Plantation America

Sara Robinson wrote a thoughtful piece for the Alternet, called “Conservative Southern Values Revived: How a Brutal Strain of American Aristocrats Have Come to Rule America”.

In it, she says rich people are not alike. America was once ruled by a Yankee elite, who in spite of gaining their wealth in ways we might not admire, were governed by Puritan principles: those who have must give; public service is a duty and an honor; and mass education and human rights are to be encouraged by good government. Out of this ethos came many of our Presidents: both Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, Kennedy, and Bush Senior.

The wealth of the South, on the other hand, came largely from slavery, with its divinely ordained inequality and love of hierarchy. A tiny elite commanded obedience and enforced it with state-sponsored brutality. Universal literacy, public schools, libraries, and a free press were opposed.

In the North, liberty resided largely with the community, not the individual. Personal needs and desires were to be balanced against the good of the collective. Those with means gave, and a community had a moral duty to care for the sick, educate the young, and provide for the needy. Out of this code grew today’s progressive politics.

In the South, liberty was a function of your place in the hierarchy. The higher your status, the more authority you had. No one had the right to tell a southern gentleman what to do with the resources under his command. This was the definition of freedom, and anything (education, progress, public investment, the right to vote) giving more freedom and rights to lower-status people, lessened the liberty of the upper classes.

Robinson says the Civil War was a battle between these two elites for the soul of the country.

Post-WWII-prosperity opened the Sun Belt to new wealth from real estate, banking, defense, and energy. New cities arose: Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and the elites who built them arrived with the South’s values. God and Ayn Rand wanted them to take America back from the Yankee liberals.

We now live in a country where Republicans tell us government is bad, and inequality is accepted, even celebrated. Welcome to Plantation America.*

Read the article and, if you want a chill, take a look at the 796 comments.

*But we can vote (unless your name has been removed from the rolls by one of those States engaged in cancelling this right)

2 responses »

  1. Norma
    The article about Yankee vs. Plantation aristocracies in America is outstanding but scary. I’ve already sent the article to several others. It helps explain what’s happened in the US since the 1960s. Paul Krugman has written that the 1960s counter-culture movement put the fear of God into southern conservatives and started the ball rolling. It’s ironic that it was Roosevelt’s New Deal that allowed the South to rise again. Obamacare may make them even more healthful and energetic. The article also explains the roots of US military culture and why I was so offended when forced to be part of it. I didn’t grow up in Mississippi, but I now see that Southern California had its own version of plantation elitism. I’m worried the Occupy Movement doesn’t realize that half of the so-called One Percent they oppose may be their allies. Liberals can’t seem to help themselves from giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

    • I felt I over-simplified Sara Robinson’s piece, which contained a lot of references, so I hope people took the time to read her article. I agree with you: progressives are too nice. I think it’s part of the ethic of wanting to help others–and it’s hard to turn on the venom.


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