ring any bells?)
Of greater relevance to our present concerns, however, are the implications for the South’s political psychology. Here the region’s history as a slave society left a very particular imprint, one that lingered long after slavery and Jim Crow collapsed. I mean the habit of imagining society as a two-tiered structure, with the “normative” community on top and a degenerate class of outsiders below. The former consists of those who satisfy the prerequisites of citizenship, and can therefore be trusted to fulfill the social contract voluntarily; the latter of tho
se whose inherent debilities ensure that coercion is the only reliable guarantee of cooperation.
This is a fraught subject, so I want to make my meaning clear. I am not arguing that all Southerners — or all conservatives — are racists or paranoids; I’m not even arguing that all Southerners are conservatives. (I myself would personally disprove that assertion.) Slavery, thankfully, disappeared long ago, and Jim Crow is now almost two generations behind us. Racism lingers on in the South as in America generally, but for the most part must now keep its head down and its voice low; it’s the vice that dare not speak its name. (This is not to deny, of course, that it retains considerable social valence.) What I am arguing is that a certain habit of thought, powerfully shaped by the experience of slavery, survived the passage of that curse and continues to influence some Southern conservatives to this day. It no longer takes the form of a blatant assertion that only the white race is worthy of social trust; its definition of the normative community has shifted. (Though it remains associated with racialist, or at least race-conscious, themes.) It is now more likely to define that community in ideological terms — to see it as consisting of those who endorse a particular view of government and its rightful relations with traditional mores and economic power. It has, however, retained certain aspects of its earlier, darker origins. It is still obsessed with purity — ideological if not racial — and still invests those it regards as impure with a harsh, acute animus. And it continues to equate difference with illegitimacy. Those on the outside — the liberals, the Democrats, the “socialists” — cannot be trusted partners in political life; they want only to undermine our institutions and must therefore be expelled from them.
Thus we arrive at the paranoid version of politics described above, in which policy disputes signal an insidious betrayal of “our” way of life. This is surely what animates the conduct of today’s Republicans — the reflexive rejection of compromise, the flagrant violation of long-established institutional norms, the experience of diversity as an invasion by foreign, unfamiliar powers.
The Republican belief that it would be better to suspend the government (or default on the debt) than to fund “Obamacare,” for instance, can be explained only by this kind of wrathful, embattled logic. There is a sense in which the current shutdown is the culmination of the last 50 years of Republican history. Today’s GOP is the heir of Reagan’s remark that “[G]overnment is not the solution… government is the problem,” even as Reagan embodied the strident, anti-statist dogmas of Barry Goldwater. The Party’s development since 1964 has, in effect, been one long preparation for the time when it would have to argue that no government would be better than liberal government. It would make no sense to say this if liberals were simply misguided souls with some bad policy ideas. It makes perfect sense when one sees them through the prism of Tea Party doctrine: as illegitimate interlopers from the outer darkness whose intent is to exploit and subvert the normative American community. (…more…)